Wednesday, November 10, 2004

The Big Questions


I was talking about the subjects I am going to do over summer - "The Good Life in Ancient Thought" and "Human Life in Modern Thought" - to which my companion replied, "Ah, the big questions!"

I wonder if they really are. People get motivated by different things at different times, so it's hard to see how any one question is bigger than another. Maybe he was just expressing a feeling of fellowship with my interest in these areas. Then again, maybe not. Some questions never seem to get answered.

Physics, maths, even economics, seem to get if not explained, at least better understood as time goes by. Errors decrease. Others seem by constrast to be less well understood now than when they were first asked - and it always seems to be the same ones. Questions relating to our purpose in life, issues of morality, and dealing with happiness (or sadness) seem to have remained essentially unanswered for tens of thousands of years. That's a long time. So why the big wait?

Well, it could be that we haven't all started to believe in God yet. Thomas Aquinas, famous philosopher and all around good-guy talked about a God-shaped hole in the human heart. I've toyed briefly with believing in God, but wasn't able to find any comforting feelings of faith. Maybe I'm missing something - some people certainly seem to gain a lot of comfort from it. But just as many people debate over which God to believe in, or become in turn disenchanted with the whole idea. While Aquinas was onto something, I don't think religion is the right answer for everyone.

It could also be because we're just not evolved for happiness. Ever since consciousness resulted from increasingly intelligent ape-minds, people have been evolving to survive. In a world where reach 40 is a big deal, achieving enlightenment is rather less pressing than fending off lions. (This is actually a big fib - many primitive societies had plenty of time on their hands, and basically seemed quite happy. But they're all dead now, and us misanthropes have out-evolved them). That's it boys and girls, the mind just wasn't built to be happy in our world. We're wired up to enjoy killing lions, and without that opportunity, we're just bottles of misdirected angst. (This is a broadly Nietzschean view of the mind).

It might be that human minds are infinitely malleable, and thus the character of every age is different. As society changes with time, so must we adapt to the circumstances in order to attain personal fulfillment. As such, the answer to the question must eternally be revised.


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