E.O. Wilson: Science, Not Philosophy, Will Explain the Meaning of Existence


In my book I deal right away with the meaning
of meaning because I knew I would be attacked like a disturbed nest of hornets by philosophers
if I did not. And of course meaning has a number of meanings, but generally speaking
after you’ve gone past the basic religious definition of meaning, which is of course:
“The divine creator is responsible for the design and nature of humanity and what else
do you want to know?” After you get past that particular response then the subject moves
to meaning as history, that is essentially: What are we and why? Where do we come from?”
And this is part of meaning too: “Where are we most likely to be headed?” And I like to
suggest that in order to answer those questions we cannot do it with religion because every
religion has, or every religious faith, rather, has a different creation story, a story of
how the universe and the Earth and people came into being. And every faith has its own
special accounts of supernatural events, and they differ one from the other. And they are
in competition. And in any case they cannot be boiled down
to any kind of a coherent explanation because religious faith is very much a product of
human culture. And we can’t really figure out just what we are or what our meaning is
by introspection. I’m reminded of the statement that Darwin made in one of his notebooks,
which was that the mind, consciousness, cannot be taken by direct assault. We cannot imagine
what we are inside by thinking about it alone. And it hadn’t been really dented very well
by philosophy. I like to say that most of philosophy, which is a declining and highly
endangered academic species, incidentally, consists of failed models of how the brain
works. So students going into philosophy have to learn what Descartes thought and then after
a long while why that’s wrong and what Schopenhauer might have thought and what Kant might of
thought or did think. But they cannot go on from that position and historical examination
of the nature of humanity to what it really is and how we might define it. So by default
the explanation of meaning, of humanity, falls to science and we are making progress, if
I might speak for science. And it’s from five disciplines, and I’ll
take just a moment to tell you what they are and it will make sense as to why, not all
of science is whole by any means, which is developing exponentially in the creation of
knowledge faster and faster, but from a particular set of the disciplines within science, and
I’m going to name them. As I approach that I’ll say you cannot get the answer from astrophysicists.
There are astrophysicists glad to try to explain to you rhetorically in some way or other what
the meaning of humanity is and what their studies of astrophysics tells us about the
significance of humanity. Forget it. They can’t possibly tell you, nor just astronomers,
nor just chemists, nor just my own colleagues, molecular biologists. They’re too far removed
from the subject to make any sensible thing about the meaning of human existence. Well, what are the disciplines? And if you
look at these disciplines as I’ve done, and I’ve actually worked as a researcher in a
couple, you have to know what the contributions are of evolutionary biology. That is biology
seen in a historical context going all the way back millions of years to the origin of
the human species. And then another one, another science of course is paleontology, which segues
as we come closer to modern humanity and the invention of agriculture and the birth of
the Neolithic period turns into archaeology. So archaeology and paleontology, which are
on a different time scale, is the other discipline, a second discipline. And a third, of course,
and everybody would know about this now because it’s progressing so rapidly in so many ways
is brain science. And then coming out of brain science or running parallel to it and trading
with it and depending upon it and driving from it we turn now to a more technology subject,
and that is artificial intelligence. And with artificial intelligence is the fifth, robotics. Robotics is so important, as Hollywood has
now glommed onto, knowing a good story when they see one, robotics includes, of course,
the notion of studying the mind in perfecting artificial intelligence, and more than that;
creating what the artificial intelligence and robotics people call whole brain emulation.
That is using robots as avatars and creating robots that are by design an imitation of
what we know about the brain more and more like humans. All those five disciplines together
making bridges here and there are beginning to tell us what the meaning of humanity is.
It’s the product of a grand epic. And it’s the full story of humanity. And we’re just
beginning to draw it in clarity. And let me just add to that why leaving out history of
the whole human species, genetic as well as cultural, you have no chance whatsoever in
defining the meaning of human existence because history, that goes back essentially to the
origin of literacy, history makes no sense without prehistory. That is to say the biological
evolution that’s led up to the human condition at the beginning of history. And prehistory
in turn, is a study of our ancestors going right back into the animal kingdom, makes
no sense without biology. So we have to have a constant building of concatenation of ideas
and information discipline to discipline across scales of the totality of the human population
and scales of time going back actually millions of years to our early pre-human ancestors
and then forward it to the era of cultural evolution. And then we will have the story
of humanity. And then we will not ask in a quizzical manner, “What is the meaning of
life? What is the meaning of human existence?” We will have our answers.

100 comments

  1. If there even is such a thing as "meaning" when it comes to existence itself, it will never be adequately explained by either science or philosophy, but only by both in interaction, namely through a philosophical interpretation of scientific findings. I'm really sick of some arrogant scientists not understanding that philosophy (while some aspects of it might indeed be disposable) remains an extremely important academic discipline.

  2. Philosophy and art, through out the history of civilization, have made us relate through emotion and thought to the eternal questions of life, way more then science has so far. It has been a constant dialogue, and hopefully it will stay such. Without humanities, we will be doomed to world much like in the movie Wall-E.
    And, also he thinks that Hollywood knows a good story when it sees one…. That`s where I stopped taking him seriously…

  3. A man who seems to have not read a single word of historical philosophy attempts to speak of philosophy and even attempts to dismiss it entirely. 

  4. this question was so loosely defined, are we talking about why anything exists, are we talking about why consciousness exists, or are we talking about the meaning of life? in any case not of these questions were answered, and when they are answered credit will be deserved by all areas of research not just a few (except for why the universe exists that's all physics). anyways this vid was dissapointingly uninformative and too broad a question to be thought provoking

  5. Wilson has a reported IQ of 123. Now the measurements have changed somewhat, but not by that much. I'd like to hear more on this topic from people with two digit IQ and some above genius levels. I've spent the majority of my life naturally withdrawing to philosophize any topic that caught my interest. For me the uses of philosophy is very much needed, especially if used in tandem with people who are purely driven by science and rationality. I have a higher IQ and tend to be irrational and all over the place, I need people to bring me back down and collect my thoughts for me. Applied to science, I believe that a healthy ratio of all these factors is needed. Too much rationality and you might not extend far enough to find new angles. Too much philosophy and you become irratic and many things remain inconclusive.

    One thing I do know for sure is that if nobody asked the big questions there would be no science to give definitive answers.

  6. E.O. Wilson basically says that we will know the Meaning of Existence once we can answer two questions:
    How we got here: Evolutionary biology, Paleontology, Archaeology
    How the mind works: Brain science, Artificial intelligence, Robotics

  7. Some know nothing Astronomer called Sagan once said something like "Life is how the universe observes itself". He also said "We are star stuff" meaning that the atoms that make up everything on Earth (including us) were cooked up in exploding stars. Mr Wilson seem to take all that for granted and starts his story with the Earth, Oceans, and primitive life as a given, he deliberately ignores the first 2/3 of  the evolution of the universe, claiming it to be irrelevant in the search for "meaning", sort of like watching "Back to the future 3" but not the first two, no?

    Other than his inexplicable derision of the study of the universe outside of Earth, it was an interesting clip.  

  8. Fair enough those five fields may one day describe perfectly how the human mind works and how it came to be, but that still doesn't answer bigger questions like what is ultimately there? or what is everything?

  9. Spoken like a philosopher and with such charm! All the axioms of science are based on faith. Dear Mr.Wilson I should like to inform you that one so called 'religion' Zen Buddhism is most certainly not based on any kind of faith whatsoever. If only you could understand that the very words you speak with such eloquence about the coming together of various sciences and 'beyond' to artificial intelligence etc. prevent you and science generally from really seeing the nature of the cosmos and what it amounts to; you have put yourself 'outside' any possibility of truly SEEING. Your dualism (obviously necessary for a scientist) does at the same time prevent, just maybe, what you yourself might like to get a 'handle' on.  

  10. He makes interesting points, but I don't agree with the tittle of this talk.

    Science- Systematic knowledge of the PHYSICAL or MATERIAL world gained through observation and experimentation.

    Philosophy- Rational investigation of the truths and principles of conduct, being, or knowledge.

    So in other words, science is seeking TANGIBLE facts and physical laws, while philosophy is seeking ABSTRACT meaning and conduct. I believe both are necessary for a meaning to life. You need a bed of TANGIBLE facts that are produced through science as foundation to rationally synthesize an ABSTRACT meaning to life. They are dependent on one another in this case.

    My personal opinion is that the meaning to life is 42…

    The only other thing I want to mention is about his comment that sounded something like " philosophy is going down hill. " This bugged me. One reason is that as the gradual increase of technology arises from science, furthering human capabilities and globalization, moral philosophy will need to be practiced to keep these new possibilities in check and on an ethical path.

  11. Philosophy is and forever be the base/foundation to science. So the tittle should read philosophy, not philosophy, will explain the the meaning of life or what have you.. .

  12. Am I the only one who thinks those questions are not very relevant? I mean, it doesn't really matter does it? I believe in accepting your condition and using it creatively instead of debating this sort of propositions. "What's  the meaning?", " What's the origin?" It's kinda pointless, assuming those are valid questions, tell me what would you do differently if you knew the answers? We already have all the answers we need right under our noses and instead of looking into them we often choose to escape reality and chase these obnoxious themes, I believe that further perpetuating this kind of argument will only distract ourselves of more immediate and more relevant situations, but who am I anyway, just a guy from a third world country, to each it's own. 

  13. Nature itself answers all your questions .
    First , the fact that mankind questions its existence is the key .
    I don't believe any other species on earth does this ?
    They are complete , and perfect as to existing .
    It is mankind that asks , why do we exist ?
    This means we see a different future , one where we are better or more complete and comfortable with our place in existence .
    The fact that we view ourselves as different is clouding our view of just being out of tune with the whole of existence or universe .
    Our limiting ourselves to the brain as a commander or seat of everything , we are not taking into account that the brain isn't just in our sculls , everything about us is just an extension of our brain , our senses , our nervous system , is still our brain , just spread out over our physical body .
    Our growth as an entity is only done by pain , without pain we become weak , and don't toughen up ourselves .
    Our exploits into artificial intelligence is only another extension of our brain .
    To throw in evolution , we see that many attempts at life were tried here ie. dinosaurs , mammoths , cro-magnon .
    What we don't see is that we aren't from an ancestor , but an accumulation of species of a common ancestor , reptilian , mammalian , fish and foul , all with a common design .
    Two eyes , two ears , one nose , one head , one mouth and one sphincter .
    Thank you .

  14. Philosophies amazing. It allows peoples to imagine different processes and it's similar to trial and error, evolution and the argument comes when people disagree with me causes a debate and i'm interest in your response. But penultimately everythings design, need to bring our attention more to the panoramic view of life and life without dependencies questions that need deep trenching into and forming into major topics. lights out  

  15. Science as the king of all Truth is a byproduct of privilege. He probably means well, but he kind of lacks the value of philosophy in terms of psychology as an approach to understanding consciousness, as opposed to materialist models of brain imaging. The irony is this approach misses the historical context of its own existence/lineage: rigorous quantitative research is a form of labor sought by many affluent interests, whereas philosophy is a way of shaking your perception of your own self-perception and seeks, if it has any humanity, justice. If your life is such that you see yourself as a biological machine, then that seems fine enough, but is unfortunately about as deep/culturally relevant as an early Renaissance painting.
    Much of United States' intellectual spirit is beholden to its most egregious political/financial powers. If you pretend that this is not affecting your beliefs about reality, humanity, or rationality itself, then I think you're ignoring more than a few inconvenient truths about yourself and your surroundings. Self-awareness is king, not rationality. 

  16. I see this type of opinion become less and less prevalent as the human collective matures. It's not an "either or" kind of question. "the meaning of human existence" is not something that only one or another discipline can explain in full, it's more of constructing the answer to that question from all of the disciplines. Take into consideration what all of them say about this subject and we will have a complete picture. There is no exclusion, only lack of perspective, a certain failure to see the relevance/conections between the different disciplines. This narrow point of view, as explained by Wilson, is common in older generations, and to my opinion, detrimental to progress. I would like to think that it's a dying trend for we are now being more inclusive and participatory between doctrines. We should strive for being less divisive in these meta questions and not the other way around.  

  17. "generally speaking after you've gone past the basic religious definition of meaning, which is of course: "*The divine creator is responsible for the design and nature of humanity and what else do you want to know?" , there; a notion, dare I say a common induction fallacy in the Western world that *the overall religious definition of meaning is in teleology via a creator deity. Seriously,are there not more ppl who have a deep grip of panentheism/unitheism or panetheism who can be brought onto "big think"?.

    It caught my attention how Mr. Wilson said" I like to say that most of philosophy, which is a declining and highly endangered academic species, incidentally, consists of failed models of how the brain works.". I'm going to assume he means this of the models made in Western philosophy and it's mostly "academic home"; I'm curious to see if anyone with a thorough grip of "Eastern religions" in the conceptual AND social manifestations of them, would care to say if Dharmic and maybe Daoic religions as well are any closer in their respective models of the mind to what modern neurosci says–though this might be a question more suited to Sam Harris. To bad he didn't go into talking about phenomology or integral theory.

    The five fields .E.O. mentioned:molecular bio,archaeology, paleontology,brain sci and A.I. I have a feeling that most ppl think about the "objects" of those fields (the cells,the artifacts,bones,cells and robots) and neglect the super important mathematics underlying them. I'm thinking esp. about the "automated reasoning" used in A.I. I wouldn't dismiss physicists out of the project; you might not find astrophyscists handy but what about bio- or even chemophysics?.

    The way he's talking,things sound cool and all but I >~< REALLY hope no one blunders into far-reaching conclusions that are like the old Social Darwinist nonsense–but d— it,if anyone with thoughts of turning the info on human origins into tech (or I'm more wary of:marketing) ends up trying to justify that old junk with new info "-_- –b/c part of me is hoping that somewhere along the way of science trying to get a fuller picture of "the story of humanity" the significance of altruism won't be neglected. As will some factor that can be described as "all-inclusion";love.

  18. I believe that philosophers arguing against him are looking at this wrong. Philosophy indeed will not answer the meaning of existence, because philosophy consists of asking pertinent questions, and discussing context. It does not find objective answers, because that's not the point. Science, however, seeks to answer questions by adding together all possible evidence. There's not a real conflict. It's just a misunderstanding of roles.

  19. I thought that meaning was purely focused around the question why. The questions what, how or when don't seem to correlate with meaning. I always though science = where, how, when, what and philosophy = why

  20. The meaning of existence is to help the universe push the boundaries of creation, using consciousness, which is something it could create using the constants that it had access to.

  21. Scientists should stop disrespecting philosophers and viceversa, academics should stop shooting their own foot.

  22. This seems positivist. To a true sceptic he can never be right in what he is saying and it seems not plausible to think that science as way of answering the question of human existance. When trying to answer such questions even scientists really talk the language of philosophy because there are no scientific method of answering "why" questions.

  23. Why does there have to be a meaning behind existence to begin with?
    If existence is the universe and possible multiverse and everything that could possibly encompass this…then isnt it a little silly,even arrogant perhaps,that we should seek to ascribe "meaning" ( a human extension towards epi phenomenal objects) tp what we find in existence? Understanding that we are a life form evolved on a spinning rock in the vastness of space is one thing,but why should it have a meaning?

  24. Meaning is a word by humans, and a definition by humans, why would there be meaning in the universe? The only meaning there is is the meaning we make.

  25. humans think there is a meaning to everything, in reality, there is no meaning. its humans stupidity that wants to add a meaning to everything when in reality, no meaning exist. humans just want a poor excuse for living or something to hide behind because the fear of death. accept the fact that humans are worthless and have no purpose. whether you accept it or not, in reality, you are worthless. like everything else.

  26. @David Tennant Fan And that is what matters, it's not like the Universe is asking what is it's purpose. The question is what is OUR purpose, and we have to find it out or make it by ourselves in this great vastness of the Universe.

  27. The fundamental problem here seems to be an (imaginary) conflict between materialist conceptions of mind and qualia– the irreducible subjectivity of experience. A nuanced ontology must incorporate both to provide a working approximation of what it is and what it means to be human. I am surprised and somewhat disappointed to hear Wilson's glib dismissal of philosophy as a mode of inquiry, especially given how robustly he has advocated for consilience among disciplines. By reducing philosophy to so many "failed models," he situates the discipline as, at best, an ineffective stage in a presumptive teleology of reason leading to the great revelations of his final five. This is so procedural that it borders on the cynical. There also seems to be a conflation of purpose, as if philosophy and science, while obviously sharing concerns, are directed ultimately to the same ends. They are not, nor is empiricism necessarily the sine qua non for inferring or imputing meaning. It is a great human privilege to live and to act from the center of questions we may never answer; indeed, our best reflections– and insights– often emerge thus.

  28. What if assigning MEANING to our existence is just a way to make ourselves feel more significant than we really are?  I'd bet he doesn't favor Astrophysics because, based on all observable evidence, our existence has NO inherent meaning.  We simply exist.  When the body dies, consciousness ceases, and our atoms return to the universal whole…which in and of itself is actually pretty cool.  An extraordinary few have made contributions that will affect the world (and possibly beyond) for countless generations, but for the most part in universal terms, we matter little…if at all.

    One could argue that the lessons we teach our children contribute to the cumulative shaping of the future, but then at best each individual is merely a drop in the ocean.  Moreover, even if we do contribute thus, most will never live to see any significant result, and those who DO see it will have long since forgotten about individual ancestral contributions.  

    As such, I ask this.  As long as one's existence is not detrimental to the survival of one's fellow beings, what's wrong with accepting universal meaninglessness?

  29. Philosophers shouldn't feel threatened, but rather rejoyce in the knowledge that they will be able to discuss new and perhaps more relevant topics. As long as there is questions we can't answer factually, there will be philosophy.

  30. Meaning is context dependent and man made. The more it relies on evidence and reason as a reference point the better….

    People taken in by the religious stance accept a kind of semantic mistake regarding meaning and hence ask how it is possible for life to have "meaning" without God.

    The answer? There is no transcendent meaning, precisely because meaning is a human construct. It still matters for us but has no reference point outside of our lives, emotions and cultures.

    Similarly though, Wilson here (or the big think folks responsible for the video title) mistakenly conflate identifying scientific theories with discovering meaning.

    Philosophy gets closer to meaning, especially when it inquires into the nature of meaning itself, which is significance, emotional values, sense of purpose etc…. Which, of course neuroscience may tell us more about in terms of the phenomenon of finding certain ideas or experiences "meaningful."

    The deeper question that has to be addressed is how we draw the distinction between an idea or experience being meaningful and the interpretation or belief often quickly attached to it being true.

  31. As a philosopher, I find the arrogance of some scientists, who childishly attack "philosophers", claiming philosophy to be dead, fascinating. Many of them forget that their PhD is a "philosophy doctorate" degree. Some of them do not seem to pay attention to changes in modern physics/science while propagating obsolete theories. Super-symmetry has been ruled out as a theory, cosmology had led to the staggering fact that 95% of the universe is unknown if not unknowable. There have been several new discoveries, like negative kelvin temperatures, that challenge the presupposed world view of the past century. String theory is a fantasy with 20,000+ theoretical variations without any link to physical reality. Yet, some how, there are scientists who "know better" proclaiming philosophy is dead. What about Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem? Doesn't that mean mathematics is dead too or do we have a bias?! Science & philosophy have an inescapable overlapping problem: people. People will always put their opinions over the ideas they dislike regardless if the ideas are based in science or philosophy. It's shameful that some so-called scientist use science as justification to be childish and as an intellectual weapon to attack the thinking process of others and discourage others from science. When science is used in this manner, it takes on the propensities of being a cult.

  32. Isn't science a series of failed models? Every criticism Wilson offers applies to science equally. I'd like to see one of these "philosophy is dead" scientists to
    actually demonstrate a graduate level understanding of the discipline they "know" to be obsolete. Imagine if we applied this reasoning to Newtonian Mechanics in light of Relativity & Quantum Mechanics: engineering could be classified as a pseudoscience.

  33. are you serious?

    big think is a channel just to promote atheism as the new world religion

    according to darwin himself there's no meaning of life, therefore saying science will find the meaning of life is just a contradiction 

  34. By the way, what atheists scientists fail to realize is that the scientific method is a philosophy's tool, there's no objective scientific method , everything can change if necessary.If data suggest a change in the scientific method , it must change. 

    Philosophy is the mother of all sciences just for the start, now you atheists need to do your homework properly.

  35. When you're a hammer, all problems look like nails, or what is it they say?

    Isn't the answer to what the meaning of human existence is philosophical by definition, though? All the scientists are doing is providing more data for philosophers to try to unravel. The philosophical conclusion Wilson seems to draw is that understanding human existence is its own true meaning. But that might not be universally true…

  36. Science will be able to explain what Humanity 'is', both past, present, and future. Philosophy will be able to explain whom we 'are', as a species known as humans. The meaning of existence will be dependant on your point of view. If you want to "feel" whom you are (which is more sensible since quantum mechanics of variable infinity would never be able to be fully understood within your life) you'll always lean towards Philosophy. If you want to clutch, you'll seek answers from the external world to better make sense of a deep internal paradox.

    Just remember one thing… There's no use in having if you don't appreciate.

  37. Life is the meaning of life. Nothing will explain the meaning of life. Everything is explaining the meaning of life every moment of time. There is only one moment of time, the present. There is no truth without contradictions. Life is.

  38. It's ridiculous how people skip the more rational question "is there a meaning?" and just ask "what is the meaning?"
    There's few things that annoy me more than people feeling entitled to some objective meaning to their existance in this universe.

    Is it really so hard for people to just accept not having a meaning and enjoy their existance while they can? "The meaning of life" is an absurd, childish, primitive fantasy and we should get over it already.

    As for the video itself (with all due respect), he simply redefined the word "meaning" then listed various sciences that are supposed to tell us what this "meaning" is, without explaining how.

  39. thats not "meaning", thats just history. or you think if you dig deeper you will somehow find meaning? ha ha really funny.
    double funny considering you bash faith which is probably the reason we have the bullshit "what is my purpose" question in the first place.

    ok gotta be fair. whole "why?" subconscious structure probably goes from our own questioning nature. at some point you just cant answer that.

  40. Wonderful video, thank you!

    The science of biology is a major science and philosophers from the traditional philosophy of science, since the Enlightenment, asking this mystifying question "What is the meaning of life?", haven't taken into account biology because before Darwin it wasn't a well-developed science. A new philosophy of biology is needed!

  41. Dear Sir
    Time is very much short, so let us abbreviate the way to the absolute certainty in the subject of existence. you are in your lecture (Science not philosophy….) Putting one's steps in the way to the correct path to absolute certainty that:
    _exsist in reality and
    _I can offer it to any person who liberate his mind after through study,from any previous experience not Dependent on scientific facts ( not theories) in every subject unless one can prove it.
    _meanable to Human mind that is why we're supplied with reason and language and Science and social tendency!

    I have screen your previous work on biodiversity and existence ,and I will read or listen to see if I can be able to the best of my effort to go through to understand you .but after next Saturday when I'll travel to start a new job in Germany ,after retirement from University hospital in Aleppo Syria in the age of 60 last summer and I can still working
    And retirement in Germany is 67 ,so let me hearing from you before I can read it, I have seen your face and it's a lot !

    Sincerely yours
    Dr.Belal Khouja
    [email protected] com

  42. What a short sighted and misinformed argument. Science can only ever tell us what something is or how it works, philosophy ascribes meaning to the findings of science. In this way science and philosophy are integral parts of one quest to understand the universe and our relationship to it. Its an argument of semantics in defining the two subjects, but its an important distinction to make if we are to avoid such foolish perspectives in the minds of the public.

  43. Wilson's characterization of philosophy doesn't seem to reflect much exposure to contemporary analytic philosophy.

    Starting with GE Moore, we might find it important to understand what the question is that Wilson is trying to answer.

    Famously inspired by analytic phl, Douglas Adams wrote in Hitchhiker's of a computer that, after hundreds of years of computation, answered 42 to what is the meaning of life, the universe and everything. The descendants of those who built the computer were thoroughly unsatisfied with that answer. After some contemplation, they asked the computer to determine what question it was that it was answering…. and the computer went on computing (perhaps for eternity) to figure out what question it was answering by outputting 42.

    It's not clear from this video that Wilson has any better grasp of what he's asking than the builders of the computer in Adams' story.

  44. Geah… did this guy study any Philo? Like seriously we're not in a Cartesian mode  anymore, some are, but most have moved on since the Linguistic turn. I mean, I'm just an undergrad but as far as I can tell Wittgenstein kind of fixed all the kinds of problems this guy's talking about. Plus how he's talking about A.I. makes me think he's not grasping the problems they're running into (as far as true artificial intelligence). And what is he going on about "knowing the history means we won't be inquisitive"? If I were to read a book from beginning to finish I would still have the same questions about what it meant if I had just started reading near the end, sure I'm better equipped to ask the questions, but I still have the questions. I'll always have the questions. Philo will never be obsolete, even if you consider it a luxury like art or music, it will never become obsolete. 

  45. I've come across an interesting thought. Meaning is a term. for the intention of a creation by the creator. If a blacksmith makes a horse shoe with the intention of shoeing a horse, the meaning of that horse shoe is to shoe a horse. So asking what is our meaning is a round about way of asking if an intelligent designer had intention upon our creation. If not, then life is meaningless. I sound like a creationist, right? Well you would be wrong. Just like children who were accidents, without an

  46. It really irks me when ignorant people dismiss philosophy as unimportant or useless. They don't realize that philosophy is probably the single most important field there is when it comes to driving the progress of humankind.

  47. Science will "explain the meaning of existence? LOL

    Science can't even explain physical nature, it merely describes it.

     And with models that are continually evolving. 

  48. These disciplines could be seen as aspects of bloom's taxonomy. Evolutionary biology, paleontology, and archaeology are gathering historical knowledge. Neuroscience gathers present knowledge. Comprehension is an intermediary step. And Artificial intelligence and robotics would correspond to application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.

  49. But science does eventually hit a wall. If the topic under consideration is all-that-exists, the problem is that all-that-exists does not exist within a broader context.  All-that-exists cannot even be a topic, since a "topic" is a subject under consideration by a being who is a part of a broader context.

  50. But it's generally accepted that science can't explain "why", only "how". I would go even further and say that "why" isn't even a question. I would say "why" is nothing more or less than the cognitive dissonance a person experiences when confronted with the irreconcilable, in a realm (this universe) that is inherently irreconcilable. (There are contradictions in this universe that cannot be reconciled, and I say that it's just the way it is. Conscience wouldn't exist, for example, without the ability to contrast one thing against another.)

    Georg Cantor proved mathematically that there are things we'll never know. And yet we are driven to understand, in a universe that has been proven by Cantor to be at least in part inscrutable. That doesn't mean religion and philosophy (which are protosciences, though religion is protophilosophy, which begot philosophy, which begot science), have the answers. They don't. But that doesn't mean science has all the answers, either. Indeed, Cantor proved it doesn't, and never will.

    And, yes,  contextualism is important, but it can't account for everything. The laws of physics, for example, apply regardless of time and place (except for edge cases, like the very beginning of the universe or its surmised, eventual heat death).

  51. The existence cannot be explained by us, neither the it`s meaning, there are several theorems supporting that.

  52. For the content of science is composed of "our" impressions on certain objects or phenomena, if science is to "explain" the meaning of existence, meaning is merely an interpretation at our invention. And since, according to modern evolutionism, material precedes mind, then, meaning is a composition of emptiness as a byproduct of materials. And since every psychological reality is a void matrix, the sensations of suffering, happiness, and other incentives for vitality are, in fact, non-existing, or existing only as a illusion; therefore, life (mind), which is the very substantial agent of all scientific inquiries, is non-real, consequently, a mistake of materials. This sort of conclusion is inevitable if science is sought to be the tool for explaining "meanings" of existence.
    "Meaning" is of a concern for ontology, rather than of natural science. Therefore, it is a work strictly reserved for metaphysics and philosophy, perhaps accompanied by classic science (biology, physics, chemistry) and neo-science (cognitive study, psychology, etc.). Science may provide a guideline for for philosophy to analyze, interpret, and organize information and discover materials for philosophers to ponder upon; but, the discipline of science itself alone is pretty powerless as defining meanings. Philosophy studies those "failed models" to gain insight in the relationship between human and scientific method in order to make progress in the work of defining; and science is only to provide them with better tools for cognition at contemporary need. In fact, when a scientist attempts to use his knowledge to start talking about meanings of existence or life behind his discovery and theory, he is actually doing philosophy, not science, perhaps in informal or less trained manner.
    Therefore, his argument that science, not philosophy, explains the meaning of existence is very absurd, if not all together nonsense.
    It seems that many other disciplines, especially natural science, have some sort of Oedipus complex against philosophy.

  53.  "I like to say that most of philosophy, which is a declining and highly endangered academic species, incidentally, consists of failed models of how the brain works."
    (2:41–2:54 )
    EVEN utilitarianism '~' ?

  54. He's basing this on group selection, an unsubstantiated bastard distortion of kin selection. He's wrong, and most scientists agree. Stephen Pinker made a great polemic on this for Edge. His diatribes are giving people false information.

  55. Is there even meaning to live? And wouldn't meaning imply intention and all that's bound up with that?

  56. A scientist without any understanding of philosophy, is going to tell us philosophers how metaphysics works. And starts by conflating it with religion.

    Yeah…

  57. if he wasn't so philosophically inedpt then maybe he would realise how much of a joke this video is. you need to undestand the question before you ask it, or before you profess your answer to it.

  58. I am sorry, but people like E.O. Wilson and Richard Dawkins need to stick to their speciality. They can't seem to agree even on basics such as the unit of selection, so their unnecessary talk of philosophy is not very helpful.

  59. The question of the meaning of existence – the meaning of life – is itself meaningless. E.O. Wilson is asking the wrong question to begin with. For if science cannot give us the meaning, are we all going to kill ourselves? Of course not. We exist, therefore we ask for the meaning of our existence. Not the other way around.

  60. How utterly incoherent to profess materialism, which allows only undirected purposeless "molecules in motion", and to talk about "meaning".  There IS no meaning possible, Prof. Wilson !  Your worldview won't allow it.

  61. Wilson is practicing philosophy while talking about how philosophy is largely irrelevant.

    Also, the fact that there are many creation theories doesn't mean that they're all false.

    And the idea that human culture created God is a blind assertion.

  62. The nihilism is strong in this comment section. Humans will never figure everything out. We're really the joke of the cosmos.. All our hot air talks about how advanced we are… Cancer is still kicking our ass and a giant asteroid still poses a high threat. The category should be 'comedy' for this worthless video.

  63. Meaning? Why do I need to add meaning to a dance? Do I need to add meaning to the rain? Look at it. That's what it does. That's what it means. You can translate all this into carefully defined terms and books. But you can't extract meaning from that. You can't translate that into anything useful. Rain needs no translation.

  64. i agree with much of what Mr Wilson is saying However in humans making class systems is not cooperation of humans. It also supposidly offers purpose that sometimes comes to differenial ends. By that I mean that upon getting these things done. We find we are captivated by what we have created to such an extent that life itself could be viewed as futile. There are authors of books who look outside of our way of life and have said this also. That we as humans to me think outside of our ways of living is crucial to my mind.
    Humans used to travel in small troops. So not really like ants actually and we would do what to us in these groups that made sense. In larger groups a we live today we are not doing so well. The old ways take over and we must change as nature and our nature does too as individuals. Who is to say what is intelligence if we cannot observe it much more objectively instead of subjectively as we have? For me these are the reasons the mind you perhaps our minds are shrink and perhaps have for much longer than the three thousand years science has stated. Because it takes a gradual change to something like that to happen in nature. Remembering that our mind is a crucial reason for us for survival as a species. In nature we could be sensitized to the passage of time where we are in relationship to well where we are. And now we strictly choose to say we know? Do we?
    We have streets . We have addresses . We have a way of life however is this way of life? Or as could be determined a mistake inwhich we have carried to far the conclusion quote"way of life". So for me that all humans do think alike cannot be forced . If you look outside the great experiement we have conducted since "society began" And objectively observe it ? Does forcing individuals to cooperate this way? Work? I would definitely say no. I believe we have gone to far in conclusions that are strictly speaking mistakes . That life moves on and conclusions will change is always true.

  65. It has been said, even to reject the philosophy you must hold philosophy. As long as I see it, a philosopher is much higher than a scientist. He watches the totality and essence, even in the midst of human thought and its validity. These are things which a scientist generally does not deal with them.

  66. The humanities are like colorful peacock feathers–displays that evolved by sexual selection that add beauty to our lives. Music, philosophy, dance, art are there to be enjoyed and we're lucky to have them, even though as Wilson argues they don't lead to the kind of knowledge that science gives us.

  67. First thing he does, and has to for his program, is to strip " meaning" of most of its meaning. He dries it up and is left with a shadow of the word which he then argues science can answer. Poppycock, good sir, poppycock!

  68. Neuroscience, Evolutionary Pscyhology, Evolutionary Biology, Evolutionary Anthropology (Paleoanthro), and Astrobiology are the disciplines that tell us where we came from and who we are. I think they do give us meaning. Next artificial intelligence and robotics can tell us where we are going and give us future purpose.

  69. I would like to ask all philosophy majors watching this, legitimately, what use they think philosophy has today, in the modern world, what with how advanced science has become.

  70. Where to begin here?

    He himself is engaged in a philosophical argument – albeit a very incomplete and question beginning one.
    He has an overly restricted notion of 'meaning in this context. Maybe human existence has no meaning – quite possible if you take the narrow empiricism approa h to knowledge of Wilson.
    Yes, you do have to draw on neuroscience and evolution to understand human nature, but the questions of what the meaning of human life is – and he hasn't really clarified adequately what means by this here – may be open to differing interpretations of the "facts" of human nature – assuming that our brains are even capable of knowing these fully. To assume this is as much an act of faith as assuming we will understand all the laws governing the universe. Maybe we can only go so far.
    Philosophy historically has not just been an attempt to understand the human brain. I really don't know where he gets this from. Modern philosophers engaged in discussions about the mind have much more sophisticated ideas than in the past, though I doubt Wilson has either read or understood any of these.
    As a subject philosophy is not in decline. It merely progresses differently from science and has become a lot more sophisticated and profound over the last hundred years or so. Older philosophers can look dated, but the same is even more true of scientists. We still look back to Confuscius, Kant or Wittgenstein for their insights in a way we don't to say Newton who has simply been subsumed by later scientists.
    Not an adherent of any specific religion, I nonetheless believe that some of them have a lot of depth and profundity. I wonder what fundemental beliefs Wilson holds about the meaning of life that aren't second hand or shallow.

    The sayings of the Buddha were not culturally determined – whatever that means – but the product of thought and philosophy.
    As a materialist maybe he should believe there is no real meaning to life at all beyond a narrow utilitarianism.

    Neuroscientists and philosophers such as Dennett might think they understand consciousness – but I doubt it. Maybe they'll get there, maybe not or some other approach may be needed. I can't help feeling that there's a shallowness outside their own disciplines with all these anti-philosophical scientists and I include Hawking, Feynman and Wolpert in the list – though not Dawkins or Dennett, who have a lot more to say of a general nature.
    I thought that logical positivism and its varients died decades ago, but these scientists simply haven't woken up to the fact. Just as a philosopher shouldn't opine about the nature of time without studying physics, scientists shouldn't dismiss philosophy so arrogantly without some kind of appreciation of what it is currently about.

  71. Don't deny that having children is a choice, and not an imperative. Therefore, there's a reason/meaning for your kids. You assume that philosophy ONLY tries to answer questions about the past. Well, it also tries to answer questions about the future. We might not know the past reason/meaning of life, but we most certainly do know the reason why we have children. The future meaning for/of life, is defined by us. And science cannot answer that.

  72. When I listened to Richard Dawkins debate, many of his weakest moments were when he came up against philosophy. True, we can dispense with the philosophy of Descartes, Kant, Schopenhauer – or at least aspects of their thought. Yet many of the pre-Cartesian philosophical arguments of the Aristotelian scholastics would be in agreement with the argument here ie meaning isn't found by internal reflection. Robotics on the other hand sounds a chilling and disturbingly simplistically utilitarian option, with the danger of a mechanistic nihilism, worthy of Cartesian philosophy criticized here gaining a hegemony, rather than an entrance to human purpose.

  73. When you don't know something, you can't predefine where the answer will come from, or if there even is an answer. Alan Watts did a better job exploring meaning than this guy

  74. I dont understand why people make the presupposition that we have a "meaning"? Wtf does that even mean?
    And I feel bad for the people who suffer from the existential crisis that Nietzsche described as a consequence of nihilism. Seems they are just intelligent enough to get themselves into real trouble.

  75. It's not hard to see which ideological tradition Wilson represents from how he speaks of science, religion and the Enlightenment. But essentially it seems that Wilson is suggesting that once we figure out the present and the past we can predict the probable future and that will allow us to look at the probable end result to say what was point of it all and derive meaning from that. So Wilson is a scientist with a Golden Hammer called science so he thinks that all problems are scientific problems to be solved? Isn't this just pure scientism?
    "It has gradually become clear to me what every great philosophy up till now has consisted of – namely, the confession of its originator, and a species of involuntary and unconscious autobiography"
    – Nietzsche

  76. His theory is “trust me, some smart guys in the future will work humanity’s purpose”. Sounds like a cop out to me.

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