[Back to Challenges]

One reason why it is hard to talk productively about anything, is because everything connects with everything else.  Most obviously, global climate change connects with every other issue we talk about, as does overpopulation.  We can't say everything we want to about any of these subjects - instead, we aim to say as little as possible while still being useful, creating a web of useful content and pointing out where this subject connects with that one.

The framework we are using divides all of reality (like Caesar divided Gaul) into three parts: particles, people and purpose, or physical, social and spiritual reality.  This is primarily because each area requires a distinct set of tools and disciplines.

  • Particles - physical reality. Roughly, the subject matter of the 'hard sciences' plus mathematics; answering questions about particles and forces; asking questions like, "What is happening?"  What we discover here is true at all times and in all places.  If we ever meet intelligent aliens, we will be able to talk with them about atoms and prime numbers and electrical currents, and their discoveries about these things will work for us.
  • People - social reality.  Roughly, the subject matter of the 'social sciences' plus biology; answering questions about people and societies and living creatures in general; asking questions like, "Why is this happening?"  What we discover here is often true in specific contexts.  If we ever meet intelligent aliens, they will almost certainly have their own equivalents of psychology, sociology, politics and economics, but they will be different from ours, and their answers may not work for us.
  • Purpose - spiritual reality.  Roughly, the subject matter of philosophy and religion; answering questions about morality, identity, values and purpose; asking questions like, "What should be happening?"  The truth we discover here is often paradoxical, with different truths appearing to contradict each other.  Also, it is less likely to be the discovery of new truth, and more likely to be a deeper appreciation of familiar truth.  If we ever meet intelligent aliens, it seems likely that they will have wrestled with the same big questions as us, and we will each seek to learn from and make use of the answers which the other species has found.

Within each area, it is probably helpful to state clearly what are the issues we are wanting to address, before we go on to talk about the ways they can be addressed.  But we don't want to spend a lot of time on describing the problems, partly because it has already been done, and partly because we don't want to spend our time focusing on what is wrong instead of looking at what we can do to put it right.

Please see Particles, People and Purpose for more about this framework and the content of each area.  And see Six Key Questions for some thoughts on how this framework can help us as we search for truth.