7 unsolvable questions
by Rodrigo Diaz
7 years ago
Philosophy can speculate about everything from metaphysics to morality, and this means shedding light on some of the basic questions of existence. These are questions that may always lay just beyond the limits of our comprehension and improbably solvable. So sit back and have a cuppa jo at an Amsterdam cafe to muddle these 7 questions over with a friend.
1. Why is there something rather than nothing?
Getting the convo started: Human presence in the universe is something too bizarre for words. The mundaneness of daily life causes life to be taken for granted, but every once in awhile there is a need to enter into a profound state of existential awareness. Why does stuff exist in the universe, and why is it controlled? And why should anything exist at all? We inhabit a universe with such things as spiral galaxies, the aurora borealis, and taxation. But why?
2. Is the immediate universe real?
Getting the convo started: This a Cartesian question. It asks, how is it known that what is seen in the immediate environment is real, and not some illusion generated by an unseen force? Perhaps the brain in a vat problem (Simulation Argument) or some elaborate simulation (the Matrix). Thinking further, is the simulation under a simulation also. Moreover, we may not be who we think we are. Assuming that the people running the simulation are also taking part in it, our true identities may be temporarily suppressed, to heighten the realness of the experience. This philosophical conundrum also forces to re-evaluate what is meant by "real."
3. Is there free will?
Getting the convo started: Are actions are controlled by a causal chain of preceding events or by some other external influence (Also called Determinism), or if there is true free will, making pure decisions. Philosophers have been debating this for millennia, and with no end in sight. If decision making is influenced by an endless chain of causality, then we do not have free will. But if the opposite is true (indeterminism) then actions must be random. On the other hand, there is compatibilism which is the idea that free will is compatible with deterministic views of the universe.
4. Is there life after death?
Getting the convo started: Materialists do assume that there's no life after death; An assumption that cannot necessarily be proven. Looking closer at the machinations of the universe (or multiverse), whether it be through a classical Newtonian/Einsteinian lens, or through quantum mechanics, there's no reason to believe that we only have one shot at this thing called life which is a self-awareness trait. It's a question of metaphysics and the possibility that the cosmos cycles and percolates in such a way that lives are infinitely tucked away in the infinite universe.
5. Experiencing anything objectively.
Getting the convo started: There's a difference between understanding the world objectively (or at least trying to, anyway) and experiencing it through an exclusively objective framework. This is essentially the problem of qualia — the notion that our surroundings can only be observed through the filter of our senses and the cogitations of our minds. Everything you know, everything you've touched, seen, and smelled, has been filtered through any number of physiological and cognitive processes. Subsequently, your subjective experience of the world is unique. In the classic example, the subjective appreciation of the color red may vary from person to person. It is a fundamental limitation or emptiness (The Nothing from Neverending story through the subjective eyes of one boy?) and a complete antithesis to Plato's idealism.
6. Best Moral System
Getting the convo started: To distinguish between "right" and "wrong" actions at any given time in history philosophers, theologians, and politicians will claim to have discovered the best way to evaluate human actions and establish the most righteous code of conduct. It is just not that simple. Life is far too messy and complicated for there to be anything like a universal morality or an absolutist ethics. The Golden Rule is great (the idea that you should treat others as you would like them to treat you), but it disregards moral autonomy and leaves no room for the imposition of justice, and can even be used to justify oppression. Moreover, it's a highly simplified rule of thumb that doesn't provision for more complex scenarios. For example, should the few be spared to save the many? Who has more moral worth: a baby or an orangutang. It can only be said that morality is normative, while acknowledging that the sense of right and wrong will change over time.
7. Numbers, what are they?
Getting the convo started: Numbers are everywhere and they are used all the time, but what are they and why do mathematical structures do a good job of explaining the universe. Are they real objects, or do they simply describe relationships that necessarily exist in all structures? Plato argued that numbers were real, but formalists insisted that they were merely formal systems that evolved from other formal systems that worked. This is essentially an ontological problem, where we're left baffled about the true nature of the universe and which aspects of it are human constructs and which are truly tangible. (The log spiral in pine cones and snowflakes?)
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