The universe is a chasm of inconceivable space, surrounding us dizzily from all directions. We are afraid of the distance between adjacent stars and we are afraid of the distance between adjacent atoms; any open space is a breeding ground for phantoms. When confronted with the unknown and the wild, we have two choices: to build strength enough to join the wilderness, to revel in its fathomless wonders; or to hide within our fear, to tear down everything we can’t control and build walls to insulate ourselves against the sky.
I am trying to follow the path of strength, but it’s such a steep and narrow road. I want to look at the universe unflinchingly, to meet the eyes of God and hold his gaze. But the two ravens, fear and desire, circle above me; they try to push me off the pathway into the endless black abyss.
Our eyes were not meant for the universe in its rawness. Cognitive science reduces the human mind to mechanical computation. Evolutionary biology shows us that everything we do is rooted in selfishness. Quantum physics is maddeningly impossible to interpret. If we dwell on these things too long, we may find ourselves swallowed by insanity.
Cognitive science was my own personal bane. I got caught in the trap of watching each of my thoughts unfold, seeing how the analogical links I made were shaping my understanding of the world. It became impossible to believe in any thought or reason I concocted, because I could easily see how each thought arose and how many alternatives were possible.
And so I was almost ready to turn back, to retreat to the ancestral forest and abandon my quest for knowledge. But now I understand: if the discoveries of science seem ugly, if they warp our minds into madness, it is only because this knowledge was not meant for Man. We are digging deeper into these questions than evolution has prepared us for, and we’re finding that the universe is stark and alien and Other. If I’m disheartened by the knowledge that I’ve gained, it’s because I have started to pierce through the veil of human illusions; I am starting to see the universe as it truly is.
And so I will continue on my quest, armed with this understanding: even the ugliness of the universe is beautiful; even my descent into madness is beautiful. We are dealing with cosmic mysteries that were not meant for the eyes of Man. I will climb this steep and narrow road, even though the abyss still yawns before me. For now, when I look into its depths, I see that it is full of stars.
Beautiful! The abyss reflects the starry sky; the underworld is mapped in the heavens. Is it so much of a shock to realize that the universe doesn’t care about us or our (in)ability to understand it? The true mysteries are always disturbing, at first. How could it be otherwise? Who is more insane: the investigator who sees the hidden patterns and is astounded by them or the poor fools sitting at the drive-through of life, inching forward to get momentary rewards that ultimately make them sick? Between the gaps of thought and emotion, atoms and stars, lies a fiery barrier that some cross only occasionally. It seems better to me to merge the extremes, accept the wild otherness and our models of it, and dwell in the in-between spaces where science provokes wonder instead of depleting it. Some cosmic secrets will remain forever out of reach, and that too is beautiful. The ability to shift perspective, see opposites in harmony, and wallow in the glory of nature as well as the minds it’s made for us is a supremely valuable enlightenment. Only when you throw a light into the abyss can you see that it has no bottom.
If you’re going to pursue mystic secrets of the cosmos then I’ve got some advice for you: take care that you eat and sleep sensibly, and get plenty of fresh air and exercise.
I would stick my tongue out at you in response to the slight condescension in your comment, except that you are totally right and I really need to get outside more often. So thanks for the advice! It is good to be reminded of the importance of these things. We are embodied creatures and our mental states reflect our physical states. Also, getting fresh air is good for another reason as well: the mysteries of the cosmos are far more likely to be found in an empty field at night than they are to be found in all the blogs on the internet.
Sorry – didn’t mean to be condescending. It’s just I know it can be easy to lose touch with the mundane practicalities when you’ve got you eyes on higher things.
Oh, I wasn’t offended. =) Hence the sticking out of tongues instead of, say, middle fingers. I agree with you about the mundane practicalities; actually I’m particularly bad and I tend to lose touch with them whether or not I have my eyes on higher things. So I really do appreciate the reminder!
deathists, deathists everywhere
i feel like annoyedpicard.jpg
Hi! I think I’ve heard people say that playfulness is the only sane response to the vastness of the universe. Are you playful? Of course, if you’re right that our eyes are not meant for it, then I suppose there’s no reason to believe that there is any sane response.
Evolutionary biology is the one that gets me. It means I might wonder for any action I take, how does it help me (or my kin) breed? It seems ugly because it reduces all human endeavour, yet as you suggest, it’s beautiful from a scientific perspective because it (in principle) explains a lot with just a little.
Slightly off-topic, but regarding your “ancestral forest” I’ve been taking an increasingly “culturalist” attitude. All meaning and interpretation comes from your particular culture and your participation therein, so you are “of the forest” and sort of still in it wherever you go.
I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read here. Thanks.
Thank you; I am glad to hear this!