The title of this blog post sounds like a theological or philosophical question. Actually, it is an outgrowth of a scientific theory, that of eternal inflation.
Which doesn't mean that the price of stuff keeps going up forever. In this context it means universes being created without end. So in an infinity of universes, there is room for anything and everything to happen.
However, even though the question of meaning in an inflationary universe has a scientific origin, physicist Brian Cox says that answers to this question can arise from anyone, which naturally includes you and me.
Here's an excerpt from Cox's book, "Human Universe." Note that he uses the word probably to describe eternal inflation. This is a theory, not a proven scientific fact.
And so we reach the end. Defining the Big Bang as the initial hot, dense phase of our observable universe that gave rise to the CMB [Cosmic Background Microwave Radiation] 380,000 years later, we understand what happened before.
There was a period of inflationary expansion, which could have been driven by a scalar field in accord with the known laws of physics. That inflationary expansion is probably still going on somewhere, spawning an incalculable number of universes as we speak, and it will continue doing this forever.
We live in an eternal universe, in which anything that can happen does happen. And we are one of the things that can happen.
Did the whole universe have a beginning, an essential external cause in the spirit of Leibniz's God? We still don't know. Possibly there was a 'mother of all Big Bangs', and if so, we will certainly need a quantum theory of gravity to say anything more.
What does this mean?
The wonderful thing for me is that nobody knows, because the philosophical and indeed theological consequences of eternal inflation have not been widely debated and discussed. My hope is that in trying to summarize the issues, regrettably briefly and necessarily superficially in the television series and in a little more depth here, these ideas will be accessible to a wider audience and stimulate discussion.
This is desirable and necessary, because ideas are the lifeblood of civilisation, and societies assimilate ideas and become comfortable with their implications through understanding and debate.
If eternal inflation is the correct description of our universe, it will be the artists, philosophers, theologians, novelists and musicians, alongside the physicists, who explore its meaning.
What does it mean if the existence of our universe is inevitable? What does it mean if we are not special in any way? What does it mean if our observable universe, with all its myriad galaxies and possibilities, is a vanishingly small leaf on an ever-expanding fractal tree of universes? What does it mean if you are, because you have to be?
I can't tell you. I can only ask -- what does it mean to you?