Sunday, February 4, 2007

Why!?! pt. 1

Sometimes I admire people who don't ask why questions, who only want to know the how of life: How do I get paid, how do I get a wife, how do I make myself happy? The why path isn't so rewarding, if you think about it: Why are we here, why do we feel what we feel, desire what we desire, need what we need, hate what we hate.

I saw this Calvin and Hobbes cartoon once that had the teacher asking the class to turn in their homework. Calvin raised his hand and asked why we exist. The teacher told Calvin not to change the subject but to turn in his homework, and what difference did it make anyway? Calvin leaned back in his chair and mumbled to himself that the answer to the question determined whether or not turning in his homework was important in the first place. I think that is what I am talking about here, about needing the answer to the former question before the latter becomes important, about why determining whether how questions are important. And that is what I mean by admiring people who don't ask why questions, because they can just get a job, a big house, a trophy wife, and do whatever they want and never ask if it is connected to anything, whether their how is validated by their why.

It seems as though much of our lives, this gift we have been given, have been wasted thus far, attempting to answer meaningless questions. Surely there are more important questions than how questions: How do I get money, how do I get a girl, how do I become happy, how do I have fun?

"I began to wonder what personal ideas I believed that were not true. I believed I was not athletic enough; too stupid, I believed I had to go to college; I believed the Astros were a more important team than the Mets; I believed jeans that cost fifty dollars were better than jeans that cost thirty; I believed living in a certain part of town made you more important than living in another. The cosmos were just spinning around up there, as if to create beauty for beauty's sake, paying no attention to the frivolity of mankind. And I liked the cosmos very much. It seemed that it understood something, perhaps, humanity did not understand.

We have exchanged Why questions for How questions"

- Donald Miller

There are so many huge important questions that supersede our "how to" formulas that even science cannot answer them; and yet they are so fundamentally important to determining who we are and what and why should chase things. Really and truly our presuppositions play such a rule in providing motive to act that if we really thought about these questions it would come down to as Shakespeare said in Hamlet:

"To Be or Not to Be?"

Think about these types of questions, because their answers really should determine what you do, why you exist, how you should live, and what you should chase.

Is the world divided into mind and matter, and, if so, what is mind and what is matter? Is mind subject to matter, or is it possessed of independent powers? Has the universe and unity or purpose? Is it evolving towards some goal? Are they really laws of nature, or do we believe in them only because our innate love of order? Is man what he seems to the astronomer, a tiny lump of impure carbon and water impotently crawling on a small and unimportant planet? Or is he what he appears to be in Shakespeare's "Hamlet"? Is he perhaps both at once? Is there a way of living that is noble and another that is base, or are all ways of living merely futile? If there is a way of living that is noble, in what does it consist, and how shall we achieve it? Must the good be eternal in order to deserve to be valued, or is it even worth seeking if the universe is inexorably moving towards death? Is there such a thing as wisdom, or is what seems as such merely the ultimate refinement of folly? Is there a God? If there is a God what kind of God is he? If he is the ultimate creator of the universe what does that mean for us? Would that mean we should alter our lives around him instead of just altering our idea of some Oprah type god we make up to suit our needs?

To such questions no answer can be found in the laboratory, yet the answers to them are of the utmost importance. We should all make some more effort to be philosophers in our own lives. Because the studying of these questions, if not the answering of them, is the business of philosophy.

Ever since men became capable of free speculation, their actions, in innumerable respect have depended upon their theories as to the world and human life.

To understand an age or nation, we must understand its philosophy. There is a reciprocal causation: the circumstances of men's lives do much to determine their philosophy, but conversely, their philosophy does much to determine their circumstances.

- Bertrand Russell

*Much of this was borrowed, lifted, inspired by and edited from Donald Miller and Bertrand Russell.

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