Is the universe really a conscious mind? A reflection based on the article by Philip Goff


Leandro Castelluccio

A response and reflection to the article: “Is the universe a conscious mind? By Philip Goff”. Link here

(Image obtained from: link)

“Cosmopsychism might seem crazy, but it provides a robust explanatory model for how the Universe became fine-tuned for life”. In this way the essence of the aforementioned article is presented, where the idea of a universal consciousness or intelligence integrated to the Universe itself is analyzed, which falls under the concept of Cosmopsychism.

For the theistic people it could be said that it is another way of speaking about the deity or God as an explanation of why the life and order perceived in the universe. And there seems to be an essential fact that the author remarks that guides us to think about the possibility of an intelligence in the universe, capable of ordering things in a particular way and it is the fact that the laws of physics are such that allow life to exist, that is, laws and physical constants are incredibly specific to allow life itself, incredibly because, it is argued, it is highly unlikely that such laws have been configured in that way by mere randomness, suggesting intelligent design. As the article indicates: “It is therefore incredibly unlikely that a universe like ours would have the kind of numbers compatible with the existence of life. But, against all the odds, our Universe does”.

The article goes on to name some examples, such as the fact that the strong nuclear force (the force that joins the elements in the nucleus of an atom) has a value of 0.007 and if that value had been 0.006 or less, the Universe would not have contained nothing but hydrogen, and in turn, if it had been 0.008 or higher, the hydrogen would have fused to form heavier elements and any type of chemical complexity in both cases would have been physically impossible and therefore there would have been no life. And so with other examples, to then talk about the hypothesis of why this would be so.

In short, the probabilities that life exists in the universe would seem tiny, given the spectrum of possible variations in the physical fabric of reality, a possibility so tiny that it makes us question the involvement of mere chance. So, what’s behind it? Is there a conscious mind with the purpose of generating life? On this central point I wish to raise certain arguments in this article.

The following are the arguments that I raise against the idea of “fine-tuning” of reality:

1) The argument of evolution: we turn the line of thought, life is not an end but a consequence. Years ago when I was a child, I noticed a curious fact in the garden of my house. Years later it helped me to understand in an experiential way the basic fact of evolution: natural selection. It happened that when looking at the stems of a group of weeds, some green and others almost pale brown given the dry they were, there were two kinds of insects perched on them, equal to each other, except one difference, some were green and were perched on the green stems and other browns that were perched on the brown stems. The insects, then, were perfectly adapted to their particular environment so that they went unnoticed if there was a sparrow that wanted to eat them. And one might think, as one thinks about the fine-tuning, that the color of the insects was such for each one so that they camouflaged themselves on the stem and went unnoticed, and the surprising thing was that there seemed to be a relationship between the stem and the insect, because the colors were identical to the eye, all this did not seem at all casual, it could not be a simple coincidence. It was not, but the reality is another to that of a design, that situation is the result of the fact that a green insect on the brown stem does not stay long there as a sparrow will easily eat it, nor does the brown insect subsist a long time in a green stem, so naturally, that is, by natural selection, we will find green insects in the green stem and brown ones in the browns. There is no design, deliberation or purpose at play here, naturally what I observed was the consequence of a series of things, not a particular purpose. In the same way, such insects would have different colors, and only those whose colors were confused with those of their environment (that of the weeds) survived, so that the relationship between the stem and the color of the insect arose naturally. This is how people not think about life and fine-tuning, like insects adapted to the environment, you could believe that an intelligent force designed them to be adapted to it, which can not be a coincidence, but that adaptation situation was not a particular end, but a consequence of the fact that the green insects in the brown stems disappear because they are easily detected by the birds. In the same way, to believe that life was a purpose or objective to reach induces to think that the conditions or physical laws for it were orchestrated, however life, as the adaptation of the insects in the previous example, is a consequence of such conditions or laws, not the purpose or objective. What happens is that we turn the line of causality, we are a consequence and not a cause (a cause to design particular physical laws). Only when we consider life as something meaningful in some sense and an objective to reach is that we turn things around and think that all physical laws must have been adjusted for life and not that life is a consequence of certain physical laws, and here we add the subject of the small probabilities of such facts, but looking at life as a consequence we no longer have that problem of the improbable.

2) The incredible improbabilities occur all the time and have always done so for billions of years. Think of life on earth, think of different possibilities that each organism could have taken given the conditions of its context, a bird that could have turned the other way, and having been attacked by a predator, an insect could have flown to another side and not become food of another organism, an old human being could have managed to get food if he or she only managed to travel a little more distance, etc. Every imaginable alternative to any event enlarges the improbability of what finally happens and has happened, but that is a mental game, in the end a thing happens and if we add all the possible alternatives, what happens may seem very unlikely, but it is what happens, in this way, if we think about the alternatives, the highly improbable things are the things that happen all the time, there is no greater mystery. Let’s think of another example: a deck of cards that we throw to the ground in a linear way. If the cards end up all ordered from the smallest number to the largest, it would draw our attention, because that pattern is meaningful for us, and then we think about the tiny chances that it came out that way, but it has done so and we think that it can not be coincidence. But the reality is that any combination has the same probability, that is, any combination is equally improbable, but it happens anyway, just because a combination where the smallest to the largest number is special or significant is that we think that it can not be coincidence or it is not chance, but any other combination is equally unlikely. In this way, these improbabilities occur, it draws our attention when we assign value or a special meaning to something, such as life, and then we begin to make conjectures that it can not be chance. In any case, this way of thinking is the result of a cognitive bias in terms of the attributions we make of things and what is significant to us.

3) It is a bias to stop in life and not think, for example, that atoms are something of the “fine-tuning” type, although then life did not exist in the universe. Again we return to the role of what we give a special meaning, which is such for us, then we say that life requires a fine-tuning because that is the end or objective as remarked before, but why not think that the atom is something significant, ordered and special in itself, so that the laws of physics are such that there are atoms, regardless of whether there is life later. This illustrates the power of our selectivity when choosing something meaningful and special, ignoring everything else, perhaps life is irrelevant and special are atoms and that is why physical laws are what they are. In such case, life is a consequence of the laws made for atoms, as life actually is: a consequence. But following this reasoning, we can go backwards, moving to structures prior to the atom, as being the objective of reality, and so on continuously until it no longer makes sense to think of “fine-tuning”.

4) The fine-tuning of the intelligent entity that creates the conditions for life must be explained. This is so because such an entity would be a determined structure that has to be such so that this entity wants to generate life and certain conditions, so we fall into the same problem: how likely is it that there is an intelligent mind, endowed with conscience, with the appropriate and specific characteristics so that it had the intention of engendering life by establishing certain physical laws? The fine-tuned nature of the entity itself must then be explained.

5) We can find thousands of examples where the fine-tuning no longer seems so good or fine. For example, other species have existed and have become extinct, this is also part of the fine-tuning. Life also has a particular course and many organisms in the history of our planet have emerged and become extinct, was there a purpose in that? Life has difficult aspects for life itself, cancer and unpleasant diseases would be part of the fine-tuning, if we think that this is a fact, then what sense does this have as something significant? Would a more perfect or exact tuning have eliminated these possibilities? Maybe not all of them, one might think that they may fulfill some function, but certainly many are unnecessary sufferings.

2 thoughts on “Is the universe really a conscious mind? A reflection based on the article by Philip Goff

  1. This is pretty kiddy level. All your objections can be dismissed with the ‘anthromorphic principle’. I think it’s admirable you want to do philosophy, but study it a little first so you don’t make these kinds of silly school boy errors in future.


    1. None of the objections are incompatible with the anthropic principle: one of the main points of the article is the consideration of life and consciousness as a result of physical laws and not an objective or purpose of them, which goes in tune with the anthropic principle. This point adresses the issue of there being a universal consciouss mind as a casue or reason for there being life and human consciousness, stating that life is a consecuence and not and objective. Considering life as and objective or purpose is an interpretation of the universe that finds the existance of a universal mind as a result, but considering it as a consecuence does not go against the fact that for life to exist our observations of the universe must be compatible with it, in the same way as saying that the camuflage of insects is the result of natural selection does not go against the fact that the camuflage must be such for there being such an insect that we can observe.


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