— big eggs. The Big Questions that come, some out of left field, and rattle around in the background, emerging on a long commute or just when we’re nearly asleep; the stuff of late night boozy dorm arguments and endless online chattering. A few that have come my way:
Q: How can you be such a hypocrite professing anxiety about rising temperatures and ocean acidification, yet you fly around the world, drive a car, and eat food that was grown thousands of miles away?
A: Being a hypocrite is easy, I choose to indulge my pleasures while feeling guilty*. My being a hypocrite doesn’t affect the fact that we’re screwing up the planet royally.
* Guilt is the price I pay to avoid acting differently.
Q: What is the meaning of life?
A: Get over yourself! We used to think we were at the center of the universe. And that we were God’s chosen species, to lord it over the beasts of the field etc. What hubris! Yet the question of meaning pops up regularly in my discussions and reading, as if the universe was created just for you and me, and therefore that we’re here for a reason.
Q: Best advice you ever heard?
A: “The first rule is, you must not fool yourself. And you are the easiest person to fool.” (Richard Feynman)
Q: I’ve read a lot about enlightenment. How will I know when I’ve attained it?
A: You won’t. You might feel incredibly different (one-ness, loving everything and everyone, a sense of waking up from a dream) but you’ll never know if This Is It or (Matrix-wise) you’ve just stumbled on one other way of experiencing. Maybe there’s an infinite series of bigger and better enlightenments beyond.
Q: So is this as good as it gets?
Q: Does God exist?
A: I haven’t a clue what the word “God” could possible refer to. If you can tell me what God is, that’s not God.
Q: Why is there something rather than nothing?
A: The ultimate, “What’s north of the north pole?” question, that is, it’s not a scientific query. As philosopher David Alpert puts it, “Scientific explanations (i.e. scientific answers to “why” questions) are ways of showing us how to get from certain aspects of how things are to other aspects of how things are. One explains certain aspects of how things are in terms of certain other aspects of how things are.”
So for example, we can theorize how life started by positing conditions in which molecules could become self-replicating. Or we can discuss why Europeans colonized the Americas — rather than the other way about — in terms of geography (Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel approach.) Or try to explain why some people are serial murderers in terms of genetics, early life experience, drugs…
But lacking any knowledge of how things were before there was “something” (“nothing”), we have no way of offering a scientific answer to the question.
Q: Best original idea you ever had?
A: Paint the backsides of stop signs bright yellow, so drivers coming to an intersection can easily see if it’s a 2-way or 4-way stop.
Q: Do we have free will?
A: Meaningless question. Whatever proof you offer that we do, and however much I agree, how can we know that our exchange wasn’t pre-determined?
Q: Is there life after death?
A1: Who knows? (No one.) Who cares? Whose life is so limited or boring that they even bother with the question?
A2: Well, of course not. (See above, What is the meaning…)