John Alexandra, author of The Wisdom of Being, asks some unsettling questions about our place in the universe.
Why does anything exist?
This question, posed by Heidegger, produces a fundamental shift in thought. Before asking it, we are entirely caught up in the mundane process of living. We feel no astonishment that we and the world around us exist. We live in a miracle and consider it ordinary.
Our complacency is stunning. We see ourselves as the central pivot of the earth, the conquerors of nature. We also believe that the human mind is the most complex construction in the universe. It never occurs to us that we are not Nature's master but part of it. That our species, like others, will inevitably become extinct and that our insignificance is profound.
We have been here for no more than a second in the lifespan of the planet. A planet, by the way, that is less than a speck in the abyss of time circling a third rate star in a universe incalculably vast. Even our sun has no more significance than a grain of sand on a ninety mile beach. On this scale the entire history of humanity is imperceptibly brief.
As for you and me, we are nothing. Our size and lifespan are so pitiful that objectively we don't exist. Yet our smugness is matched only by our monumental hubris. Once, perhaps, we had a sense of awe. It is now almost exclusively limited to astronomers.
We are clearly not destined to enjoy ourselves. Life is nasty, brutish and short—with just enough satisfaction included to prevent us from opening our veins. So what is our function? Just to survive and, if possible, to prosper? To get and spend? As rich people say, 'He who dies with the most toys wins.'
Nature has a function and we are part of it. Which part? We are not entirely an animal and certainly not an enlightened being. We are in fact, a transitional form, with only the potential to evolve. And that evolution must be conscious. That is why we are flawed. Without the ability to cock up, no conscious evolution would be possible because the effort must be voluntary.
So, within limits, we have choice. But as most of us function at the level of animals the potential is rarely approached and so Nature is obliged to compensate by increasing our birth-rate, our lust for conflict and by multiplying natural disasters. In this way, it gets the raw energy from humanity it needs. Either way, we are used. Impartial Nature is not our friend. We are a component of it—its tool.
But back to the subject. Why is there anything? Why not just a void? Perhaps both states exist but our limited mind sees only one. Even the Buddhists assert that form is emptiness, emptiness form—that everything issues from nothing and ultimately returns to it.
We use terms like 'god' or 'infinity' to express what our minds cannot grasp. We pretend to understand the universe but don't even understand ourselves.
We cannot conceive an infinite universe. And a finite one is equally impossible. How can space come to an end? Because then what is beyond or outside it?
And if we postulate an intelligence or god behind creation, where did it come from? A succession of other gods? If so, how did the original one appear? Or is the insensate inchoate causeless and endless? An equally impossible conjecture. A god that was and ever shall be—world without end? Incredible. Impossible. Utterly beyond sane logic.
Did all of this come from nothing? Impossible.
Or has it always been here? Impossible.
As we cannot fathom the vastness around us we cling to our theories, those of us who think at all, because there is one thing we dare not admit.
That our minds are too limited to comprehend reality.
So where does that leave us? That is, those of us who stir for a moment in our habitual state of waking sleep?
With a question we cannot answer.
In this incomprehensible immensity, what am I here for?
And what am I?
You can check out The Wisdom of Being here.