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January 13, 2010

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Well put!

Well I disagree that they are stupid questions. To ask who am I is to put ourselves in a position to analyze our skills and desires therefore improving our chance of living a life that has meaning to us. To ask what caused this cosmos is just a question that is logical to ask but may not have an answer. The problem with god as the answer is you are still left with an unknowable which mankind has always had. We don't know why the Cosmos is here. It is in the realm of mystery and may have no meaning or purpose by any higher power as to what started it into being, but we can give meaning to our own lives when we consider who we are. Supposing the cosmos has no meaning, was a lucky accident, we still don't have to live that way ourselves. We have a knowing choice we can make to give our lives meaning or just wander through it without a purpose. It's certainly possible to live the second way but it's also possible to live the first. It's a matter of what does one prefer.

This is one of those times where I like Buddhism (I don't all the time), since one of the Buddhist teachings is the "Four Imponderables," four phenomenon (or concepts) that, because they cannot be understood, are not even worth consideration. One of these imponderables: The cause and/or purpose of the cosmos.

We humans have the unfortunate cognitive glitch that when we can fathom a question, we assume there must be an answer. And our favorite realm for playing out that glitch (because it was so important to our survival back in the day when we developed thinking) seems to be cause-and-effect.

I'm shocked that optical illusions don't send us running, screaming, from the room, as they point out that our fundamental perceptual mechanisms don't hold up to reality as well as we believe. Maybe if our minds didn't also include the function of dismissing errors we would have less trouble recognizing that not all questions have answers and not all effects have determinable causes.

Of course, that would end the self-help business, the "how to succeed in business" business, and all the wasted time on superstitious behavior.

Rain, when I came to the end of writing this post last night I bounced back and forth between saying "That's a stupid question" and "That's a meaningless question."

I settled on stupid because sometimes we need a kick in the philosophical butt from a strong word.

It's sort of like me asking someone "Where are my car keys?" when she can see that I'm holding them in my hand. Responding (with a smile) "That's a stupid question" and pointing to my hand would be perfectly appropriate.

As Steven said above, some questions don't have answers. Other questions have simple answers. The car key example has a simple answer, whereas the cause of the cosmos or "Who am I?" are unanswerable questions.

Regarding the latter, Alan Watts does as good a job as anybody in making clear why this is so:

"The real reason why human life can be so utterly exasperating and frustrating is not because there are facts called death, pain, fear, or hunger. The madness of the thing is that when such facts are present, we circle, buzz, writhe, and whirl, trying to get the 'I' out of the experience. We pretend that we are amoebas and try to protect ourselves from life by splitting in two. Sanity, wholeness, and integration lie in the realization that we are not divided, that man and his present experience are one, and that no separate 'I' or mind can be found."

Interesting addition to your thoughts, Brian. Sometimes shock value does get people to think where finding something subtler would not.

I have a couple of blogs set up to post starting in a few days on the illusions in life. I thought about them and which ones to write about and ended the series of six with the greatest illusion of all which relates to who we are. Fooling ourselves, letting others tell us who we are or digging down and figuring it out for ourselves, we can do any of those things. Knowing ourselves, both our biology and our environment is a lifetime of work and in a world that doesn't really help us do it as the world is into selling illusions. It does make it all endlessly fascinating to me.

I think Rain is correct that they are not stupid questions.

They may be the wrong questions, but they may not be either.

The causal question may indeed be incorrect if the universe is eternal - and yet we still experience causality in our everyday experience, and science, is little more than very well honed observation. So i'm not sure if the jury is out on the causal question, not by a long shot.

Tho Brian appears that that whether that first cause, if it exists, is attributed to God or the universe seems immaterial.

On the 2nd question, 'who am i', this seems to be the big mystical question, but its not clear imo what is actually being asked. Is the question, who am i generally, i.e. what is the nature of a human being, or asking whether each indiivual has a destiny to carry out or a goal to achieve - the latter seems to be what the mystics require.

Evolutionists would argue we're animals, with complex brains having developed a first person view of reality (consciousness) , but that our personality is the result of our environmental conditioning and our inherent genetics, which combine in such compexity to give a unique personality. Like god, not sure how one can set about trying to prove the existence of a soul or innate spiritual potential. Still nothing at all wrong with the question.

I think it depends on how we define cause. The theists tell us the cosmos exists by the grace of God, and while granted that's somewhat vague, it's just a different type of causation (supportive cause) more akin to 'exists by virtue of' than a direct and observable cause. For example, if one asks, "what is the cause of life on earth?" I can't claim a particular life on earth is a direct cause of the sun, but I can claim that life exists by virtue of the sun.

On a larger scale (nearest I can follow the theories as to the ultimate nature of reality), we really don't know if things exist by virtue of space or space exists by virtue of things. In the case of the former, space being a non-thing that isn't directly observable and hence not part of everything, it wouldn't seem to meet the materialist's criteria for causation.

Yet 'things existing by the virtue of space' may very well be the nature of reality, and I think one could claim that everything that exists, exists by virtue of space and without space no thing could exist. So if that scenario turns out to be the case, we're left with a non-material, non-observable space as the cause, albeit supportive, of the cosmos.

Now I don't know if the above is the case, but I do know it's a legitimate and supported possibility. And as long as it remains possible, I can't claim it's opposite as necessary or a more likely scenario. Both scenarios are possible, hence no conclusion can be drawn.

- John

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