Let's consider a universe such that:

  1. The laws of physics do not allow life or any other consciousness to be formed within it.
  2. There's no outside observer of that universe (e.g. God or an equivalent).

Such a place would go through a big bang (or some other 'birth'), then galaxies and stars would possibly form, and then eventually the place would fall apart or implode on itself and nobody would be affected by it in any way. In my understanding such a universe would be meaningless. My question is:

In what philosophical frame (if any) such a universe would have 'meaning' ?

  • 2
    If a tree falls in the forest and no sentient being perceives it, does it mean anything? It seems to me that this is the same question.
    – user4894
    May 22, 2014 at 8:03
  • @user4894 It would have affect on other living things that surround that tree. May 22, 2014 at 8:39
  • "Meaning" is connected with language, and thus with "humans" which understand and communicate; thus, no minds/humans, then no understanding/communication, then no meaning. In additon, if there is no "consciousness" in the universe, there is no LIUFA nor Mauro asking questions; thus ... who bother about the universe. May 22, 2014 at 8:56
  • @MauroALLEGRANZA Agree 'meaning' can be ambiguous changed to significance. May 22, 2014 at 9:16
  • My comment does not change : "significance" for who/what ? In "your" universe there are only stones ... May 22, 2014 at 9:20

4 Answers 4


It appears to me that you've constucted your problem to exclude the two possibilities that have been used to give meaning or value to existence, that is life itself, and in particular the life-world or habitus of Man; and of the Deity (as conceived in Christianity) - we can say in short religion.

If one takes the view of Pan-Psychism however, say in the object-orientated ontology of Harman, which reverses the Kantian turn, or what Kant called his 'Copernican revolution', and then continues the Revolution understood as a decentering of the Human, then in this world despite there being no life and no gods, the very existence of the universe and all its parts renders meaning to itself. Meaning is immanent in the universe.


That the cycles of a physical universe might occur devoid of the presence or possibility of sentience would seem pointless to those who might ponder its theoretical existence, but such a circumstance would represent a reality to which meaning has not been applied.

Also by who's yardstick should we define this meaning, and why would such lack in application of meaning necessitate that the reality concerned may as well not exist? It may not be of concern to 'us' but what if the playing out of this physical universe were simply validated by sake of its being?

In the absence of a sentience to appreciate reality, reality itself would be without meaning but would still retain all the qualities that would appeal to sentience were it to exist.

In terms of philosophical frameworks... I am thinking that Eternalism may be worth looking into whereby certain interpretations might consider even elements such as free will to be deterministic. A universe where sentience is predictable but just a lot more difficult to fathom than the erosion of rocks or the death of stars... and where lives (and perhaps souls) are but material energies existing upon different levels, ever converting.


I'll take an out-of-the-box view of this question to hopefully provide an interesting perspective to the question. There is actually a great example of this in modern life here on Earth in the theory of a multiverse (as opposed to a single universe).

The question, "How did the universe begin?" has been one justification of a divine being for all of recorded history. It didn't start itself, and everything has a beginning, so there must be someone outside of the universe (God) who started it in motion. Modern physics cannot disprove this theory. Even the Big Bang has the question "what caused it?" "God did it" is an untestable explanation that is enough to confirm belief for many people.

However, this is a problem for people who do not believe in a divine being. People have thought up a wide range of ideas to this solution, but few hold up under investigation. Enter the multiverse. The multiverse is a relatively recent astrophysics theory that states that there are an infinite number of universes in every possible state (only some are capable of sustaining life and each can have different laws of physics). Each spontaneously pops into existence by creating equal amounts of matter and anti-matter and energy and anti-energy. Each universe is totally separate from the others, so no one in one can observe the others.

The multiverse theory (and the existence of universes that cannot support life and are not observed - only believed in) allows some people to see meaning in existence by providing an alternate hypothesis to the existence of a divine being. So in this case, a universe as described above does have "meaning."


if there are NO inside or outside observers possible for this universe and it can have no effect on any other universe while at the same time no other universe can have any effect on it then its own existence cannot even be known by anyone. Therefore if there is something (anything) that by its very fundamental nature cannot be known by anyone and cannot effect anyone or anything then that something has no effectual existence.

It seems to me that such a universe is the attempt at an exact example of meaninglessness. It cannot be observed nor effected nor have any effect on anything else then it is the same as if it does not exist to begin with. If nothing at all changes with either its existence or nonexistence then it is the definition of meaningless.

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