io9 wrote:8 Great Philosophical Questions That We’ll Never Solve
Philosophy goes where hard science can't, or won't. Philosophers have a license to speculate about everything from metaphysics to morality, and this means they can shed light on some of the basic questions of existence. The bad news? These are questions that may always lay just beyond the limits of our comprehension.
Here are eight mysteries of philosophy that we'll probably never resolve.
[spoiler=for the record, I don't know if Dvorsky really is a philosophy student or not]Hello? Ever heard of the PHILOSOPHY of science, George? For that matter, have you ever heard of epistemology? The branch of philosophy that asks how we answer questions in the first place? Of course not, if you had you would have known better. All fields of science come from the same set of philosophical assumptions, and from these assumptions we can either determine the answer to a question, or do something you have obviously disregarded-- call a stupid question STUPID! But I bet you are one of those idiots that doesn't realize there is in fact a such thing as a stupid question, aren't you?
Science is many things; what it is not is an antonym for "philosophy", despite what some idiots may say.[/spoiler]
1. Why is there something rather than nothing?
Our presence in the universe is something too bizarre for words. The mundaneness of our daily lives cause us take our existence for granted — but every once in awhile we're cajoled out of that complacency and enter into a profound state of existential awareness, and we ask: 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? We inhabit a universe with such things as spiral galaxies, the aurora borealis, and SpongeBob Squarepants. And 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.
[spoiler=why is io9 named io9? Just throwing that one out there]See what I mean by "stupid question? Really, this isn't even something they ask in philosophy classes. Its something a four year old would ask. The answer is, because you wouldn't be asking the question otherwise. Duh. As for the anthropic principle, its actual use is to answer why our universe can support life as opposed to not supporting life, and the answer isn't mutually exclusive with the existence of other such universes where we don't exist either. You would know this if you had even bothered to read wikipedia, George. For that matter, why is it wrong for the answer to sound tautological? Tautologies aren't false per say, just rather meaningless. In this case, the question seems to be begging for a tautological answer, because it seems like there can be no wrong answer.[/spoiler]
2. Is our universe real?
This the classic Cartesian question. It essentially asks, how do we know that what we see around us is the real deal, and not some grand illusion perpetuated by an unseen force (who René Descartes referred to as the hypothesized ‘evil demon')? 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). 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 us to re-evaluate what we mean by "real." Modal realists argue that if the universe around us seems rational (as opposed to it being dreamy, incoherent, or lawless), then we have no choice but to declare it as being real and genuine. Or maybe, as Cipher said after eating a piece of "simulated" steak in The Matrix, "Ignorance is bliss."
[spoiler=is anyone really surprised he referenced The Matrix in this? I really fucking hate that movie]Answer me this question, George. What is reality? It is at this point where it becomes painfully obvious that you have never heard of the Philosophy of Science, because if you had you would know you are asking the wrong question. Science answers the question of knowledge with a methodology of pragmatic empiricism. In essence, to this question the best answer would be "really? You're referencing the fucking Matrix? Humanity invented the computer, and now everyone thinks they are being clever by asking whether computers, WHICH SCIENCE MADE POSSIBLE, might invalidate our concept of reality? Fuck you."
More seriously, I'll answer my own question by throwing out one of my favorite quotes of all time: “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away.” Philip K. Dick, American author (1928-1982). If that sounds tautological to you, too damn bad. That's what you get for leaving your terms undefined in matters of philosophy[/spoiler]
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. Philosophers (and now some scientists) have been debating this for millennia, and with no apparent end in sight. If our decision making is influenced by an endless chain of causality, then determinism is true and we don't have free will. But if the opposite is true, what's called indeterminism, then our actions must be random — what some argue is still not free will. Conversely, libertarians (no, not political libertarians, those are other people), make the case for compatibilism — the idea that free will is logically compatible with deterministic views of the universe. Compounding the problem are advances in neuroscience showing that our brains make decisions before we're even conscious of them. But if we don't have free will, then why did we evolve consciousness instead of zombie-minds? Quantum mechanics makes this problem even more complicated by suggesting that we live in a universe of probability, and that determinism of any sort is impossible. And as Linas Vepstas has said, "Consciousness seems to be intimately and inescapably tied to the perception of the passage of time, and indeed, the idea that the past is fixed and perfectly deterministic, and that the future is unknowable. This fits well, because if the future were predetermined, then there'd be no free will, and no point in the participation of the passage of time."
[spoiler=oh, so you *have* heard of wikipedia. Good for you, George]But really, what makes this question impossible for science to answer in principle? Read over that again. Everything you just wrote here validates that science has a place in philosophical debate. This is why its such a shame you have never heard of epsitemology or the philosophy of science, because then maybe you would know why this question has been under debate for so many ages-- people actually do think it can be answered.
And actually, there is one reason it may not be answerable-- again, the terms are undefined, or rather so vaguely defined and definitions disputed between thinkers that it may not be humanly possible to actually come to a consensus on what would count as a valid answer to the question. This would never happen if the western philosophical tradition shared at least some of the more communal values of our scientific institutions. Like not letting everyone and their dog use their own personal definitions to commonly used terms for starters.[/spoiler]
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. True agnostics are simply being Cartesian about it, recognizing the epistemological issues involved and the limitations of human inquiry. We do not know enough about the inner workings of the universe to make any sort of grand claim about the nature of reality and whether or not a Prime Mover exists somewhere in the background. Many people defer to naturalism — the suggestion that the universe runs according to autonomous processes — but that doesn't preclude the existence of a grand designer who set the whole thing in motion (what's called deism). And as mentioned earlier, we may live in a simulation where the hacker gods control all the variables. Or perhaps the gnostics are right and powerful beings exist in some deeper reality that we're unaware of. These aren't necessarily the omniscient, omnipotent gods of the Abrahamic traditions — but they're (hypothetically) powerful beings nonetheless. Again, these aren't scientific questions per se — they're more Platonic thought experiments that force us to confront the limits of human experience and inquiry.
[spoiler=Fuck your smug right in the ego, asshole]Seriously, I call troll. You don't get to proclaim victory just because not everyone worships Rene fucking Descarte, asshole. He's not the only philosopher to ever live. Scientists have a very simple answer to this question. Its called "show me the evidence, or fuck off." Again, learn some goddamn epistemology. Your ignorance of the subject suddenly stopped being cute and started pissing me off. In fact, to an atheist, self identifying as an agnostic is like saying that you are an air-breather. Way to confirm the obvious. But guess what? It doesn't invalidate the existence of vacuum in space. Many atheists will also say they technically count as agnostics, because we don't reject the possibility that our views on the subject could change in the future, and most of us can even tell you under what circumstances we would do so (namely, the presence of evidence). Seriously, George, this not only confirms you know nothing of epistemological subjects beyond Descart, you haven't even bothered to learn about what your opposition is claiming about themselves.
Oh and speaking as someone who likes to take the third rout: please define the traits an entity would require for you to call it a god. My personal view is that this is yet another case of too many conflicting definitions making a definite answer impossible (that is, I am an ignostic. Look it up on wikipedia). But without a concrete definition, I use Occam's Razor and say "the most parsimonious conclusion is that God does not exist, because statements or claims that require God are all either redundant or incoherent."[/spoiler]
5. Is there life after death?
Before everyone gets excited, this is not a suggestion that we'll all end up strumming harps on some fluffy white cloud, or find ourselves shoveling coal in the depths of Hell for eternity. Because we cannot ask the dead if there's anything on the other side, we're left guessing as to what happens next. Materialists assume that there's no life after death, but it's just that — 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 the spooky filter of quantum mechanics, there's no reason to believe that we only have one shot at this thing called life. It's a question of metaphysics and the possibility that the cosmos (what Carl Sagan described as "all that is or ever was or ever will be") cycles and percolates in such a way that lives are infinitely recycled. Hans Moravec put it best when, speaking in relation to the quantum Many Worlds Interpretation, said that non-observance of the universe is impossible; we must always find ourselves alive and observing the universe in some form or another. This is highly speculative stuff, but like the God problem, is one that science cannot yet tackle, leaving it to the philosophers.
[spoiler=Yeah, I call him George. For some reason, he reminds me of a more coherent version of a certain U.S. president]Really just see above. Guy has no idea what he is talking about. I do, however, like how he keeps using scientific concepts like the "many world's theory" when its convenient to him, much like how he does with computers and The Matrix or everything he talks about in the "Question of Free Will". Of course, its kinda pedantic to use the many world's theory to claim life after death, since after all, your life in those universes is not something you will get to experience, and there should be an infinite number of them anyway.[/spoiler]
6. Can you really experience anything objectively?
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. The only way you could possible know is if you were to somehow observe the universe from the "conscious lens" of another person in a sort of Being John Malkovich kind of way — not anything we're likely going to be able to accomplish at any stage of our scientific or technological development. Another way of saying all this is that the universe can only be observed through a brain (or potentially a machine mind), and by virtue of that, can only be interpreted subjectively. But given that the universe appears to be coherent and (somewhat) knowable, should we continue to assume that its true objective quality can never be observed or known? It's worth noting that much of Buddhist philosophy is predicated on this fundamental limitation (what they call emptiness), and a complete antithesis to Plato's idealism.
[spoiler=I bet this guy would shit a brick if you asked him to define objectivity]Okay, smart ass. If the question of Qualia is so important to epistemology, how come we can know about things we cannot observe directly? Say, for instance, the ultraviolet end of the electromagnetic spectrum? Or Infrared? Why does it matter how other human beings might experience the color pink when the color pink is actually a byproduct of the human nervous system, and not an actual wavelength? Could it be that you've taken the train to crazy land by asking a question that's already answered? Could it be that without a definition of reality to guide your questions, you get pig slop like this that isn't actually useful to anyone?
Basically, what I am saying is that the idea of qualia should be thrown in the wastebasket of philosophical history with Plato's Ideal Forms (which they are largely a repackaging of anyway) because modern science, which you refuse to learn anything about except when its convenient to you, has disproven the hypothesis.[/spoiler]
7. What is the best moral system?
Essentially, we'll never truly be able to distinguish between "right" and "wrong" actions. At any given time in history, however, philosophers, theologians, and politicians will claim to have discovered the best way to evaluate human actions and establish the most righteous code of conduct. But it's never that easy. 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 (such as jailing criminals), and can even be used to justify oppression (Immanuel Kant was among it's most staunchest critics). 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 human baby or a full-grown great ape? And as neuroscientists have shown, morality is not only a culturally-ingrained thing, it's also a part of our psychologies (the Trolly Problem is the best demonstration of this). At best, we can only say that morality is normative, while acknowledging that our sense of right and wrong will change over time.
[spoiler=Smug-o-meter just exploded. Will keep writing once the bleeding stops]Ah, yes, more bullshit that only accounts for the philosophers he likes, and not the ones calling for his censure. Come to think, isn't the right to Freedom of Speech what makes it possible for him to spout his non-sense...? Oh yes, turns out that you need to make a few assumptions about philosophy and morality before questions like "what is the best moral system" can be answerd. Thanks Captain Obvious for being smarter than this pseudo-intellectual douche.[/spoiler]
[/quote][/quote]8. What are numbers?
We use numbers every day, but taking a step back, what are they, really — and why do they do such a damn good job of helping us explain the universe (such as Newtonian laws)? Mathematical structures can consist of numbers, sets, groups, and points — but are they real objects, or do they simply describe relationships that necessarily exist in all structures? Plato argued that numbers were real (it doesn't matter that you can't "see" them), 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.
[spoiler=I ran out of ideas for spoiler headers. This is the best I have]You know, I was hoping you would at least touch upon maybe Kurt Godel and his incompleteness theroems. Maybe do some research before rattling off your opinions. This may be the closest you have come to a truly unanswerable philosophical question. Its such a shame it feels like an accident on your part rather than a sign of intelligence or education.[/spoiler]