Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Talk On A Cereal Box

Who are you? And who am I?
Why are we here? Why ask why?
What are the biggest, toughest questions?
I want suggestions.

What is time? And what is space?
Do humans hold a special place?
Is conscious thought on just this planet?
And what began it?

What is beauty? What is truth?
Can wisdom coexist with youth?
Does everybody wear a mask?
Why do we ask?

Is justice just? Is kindness kind?
With eyes kept shut, what might we find?
Is there a job that pays to sit
And write this shit?

On NPR's 13.7 Cosmos And Culture blog, an odd post, about asking questions:
What if one starts asking: Why are we here? Why am I here now? What does it mean to be human? What is our humanity? How did the universe and life come about? What really is the nature of reality? What is time? What is space? How do we really know? What is the nature of God? Why is there evil? What is the nature of consciousness?

Who is "I"? What is beauty? Are we under the control of a deterministic universe or do we have free-will? How can we choose, if we don't really know what can happen? What is the next step in human evolution? The evolution of anything? Can we even say it? What are the goals of technology? Just because we can, should we? (Not that these are new questions, but rather, new questions to the one pondering the questions.)
There are more questions there, of course, from the sacred to the profane. The authors end with "Where in this day and age, does one go to ask the questions?" (ok, so there's a little bit after that.)

I found the juxtaposition of questions interesting. The authors (and most of the commenters, as of this writing) made no distinction between empirical questions and questions that arise because of assumptions we have made along the way. "What is the nature of God?" is asked, as is "why do the redwing blackbirds come back each year?"

The process of scientific discovery has given us more answers in science's relatively short life than philosophy has in its considerably longer one. Ok, probably not true; philosophy gives us all kinds of answers, including multiple contradictory ones to the same question. Lemme rephrase: science has given us more actual answers... But of course (as evidenced in the comments) some people like the mystery of not knowing. Asking questions about the nature of god will give you plenty of not knowing. I prefer knowing.


Melissa said...

I always love how you'll have me going along at a certain pace reading the poem, then whack me over the head with the ending. Makes me read through a few times.

I'm with you. I prefer knowing to not knowing. And I'm also ok with "I don't know" for some of those questions certain people find vital.

Anonymous said...

I hope you don't join the chorus of scientists who, not understanding the nature of philosophy and its relationship to science, think that they are competitors in the Grand Scheme of Knowledge Acquisition, relegating philosophy to the garbage heap and science to the top. While that IS the proper relationship of religion to science--on this we agree, I believe--philosophy is not nor never has been a competitor. (Ok, that's too broad. Of course some philosophers have held that it is; by far not most in the Anglo-American tradition.)

Hawking's a smart guy; so was Feynman. They look like idiots, though, when they step out of their field of competence to make inane pronouncements on another field, in this case philosophy. For a good example, read Crick's The Astonishing Hypothesis. (Crick is NOT one making the claim, though, that I know of.) Good book, useful science, I'm glad he's on my side in the philosophical debate on the nature of mind, but when he steps from the science to the philosophical pronouncements, his reasoning is, frankly, laughable.

Philosophy and science don't compete. It only looks that way when scientists start making philosophical claims, often without much apparent reading on the philosophical issue at hand. (The reverse hubris, I've found, rarely occurs, and when it does, it is very tentative and hypothetical in nature.)

Sheesh. Please, not you, too.