Was reading a Guardian comment thread, and came across this:
“There are still no definitive answers to the fundamental questions of existence.”
Now, admittedly I’ve never seen an official list of “fundamental questions of existence”, but I think I can think up a few, most of them nicely, even “definitively”, answered already.
Q: “WHY ARE WE HERE?”
A: History, cultural and biological evolution, abiogenesis, planetary formation, stellar evolution, Big Bang. Consult a few books on each; it’s there in a sketch, and many of the details are in, too. Looks nice, fits together, fits observations, and there doesn’t seem to be any alternatives even close to the same level of plausibility.
Q: “FOR WHAT PURPOSE ARE WE HERE?”
A: Biologically, to be tools for our genes to make more copies of themselves. Which they do not because they wanna, but because things that happen to be good in making copies of themselves will do so and stick around. And that’s all for the origin of man; one might want to add something personal on top of that. (Such as a fondness for Monty Python.)
Q: “WHERE DO WE, INDIVIDUALLY, COME FROM?”
A: Out of nowhere, really; you rise out of the genetic material of your parents and the stimuli of your environment, with bits of that environment used (through this “food” thing) to grow you. But as for previous existence, none — why do you think babies are so delightfully clueless? They’re a computer installing an operating system the best they can. (“There is no operating system but Windows, and Bill Gates is its prophet!”)
Q: “WHAT ARE WE?”
A: We’re jumped-up apes, results of an evolutionary overdrive for bigger brains. (“What? Smarter apes have more viable offspring? Nature needs more smart apes!“) We’re strange loops, beautiful mindful creatures. In a word, we are minds.
Q: “WHAT IS THIS ‘ME’?”
A: It’s the mind. That lump of brain inside your skull. The set of electrical reactions and neural connections in it, dancing in response to impulses from the outside; that’s you, not the wrapper outside, or some vague soul.
Q: “WHAT HAPPENS TO OUR SOULS—”
A: Sorry to cut in, but don’t assume things that seem to be imaginary. First show souls; only then make them a basis for fundamental questions of existence. Next!
Q: “WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE DIE?”
A: We cease to be: the body first, and the mind then. The parts remain; but as the mind was in their configuration and not in their essence, it’s bye-bye.
Q: “WHAT ABOUT SPIRITUALITY?”
A: It’s a crock of shit; now move on to cleaner names for adoration, genuine mystery and the sense of wonder.
Q: “IS THAT IT?”
A: Until more information comes in, yes. Maybe there is something more; but these answers are “definitive” enough until then, seeing as this all hangs together and the dissenting views have been not impressive in finding any real arguments against this, or for their own hypotheses.
And some people think the fundamental questions of existence are difficult! Maybe they were in 1750; but not in 2011, when even an amateur fool like me can answer them. (I’m not a professional fool; it’s just a hobby.) The problem of 2011 seems to be all the people who think we’re still living in 1750, grumble grumble.
I left out “Why is there something rather the nothing?” because I gather the answer is either “Because nothing is unstable” or “Why not?”, and that level of physics gives me a headache.
PS. I hate the word “definitive”. Mostly because it can either mean “serving to provide a final solution or to end a situation”, or “authoritative and apparently exhaustive”. There’s something funny in a word that means both the final-for-real and the best-so-far, and it makes me fidgety to see it in a book title. To say nothing of how marketing uses the word; their dictionary apparently has “definitive (adj.) very nice”.