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Some (awkward?) questions that should be asked, but rarely are

By Graham Preston - posted Wednesday, 6 August 2014


In one Calvin and Hobbes comic strip the following interaction takes place between Calvin and Miss Wormwood.

Calvin: Miss Wormwood, I have a question about this maths lesson?

Miss Wormwood: Yes?

Calvin: Given that sooner or later we're all just going to die, what's the point of learning about integers?

Miss Wormwood: Turn to page 83, class.

Calvin: Nobody likes us big picture people.

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But Calvin is not so easily put off and in another strip the conversation goes like this:

Miss Wormwood: If there are no questions, we'll move on to the next chapter.

Calvin: I have a question.

Miss Wormwood: Certainly Calvin. What is it?

Calvin: What's the point of human existence?

Miss Wormwood: I meant any questions about the subject at hand.

Calvin: Oh. . . Frankly I'd like to have the issue resolved before I expend any more energy on this.

And when Calvin put similar questions to Hobbes:

Calvin: . . . I want to ask you as a tiger, a wild animal close to nature, what you think we're put on earth to do. What's our purpose in life? Why are we here?

Hobbes: We're here to devour each other alive.

These are surely worthwhile questions that Calvin raises. Yet for some reason they can also be rather confronting, thus leading us perhaps to want to set them aside for another day that never seems to come. Miss Wormwood just wants to ignore them, while Hobbes at least provides an answer, but an answer that is more unsettling than anything.

The reality is that, whether we like it or not, we have been born into conscious existence and, as Calvin observes, we are all going to die. Until that happens though we remain a part of this world. Simple prudence would suggest that it would be quite rational to thoroughly address questions such as: What is life about? What, if anything, is life for? And, on what do we base our answers to these questions?

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It would be sensible for each person to do this for their own sake but it would also be useful to know what those who hold, or who seek to hold, positions of power in society would say in answer to those questions. Obviously, people in power can have considerable impact upon the lives of others, thus these questions are not mere academic matters - ideas after all do have consequences.

There are a number of theories about how it is that humanity has come into being but they can be boiled down into just two groups: religious views - those that hold that the universe, including humanity, is the product of some supernatural being's deliberate creative activity, and atheistic views - those that hold that everything has unintentionally happened into being by means of the unconscious interplay of the laws of physics upon the atoms of the universe.

When it comes to death, there are three main views about what happens next: those who believe in reincarnation - there is a repeating cycle of life, death and rebirth with the form of each new birth depending upon one's behaviour in the previous life; secondly those who believe we live just this one life with there being a judgment after death which determines whether the person goes on to live with or is separated from God who created them; and thirdly those who believe that with death comes complete extinction - permanent eternal nothingness.

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About the Author

Graham Preston is an illustrator and a student of life.

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