Sunday, 19 January 2014

Why does the world exist

I have just finished reading "Why does the exist" by Jim Holt.  It is account of Holt's quest to find an answer to the question "Why is there something rather than nothing?", possibly the hoariest philosophical chestnut of them all.  Holt's research methodology is quite simple: he interviews a number of philosophers, scientists and other thinkers, listens to what they say, offers his slant on what each great mind has told him, and then hops off to the next guru on his list.  It's an interesting read as a survey of the very different answers to this great existential question and Holt presents the ideas in an engaging manner often lacing the details with personal anecdotes.  Despite this I was left with a bemused feeling that Holt's greatest achievement was to expose the uselessness of philosophical thought at least in this particular area.

I do not accuse the great thinkers interviewed by Holt as intellectual con-men.  However, I cannot help comparing them with thinkers and practitioners in the much narrower domain of theism.  In the latter domain we have a myriad of mutually contradictory faiths defended by their advocates with an impressive array of intellectual fire-power.  But of course we cannot take any of them seriously: if you are a Mormon your beliefs are totally at odds with a Sunni Moslem.  And for any other two religious faiths you will find a huge amount of disagreement.  And all this despite the lengthy education of their most notable exponents at esteemed centres of learning.

As Holt's book makes very clear this level of disagreement is present when the domain of discourse is existential philosophy.  The difference is that the individuals that feature in Holt's book are heavyweight intellectuals: they are clever enough to marshall an argument to build complex structures to explain our existence but none of them come up with the same structure.

I know that many of those interviewed by Holt's have reputations that they justly deserve.  But, cor blimey gov'ner, so far as throwing light on Holt's main question they are a load of posturing charlatans.

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