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Friday, May 10, 2013

A Philosophical Interlude

In between my work with the All Souls Housing group and my writing on ethics and society, I received a notice from the library that a book I had reserved was ready for pick up. I couldn't remember what book I had requested. When I went to the library I found it was "Why does the World Exist?" by Jim Holt. I couldn't remember the review that prompted me to get it so I started reading it among the five other books I have going.

This one was fun; and, dropping everything else, I finished it in record time for me. It was definitely written for me, a former Jesuit, a former philosophy major, the writer of a thesis on French Phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty who was in dialogue with existentialiste exemplaire Jean Paul Sartre, a frustrated quester of being who has never given up. As the jacket said, the book is an existentialist detective novel with lots of wit.

So after much examination of witnesses, some of the best physics scientists and theoretical philosophers of our time, and after the assemblage of clues gathered in the evidence provided by these witnesses, Detective Holt comes up with the following suspects in his investigation into why the world exists or, in the words of the great philosophers, "why is there something rather than nothing?"

So here are the suspects to interview in solving the mystery of being over nothing:

1) Quantum fluctuations.  0 = -1+1 > BANG (See Lawrence Krauss A Universe from Nothing)
2) Eternal Universe/Multiverse. There always was something. (String theory)
3) It from Bit. There is not something: world is illusion, dream, hologram. (Information theory)
4) Nothing requires Something. No nothing without something.
5) God.  Eternal Being--self-caused and contained. Bonhoeffer and Coulsen's "Gap filler."
6) Invalid Question: unanswerable (Lonergan's inverse insight)
7) Just is: get over and on with it.

And so in the spirit of the last response, let's just accept that things are and get on with it.

If the first philosophic question is "why is there something rather than nothing," the second is "what kind of a being asks such a question?" That is: "What does it mean to be human?" This leads to: "Who am I and who are you?" Which leads to "Who are We?" And then to "Where are we going?"

Here then are levels of rational inquiry in philosophy and in science:

1. Question of Being:    Ontology, Cosmology--Physics, chemistry
2. Question of Human:  Philosophy of Man--Anthropology, Biology
3. Question of Mind:      Epistemology--Psychology, Neuroscience
4. Question of Social:     Epistemology--Social Science
5. Question of Becoming: Ethics, Politics--History, Political Science

Okay, its the second question that is the pivot for the others. Heidegger puts it that we need to question Dasein (human existence) where Sein (Being) is present (Da).  Who am I who am asking the question of Being? Or what is human?


Human is a being that can ask a question; something that can talk, use images, i.e. imagine or make and combine images, therefore a being which finds and explores the world through symbols. Dasein, human existence, is symbolic activity.

Human is a being that experiences a "self" in, but different from the external world; therefore has a sense of interiority, self-awareness, consciousness.

Human is a being that is aware of other interiorities, and being joined with them in approaching the world; therefore we are beings with a sense of others not as objects in the world, but as joined selves engaging the world.

Human is a being that is aware of coming out of the past and going towards a future; therefore aware of itself as a project between nothingness and nothingness thus making Being present--Dasein.

And that is the project of ethics and politics with which I am occupied in these blog reflections.