Friday, May 1, 2009

Skyhooks and Suffering

On Machines Like Us, there's a post about the last four skyhooks: the last four questions that are so huge and mysterious and difficult that they are seemingly in need, to many otherwise honest and well-educated people in the twenty-first century, of supernatural explanations. Those questions are the origin of the universe, the origin of life, the origin of consciousness, and our capacity for morality.

I disagree that these are the only four significant skyhooks. They're certainly interesting, and I spend more time than is good for me wondering about them, but there are others that are not asked nearly enough. For the aforementioned four, I can easily imagine them being answered without a huge impact on our lives. Let's say the answers are: a gravimetric quark fluctation, RNA seeded by comets, panpsychist fifth basic property of the universe, evolved as survival heuristic. Done. Neat, but so what?

A skyhook with the potential to make a much bigger impact is the one engendered by questions about the existence of suffering, how to eliminate it, and how we can all agree to live together. In despair or hope people seek skyhooks from silent skies and shrines. It's these most important questions that magical and religious thinking has most clouded for thousands of years and on which we atheists must make our mark.

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