I came across this thinking today when I was reading some evolutionary biology writings. Human beings tend to accept that everything must be traced back to something else, or an origin, starting point; on the contrary, we can very easily accept the fact that something may exist and proliferate forever in the future. Why is that?

For an analogy (though not scientifically correct), it is very acceptable that human will theoretically be in this world forever, because every man is capable of producing some new people, as long as we figure out some ways to avoid disasters; However, we cannot accept the fact that human beings may have existed forever in the past---although every man is derived from another human being---we always try to figure out who is the first being that can be called human, or life.

It is the same with universe---we want to know the starting point of this universe, but not the end, and we often assume this universe can last forever in the future. Why we couldn't accept the fact that this universe can last forever in the PAST? Does it have something to do with human's perception of time as a directional process?

  • 2
    We couldn't accept the fact, that this universe lasted forever in the past, because it isn't a fact, at least, if you trust in science. Depending on which theory you trust, time itself has a starting point. But leaving that aside, I guess, most people look for a starting point in everything, because of our causal way of thinking. – Geshode Jun 4 '18 at 6:47
  • @Geshode has it correct - it's widely accepted that the universe has a finite age. Therefore, everything that has ever existed or occurred has happened some finite period of time in the past. I completely disagree with your assessment that people implicitly believe the universe will last forever and that there's currently no scientific inquiry into this topic. – Nuclear Wang Jun 4 '18 at 19:18
  • The Buddhist view is that nothing has a truly discrete beginning or end, there is only endless dependent origination en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pratītyasamutpāda – CriglCragl Jun 4 '18 at 23:27
  • I reject the premise that everything must have an origin. But, well, your question is about relations between origins and ends. In fact, I'd say origin and end are human constructs, which just are namings for specific types of changes. But many astrophysicists think the universe will stop to exist. Or, at least, no interaction will be in the universe and therefore no agent to proclaim the existence, which means time stop and really the end of the universe. At the same time there always will be question why did our universe start to exist? And here you go to non-original existence. – rus9384 Jun 7 '18 at 8:43
  • Thanks everyone. I think my original question is more of a psychological nature, rather than concerning about the astrophysics model of our universe. Our brain has a remarkable ability that helps us memorize things in their linear order---which we perceive as time. What if our brain is not designed perfectly such that our memory is not ordered at all? I guess we can still reconstruct the time dimension since we can put similar memories closer to each other, but in this case, the directionality is lost. – yixianshuiesuan Jun 16 '18 at 3:44

There are many things which we are confident at some point in the past did not exist, like the language "English", or "flying Earth creatures", or "human beings", or Dubstep. Since these things exist now, there must have been a time when they came into existence. Hence, they each had a beginning (though the exact moment of "beginning" is vague and unclear in most of these examples).

Since all of the above still exist, and we do not have proof that any of them will ever cease to exist, we do not assume they will have an end. Though it is highly likely in each case.

  • in what sense can English exist eternally? – nir Jun 11 '18 at 15:39

If you do some research, you'll find that the assumption that starts and ends exist is not always the default. For example, many religions have a cyclical model of time which explicitly does not permit a beginning nor an end. Also, you will find that the assumption that we do not have an end is not always assumed either. Even in recent times, one of the standing hypotheses scientific cosmologists were working with was "the big crunch," when everything comes to a halt.

As for why you perceive people looking for beginnings and not ends, it may be cultural. You may have to look at the people around you. I know science is currently focused on the idea that there was a beginning (a big bang) but no ending (no big crunch) not because they have some preference for that, but because the evidence they observe best matches models which have a beginning and no end.

On the flip side, consider this: no human being alive has died yet. Many of us have witnessed another human die, and we've read about the concept, but not one of us has died, ourselves. Yet we are utterly confident that we will die in the future.


It's presupposed by how we speak of something. Generally we are talking of something in time; and most things are mortal and subject to birth and decay, generation & corruption, beginnings and endings: men, mountains and planets too - if you can wait long enough.

But somethings - if we can use the term - are not subject to this, or their relationship to time is more difficult to understand; like time itself? Can it have a beginning, when time is that by which we measure beginnings and endings, and everything else in between?


This has nothing to do with time, so we'll leave this aspect out of the discussion.

"Something may exist and proliferate forever in the future" has a logic behind. The reason is that things evolve and naturally adapt. All living things adapt to be better and better fitted for the environment they exist and evolve in. If temperature, for example, will generally get gradually colder in an environment with living creatures, after a few generations the creatures will adapt (like growing thicker fur). Due to this, there is no logical reason to assume the evolution of something just ends by itself. Of course, a catastrophe is the thing that can actually interfere with the natural evolution process.

From a human perspective, things are worse. Humans stopped adapting to the environment and started to alter the environment for their comfort. This, from an evolutionary perspective is worse than the alternative. If that synthetic environment fails (i.e. you're out of power and can no longer use AC or heating systems) the consequences are much more drastic because the modern humans no longer adapted to the environment and it is way more likely that they will fail to survive compared to anything living naturally. (As example: humans have now way less resistance to temperature variations than they used to). What humans actually bet on is their ability to keep all artificial environments they created functional and keeping them functional is something tech-dependent. Since technology evolves, there is no reason to think this won't work indefinitely (again, ignoring possible catastrophes).

In support of the un-evolving part: enter image description here

  • 1
    This has something to do with time, i.e. the very nature of it: Time runs from the past to the present. Causal chains are conceived as being directional because of that. And as long as they are not interrupted by predicted events - predictions being a thing we are startlingly bad at still - there is nothing that should make us assume they will end. Also, your premise that humans "stopped adapting to the environment" is plainly false. Both physically and culturally (culture being accepted as a way of evolutionary adaption by science), humans continue to evolve faster than any known species. – Philip Klöcking Jun 7 '18 at 11:08
  • I disagree. They currently un-evolve and there's plenty of statistical proof of that. But this is a debate for a different topic. – Overmind Jun 8 '18 at 12:48
  • With all due respect, I rather go with the vast amounts of literature written by experts in the field. Any distinction between "natural" (or innate) and "cultural/social" (or acquired) factors that claim only the former ones being relevant for evolution is with good reason challenged since the 50s (Lehrman 1953), even if many, especially not scientifically informed, authors (I hate to say it, but this includes many philosophers) still make the mistake of thinking in terms of first and second nature in the discussion of evolution and nature (e.g. Machery 2008). – Philip Klöcking Jun 10 '18 at 11:20
  • Look at the health statistics (read the already old Civilization's Cost: The Decline and Fall of Human Health). It's the main example. Not to mention Earth's Health, due to the same creatures (check the UN-backed Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Synthesis Report). – Overmind Jun 11 '18 at 7:52
  • 1
    You clearly have no idea what IQ is, nor have you ever read any scientific paper on it or cared to understand the statistics behind it. You pull a picture the Daily Mail (!) fabricated from a private website of a lecturer and think that proves anything. That is not how the IQ or science work. That is how conspiracy theories develop. – Philip Klöcking Jun 12 '18 at 7:26

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.