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August 11, 2014

Reality - Solved for Y


Stephen Hawking recently pronounced: “Philosophy is dead”. He claimed that whilst science had made incredible progress in the last 50 years, philosophy had not, and as a result was no longer even relevant.

These “X is dead” pronouncements are dangerous territory. The first, loudest and most famous such pronouncement of this kind came from none other than Nietzsche: “God is dead”.

…to which some canny graffiti artist came up with:


A more recent philosopher – Francis Fukuyama – boldly pronounced “History is dead”.
That slogan too will go down in the history books, but I fear that although Francis is still living, its going to be another case of:

HISTORY: “_ _ _ _ _ _”

And now for Hawking. Don’t get me wrong – Hawking’s classic, “A Brief History of Time”, must rate as one of the most enlightening books I’ve ever read. (The new Illustrated version is high on my wishlist). One quote from that book resonated so strongly with me that I actually included it in a book that I wrote:

“Up to now, most scientists have been too occupied with the development of new theories that describe what the universe is, to ask the question WHY… if we find the answer to that… we would know the mind of God.”

Although Hawking penned those words many decades ago, even then he took a swing at how stagnant philosophy had become, but at least acknowledged that the philosophers were: “the people whose business it is to ask WHY…”

So what happened?  How did Hawking jump from there to “Philosophy is dead”. Have scientists themselves discovered the answer to WHY? No.

Has the WHY question become unimportant (“Why is dead”?). No. It might have for millions of mindless, secular consumers, but not for someone with such a gifted enquiring mind as Hawking.

That leaves only one option, which is probably what Hawking would argue: “Philosophers are no longer asking WHY“.

Or perhaps post-modern philosophy has, in its own right, become so complex that most people (including scientists) can no longer keep up with it –  in the same kind of way that the people and philosophers aren’t keeping up with science. So, they wouldn’t actually know if WHY is being asked or not.

Or maybe philosophers, having being confronted with the single most difficult question for so long, have developed a much more tenacious patience than the scientists. Has Hawking finally lost his patience?

Perhaps some philosophers have even realised that the WHY question is unanswerable (ultimately they might argue for the good of mankind). But  they also realise that even if this were true, the critical thing is that somebody keeps asking it. Because if we don’t, we’ll land up where Nietzsche predicted – Nihilism.

“What is nihilism? – When “why” finds no answer” – Nietzsche

This can only ever happen when we stop asking. And if people as brilliant as Stephen Hawking are losing patience with the WHY question, and throwing the towel in with its asking – the task of the philosopher is now more important than ever.



10 September 2010

(on the eve of the 9/11 anniversary and possible public burning of a Koran, I submit what  life has taught me thus far…) “A” and “the” – two seemingly innocuous words. Two words used so often that, according to Wikipedia “the” holds number one spot of most commonly used English words, whilst “a” is ranked […]

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28 July 2010

Made this image many moons ago using the excellent worldle tool I took the full wikipedia entry for “postmodernism” pasted it into wordle, and got this.  I’ve done loads of other interesting “wordles” using wikipedia articles like “human”, “complexity”, and “the internet”.

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We are wired

8 June 2010

These postmodern philosphers always sounded obscure at the time (still do!) but they were certainly visionary of what was to come. “You are wired” These words, by Jean Baudrillard, uttered before the internet existed. Computers- yes, .coms – not yet.

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French Postmodern Philosophers Predict Internet

5 April 2010

Hot on the heels of my post about SciFi Author predictions of the internet , here’s a text written in 1972 by two French postmodern philosophers – Deleuze and Guattari. The excerpts are from their book “Capitalism and Schizophrenia”.  The rhetoric is pretty obscure (as is the case with all pomo philosophy) but the gist […]

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