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The most important thing

For nearly as long as I can remember, I have been asking people what they think the most important thing is. It could be an idea, or a person living or dead, or a literal thing. The replies over the years have been numerous and varied. Not quite as many unique replies as queries made, but a decent selection from which to pick and choose.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, god/God/deities/supreme being has been a common theme. Love has been less common than I might have expected, though I don't think I am naive so maybe I should not expect love to be considered the most important thing by many people. Plenty of people have said money, which does not at all surprise me.

Some other entries have included the scientific method, family/relationships, computers, internal combustion, society, politics, certain politicians (including long dead luminaries and even ancient queens and senators and emperors), the printing press, accounting, language, and Bob Dylan. There have been a thousand more. I have not kept track of them all.

I have yet to be convinced.

Some of these examples could be candidates for the most important thing. I have ideas for other possibilities as well. It has been surprisingly difficult for me to wrestle with this question. The easy answer, of course, would be that there is no one most important thing. That is not the interesting answer, so I keep asking.

I will explain my thoughts about why a deity is not a good candidate to be the most important thing, since this is possibly the single most common answer (if all similar variants are combined). Surely, if you believe in a god, or certain types of gods (all-powerful, jealous, wrathful, hateful, etc) then it would be easy to think that this deity is the most important thing. But what would change if that deity did not exist? It is not obvious that anything would change. Not everyone who says their god is the most important thing believes in the same god. Therefore, clearly some of those deities do not exist.

Would that be different than taking the case where no deity exists? How? The universe would not exist? Okay, then I wouldn't be here to ask that question anyway, and nothing would really change. If my existence is predicated on whether or not a universe-creating deity exists, then I might as well say that my existence is predicated on whether the universe exists. In that case, the universe would be the most important thing rather than the deity. If the deity exists but chose not to create the universe, then the universe would still be the most important thing[0].

Could one then make the case that the universe itself is the most important thing? I am not convinced. The universe is, really, just a placeholder for existence itself. All things that exist, exist in the universe. No things that exist, exist outside the universe[1]. Is existence the most important thing? I don't think so. Does it matter whether a thing exists or not? Is the most important thing to me my own existence? If you can say, "I would rather not exist than for some condition X to be true," then existence itself is not the most important thing. For example, I would say that I would rather not exist than for there to be the case that every other sentient being is tortured in order to continue my own existence. In fact, I would prefer never to have existed at all in that case. So existence cannot be the most important thing, certainly for me, and I strongly suspect so for every rational, empathetic person as well.

Or think of it this way: Is the most important thing to the portrait the fact that the canvas exists? Of this, I am skeptical.

Is it better than a deed be done well than never to have been done at all? It is not the case that the answer is always better to do the deed than to do it well. Though, certainly, it sometimes is: Better to have loved and lost, than to never have loved at all. But that is because love is the most important thing, not the existing itself.

[0] Unless somehow I could exist without the universe? But then I would be the universe itself, if the universe is simply all that which exists. That's a little too strange of a road to go down right now.

[1] Without getting into multiverse theory here, let's say that the multiverse is really just the universe of universes. So what we can say here about the universe also applies to the universe of universes.


11:57 Thursday, 15 March 2018