I am interested in reading anything that tries to tackle scientific views on existence. There are plenty of great works that discuss human meaning and purpose. However, I am more interested in scientific hypothesis for all life (conscious and unconscious).

For example, I recently came across a view that the scientific concept of entropy (a property in physics) could explain why life exists. Life could be a property of the universe that is created as a natural process to reach entropy at a faster rate.

It could be interesting to also explore how current theories in physics are related to ethics and purpose. For example, one could argue that proof of a multi-verse could favor nihilism.

Any recommendations or insights would be appreciated.

  • 8
    Current theories in physics, and science generally, explicitly disclaim any relation to teleology, science is meant to be about causes, not purposes. As for ethics, scientific approach is not to hypothesize objective purposes, but to explain how and why humans come to pursue what they do and rationalize it into "meaning" and "purpose". One approach that explains human purposes causally, as biological adaptations, is evolutionary ethics.
    – Conifold
    Jul 16, 2020 at 5:46
  • Excellent point @Conifold -- none of my references addressed the morality part of his request. I have added a link to a quick summary of Darwinian inspired moral thinking to my answer.
    – Dcleve
    Jul 16, 2020 at 15:47
  • You might be interested in dissipative-driven adaption by Jeremy England.
    – J D
    Jul 17, 2020 at 3:46

2 Answers 2


Science is not well adapted to addressing purpose -- most science starts with the assumption that purpose should be either ignored, or dismissed. So --what you would be interested in may be scientists who are bringing their skill set to philosophy. This will not be a single reference, as these are diverse thinkers, with diverse subjects they address.

I can offer several suggestions. The first is not a scientist, but it most directly addresses intentionality. It is Thomas Nagel's Mind & Cosmos. I have a review here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/R1HQMF6OJKRDCC?ref=pf_ov_at_pdctrvw_srp

Another is Freeman Dyson's Infinite in all Directions. This is Freeman exploring a tossed salad of speculative ideas.

Yet another is Unger and Smolin's The Singular Universe. It does not touch on intentionality or consciousness, but does offer an approach to thinking about math and logic as real AND dependent on matter. I have a review here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/R16VWWZ5I5SC8Q?ref=pf_ov_at_pdctrvw_srp

And a fourth would be Popper and Eccles The Self and Its Brain. Consciousness, reality, and how to fit both into an ontology, with a Nobel prize winning scientist collaborating with the premier philosopher of science.

Another -- Victor Stenger's Has Science Found God? He says no. Stenger discusses entropy, and how an expanding universe allowed life to develop despite entropy. I review here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/RIXZJM4IVJ8AN?ref=pf_ov_at_pdctrvw_srp

Yet another -- Paul Davies The Mind of God, reviewed here, looks at a collection of questions: https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/R14GY1JWNITAOJ?ref=pf_ov_at_pdctrvw_srp

And -- a diverse team of scientists try to tackle consciousness and ontology, in Beyond Physicalism, which I review here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/RZY1A4EL2JOZ4?ref=pf_ov_at_pdctrvw_srp

Also -- here is a quick summary of "scientific" (IE Darwinian) approaches to morality: https://www.meetup.com/Philosophy-Cafe-Central-Maryland/events/qhvxpqybcgbcb/

  • Freeman Dyson says, "If there is to be a conscious design, it probably has to be ours." Which is pretty much what I wrote: "a rational being's aim to live optimally ..." Jul 26, 2020 at 10:26
  • Dyson was an atheist who rejected broader purpose. But he thought a lot about things like the definition of life, and whether life could exist in other very different forms which are constrained by physics not current biochemistry, which are relevant to the question. there is often a lot of wisdom to be found among thinkers on the "other side" of a question, and the best of them should be among all serious thinkers reading lists. Stenger, Dyson, Unger, and Smolin are all "anti-teleology", but offer insights that are relevant.
    – Dcleve
    Jul 26, 2020 at 15:33

First, let us establish that existence requires the involvement of a living being, by definition, not uncontroversially. Now we can look specifically to the purpose of life, not just existence.

Scientifically, and if you'll excuse the tautologies, life's purpose is to live: the objective of a living being is to be, a state maintained with unconscious intentionality and care (Sorge). Even at the most basic level, as soon as a basic life form is about to stabilise, its main aim (so to speak) is to stay alive, or it doesn't qualify.

On a loarger scope Nietzsche referred to this as the will to power. Freud wrote about the Life drive and the Death drive (Eros & Thanatos) in Beyond the Pleasure Principal. Derrida combine all three as a Life drive in "To Speculate - On Freud" in The Post Card. (The death drive (repetition compulsion) is seen as a flip side of unconscious, tenacious problem solving on the one hand, and belligerent tribal rutting instincts on the other, so death drive is seen as toughening, and paradoxically also a life drive.)

A rational being knows it will one day die, so its refined aim would be to live optimally within its indeterminate time.

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