Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Why Does the World Exist by Jim Holt

Philosophy has fallen out of favor. Those who study the world as it is call themselves scientists and are interested only in what can be actually observed and measured--with what is "real." Those whose field is creative are artists and writers and theologians and they focus on what might be. Philosophy is the point where these two seemingly disparate approaches come together. Academics today seem to focus narrowly on their own small world leaving the big questions for the undergraduates who aren't properly indoctrinated in any particular field yet.

Jim Holt takes on the challenge of bringing the two approaches to bear on his big question: Why Does the World Exist? Holt talks with scientists, theologians, philosophers and writers as he looks for the answer to the ultimate question (According to Douglas Adams the answer is 42. But that is yet another philosophical quest!)

Holt's book is a layman's guide to the deep thinking of humanity's greatest minds through the centuries, focusing as much on the personalities as the thoughts. This is a very challenging and energizing book, as it looks at life from all perspectives.

It really isn't a spoiler to report that Holt does not find the answer. It is, after all, the quest that really matters. His most perceptive observation is his final quote from Ambrose Bierce: "Philosophy, n. A route of  many roads leading from nowhere to nothing."

I highly recommend this book to anyone who has wondered "why this world and not another (or nothing at all!)" or if you're just curious about the state of philosophy today.

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