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>

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