Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Nothing to see

On Friday afternoon I was walking down the hill from the dry cleaner, thinking as one does about Aquinas and his five arguments for the existence of God. Naturally enough I rolled around the idea of first cause, which led to thinking about the originating moment of existence, which in turn led to an attempt to imagine the moment before the Creation. At that point, dear reader, my eyes crossed and my head began to swim because I found it impossible and greatly disorienting to try imagining nothingness, the complete absence of the natural universe. It felt like a very lonely place, because in order to imagine Nothing, I had to also imagine myself attempting to observe this Nothing, so there we were: Nothing and me. Which is not, of course, Nothing, because in Nothing there is neither observer nor observed, and trying to imagine that gave me a bitch of a headache. Luckily, by then I'd reached my front door and was able to hang up my dry cleaning and brew a pot of coffee, which I drank in the garden while the cat sat on the arm of a nearby Adirondack chair and ignored me as best as she could.

Yesterday morning I was walking from the train station to my office and I looked up at the sky, noting with some satisfaction that the clouds were behaving in a less threatening manner, retreating upward from my fair city and breaking apart here and there to display a deep blue heaven edged with sunlit cumulus fluff, very pretty indeed. Lower down, near the horizon, all was still a mix of gray and silver, layer upon layer of nimbus and wet. Not for the first time I thought that if the sky were fixed, like a landscape, like a mountain range or an archipelago, we'd long ago have given names to the geography of the sky and written myths about the gods and mortals suspended up there. There's Bartleby's Wall, we'd think, or The Medusa's Hair, and when the moon passed behind a cloud bank we'd remember the stories of the inhabitants of the far side of those clouds, people who dance in moonlight, wisps of cloud raised by their rhythmic feet. The development of high-altitude aircraft would mean detailed maps of these unseen regions and subsequent disappointment over the absence of floating palaces and villages. "There's nothing up there," we'd say.

11 comments:

  1. As one does... As you do! I like this very well--that is, I like the way you think and this bit of Scott's mind drifting here and there. Having a somewhat unfortunate day (very sick cat week) and popped by for refreshment. Refreshment obtained! Now, off I go....

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    1. My work is done, then! Good luck to the cat.

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  2. Set aside the semiotics of the word Nothingness, including the ironies, and consider this possibility: Dreams are as close as we come to giving substance to Nothingness. Too much? Well, thanks for your posting. It sends my mind into all sorts of clouds and geographies.

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    1. It's likely that I don't quite know what you mean. I think dreams are something, generated by other somethings. I think Nothing is unimaginable and probably impossible!

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    2. Well, as for what I mean, my semiotics comment points to the fact that letters combined into words mean nothing except that we agree upon meaning for those letters and words. And my comment about dreams points to my notion that the substance of dreams so often disappears and cannot be remembered that we might as well both attribute them and consign them to nothingness, which suggests nothingness must actually be filled to overflowing with -- if nothing else -- unremembered dreams. Too much blathering? Hey, I admit it is neither theology nor philosophy, but I think the points are worth pondering (at least by me).

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  3. I similarly have crossed-eyed moments when I try to comprehend Augustine's notion of God existing outside of time. What it is like not to be bound by time? Is that where we're headed, and if do doesn't it mean that some post-death version of me already exists there in some form or another? Then John Calvin taps me on the shoulder and waits to see if I'll follow my musings to their logical conclusion, but I run away and drink a root beer instead.

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    1. I always admire Augustine's frustrated admission, "I have no idea what time is!" We really don't know, we have no idea what God's experience of being is, and we never will know. Which is okay.

      I don't believe in the compartmentalized idea of time, where there are multiple me objects; I think it must work some other way, and God's experience of duration is different, though in what way I have no idea.

      I confess that I'm mostly completely unfamiliar with Calvin. I like his stuffed Tiger, though.

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  4. Interesting topic and one most of us have thought of only to run off for a beer or a root beer, anything to take our mind off the hereafter and possibility of nothing. As I recently lost my father, this is more often on my mind, also as we age and realize we've lived longer than we will live we think of these things.It's the same as considering the vastness of space, light years and dark holes and how big it it all anyway? Who is God and where is he?

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    1. What if God exists only in our minds? Then can God exist outside of time? After all, we exist only within time. But why do so many people in the history of the world conceive of God or gods? That universal imagining is mind-boggling, and suggests something beyond time. And then there is this: does time have a beginning and end? What then exists beyond those boundaries? Even as we think or say the word "nothing," we have already signified something; therefore, nothing is always something, even if we cannot otherwise apprehend it. Too much blathering again?

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    2. Yvonne, I'm sorry to hear about your father. I love that hat he's wearing in the photo you posted, though.

      I think a lot about how my time is limited, and how I have a few things I'd like to do before that time is up, but mostly I guess I don't think about death or the hereafter much at all. I'm not worried about death, mine or anyone else's. I miss a lot of people who've already gone, but I find myself growing more pragmatic as I age, less interested in philosophy for its own sake. How should we be kind, how should we love, how should we serve: those are the only questions that seem to matter anymore.

      Though, as Shakespeare asked, "But say, sir, is it dinnertime?" is also an important question.

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