How did the Universe begin?
This is obviously a tough question, as neither science nor religion have convinced me yet. I believe empirical evidence, so in the lack of such evidence I must ask myself (and you) on the prevalent theories: - Do you believe in the big bang? Did a big explosion happen from nothing? How does this reconcile with the laws of matter and thermodynamics? - Do you believe in God? If God created the universe, how was God created? Was he created at all? How can something that exists not have a beginning? I believe everything starts from something, so I have a hard time siding with either of these theories. Is it possible for the universe to always have existed, just evolved? How do we reconcile this with the linearity of time? I just wrote a lot to basically say: I dont know the answer to this one, and I havent formulated my own theory yet. If we havent been able to answer this questions in homo sapiens' entire existence, I doubt we will answer it before some kind of empirical evidence surfaces.
What is the Universe made of?
I defer completely to scientific data on this one. Atoms, molecules of elements, matter. The big question in my mind is, have we discovered all (or most) of the elements in the universe, or are there hundreds more with different properties in other galaxies? I dont think our little spec in the universe called the Milky Way holds all that is to be discovered. There must be more out there that we can only imagine.
What is the origin of good?
I believe the goodness in man is an evolutionary trait of survival (as is evil, but more on that in the next question). Human societies seem to thrive when members collaborate. This can be seen in the explosion of agriculture around 8k years ago, which gave birth to the first real societies. Big institutions like governments, economies, armies, schools and companies would not exist without humans helping each other and collaborating for a greater good. That good is almost always self serving (ie survival). I don't think its a coincidence that some of the biggest outpouring of goodness in society usually follows big catastrophes. We help one another survive and thrive, so we must be good to each other.
Is there free will?
I think there is limited free will. We are all born in a certain context that can define who we are. If I'm born in the favelas of Brasil, the chances are slim that I will become the next astronaut to go to the ISS. But I still think that's what it is: chance, or probability. I dont believe in destiny, which means I must adhere to some kind of free will theory. My theory is that our circumstances of birth and youth carve a path for us, but we can choose to tread elsewhere. Out of millions of people in a given situation, there will always be one that does something different, and history has plenty of evidence to the fact. So we can either choose to follow the path, or take chances and fight for a different outcome. IF that's not at least partial free will, then Im not sure what is.
What is the nature of the mind?
The mind is an interesting concept, and one that we usually only associate with humans given our conscious knowledge of "being" and abstract thought. But all humans have an innate individuality, something that makes us unique to the billions of other humans out there. We develop a personality, which defines how we interact with others, handle situations and make decisions. In the argument of nature vs nurture, I believe nurture has a huge impact on our personality and mind. Our experiences shape us, and serve as the foundation for future decisions. But given the uniqueness of each human and the myriad of motivations that propel us into action, we can be unpredictable, impulsive, complex. But I do believe in the physical manifestation of the mind: chemical reactions in the brain create our ability to think, feel, react. I do not adhere to the idea of a soul because nobody can manifest their soul like we manifest our mind into thoughts, memories and feelings. We are not conscious of a soul, and our soul does not compel us to act (unless we call our conscience a soul, but I would consider our conscience part of our mind). So much to uncover and understand about the mind that thinking about it is almost an ethereal concept.
How do you find happiness?
Happiness is a string of moments, not a state of being since happiness is fleeting. To me happiness is spending time doing things that bring me joy, with people that bring me joy. Add to that a job that gives me purpose, and voila! Seems like a simplistic view of happiness but there are things that complicate this simple formula. Responsibilities, taxes, politics, identity, the list goes on. We can use Maslow's hierarchy of needs to extrapolate a lot of things that get in the way of happiness. But to keep this one short, the only way to get closer to happiness is to do something about your current situation.
How do you find truth?
I think truth is a human construct, and because of that I dont believe in a universal truth. I do not include scientific facts as truths, but consider them more of a repeatable natural phenomena since they dont really have anything to do with us (ie physics and chemistry will continue when we get wiped off this planet). Through time humans have created "truths" based on our beliefs and the thought systems we have created (economics, politics, religion) that rely entirely on getting enough people to subscribe to your "truth" to survive. Just look at politics, gender identity and religion to get a dose of conflicting "truths". I think we build truths to understand our world and create mental models that help us thrive (even if "us" is those in power that create or perpetuate these truths for their own gain). The idea of finding truth is almost like a wild goose chase. Some of them we might uncover as natural phenomena/facts (ie theres life outside our planet... we either find it or we dont) and others we may never resolve (is there a God, or is a fetus a human being).
What is the meaning of life?
I think the meaning of life is an individual endeavor. Do what makes you happy. A universal meaning for the human race implies a bigger plan, or a supreme being to which we must complete a quest for. Is there a meaning in the life of a cat? or a cockroach? Why would humans have a collective bigger meaning than to survive? Anything else is of our own creation, giving ourselves meaning to drive people to do things. The meaning of my life, personally, is to fulfill my desires and maximize time spent on things and people that bring me joy.
What is the role of evolution?
If we take evolution at face value it is about adaptation for survival. Organisms that have well adapted features (or mutations) get to survive while those that aren't well adapted die off. As the environment changes, organisms keep evolving to keep surviving. There is no guarantee, and no purpose other than chance mutations to survive. Many species have died off due to their failure to adapt to their changing environment. The interesting part is when the pace of mutation/evolution is faster than the changes in the environment. I think this is what has happened with humans. We are so good at surviving now that we have taken over the planet like a parasite. Granted this is mostly due to artificial survival thanks to advances in medicine and science. I think from now on the evolution of humans will be accelerated and artificial. Think of eugenics, robotic exoskeletons, bio enhancements. We have taken evolution out of the hands of nature into our own.
What happens after death?
Nobody knows. I can say that with certainty. But we can speculate. Religions have their theories that have dominated the after life conversation for millennia, and there is zero scientific evidence that anything happens after we die. I think this conversation also relates to the idea of a soul, since we need something to live on if there is anything happening after death. We will only find out the answer when we die.
Who or what is God?
You arent messing around with these questions are you? I see the idea of God in the traditional sense depicted by most religions: a supreme being that created the universe and humans. I will take the Christian concept of God first. I have a hard time believing in the Christian/Islamic God (Jehova, Yaveh, Allah, etc) as a perfect, omnipotent all-knowing being due to the stories described in the scriptures. These stories depict a very human god - a jealous, egotistical (praise and adore ME), and often course-correcting God. First we try and eye-for-an-eye and then we scrap that and say love thy neighbor as you love thyself. When pairing that with seemingly no direct intervention from God for over a thousand years, it hardly seems like a perfect omnipotent being. The idea of God is a man-made construct, with scriptures as the only evidence. Since I struggle with the idea of the judeo-Christian concept of God, then what is God if it exists? Is it simply a creator that leaves its creations to their own devices? Or does it have an active hand in the lives of its creations? I dont believe in a benevolent God due to the history of strife and suffering humans have made for themselves. Maybe there is not God at all and we just need to explain our world and the things that happen to us, attributing negative events to something that is out of our hands. Is God our failure to take responsibility?