(c) Copyright 2013 Margaret Langstaff, All Rights Reserved
[What follows is a rambling, ruminative follow-up to a book review I recently posted on Goodreads
. Books that address ultimate questions often have such a residual effect on readers. I beg your indulgence as I wander around and poke at some of the issues and thoughts this one sparked in me :)]
Intellectual inquiry exercises our all too lax cerebral muscles (or whatever, “cells” and neurons, perhaps) and is worth it for its own sake, even in pursuit of dead ends and rubber chickens such as this. The following is a review I wrote of a recently published title that has elicited mixed reviews, ire, reverence, fulminations and praise from others. Allow me to add my own 2 cents, for what they’re worth (not much of course). And join the discussion. Bend and stretch, reach for the stars.
Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story
by Jim Holt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Well, I suppose I was not surprised to discover it was intelligently written, highly personal, rather meandering and–ultimately–inconclusive. It’s actually a chronicle of one well educated, inquisitive, doubtful, probing (ok, I’ll quit) man’s quest to answer the question he asked in the title itself.
The author is engaging, and if you are like-minded, curious, and of an empirical rather than absolutist-theological frame of mind, you probably will enjoy traveling along with him as he covers old ground, rehashes old themes and evidence/theories, provides a kind of historical survey of previous assaults on the Big Nut of the Cosmos, and explores the new and strange hypotheses put forth by quantum physics and even newer razzle-dazzle hypo-positers proposing to explain what everything “is,” where it came from and where it’s going.
Frankly, I’ll take Borges over this: the hallucinatory nature of our perceptions, the inadequacy of our faculties and categories of thought to address in a meaningful way a preposterously insurmountable question, but a question of utmost importance to us nevertheless.
Or even Poe: “Is all we see or seem only a dream within a dream?”
Maybe. From where I stand, in spite of all I’ve read and studied, I still don’t know and am not convinced anyone does.
That however leaves a lot of room for faith, surmise, speculation, intense further research and imaginative-original art. Could be that’s what it’s all about, and what we should be about. A meaningful, life-enhancing tease? A biological-psychological necessity/imperative? I think so. I think it does indeed serve a purpose. It sets in motion a kind of perpetual motion machine
in our minds and psyches. It forces the ongoing, continuously revised reinvention, under the pressure of dissolution and disintegration, of a convincing raison d’etre.
“Causal Entropy,” the latest amendment to the Laws of Thermodynamics
, beckons and taunts us from the margins. An interesting bunny trail to follow for a while? I’m in. I mean, why not?
Yet I honestly think “why?” the universe exists is beyond our grasp at this stage of our knowledge and intelligence, our so-called development, but our discomfort, our restless curiosity, is an inborn, compulsion, a critical inducement, a fire under us or in us, to stay alert, watchful, curious…to see if indeed, in fact, one fine day we can make it all “add up” and find a happy ending to “this green Experiment.”
It’s the mystery of life and the dread of death that makes us get up in the morning, stay up late at night studying the stars and planets, pretending all the while we are not the sleuthing for final answers, that we are just innately curious. After all, we are a curious species. We suspect we know the final answer already as pertains us and we don’t like it. We hope we’re wrong. So we keep looking, dreaming, searching for a more satisfactory conclusion than the “quiet dust” we know we will one day become.
This quiet Dust was Gentlemen and Ladies
And Lads and Girls–
Was laughter and ability and Sighing
And Frocks and Curls.
This Passive Place a Summer’s nimble mansion
Where Bloom and Bees
Exists an Oriental Circuit
Then cease, like these–
This is a chilling thought. Certainly, we hope, that’s not “all there is.” Surely we can come up with something better than this.