Ideas about the meaning of life (Part II)

First submitted to Philosophy of Religion course instructor, 2012:

Does true “knowledge” come only from our logical minds, or does it come from learned experience? Or, as according to Immanuel Kant, is knowledge limited to appearances (that which we can see and observe)?

I find most acceptable the idea that true knowledge comes mainly from what we can work out in our logical minds. The outlook that I find most engaging and plausible is the idea of rationalism, especially the thoughts put forth by Plato. In the mathematical world, facts can almost always be worked out in terms of absolutes. Things can be proven or disproved; ideas are not just theoretical. With this equation, we come to conclusions that provide very concrete proof. This “proof” is stronger than prediction in many cases.

However, I think that in human knowledge, there are different ways of knowing. And I accept that for each individual, “knowing” something often is a combination of blending proven facts (truths) and evidence, also with lived experience and perception. While I like the rationalist argument and think it supports human knowledge the strongest in terms of absolute truth, I also give credit to those known things gathered from lived experiences (empiricism), because often this “knowledge” is just as valid.

Another important topic in philosophy is finding a way to define and sum up the nature of mind and self, and what makes a person an individual. For many centuries, philosophers have asked the question of what makes us who we are. I believe fine line exists between mind and body and it’s sometimes difficult to identify which part has more control. Ultimately, as rational human beings, I would say that we are mostly guided by our minds. However, I see that most people recognize another individual by associating that person, the essence of that person, their personality, and everything that defines that person with his or her physical being. Therefore, when it comes to identity I mostly accept the Body Theory.  However, there is a romantic, spiritual part of me that believes that all people might have a soul that lives on, even after our human body dies away, and for that reason, I appreciate the Soul Theory, as well.

I would say that most people accept the Body Theory because we are used to identifying an individual by what they look like physically. In our minds, we tie actions, ideas, and achievements to a person’s form. The Illusion Theory I find to be hard to accept because while people do grow and change, this growth or change doesn’t mean we start all over again being an entirely different physical identity. It just means a shift or an evolution.

The Memory Theory, too, has flaws. Mainly because just because a person could, again, change or grow simply because he/she loses his/her memory, it doesn’t mean other, outside persons wouldn’t consider them the same person essentially because he/she still has the same physical body. Characteristics of that person would still physically be the same, even if the person’s memory was wiped completely clean. For this reason, I think the Body Theory is the most applicable to human experience; as the book says, “same body, same person.”

A third important conversation in philosophy is the debate over the existence of God. After an early life of religious instruction, much self-reflection and critical thinking on this topic, and after considerations raised by our book and readings from the class website, I still find that there is no definitive proof one way or the other whether God exists or not, and that embracing or rejecting the idea of a higher power is purely a personal process that is largely dependent on one’s upbringing, culture, life experiences and world view.

Personally, I believe in the possibility of an existence of a higher power because I believe that I have witnessed and experienced certain moments in life so great, or so otherwise inexplicable, that, to me there’s no other answer as to how or why they occurred. However, I don’t really believe in what thinkers such as William Paley (argument from design or intelligent design) or St. Thomas Aquinas (governance and order to the natural world by divinity) have put forth as “proof” that there must be a God, because in both of these cases I think the arguments are inherently too simplistic. They don’t PROVE anything, they just offer a quick and easy observation for the ways of nature. Without any single, solitary, physical, or observable proof, it is IMPOSSIBLE to prove the existence of God. Period.

On an outside note, I have recently been following the thoughts of Arizona State University professor and atheist Lawrence M. Krauss who has been active in the discussions about the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle, a discovery made by researchers of physics of what could be one of the “original” particles that led to the creation and formation of our universe. Many are calling this little particle the “God particle,” and claiming that its mere existence must solidly, scientifically prove that God, in fact, does NOT exist, because the finding of this particle supports the Big Bang theory.

While it’s a fun explanation to entertain, it isn’t a perfect answer. If the Big Bang theory is correct, then our Biblical explanation of the start of the world found in the Book of Genesis (Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve) must not be correct. Fine and sure; plenty of scholars have already argued this story’s implausibility all over the place. But how can these thinkers really accept as absolute truth that the mere existence of this particle fully disproves the existence of a greater power? In support of the idea of God, couldn’t someone else just come along and say: “Well, who created that particle?”

The big question of What’s it all about? can have a multitude of answers, depending on the individual. Personally, in my talks with friends, colleagues, students, and acquaintances, I have heard all kinds of different ideas for Why we are here. Some people believe that humans, as a part of nature, were solely designed just to procreate; to keep advancing our race and to assure perpetuation of our species. Other people believe that the meaning of life is to accrue as much capital and as much power as is necessary to be called “successful.” Still others are on a quest for “happiness;” and others still believe that the purpose of existence is to serve other people and make them happy and comfortable.

I can accept the things that other people have different priorities and values and different ideas about the “meaning” of life. I like a particular reading entitled “Feminist Philosophy and Visions of the Future.” To summarize: if we want to become a more ethically responsible, civil, advanced society, we need to collectively shift our values and our thinking to a set of ideas and practices that are more humane, egalitarian, eco-conscious, nurturing and supportive. This will mean putting an end to tyranny and oppression, and eventually putting an end to war and competitiveness. I’m not sure exactly how we’ll do this, but I think that it is the right direction for humans  to work towards in order to advance our race. It only holds us back when any people of the world are suffering, scared, abused, neglected or have to go without fulfillment of their basic needs.

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