Thursday, December 19, 2013

"Why Does The World Exist?" by Jim Holt: A Less Than an Hour Blog Post

Since young, I have always been fascinated by the question of existentialism, or to put it simply, "Why do I exist in this world?". I find this question one of the most important questions that we need to ask in life, if not the only question that we should ask in our life, because ultimately our life's decision and purpose will be based on it. Or at least knowing it would give us a better sense of direction in life. After all what's the use of working your ass off to collect good karma when your existence came into the world by chance, from nothing, and you will fade into nothing the same way you came into being?

I thought I found my answer when I was 17. As a youth in church, the most logical answer was God himself, of course. God created the world, God had a plans for all of us, our lives was with Him, simple. However, as I grew up, I found the argument for God to be circular or downright illogical. If one goes with the God explanation, you cannot explain God beyond that. He simply came into being because He is. And that alone raises more questions than answers. So I discarded the thinking, and drifted off. 

Sadly, the more subtle responsibilities of life, like studying, working and money, took priority soon after, and although I floated from one agnostic thinking to another, I never really got any time to anchor what I believed down. The same is still is today, as my belief is far from solidifying. In one way, you can still say I am searching. So when I saw a book called "Why Does The World Exist?" lying on display in Kinokuniya when I walked in, naturally I was intrigued. And after what seemed like a few seconds of debating, I was the proud owner of a dark blue book with superimposed large pinkish words on the cover, by a guy named Jim Holt whom I later discover to be a philosopher himself.


After what seem like months of digging myself into the book, understanding the various issues, arguments and different worldviews presented in a small book of 312 pages, I am finally finished. To be honest, this 312 pages of book is not one thing to be looked down upon. It was one of the most mentally challenging book that I have ever read around, with numerous thought experiments illustrated in the book in attempt to answer the fundamental question, why does our world exist. Or rather in the book's words, why is there something rather than nothing.

I have to admit that even with me finishing the book, I am still confused about half of the points raised by the book. Which means that there is a high possibility that I might revisit the book in the future. But right now all I need is a good ol' dose of fiction after all the mental power that has been used.

Complaints about the complexity of the book aside, I find myself really liking it. For one thing, the book is incredibly unbiased. Or even if it has a point to make, it was incredibly subtle (or I could just be incredibly stupid not to get it). From Mathematical viewpoints, to the multiverse, to the quantum fluctuations to even view of a deity or a higher power, Jim Holt atempted to explore the possibilities through different prevailing philosophical worldviews that are currently in the academia. Each explanation is explored, explained and debunked, and it was quite interesting to see what are the beliefs that are out there.

The book does not offer a solid conclusion itself, which I liked very much because I hate a solid answer that does not open up any more questions. It was a great journey travelling with Holt too as he visits all the renowned philosophers as well as scientists out there seeking their opinions, because that journey is something that I could not even dream of undertaking in my current state, main reason being I cannot even begin to speak on the same level with many of them. Like I said, the book challenges your intellectual abilities as it throws one logic exercise after another for you to ponder about the question of existence.

Of course, like the ants who is trapped in a bottle, I think we can never comprehend the nature of our true existence until science eventually progresses so far that we can actually see beyond the bottle that is trapping us. The ants in the bottle could still see the limits of their confines, but be can't which is why finding a meaning of our world is not only difficult but almost impossible. Which is why the book did not offer a conclusive ending too.

Still, the book is a good read in offering the different logical possibilities of how our world came to be. I believe that it's one question that we can only answer after we are dead (provided if our consciousness survives the shutting down of our body), and even among the world leading philosophers, I find it amusing too how there is no shared consensus yet, which is why small fries like me cannot possibly begin to understand. Unless the scientists really uncover something tomorrow that will lay down the answer without any speculation. Cold hard facts.

If you're someone who enjoys a good bout of philosophical questioning and is not sensitive to hard questions, this is definitely the book for you.


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