Why Ask Why, Drink Bud Dry

This is just a little bit of a teaser for the review I’m trying to write of “Why Is There Anything”, by Matthew Rave.  Jim Holt’s solution in the TEDx video above is a bit different from Matthew Rave’s, but they are both critical of Lawrence Krauss’ solution.  I recommend giving it a watch.  While I don’t really see the question really being answered in the video, I thought Jim Holt had a lot of interesting things to say and he was actually quite entertaining to listen to.

Ever since I was a young boy I loved thinking about deep questions like this, and I know I’m not alone in that, although I may be in the minority.  I remember connecting with a friend of mine in junior high school regarding the “end point” of space.  Our other friends thought we were a bit strange.  We both found the concept fascinating as well as disconcerting.  If space had an end then what was beyond that end point?  And the idea that space continues infinitely was equally troubling to our finite minds.

It was this probing philosophical mind along with my guilt prone Jewish background that made me ripe for the Christian worldview to grab hold of me a few years after that.  Christianity was like a carrot which had all the answers to these probing questions.  But as my years as a Christian progressed, trouble brewed in paradise.  It became clearer that the “answers” given were more about tradition passed down from people a long time ago who lived in a superstitious time, rather than answers backed by empirical analysis. They were simply revealed just like the other religions had their revelations.  So the Christian answers to the probing questions that all of us have not only were derived without careful and critical analysis, but those answers then brought up many more questions.  The carrot began to look more and more like just a painting of a carrot.  Why is there anything at all? – because there is an all-perfect all-knowing God, and the existence of that God doesn’t require explanation – and if you think it does you just aren’t thinking correctly, even though it seems like the existence of that God would require even more of an explanation.  I’m sorry, but the mystery is still there.

I’m growing convinced that Buddha had some of the best perspectives when it comes to these metaphysical type questions.  It’s related to this video I posted before:

Just like I mentioned in the previous post with that video, I encourage continued exploration and thinking about these questions.  Obviously I continue to explore myself.  But I also see it as important to deal with the possibility that some of these questions may very well be unanswerable. None of the solutions to the question of why is there anything seem satisfactory to me, especially the all-knowing God answer.  This question may just be out of the realm of human thought.

Oh, and totally unrelated – have any of you found a good antidote for writer’s block besides just forcing myself to begin?  Is there any kind of music that might get the juices flowing and help me clear my mind to be able to get the stuff in my mind into words?

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49 thoughts on “Why Ask Why, Drink Bud Dry

  1. I can’t watch the videos on my current computer set up, but on first response: christian philosophers had the perspective on the matter backwards, and so many contemporary thinkers think they are answering a question that needn’t be asked.

    The clue is found in an old Hindu saying – which I confess I learned through a song by the Grateful Dead – “Wake up to find out that you are the eyes of the world.”

    The issue isn’t ‘where does all this come from,’ the question is coming to terms with the fact that none of this matters except to a consciousness for whom any of it matters at all – a human consciousness (is there any other we have direct access to?).

    The question wafts in and out of various Eastern philosophies; in the West, only Heidegger recognized its importance, and then never articulated it in a manner that could reach out to anyone not in tune with his particular writing style. That’s because until Descartes, Western thinkers always saw knowledge as coming from outside-in (‘objectively,’ or ‘realistically’); whereas Eastern philosophies have long been ambivalent on the matter. And since Descartes, Western philosophy has tried to find some way to stabilize the ‘subjective’ objectively in order to validate the purely ‘objective’ as science.

    That’s not necessarily wrong. But it does mean that the question, ‘why is there something rather than nothing?’ cannot be asked until the ‘subjective’ – as gross existential necessity of any knowing at all – is at last allowed as precondition to inquiry into ‘ultimate questions.’

    We may decide at the end of it that really we have no need of such questions. The problem is that we are not yet addressing them with this perspective in focus.

    (I should note that ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ are under quotes here, because their commonly accepted definitions are actually problematic; if what is known can only be such because there is any possible knower, what could possibly not be ‘objective’ about it? But if what is known thus depends on any living knower knowing it, what could not be ‘subjective’ about it? Because there is no such thing as ‘any possible knower’ who is not also a living knower.)

  2. It became clearer that the “answers” given were more about tradition passed down from people a long time ago who lived in a superstitious time, rather than answers backed by empirical analysis.

    Yes, that sums it up well.

    I like your title. The view I have held for a long time, is that there is no point in asking unanswerable questions such as “where did we come from”. We observe that we are here, so we need to make the best of it.

  3. I’m growing convinced that Buddha had some of the best perspectives when it comes to these metaphysical type questions.

    This is a true statement.

    Writers block? I don’t think there is a silver bullet, but I’ve recently found writing in the 1st person (a testimonial, of sorts) helps get some surprisingly novel ideas out.

  4. ejwinner – a lot of that makes good sense, but I’ll confess to getting a little lost in your 5th paragraph and your parenthetical final paragraph. I think I wasn’t clear what “gross existential necessity of any knowing at all” really means. Also, perhaps I’m not clear on your definition of subjective/objective, and I also think I got lost in all the “knowing”. 🙂

  5. “None of the solutions to the question of why is there anything seem satisfactory to me, especially the all-knowing God answer. This question may just be out of the realm of human thought.”

    Howie, I concur. I watched both videos. Thank you for posting them and for your thought-provoking post. I will add, though, that I am more or less at peace with not knowing, and that peace was never there as a believer. Belief or having a sense of certainty only created more questions. I still remain curious, but spend more time living what is most likely the only life we will experience, than questioning how life came about. If I got paid to think in those terms, I’d probably invest more time.

    Aspects of your post reminded me of an excellent book I read a couple of years ago, titled :The Third Basic Instinct

    http://www.amazon.com/The-Third-Basic-Instinct-Religion/dp/1439245053

  6. I’m glad that resonated a bit with you Neil. The second video pretty much said exactly what you wrote here. By the way, I don’t really like the taste of Bud Dry that much, but these slogans tend to stick. 😉

  7. Victoria,

    I still remain curious, but spend more time living what is most likely the only life we will experience, than questioning how life came about.

    So wise! I try to have the exact same perspective. I will admit though in honesty that there are times I think it sure would be nice to have the answers to these questions. But I don’t want that curious nature to be hijacked again like it was before. Also I’m sure you realize the irony there – if we had all our questions answered perhaps it would make life that much more dull. 🙂

  8. “Also I’m sure you realize the irony there – if we had all our questions answered perhaps it would make life that much more dull. :)”

    Exactly, which is why I think you will enjoy reading The Third Basic Instinct.

    Btw, I’m looking for an isochronic tone, brainwave entrainment video (Creative Focus) on youtube that will help you with your writer’s block.

  9. Exactly, which is why I think you will enjoy reading The Third Basic Instinct.

    Forgot to mention in my last comment that I added the book to my list, and now it got bumped up higher on my reading list. 🙂

    Also, I think a quote from Jim Holt in the first video sort of relates here: “oh, even if there was nothing you still wouldn’t be satisfied”. I cracked up when he said that.

    Btw, I’m looking for an isochronic tone, brainwave entrainment video (Creative Focus) on youtube that will help you with your writer’s block.

    Thank you so much! I was hoping you would do that, and did actually even have it in mind when I asked that in my post.

  10. Dead easy version of E.J. Winner’s Comment:

    “Why ask why?” Because our ape brains evolved to think in terms of subjectivity as against objectivity and existence as against non-existence. We assume these concepts to be actualities, yet when we attempt to define them, we always encounter some or other objection. Such concepts are useful in our consensus and putative reality, yet lose efficacy in what is ultimately an actuality. Accepting the Buddha’s ‘imponderables’, we may attend to the ending of all woes and their related questions.

  11. My pleasure, Howie. My solstice will follow with a new adventure, and quite symbolic I might add. I will be returning to the seashore the first of the year. I hope you and your family have a kickback holiday. Cheers my friend.

  12. Hariod – Since you said dead easy, I suppose I’d look bad if I said I didn’t understand. 🙂 Luckily, I actually did get that Hariod (after I looked up the word putative). It’s actually a very cool concept. Thanks!

  13. Victoria – best of luck with the move and the new adventure. I’m hoping it’s the one you were looking forward to several months ago.

    Cheers! You’ve got me hankering for a beer now. 🙂

  14. Howie,
    sorry for the epistemological convolutions.
    Hariod Brawn seems headed in the direction I was going.

    (I was going to attempt greater clarification, then realized that the problem with epistemology is that it’s difficult to avoid getting tangled up in abstractions.)

    The simplest answer to the ‘being question’ is: It’s there because we’re here. How things got this-a-way is a matter of history. (And I happen to think that the history that science gives us makes more sense than that given by religion.)

    So, the important question becomes, what to do now?

    (Writing is one answer to that question, BTW. it keeps me going, anyway.)

  15. Writer’s block solutions that work for me:

    Brewing ideas:

    First I like to take a walk or long hike, depending on how bad the situation is. For me, this is when I get magical insights about plot, so I don’t know how it would work for blogging.

    Look up random junk on the internet, read the obituary column in the newspaper along with advice columns, etc. I assume you’re already reading other people’s blogs, so on top of that, check out your Facebook page and explore something you’re not at first interested in. Maybe take one of those stupid quizzes.

    Flip open a book with a writing style you admire and start reading from the middle in a critical way, analyzing techniques. Sometimes reading wonderful writing is all it takes to get me motivated.

    If you already have an idea, just google it and see where it takes you.

    As for music, I listen to pop music mostly. I do Spotify or Pandora radio so I don’t have to think about it. It doesn’t seem to matter much just so long as it’s not too invasive. When I worked on my undergrad thesis, I couldn’t stop listening to Bach’s cello suites and Chopin’s Nocturnes . But you don’t have to get that melodramatic. Unless, of course, you want to.

    Formulating those ideas:

    Get out of the place you usually write and get yourself stuck somewhere. For instance, go to a coffee shop far away from home so that you have to commit to a particular place for a while. Sometimes I’ll go to a diner which doesn’t have wifi. It doesn’t have to be someplace nice…in fact, someplace kind of awful might be better, just so long as you can power your laptop. I got this idea when I noticed that I was able to concentrate really well while sitting on the floor in an airport or waiting in the doctor’s office. The purpose of this is to avoid distractions, but that may not be an issue for you?

    I tried setting a manual timer thinking I might do better under time constraints, but that didn’t work for me. Maybe you’ll have better luck with it?

  16. ejwinner,

    the problem with epistemology is that it’s difficult to avoid getting tangled up in abstractions.

    Ain’t that the truth!

    The simplest answer to the ‘being question’ is: It’s there because we’re here. How things got this-a-way is a matter of history.

    That answer is very similar to Jim Holt’s description of his answer in the TEDx video, although I suppose there may be a nuanced difference. And I think you are exactly right, the more important question is what to do now, and as Hariod said, barring the ‘imponderables’ (that word speaks volumes) we may attend to the ending of all woes and their related questions.

  17. Thank you so much Tina for a very thorough list! My walks used to clear things up tremendously when I started blogging, but thoughts seem to be a bit jumbled and stuck recently. Luckily every once in a while a walk does the job.

    Some of those other ideas I haven’t tried and I’ll give a few a shot. Getting away from the usual does sound like a good idea. I love libraries and my local one has several quiet reading rooms – that may work.

  18. Libraries are really good. Back in college I lived in the campus library for a couple of weeks while I was transitioning to a new dorm room. (I slept on a sleeping bag on the floor in a secluded corner). I finally got some work done!

  19. I empathize with your writer’s block. I’ve been getting it more lately, just when I need to write more. I find that reading often sparks my desire to write.

    As for why is there anything, for years I’ve asked the same question as a negative; Why is there not nothing? As you know, I too, reject the idea of a sentient creator god, for the same reason you give; the explanation of the existence of such a being would fail to answer the question.

    I accept that it is unanswerable for the present, but science is persistently probing deeper into the fabric of the universe. So far, I am leaning to the brane/multiverse hypothesis which, if true, would destroy intelligent design’s main argument–that the critically-correct spin of certain particles have just the right permutation, among millions of possible permutations of spin velocities and directions, to produce a universe that supports life. Of course, that fails to answer the ultimate question as well.

    This reminds me of a dream I had many years ago. I was standing at one end of a huge, stone room, not unlike the setting of a king’s throne room–the great hall–only the room was empty. There were no windows and no furniture, but the far wall was punctuated by a huge fireplace and a door on either side.

    For some unknown reason, I realized that I was dreaming. Yet, instead of trying to analyze the meaning of the dream or go through one of the doors, I (somewhat humorously) knelt down to the floor and peered as closely as I could, trying to determine of what the floor was made–what was the underlying substance of the dream. LOL!

    To my amazement, the floor was firm, but translucent. It had a greenish glow deep down, and I could see what appeared to be many neurons all interconnected by a web of synapses. Then I awakened.

    Obviously, this meant nothing at all, but I can’t help think of how solid the floor felt. I could have just as well seen pepper jack cheese, because in reality, there was nothing there. It was a very “real” hallucination, which may somehow be what reality is. But, does a hallucination necessarily need a hallucinator? So, I was back where I started, knowing that the spookist thing in existence, is existence itself.

    But, perhaps that is what science will eventually find, the thing that forms the substrate of the universe–pepper jack cheese :D. Then again, how did that come to be, right?

  20. Howie, I tend to agree with Victoria. I’m at peace with where I am. Sure, I wonder about the “whys” at times, but this is what I say to myself: “I don’t know why I’m here but I’m thankful I am, and I intend to enjoy every minute.” I suppose to some that seems very simplistic, but it works for me. And after all, isn’t that what counts?

    For example, you and others totally enjoy the questioning process … and actually, that’s a good thing. Just think — one of you heavy thinkers may one day stumble upon an “answer” that becomes the standard for the rest of us!

    Enjoy the holidays, Howie. Hope “Santa” is good to you and yours. 😉

  21. Tina – Wow sleeping in a library sounds pretty intense. I’ll probably go for a few hours but pass on camping out there. 😉

  22. Max – sounds like a cool psychedelic dream! And that would be a delicious universe. 🙂 You are right, the question is recursive, which seems to be the main problem with the question itself.

  23. Nan – I like your comment quite a bit, and I see it the same way. We’re all wired differently. Some like myself do enjoy questioning and exploring. As long as it’s kept at a healthy level I don’t see a problem.

    And Nan, I think it’s cool that so many here have expressed pretty much the same perspective that you and Victoria have. I see a lot of wisdom in that. My wife is the same way. She has never been religious but just doesn’t see any point to spending time exploring existential questions. 2 of my neighbors down the street have expressed the exact same perspective. I think many people really just don’t see any need for it, which to me blows away the argument that some theists use which says we all have some yearning within us for finding a creator.

  24. Great post, Howie. And is it wrong that the guy in the second video reminds me of Boss Nass from Star Wars?

    I feel very much the same way you do about these kinds of questions, so instead of commenting about that, I’ll just say that I struggle with writer’s block sometimes as well. For me, I find that I have the hardest time with introductions and conclusions — the crux of what I want to say tends to come pretty easily. So when I’m struggling with writer’s block, I’ll try to just start writing without worrying about how the beginning is — sometimes, I’ll just skip the beginning altogether. Once I’ve gotten out the majority of what I wanted to say, I can usually go back and clean up the weaker parts, especially if I wait a day or so.

  25. Nice teaser, Howie, will look foward to the review. As far as writer’s block, one thing that helps me, especially when I am writing about something complex, is just making an old fashioned outline. Then, fill it in with paragraphs, add transitions, put in an intro and conclusion and TA-DA! If it’s difficult to fill in the paragraphs, I just keep making more bullet points and more and more until it sort of automatically connects in my head and the paragraphs spill out onto the page. I also think shower thoughts are helpful. 🙂

  26. Thanks Nate! I couldn’t help but laugh at the Boss Nass reference, you are right there seems a little resemblance there. I sometimes notice things like that too.

    Your point about intros and conclusions is a good one – I’ll confess to not thinking about structure when I blog – I’m an engineer and before blogging actually haven’t really “written” since college. Maybe it’s better I don’t focus on the structure or the block will get bigger. 😉

  27. Hey Brandon – I think the outline thing is actually a great tip that I’ve forgotten about. I did something similar to an outline with a post that was particularly difficult a while back and I remember it helping – I basically just listed a bunch of the main points I had in my mind and moved them around a little. I guess that’s somewhat related to structure, but I tend to do it in a less formal way. Thanks!

  28. There are some questions in life that we cannot possibly answer, such as why there is something rather than nothing? If there is nothing, there would be nobody to ask. Slmetimes i wonder if i should ask at all, and simply live tgis life as it is. Bur mg natural way of thinking vrings me back to these philosophical questions. I also appreciaye Buddha’s teaching yhat we should simply be, without desiring anything, so that we can experience the here and now in peace.

  29. I can relate Noel. There’s something that has always intrigued me about questions like this. As long as it doesn’t plague us I don’t see the harm. I still enjoy hearing different perspectives on questions like this, but at the same time realize that it is imponderable. Actually, I can also see how a lot of the related questions that get answered in the process of thinking about it could actually have some practical use. Thanks for stopping by!

  30. Why Is There Anything? I’m pretty confident that modern science doesn’t yet have an answer to this question. Until that time (if it ever arrives) we are just guessing.

  31. I agree Steve, and sometimes I wonder if it’s a question that can’t be answered, but I can’t prove that either.

  32. Not knowing the ultimate answer is a good thing. It means that curiosity, the driving engine of scientific research, will likely be alive for a very long time. 😀

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