“Is the world divided into mind and matter, and, if so, what is mind and what is matter? Is mind subject to matter, or is it possessed of independent powers? Has the universe any unity or purpose? Is it evolving towards some goal? Are there really laws of nature, or do we believe in them only because of our innate love of order? Is man what he seems to the astronomer, a tiny lump of impure carbon and water impotently crawling on a small and unimportant planet? Is he what he appears to Hamlet? Is he perhaps both at once? Is there a way of living that is noble and another that is base, or are all ways of living merely futile? If there is any way of living that is noble, in what does it consist, and how shall we achieve it? Must the good be eternal in order to deserve to be valued, or is it worth seeking even if the universe is inexorably moving towards death? Is there such a thing as wisdom, or is what seems such merely the ultimate refinement of folly? To such questions no answer can be found in the laboratory.”
– Bertrand Russell’s The History of Western Philosophy
“Why are there beings at all instead of nothing?’…. we must avoid emphasizing any particular, individual being, not even focusing on the human being. For what is this being, after all! Let us consider the Earth in the dark immensity of space in the universe. We can compare it to a tiny grain of sand; more than a kilometer of emptiness extends between it and the next grain of its size; on the surface of this tiny grain of sand lives a stupified swarm of supposedly clever animals, climbing all over each other, who for a brief moment have invented knowledge. And what is a human lifespan amidst millions of years? Barely a move on the second hand, a breath.”
— Martin Heidegger’s Introduction to Metaphysics
One morning you woke up, and you were alive. A scattering of particles coalesced, grew, and were born into the world. And when you woke that first morning you saw the universe – that cosmic tapestry woven billions of years ago – now triumphant in front of your crying, swollen eyes. You saw the most remarkable thing, you saw existence, your existence, and the existence of a whole host of shapes and sounds and movements. You walked on stage during Lacrimosa at the Berlin Philharmonic, and everything was screaming of a new splendour.
And then we just got used to it.
How bizarre is existence. I have no trouble imagining the counterfactual – I could not exist. In fact, there could be nothing existing. No space, no time, no planets, no trees, nothing, and no one to perceive the nothing.
If we could not have been, why are we?
Existence makes me feel very strange, like a person who wakes up, walks outside and finds themselves in Peru. What the heck? How did I get here? I feel as if I have woken up one morning in a universe, like a guy waking up with a massive hangover in an airport. What happened last night? I look around and see a bunch of other people who have caught the same midnight flight, who don’t know how they got where they are, but strangely, most seem totally existentially fine. After a massive night they have woken up in Peru, said to themselves, Peru. Ok then. I better find a job and get a travel pass. Hey look at how poorly that girl is dressed. Hey look, that guy has such a crap job. But I am still stuck at the stage of going Peru! Really? What’s up with that. And I want to stay at that stage for the rest of my life.
I mean if we are going to live in this ridiculous universe, we should at least spare the odd minute to go what.. the.. heck..? To explore that, to ask questions, to look at the sky in wonder on a cloudless day, isn’t that crucial? So, I guess that’s one reason why the blinkered careerism, consumerism and materialism of our age just seems very ignorant and infantile. You have a house in a nice suburb and you are a vice president with a nice watch, but you are also a bunch of atoms afloat on a sea of quantum possibility who woke up twenty seven years ago on a rock spinning around an ongoing fusion bomb thirteen point seven billion years after nothing exploded into something as time and space and dimensional reality began.