8 Great Philosophical Questions That We’ll Never Solve—Update: Solved!

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!

33 Comments

  1. “… why would God love creatures who drift the ‘net in search of argument? I don’t know and neither do you.”

    How about because His character requires responsibility for actions and He took the action of creating creatures capable of drifting? In this case love is taking responsibility.

    Or were you just being snarky?

  2. 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.

    Wasn’t religion supposed to take care of the “why” and science of the “how”? Big shot in the foot there.

    Time to let these go.

    And you wonder why I let metaphysics “go”? Precisely because of these shenanigans.

    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.

    I want, no I demand proof that the tooth fairy does not exist. Why? Because I demand things and I want them done to my fashion and will. Nevermind all the books and thesis that purport to show that god does not exist. God exists, so necessarily they are all bollocks, therefore there ain’t no evidence that god does not exist! No all the things that try to show things I do not believe in do not exist at all, and so I’ll just say the obvious truth: no one has shown that god does not exist. Therefore he does!

    Logic.

    Thus the question is answered easily: yes. So get ready for it.

    It’s so nice and dandy to believe in anything despite having no evidence at all of any of it. And how so easy to just proclaim certainty. All it takes is sound and fury. If people disagree, we can burn them. We shall not suffer these heretics to live.

    Numbers are real, but are not physical. Physical objects can be counted using numbers. Ta da.

    Wordplay.

  3. The real question, which I never see asked, is: why do I exist? Not, why do humans exist, nor why does the universe exist, but why does any particular individual exist, out of the infinite number possible? Remember that even identical twins are different persons. This is not solipsism but a fundamental question about consciousness.

  4. It’s so nice and dandy to believe in anything despite having no evidence at all of any of it. And how so easy to just proclaim certainty. All it takes is sound and fury. If people disagree, we can burn them. We shall not suffer these heretics to live.

    Wait a sec…

    I demand things and I want them done to my fashion and will. Nevermind all the books and thesis that purport to show that god does not exist. God exists, so necessarily they are all bollocks, therefore there ain’t no evidence that god does not exist! No all the things that try to show things I do not believe in do not exist at all, and so I’ll just say the obvious truth: no one has shown that god does not exist. Therefore he does!

    Nevermind all the books and thesis (and testimonies) that purport to show that god does exist. God doesn’t exist so necessarily they are all bollocks, therefore there ain’t no evidence that god does exist! etc…

    Reminds me of dealing with conspiracy theorists. There’s a list of all the evidences for say… we didn’t land on the moon while all the counter evidence doesn’t count.

    Briggs merely pointed out that the level of proof against has usually been insufficient rebuttals to to the proofs for. (if not self-refuting)

  5. Assuming God exists, why is He keeping so well hidden?

    That is, why conduct himself such that He makes it oh-so-easy for so many people (the majority of many countries now) to conclude He’s just a Bronze Age myth?

    Why would He wait, for thousands of generations, to present His salvation?

    AND, why would he present it in such a fashion that it would take generations for the word to get around?

    Study other old pagan religions and compare the similarities — those Justyn Martyr touched on and more. WHY would an all-mighty diety compose HIS religion as a pastiche of pagan/false religions that preceded his, right down to the various philosophical elements & symbols?

    For example, one of HIS symbols, widely used still–the fish–is a pagan symbol tracable to a time when numbers & patterns etc. were elements of philosophical wisdom & secret learning. That symbol, vesica piscis, was hidden knowledge portraying the square root of three (going back, at least, to Pythagoras), since adopted by numerous other religions, etc: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vesica_piscis

    The Catholics, long long ago, tried to destroy all evidence of the heritage, and they did a good job…but not good enough…

  6. If is very easy to proof that you cannot prove that God does exist.

    God has an infinite amount of attributes and proving that God exists means that you must check each attribute of all God-candidates. If a Candidate does not have an attribute he’s not God.

    But with an infinite number of attributes, you are never done with checking. There is always an infinite number of attributes left to check.

    And with the huge number of God-Candidates (all the different Catholic ones, the even bigger number of Protestant ones (the Dutch alone will have 16 million different Gods), all the Philosofical ones) , there’s a lot of checking to do.

  7. Briggs merely pointed out that the level of proof against has usually been insufficient rebuttals to to the proofs for. (if not self-refuting)

    Yes he claims a lot of things I’ll give you that one.

  8. Funny. Aquinas solved nearly all of these (save the skeptical paradoxes regarding perception) in the Middle Ages. The rest have been solved in time.

  9. Here is my response to the simulation argument.

    If you are the only one who exists and reality is a simulation for your benifit then who is running the simulation? You are.

    Since you are running the simulation yourself, the existance of this comment means that you are arguing with yourself.

    That fact that you are arguing with yourself means that you are insane.

    Since you are insane, your reality is a hallucination rather than a simulation.

    You don’t belive me? Imagine a dictionary and look it up.

    🙂

  10. This post mirrors another list I recall:

    “Now you and I have, I hope, this advantage over all those clever new philosophers, that we happen not to be mad. All of us believe in St. Paul’s Cathedral; most of us believe in St. Paul. But let us clearly realize this fact, that we do believe in a number of things which are part of our existence, but which cannot be demonstrated. Leave religion for the moment wholly out of the question. All sane men, I say, believe firmly and unalterably in a certain number of things which are unproved and unprovable. Let us state them roughly.

    1. Every sane man believes that the world around him and the people in it are real, and not his own delusion or dream. No man starts burning London in the belief that his servant will soon wake him for breakfast. But that I, at any given moment, am not in a dream, is unproved and unprovable. That anything exists except myself is unproved and unprovable.

    2. All sane men believe that this world not only exists, but matters. Every man believes there is a sort of obligation on us to interest ourselves in this vision or panorama of life. He would think a man wrong who said, “I did not ask for this farce and it bores me. I am aware that an old lady is being murdered down-stairs, but I am going to sleep.” That there is any such duty to improve the things we did not make is a thing unproved and unprovable.

    3. All sane men believe that there is such a thing as a self, or ego, which is continuous. There is no inch of my brain matter the same as it was ten years ago. But if I have saved a man in battle ten years ago, I am proud; if I have run away, I am ashamed. That there is such a paramount “I” is unproved and unprovable. But it is more than unproved and unprovable; it is definitely disputed by many metaphysicians.

    4. Lastly, most sane men believe, and all sane men in practice assume, that they have a power of choice and responsibility for action.”

    –G.K. Chesterton, Philosophy for the Schoolroom

  11. “That fact that you are arguing with yourself means that you are insane.”

    No, you’re not insane; you’re arguing, not with yourself, but with me. I even invented a scientificky-sounding name for myself to help you maintain a sense of self and the illusion of free will. Remember? I am your “subconscious” mind.

  12. Hereby I propose a proof of my own divinity

    Let us consider the example of a hand waving a stick. An example we find in the Summa in illustration of the first way. The stick belongs to a category of objects which, with regard to the concepts of potency and act, are waving in act only if acted upon externally. The movement they acquire is transferred to them by something else that is moving too. In the example we have been given this is the moving hand. The moving hand acts on the stick and is thereby moving it as well. The hand itself is only potentially moving, yet in this case what moves the hand does not do so from a position next to it. The hand is not acted upon externally, but from within. Would the hand be moved externally, it would be moved just like any other innate object and we would not regard it to be intentional movement in this case. My hand is in willful movement when I act on it from within. Yet the I who is acting on it is not itself moving. It moves without being moved. Hence I am an unmoved mover and there is no need for God from this perspective. I am a first mover in my own right.

    But you might object I forgot to mention muscles, that need to flex in
    order for the hand to wave, and also that which causes the muscles to flex, the electrical stimulus from the nerves and so on. But not ad infinitum. But now the argument actually becomes worse. You are no longer considering the hand with regard to potency and act, You are just changing the subject.

  13. “Remember? I am your “subconscious” mind.”

    To the person who would seriously put forward the simulation argument, you are as imaginary as the rest of us.

  14. “But you might object I forgot to mention muscles…”

    A builder of straw men might offer such objections.

    More substantial objections are legion. One overly-simplistic example, though also incorrect, could be what a hard determinist might say:
    Your current action, whatever it may be, is merely the result of a series of preceding events–an immeasurably massive cause-effect chain stretching back to the beginning of time–that necessitate said action; your control over the stick, or any action, is illusory self deception.

  15. @Pangloss
    But what would YOU say? What is the substantial rebuttal?
    I do not care about the determinist, he is just speculating. His chain of cause and effect is the wrong one at that.
    aside: you do understand that this is sort of tongue in cheek don´t you?

  16. @rembie

    If you are devine then you are omnipotant. Try waving a building around rather than a stick and see what happens.

  17. But Pangloss, if I whacked you with my stick upside your head, wouldn’t my self-deception of “control” migrate painfully into your consciousness as well? So much so that you would shield your head and say, “Cut that out,” and then blame me for your discomfort rather than God?

    Hard determinists are philosophical right up until the bleeding starts.

  18. Well, hard determinists know that if they yell loud enough, perhaps their consciousness will be spared more spanking while the apparently attacking hand goes to cover the ear of its body.

    That’s hardly a rebuttal.

  19. The proper way to rebut a hard determinist is to smack him or her upside the head, then tell them if they truly believe what they are saying they will blame the universe instead of you.

    Personally, I don’t think you will find too many hard determinists after you break out the clue stick.

  20. Solved! Ponder no further and consent yourself to be enlightened. Some philosophers and theologians can relax now, perhaps, they now have time to watch the TV series The Borgias more than twice.

    Darn, I was hoping that I’d spend some time thinking about those questions when I retire. Oh… I’ve got another plan: I might spend my retirement days establishing some kind of connections between the afterlives in Christianity and Buddhism. Will you want to step into heaven or ride the reincarnation wheel? Will you have a choice? It’s an open field with a lot of potential. I’ll not be out to prove anything to anyone, but imagination makes life more fun. You know, when there are no empirical constraints, things can become unbelievably fascinating and intriguing, and anything goes.

  21. RE: “The Catholics, long long ago, tried to destroy all evidence of the heritage, and they did a good job…but not good enough…

    “ARgh! No they didn’t, they PRESERVED a lot of those heritages.”

    SELECTIVE preservation (of “a lot”) still concedes the fact that significant history was selectively destroyed. Roman Mithraeum (the record of these is traced to about 79 BC–long before Christianity by any accounting), for example were consistently & savagly vandalized (even common coins were left on the floor); over these typically a monastary or church was built. This is one example of many fitting a very consistent pattern–the pre-Christian religions the fledging Catholics destroyed record of consistently contain elements that are very similar, often indistinguishable, from the then new faith.

    Again, very early on Justin Martyr (First Apology, I think it was) conceded this same theme (Christianity’s close parallels with prior pagan religions as a rational for curtailing the persecutions of Christians).

    David Ulansey cracked the code for Mithraic symbolism–which as a number of obvious parallels to Christian themes: http://www.mysterium.com/mithras.html

    David Fideler compiled some of the more topical parallels in his book, “Jesus Christ Sun of God” (http://www.amazon.com/Jesus-Christ-Sun-God-Cosmology/dp/0835606961) — all of which can be independently verified to anyone willing to take the time & trouble.

    That Christianity compiled pagan themes is absolutely certain; consider the catch of 153 fish — why “153” and not “many,” etc. Turns out 153 is a very significant number–associated with a mnenomic liked to the square root of three (see Vesica Piscis link, above). Much of the Gospel of Mark (pretty much unanimously agreed to be the first Gospel written) has a number of such pagan science/philosophy numerical/geometry themes embedded in the story (the guy maintaining this site: http://www.jesus8880.com/chapters/gematria/zahh-thales.htm is trying to figure out & compile all the gematria present — but he’s by far not the first to notice this).

    Of course, there are other ways to interpret this; the author at this link cites Celsus (writing around 178 AD) about his observations of the same: http://www2.ida.net/graphics/shirtail/honithe.htm

  22. An allien mastering a technology vastly superior to ours (including but not limited to the ability to create Universes and to resurrect people) would be for us indistiguishable from God

    I think that it would be difficult to contest the truth of this statement.
    Do such aliens exist? We do not know. I would suggest that based on some sofar only qualitative statistical arguments, the answer is yes.
    However the Universe (and I remind that according to the string theory we can experience only 4 dimensions out of the 10 which constitute the Universe) is such an awfully big place that even if the aliens master ubiquity in the 3 dimensions we call space, they don’t take active interest in us all the time.
    Actually to be accurate, i should say that they don’t necessarily take specific interest in time itself which is just 1 dimension among 10.

    This explains why God is so well “hidden”. It is not that he is not here, it is that if you live in 10 dimensions, you can’t be easily and permannently detected by primitive beings which are bound to only 4 dimensions.

  23. @Tom
    What you are saying is that the Antichrist will be indistinguishable from the Christ. At least to you and probably to many.

  24. There are at least as many gods as there have been human brains to believe in them. It’s unfortunate that so many gods inspire their adherents to convince others (and probably themselves) that the currently active god is the best version.

    I used to come here to learn useful things about statistics, but I find I am doing so much less often now – too much assertion, derision, and potential hostility.

    Hmm – is there a god which advocates humility and forbearance?

    Perhaps I will look in occasionally to see how you are all getting on!

  25. Rembie

    I am not sure whether Christ and Antichrist are considered God(s).
    But I am saying that 2 (or more) aliens with a sufficiently developped technology far above us would be for us indistinguishable from God(s).
    In this case and supposing thet they would a sufficiently separated spatial representation for our senses to identify 2 (or more) entities(not a trivial assumption !) we would indeed have to admit that there are several Gods.

    However what I suspect is that if God(s) (or Godlike alien(s)) appeared to us, e.g became perceptible to our senses, many people would immediately postulate the existence of Metagod(s) who would be more “powerful” and fundamental than the visible Gods.

  26. Number 4 is total BS. The only way to prove a negative is by demonstrating a lack of evidence. The burden of proof is always upon those making the claim.

    All it would take to destroy atheism is one verifiable fact. No theist has ever done that. Theists – 0 Atheists – infinity.

  27. How is the claim that everybody knows we have free will through observation supported? If someone claims to have freewill and proves it by doing something silly you wouldn’t expect them to do, that only shows that the cause of that action was the suggestion that they had no freewill. It is ok that we don’t have real “freewill” as we are simply part of existence that is being rolled about by all the other pieces, but we have the illusion of it. We eat Frosted Flakes because everything everywhere in the universe caused our make up even to our firing neurons to cause us to do that, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t want to eat those Frosted Flakes.

  28. Every time we charge our phones, a petal falls… So, has some greenish twerp already set that tripe to music? If not, why not?

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