The Universe May Not Have a Purpose — But You Do, Thanks to Science
Life is a temporary, cosmic accident and the universe may very well be meaningless. That's depressing — or is it?
Lawrence Maxwell Krauss is a Canadian-American theoretical physicist who is a professor of physics, and the author of several bestselling books, including The Physics of Star Trek and A Universe from Nothing. He is an advocate of scientific skepticism, science education, and the science of morality. Krauss is one of the few living physicists referred to by Scientific American as a "public intellectual", and he is the only physicist to have received awards from all three major U.S. physics societies: the American Physical Society, the American Association of Physics Teachers, and the American Institute of Physics.
Lawrence Krauss: I have a friend of mine who's a very famous writer, and I'll leave him nameless for the moment, but he writes very dark novels. And when I first met him I was surprised he was so cheerful and I said, "How can you be so cheerful?" And he looked at me and he said, "I'm a pessimist, but that's no reason to be gloomy." And that's become my own mantra in some sense, and it seems appropriate when you think about the universe.
Because the universe first of all isn't here to make us happy, it isn't here to please us and it doesn't give a damn what happens to us. In the far future of the universe is likely to be miserable as I talked about in my last book, and I point in my new book it could even be more miserable.
So in a purposeless universe that may have a miserable future you may wonder, "Well how can I go about each day?" And the answer is we make our own purpose. We make our own joy. We are here by a cosmic accident as I've tried to show, but it's a remarkable accident that's allowed you and I to be here to talk, us to think and appreciate the beauty and splendor of the universe.
So the fact that the universe itself may have no purpose doesn't affect our purpose, in fact it's the incredible height of solipsism to assume that without us the universe doesn't matter, and that if the universe is purposeless we don't matter. We make our own purpose, and it seems to me life is more precious because it's temporary and accidental, and we should take advantage of that. And we have evolved brains and that allows us to ask questions not just about how the universe works but how we should behave.
Now it's a long philosophical debate about whether you can get ought from is, and maybe you can never get ought from is, and maybe reason is the slave of passion. One thing seems clear to me: that without knowing what is you could never get to ought. Or: To do the ought that you get to is silly. If you don't know the consequences of your actions, which is really what science tells us, then you can't assess how to behave. And so understanding empirical phenomena plays a central role in leading a better life, it seems to me. And it should play a central role in public policy so that we as a society can make sound decisions about how to act in the common good.
The universe doesn't care about you, and the future is miserable. So begins theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss' guide to optimism. Optimism? You heard us right. We may never find meaning or purpose in the universe, but to assume that our purpose is interlinked with that of the universe is what Krauss calls the height of solipsism. Life is beautiful precisely because it's so temporary, and if anything helps us to be optimistic in a morally neutral universe, it's science. Asking questions and understanding what something is helps us realize the consequences of our actions. Armed with knowledge, we can make decisions for the common good. If that's not hope, what is?
This video is part of a collaborative series with the Hope & Optimism initiative, which supports interdisciplinary academic research into significant questions that remain under-explored. The three-year initiative will provide over $2 million for philosophers, philosophers of religion, and social scientists to generate original, high-quality, collaborative research on topics related to optimism and hopefulness. Discover the public components of the Hope & Optimism project, and how you can contribute, at hopeoptimism.com.
Lawrence Krauss' most recent book is The Greatest Story Ever Told -- So Far: Why Are We Here?.
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What does sports fandom look like in the new normal?
- With the masses huddled at home and glued to our screens, the last several months of frozen competition provided an opportunity for sports franchises to experiment with creative modes of fan engagement, often involving multiple media channels.
- On another level, this is a challenge that wasn't prompted by COVID-19 and won't go away when COVID-19 does.
- Franchise marketers are accelerating their digital transformation processes, finding innovative ways to connect with fans online, with VR, community building and repackaging classic content.
Head back to the stadium – virtually<p>After months of deprivation, fans are panting to see their favorite teams. For the moment, they are so eager to return to live sports that they are ecstatic over any live game broadcast. On July 5, some 5.7 million people tuned in to the Southampton v. Manchester City match, making it the Premier League's most-watched match ever. </p><p>But as time goes by, the shine of live sports will wear off. An empty stadium is disappointing both for viewers at home and for players. The NFL's "virtual draft" event in April drew a larger audience (15.6 million) than Monday Night Football did last weekend (14 million), even though the former was little more than a televised Zoom call while the latter was a marquee matchup between two of the hottest teams in the league, the Chiefs and the Ravens.</p><p>The time has come for the sports industry to find creative ways to harness technology for the next generation of fan engagement. What can we learn about the future based on what worked best during the pandemic?</p>
Breathe new life into regurgitated content<p>Filling up gaps in the programming schedule with reruns of classic games worked well at first, but returns are diminishing. Success requires networks to put more work into their content choices.</p><p>Tommy Stimson, managing director at Qualitative Insights, <a href="https://marumatchbox.com/4-actions-fan-engagement-sports-covid-19/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">points out</a> that fans aren't very interested in games from the last 10-12 years. Footage from these games is already widely available online, plus "The known outcome and familiarity with the content makes the reruns less-than-satisfying." Instead, Stimson recommends showing iconic, historical sports moments that most of today's fans haven't seen or experienced. </p><p>Fans appreciate reruns far more when the footage is interspersed with new analysis and commentary, either from current players or from the athletes who were playing at the time. One of the darlings of Netflix's pandemic-era programming lineup, Michael Jordan's <em>The Last Dance </em>documentary, which followed the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls on their title run, drew an average of 5.6 million viewers for each of its ten episodes.</p><p>Many teams hosted social media-integrated "watch parties," where former players shared their personal memories and fielded questions from fans while streaming classic games, and fans were delighted with the multi-screen experience, which dovetailed perfectly with game rerun telecasts. <a href="https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/survey-sports-with-empty-stadiums-means-millions-of-americans-will-be-engaging-from-home-301094037.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">One poll</a> found that 76 percent of U.S. fans want more watch party-style viewing options moving forward.</p>
Screenshot of New England Patriots re-watch party ad
Credit: Facebook<p>Networks would also do well to tap into the <a href="https://bigthink.com/culture-religion/money-sports-success" target="_self">deeper reasons</a> why people follow sports, by sharing narratives about how teams come together as a unit, or times when players overcame adversity. Viewers are eager for behind-the-scenes content that reveals how players stay in shape, how managers set strategies, or the motivating factors behind decisions to trade, draft, and otherwise acquire talent.</p><p>As brands collect more viewer data, they can also deliver more personalized content experiences that engage fans more deeply. </p>
Invite fans to vote for in-game elements<p>Giving fans ways to have a real effect on in-game elements is another winner for the sports industry. Juventus has long been a trail-blazer for digital transformation, so it's no big surprise to see the storied soccer franchise leading the way again.</p><p><span></span>Juventus <a href="https://www.socios.com/new-goal-celebration-song-for-juventus-is-revealed/" target="_blank">invited fans to vote</a> for its new in-stadium goal celebration song using Socios, a token-based voting and rewards platform, to ensure that the results wouldn't be sabotaged by rival fans or manipulated by hackers.</p>
Credit: Twitter<p>Fans overwhelmingly chose Blur's "Song 2," and were rewarded by <a href="https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-7868543/Juventus-fans-chose-iconic-Blur-track-goal-anthem-pioneering-blockchain-vote.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">hearing the song four times</a> in the first back-to-business game between Juventus and Cagliari. </p> <p>Socios has been doing some interesting work in the digital fan engagement realm beyond the Juventus example. Its parent company, Chiliz, partners with teams to issue blockchain-based, franchise-branded coins. Apollon Limassol FC decided to put on a head-to-head skills challenge between players, with <a href="https://medium.com/chiliz/apollon-fc-apl-fan-token-sells-out-in-6-minutes-generating-100k-f3bc6a98e75d" target="_blank">fans using tokens to vote</a> on the matchups. In esports, itself a social distancing-friendly concept, fans of Spanish team Heretics were able to vote on which players would go head to head in Fortnite death-matches.</p>
Encourage fans to connect together at home<p>Part of the beauty of sports is that it forges relationships. Season ticket holders connect with neighboring seatmates in the stadium; families bond over a shared love for their teams; friends come together to watch the big match and analyze it ceaselessly during and after the game.</p> <p>It's difficult to translate this to a situation where even private socializing is frowned upon, but it's not impossible. </p> <p>To build hype as the NFL season neared, Pepsi <a href="https://www.marketingdive.com/news/pepsi-delivers-tailgate-in-a-box-to-football-fans-hankering-for-game-day/584016/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">tapped into this demand</a> with a "Tailgate-in-a-box" kit that includes an outdoor projector and a range of Pepsi products. The kit is valued at $5,000 and was delivered to sweepstake winners, so it's unclear how this will translate into the general market, but the opportunity is clear. Pepsi is also experimenting with a "tailgate tour" that brings live music and outdoor games to fans viewing from home. </p> <p>The <a href="https://www.sportbusiness.com/2020/09/nba-leverages-microsoft-partnership-to-revolutionize-virtual-fan-experience/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">NBA led the way recently</a> by offering 320 fans the opportunity to "attend" games in the Orlando bubble. At-home viewers logged in through Microsoft Teams, and their streamed likenesses were beamed onto 17-foot video boards set up around the courts. The tech made it look like viewers were sitting next to each other, plus participants could interact with each other and see and hear their reactions in real time. The NBA has other plans to allow fans to chat during games, display a real-time statistical overlay, and introduce gaming elements as well. </p>
Credit: Instagram<p>Technological advances, including <a href="https://bigthink.com/what-would-it-take-to-create-a-fully-immersive-virtual-reality" target="_self">virtual reality</a> (VR) and augmented reality (AR), offer teams new ways to offer virtual fan experiences.</p> <p>Another option that could become very popular is <a href="https://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2020/05/27/virtual-reality-sports-fans-broadcasts/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">audio AR</a>. Powerful recording equipment picks up the minutiae of sounds that make up the audio backdrop of in-stadium viewing, and then broadcasts it to at-home viewers. AR allows the noise to grow louder or fainter as viewers "move" closer to or further away from the action. Brands can even add crowd sounds, like gasps at a near miss or the shouts of vendors, to enhance the experience. </p> <p>In Japan, an app called Remote Cheerer allowed fans to capture their real-time reactions to on-field action and actually play triggered sounds in the stadium, instead of the canned crowd noise we've hearing in our MLB, NFL and NHL telecasts. This type of solution keeps fans at home more engaged and makes even the passive TV watching experience more authentic.</p>