Paradigm
Paradigm
Philip Goff: Physics and the purpose of life
0:00
-1:15:14

Philip Goff: Physics and the purpose of life

Philip Goff is a philosopher and author, and one of the world's foremost proponents of panpsychism, among several other non-mainstream philosophical views.

Philip is a philosopher whose research focuses on philosophy of mind and consciousness. He’s a professor of Philosophy at Durham University in the UK, and the author of several books, including “Galileo’s Error”, which is on the topic of panpsychism, and his most recent book called “Why: The Purpose of the Universe.” 

Philip is known for holding several non-mainstream philosophical views, and for his lively debates with the likes of Sean Carrol and other physicists and philosophers.

We discuss:

  • The fine tuning problem in physics, and the philosophical questions this poses

  • The controversial hypothesis that the universe as some form of cosmic purpose, independent from humans and our minds

  • The concept of the multiverse in its various various

  • Bayesian inference and reasoning

  • Logical fallacies

… and other topics.

Watch on YouTube. Listen on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or any other podcast platform. Read the full transcript here. Follow me on LinkedIn or Twitter/X for episodes and very infrequent social commentary.

Subscribe to receive new posts and special surprises…


Episode links

  • ‘Mind Chat’ Podcast: https://www.youtube.com/@MindChat

  • Book: ‘Why? The Purpose of the Universe’: https://www.amazon.com/Why-Purpose-Universe-Philip-Goff/dp/0198883765/

  • Website: https://philipgoffphilosophy.com/

  • Social Media: https://twitter.com/Philip_Goff


Timestamps

00:00 Intro

04:30 Response to Richard Dawkins' meaningless purposeless universe

10:15 Why might the universe have a purpose?

15:10 Why does the universe seem designed for life?

20:30 Is the universe design for rabbits?

26:30 The multiverse hypothesis and reverse gambler's fallacy

38:10 Pseudoscience and falsifiability

41:30 What does it mean to say the universe has a purpose?

45:10 Is a universe with purpose a good thing?

56:50 How this has changed Philip's life?

1:02:55 Regrets and #movember

1:04:30 Book recommendations

1:09:50 Who should represent humanity to an AI superintelligence?


Introduction: Blurry line between science and pseudoscience

In this podcast we often find ourselves exploring Paradigm shifting ideas in philosophy and science. And by their very nature of being outside of the current paradigm, these ideas often seem strange, and even pseudo-scientific. At least the very least until they gain broader acceptance.

Unfortunately, genuinely pseudo-scientific ideas also seem strange and pseudo-scientific. And so the apparent strangeness of an idea alone is not a good indication of its truth value.

For us to make epistemic progress in this world we need systems and processes to effectively navigate this space of ideas and distinguish legitimate science from pseudoscience. And how we go about doing this is not straightforward even in theory, let alone in practice.

In a world of infinite time and attention, one could simply evaluate every idea as it came up, to whatever depth necessary. The phrase “do your own research” is often thrown around these days. But of course we don’t live in such a world. Quite the opposite in fact. We live in a world where we feel we have very little time, and where attention is valuable and scarce. I personally feel this acutely given how thinly my time is spread across this podcast and the work I do with startups. And I’m sure you feel it too. And I take personal responsibility in respecting the time and attention of my audience.

And it's with this context that it’s a non-trivial decision for me to host Philip Goff for a conversation like the one you’re about to listen to, because Philip takes quite seriously several very controversial and non-mainstream philosophical views that tiptoe on the edges of pseudoscience.

Most well known is Philip’s philosophical position on the nature of consciousness. Philip is a proponent of a form of panpsychism, which is the idea consciousness is a fundamental component of the universe, rather than merely emerging from the interactions of material things. Many philosophers and scientists consider this position to be pseudoscientific, claiming that it lacks any real explanatory value and is unfalsifiable even in principle. Panpsychism is not the topic of today’s conversation, although I will pick it up again in the future because there are interesting things to say about this topic.

Today Philip and I focus on his more recent and equally controversial work exploring the idea that the universe has some form of cosmic purpose, in a sense that’s more fundamental than merely a projection of the human mind. 

From the perspective of a religious worldview, this idea is not foreign at all. If the universe were created by an intelligent designer to fulfil that designer’s wishes, then of course it would have a purpose. But the arguments that Philip puts forward are not theological. They are not grounded in religion, or any notion of an intelligent designer. Philip’s arguments are rooted in contemporary science and well-informed philosophical reasoning.

With that said, whatever you think of these ideas, I do think they’re worth considering in an open and curious way. I’ll share my own perspectives on this topic in a future episode, but for now I’ll leave it to you to listen to our conversation and draw your own conclusions.

Before we get going, if you’re enjoying this podcast, please show your support by subscribing and sharing it. That’s the best way to increase our visibility and help us attract even more fantastic guests.


This post is public so feel free to share it

Share


Transcript

This transcript is AI-generated and may contain errors. It will be corrected and annotated with links and citations over time.

[00:00:00] Matt Geleta: Today I'm speaking with Philip Goff. Philip is a philosopher whose research focuses on the philosophy of mind and consciousness. He's a professor at Durham University in the uk and the author of several books, including Galileo's era, which is on the topic of Panpsychism and his most recent book called Why the Purpose of the Universe?

Philip is known for holding several non-mainstream philosophical views, and for his lively debates with the likes of Sean Carroll and other physicists and philosophers. In this conversation, Philip and I discuss his most recent book. we talk about the fine tuning problem in physics, and the various philosophical problems that this poses. Philip's controversial hypothesis that the universe has some form of cosmic purpose, The concept of the multiverse in its various forms. Bayesian inference and reasoning, logical fallacies, and other topics. In this podcast, we often find ourselves exploring paradigm shifting ideas in philosophy and science. And by their very nature of being outside of the current paradigm, these ideas often seem strange and even pseudoscientific. At least until they gain broader acceptance. Unfortunately, genuinely pseudoscientific ideas also seem strange and pseudoscientific.

And so the apparent strangeness of an idea alone is not a good indication of its truth value. For us to make epistemic progress in this world, we need systems and processes to effectively navigate the space of ideas and distinguish legitimate science from pseudoscience. And how we go about doing this is not straightforward, even in theory, let alone in practice.

In a world of infinite time and attention, one could simply evaluate every idea. To whatever depth is necessary. but of course we don't live in such a world quite the opposite. In fact, we live in a world in which we feel we have very little time and where attention is valuable and scarce. I personally feel this acutely given how thinly my time is drawn across this podcast and the work I do with startups and elsewhere.

And I'm sure you feel it too. And I take personal responsibility in respecting the time and attention of my audience. And it's with that context that this is a non trivial decision for me to host Philip Goff for a conversation like the one you're about to listen to. takes quite seriously several very controversial and non mainstream philosophical views that tiptoe on the edges of pseudoscience.

Most well known is Philip's philosophical position on the nature of consciousness. Philip is a proponent of a form of panpsychism, which is the idea that consciousness is a fundamental component of the universe, rather than merely emerging from the interactions of material things. Now many philosophers and scientists consider this position to be pseudoscientific, claiming that it lacks any real explanatory value and is unfalsifiable even in principle.

Now, panpsychism is not the topic of today's conversation, although I will pick it up again in the future because there are actually interesting things to say about this topic. Today. Philip and I focus on his more recent and equally controversial work, exploring the idea that the universe has some form of cosmic purpose.

In a sense, it's more fundamental than merely a projection of the human mind. From the perspective of a religious worldview, this idea is not that foreign at all. If the universe were created by an intelligent designer to fulfill that designer's wishes, then of course it would have a purpose. But the arguments that Philip puts forward are not theological. They're not grounded in religion or any notion of an intelligent designer. Philip's arguments are rooted in contemporary science and well informed philosophical reasoning. With that said, whatever you think of these ideas, I do think that they're worth considering in an open and curious way.

I'll share my own perspectives on this topic in a future episode, but for now I'll leave it to you to listen to our conversation. and draw your own conclusions. Philip's an interesting thinker and his books are well written and worth reading. So if these topics pique your interest, I would encourage you to take a look. Before we get going, if you're enjoying this podcast, please support it by subscribing and sharing. That's the best way to increase our visibility and help us attract even more fantastic guests.

And now I bring you, Philip Goff.

[00:04:27] Matt Geleta: let's start with a somewhat depressing statement by the great biologist Richard Dawkins. In his book River Out of Eden, he writes, The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.

Um, I have some close ties to Richard and I'm going to make sure he gets a link to this conversation. What, uh, what do you want to say to him? How would you respond to this quote of his?

[00:05:01] Philip Goff: I think that was, that was actually true for a long time, uh, in, in the centuries following the scientific revolution. I mean, I guess at the, at the The birth of the scientific revolution, probably most scientists believe in God, believed in God. In Newton's cosmology, he even had God playing a little bit of a role, giving the planets a nudge every now and again to keep them in, in a stable orbit.

But then maybe as, as science, as physics progressed, maybe God seemed to be more redundant from physics. There's, uh, in the 19th century we get The great French physicist, Laplace, who worked out how to, um, run Newton's physics. Keep a stable solar system without any need for God. There's a famous anecdote that might be apocryphal where, um, Napoleon read Laplace's book and said, Hold on, where's God in this?

And he allegedly said, sire, I have no need of that hypothesis. Um, so, but there still seemed to be, um, as, as Richard Dawkins, I think, agreed before Darwin, that there still seemed to be room for God, evidence of God in biology. You know, the complex functions of living organisms seemed to show evidence of design.

It didn't seem plausible that they would have just... Come about through chance bumping together of atoms, um, William Paley famously argued for God on this basis, um, with his famous watchmaker analogy and Darwin read that at university and was influenced by it. But then, of course, with Darwin, we get an alternative to, um, to design in the natural world.

And maybe that seems to be the Final nail in God's coffin, we get Nietzsche declaring God is dead, the i the ideas of, um, um, Freud, where God is a kind of cosmic substitute for daddy, or Marx saying religion is the opium of the masses. These ideas dominate our culture, um, That science has showed we live in a meaningless, purposeless universe.

Um, Even that science and religion are fundamentally opposed. And I think this was understandable because, because for a couple of hundred years that seemed to be what science was suggesting to us. But! Big but here. I think, I honestly think, since the 1970s onwards, The evidence has changed, um, and I've been slowly persuaded by this, you know, over recent years.

Yeah, I was raised Catholic, actually, in a sort of vibrant Catholic community in Liverpool. I, but I rejected all that when I was about 14, decided I didn't believe in God, upset my grandmother by not getting confirmed Catholic. And I, you know, it's not like I've had, um, a God shaped hole in my life as far as I'm aware, but I've just come to believe that.

the evidence is not pointing to a meaningless purposeless universe. In particular, I'm thinking of, well, what Richard Dawkins has said a couple of times would be his, uh, reason for believing in God if there was one, namely the fine tuning of physics. This bizarre discovery of, of Of recent decades that, for life to be possible, certain numbers in physics had to fall in a certain narrow range.

Well, uh, we can maybe get into it in a little bit. But I, but just to finish this off, I mean, I really think that's where the evidence is pointing. Now I, I, so I, I don't think, I mean, and I just, I, I think we're in a little bit in denial about this at the moment. I think it's a little bit like in the 16th century where we started getting evidence that we weren't in the center of the universe.

And people struggled to accept that because it didn't fit with the picture of reality they'd got used to. And nowadays we kind of scoff at those people, we think, Oh, those stupid religious idiots. Why didn't they just follow the evidence? But every generation absorbs a worldview that it struggles to see beyond.

I think it's like that with fine tuning now. I think future historians will look back and think, How bizarre that people just ignored this evidence for so long because it, I think it doesn't fit with this picture of science we've got used to of this meaningless, purposeless universe. Um, so just very, very finally, just, I don't think this leads to God.

I don't think, I don't like the God hypothesis either. I don't think there's things it can't explain about reality. But I think this is pretty clearly pointing to some kind of... What I call cosmic purpose, some kind of goal directedness at the fundamental level of reality. Now that's weird, it's not what we expected, but we should set aside our biases, both our religious biases and our secular biases and just try to follow the evidence where it leads, and that's what I'm trying to do with this book really.

[00:10:13] Matt Geleta: Yeah, I guess, um, for people who have not heard of fine tuning, they're, they're thinking what the hell happened in the seventies that has convinced us that the universe has purpose. Um, and for those who have, I think they would be thinking things like multiverse and anthropic principle. And maybe they've listened to, I've had conversations on this podcast before about fine tuning.

Uh, so let's, let's then get straight into it. Let's get into this fine tuning situation. Um, and maybe we can, maybe we can. Again, leverage a quote from your book, um, you, you say quite early on in your upcoming book, I believe there is overwhelming evidence for the existence of cosmic purpose. That's a very bold thing to say.

Uh, let's, let's turn to then the philosophical grounds for the idea and, uh, the the overwhelming evidence that you see. Could you run me through this, uh, this overwhelming evidence?

[00:11:01] Philip Goff: Yeah, I mean just to qualify that slightly, it doesn't mean I'm 100 percent certain of this or anything close, because... As people often rightfully say about fine tuning, I mean, the evidence could change tomorrow, right? Physics is far from complete. Um, but, all we can ever do is work with the evidence we currently have.

Um, I think it's such a common reaction people often I'm gonna get onto the fine tuning in a moment. But, a very common reaction is people say, Oh, well, you know, we haven't We haven't finished physics. We haven't, I was arguing with someone on Twitter today. I spent too much time arguing on Twitter. You know, we haven't got quantum mechanics married to general relativity.

You know, maybe the problem will go away when we do that. Well, maybe it will, maybe the evidence will change tomorrow, but maybe. When we finally bring quantum mechanics and general relativity together, there'll be more fine tuning. All we can ever do is work with the evidence we currently have. So I feel like sometimes people ramp up the standards of proof when it comes to fine tuning in a way you wouldn't do in any other case.

Like, oh, we can't draw conclusions till we finish physics, which seems to anyway, but to come straight to it. Well, the evidence is that this surprise, I mean, well, just to give a concrete example. Perhaps the example that's most baffled cosmologists revolves around dark energy, the, uh, the force that propels the expansion of the universe.

In 1998, we discovered the universe is not only expanding, but accelerating its expansion. Um, and Once you do the calculations, it becomes clear that, um, if that force had been a little bit stronger, everything would have shut apart so quickly, no two particles would have ever met. We wouldn't have had stars, planets, any, any kind of structural complexity, and therefore no life.

Whereas if it had been significantly weaker, um, everything would have collapsed back on itself in the first split second after the big bang. Again, no stars, planets. Not a very interesting universe. Um, so for life to be possible. So, um, this strength of this force had to be like Goldilocks porridge, just right, not too strong, not too weak.

And that's just one example. There are many numbers like this, so I think, you know, we, we face a choice really, either. It's just an unbelievable fluke that the numbers in our physics are right for life. And that seems to me. Given the kind of numbers we're talking about here, it seems to me too, um, just too improbable to take seriously.

Or, the alternative is, the numbers in our physics are as they are because they are the right numbers for life. In other words, that there is some kind of directedness towards life at the fundamental level in the very early universe. Now, just, I mean, just to get clear from the start, I mean, God would be one explanation of this but I don't favour that either because of familiar problems with reconciling the terrible, gratuitous suffering we find in the world with a loving, all powerful God.

I don't find it plausible that a loving, all powerful God would create shrews that... Paralyze their prey and eat them alive over several days, uh, before leaving, until they eventually die a painful death from their, you know, that makes no sense to me that a loving God would do that. So, so I think, basically I think there's things the God hypothesis can't explain.

evil and suffering. There's things traditional atheism, meaningless purposeless universe can't explain, namely the fine tuning, and some other stuff to do with consciousness. Um, so we need a hypothesis that can account for both. And that's where I aim towards this. Cosmic purpose in the absence of the traditional God.

[00:15:09] Matt Geleta: Yeah, okay. Well, because, because you mentioned William Paley early on, um, maybe let's use that as an analogy. So, William Paley has this famous, uh, argument of stumbling across a watch and It seems so perfectly designed that one cannot believe that there is no watchmaker, um, and applying that to, let's say, biological organisms.

You know, the eye, for example, seems so perfectly designed, you can't believe that it does not have a designer. And for a long time, I think this was seen as a convincing argument until Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection actually did explain it. And again, back to Richard Dawkins, you know, he's written, uh, I think it's a book called Climbing Mount Improbable.

They kind of go step by step through these, these steps, um, and I think this has happened in several other areas of science and, and philosophy as well. And so I wonder, you know, with something like fine tuning, given the, the history of science has often pointed towards, you know, improbable things happening and, and having explanations that don't require, um, things like creator, designer, um, some external purpose.

You know, shouldn't we be, shouldn't our base assumption be that we would find something similar here in the case of the universe and fine tuning?

[00:16:26] Philip Goff: Yeah, this that's a really a quite common thought and I mean just to say a little on in pay about Paley um, I teach this in undergraduate philosophy of religion and it's a little bit unfair actually because It's the way this is so often taught is people put up Paley's argument as an argument from analogy, and then they bring in David Hume's famous critiques of arguments from analogy and try and devastate, you know, shatter Paley's argument.

Now, That's problematic straight off the bat because that's chronologically the wrong way around, uh, Hume was before Paley, and so you'd think if Hume had come up with these devastating arguments, uh, it'd be strange that Paley's argument would have been so successful. In fact, Paley's argument was not an argument from an analogy, he just used the Watchmaker analogy as a vivid illustration.

It was rather employing the... cutting edge mathematics of his time, namely Bayes theorem, something which is hugely important in many areas of science now, from tracking the pandemic to, um, probabilistic, um, uh, predictive processing, rather, the paradigm of predictive processing in neuroscience. Um, and this was actually mathematics that was not available to Hume.

Um, in fact, it was, sorry, I'm digressing in all sorts of directions here, but, uh, Bayes, Thomas Bayes, the Reverend Thomas Bayes came up with Bayes Theorem because he was wrestling with Hume's Arguments Against Miracles. It's one of those interesting cases where blue sky thinking philosophy can have incredible practical implications.

Anyway, Bayes Theorem, but coming to, so, you know, so I think Bayes Theorem, uh, sorry, I think Paley's Argument wasn't a stupid argument, it was just... Surpassed by the, um, you know, developments of science, as you say. So, um, but, you know, I don't think these ideas of the, almost, Oh, well, look, this is how science has gone in the past.

Surely it's going to go like that again. Almost as though there's a sort of destiny to science, you know? And, I'd be very wary of that. I think, I agree that, you know, I think pre Darwin, it looked like there was evidence for design. Post Darwin, there isn't. But I think that's changed again with fine tuning.

And it could change, I mean, who knows? I don't think there's any grand destiny. It's just that for a couple of hundred years, that looked like the direction things were going. So what? You know, that doesn't mean it's always going to be like that. I think we all just got to look at the evidence. And what we're lucky with now, coming back to Bayes theorem, is we don't sort of have to have our intuitions about, um, you know, these things touchy feely.

You know, we have Bayes theorem, which gives us a mathematical way of understanding how evidence works. We could perhaps get into, I think, a fairly straightforward application of Bayes theorem, um, Has the results that fine tuning supports something like cosmic purpose, and that's it really. That's, that's the evidence we currently have.

It could change tomorrow. It could not, you know, so I, I, it's not like, it's not like, um, There's a generic thing that needs explaining here. This is why, you know, God of the gaps Objections, I don't think, I think are misplaced in this, in this context. God of the gaps is just like You know, we don't understand this, so probably God did it.

You know, we don't understand dark matter, probably it's God. You know, something like that. But this isn't like that. It's not just a generic thing that needs explaining. The point is, this is evidence that points to goal directedness in a standard Bayesian way we think about evidence. I mean, I've oversimplified it a bit by saying, well look, either it's an incredible fluke, Or the numbers are as they are, because they're the right numbers for life.

So that's, you know, one very crude way we can think about this. But it's in our standard Bayesian ways of thinking it, the fine tuning, I would argue, is evidence for cosmic purpose. Um, so it's not just something where we need a generic thing we need explaining and we're plugging God in. Um, this is, this is, is actual evidence for cosmic purpose.

That might change tomorrow, but that's how things stand as they are today.

[00:20:55] Matt Geleta: Yeah. Okay. Well, let's, let's explore that idea. And I think you, you actually really nicely presented this, this sort of like theoretical choice one has to make. Um, you know, you said either there is, the numbers are the way they are just. Because of pure coincidence. Or, uh, they are the way they are because they, um, permit for a universe containing life.

And I had to think about this... Theoretical choice. And I wonder, what do you think about this? So suppose we took anything else other than, I think in your book you say great value, not life. So, um, a universe because it permits a universe with great value. Suppose we were to replace that by anything else we observe to be real.

So, something as trivial as let's say, you know, rabbits. There are rabbits on the planet. And, uh, I could look at the rabbits and I could say, well, if the physical constants of nature were different, the rabbits wouldn't exist. And so we have this theoretical choice. Either, uh, either the constants are there by chance or they're there, um, because they allow rabbits to exist.

What am I, what am I not seeing about this dichotomy?

[00:21:59] Philip Goff: Good. There's another philosopher who pressed a similar objection. Um, thinking, Oh, is the universe fine tuned for tungsten? You know, like, like we we'd need, uh, so maybe there's a God who likes tungsten. Yeah. So look, I think some things that are sometimes improbable things need explaining, sometimes they don't.

And the, the, the, the difference is, I mean, partly it's about how improbable it is. You know, if something's just a little bit improbable, we can sort of think, oh, it's a nice coincidence. But once we get incredibly improbable things, the difference between those that need explaining and those that don't depends on whether the significance to the outcome, the improbable outcome, independently of it, of it being the, just the outcome it is.

So suppose we have some random number generator. You know, that spits out some complicated number 0 blower, you know, that's okay. It's incredibly improbable that it would be exactly that number. But there's, there's no significance. We're only interested in that number because it's the one the machine happened to spit out.

Right? But now suppose for decades, there's been some cult that worships that very 20 digit number. And moreover, they predicted that at exactly this moment, um, you know, the machine's going to spit it out now. Now, now, now the significance, right? Because it's not just... Improbable. It's, it's, it's not just the number that, it's not just the outcome that came out.

It had this independent significance. Um, there are lots of examples we could give to illustrate this point. You know, if, if Joe Bloggs wins the lottery, okay, someone had to. Um, but if, if the partner of the boss of the lottery company wins. Hold on, then there's a sort of significance. So anyway, um, this all makes, you can spell this all out with Bayes theorem in a more precise way, but um, so coming to the fine tuning, I, I, I would argue, you know, what is so significant about the fine tuning?

I mean, yeah, in a sense, whatever numbers that come up in physics will be really improbable, but it's exactly those numbers, you know, like, but it's, it's, um, it's The numbers that came up were in the very, very rare range, as far as we can map out the possibility space. They're in the very, very rare range, which are compatible of a universe containing things of great value.

Life, intelligent life, people that fall in love and write poetry and contemplate their existence. These things are possible in our universe. In most of the other universes you'd get generated, you know, randomly choosing numbers, there's little or if any value. Most of them you just have, many of the combinations you just have a universe of hydrogen.

The simplest element, uh, with no, you know, one chemical com com com combination, one chemical compound rather. Um, Or, you know, the, as I said, the example I gave before, the universe collapsing back on itself after a split second, or no two particles ever meeting. So, so that's what's striking about the numbers that came up in our physics.

That they're improbable, and that I think they have this significance, that they're in the rare range that allow for the possibility of great value. So that's why I end up saying... What you hinted at there, um, you know, what's the minimal hypothesis this supports? Some people use it to argue for God, you know, who's fiddled the numbers to get human beings.

You might think that's a kind of anthropocentric view. I think the minimal hypothesis this supports is, is what I call the value selection hypothesis. That the numbers are, are as they are, these relevant numbers because they're compatible with the universe of great value. Again, I can, you know, I feel silly saying this.

It seems, do you know, I think, I think. We are in intellectual circles in the West. We are very well trained to be alert to our religious biases, you know. Oh, maybe I'm but we're not very well trained to be alert to secular biases. But you know, I think this stuff feels weird, but I think we can rigorously defend the idea that, well, I'm not going to repeat it again.

That's where the evidence point, but yeah, to answer your question, why this is not only improbable, but needs explaining is that I think that it has a certain significance independent of it just being the outcome that happened to come up.

[00:26:33] Matt Geleta: Yeah, okay. That's, uh, that's, that's really interesting and, and you actually alluded to some other, uh, common objections, I guess, that, uh, people put forward here. Um, you know, previously on this podcast, I've, I've talked with several theoretical physicists who think that, The multiverse would be a, um, an explanation of fine tuning and you go to this in some detail in your book, um, run, run me through it.

Why do you feel this hypothesis is not, uh, explained by, so why do you feel like, um, the multiverse doesn't explain this hypothesis better than the idea that the, the universe has purpose?

[00:27:11] Philip Goff: Good. So this is, this is the big, you know, the big alternative to consider. And let me say straight off. I accepted the multiverse explanation for a long time. I've always thought fine tuning needed explaining. But like many scientists and philosophers, I thought the multiverse seemed the more plausible explanation, you know I don't want to be believing in silly things like cosmic purpose, but I was just slowly Persuaded, dragged kicking and screaming might be a better word, persuaded by philosophers of probability that there's some Dodgy reasoning we can identify in this, in an inference from fine tuning to a multiverse And the charges that it commits What's called the inverse gambler's fallacy.

And actually this is an objection that's been in the philosophical journals for decades, since the eighties. And yet in a typical example of philosophers talking to themselves. Nobody knows about it outside of academic philosophy. So one thing I'm excited to do is get this discussion to a broader audience.

You know, there's huge interest in fine tuning among people arguing for God or people arguing for the multiverse. Um, also no one in this literature. On the inverse, on this particular objection to the multiverse has connected it to the science, as far as I've seen, so I do connect it to the, you know, the, the specifics of the, the, the most scientifically accepted or discussed version of the multiverse.

Anyway, so just, it's a big discussion here, but just to give you a thought experiment. Um, so suppose you and I go into a casino later tonight in downtown Sydney. I don't, do you have good casinos

in, I don't know if they have good

[00:29:00] Matt Geleta: We have casinos. I don't know if the word good applies, but, uh, they exist.

[00:29:04] Philip Goff: I don't think I've ever been to a casino actually. I've just been, yeah, anyway, suppose we walk into this casino and the first room we go in, it's just a small room and there's one person playing roulette and they're just having an extraordinary run of luck. They're just winning again and again and again and again.

Um, and I turn to you and say, Matt, wow, the, uh, the casino must be full tonight. There must be lots of people playing roulette. And he said, what are you talking about, Philip? We've just seen this one guy. You know, who knows what's going elsewhere in the casino? And then I said, well, look, if there are thousands, tens of thousands of people playing roulette in the casino, then it's not so surprising that somebody Is going to have an incredible run of luck.

And that's what we've just observed, someone having an incredible run of luck. Now everyone agrees that's a fallacy. That's the inverse gambler's fallacy. Um, because our, our observational evidence is just concerns this one specific individual. All we've observed is this one person. Having a good run of luck no matter how many people there are or aren't in other rooms of the casino It has no bearing on the likelihood of the one person we've observed playing well.

That's a fallacy. That's the inverse gambler's fallacy And it's related to ideas like you think I've been playing badly all night. I'm bound to have some good luck now Whereas, you know, your odds of rolling a double six are the same every time, no matter how many times you've been playing, before or after.

Anyway, so, but I would say that reasoning is, is relevantly similar. In the relevant sense indiscernible from that of the multiverse theorist, at least if they're inferring from fine tuning. It can get more complicated when we bring in the science and so on. We could talk about that. But, you know, they start looking at the numbers in our physics.

Oh my god, they're just right for life. How incredible. There must be loads of other universes out there with terrible numbers. Well, that's exactly the same line of reasoning, right? All our observational evidence is that this particular universe is fine tuned, no matter how many other universes that are out there are out there has no bearing on whether or not the only universe we've ever observed is or isn't fine tuned.

So, it's just like me postulating other people in the casino on the basis of... the one person I've observed. So that's, that's the basic idea. I'm sure there are lots of questions you want to raise about that, but that's the

starting point.

[00:31:24] Matt Geleta: Yeah, yeah, that's, that's, that's really interesting. Maybe just to play it back so, um, people who are counting this for the first time to understand the, the argument here. So, one, one idea for the explanation of fine tuning is that Um, there is a very large multiverse in which the, the physical constants are different across the spectrum.

And of course, within some of those, there would be a combination that's compatible with life. We're, we presumably are in, are in, uh, one subset of that universe. And now we're looking at how improbable these. Um, set of constants are, you know, how could they be in this specific range? And we're inferring then the existence of the much larger, um, sort of collection of, of universes in the multiverse.

Um, and in the, in the gambler's fallacy. So, you know, this, uh, this winning gambler would be. And that they would be analogous to a universe which, um, which has the constants tuned for life. I do wonder on the selection process there, the order, because, you know, I think you're quite right to say, you know, if we walked into a small room and saw a particular gambler and then that person won, it would be ridiculous to infer there are many people in the casino.

But if I. We're in a casino, let's say I didn't know how many people, and somebody won and this drew my attention to them. Um, I would then be justified in inferring that there are many people, or likely to be many people in the casino, right? Suppose I didn't know how many people there were, and, but the act of winning is the thing that drew my attention to them.

There is more likely to be a higher frequency of winning people if there are lots of people in the casino. And so I wonder if there is something here to explore around. Sort of where the selection happens, how the selection happens, you know, are we, are we confident that this is, this is the right analogy to apply to the selection of a, of a universe in the multiverse?

[00:33:22] Philip Goff: Yeah, no, it's a good point. And there's, there's a rich literature on this. Um, And what your articulate, so the, or the original article on the inverse gamblers fallacy was by Ian Hacking, who died quite recently. Very good philosopher. And then there were, oh, who, who was it? I can't my mind's gone blank on the name, but people replying in, in exactly the way you've just described.

But then there was an article that, sort of, the classic article on this in the year two thousands, this, to go back a bit by Roger White and I, to my mind, he really nailed it in, in his response to. The very good objection you've just raised. And he says, well, look, we need to distinguish, I mean, so it's. The select, what we're talking about is a selection effect, right?

The, or sometimes called the anthropic principle, that we could not have observed a universe that wasn't supportive of life, wasn't compatible with the existence of life, right? Because if it wasn't compatible with the existence of life, we wouldn't be around to observe it. Um, whereas, and that seems different to the casino case I just described, because we could have walked in and observed, um, Someone playing badly, right?

So, so the thought is, well, there's a sort of selection effect. And maybe, maybe what you're doing here is you're trying to model the selection effect. So like, so just as there's some connection between, um, a fine tuned universe and our existence. Well, now you're modeling that with a connection like someone plays well and our attention is drawn to it.

But White says, well, actually I think this is relevant. This is not relevantly similar. Because we need to distinguish what he calls. A selection, a mere selection effect, and a converse selection effect. So the mere selection effect is what we have in the real world, that like, If we exist, there's a fine tuned universe.

If we exist, note the order, the order. If we exist, then there's a fine tuned universe. But note that it's not the other way around, right? Like, there could be a fine tuned universe and we don't exist, because, you know, it was the next universe down that was fine tuned, or, you know, we just weren't about or whatever.

Um... To get a converse Selection effect. He has a kind of sci fi scenario where we were, suppose we were once disembodied, sub disembodied spirits floating around the multiverse looking for a fine tuned one. Well then, in that case, if there's a fine tuned universe, we're going to be in

it, right? So then there'd be a converse selection effect.

Like, if there's a fine tuned universe, we're going to be in it. But that's not the real world. It's not the case that if there's a fine tuned universe, we're going to be in it. It's just the other way around. If, if we're, if we're alive. Then there's going to be a fine tuned universe. So your example, I think, has a converse selection effect, right?

It's like, if someone plays well, we're going to observe it, right? Because we're going to be dragged in. Um, but that's, that's not the real world case. The real world case is just if we exist, then there's a fine tuned universe. But your example is. Um, if there's, if what corresponds to fine tuning is someone playing well, if someone's playing well, we're going to observe it.

So let me give you, this is getting a bit complicated, but let me give you a, a better analogy, which I think better reflects the reality of the situation. Suppose unbeknownst to us, there's a sniper hiding in the back of that first room when we go in. And they're waiting there, and UNLESS the person who we see is gonna have an incredible run of luck, they can see them first, before we run round the corner, come round the corner.

They're gonna blow our brains out and we're never gonna see anything. Okay, now you've got a selection effect, an anthropic principle, artificially, that mirrors the real world situation. Because, uh, Unless someone's playing well, we're not going to, we're not going to, the only thing we could observe is someone playing well, just like in the real world situation, the only thing we could possibly observe is a fine tuned universe, but I think it's pretty clear that that, that doesn't remove the fallacy.

Right, it doesn't remove, you know, okay, it doesn't make a difference as a sniper though. It's still, it's still fallacious to infer to Lots of people playing the casino. So that's what I'd say about that. Does that make sense?

[00:37:49] Matt Geleta: Yeah, it's definitely, I enjoyed this section of your book, it's quite fun. I had not come across many of these analogies in there.

[00:37:57] Philip Goff: It gets, It gets, a bit mind blowing

doesn't it? It gets you

[00:38:00] Matt Geleta: It does, yeah.

[00:38:01] Philip Goff: all

[00:38:02] Matt Geleta: It does. So I would definitely recommend that people take a look there. Let's maybe turn, like, the gambler's fallacy aside. Something that the multiverse hypothesis also suffers from is the question of whether it is falsifiable.

And many people point to these, all of these hypotheses, and they say, um, look, I don't see how this is in principle something that's falsifiable. And, you know, going back to Karl Popper, this would, this would, excluded from the category of things we would call scientific. And, um, I would, I would put that.

question to you.

Is, is this hypothesis, um, in any, in any sense falsifiable beyond the things that we've already talked about?

[00:38:43] Philip Goff: Good. Yeah, so I mean, I think people often oversim, for one thing people often oversimplify Popper's view, you know, he You had a very nuanced conception of what constitutes falsifiability. Um, I think, you know, what people are talking about is, you know, does it make predictions about what's going to change or something?

And, um, you know, that's great in a scientific context when you can, when you can have, you know, predictions that you can independently check. But it's, it's, it's not always the case that we can have that with an empirical, empirically support hypothesis. I mean, think about ancient history, for example. Um, you know, hypotheses about, I don't know.

I don't know much history, you know, it's often, you know, you think, I don't know. Caesar crossed the Rubicon or something. How do we, we, we take it to be that that's the historically supported, empirically supported view from looking at the evidence. But what predictions does that make? How would you falsify it?

I suppose you could think, um, more evidence could come up than we currently have. But that's the case with fine tuning as well, you know, the evidence could change. But it's not like there's some experiment we could go, because the past is sort of dead and gone. And, um, You know, with, with certain theories about the early universe, it might often, might sometimes be a bit like that, the...

The theory of inflation or the theory of natural selection, you know, it's, it's not always, to some extent we can do experiments and stuff, but a lot of it is based on, look, we've got these organisms, we need an explanation, it can't be chance, you know, this is the way Richard Dawkins, coming back to Richard Dawkins would argue, so natural selection looks like the best explanation, sort of arguments, inference to the best explanation.

Um, yeah. So, yeah, sometimes that's the best we've got and, and as I say, Bayes theorem gives us a very precise way of understanding how, how evidential support works, mathematically precise definition. So, you know, sometimes the best, that's the best we've gotten. Yeah. I, I, I think that, I, I, so I would say about the multiverse and cosmic purpose, I wouldn't object to that in those ways, even if there's no sort of experiment you can do, um, I mean, it would be falsifiable if the evidence changed and so on, but even if there's no experiment you can do, I still think there's a reasonable sense in which this is a, Empirically supported because the evidence fits with it in a Bayesian way of understanding evidence.

If you want to call it philosophy or metaphysics rather than science, I don't, you know, I don't really care about how we define these words. But, you know, I would say it's what the current evidence currently supports. And so it's there by a view we should take very seriously.

[00:41:33] Matt Geleta: Yeah. Okay. Well let's, let's, let's then maybe explore the actual content of the view in a bit more, more detail because it is just a very, uh, it's such a bold claim to say there is a sense of cosmic purpose. And so how do you think about the Like, the actual content of that claim, so for example, I could look at a physical system, let's say a set of chemical reactions, and perhaps I know what will happen, um, you know, I know how these chemicals react and I know.

what the result would be, and it would feel very wrong in that context, even though I can fully predict what it's going to do, um, to say that this is the purpose of the system, the purpose of these chemicals are to react in this way to produce this output.

And So that, that doesn't feel like the right use of purpose and I don't think that's the use that you're putting forward here. So what, what, what is it that you, that you mean by purpose in this case?

[00:42:23] Philip Goff: So the starting point would be this, what I referred to earlier, the value selection hypothesis, that certain numbers in physics are as they are because they are consistent with the possibility of value. So that in some sense the most valuable hypothesis has been selected, and that that's... a basic explanation there.

But that's not, I mean, I don't take that to be a fund the fundamental story. I, I, I try to make, try to make sense of what could be going on in reality to make sense of that. And I survey a range of hypotheses, perhaps the most straightforward way of, Explaining both fine tuning and suffering is to just tweak, tweak the properties of God a bit, you know, so maybe, maybe we're dealing with a bad creator or a, a moral creator or a creator of limited abilities who's done the best job she can, you know, it's just, it's just, this is the, I know it's Bostrom's,

simulation hypothesis that David Chalmers has written a book on recently. Um, that we're in a computer, maybe we're in a computer simulation and um, made by some random software engineer in the next universe up. Um, so these are all sort of non standard design hypotheses. So that's the first category.

There's basically three categories of theory I consider. But it's not obvious that you undergird cosmic purpose. Thomas Nagel has articulated a very, um, detailed account of what he calls teleological laws. laws of nature with goals built into them. So it might just be a sort of basic tendency in the universe towards certain goals of value, a tendency that interacts, an impersonal tendency that interacts with the known laws of physics in ways we don't yet fully understand.

Um, so that's the second hypothesis. The third hypothesis I consider in this. Connects, I guess most with my previous work on Panpsychism is Cosmo sexism. The, the idea of the universe is itself a conscious mind with certain goals, and I try to suggest that's not as extravagant as a hypothesis as it might first seem.

So they're the, they're the options I survey to make sense of cosmic purpose, cosmic gold directedness. That is, that I think is the evidence points to.

[00:45:06] Matt Geleta: It's interesting on the topic of panpsychism. Um, I had this experience reading your work where, um, you know, my initial posture was, was Fairly skeptical, I would say like, you know, 90 percent towards, uh, you know, not buying into any sort of panpsychist way of thinking. And, um, you know, open mindedly reading Galileo's Arrow, which is very interesting.

Um, certainly did, did draw me closer towards taking the idea more seriously. And, um, I do, I do have, um, you know, I'm fully aware of the, the same bias. That exists in this question of purpose and you mentioned it earlier, you know, this scientific bias towards not being open to ideas of this nature. I would love to get your thoughts on the questions of biases in here and what might be driving them.

One that comes to.

mind is the question of, you know, whether the idea of a cosmic purpose could actually be misaligned with, with what we want and therefore somehow, um, you know, we, we have a bit of an aversion to it. Uh, and things like the, the key death of the universe is something that might be in our future or the idea that the, the universe is just around to maximize entropy and that's clearly not aligned with human values.

Um, I wonder if that introduces like a bias against this idea. So, I mean, maybe, maybe let's, let's start there. You know, what do you feel are implications of thinking about an idea like this and taking it seriously for a human, uh, for a human being, for our psychology and what sort of bias might that introduce into how we approach this.

[00:46:43] Philip Goff: Yeah, I mean firstly, there's certainly a lot of uncertainty here in all of this. Uh, who knows, you know, it might not be a good purpose if we're in a simulation hypothesis, maybe, you know, it's just some random computer engineer trying to work out what happens if... Donald Trump gets elected and runs the simulation.

That's, that's an example from David Chalmers book. Um, but, um, I, I do think, I think it's suggestive of value. That that's what I, what I tried to make a case for earlier. I mean, it could be the sum. Bastard who's, you know, trying to create value to mess it up, you know, but then that might be a more sort of complicated ad hoc hypothesis.

I, you know, I consider the bad God and hypothesis and, uh, Stephen Law, the philosopher, has nicely argued, you know, that faces all the problem, the mirror image problems of the good God. You know, the good God, it's like, why is there so much evil? The bad God, it's, well, why is there so many good things? Why is there...

Smile of a baby. I don't know. Um, beauty of nature. So, um, so I do think, I do think it's the Cosmic Purpose is suggestive that there's a directionality to value the emergence of life, intelligent life. Also, it's not just fine tuning I deal with. There's also deep, underexplored challenges about the evolution of consciousness.

And so I said, I suggest that the Cosmic Purpose is something to do with the emergence of Creatures with conscious understanding. Um, now, you know, it could be, suppose all that's right, it could be that's the end of the story, you know, like. That's all folks, you know, that's, we've, we've reached the end of cosmic purpose.

But again, that would seem, if you do believe, if you are going for, going for cosmic purpose, and you do think it's this directedness towards the good, it might seem quite improbable that, oh, we're at the, we're at the final culmination of cosmic purpose. Wow, that's lucky. You know, so it does seem in that mode of thinking more likely that there is some greater purpose unfolding.

Um, that, um, that there will emerge some greater reality unfathomable to us as our existence is to worms. Um, okay, so, but, of course this is all somewhat speculative, so I do think there's evidence for the basic idea of cosmic purpose, but then anything beyond that is somewhat speculative, obviously. And I think it's, you know, speculation is, speculation is fine as long as you're aware, you know, it's, it can have some force.

Like again, coming back to ancient history, you know, you rarely get a concrete proof, but you can, you know, you can balance different considerations. Um, Aristotle said at the beginning of his famous text, the Nicomachean Ethics, you know, different sciences have different degrees of precision and certainty, you know, maths can get you absolute proof.

Um, Maybe if you have falsifiable science in certain contexts, you can get, um, you know, something close to certainty. But other sciences, and as you drift into philosophy, it's, it's not like it's a free for all. You can argue that there's a better position to go for here, but anyway, I'm rambling a little bit.

But come back to your question, finally. How does this impact our existence? So, you know, most of the book is cold blooded scientific philosophical argument. To take this view seriously and you could accept all that and think I don't care, you know, my colleague David Ferracci kind of said that, you know, I see the case and fine tune him, but I'm not interested, you know, I make my own meaning and that's, you know, that's fine.

But in the final chapter, I suppose I explore the connections to the meaning of human existence and think about cosmic purpose in relation to spiritual practice and. spiritual communities and even political struggle. And yeah, so overall, I'll just finish with this. I, I have a sort of mid, I always go for the middle ways.

I hate these, I hate the dichotomies. Um, You know, one extreme, you've got the Christian philosopher William Lane Craig says, Without cosmic purpose, it's all meaningless rubbish. We might as well just rape and kill each other. Uh, you know, and I talk about the antinatalist, Atheist philosopher David Benatar, who thinks something not a million miles away, Although, no, not, it's different to that, but he thinks, Um, it's immoral to have children because life is so pointless.

That's the antinatalist view. The other extreme, we've got my colleague, David Farachi, who thinks, uh, You know, it would just, if it, if there's cosmic purpose, it would just be irrelevant, you know, we make our own meaning, fine. I, so I take a kind of middle way view, I think, I think we can have perfectly meaningful lives.

Independent of cosmic purpose if we live lives pursuing things of value, like knowledge, creativity, kindness. Um, I, I think I had quite a meaningful life before I believed in cosmic purpose. Not sure I do believe in cosmic purpose, I take the idea seriously, you know. Um, but, this is the middle way, I think if there is cosmic purpose, we can potentially have more meaningful lives.

If, we can in some way. Some tiny way contribute to the good purposes of the whole of reality, you know, that's massive That's like as big a difference as you can imagine making. I think we want our lives to make a difference That's about as big a difference as you can imagine making and and you know to some extent I think William James the great psychologist and philosopher was right when you know to an extent It's, it can be irrational to hope a little beyond the evidence.

Oh, just a little bit. And so to some extent, you know, cosmic purpose, we might not be able to contribute to cosmic purpose. You know, that's, but I think there is the potential for a deeply meaningful form of life. lived in a hope that one's life can contribute to some greater reality that we don't yet fully understand.

And I suppose I'm keen on, you know, suggesting to people this way of finding meaning in life that's not the traditional religious one, it's not secular atheism, and just, you know, seeing what people think of that idea and maybe something they might like to think about.

[00:53:14] Matt Geleta: Yeah, it's, I mean, in one sense it's a really comforting thought that there could be something more out there. And as you say in your book, you know, if this is true, it perhaps isn't the only reason that life can be meaningful, but it's certainly more of a reason. But there is a flip side of that, that then puts a lot of responsibility.

On, on people, you know, suddenly everything actually matters in some cosmic way and, and, you know, what you do with your life, um, matters significantly more. And, um, I mean, I, I, I wonder how the human psychology responds to, to that. Maybe it's different for different people, but I could imagine some people finding it, it's actually, would be all too overwhelming.

Um, to have, uh, you know, to play a hand in, in this cosmic game. What's your sense? Is, is this, uh, independently of the truth value of the claim? Is, is it good for, for people? Is it bad for people? Neutral? Where do you stand?

[00:54:07] Philip Goff: So I hadn't really thought of it that, the way you just thought of this could be sort of a bit overwhelming in that sense. Um, You know, I, I, I'm, I'm, I'm, I'm very open minded about these issues. And, you know, most of the book is just, I think this is a good, a good case to take this idea seriously. I'm very open minded, um, I, I, and I don't want to dogmatically lay down, you know, this is the only way to have a meaningful life, I suppose I am inclined to think that there is, yeah, that this is potentially a more meaningful life than secular humanism.

Um, you know, we do find. Whatever protestations to the contrary, it does seem that many people reach a, a lot of, for a lot of people, reach a certain point in life, maybe they've achieved their career goals and, you know, they've had a family or not had a family or whatever. And then they think, is this it?

Is this, this is not satisfying. Is this it? Maybe some people have that. Some people don't. And, you know, I suppose at least the potential to address those kinds of meaning worries. And I've found it in my own case. I call it cosmic purposivism to be a meaningful way of living. It helps me not just narrowly focus on my own interests.

So those are my family or it helps keep my ego in check a little bit. Um, so yeah, I mean, I suppose I'm always saying is, you know, why not try it out? You know, see if you like it, uh, um, just, I'm just thinking now about your point, overwhelming. I mean, I suppose, like, I think, I mean, I think there's a lot of.

I think there's a lot of pressure just from basic morality. Forget cosmic purpose, you know, to do a lot, you know. Um, Philosopher Peter Singers talked about the demandingness of morality. There's a lot of suffering in the world. I think there is a big responsibility to act. And so, even independently of cosmic purpose, I think there's a big pressure on us morally if we really reflect about it.

All cosmic purpose does it. It maybe doesn't tell you to act differently. It just sets that moral project. In a broader idea, in a broader concept, a broad, a set, you know, there's a broader moral, a cosmic moral project and that's maybe, maybe can allow for a certain sense of greater meaning, a certain motivation, perhaps a certain sense of greater hope, but it, but it mightn't necessarily lead you to acting much differently because ultimately it's about sort of making the world a better place and there's a lot of need for that.

Whether, whether you think that's part of a bigger moral project or not.

[00:56:53] Matt Geleta: Yeah, I mean, one of the, like a general theme throughout this podcast is, um, the, you know, bringing philosophy and science into Like everyday life into, into the real world and really can, especially connecting philosophy with actually how people live their lives. And I wonder, you know, you've, um, you've explored several, uh, topics that people consider if I quote unquote out there, you know, panpsychism and cosmic purpose and, and others.

How have these, have these changed the way you live your life? Since you've explored these, you've come to certain conclusions on, as you said, largely a. like a purely philosophical and scientific basis, um, but I would imagine this, this has an implication for how you choose to live. How has your life, um, how has it changed, uh, from having done the work that you've done?

[00:57:42] Philip Goff: Good question. I took in my, well, my last book, Galileo's error, I talk, um, autobiographically about your wrestling with the problem of consciousness and, um, When I thought dualism, I thought, you know, when I was taught philosophy, there were only two options. Either you thought consciousness was something supernatural, the sort of soul, or you, um, or you were just a materialist.

You just think it's just the kind of electrochemical signaling. And I think that view, it's a big debate, but I think it ultimately ends up sort of denying the reality of consciousness. And so, yeah, I did wrestle with that. And as I talk about in the book, so I, I thought the materialist option was the scientifically credible one, so I defended it vigorously and, but I came to think it, it implies a non existence of consciousness, so for a while, I tried to live that out, you know, my consciousness doesn't exist, I'm just what we call a zombie, an unfeeling mechanism, and my brains tricked me into thinking I have feelings and experiences when I, it's really just an illusion, well my, my own podcast, Mind Chat, um, I, I do, with a, with an illusionist philosopher, Keith Frankish, who's a lovely bloke, but the polar opposite opinion to me thinks consciousness, at least in the way I think about it, doesn't really exist.

Um, but yeah, I, I, and I, I tried to embrace that, and then I just remember, talk about this in Galileo's era, just, I don't know what it was, so what, one, like being in a bar with music and beer and just, just... Suddenly right, no, I have experiences. This is, this is not livable. I can't do this anymore. Um, I also talk in the new book about, was it a question of moral objectivity?

I had a big conversion from David Hume, sort of subjectivism about morality and being persuaded by a professor that there was a kind of contradiction in Hume's view and and that blew my mind to suddenly thinking, oh my god, there are things that are objectively good. And just not doing particularly nice things, but thinking that was really good.

Not just, I don't know. Yeah. So I think, um, in all these ways, I suppose I do live them out and just on the part, you know, discovering panpsychism and. Yeah, that, you know, so I, I actually sort of left academia because I was so perturbed by consciousness, couldn't find a resolution to it. Uh, tried to think about other things and discovering almost by mistake panpsychism and, and yeah, the intellectual piece that brought that there was a way of making sense of the All the facts about science, you know, but also the evident reality of our own feelings and experiences.

Um, you know, finding that resolution did bring a great sense of peace. And then Cosmic Purpose, which is the topic of the new book, um, well, just for the reasons I said, I suppose, I have found it to be a somewhat meaningful life, meaningful way of living life to, and you know, the evidence could change tomorrow, I might be wrong, and yeah, as James said, you know, you only live once and you, If you can find a, a way of living that's grounded in some kind of rational case and is, um, uh, um, affords a meaningful way of living a life, then, yeah, to some extent it can be, it can be possible to hope beyond the evidence.

The example, you know, if you've got, um, if you've got somebody, a loved one who's seriously ill and their prognosis is not great, maybe like they've got a 30, 40 percent chance of living, um, it's perfectly rational to say, I believe you're going to make it, I've got faith you're going to make it, and to live in that hope and to have it motivated.

To an extent, right, if there's like a 1 percent chance they're going to make it, probably you shouldn't have false hopes, you should focus on comforting them, you know, and so on. But, uh, to an extent it can be rational to hope beyond the evidence, and I have, yeah, I have found it. Um, I'm hoping it, it, it avoids a midlife crisis because, um, you know, I, I think I'm lucky I'm gonna, I'm gonna stop in a minute.

I'm rumbling a bit, but I think I'm lucky that I'm not too naturally driven by money or power, but to an extent. I have ego. To an extent, you know, I do want people to know about my philosophy and read about my philosophy and did I get on, you know, did I get that thing published or did I not? You know, I think all, I think that's all silly, really.

It's all ridiculous, but I can't help caring about it. But it helps if I, if I try to. Sort of as it were daily prayer for me is sort of just trying to have them all of that in a broader focus that There's a bigger project here and you do your best to contribute it to it And then you're gonna die and but you know, you've you've done your best to so, you know I do find that helps and I hope will help to avoid mustache or something

[01:02:53] Matt Geleta: Well, I think that's quite beautifully said. And maybe on the topic of midlife crisis, one of the questions that I had stated to you is like a fun one as we bring it to a wrap. You know, in this thinking about cosmic purpose and, you know, assuming that there is a, That means that there is some purpose to our individual lives.

There is also then the question of whether we live by that purpose and the question of regret. And so, as a bit of a fun one, um, I had a question for you. What will you do within the next, let's say, year that you think you'll have, that you'll regret having done in 20 years time?

[01:03:28] Philip Goff: Oh God, I, I, it's funny you should say that because I think it could be growing a mustache. So I keep , I keep

threatening

[01:03:36] Matt Geleta: It is November.

It is

[01:03:37] Philip Goff: I, yeah, well, I did, I, I don't know. It's, I, I was, I've, I've had it before until about an hour ago. I, I did have a mustache. That's probably why. Someone, my, and uh, oh, I did a podcast before that, you know, my book's coming out to you.

I'm doing lots of podcasts and I sat down for the podcast. And I looked at myself in the, uh, screen and I had this moustache and I was like, this is ridiculous. So I went and got my, just before we went live on, this was the Capturing Christianity podcast. I'm trying to, you know, interact with religious people and atheist people.

I was interacting with Daniel Dennett on this. So, anyway, but I just shaved it off. Hey, look, I can prove this. You'd think I'm lying.

I just, so, so I removed the mustache immediately, but, um, my wife hated it anyway. So, so yeah, so, but I might grow it back. I keep, I don't know. I keep, um, being tempted by it for some

reason.

[01:04:30] Matt Geleta: Yeah, well, set a reminder, check in in 20 years time. Is that a, is the one full of goths regrets? Next one, um, you know, we've talked about several books, some of which you've written, some of which, um, you know, have, we've both enjoyed. My question is, which books have, book or books have you most gifted to other people, and why?

[01:04:52] Philip Goff: Yeah, that's a good question. I tend to buy people politics books, whether they want them or not. I'm a big fan of the French economist, um, Thomas Piketty, who's, uh, you know, done one of the most rigorous empirical analyses of, um, capitalism throughout the couple of few hundred years of its history. And, um, yeah, I mean, I suppose, yeah, I mean.

I mean, my political philosophy is quite simple, really. I mean, his book in particular, um, he wrote this huge book. He's written a couple of huge books, but then he wrote a shorter one. Um, a brief history of equality, equality, actually about how society has become more equal, but how, you know, the, the two recent periods of recent history, if the 30 years after the.

Second World War. Now, I don't know what it was like in Australia, actually, but in, in the UK, the US, Western Europe, you know, we effectively had a semi socialist society, you know, we had, um, taxes of 80 90 percent on the wealthy in the UK and the US, uh, very strong trade unions, um, very tightly... tight regulation on the movement of capital.

You know, you couldn't just take money out the country and it worked really well. It was the most dynamic economy we've ever had. It was, you know, for the first time, you know, before that in, in, you know, in 1913, the top, uh, 10 percent had 89 percent of all the wealth. You know, that's what it's been like for most of history.

You know, the, the top tiny percent have had most of everything. But then all of this really redistributed and really made the middle class so much wealthier. You know, took much more than they've been. The top 10 percent now, 56%, I think. Um, and you know. My parents generation. I think there was that sense of optimism, that sense of, uh, so people would say, you know, where socialism ever worked and I said, well, the semi socialist society we had after the UK, the U S Europe after that was, it was going in the right direction.

I think it was. And then, you know, from the eighties onwards, I think. So it's getting a bit party political broadcast, but I think, you know, we tore up that up. We slashed taxes, slashed regulation. It's been a, you know, we had, since then we had crisis after crisis, huge inequality, global financial crisis brought it all to its knees.

And then we've been fumbling about after that with Trump and Brexit and so on. So, yeah, so I think, um, You know, there's just that, that's what that empirical case of how wealth and society changed. He, I mean, he goes right back to the dawn of time, but in those periods, I think it's absolutely fascinating and I buy it for people, whether they want it or

not.

[01:07:33] Matt Geleta: Yeah, fantastic. Well, I mean, it's certainly a challenge. So if your goal is to educate the masses, then reading, uh, well, no, I'm not sure about the shorter book, but the bigger book is a, is a very big book. So, um,

[01:07:44] Philip Goff: I mean, whether, whether you agree, whatever your political persuasions, you know, it's good to have that the strongest case, as I always say to my students, right? There's no skill in refuting, rejecting a terrible argument, right? But if you, you know, you Big up your argument, go for the hardest argument, not some, you know, crappy, half thought out, you know, crude position.

Thomas Piketty's very rigorously informed, and then, and then, show why it's wrong or whatever, then, you know, I mean, I agree with it. But if, if you're of the opposite persuasion, I think it's the best kind of thing you can have, defending something like a... A socialist position. And he gives very, very particular policy commitments for, um, what we should do moving forward, such as a universal inheritance involving each person, a big wealth tax, and then he, you know, so how come it was wealthy people get an inheritance?

So he thinks, you know, every person on the, every citizen on their 21st birthday should get, um, a certain percentage of national wealth, you know, anyway, interesting ideas, whether you agree or not, sorry, I'm rambling again.

Next question.

[01:08:49] Matt Geleta: What about, uh, what about fiction? Have you, uh, is there a fiction book come to mind? I mean, I personally feel that a lot of... Go for it.

[01:08:56] Philip Goff: yeah, I'm, I'm, I, I read too much nonfiction and my wife's always rightfully telling me, you know, you need to read more fiction. I'm currently reading a book on her recommendation, uh, Project Hail Mary, which is a sci fi book. Now, I'm going to describe it and it sounds rubbish, but it's, it's, it's about someone making contact with an alien.

But it is so scientifically well researched. And, and the, the, the way it's set up, you can believe this is the very near future. It's not like, you know, some far off world. And this is a very differently evolved creature. And so this, these two creatures are getting to know each other. And yeah, it's really fascinating.

So, but the problem is I just read a few pages and then I fall asleep. And so it's very slow work, but that's, I would recommend Project

Hail Mary.

[01:09:48] Matt Geleta: Sounds like the book is, uh, is serving its purpose. I use fiction for the same, uh, for the same reasons. Um, maybe on that topic, you know, it's about, um, being visited by aliens. And I suppose, um, one might say we will soon be visited by an artificial super intelligence. If, uh, if you had to pick one person...

From humanity either past or present to represent us to an artificial super intelligence. Who would you pick?

[01:10:14] Philip Goff: Oh my god, pastel present. Probably nobody famous. I don't know, we always go for the famous people, don't we? But I think, you know, I don't know, the people who, the people who I'm most impressed by are sort of people who do unstated silent work, you know, in uh, My dad used to, you know, visit refugees in prison for most of his life, you know, the I've got an auntie who does so much work in her community.

I don't know the people who Sort of work quietly beavering away not looking for reward unlike me with my ego trying to say look at me I've written this amazing stuff, but I wish I was a bit more like that. Um Historical figures. I don't know. I don't know. I don't I don't think i've got any non cliched answer gandhi jesus.

Um, Yeah, I mean, I I'm I'm um, I I am i'm a i'm a big fan of of Of Jesus, even though I'm not a, don't have the traditional Christian world view, the, You know, I think, I mean, Jesus, it's incredible, so light years ahead of his time, was in sort of, The idea of valuing the powerless, you know, and valuing the poor, And that inversion of worldly values is kind of so weird, and, um, Loving the people who are horrible to you, you know, that's, uh, These, these Christian moral ideals mean a lot to me, even though I'm, Rejected the Catholicism of my youth that I was raised with till I was about 14, but, um, Yeah, loving your enemy.

Even people I know who are quite good people and, you know, if someone's a bit of a dick, you know, I don't know say that or someone, you know, you say, oh, they're just, I hate them. I hate them. They're, you know, they're a bit of a dick, you know, and, you know, that, so that's a good idea to say, no, I'm gonna, I'm gonna try and love this person, try to have positive feelings to this person.

So I do love that about my upbringing and, you know, even though they're a bit of a dick, you know, so, so yeah, I, I do, I guess I, I guess, um, yeah. Um, big fan of Jesus, Jesus had so many one, you know, incredible things. And he like, uh, Beers, my favorite Jesus quote, be as, um, be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves, although that captures a lot sort of, you know what I mean?

Like. You know, don't be a softy, you know, but, but, be a softy, do you know be really shrewd as, shrewd as a snake, but I don't know, I, it says it all, doesn't it, but I love that. So yeah, um, yeah, Jesus and, um, some completely unknown person who, uh, who we all know, the type of person, but, uh, doesn't stand on a big megaphone and shout

it out.

[01:13:02] Matt Geleta: Yeah, yeah, it's great. I mean, if there's been one theme out.

of this question, it is that people do not choose the mega famous, um, to, uh, to represent us, which I, which I think is a, it's a good

[01:13:12] Philip Goff: They usually kill them

like Socrates. Jesus. Actually, I love, I love these cur, I love actually just make me think Socrates, Jesus and Colombo. Do you know Colombo? Are you, are you too young for Colombo? I used to watch Colombo in the seventies when I was off sick with my grand and you know, the anti-hero, right?

I love the anti-heroes. Not like I'm a man's, I'm a real man, man. You know, I'm a powerful person that, you know, is sort of self-deprecating, and. I think Jesus, Socrates, Columbo are all these anti heroes, you know, but they're, you know, Doctor Who as well, big Doctor Who fan, you know, these sort of, not your typical hero.

I like those

kind of guys

[01:13:51] Matt Geleta: Yeah, fantastic. I think good, uh, good recommendation. Um, Philip, it's been, it's been a really great conversation. Any, any final words that you'd like to share with the audience? Anything we didn't get to?

[01:14:02] Philip Goff: I think it's been a really, it's been a really fun, I like the little twists at the end of those questions and, um, well I hope people, you know, I hope, just, I should say actually the book is, my first book was an academic book, my second book was aimed at a general audience, this is trying to do both, so each book, each chapter is a more accessible bit, and then a bit, um, going into the, the digging deeper to the details, so, you know, I hope it's both accessible but got the technical details, and I hope, you know, people, I'm sure people will have disagreed with a lot of what they heard tonight, I think, uh, whether you're a theist or an atheist or neither, um, You know, I hope if you'll find some support for some of your views, but some challenges and, and, you know, that's what it's all about.

And I hope it just adds, adds to the discussion. Um, let me know what you think. I always argue on Twitter, Philip underscore Gough, Philip with one L. So, um, tell me why you thought it was a load of rubbish on Twitter.

[01:15:02] Matt Geleta: Very good. Well, Philip, thank you so much for joining me. It's been a pleasure.

[01:15:06] Philip Goff: Thanks, Matt. That's been lovely.

Paradigm
Paradigm
Conversations with the world's deepest thinkers in philosophy, science, and technology. A global top 10% podcast by Matt Geleta.