The Greatest Story Ever Told–So Far by Lawrence M. Krauss
We don’t know whether it is the greatest story ever told or not – but definitely among the most interesting ones. Going through a large chunk of the development of modern science is exciting even if one knows what are the latest discoveries. ( Obviously, most of us have to realize that we don’t know or we don’t know well enough of them). Compared to other popular science books one of the most difficult but most rewarding characteristics of this book is that it doesn’t simplify the scientific results too much. It is brave enough even to risk losing some of its audiences. Nonetheless, if you are persistent enough (and you are not lazy to check out Wikipedia for some additional explanation 🙂 ) you can really learn something new about the world around and inside you.
Your ability to know what you know or don’t know — and how confident you are in what you think you know — is called metacognition. It seems that only we, humans have such a sophisticated understanding of our own knowledge.
Metacognitive Illusions In Monkeys
However, it may not be true, according to an interesting study. Monkeys had higher confidence in their ability to remember an image when the visual contrast was high. These kinds of metacognitive illusions — false beliefs about how we learn or remember best — are shared by humans, leading brain and cognitive scientists to believe that metacognition could have an evolutionary basis, so we may share with some animals.
We can also add that it somehow shakes our confidence in the uniqueness of our intelligence. How does this affect our conclusions regarding the meaning of life? It may be worth further investigation.
You must be perfect to have a meaning of life – or must we just accept our flaws? All people harbor general biases — beliefs and attitudes about groups of people that are based on race or ethnicity, gender, body weight or other traits. Most biases “develop over the course of one’s lifetime through exposure to messages,” notes Cheryl Staats of Ohio State University in Columbus. Those messages may come from hearing a sexist comment during a family dinner or banter from TV shows, movies or other media. People may not even be aware that such implicit biases influence their decisions. Yet they will. The good news is that people can learn to recognize implicit biases by taking simple online tests. And there are steps we all can take to overcome such unfounded attitudes.
One of the books with topic closest to our own experiment and approach (scientific approach to the question of the meaning of life) is Gleb Tsipursky’s “As a Person Find Your Purpose Using Science”. A very practical, action-oriented book with extensive evidence supporting its statements and recommendations. Its main aims are as follows:
To show that searching for the meaning of life is a very useful exercise which will help you to be a happy and successful person
To present the latest research results on the effect of having such a purpose in your life
To recommend practical strategies for finding your own purpose
As Steve Jobs did not invent the iPhone ( Steve Jobs, the sole innovator?), it is also impossible to solve the mysteries which require complex analysis of systems of a wide range of natural phenomena or scientific results and theories – alone.
Some may argue that the sole innovators are rare nowadays, but they are still existing species. However, polyhistors undeniably died out centuries ago, and only their fossils are haunting in some old dusty books. The joint knowledge of humanity or even just one branch of science is too large, none can hope to hold it entirely. There are physicists, but all of them are more or less specialized to particle or molecular physics, optics or astrophysics – you name it. Keeping up with recent publications of just one subfield is more than enough for anyone.
Hence, if you would like to attack some complex topics, especially with weapons borrowed from science, we got just one advice for you: don’t do it alone. Learn from others, climb to the shoulders of giants, build a team of similarly thinking clever guys, and hope that it will be enough.
We hope that too. Would you like to join us in the quest for finding the scientific answer to the meaning of life? Let us know!
Recent experiments seem to show that the very existence of our free will (and our meaning of life with it) can be questioned. Is that really the case?
In more than one recent experiment, the results showed that we humans are making decisions (if at all) before we are actually aware of them. Our consciousness only records and explain our decisions and does not make them.
For example in certain cases, the brain scanners can prove that the actual decision on a hand move and preparation for that very move starts before it can be made as a conscious decision.
In other experiments, the participating people were ready to explain their decisions as a conscious one. However, the setup of the circumstances made it impossible to actually make those decisions. People do not just tend to think that they are making conscious decisions, they are also ready to rewrite the past, adjust their own knowledge about their own decisions (retrospectively creating an ideology for them) to have a better fit with the actual events and results.
Furthermore, under the influence of testosterone shots, males are more likely to make impulsive and wrong decisions in an IQ test. In these tests, quick, impulsive, and intuitive answers are usually wrong – yet more testosterone motivates males to make such decisions.
It seems that we are just deceiving ourselves thinking that we have free will. If our decisions can be easily “adjusted” with some chemicals if we don’t make certain decisions at all, and if our subconscious mind is the real boss of our actions, how can we say that we have free will? And if we don’t have free will, if we are just robots, how can we say that our life has any meaning?
Don’t be afraid! Our situation is not so disastrous. The above deductions are just samples of some simplified logic and it mustn’t be applied mechanically to scientific results. The problems with the above simple conclusions regarding our free will are as follows: • The above results may not be entirely correct (there are always critics and questions regarding any experiment). It may be better to wait until someone confirms the results. • The above results may be applicable to special cases only. It is a common element in all of the experiments above that they examine quick decisions, artificially reducing the time available for the decision-making process. It is no surprise that consciousness plays smaller roles there. • The experiments sometimes do not examine, “follow up” the next steps of the individuals: a testosterone-driven man may take a second look at the test, realize his error, and consciously correct it. Everyone deserves a second chance! • It is not a logical contradiction to make a “free” decision subconsciously. Quick, emotional decisions may also be our own, regardless. • We must be aware of and calculate with other scientific results too. We already know that many physical processes are predictable, “pre-determined”, controlled by the existing state of the physical system and the laws of nature, especially in the short term. So it is not a surprise that short-term decisions and processes may not be “free” – exactly the situation in all the experiments above. However, predictability of the physical processes is declining quickly with longer forecasting periods.
Hence, there is no need to panic regarding our free will until someone can make long-term valid forecasts of the behavior of human beings.
As per Max Roser’s article on Our World In Data The short history of global living conditions there was a tremendous improvement in the human living conditions from 1800 to date. The data he presented seems correct, impressive and persuasive. Does it mean that our future is bright, and we just have to wait until our Meaning of Life will be discovered as our knowledge increases, created by some future discoveries and inventions or just simply become an unimportant question as all our problems will be solved?
To make it easier for the readers to understand the transformation in living conditions that humanity has achieved, the author of the article made a summarizing visualization in which he imagined this 200 year history as the history of a group of 100 people to see how the lives of them would have changed if they lived through this transformative period of the modern world.
In spite of this data, people do not think that the world is becoming a better place. A recent survey asked, “All things considered, do you think the world is getting better or worse, or neither getting better nor worse?” In Sweden, 10% thought things are getting better. In the US, they were only 6%. And in Germany, only 4%. Very few people think that the world is getting better.
Our first reaction to these “new” facts may be just shouting: “Hey You All, wake up! Don’t believe that mass media, with all those reports on catastrophes, terrorism, wars, and economic crises, are telling you the truth! Our world and our living conditions is better than ever!” And, yes, we may actually be telling the truth; we know that practically all media distorts reality heavily. In order to gain an audience, they show far more negative news (such as murders) than we can actually experience in our own life. Recent articles are describing how the media creates a “social reality” or “social perception of reality,” sometimes quite far from the actual events, the frequency of actual events, or the actual effect of real events to our life. So, yes, people can actually wake up and fear less as the world is a better place than currently perceived. The article also explains why we can’t perceive these positive developments.
The false negative perception may also affect our thinking regarding the meaning of life. If we believe that the world is going in the wrong direction, we start worrying about our future and start thinking about whether the whole suffering is worth the effort… Now, however, we know that we are going in just the right direction. Just a little further and we may find ourselves in an Earthy paradise! Yee!
Unfortunately, it is not so simple (as usual…). First of all, we must check the sources, the reliability and relevance of the data presented, then we can think about what other living conditions can be examined, of which evolutions are not so encouraging. But the two most significant reasons are as follows:
Some of our current most difficult problems are direct consequences of the above past successes. Vaccination, a decline of child mortality, and poverty (larger consumption per capita) have directly led to the current large population increase and extensive usage of natural resources. Therefore, our success is indirectly leading to major environmental problems. No cross no crown. Nothing is for free.
Past performance is no guarantee of future results. It is essential to understand WHY these past developments have happened. If the factors behind the progress are not sustainable, if it would reverse, or if the positive effects of these factors are declining (the law of diminishing returns), then we may find ourselves in deep trouble in the future.
So, based on these data and their careful analysis, we can say, yes, we can have a solid hope for the future. But then again, we should avoid arrogant confidence at any cost; we should keep our powder dry.
As ScienceDaily reported (ScienceDaily) based on a study published on the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS ) the neurotransmitter dopamine is involved in human bonding, using the brain’s reward system to form human relationships, such as mother and child relationship, in both animal and human models.
The significance of the results according to the authors: Early life bonding in humans has critical long-term implications for health, productivity, and well-being in society. Nonetheless, neural mechanisms of bonding are typically studied in rodents, and no study, to this date, has examined the neurochemistry of human social affiliation. This study utilizes a state-of-the-art technology to demonstrate that human maternal bonding is associated with striatal dopamine function and the recruitment of a corticostriatal–amygdala brain network that supports affiliation. The simultaneous probing of neurochemical responses and whole-brain network function in mothers watching their infants provides a unique observation into an “affiliating brain.” These results advance the mechanistic understanding of human social bonding and promote basic and clinical research in social neuroscience, development, and psychopathology.
On the other hand, the interpretations of this result (and of similar studies before) regarding the meaning of our lives may not be favorable. This study can be a blow for those who believe that our human relationships and actions are governed by our souls and not by biochemical processes of our body. Moreover, these processes are based on physical laws of nature and were shaped by a multi-billion-year evolution here on Earth. Consequently, someone may logically draw a conclusion that our human relationships, such as mother-and-child bond, may not form the basis of the meaning of our individual lives as a mechanical and chemical reaction we have no decision about. Some may even incorrectly jump to the result that our lives are meaningless in general – we are just robots programmed to feel by chemicals.
Even if the above logic is mathematically correct, the conclusion may not be valid. Science demands proof. Many fantastic and well thought through hypothesis have failed in experiments. So even a proper logic does not mean that the conclusions are true and reflect reality.
Moreover, such pessimistic thoughts are partially just resulting from our disappointment and fear that we have no soul (we are not immortal), and that there are scientific explanations and background for our existence and behavior. This disappointment makes us jump to incorrect conclusions because the above logic is not watertight. It’s as if death would retrospectively eliminate our current existence as well, or as if our atoms and chemicals are not part of ourselves. The true problems, illustrated herein by questions are three-fold:
Do the facts that we have no soul and we have to die in the future automatically mean that there is no meaning of our life today and that the current meaning of our lives will automatically cease to exist with our death?
Do the facts that our body is made of atoms and elementary particles, and there are laws governing the behavior of such atoms and molecules, automatically mean that “we” actually do not exist and we don’t have any freedom to make decisions?
Will our feelings and affections, which are being produced by physical, biochemical and evolutionary processes, reduce their value and usefulness to us, our society, or humanity?
You can see that the seemingly logical first conclusions from the result of the above recent research are far from obvious. Later, we may return to these questions and topics in another blog.
Warming oceans may have long-term effects on our own future potential as recent and historical processes show.
The current decline in the oxygen level of the oceans resulting from global warming is not just alarming in itself. The subsequent reduction of the biomass in the oceans may also easily result in a significant nutrient gap, and the slow recovery of the nutrition was exactly the factor behind the very slow recovery of the ocean’s biodiversity during the worst known mass extinction 250 million years ago.
Why is it relevant to the meanings of life? Because we can permanently harm our long-term potential to survive and develop. Global warming is not just a temporary problem or something we can remedy in a mere few thousands year. We may destroy our capability to reach our aims and fulfill our hopes as a race – the very opposite of the meaning of our life.
Causes behind the slow recovery after the worst mass extinction