Why can’t we live in a universe that isn’t alive, or cares about us, or sends us messages? Why must the almost unfathomable universe be this conscious entity that is intimately interested in what we do?

When I hear talk of galactic alignments or universal consciousness, I wonder how much of this is really just religious talk with another name. Maybe it is the perpetual human need to find meaning and patterns in unrelated things, but it grows tiresome to insist that the universe “loves” us or is aware of our being, or guides us. The universe is not alive, it does not possess a consciousness and most of all, it does not care about us.

The universe, for all of its beauty, is a very dangerous place. One has to marvel at how many civilizations may have been wiped out from a gamma ray burst, or how the emergence of microbial life can be sterilized after an asteroid impact. But as we often learn, life is not fair, and on the grander scale of the cosmos, existence itself is not guaranteed. It is not noticed by the universe, and it cannot be cared for.

Consider that it’s highly possible that our space probes, notably Voyagers 1 and 2 might conceivably be the only relics of human civilization. Our species may pass away long before our world does, and no one will have ever met us, or known of our history. If an intelligent species happens to come across these probes, they may wonder where they originated from, and may understand that the creators of these machines vanished long ago. But the universe will not have guided these relics to new eyes, or throw some magical insight into the minds of newly sentient beings that a species called homo sapiens walked a rocky blue world millions of light years away.

If we remove the sentimental, pseudo-religious vocabulary of describing the universe, does this make existence meaningless? Think for a moment that in the whole of human history, there has never been and will never be another you. You are unique. You were born in a certain epoch of what we call history, lived, loved, failed, succeded and died. Your existence is not meaningless but why must you think the universe is in love with you to consider otherwise? Why must you believe that you are a small plot point in a grand, inscrutable plan whose outcome you will never know?

The objection to this line of thought unites both the traditionally religious and the New Age minded folks. It screams of materialism, goes the criticism, and it paints a bleak picture for the meaning of human existence. But as I mentioned, the literal coldness of the universe is the greatest proof for how meaningless existence can be! If throughout the history of life on this planet over 90 percent of all creatures have gone extinct, well, who weeps for them? What universal consciousness holds a memorial service? Just because the stars twinkle in the night sky does not mean they twinkle at us.

The human need to find meaning, and our capacity to leap beyond logic have wound up becoming dogmas for us in the hands of priests and New Age hucksters. And like all dogmas, they have made us reliant on what they promise: that God has a plan, or that a yearly alignment with the Earth and the galactic core has some cosmic meaning. The anthropic principle has run amok, warping our minds to believe all sorts of fantastical concepts to comfort us because we fear death. Even atheists--capable of intolerant fundamentalism as the most fervent believer--have made altars to science and technology as the proper way to understand the universe. Why is any of this the case? Does the universe have to be an answer to a question that nobody’s asked?

Why can’t we just be?