Asking the Big Questions

Greetings from the lobby bar at one of Singapore’s finest heritage hotels, where I sit, nursing a mango passionfruit margarita, watching the Marina Bay Sands light show across the water, contemplating the meaning of life.

I just got the BBC feature clip of last Thursday’s “What is More?” science, faith, and spirituality conference from Lord Leitch. I have been nurturing some new and potent connections offline between some amazing people I am privileged to share friendship with, as a follow-up to this watershed event. I’ve watched some of these potentialities spark into mutual flame via email tonight. And may I confess to you that the feeling of joy at this is indescribable.

I’m good – really good – at bringing people together. And these people I have in my heart’s eye tonight, sitting here weaning off my jetlag, have so much. So much. To give to one another.

When Connectedness rocked up as my StrengthsFinder theme number 4 when I redid the assessment several years ago, I was initially bemused. I didn’t expect it. Maximiser, Strategic, Individualization, Communication, absolutely. But *Connectedness*?

Life being one, great, empirical experiment – *the* definitive experiment – I can tell you what I’ve observed so far.

I have observed that we grow into our potentials.

Somehow, oddly, mysteriously – some shapes and forms and flavours have been set in there, way early on, some evident from the start, others escaping our limited consciousness then. But as we grow into them – things start to fall into place. They make more and more sense.

I have been derided, misunderstood, shunned even, for many years, still now – for caring deeply about the meaning of life.

Company for such then-esoteric subject matter was precious few and far between.

The situation’s improved over the intervening decades. Slightly.

Having a whole cohort of friends suddenly turning the corner with me this year has been a remarkable collective birthday present, I’ve found.

I’ve always had a scattering of friends with whom I could go into full Yeel geek mode, and talk quantum mechanics, nonlinear dynamics, chaos theory, and relativity. My old high school campus at Jalan Kuala still summons up stifling afternoon musings in the deserted classroom, aged 15, fan lazily rotating, as a friend and I talked earnestly about the existence of God.

So when you watch this clip, and see me at 3:30 asking Sir Roger Penrose, one of the most renowned mathematical physicists, mathematicians, and philosophers of science in the world, a sincere and searching question to which I genuinely wanted the answer, which sadly I did not get –

You might perhaps understand better,

How long I have held these searching questions close to my psyche, all these years;

On what depth and purity of foundation I seek to build my program of life skills;

How nothing less than thrilling, I am finding these brave bold explorations in these arenas by my friends, and the convergence that is emerging;

And perhaps, most importantly,

How equal a right you have, we all have, the right as much as the responsibility, and the joy, and the freedom,

To honestly and unembarrassedly consider the meaning of your own lives as well.

Let me also be absolutely clear.

There is no ego in this self-inquiry.

I speak this not from the hedonic self-gratification of “oh my life is so great and I have done such amazing things with it.”

No. I speak this from the very opposite.

From the simple humility of eudaimonia.

i.e. from service.

(Coda 1: My question to Sir Roger, for the few reading this who are interested.

– What makes you say that you believe that consciousness is not outside physics?

– Can you elaborate more on what this “physics” is, that you refer to?

– Are you saying that the methodology or framework of physics, e.g. QM, is eventually going to arrive at a true and satisfactory accounting of the phenomenon of consciousness?

– Or might there have to be a fundamental shift in the nature of the physics inquiry itself, the way QM has overturned Newtonian classical principles?

– What, then, makes you think that it can still be considered “physics”?

– If we do not yet know this, then on what are you basing the statement, that “consciousness is not outside physics”?

Coda 2. My question to Prof Peter Atkins, which ended up being the closing question of the conference.

“Prof Atkins – I speak as a conscious being, to you as a conscious being.

On what basis could you possibly claim, that a purely mechanistic, materialist scientific method framework of inquiry could ever furnish a necessary and sufficient account of the indubitable objective and subjective reality of the phenomenon of consciousness?”

A few in the audience caught the craft, and smiled. It was meant to be a rhetorical question.)

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