If you Google “the big questions”, you will be referred to a UK TV programme of that name. Although it poses some important questions, it rarely asks the truly big questions. We sometimes use the phrase and we know more or less what we mean by it. Today I would like to examine the topic more closely, and for a particular reason.
My friend Frank asked me to write a booklet on what needs to happen in the world today. My very short response is “fundamental change”. But, of course, I need to explain what I mean by this and how people might be induced to change fundamentally. The most powerful change I can think of is a change in our core beliefs. Change these, and everything else changes, including our values, our goals, and our lifestyles and behaviour. Much depends on how we answer the “big questions”. This is a centrally important issue. In this short paper I will simply outline the main parameters of the discussion. In the booklet I will lay out all the arguments.
Here is my own personal list of the “big questions”, in no particular order…
Is the universe wholly physical and material, or is it non-physical and spiritual too?
Is the universe without intrinsic meaning and purpose, or is it wholly meaningful and purposeful?
Did the universe, and life, happen by chance, or are they the deliberate product of some immense intelligence and part of some great purpose?
Is there no “God”, or could “God” be one and the same as the intelligent, purposeful universe?
Is consciousness simply a product of matter (i.e. the brain), or is matter the product of some greater consciousness?
Is our home planet just a large physical ball, or is it a “being”, in the sense of being alive, intelligent and consciousness?
The same question for stars and other parts of the universe
Do we exist only after conception and until the death of our body, or do we exist before conception and after the death of our body?
Are paranormal experiences, such as telepathy, precognition and NDEs, impossible (as claimed by science), or are they not only possible but perfectly natural?
This does not claim to be a full list of the big questions, but I think it is a useful sample for this discussion. It will no doubt be obvious that if you answer in the affirmative to all or most of the first parts of the questions, then these will be your core beliefs, and you will subscribe to the materialist worldview, which is the worldview of science. I hope that it is also obvious that if you do happen to subscribe to that worldview, this will strongly influence all aspects of your life, such as your values (what you believe to important), your goals (your central purpose), and your lifestyle and behaviour. If a majority of people in society have these materialist core beliefs, then society as a whole will reflect this. It will be very materialistic, with a tendency towards atheism, and with a strong belief in the “truths” of science. I hardly need add that this is the situation in many countries today, and the consequences are clear to anyone who has been paying attention. We have created unprecedented problems. This requires unprecedented solutions.
So, yes, humanity does need to change fundamentally. For this to happen, change has to occur at the deepest level, at the level of our core beliefs. How we approach and respond to the big questions is at the heart of this change.
One thought on “The Big Questions”
I have a different perspective on the big questions of life. Unlike Chris I don’t, these days, have that much time to devote to deep, reflection. Thus, the only questions that get addressed are those with a definite relevance to my here and now, daily activities and challenges. I guess we all have a different idea as to which questions are big, urgent or important: since this depends very much on personal, context.
My mum’s currently in hospital, having fractured her hip. Her biggest questions are along the lines of “how can I stop this pain!?” and “when am I going to be able to go for a pee on my own?” She may have the time to ask the bigger (philosophical, potentially evolutionary questions) but probably won’t, because she’s a very practical, down-to-earth sort of a person.
I’ve been visiting, fetching, carrying and letting folks know. Thus too busy with the practical, down-to-earth tasks for abstract philosophical enquiry. However, my mind has been grappling with related questions and issues. For example, I’ve been made more conscious of human frailty and how different people respond to themselves (or those they know) becoming incapacitated. And with even more here and now questions: faced with 101 things to do, which one do I do next? Faced with a dozen phone calls to make, which one do I make now? Asked to deliver item X from drawer Y and not being able to find it, what do I do?
These probably don’t count as big questions, but taken together they pose a question I would rate up there with Chris’s: how do I make the best decisions?
And, like Chris’s question, there is a simple choice: do I take the conditioned, scientific approach and try to reason things out. Or do I recognise the intelligent cosmos, focus on being present within in and just KNOW what to do next?
So maybe, underlying all these different big questions is another one, that perhaps even those without a philosophic bent will be happy to engage with: how do I live a more flowing and effective life?