Friday, March 2, 2012

On the First Cause and the Why Game

     On the First Cause and the Why Game

       If there is a Designer, then who designed the Designer? This silly riddle leads us straight to that old philosophical chestnut; the Paradox of the First Cause. What caused the First Cause?

       This in turn reminds me of the Why Game. If you've met small children, then you probably know how that game goes. The child asks, "Why is the sky blue?" "Well, dear, when you look at the sky you see through a lot of air, and that's blue." "Why?" "Because air has a very light blue tint." "Why?" "Because it deflects blue light and lets red light through." "Why?"  "Because of Raleigh scattering." "Why?"

       Why, why, why! Pretty soon you're discussing quantum mechanics, and then comes one more "Why?" than you can answer. And that is the child's version of the Paradox of the First Cause.

      Any parent experienced in the Why Game knows that there are only three ways out:
      1. "Shut up, kid, or else." That is the Authoritarian solution to the Paradox.
      2. "Because!" That is the Rhetorical solution.
      3. "I don't know." That is the Philosophical solution.
      Option 1 works in the short term, but requires the use of force. It also sets a bad example for the child.
      Option 2 requires a lot of fast double-talk, and it teaches the child evasion.
      Option 3 is honest and direct. But it also means that the child wins the game, and will repeat it soon.

      These same three options apply, when the game is scaled up to nominal grown-ups asking society "Why?" When some snotty-nosed philosopher keeps hammering on some silly question (like, who designed the Designer), then eventually options 1, 2 or 3 come into play; authority, rhetoric or philosophy.

      Sometimes society blurts out all three in succession: "Shut up, philosopher, or else, because I don't know!"

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