As metaphysics is the study of the nature of being and reality, it follows that the universe - the backdrop for our reality - is an object of wide study among metaphysists. Though the origins of the universe, and whether any god or gods had a hand in it, is also hotly debated, discussion on this topic will be mostly left for our page on Origin & Evolution. Here, we will looks at philosophical investigations into the nature of the universe as it is now and its ultimate fate.
The Multiverse Hypothesis
Since the times of Aristotle, who claimed that this was the only possible world1, most thinkers have held a single-verse model of reality wherein the universe we inhabit is the only one in existance. However, more recently, the 'multiverse' hypthesis, also known as a hypothesis of 'alternate universes' or 'parallel universes' has been gaining tract. Though it lacks any hard evidence, there is some rationale behind the proposition. For example, many scientists believe the universe to be infinite (flat in shape) and as there are only an finite number of ways particles can be arranged in space and time, eventually there will be repeats - another you, far, far away2.. Others reason that the universe as a whole being only one of many would explain the seemingly-coincidental alignment of nature that allows the laws of physics, human life and much more to exist. These fine-tuning arguments cite examples such as the following:
- Kenneth Himma, Design Arguments for the Existance of God3
There are also more philosophically-based arguments, such as David Lewis' idea of modal realism, where a plethora of other 'possible worlds' exist, helping to explain probability, and giving a realisation of hypothetical statements wherein we imagine a world with small differences that is therefore not quite our own. These possible worlds may contain objects similar to our own and in that way act as parallel universes as described above, according to Lewis' counterpart theory. The further as-yet unsupported idea that counterfactual claims are made true by the existence of these possible worlds is troubling for many because of its implications - for example, if it is taken that all universes exist somewhere, fictional realism - the idea that even fictional worlds and characters must exist in some universe - becomes a reality.
Such arguments are far from being accepted by the majority of the philosophical community, however, as is the multiverse theory by scientists, partially due to its unfalsifiable nature.
The Ultimate Fate of the Universe
Scientifically, the ultimate fate of the universe revolves around its shape and the mysterious effects of the hypothesised dark energy that seems to speed its expansion. Current indications paint the universe as flat and infinite4 (avoiding the possibility of an eventual 'Big Crunch' a spherical universe would bring) but what does this mean for philosophy? To begin with, there is philosophical debate that anything of the sort can even be claimed, as it requires some questionable assumptions. Firstly, we are applying our local Earth physics to the universe as a whole and while this has yet to bring up any significant incongruency, it is a bold claim to make, considering that even the huge expanse of the universe we can observe may be no more than 4% of the whole5! Not to mention that in speculating on the ultimate fate of the universe (in this case, existing eternally and expanding faster every moment at that) requires the assumption that our physical laws will work throughout all of the future time as well. There are many philosophies of time - eternalism, presentism, etc. - but none can guarantee that. Finally, it relies on the unproven truth of the cosmological principle, a notion which, while supported by Aristotle's idea of an ordered world, is epistemiologically troubling to simply assume.
Other Important Questions in the Nature of the Universe
- Is any of the universe real?
- If is is, why does it exist at all?
- Does a god or gods influence the world?
- If heaven and hell exist, where and what are they?
- Are numbers real?
- Is morality real?
- Is the universe rotating?
- Can we ever know everything about the universe?
- Why does conciousness exist? What is it?
- Is there anything outside the universe/multiverse?
1.Wilkinson, Tim, (2014). The Multiverse Conundrum. Philosophy Now. issue 100
2. Moskowitz, Clara (2012). Top 5 Reasons We Might Live in a Multiverse. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.space.com/18811-multiple-universes-5-theories.html. [Last Accessed 1/3/14].
4. Redd, Nola (2014). What is the Shape of the Universe. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.space.com/24309-shape-of-the-universe.html. [Last Accessed 1/3/14].
5. Moskowitz, Clara. What's 96 Percent of the Universe Made of? Astronomers Don't Know. Retrieved from http://www.space.com/11642-dark-matter-dark-energy-4-percent-universe-panek.html
The photo is of the light sculpture, Multiverse, by Leo Villareal, displayed in the National Portrait Gallery, USA.