Why Humans Prefer to Be the Center of the Universe

Feb 16, 2017

By Michael Shermer

Imagine nothing. Go ahead. What do you see? I picture dark empty space devoid of galaxies, stars and planets. But not only would there be no matter, there would be no space or time either. Not even darkness. And no sentient life to observe the nothingness. Just … nothing. Picture that. You can’t.

Here we face the ultimate question: Why is there something rather than nothing? I have compiled several responses from a number of sources, including a 2013 book by John Leslie and Robert Lawrence Kuhn entitled The Mystery of Existence (Wiley-Blackwell) and Lawrence M. Krauss’s 2017 book The Greatest Story Ever Told—So Far (Atria Books).

Nothing is nonsensical. It is impossible to conceptualize nothing—not only no space, time, matter, energy, light, darkness or conscious beings to perceive the nothingness but not even nothingness. In this sense, the question is literally inconceivable.

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20 comments on “Why Humans Prefer to Be the Center of the Universe

  • Because they are selfish? For example I don’t want to be center of anything, But I have noticed this need in some people. Actually, I have seen it always in evil peoples (in politicians and religious mostly). They have this unstoppable need to “mean something”, … to be important. To count.



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  • Why is there something rather than nothing?

    …seems to mean:

    What is the reason that there exists a thing that exists instead of a thing that doesn’t exist?

    Answer: if anything exists, it’s going to be a thing that exists, not a thing that doesn’t exist.

    Obviously in that form it’s a trivial question with a trivial answer, so let’s get rid of “nothing” (it’s just a red herring) and reduce the question to:

    Why do things exist?

    …meaning:

    What is the ultimate (ontological rather than historical) reason that things exist?

    …which is clearly “begging the question”. We haven’t established that there is any ultimate reason that things exist, or that there is any reason to assume there is any such reason. So we really need to ask:

    Is there any reason to assume there is any ultimate reason that things exist?

    The answer appears to be: No.



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  • Nikolas #2
    Feb 19, 2017 at 11:08 am

    Welcome to the RDFS site.

    Why is there something rather than nothing?

    So we really need to ask:

    Is there any reason to assume there is any ultimate reason that things exist?

    The answer appears to be: No.

    The only reasonable question is:- ” Is there a scientific explanation as to why things (or particular things) exist, which we can trace back as far as we can see?”

    At the moment we are peering into the origins of the Big-Bang, and the origins of space-time.

    Beyond our observation horizons is the unknown! – as will always be the case!
    At one time the unknown was “above the clouds,”. Later it was “beyond the Solar System”.
    Then Hubble discovered there was a “beyond the Galaxy”!

    We are also discovering previous “unknowns” in subatomic particle physics.

    While speculations can identify likely areas for investigation, honest recognition of what is unknown, (and what is personally unknown by the individual), is required in forming an objective view.

    ultimate reason

    42 🙂



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  • Why Humans Prefer to Be the Center of the Universe?

    I suspect it is basically for the same reason why cats (or any other animal, for that matter) behave as if they are at the center of the universe.



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  • If one can ask the question: “what is nothing?” then mental activity (something) is already present. If internal existence alone in the form of thought alone (solipsism) were all that was or ever was, that would be something. If external, lifeless, unconscious existence alone was all there was, it would be incapable of being known, and there would be nothing to think or to know. That, however, is inconceivable, for the reason stated above.

    As soon as we posit: “something” a mind must be present. Theoretical existence is not Real existence. (This distinction I just made is, admittedly, highly debatable and controversial.) Real existence must be known.

    There is nothing that exists that can be said to 1. exist independently of knowledge, and 2. at one and the same time be said to be conceivable of as an existing thing – and yet divorced from knowledge. The word Thing suggests, to me at least, an Object of some kind. (Is pure energy a thing but not an object? Is it an object but not a thing?)

    (I you think about life before you were born, then regardless of whether there was something or nothing before the emergence of your own conscious existence, it would not include you; that is nothingness. The same applies to what there will be – nothing, that is – after you die. This nothingness of death, before and after our own lives, is not something that can be known; but since I cannot call it something, it must be the opposite of something and that is called “nothing”. The problem of language, which fails me, which must fail all of us as we grapple with the problem of Something and Nothing, must also be confronted and taken into account; language, by its very nature, is imperfect.)

    I cannot conceive of nothingness; but neither can I conceive of something without me, the knower.

    Something existing that cannot be known is as inconceivable as Nothing existing that can be known.

    This is the insoluble riddle of being.

    But the riddle is a dialectical illusion, based on the natural and stubborn disposition of the human intellect, which is to start from the object and forget the subject. After careful study of this great philosophical issue one may acquire an appreciation and understanding the peculiar problem of the antithesis between a “thing” in itself (a famous contradiction in terms which I will describe as a non-object that yet must be) and Knowledge. Finitude is inconceivable, as is infinity, for the same reason stated above. But that very inconceivability itself is the key to the partial solution of the riddle, a riddle that can only be partially solved, can never be fully solved.



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  • (Cont.)

    As I read this article I came across the following paragraph; it seems to contradict what I always thought was a law of the human mind: all matter is infinitely divisible.

    https://www.britannica.com/science/subatomic-particle

    Elementary particles

    Electrons and quarks contain no discernible structure; they cannot be reduced or separated into smaller components. It is therefore reasonable to call them “elementary” particles, a name that in the past was mistakenly given to particles such as the proton, which is in fact a complex particle that contains quarks. The term subatomic particle refers both to the true elementary particles, such as quarks and electrons, and to the larger particles that quarks form.

    Nor can I conceive of pure energy as matter – although the two terms are often used interchangeably:

    Subatomic particle, also called elementary particle, any of various self-contained units of matter or energy that are the fundamental constituents of all matter.



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  • Dan #6
    Feb 20, 2017 at 3:52 am

    Nor can I conceive of pure energy as matter – although the two terms are often used interchangeably:

    Subatomic particle, also called elementary particle, any of various self-contained units of matter or energy that are the fundamental constituents of all matter.

    They are used interchangeably because in physical reality they are interchangeable.

    Matter is assembled from energy, and nuclear reactions can break matter down into the subatomic “particles” from which it is formed.

    E = MC² (Energy = Mass {matter} X C² {speed of light}²



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  • I hate to bring everything back to Trump. But his narcissism seems to fit with this topic. It brings to mind when Zaphod Beeblebrox was trapped in the total perspective vortex

    The Total Perspective Vortex is a device built as a practical application of the theory of atomic interactivity. The idea is that, if every atom of the universe is affected by every other atom of the universe, then it is theoretically possible to extrapolate a model of the entire universe using any single piece of matter as a starting point. The Vortex does this employing a piece of fairy cake as its extrapolatory base.

    Originally created by its inventor Trin Tragula as a way to get back at his wife (who was always telling him to get a “sense of proportion”), the Vortex is now used as a torture and (in effect) killing device on the planet Frogstar B. The prospective victim of the TPV is placed within a small chamber wherein is displayed a model of the entire universe – together with a microscopic dot bearing the legend “you are here”. The sense of perspective thereby conveyed destroys the victim’s mind; it was stated that the TPV is the only known means of crushing a man’s soul.

    The only person to survive the Vortex is former President of the Galaxy Zaphod Beeblebrox. At the time he was exposed to the Vortex, he was inside a computer-generated universe created for his protection by Zarniwoop. Since the entire universe was created for him, the TPV told him, in effect, that he was in fact the single most important person in the universe. This allowed Zaphod to survive the experience, and also did not surprise him in the least.

    Zaphod proceeded to eat the fairy cake.

    from http://hitchhikers.wikia.com/wiki/Total_Perspective_Vortex

    I suspect Trump too would survive the total perspective vortex. Douglas Adams had no idea how presient he was.



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  • Dan #5

    There is nothing that exists that can be said to 1. exist independently of knowledge, and 2. at one and the same time be said to be conceivable of as an existing thing – and yet divorced from knowledge.
    I cannot conceive of nothingness; but neither can I conceive of
    something without me, the knower. Something existing that cannot be
    known is as inconceivable as Nothing existing that can be known.

    Well said, Dan! I was just thinking how it is our consciousness that make this difference. Or, am I thinking in the wrong direction, hhaah. And a second post…as you are reading my mind. 😉 Somehow this problematic of existance and nonexistance remind me of electrons and how they can be particles and waves at a same time. Actually, not at a same time right? It depends upon circumstances. Which I haven’t a clue what are they. I mean, how light is behaveing sometimes as wave and sometimes as particle? Bo? But I know they do behave in that way because of us, …because of a looker, because of a person who looks at it. And oh, ups, here is this importance of us humans again. 😉 But, yes, I think in order to say that something exist we have to conscious of it, right?

    And another thing… sometimes it seems to me that people ask those kind of question (as what is our purpose, or why there is something rather than nothing… you know some ‘existenz’ questions) when they have too much time on their hands. I have noticed that when I am busy with something I do not have this questions… I just am. I just exist. Like it is energy in flow. 🙂 Perhaps I am talking rubbish, but I like to talk that way because usually it comes something better into my mind or different idea, haha. Anyway, I think it is dangerous to think that our species is better or in any way dominant compared with other living beings on this planet.



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  • @ Modesti #1

    For example I don’t want to be center of anything…

    You don’t want it now, but I bet when you were a toddler you (just like anybody else, of course) screamed your little head off any time you felt hungry, unwell or unhappy. At that stage in particular, feeling and behaving as if the world revolves around oneself makes a lot of biological/psychological sense.

    Much of growing up is to gradually grow out of that primordial egocentric viewpoint. Some people manage to go further than others during their lifetime.

    I suspect this may be one of the major differences between religious and non-religious people.



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  • Cantaz, I think I can not understand this how egocentricity in childhood had biological/psychological sense. Can you explain it please? 😉 I mean, as far as I know children until they are 3-5 years old have no concept of self. What I mean is they have no awareness of their ego. If we cried because we are hungry, unwell, or unhappy isn’t that just reaction?…and not deliberate response? But I think I know what you mean. Also, I am confused by this ‘primordial egocentric view’ 😉 because I think that children for a long time do not have sense of uniqueness so to say… it seems to me that they can not see themselves as something separate from their parents (mother actually). It seems to me that egocentricity is learned later during growing up.



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  • Hi Modesti,

    I used the term “egocentricity” not in relation to any psychoanalytical notion, but to indicate the fact that, as far as we can tell, very young children are only aware of their own needs, perceptions and thoughts, so much that they cannot differentiate themselves from anything else (including, as you mentioned, their parents).

    At that stage, one’s experience is, in a sense, not just the center of the universe: it is the whole universe.

    If one is a hungry helpless newborn, it makes quite a lot of sense both biologically and psychologically (after all, if one took biology out of the equation, one would be left with no psychology at all) to rely on such a hyper-simplified view of the world: scream one’s little head off (which the newborn “knows” innately, i.e., because of natural selection) and one’s chances of ultimately sending copies of his/her genes into the next generation are suddenly much better.

    PS, the term egocentricity, if I am not mistaken, was introduced and developed by J. Piaget, who was not a psychoanalyst.



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  • Cantaz #12
    Feb 20, 2017 at 4:58 pm

    PS, the term egocentricity, if I am not mistaken, was introduced and developed by J. Piaget, who was not a psychoanalyst.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egocentrism#During_childhood

    J. Piaget, was a biologist, zoologist and a psychologist.

    http://www.biography.com/people/jean-piaget-9439915#early-life
    After high school, Piaget went on to study zoology at the University of Neuchâtel, receiving his Ph.D. in the natural sciences in 1918. That same year Piaget spent a semester studying psychology under Carl Jung and Paul Eugen Bleuler at the University of Zürich, where Piaget developed a deeper interest in psychoanalysis. Over the course of the next year, he studied abnormal psychology at the Sorbonne in Paris.

    It seems he spent some time studying psychology and psychoanalysis, although his PhD was in natural sciences.



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  • @Dan #6

    …contradicts what I always thought was a law of the human mind: all matter is infinitely divisible….

    Nor can I conceive of pure energy as matter

    Haha, Dan, welcome to the weird and wacky world of 20th century physics.

    It would be ludicrous if it wasn’t accurate. Accurate enough for 20th century inventions for good and evil, from nuclear weapons to GPS.

    I hope you’re inspired to read more on this.

    I’ve always found it helpful to imagine the elementary particles as little tangled bundles of concentrated energy (whatever energy is), so that bashing them around can turn some of the “matter” into energy that is released, leaving other, lesser amounts, of matter behind.



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  • Modesti!

    “But, yes, I think in order to say that something exist we have to be conscious of it, right?”

    Congrats! You are the first person on this site to actually express agreement with me about this, and I have had quite a few exchanges about this here. Thank you.

    (I respect the views of the many people who have expressed disagreement on this issue; I have even felt compelled at times to question my own view; but it’s nice to be agreed with for a change.)

    So matter is not infinitely divisible? Okay… OHooligan, at one point I thought I had gained a disciple in you. It seemed like you were almost there a while back. 😉

    The issue of Egocentricity belongs to psychology, not to epistemology per se. (I always attributed the term to Freud.)



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  • Perhaps some examples can explain the illusion / delusion!

    If you stand on top of the peak of a mountain on an isolated desert island, and look out to sea in any direction, the horizon appears to be the same distance away, and you appear to be at the centre of your world!

    If you look out into space with a telescope of a given magnification, you will only be able to see the resolution of objects up to a given range in any direction.
    You will APPEAR to be at the centre of the the part of the universe you can see. – so unless you are aware that there is more which you cannot see, the impression is that you are at the centre of your mental image of whatever world or universe you look at!

    To the ego-centric small mind, knowledge which is beyond its understanding, does not exist!
    The closed mind carries this further, and concludes that as it does not exist, there is no point in looking for it, or recognising attempts by others to explain it.

    (Geocentric Flat Earth + Celestial Spheres?)

    “Beyond this point god-did-it”, is the is the sign on the locked door or the toughened goldfish bowl of the self-satisfied closed mind which looks no further!



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  • Dan #17

    The issue of Egocentricity belongs to psychology, not to epistemology per se
    (I always attributed the term to Freud.)

    I suspect you may have confused egocentricity with narcissism.



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  • Egocentricity is not a philosophical concept. Neither is narcissism. If I say: “no object without the subject” that is not an egocentric argument; the ego is not the subject. The self, the “I”, is not absolutely the subject.

    The subject (that which knows but can never know itself) is the subject of knowing and cannot become its own object.

    The egocentric individual sees himself as the center of the human universe, and that is a problem for psychology, as opposed to epistemology. And anyone who regards his paltry self as the center of the whole universe in a literal (non-metaphorical) sense is insane; this is beyond egocentricity, as I understand the concept.

    I don’t know who coined the phrase “egocentric”; it may have been Piaget. No idea.



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