November 12, 2012

The Unknowable

The universe came into existence a little over 67 years ago, and it will end - well, who knows for sure, but almost certainly within the next 5 years. Before what I have learned to call the summer of 1945, there was nothing; and, unless one or another of the great religious fairy tales turns out to be more than ardent wishful thinking, when my light goes out there will again be nothing.

Throughout this span of time (whatever time is), I've been driven by one overarching question: What's going on here? I do know, incontrovertibly, that there is something going on - even if it's just one grand hallucination, it is at least that, and not simply nothing. I'll not venture as far as Descartes famously did with "Cogito, ergo sum"; the best I can do is "Sum, ergo sum."

At various times, I thought I was hot on the trail of some answers. But, sooner or later, every single one of the leads I pursued petered out in an absurdity or a mystery. It didn't help that I was raised in the old-school, pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic church, which claimed to have all the ultimate answers. I found out pretty early on, though, that these answers invariably relied upon either more mysteries or simple bald-faced assertions. Despite all this (I didn't adopt my online alias of "hardhead" for nothing) I've persisted and persisted in my search, far beyond any hope of finding even fragments of answers.

It's been gradually dawning on me over the last decade or so that, even were I to have 10,000 years at my disposal, I'm not going to find any answers beyond what I've already got. And that's because, in the nature of this hallucination or whatever it is that I find myself (and everything else, if it really exists independently of me), it is far, far beyond our powers, either individually or collectively, now and forever more, to find an answer or answers. We, either as we are or as we might become, will never and can never know why there is something rather than nothing (which is just another way of asking what's going on here).

Some philosopher/linguist types will insist that my questions themselves are meaningless or silly; I guess that suffices for them, but I can't help feeling deep pity for those who have no more sense of awe or mystery than to hold such views. It's also common for scientist types to imagine that they have answers for at least some of what's going on and why; but I invite you to peruse the history of science and tabulate the number of "eternal verities" that have turned out to be pure poppycock. As John Gray remarked in Straw Dogs, "after all the work of Plato and Spinoza, Descartes and Bertrand Russell we have no more reason than other animals for believing that the sun will rise tomorrow." I think it the deepest wisdom to get it into our bones that we don't know even the tiniest fraction of what we think we know, and to start acting accordingly.

Still, whatever it is that's going on, it's a wonder through and through, riddled with great beauty and deep joy. Despite the misery, anguish, and pain that also comes with the territory, I wouldn't have missed it for anything.


  1. good read. the only thing i know is that i know nothing (and that's about as much as i can handle). those who think otherwise are perhaps hallucinating or not listening. the language of the silence. all the rest is just a bad translation. so, yes, sum ergo sum. et veni, silentio e silentii veniam, but in the meantime carpe diem. johan

  2. succinct . . . to the point . . . maybe unknowable, maybe just currently unknown . . . I especially like the thought: "I think it the deepest wisdom to get it into our bones that we don't know even the tiniest fraction of what we think we know, and to start acting accordingly." the first phrase I understand (and seem to agree with) . . . the second, "to start acting accordingly" . . . I would appreciate more . . . might that not be the tough kernel many of us are attempting to crack? Direction? I realize the narrow way and that zen murmurs that all directions are the way . . . but might you ponder and post some thoughts about starting to act accordingly . . . ? And on the existence of the universe, it's slightly older than you think . . . created in the summer of 1943 . . .