The Root of All Evil is not Human Nature

Money, they say, is the root of all evil. Yet money is but a currency, and human beings are the ones who attach meaning to any form of transaction. Money can be used as a medium for exploitation, yet it can also uplift those living in poverty and give them a better life. Without money, we will still be stuck in the Middle Ages, haggling over how many pieces of wool to trade for a bag of wheat.

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If money is not the cause of all evil, then the perennial question remains - what is? A common response is human nature. After all, it is in our nature to be selfish, and it is also in our nature to segregate ourselves and enjoy domination over others.

However, I would argue that evil is simply a manifestation of the physical laws of our universe. The immutable laws governing the conservation of matter and energy gives us no room for charity. Unless we benefit from an act of charity, be it a direct material benefit or an indirect emotional one, there is no incentive in our nature to be charitable.

If matter can be created and destroyed at will, then much of our problems today can be solved. Hunger can be eliminated, poverty can be eradicated, and all the waste we create can be removed with the snap of a finger. Alas, this is not the case. One plus one will always equal to two. We do not have infinite resources, and thus we are forced to choose between serving ourselves and others at every turn.

Scarcity, therefore, is the root of all evil. If we were able to eliminate the problem of scarcity, we would no longer have the incentive to be self-serving, to value our needs over others’. What would greed look like in a world with infinite resources? If matter can be created at will, then hoarding them will be a borderline psychotic thing to do.

Perhaps this is not a conclusion that many will come to, given our penchant for self-loathe. However, I am a strong believer in physicalism, and the idea that there is any inherent guiding force such as a soul governing our human nature does not sound credible to me. I believe we are at our core no different from any other forms of living creatures, following the same rules that gave birth to us and dictate our actions today.

The best way to tackle evil is therefore to tackle the problem of scarcity. Technology, I believe, is the answer. Even though we will never completely eliminate scarcity, being able to create more with less, to eliminate waste, and to improve efficiency will alleviate some of the pressure. Global inequality may have been on the rise for the past few decades, but over the same period of time, more people have been lifted out of poverty than any other time in history. As technology improves, so will people’s lives.

We will never be able to get rid of evil. Some forms of evil may not even stem from physical scarcity but rather emotional scarcity, and no amount of physical posessions will ever bridge that gap. However, to see evil as a systemic problem that can be solved rather than being some inherent part of our human nature will put us on the right track to tackle the problem of evil.

Fourth-dimensional Bread

What is the fourth dimension? Popular science tells us that it’s time, but sometimes we hear people speak of a physical fourth dimension. Who is right? In truth, there is no right or wrong. Dimensions are simply a way for us to measure things over a continuous spectrum. We usually describe 3D space in terms of length, breadth and height, but who’s to say which side of an object is its length? If I wanted to describe a man’s length from head to toe as his breadth, I jolly well could. Perhaps, this is the reason why shorter guys tend to work out more.

String theory theorizes that our world has 10, or alternatively, 26 physical dimensions. We are not going to delve into that, since I’m no expert on string theory, and it is still largely theoretical. Let’s just stick to the 4 dimensions that we know best.

In physics, scientists like to combine 3D space and time into a single entity called spacetime. This may seem counterintuitive to us, because we can all imagine interchanging one physical dimension for another, but time seems to be in its own category entirely. How are the dimensions of my handphone related to its total inability to function after a year? To answer this question, I would like to start with thinking about 3D bread.

A 3D loaf of bread has length, breadth, and height. Again, which side of the bread is its length is trivial, as long as it has 3 perpendicular sides. Hypothetically, this loaf of bread is also perfectly cuboid. Now, if we were to slice the loaf for breakfast, each slice would be thinner than the original loaf, but its other two dimensions would remain unchanged. If we take a slice and keep slicing it further, until it becomes infinitely thin, what happens? We can’t be sure, because in reality we can never have a slice of bread that has zero height, but I postulate that it’ll become a 2D object. After all, two of its dimensions are unchanged while the third disappears altogether.

Now, imagine that spacetime is like a loaf of bread, and that each second is like a slice. If we were to keep dividing each slice further, we’ll get a nanosecond, a picosecond, and then eventually, no time at all. This is akin to freezing the world and taking a snapsnot of an instant in time, such that there is no before or after, all of matter is simply described by their relative position in 3D space. Take all these snapshots of time, of which there are infinitely many, join them back together, and we’ll get back our 4D spacetime (bread).

What does this imply? For one, I think that the way we describe objects are flawed. Unless we can describe it’s exact dimensions in space AND time, we can’t truly be sure what we’re referring to. Take the ship of Theseus for example. If we had a ship, but slowly replaced all its parts over time, can it still be called the same ship? What if we take all of the old parts and reassemble them, which is the true ship of Theseus? I believe that this paradox can be resolved simply by including time in the description of Theseus’ ship. This is Theseus’ ship’500BC, while that is Theseus’ ship’400AD. Of course, this is wholly impractical, and it is no wonder why people don’t describe objects in terms of spacetime as opposed to purely 3D space. The good thing about continuous spectrums is that it is impossible to change drastically over a short period, so our 3D descriptions usually suffice.

Truely though, I wonder how many disputes can be solved by making it mandatory to describe objects in spacetime. I’m lending you $200’2016, but that’ll be $400’2017, thank you very much. Then again, I think most people already do this, and saying “Can you pass me the salt’5 June 2016” will be way more trouble than its worth.

The Struggle of Living

Don’t worry, this is not a cry for help; I’m not suicidal. This is merely an honest reflection on life, and the very state of existence.

The Absurd

From the moment we were born, we were thrust into a world devoid of answers. Why are we here? What are we here to do? I believe these two questions have crossed every sane person’s mind at some point in time. The problem – no one has the answers. The philosopher Albert Camus describes this condition as the Absurd. The inherent conflict between man’s unrelenting search for purpose, and the inability to find any, dooms us to a life of meaningless pursuits. However, Camus is not so pessimistic. He encourages us to accept the idea that the meaning behind life, the universe, and everything may be too vast for us to understand, but at the same time we should continue to explore and search for meaning.

Origins of the Universe

The first question that we must answer is how the universe came about. There are numerous theories explaining the creation of the universe, some scientific, some religious, and others a mix of both. In A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking shares an amusing story in which a famous philosopher gives a lecture on astronomy and how the Earth orbits the Sun, only to have an old lady discount it by claiming that the Earth is actually a flat plate, supported on the back of a giant turtle. When asked what the turtle is standing on, she replies - “it’s turtles all the way down!” Silly as it may sound, there is no actual way we can disprove her theory and prove our own. The most widely accepted explanation right now would be that of the Big Bang. The theory postulates that the universe began as a singularity – a single point of infinite density and temperature – 13.8 billion years ago. It then quickly inflated and cooled, and clouds of matter congregated to form stars and planets. Of course, this begs the question – if the universe started as a singularity, then where did the singularity come from? The best answer to this is that no one knows, since time and space only began when the singularity occurred. The question of what came before the Big Bang is null, as there is no notion of time prior to the Big Bang. Trying to calculate the probability of the singularity itself is a futile effort as well, since probability asserts that we must either have a discrete or non-discrete frame over which an event may occur, and in this case we have neither.


Does this mean that the universe inevitably exists? The Principle of Sufficient Reason claims that if something can happen in more than one way, then there must be a reason for it happening one way rather than the other. If the universe inevitably exists, then there need not be an explanation for its existence, and our search for answers will come to a dead end. This sounds a little self-defeating, and I would like to believe that this is not the case. Even if the universe inevitably exists, the reason for its existence is unknown to us because we are trapped in four-dimensional space-time, and whatever that is outside is unknown to us.

This brings us to another question – if the universe is inevitable, are all of time and space pre-determined as well? More importantly, can it be that for all our notions of personal choice and free will, the state of human affairs today has already been determined 13.8 billion years ago? It feels strange and frankly, a little disconcerting, to think that none of the great men and women of the ages past mattered at all.

Further, if determinism is true, then fluid concepts, such as morality, have already been defined as static functions over time, and nothing that we do will ever change that. Slavery was inevitable; oppression was inevitable, even the future of our race is beyond our control. Again, this is a depressing thought, and I believe that we can only claim pre-determinism from the point of view of an entity outside space-time. This may be God; this may be something else altogether; it doesn’t matter. A comforting thought is that if this is true, then whatever this entity is capable of is irrelevant to us. I have a very succinct analogy explaining the reason behind this assertion, and I will write about it some other time.


In the end, everyone finds meaning in their lives in different ways. For some it is religion, for others it is family, and perhaps for the select few it is simply 42. Since there is no absolute definition, one man’s meaning is as good as another. Those who can find no meaning will be tempted to give up and seek the easy way out. Suicide, I believe, is never a valid option. Even for those who have found meaning, we cannot give up the continual pursuit of truth and the thirst for knowledge. If we let ourselves go, how would we find the answers to our questions? Sometimes, when the banality of everyday life takes over, we tend to forget that we are actually living life; that consciousness is a miracle unto itself. Conversely, death is always looming at the door, and the best thing we can do for ourselves is to find meaning in the things we enjoy and enjoy the things we find meaning in.

Science and Existence

I believe that before we can start talking about existence, we have to first study science. Our world is defined by physical laws, but there is no reason for these laws to be the way they are. The speed of light is a constant, gravity pulls objects together, no one knows why or how these things came to be.

One reason which may be suggested is that we exist to observe these phenomenon precisely because we are the product of it. Thus, it is unsurprising that the physical laws of our universe fit our needs so closely. In a way, the universe is self-selecting in that we cannot exist to observe a world where gravity drives us apart. This is known as the anthropic principle. However, this would also render the study of existence pointless, as we can only observe a universe with us in it. We cannot hope to understand what goes on beyond our universe, even though the origin of our existence likely lies beyond what is present here.

Another point of interest is the direction of time. For 3-dimensional beings such as ourselves, time is linear and always flows forward. We age, society changes and adapts, all of this happen in the forward direction of time. But we have to ask ourselves, why does time necessarily have to flow forward?

Now, there are two arrows which set the direction of time. The psychological arrow that we all know, which is what we perceive as the forward motion of time, and the thermodynamic one, which is the direction in which entropy increases. Entropy is the measure of the disorderliness of things. When we drop a cube of sugar into tea and it dissolves, we say that the entropy of the sugar and tea has now increased as the particles of sugar are more randomly distributed within the particles of tea.

Chances are you have seen a vase fall onto the ground and shatter, but you have never see the pieces of glass pick themselves off the floor and reform into the vase on the table. Why is that so? That is because in any self-contained system, entropy can only increase with time, never decrease. A similar concept can be used with memory. As our brains work, we consume energy and generate heat. Heat generation increases entropy and is irreversible. Even though our brains become more ordered due to memories being pushed into it, the overall entropy of the system increases. That is why we have the notion of time, as one memory gets pushed into our brains after another. Indeed, the psychological arrow of time have to align with the thermodynamic one.

We can think of our lives as a railway track, each event disconnected from the rest but for the tracks of our memories. I ate dinner then brushed my teeth, but who is to say that one happened before the other? The only reason why I feel that way is due to my memory. For a fourth-dimensional being, it is entirely possible that I brushed my teeth before I ate, or I brushed my teeth while I was eating. Rather, for a fourth-dimensional being, there should be no notion of time at all, as everything that has being or will ever be exists at the same instant. That is a topic for another day, as it is getting late and I should sleep.