TED Conversations

Jordan Reeves

TED-Ed Community Manager, TED Conferences


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In ten words or less, what is a question no one (yet) knows the answer to?

Is there life outside of our planet?

What's a bigger factor in our development: environment or genetics?

Is there any real truth, or is everything relative?

What will the earth be like in 100 years?

Topics: answers questions

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  • Dec 11 2011: Hi James, in this sense I was trying to convey existence as the 'allthing', all that is, conceptualised as an infinite, unfolding system (unfolding in the sense of moving through time). This raises the tough question of what is 'is' or 'being'...

    In terms of thinking of our mental tools I see it as follows;

    'what' identifies a 'thing' in spacetime, (and for thing I would propose 'a particular perceived pattern')

    'how' focuses attention on the chain of causation that has led to the 'thing' existing

    'why' locates the 'thing' (including its causation 'how') within the greater world the observer perceives by ascribing purpose to the 'thing'.

    In short, 'what' is the mental tool we use to identify some thing, 'how' enables us to understand the chain of causation that led to the thing's existence and 'why' ascribes purpose to the thing so that it becomes meaningful and hence understandable.

    This approach can be applied to physical things e.g. a car (what is it? A car. How does it work? Engine, wheels, fuel driver etc. and why? to move from A to B) or to events e.g. travelling from London to New York.

    'Why' is deeply embedded and often automatically assumed, this is necessary because without it we cannot make sense of the world around us. Using the journey example, you might know that I travelled to New York (what), by plane (how) but until you know why the event remains meaningless.

    The overall point I am trying to get at is that by using these three basic tools we literally reify our own world into existence. How skillfully we use these tools plays a huge role in determining the overall complexity and sophistication of the world we end up perceiving.

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