And as we are part of that universe, we were also created for some reason. Are we here to be something? To do something? If so, what?
Maybe, because of the collaborative live-role-playing aspects of how we were created, we are too flawed ever to be or to do what it is we were created for. Maybe it will be our descendants- be they genetically human, giant robots, uplifted gila monsters, or virtual intelligences living in carpets of intelligent polysaccharides- who will be or do this thing.
Whatever it is, being Good is a precondition. Being reasonable is another precondition, or we will never be able to Do anything.
One thing I have often thought of is that maybe our role is to start to untangle the flaws of creation. We should be able to make a natural world where each thing can be fully itself, can seek and participate in truth and beauty, where carnivory and the other appalling horrors of the ‘natural’ world are removed. We can start with humanity, like Lord Ivywood prophesies in The Flying Inn:
‘If we come at last to live on light, as men said of the chameleon, if some
cosmic magic closed to us now, as radium was but recently closed, allows us to
transmute the very metals into flesh without breaking into the bloody house of
life, we shall know these things when we achieve them. It is enough for us now
if we have reached a spiritual station, in which at least the living head we lop
has not eyes to reproach us; and the herbs we gather cannot cry against our
cruelty like the mandrake.’
Then, we can move on to the rest. I have argued before that the individual is more important than the group, so if no individual tigers are harmed, and their genetic material is preserved as part of a thousand new varieties of Neo-tiger, I can see no downside to making them into autotrophs. This sort of endeavour- to remake the natural world as a place of more justice and mercy- would I think be a major goal of many ideologies in a real Greg Egan or Charles Stross future society. Of course it is a goal of incredible hubris, requiring megayears for its realization even in a tiny corner of the universe. And if the point of the universe does not lie inside it, but in the Universe, and we are all here- microbes, curlews, humans, and sentient galaxies- to be made into fit instruments for eternity, then maybe it is a waste of time. Possibly.
But then? Once we have reconstructed the living world, what is the point?
A problem with the popular virtues of our present civilization is that they are essentially negative. ‘Peace’- what does it mean, beyond ‘absence of violence’? ‘Justice’ means ‘equitable distribution of misery’; ‘mercy’ means ‘protection from the bad consequences of one’s actions’. In the Earthly Paradise, none of those virtues will have any meaning. We need some motivating virtues for life in the Earthly Paradise. If not, what can we do but go backwards?
As Paul tells us in Alpha Ralpha Boulevard:
We were drunk with happiness in those early years. Everyone was, especially the
young people. These were the first years of the Rediscovery of Man, when the Instrumentality dug deep in the treasury, reconstructing the old cultures, the old languages, and even the old troubles. The nightmare of perfection had taken our forefathers to the edge of suicide. ...
I myself was the first man to put a postage stamp on a letter, after fourteen thousand years. I took Virginia to see the first piano recital. We watched at the eye-machine when cholera was released in Tasmania, and we saw the Tasmanians dancing in the streets, now that they did not have to be protected anymore. Everywhere, things became exciting. Everywhere, men and women worked with a wild will to build a more imperfect world.
Of course, we will be very different creatures by that time. We should have a much clearer idea of God and a much clearer idea of the universe. Maybe the way forward will be clear. But maybe, as so often happens, our capabilities will have outstripped our moral sense. We will need strong medicine for that time. I suggest the following:
We should never be satisfied with the ideal we can imagine;
We should strive for the ideal we cannot yet imagine.