Primordial existential questioning
Primordial questioning is meant to plunge you into the deep end of metaphysics – in other words, into the deep end of identifying the most basic features of your existence, and then exploring them as well as reflecting on them. These amount to the most elemental features of your everyday existential reality, irrespective of any theory of any kind – from any source whatever, whether religious or philosophical, or scientific. If you observe carefully, and objectively, and accurately, you should be looking directly at the primary facts of your existence itself.
Questioning, as an intellectual capacity, is, in itself, not the most elemental feature of existence because it can only take place after something – anything – has been apprehended, allowing that apprehension then to be questioned. And therefore, if we follow the conceptual trail of this causal logic, we are ‘forced’ to conclude that there is a ‘something’ – a capacity – which exists prior to questioning, allowing questioning itself to take place. This conceptual trail then runs somewhat cold, as our logical deduction does not really deliver anything significant by way of content. We may have thought something through, but it doesn’t seem to help much, or generate anything substantial by way of insight. This is often the case in metaphysical exploration, but the point is to keep the exploration going, and not to be defeated by what might appear at first glance to be a dead end.
What would be the most basic, most elemental question anyone could ask ? There is probably no single formulation that will decisively capture it, but it is likely to be something along the lines of ‘what is existence for ?’, meaning, ‘what is the meaning and purpose of existence ?’, calling into question all of existence itself, starting with the most basic possible apprehension of the most basic ‘something’ which alerts you to the fact that existence ‘is’ in the first place.
If you ask the question, ‘what is existence for ?’, meaning not what kind of answer could you find in existence itself, such as a meaningful life, for example, but rather what kind of answer would be appropriate for someone residing in some kind of hypothetical ‘non-existential domain’ – if such a thing is possible, though it is certainly distantly conceivable – and you were presented with ‘existence’ for the first time, and provoked to ask, ‘what is this peculiar and distinctive condition called ‘existence’ ? What’s it for ?’
You don’t need to be in our hypothesised non-existential domain to be able to be provoked, by the very existence of existence itself, into asking, in all seriousness, ‘what on earth is this condition I’m in ? And what’s it for ?’ ‘What does it all mean ?’
Existential questioning which calls into question the very fact of existence itself derives its validity – its simple accuracy, if you like – not from a position it has been accorded in some semantic or philosophical schema agreed to by intellectuals, but instead from a primordial element present in the very apprehension of existence itself, which finds itself questioning itself as soon as it appears to itself. This is a complicated way of saying that as soon as existence exists, it can also question itself as to why it is as it is, and what purpose it is supposed to serve. This is not the same as asking, ‘How do I lead a virtuous and good life ?’ or ‘How do I best fulfil myself in life ?’ – questions which are in fact mere variations on the old theme ‘how do I get to the top of the heap ?’ – rather this is asking ‘what is this ‘living and existing’ – understood as a single apprehended phenomenon – all about, in an ultimate sense ?’ ‘What’s it all for ?’, and such questioning is of a much more primordial – basic, elemental – order than questioning about how best to engage with life.
But having identified the phenomenon of ‘existence questioning itself’ as the most basic form of self-questioning possible – there could hardly be anything more basic than that, except of course that questioning can question itself – what then ? What’s supposed to happen ? Anyone who has ever asked a very basic question of life and existence knows that an ‘answer’, of the sort that would immediately satisfy, and resolve the situation, is never forthcoming. The question always seems to trail off into nothingness, into a sense of meaninglessness, and self-defeat. That’s why people give up on the whole enterprise of principial metaphysics, and turn to something else.
Now clearly you can, for whatever reason, dismiss such questioning, and simply turn your attention to something else, but if a primordial question, such as ‘what is the point of existence ?’ remains meaningful for you, and continues to provoke you into attempting to find an answer to it, then, provided there is no valid worldly reason why you oughtn’t, in your own good time, devote a moment or two to pondering the issue, in order to see where the question, given due respect and plenty of room to breathe, might lead. This is one route into metaphysical reflection, though of course there are many others.
Those whose intellects have been blunted and damaged by certain schools of thought will immediately call into question the semantic validity of primordial existential questioning, based on a narrow and fixed intellectual framework which precludes – necessarily, and from the start – all such questions from having any ‘sense’ or ‘meaning’ of a ‘useful’ kind. Such questioning would be considered necessarily illegitimate, and meaningless, because it not only cannot give rise to a meaningful answer, it also fails to present a meaningful inquiry in the first place, and therefore only qualifyies as a ‘question’ thanks to the fact that a question mark appears at the end of its collection of words. Such ‘questions’ are of the order of supposedly nonsense statements like ‘what is the sound of one hand clapping ?’, the famous Zen koan.
And of course those who are religiously minded will take the essential difficulty in finding a satisfactory answer to basic existential questioning as a reason to turn to their beliefs for reassurance, letting the sense of a presence of a higher power replace any sense of emptiness and existential vulnerability. Most of the time, the act of turning towards reassuring feelings and clinging on to them does work, though inevitably, depending on the strength of your intellect, with a sense of ever diminishing effectiveness. And rather than inquire into the destructive power of the intellect – and what it might be trying to tell you – the religious believer tries to find ways to bolster their feelings of reassurance.
Primordial questioning ought not to lead directly to religious or philosophical doctrines of any kind, because the act of such questioning does no more than hold up a certain situation for reflection, and further contemplation, and further exploration. There is no direct religious implication behind primordial questioning because, properly understood, primordial questioning calls into question all forms of religious implication – as well as all other implications – when it questions the most basic possible apprehension you can have in the first place. The most penetrating question you can ask, that is, ‘why is existence ?’ also questions itself, in something of an infinite regress, along the lines of ‘why is existence ?’ leading to ‘why this questioning ?’, and so on. Yet characterising the infinite regress does not diminish its phenomenal reality, except at the point when it catches its tail and collapses in on itself, but this only lasts for a certain length of time – hours, days, perhaps weeks – after which it returns with its original provocative force intact, and perhaps with an even greater ability to .
Primordial – meaning ‘most basic possible’ – questioning, implying a primordial apprehending.
The conceptual trail of causal logic, working backwards, from ‘questioning’ to the apprehending of something that could be questioned.