Questionable World: A Phenomenology of Wonder

Why does man raise questions? 

There are many criteria based on which man is distinguished from animal, such as language and logic. One peculiar aspect of man, in contrast with animals, is his ability to refuse to accept matters of fact, to turn away in the face of the inevitable, to act as if, to pretend, to believe in the invisible and to get away with it, to doubt and to raise questions. To raise a question entails man’s conception of the alternatives to the fact: He sees what is in front of him, the factual aspect of world; but he questions this facticity because he can conceive of it being otherwise. The question of “why this” presupposes a “why not that?” the two being equivalent formulations of man’s peculiar mode of consciousness. In other words, man is distinct from the beast insofar as the world is questionable for him.

The questionability of world for man is a questionability of world’s facticity; world being a matter of fact can always be, or appear, otherwise. Man’s consciousness of this logical structure of the world makes it possible for him to raise questions in the face of what is since he knows that nothing has to be the way it is. It is this ability of man that poses the perennial question “why is there something rather than nothing?” To be more precise, man’s consciousness of world is a consciousness of contingency. Man knows that fact is contingent; world can always be a different world, even not be. Without consciousness of contingency man would not be able to doubt or raise questions in the face of facts. Question is the backbone of civilization; it was man’s ability to perceive the contingent character of his condition and to realize that his condition can be other than what it is that pushed him to change the condition from above, to change the very conditions that condition the course of future changes; thus, man entered into a dialectical relationship with his environment. Man’s civilization defined as constant transcendence of environmental and existential conditions is possible only in virtue of his realization that his condition can always be better, a realization that entails man’s ability to distinguish between fact and essence, necessity and contingency.

Consciousness of contingency is a possibility only against consciousness of necessity. Man can know the contingency of world if and only if he understands the essence of contingency as that which is not necessary, that which is possible but not actual. In other words, man’s consciousness of contingency, being at once the consciousness of what is possible but not yet actual, is possible only where there is consciousness of the Absolute: If man raises questions it is because he is conscious that fact is contingent and that it is so by necessity.

The same is true of man’s consciousness of the relative character of phenomena. Consciousness of relativity entails consciousness of the absolute. Man would not be able to understand relativity if he didn’t know what it is like not to be relative, hence the absolute. Relativity is not possible without the insertion of the absolute. An analogy may help us here: Einstein’s theory of relativity is based on two postulates: First, the laws of nature enjoy the same form in all inertial reference frames; that is, all inertial reference frames are equally valid in their formulations of these laws. Second, the speed of light is constant and has the same value in all inertial reference frames in vacuum; that is, the value of the speed of light doesn’t depend on the particular reference frame in which it is observed and measured.

It is evident that the first postulate is possible if and only if the second holds; in other words, all reference frames are equally valid since the speed of light is independent of all reference frames, thus being the absolute criterion based on which all reference frames can be considered equally valid.

This is similar to the case of man’s consciousness of relativity. If we posit that everything is relative, then this is so if and only if there exists an absolute reference frame relative to which everything is equally valid or relative. Everything is relative relative to man’s consciousness which has to be absolute in its apprehension of the relativity of all phenomena. The consciousness that posits relativity is at once the consciousness that posits itself as the absolute, the absolute criterion for the apprehension of all that is relative.

Man is the being for whom world is finite, contingent, and relative. If man raises questions about the world it is because he is in principle capable of conceiving of what is possible but not actual, which springs from his consciousness of world’s contingent character. Man’s consciousness of finitude, contingency, and relativity entails his consciousness of infinity, necessity, and the absolute.

It is against the consciousness of the infinitude, necessity, and the absolute that man grasps his own finitude, facticity, and relativity.

World is questionable for man because it stands in sharp contrast to the intrinsic values of his consciousness, such as perfection and immortality. The most factical aspect of man’s existence is his mortality; yet this mortality is that which man cannot be comfortable with; he readily accepts the existence of improbable phenomena such as aliens or transmigration of soul but cannot accept the most certain of all things, his death. If man struggles in the face of the inevitable death, if he is always bothered by his mortality, it is because he is at once in possession of the consciousness of immortality; it is against his consciousness of immortality that man’s mortality and finitude concerns him so much, being the very basis of all religions and philosophies and art and literature.

In a world that is essentially finite, contingent, relative, and mortal, no consciousness of infinity, perfection, and immortality can possibly grow. But it is a matter of fact that man is in possession of such consciousness, for otherwise world could not possibly be questionable for him. The questionable character of world for man entails an element within him that is not of this world, an element against which this world is what it is for man, a questionable world.

4 thoughts on “Questionable World: A Phenomenology of Wonder

  1. I hope your Thanksgiving was whatever you wanted it to be!! You have talked eloquently about the sacredness of free will. Contrary to many religious personages, God doesn’t want us coerced, manipulated or threatened into our awareness, or consciousness. Those days are gone. I feel honored by God for this gift of empowerment. It’s sometimes frustrating to me when I see someone as you said, willing to believe in the “high strangeness” but not in their own immortality or physical mortality. I have come though to value the individuals right to their own system of beliefs that I don’t get as into “it” as I once did. I feel that you are the same, but at a much earlier age! 🙂 My husband wanted me to ask if you have ever read Rupert Sheldrake or Sir Ken Robinson? I was telling him about your beautiful mind!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I thank you for your very kind words; it is really my honor to have a serious reader like you. You read and comment on most of my post and engage me in very valuable and meaningful discussions and I admire you for that.
      I know not much about Robinson but I have read a little of Sheldrake’s work which I find very interesting. I have not yet read any of his books fully though I like his approach to science.

      Liked by 1 person

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