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The Five-Minute Philosopher

The Five-Minute Philosopher

 “I am plagued by doubts. What if everything is an illusion and nothing is real? In that case I definitely overpaid for my carpet.”— Woody Allen

Do you wonder about how we got here? How anything got here? It’s a question that has vexed philosophers and thinkers for thousands of years but the good news is that there are only four basic answers to the question of existence. Ever fancied yourself as a philosopher? OK, here’s a five-minute crash course in metaphysics that will help you amaze friends, influence people and (hopefully) change your future.

The first possible answer to the question of existence is that everything is an illusion. Nothing exists. Not these words. Not this paper. Not even you. “In that case”, says Woody Allen “I definitely overpaid for my carpet!” Robert Farrar Capon says there is simple way to answer anyone who says they are not certain of their own existence – tell them their fly is undone. If they really think reality is just an illusion why do they always look?

The second possible answer to the question of existence is that Everything came from Nothing. Now very few people have offered that explanation because it is impossible to explain how anything – even an atom – could come out of Nothing. To visualise “Nothing”, imagine a brand new, very black blackboard. Now, in your mind, draw a circle on it and imagine you can put everything – right down to the very last molecule in it – and then rub it out. You are left with Nothing. See why so few thinkers believe it.

The third possible answer is that Everything came from an Impersonal beginning. In the 1970s the writer Jacqucs Monod put it like this: “Our number came up in a Monte Carlo game”. We are, he said, a product of “the Impersonal plus Time plus Chance”. This is a more popular theory but it involves a great problem. If we came from an impersonal beginning then the Universe can have no meaning, yet we find it impossible to live without some sense of purpose. But if we are only here by Chance where does our longing for meaning and purpose come from? Why do we ask questions about the meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything Also how did personality originate if the force that brought us in to being was impersonal?

The fourth possible answer is that the Universe had a Personal beginning. In other words, a Personal Creator brought the Cosmos into existence. The strength of this view is that it provides an explanation for the beauty and amazing complexity of Creation and for the existence of personality. Certainly we may find it hard to imagine an almighty and all-wise personal Creator. But the other choices are much harder to swallow—even if we prefer them.

 

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