The Flammarion Engraving. People have been aware of weird shit since before 1872, but this picture feels like a good illustration of what I’ve been feeling lately. There’s a point in any stage of society where the society’s members reach out for things they don’t understand, like space. Broadly speaking the engraving is about people theorising the existence of things beyond the sky. If we didn’t have astronauts and big-ass telescopes, that’d be quite a scary concept, no? A strange, unknowable existence beyond existence?
Well, here’s the thing: the problem doesn’t go away with the Great Humongous telescopes. We may have stretched perception even to the edges of the universe, but there’s still the barely appreciable question of what lies beyond that. Or beyond the multiverse. Or about the nature of infinity. And the idea of all the significant shit we don’t know has really been messing with my head lately. It’s not even about death yo, I’m just worried that when I die my capacity to work this out will be substantially reduced. I wanna know what’s going on. I want the next answer in the infinite chain of “Why?” questions we can ask.
Gah. I feel like the dude in the engraving. I’ve just poked my head and arm out into space and I’m taking these heaving breaths of nothing, it’s inflating my skull to pop territory and maybe I’m even burning from the fictitious fires of the Firmament.
I love what I do – philosophy that is – but really. This is the worst. The worst feeling ever, you know, when you reach a little too far and get off balance. I mean fuck. I’ll get over it but in the meantime I been dazed and confused so long it’s not true (wanted an answer, never bargained for you).
Here’s how it is:
Existence is self-justifying. In human terms anyway. It’s ironically similar to the Christian God as described by various medieval and early modern theologians, except it definitely isn’t a man, nor human, nor particularly comprehensible. Our slice of it is what’s comprehensible, the rest is clearly way out West. I mean, banditos ride through it regularly and burn down evidence of the crime. Tom Waits is there, getting money – they’re giving it away. It’s chaos, man. It’s so chaotic that all metaphors are borderline mockery, if it could be mocked.
Existence is more or less infinite. We can’t really look at infinity to check, but logically it makes sense. In the way that it made sense to various Greek scientist-philosophers that the world might be made up of small particles, the world might be round, the world might orbit the sun…that kind of thing. The way that Flammarion has someone poking their head through the Firmament. People who have no idea what they’re talking about, but 200, 3000 years later, someone exonerates their account. Kinda. Given the limits they were working under.
In short, your being aware – of anything at all – means that something is happening, something exists. If something exists, very quickly any kind of non-existence starts to seem impossible. Which, by definition, it is. Don’t forget that.
You want to quote the philosophy that says nothing exists except when you’re there to experience it? Get all Burroughsey on me? I’m going to Occam’s Razor that shit. What, the entirety of existence pops in, consistent, rational, scientific, just because you move your head? Or just because your ear develops as part of the natural course of things – which are what by the way? – and you can hear a little further so a few more noises have to exist? Sure, it’s possible. Likely however…I’m not convinced.
The point of that whole thing is quantum mechanics. Broad strokes: a thing (an electron I hear) could be anywhere until something measures it. But it doesn’t pop into existence, it exists somewhere, or exists everywhere and gets measured somewhere. Weird, but not temporary un-existence.
You’re going to have to do your own research and soul-searching on this but it’s probable that things exist, just because existence is the way of things. Linguistically for sure, but it checks out in all that we know about human reality. We live, we die, when we die our parts are re-distributed through natural processes. No matter is created or destroyed. The big bang might have happened, and if it did all the contents were already there. Human existence…our little lifetimes, our big lifetimes: nothingness is pretty much irrelevant to us as humans. Us as matter…maybe it’s relevant. Maybe even to us as conscious entities. But in our capacity as humans it looks as though everything is in its right place. Suck it.
We are part of an expanding universe, and our interest in that is to further a stable expansion or evolution. Broad strokes. If you want to put that in God terms, we’re building the Kingdom of Heaven. Brick by brick but hey, better than nothing right? Never say I exclude y’all religious folks.
Good and bad, there are absolutely efficient decisions which tend to fall more or less along traditional moral lines. Killing is usually bad for example. It hinders the progress of evolution because we’re destroying when we can modify or redirect.
This stands up under scrutiny even if I’m not doing it justice right now. Once you get past the irritatingly subtle “the point of existence is to exist more” or “morality is just about getting better”, it really looks like it has legs. More so than most other propositions of an absolute philosophy or morality. Humans kinda are that simple.
And yet the point of the beginning of this post: it’s not enough. We might get the validation we’re looking for as humans, great. I’m terrified of not getting my “why”, the understanding, validation, value as a conscious being, or as the caretaker of billions of atoms that make up my body, if that’s what we are. The bigger, non-human question which probably extends beyond human understanding so…fuck. End of the tunnel? Where are the limits of existence or if there aren’t any then why the fuck? Infinity? Really? We start again at the end? We just exist in Aristotelian Prime Mover bliss?
I don’t know. Head sticking out here, my eyes haven’t adjusted to the dark yet, maybe I’m about to breathe in a vacuum. Goddang Flammarion has more to it than initially appears.
Let’s just take solace in the possibility that there are the equivalent to answers out there, and we just don’t have the capacity to know them…yet.