Surfing the internet is the wrong metaphor. Surfing is to skillfully ride a wave for thrills towards a destination. Aimlessly clicking enticing headlines in an effort to avoid responsibility and delay labor is better called drifting, to keep the watery theme.
Anyway, drifting the ‘net as I was, I came across i09 and their piece 8 Great Philosophical Questions That We’ll Never Solve. It is important to note that this article was written on 24 September of this year.
I can report to you that in the week since its publication, the questions have been solved. Here are the questions, i09’s head-scratchings, and the correct answers.
1. Why is there something rather than nothing?
Why is there all this stuff in the universe, and why is it governed by such exquisitely precise laws? And why should anything exist at all…as Sean Carroll notes, “Nothing about modern physics explains why we have these laws rather than some totally different laws, although physicists sometimes talk that way — a mistake they might be able to avoid if they took philosophers more seriously.” And as for the philosophers, the best that they can come up with is the anthropic principle — the notion that our particular universe appears the way it does by virtue of our presence as observers within it — a suggestion that has an uncomfortably tautological ring to it.?
Funnily enough, i09 had the answer embedded right in their question. It’s obvious why the missed it, too. The answer is uncomfortable for us Enlighteneds.
Now we can say that God created everything, which is true and which answers the question, but we cannot saw why He did so. To suggests God loves us, while correct, is not to answer the question, but to push it back one level further, for why would God love creatures who drift the ‘net in search of argument? I don’t know and neither do you.
2. Is our universe real?
More recently, the question has been reframed as the “brain in a vat” problem, or the Simulation Argument. And it could very well be that we’re the products of an elaborate simulation. A deeper question to ask, therefore, is whether the civilization running the simulation is also in a simulation — a kind of supercomputer regression (or simulationception).
The “simulation argument”, and its many Matrixy variants, is solipsism removed to a computer. Nothing exists except for me; the entire universe is simulated just for my benefit. I am that special. The comments you’re leaving in the box below to dispute this conclusion? Clever simulacra to keep me from awakening and realizing how very important I am.
And then there’s idealism, which David Stove called a Victorian horror story. Time to let these go.
3. Do we have free will?
Also called the dilemma of determinism, we do not know if our actions are controlled by a causal chain of preceding events (or by some other external influence), or if we’re truly free agents making decisions of our own volition.
Dilemma forsooth! Man must have his theories. If any observation violates the theory, well, so much the worse for the observation, for theories are beautiful, compact, sensible, and most of all understandable. Observations are free, while theories come at a dear cost and must therefore be protected.
Take a random NPR listener and fly her from point A to point B in an aeroplane. Ask her at A, “Are you at A?” and she will say, “Yes.” And when she is at B, ask her, “Are we at B, which is separate from A?” and she will say, “Yes.”
Then ask her how aeroplanes work. She will say something like, “The government provides taxes for their operation.” She will not understand how the aeroplane worked, but the evidence that it flew her from A to B will not be denied. But because she does not know how does not mean she did not travel. What could be more obvious than that?
It’s the same with arguments over free will. Everybody knows we have free will because of observation. However, certain theories are incompatible with these observations. Result? Toss out the observations. And then award tenure to the garbageman.
4. Does God exist?
Simply put, we cannot know if God exists or not. Both the atheists and believers are wrong in their proclamations, and the agnostics are right.
To make that claim implies a proof exists which shows knowledge of God’s existence is always indefinite. No such proof exists. The claim is pure bluster. Question 4 can be, and has been, answered affirmatively many times. Sure, people dispute the paths to Yes, but they never try to offer a path to No. Are you an atheist feeling your oats? Then do the yeoman’s of proving God does not exist.
5. Is there life after death?
Materialists assume that there’s no life after death, but it’s just that — an assumption that cannot necessarily be proven…This is highly speculative stuff, but like the God problem, is one that science cannot yet tackle, leaving it to the philosophers.
This is true: materialism implies real death, which is why, as the gentleman who wrote this article suggests, you should not turn to scientists for philosophy.
Quite simple proofs for the non-materialism of our intellects abound (here is one). Thus the question is answered easily: yes. So get ready for it.
6. Can you really experience anything objectively?
There’s a difference between understanding the world objectively…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.
If the question means do we need our physical senses, which can only be our own, to sense the world, then nothing is “objective”. But if it means “Can we know things as they are in themselves?” then we have come to the winner of the Worst Argument in the World contest.
Worst, because it hasn’t an intelligible answer. But it is also the Best, because it gives employment to more academic philosophers than to any other argument.
7. What is the best moral system?
Essentially, we’ll never truly be able to distinguish between “right” and “wrong” actions…Who has more moral worth: a human baby or a full-grown great ape? And as neuroscientists have shown, morality is not only a culturally-ingrained thing…
To answer authoritatively and finally the question in the quotation: the human baby. There: we have our first of many universals, a moral fact true for everybody.
It is true that action X may be right at one time and wrong another, but that is because the facts that condition the action change between these two times. It may even be that we cannot delineate all the conditions which make X right and those that make it wrong. But we can sometimes.
8. What are numbers?
…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 (well-defined constructions of abstract thought based on math). 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.
This question smells like an editor said, “Nobody wants to read an article about ‘7 Great Philosophical Questions That We’ll Never Solve’. Make it 8. That number always works for Cracked.”
Numbers are real, but are not physical. Physical objects can be counted using numbers. Ta da.
Update For non-regular readers: there are of course many truths which cannot be proved, but which we know innately are true. E.g. the axioms of mathematics—and morals!