2. How can life have any meaning if we live in a meaningless universe?
Your life can have meaning in a meaningless universe if you have the illusion that it does, but then you can't trust any of your beliefs, such as materialism and atheism, because they might be illusions too.

As usual William J. Murray says it better than I. All that follows is his:

1. Whether or not the universe is determined, the logically consistent moral subjectivist admit that under materialism, all things are ultimately explicable by the interactions of matter and energy under the guiding influences of natural law and mechanical probability.

2. Matter and energy are neither conscious or intentional agencies under materialism, but rather only produce effects that we label with those terms. However, those labels – under materialism – do not and can not indicate anything categorically different from matter and energy interacting according to law and probability. There is no such thing as anything “intervening” in the lawful and probabilistic outcomes of material processes because there is nothing exterior to such processes that can intervene and change them from their normal course.

3. This means that conscious thoughts and intentions cannot suspend or intervene on the ongoing material processes; they are nothing more than product of or a part of those selfsame material processes. The sensation of an ought cannot physically intervene, suspend or change the normal, natural course of matter and energy interacting according to physical law and mechanical probability.

The crucial point here is that while the sensation of an ought might be part of a sequences of events, and the temporal location of that sensed ought might be at the point where ones actions appear to change, the sensation of locally commanding the ensuing action in a top-down, mind-over-matter fashion is necessarily an illusion, because both the sensation of the ought and the “decision” to change physical course are entirely produced by ultimately non-conscious, non-teleological, bottom-up interacting materials and forces.

4. Under materialism, there is no top-down ghost in the machine or emergent capacity available that can intervene in the natural procession of material interactions. Any so-called “emergent properties” are simply variant expressions of natural law and mechanical probability in certain specific conditions, ultimately generated entirely by bottom up, non-conscious, non-teleological matter & energy.

5. So, under materialism, mind and morality can be accurately categorized as delusions, mirages of top-down, deliberate, prescriptive control, sensations manufactured by happenstance interactions of non-conscious, non-teleological matter that can have no prescriptive power whatsoever to alter the course of the normal, lawful and probabilistic behavior of matter.

Under materialism, the self is nothing more than a set of illusory qualia entirely produced and directed by law and probability, existing as nothing more than a kind of happenstance-generated internal hologram that is along for the ride, so to speak, as the interacting matter (that is producing the local hologram of self) does whatever it does anyway.

All that mind and morality can be is a description of sensation and they cannot have any prescriptive power to intervene or change material processes because that’s all they can be in the first place. A hologram cannot deliberately change its “programming” in any rational sense; its programming (what it does) is entirely generated by natural law and probability even if, from the hologram’s perspective, it appears as if he is doing it independently of natural law and/or probabilities, as if he has independent agency.

It would be no more different than if a rock had consciousness and felt like it was making a decision to move every time it happened to move. The sensation of the teleological “decision” is concurrent with the movement but cannot represent a true top-down command of the movement because materialism doesn’t offer top-down, teleological control even from emergent properties.

To sum up: under materialism, mind and morality are delusions of independent prescriptive power that a programmed hologram of “self” experiences while being carried wherever natural law and mechanical probability take it and while being whatever natural law and mechanical probability make it.

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2. How can life have any meaning if we live in a meaningless universe?
Your life can have meaning in a meaningless universe if you have the illusion that it does, but then you can't trust any of your beliefs, such as materialism and atheism, because they might be illusions too.
A reader writes to inform me of Alex Rosenberg’s very interesting essay “The Disenchanted Naturalist’s Guide to Reality.” Rosenberg’s thesis? That naturalism entails nihilism; in particular, that it entails denying the existence of objective moral value, of beliefs and desires, of the self, of linguistic meaning, and indeed of meaning or purpose of any sort. All attempts to evade this conclusion, to reconcile naturalism with our common sense understanding of human life, inevitably fail. Naturalism, when consistently worked out, leads to a radical eliminativism.
Rosenberg’s essay only bolsters the already ample evidence for these claims. Let’s take them in order:
1. Naturalism is incoherent
Rosenberg rightly concludes, there’s no such thing as “the” real or actual meaning of a work of art, a human action, or indeed of anything else. There is simply no fact of the matter about what anything means.
if this is correct, then there is in particular no fact of the matter about what Rosenberg or any other naturalist means when he puts forward a naturalistic thesis.

There are other incoherencies too. For example, Rosenberg keeps telling us that this or that commonsense feature of human nature is an “illusion” – despite the fact that illusions themselves are intentional phenomena, and thus the sort of thing which, on Rosenberg’s account, naturalism entails doesn’t exist. Rosenberg also seems to think that blindsight phenomena give us a reason to be eliminativists about phenomenal consciousness. But this is incoherent too, because the only reason we judge something to be a case of blindsight in the first place is that we have phenomenally conscious experiences to compare it to. Furthermore, Rosenberg assures us that the mind is merely the product of a long process of selection which favored those who were skilled at detecting other people’s motives. But since “motives” are themselves intentional mental phenomena, they can hardly coherently be appealed to in an account of how the mind originated. (Nor will it do to suggest that Rosenberg means only that our more complex minds evolved in order to detect other people’s motives; for it is the existence of any intentionality at all which poses a uniquely difficult problem for naturalism, not merely the existence of complex minds like ours.)
2. There are no non-question-begging arguments for naturalism: Rosenberg’s thinks we have to accept the depressing consequences he outlines because he thinks naturalism is clearly true. Why?
whenever Rosenberg or some other naturalist tells you that “Science has shown such-and-such,” what he really means is “Science as interpreted in light of a naturalistic metaphysics has shown such-and-such.” And when he is telling you specifically that what science has shown is that naturalism is true, what he is doing, accordingly, is begging the question. Nothing more.
3. The hegemony of naturalism over contemporary intellectual life owes entirely to philosophical muddleheadedness, ignorance of philosophical history, and anti-religious animus:
1] Truth does not exist (Is that a true statement?)

2] Nothing is absolute (Is that absolutely true?)

3] I do not exist (You must exist to deny that you exist)

4] Science is the only way to know (Can you scientifically prove that?)

5] Only what can be perceived by the five senses exists (Can you prove that by the five senses?)

6] Nobody can know anything for sure (Do you know that for sure?)

7] Nobody can know anything about God (How do you know that?)

8] Talk about God is meaningless (Since it is a statement about God, this statement is meaningless too)

9] Reality is just your interpretation, objective reality does not exist (That’s just your interpretation)

10] “‘Everything we think and do is the function of our genes/nervous system’”: Is this belief itself just the result of genetic/neutral activity? If so, why trust it — or any belief we have? If your belief happens to be right, it’s just by accident” [2]

11] There are no beliefs (You expect me to believe that?) [3]

12] Everything is meaningless (So is that statement)
These are smart guys, so how do they not see the glaring holes in their own arguments? How do they not see that their own arguments regarding lack of free will delve into the land of absurdity when closely inspected?
I agree with you... and I think this is a much bigger and deeper question than it might seem. I actually think it's a spiritual question... I mean, if you can live with this absurdity then what other absurdities can you live with? I think it goes a long way toward understanding our culture.
Regarding meaning: The universe is both meaningless and meaningful just as it is both light and dark depending on your perspective. Meaning cannot be felt except against a background of meaninglessness. The two need each other to exist as a dualistic pair. Those who insist the universe is fundamentally meaningless are only half right. It is also fundamentally meaningful. Your lifespan is a storyline - a meaning generator. Materialists insist that individual storylines are the only meaning generators in the universe and that they are single short isolated threads and nothing more. Non-materialists posit that individual storylines weave together on larger time and space scales to construct ever more meaningful story tapestries. I think the evidence for story tapestries is compelling and the knowledge of it alters the way we perceive the world and the way we react to it.

Perhaps when arguing with someone who insists the universe is fundamentally meaningless it would be good to note this dualistic relationship. Meaninglessness is meaningless without meaning. The oscillation between the two creates reality.
Our scientific knowledge rests on a network of theoretical principles or laws, and naturally the core principles are highly resistant to change and carry a high burden of proof. As we move outwards towards the periphery of the network the burden of proof declines. Claims which arise relative to peripheral matters may be admitted tentatively with less rigour. All of that is simply good sense.
operationalzied in the practice of peer review... not perfect but much better than Krauss' silliness.
krauss said there is no evidence for a purpose/meaning to the universe, and that he finds his own

that totally answers the question you gave, what would be more meaningful to you, a meaning and purpose you decide for yourself? or one that is given to you by some other entity or thing?

i think his answer makes alot of sense and perfectly addresses your question.
don't you think there is a contradiction here?
Hi All,

Very glad to have discovered the podcast. Regarding Dr. Krauss' comment on reincarnation, specifically how there are more people on the planet and "where did the souls come from?" My understanding of the general Buddhist teaching on reincarnation says that the ground of being (aka the soul) does not necessarily re-manifest in human form. Furthermore, I'm not sure the average person could ever wrap his/her mind around the teaching; it may be too big for us; certainly, one would have to come to terms with some base understanding of what or who we really are and how we interact with the universe(s) not to leave out the whole reality quandry. The biggest challenge may then be to put it all into some form of digestable language for the sake of discussion. What do we know? Thanks.
Hi Michael, welcome. agreed... I feel like we can only tip-toe up to the edge of these questions... but spotting the goofiness of Krauss' worldview is a lot easier.

Young men self-radicalize and become killers because they lack meaning in a modern age


... our society has failed to provide people with much meaning or purpose, and those feeling left out are turning to darker, alternative sources to provide it. And if this is the case, it could upend the way we think about terrorism and how to prevent it.


recognizing the patterns shared by mass shooters and terrorists is extremely difficult. Why? Because these traits — loneliness, alienation and disconnectedness from other people — is common in modern America. More Americans than ever report a high degree of loneliness in their lives, characterized by not having anyone with whom to confide one’s personal troubles or successes.


Yet, something is happening. During the past decade, the United States has seen its suicide rate increase as homicides and gun violence fell. As sociologist W. Bradfod Wilcox pointed out in 2013, the male suicide rate rises as men disconnect from society’s “core institutions,” which includes religion, marriage and stable employment.

Andrew Sims

Andrew Sims, past president of Royal College of Psychiatrists, has said: "The advantageous effect of religious belief and spirituality on mental and physical health is one of the best kept secrets in psychiatry and medicine generally. If the findings of the huge volume of research on this topic had gone in the opposite direction and it had been found that religion damages your mental health, it would have been front-page news in every newspaper in the land (from Is Faith Delusion)."


In the majority of studies, religious involvement is correlated with well-being, happiness and life satisfaction; hope and optimism; purpose and meaning in life; higher self-esteem; better adaptation to bereavement; greater social support and less loneliness; lower rates of depression and faster recovery from depression; lower rates of suicide and fewer positive attitudes towards suicide; less anxiety; less psychosis and fewer psychotic tendencies; lower rates of alcohol and drug use and abuse; less delinquency and criminal activity; greater marital stability and satisfaction… We concluded that for the vast majority of people the apparent benefits of devout belief and practice probably outweigh the risks.
Materialism: Meaning is an illusion. Science: People need meaning to thrive.
Research shows that belief in the paranormal and religion can be conducive to the health and well being of people. These beliefs can help people cope with grief, divorce, job loss, the fear of death, particularly in the terminally ill, and can deter suicide. Therefore, when skeptics and atheists try to convince people to stop believing in the paranormal and religion, they may be doing harm to other people. Furthermore, research also shows that having meaning in life is necessary for people to thrive but skeptics claim consciousness and meaning are illusions. When skeptics spread their philosophy of materialism they may cause harm by taking the meaning and purpose of life away from people.
Belief in religion and spirituality gives meaning to life in a way that atheism cannot.
Belief in religion and the afterlife eases grief and fear of death. It deters suicide, and helps people cope with adversity such as unemployment and divorce. People who find meaning in life are healthier, but pseudoskeptics espouse materialism which says that life is meaningless.
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