Summary-1: Scope of Models


While the discussion of some basic cosmological concepts has tried to constrain the debate to just the scientific arguments, it is clear that any discussion concerning the nature of the universe has the scope for wider philosophical questioning. In some ways, science is often constrained to limit its questions to `how` things happen, whereas philosophy can question `why` things happen and generally people are searching for answers to both types of questions. If human intelligence cannot be defined in terms of logic alone, as our actions are often motivated as much by emotional intuition as logic, then the following question may not be so out of context:

What does your intuition tell you about the universe?

Up until the 20th century, it was commonly believed that the universe was infinite, in both time and space, but subsequently the concept of an expanding universe has become more widely accepted, although it is not without its critics. However, in some ways, both perspectives strain our emotional intelligence . In the former, the concepts of infinity and eternity are essentially beyond the scope of human experience, and possibly even our imagination, to conceive.

Even if science allows space to be wrapped back on itself, does this really help our senses to visualise a universe beyond which nothing else exists?

If we take the opposite approach and assume a finite universe, are we not still left with the nagging doubt as to what, if anything exists outside its finite boundary, as the concept of ‘absolute nothing’ is equally difficult to imagine. However, the concept of the universe being finite in time leaves us having to face up to the problem of the universe being created, aging and possibly even eventually dying.

Note: Consistency would suggest that the opposite of creation is destruction, while dying is the opposite end of the scale to birth, so why mix the two concepts?

Creation and destruction are the semantics of non-living systems, while birth and death are processes we associate with living systems. The definition of what constitutes a living and non-living system can be surprisingly difficult – see Biological Life. Some have tried to condense the attributes of a living system into the following terms:

A self-organised, non-equilibrium system, governed by an internal program, which can reproduce itself.

While this description appears woefully inadequate to describe any living system, but the question is really whether any of these attributes are applicable to the universe itself. For example, scientific papers have been published suggesting the possibility that the universe can give `birth` to `baby` universes. Yes, it is accepted that there may have been no intention to suggest that the universe was a living system, but it still tends to invoke an anthropomorphic view of the universe, which may appeal to some people. However, let us constrain our thinking more along the lines of the anthropic principle, which although not necessarily suggesting the universe is a living system, does suggest that the universe may be the result of some conscious intelligence or design. In this context, we might outline four distinct options to underpin a range of cosmological models:

Options Infinite Finite - Scope
Conscious Intelligence Model-1 Model-2 - Why
Cause & Effect Model-3 Model-4 - How

Rather than confusing the discussion with the concept of living or non-living systems any further, these options will be described in terms of the universe being driven by some form of conscious intelligence or alternatively by the rules of cause and effect. While this approach is not intended to be a rigorous analysis of all the possibilities, it is hopefully sufficient to outline the main points of the debate:

  • Model-1: Infinite & Conscious
    Certainly, this model could be aligned to any number of theological positions in which an eternal deity is the conscious intelligence behind the universe. Humanity may look to the deity to explain the purpose of its existence, assuming that humanity does have a purpose within the grand scheme of things.

  • Model-2: Finite & Conscious
    This model might be described as a more philosophical position as it would be problematic to many theologies because it suggests that the god-like intelligence may not be eternal, i.e. God is the universe, so if the universe dies, so does God. Equally, the question as to what exists before and after the demise of this universe remains unanswered. Even so, humanity may still look to the finite god-like intelligence to help explain the purpose of its own existence.
  • Model-3: Infinite & Mechanistic
    In a sense, the scope of this model is only addressing `how` the universe might work and is not in a position to question 'why'. As Aristotle argued nearly 2500 years ago, cause and effect ultimately leads to an unanswered question about the form of the `prime mover`, although the probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics might question the determinism of 'cause and effect' as outlined. Even so, humanity would be left to speculate or define its own purpose for existence.

  • Model-4: Finite & Mechanistic
    This model is possibly the closest to the scientifc position; although it is rarely presented in this way. The universe is finite and science seeks to explain every effect through a series of causes, compliant with the accepted laws of physics. In this case, the prime mover might be described in terms of the `big bang`, before which science can only speculate on the meaning of 'absolute nothing'. Again, the ultimate purpose of the universe and existence is simply not addressed and therefore unresolved.

So to summarise, it is in the scope of models 1 & 2 to ask `why` questions, even though there may be no way for science to verify the conclusions. As such, model-1 may be considered to be the primary domain of theology, while philosophy may be better equipped to speculate on the implications of model-2. By definition, models 3 & 4 are constrained by cause and effect and if science seeks to remain agnostic, as to why the universe exists, it may only be able to legitimately seek answers to `how` the universe came to exist. Today, the standard model of cosmology is leaning towards model-4, although it is possible that the internal geometry of space is still open to further speculation, as to whether it is finite or infinite. Even so, cosmology appears to have concluded that the age of the universe, within the concept of the Big Bang, is finite at some 13.7 billion years; although whether this generalised concept defines the true scope of the universe may still be debated. However, while science may continue to address some aspects of our logical curiosity, it is unclear whether our emotional intelligence can be completely satisfied, if the scope of questions are constrained to just the ‘how’, as we clearly still want to ask 'why'. As a gut-feel, it may not be possible for humanity to truly understand the 'purpose' of the universe, especially if there is none, therefore the more relevant question might be:

Will humanity come to define its own purpose and, and in so doing, define the scope of a reality that is not necessarily defined or constrained by the physical universe?