The title is a famous line from Shakespeare’s “As you like it.” It seems apt for this post, where I comment on a question raised by Frank Schaeffer. In a recent post, Schaeffer asks:
If we’re nothing, why bother to convince us of our nothingness? Who cares? I would like to have asked Sagan why he bothered to write with such poetic skill and beauty about the meaninglessness of writing, given our transitory and diminutive place in the universe.
The answer to Schaeffer’s question, I think, is that we live in multiple worlds.
We live in a material or physical world. And that world is a vast cosmos. We exist on a tiny planet in a tiny corner of that cosmos. Relative to that cosmos, we are insignificant. The cosmos will go on with or without us, and we have no significant effect on it.
We live in a biological world, which is exists within that material world. Within that biological world, there is a different range of values. Our biology requires that we sustain ourselves with food and other requirements, so those requirements set some values which serve to motivate us. We are very significant to that biological world, if only because of the devastation that our species has caused to the habitats of other species.
We live in a cultural world, which results from our belonging to a social species. And we are very significant within our cultures which are centered around humans and human activity. We may actually belong to many overlapping cultures. I consider myself part of western culture, but also part of scientific culture.
Schaeffer mentions Carl Sagan and Dan Dennett. But I doubt that either of those see (or saw) themselves a part of the material world alone. Sagan, in discussing the vastness of our cosmos, was addressing our cultural worlds and painting a picture of where we fit within the material world. But, at the same time, he was appealing to what we value within our cultural worlds.