Class Warfare Blog

June 30, 2019

Why and What Questions

In the comments section of one of today’s posts a short discussion occurred over questions we want answers for, with one philosopher preferring to focus on “why” questions. Part of my response to that factoid was that asking “why” rather than “how” questions explains more about us than they do nature. Our need to know “why” is basically a god seeking effort. Our need for a god is the source of our need to know why. Nature is completely impersonal. There are no “whys” which is why science focuses on “hows.”

I remember being in college and studying “modern” physics (50 years ago!), relativity being one part of that course (which was from 50+ years prior). I remember being astonished that if you continuously fed energy into an object in an attempt to make it go faster and faster, more and more of that energy would be converted into mass rather than into faster motion (acceleration). There are equations. In order for an object to travel at the speed of light, it would have to have infinite mass. (Often these equations “break down” at or near the boundaries of their application, and since this cannot be verified near those limits, it is conjecture only, IMHO, of course.) Since the speed of light is the ultimate speed limit, of course the added energy would have to be converted into mass, otherwise where would it go? If the energy just leaked away, then it wouldn’t have been added to the object then, would it? If the object accepts the energy, it gets more and more massive, and less and less faster as it approaches the speed of light.

Gosh, I would sure like to know “why” the speed of light is the fastest any thing or field or whatever can travel in this universe! (Along with “why does quantum mechanics work” and . . . and. . . .)

But this “why question” is just a colloquial way of stating the question. One does not go after “why” if one really wants to know what is going on. Scientists only ask “how” questions for this reason. If you go about asking “why” questions, you end up like philosophers, feeding into pre-existing ideas of nature (and Beyond!). Those philosophers, for example, who make attempts at proving the existence of gods via argument (Foolish, foolish philosophers!) always end up with arguments that do not point to their god. Just like those who claim that their god is what caused the Big Bang, they don’t consider that whatever caused that to occur (if there was a cause) didn’t need to be Old Yahweh or Jesus or Love (God is love, you know) or the property of ineffability, or asitey or <fill in any other god power here>. The philosophical arguments never end up at “God” but all claim that they do, which makes them foolish. Searches for answers to “why” questions only leads to answers that tell us more about who we are and not about the thing being questioned.

So, a scientist wants to know how it is that the speed of anything (or nonthing) is limited to any value at all. (A current TV adaption of a popular Science Fiction universe shows off a slow zone, in which the top speed limit is way slower, restricting the movements of spaceships, even communications. This is caused by some unknown alien technology, because we haven’t got a clue how such a speed limit could be imposed.)

If we can figure out “how,” we get closer to understanding the way things actually are.

And, ultimately, the universe doesn’t care. It has no “whys” so cannot surrender them to our investigations or introspections. That we want the answer to “Why?” indicates we are all closer to being two-year olds than mature adults.

<This concludes the most furious day of posting I have had in a very, very long time. Steve>

18 Comments »

  1. I like the Why questions when presented by theists. It lets me ask Why in return, and that’s all that’s needed to expose the complete and total absence of substance to their belief.

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    Comment by john zande — June 30, 2019 @ 12:11 pm | Reply

    • It is fascinating that the people who insist on pursuing the “why” questions are so poor at addressing them and answering them. You’d think with practice they’d get better, but no … doesn’t happen.

      I am reading a philosophy book currently (The Non-existence of God) in which the author systematically dismantles all of the arguments in current circulation. And this is with the normal philosophical blinders on. When he discussed the Arguments from Personal Experience, he didn’t even ask how one could know who was speaking/signing/signaling to them. If a voice in your head said “John, this is Darth Vader speaking to you,” would you believe it? If you thought it was God, how would you know? When you recognized “God’s Voice,” what was your referent? (Well, we met at church that one time and he was very nice and he had the loveliest baritone voice. I couldn’t forget that!) All such “experiences” are not presented as experiences but as interpretations of what they felt/saw/heard in their dream/daydream/reverie/whatever. And the proof, of course, is that the interpretation always conforms to the local version of god (Hindu, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, etc.).

      Damn, I am rambling today! (Happens on fast days!)

      On Sun, Jun 30, 2019 at 12:11 PM Class Warfare Blog wrote:

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      Liked by 2 people

      Comment by Steve Ruis — June 30, 2019 @ 12:33 pm | Reply

      • Why evolution?

        Why an artificial world in the first place?

        These are ruinous questions for the theist.

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        Comment by john zande — June 30, 2019 @ 12:41 pm | Reply

        • Evolution is the answer to a “how” question. It makes perfect sense and anyone making half an effort can see why. Out children are not perfect copies of us (we know how this happens) and if an imporvementt occurs that leads to more reproductive success, those genes get transfered on more frequently. That’s it. Of course, theists can’t understand this because evolution must be pointed to the creation of us to be valid, otherwise, what’s the point?

          On Sun, Jun 30, 2019 at 12:41 PM Class Warfare Blog wrote:

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          Comment by Steve Ruis — June 30, 2019 @ 12:45 pm | Reply

          • It is a Why question when your position is your god created it. Why evolution? What possible rational reason could the Creator have had to invent—literally invent—that slow, messy, painful, error-rich process? What purpose does it serve?

            It’s a fun question to ask, but don’t expect a coherent answer. Don’t expect anything, in fact. Still it then leads to two other questions:

            1. Are human beings the “intended” (desired) final product of your designer?

            2. Have humans stopped evolving?

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            Comment by john zande — June 30, 2019 @ 2:51 pm | Reply

            • I hate incompetent creators, don’t you?

              On Sun, Jun 30, 2019 at 2:51 PM Class Warfare Blog wrote:

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              Liked by 1 person

              Comment by Steve Ruis — June 30, 2019 @ 9:21 pm | Reply

  2. It is certain that ‘the how’ comes before ‘a why’. Until something happens, it doesn’t exist. If something happens, ‘a why’ is always going to be just a guess. The “how” for heaven is the human brain’s attempt to make sense of the world, and so human spirits would have some place to go after they die. GROG

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    Comment by grogalot — June 30, 2019 @ 1:41 pm | Reply

  3. “One does not go after “why” if one really wants to know what is going on. Scientists only ask “how” questions for this reason…
    …And, ultimately, the universe doesn’t care. It has no “whys” so cannot surrender them to our investigations or introspections.”

    How does a mindless universe produce beings that ask questions?

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    Comment by John Branyan — June 30, 2019 @ 2:57 pm | Reply

    • Re “How does a mindless universe produce beings that ask questions?”

      Answer: Mindlessly, like it produces everything else. Why would you need a mind to create a mind?

      On Sun, Jun 30, 2019 at 2:57 PM Class Warfare Blog wrote:

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      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by Steve Ruis — June 30, 2019 @ 9:22 pm | Reply

      • “Why would you need a mind to create a mind?”

        You shouldn’t ask “why” questions.

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        Comment by John Branyan — June 30, 2019 @ 9:43 pm | Reply

  4. Must be my upbringing. I watched Dad and my grandparents do things and wanted to know HOW they did them. I learned how for most of them. How to milk a cow by hand. Hint, do not use cold hands. How to rebuild an engine. I got to where I did some of the work Dad needed done faster and dare I say,better than he did. Truth be told, he was very happy, almost proud that I learned some things so well and fast.

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    Comment by Walter Kronkat — June 30, 2019 @ 5:19 pm | Reply

    • I have a can of Bag Balm to this day, but haven’t been near the business end of a cow in forever.

      On Sun, Jun 30, 2019 at 5:19 PM Class Warfare Blog wrote:

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      Comment by Steve Ruis — June 30, 2019 @ 9:23 pm | Reply

  5. How wide or limited is the scope? Legal systems place tremendous weight on the “why”, as in intent. In fact that makes the difference between involuntary manslaughter and 1at degree murder.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by The Pink Agendist — July 1, 2019 @ 4:09 am | Reply

    • I was referring primarily to questioning natural phenomena. As to “why” in this situation, yes, we do seek a “motive” for the perpetrator of a crime. They must also have the opportunity (a what) and the means (another what) to effect the crime. (An alibi is a statement to the effect that the “how” was impossible.)

      The “why” of a crime doesn’t affect the facts that determine who created the problem/committed the crime. The why only affects the “sentence” associated with a conviction (or should), e.g. a mother who stole a piece of bread to feed her starving children may be convicted, but only fined one cent. The criminal justice system operates as if we have free will, which is still currently being debated, and we think that if we punish deliberate perpetrators more, that we will have a deterrent effect for crimes being committed by others. This is all very speculative and possibly says more about our emotional state that the issues at hand.

      Is France being cooked right now … is it unbearably hot? (I’m an American and our news sources can’t confirm the rest of the world exists.)

      On Mon, Jul 1, 2019 at 4:09 AM Class Warfare Blog wrote:

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      Comment by Steve Ruis — July 1, 2019 @ 9:36 am | Reply

      • It’s an interesting debate from the angle of hate crimes (how vs why)
        Today it’s cloudy and cool but it’s been hellishly hot. We had 39C, and two hours East of us by the coast they broke records at +45. We’re debating whether to buy air conditioning or transform the former staff kitchen in the basement into a room we can use during heat waves. Next weekend we’re back I the big 30’s

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        Comment by The Pink Agendist — July 1, 2019 @ 9:47 am | Reply

        • Amazing! Having to create a safe room for heat waves may only be just a start. One of the ramifications of the polar ice caps melting is the loss of a current of warm water that slides by England. So, England may be in the freezer while the rest of Europe bakes. Now I like baked brie, but I wonder what is going to happen to the French cheese making business if the caves they use start warming up.

          On Mon, Jul 1, 2019 at 9:47 AM Class Warfare Blog wrote:

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          Liked by 1 person

          Comment by Steve Ruis — July 1, 2019 @ 10:40 am | Reply

        • Correction: Next weekend we’re back IN the HIGH 30’s.
          I’m trying to type on a new tablet with predictive text and it’s not going well.

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          Comment by The Pink Agendist — July 1, 2019 @ 11:24 am | Reply

          • Typing on a phone or tablet is, by definition, “not going well.” I did understand what you were saying.

            I grew up in California and I remember 115 F (~46 C) days. I even remember playing baseball in direct sun with the thermometer reading 109 F (in wool uniforms no less). But 45 C in France? Amazing.

            Even the high 30’s seems strange. Wouldn’t low 30’s be considered the hottest days of the year most years?

            On Mon, Jul 1, 2019 at 11:24 AM Class Warfare Blog wrote:

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            Comment by Steve Ruis — July 1, 2019 @ 12:29 pm | Reply


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