Manufacturing Dissent Since 1996
New interviews throughout the week

Moment of Truth: Bad Seeds of Speculation

Welcome to the Moment of Truth, the thirst that is the drink.

While listening to the Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds record, Murder Ballads, I was not looking for inspirational messages. I was not expecting any. But then the song came on, "Death is not the End," and suddenly a space opened up in my brainheart, or heartbrain, for the idea of the persistence of consciousness after the death of the body, and I got to feeling interested and cheerful. Interested again in life, which had recently become disturbingly empty, and cheered by the quasi-metaphysical thinking the brainheartspace allowed.

Occam's Razor is the idea that the simplest explanation is most likely correct. Writer, musician, and sports philosopher Robert Jacobson coined the term "Bozo's Mallet" to denote asinine misuse of the simplest-explanation theory. Or, it's the doctrine that the stupidest answer is usually the correct one. In any case, either Occam's Razor or Bozo's Mallet tells us the world exists. It sure seems to. Just take a look around. Or, if you're in the dark, grope around. Feel that?

And yet the world also seems not to be there. The present moment is fleeting. Matter and energy transform. All is transient. Your eyes and ears play tricks on you. Time leaves the past behind and moves into an unknown future. Experience is subjective. And when we fall asleep, we seem to enter another world in our dreams.

But the amount of detail reported about the external world is infinite and infinitesimally specific. If it's all an illusion, it seems like overkill. I would've been satisfied with a world that didn't get anymore finely-grained than molecules. If the illusionist wanted to fool me into believing in an external reality, there was really no need to come up with quarks and, for goodness sakes, a particle-wave paradox. Really, I would've been satisfied if the world were made out of pretzel dough. Or balanced on the back of a turtle. Or an infinite stack of turtles. You could've sold me anything.

If all that detail is purely for the sake of those with a desire to continue investigating ever deeper or farther into reality – well, I'm not one of those people. I check in on those people, just to keep up with what they're thinking, but much of it is gibberish. It's definitely wasted on me. Earth, Air, Fire, and Water would've been plenty of mystery. And yet, if the illusionist went to the trouble to make an illusory universe with details for scientists to discover, that just proves to me that scientists exist, because all that subatomic illusion was certainly not conjured up for me.

And don't even get me started with all the kinds of energy. What do we need that stuff for? I get why we need rocks, so the people who believe in their own existence have a place to stand. But energy fields with invisible shapes, it's really superfluous. I was already buying in.

It could be that the illusionist, be it computer matrix or mind or creature, is a workaholic. I just want to tell it, listen, slow down, you're going to burn yourself out. Stop and smell the roses, why don't ya? When you smell the rose, the rose also smells you. This is the kind of stuff I can only imagine the illusionist wants me to think up, considering the tools and evidence it has prepared for me.

There are chemicals in space. The universe makes chemicals. It makes chemicals and burns them or blows them up or just sticks them together. It smooshes them together inside stars. It sticks them together in crystals and tosses them out into space. Or the chemicals do it to themselves, with the help of forces like the strong and weak nuclear forces and gravity and whatnot. What is going on? No, don't tell me. Let it be a mystery.

In any case, Bozo's Mallet, along with the unnecessarily infinite complexity of waking reality, together lead me to believe that I am no mere brain floating in a jar being fed sensory data. Nor is the world purely a construction of my interior mental processes. The world is out there. And the vast majority of it is doing its business separated from me or any other living thing by vast distances in space and millions of years in time.

Why all this business, and why all this stuff, if only for it to lose steam eventually and fall apart? What kind of nonsense is that? And why are we able to think about it, search for it, perceive it, speculate on its nature and purpose?

Biologists will tell you our fertile consciousness developed as a byproduct of adapting for procreation and survival, and no other scientists are comfortable concluding anything much less prosaic from their data.

What is a mind? We assume that most of the universe doesn't have consciousness. We're the lucky ones. Crystals don't think and decide to grow. Stars don't decide to coalesce and ignite. Helium atoms don't have the desire to fuse into deuterium. Light doesn't leap out of the sun from a joyous impulse. These are anthropomorphisms.

Yet I'm still bothered by the endlessly creative impulse in the universe. It runs counter to our current scientific model, which resembles the notion of a Prime Mover a lot of Enlightenment thinkers once subscribed to. All matter and energy began with a Big Bang, and since then any creativity has been local phenomena coasting on the momentum of that original burst of energy. It's a bit shallow, I think. It's unsatisfactory.

Matter and energy have a tendency to come together and make new things. The tendency toward permutations and transformation of matter and energy is, legit, a force in and of itself.

What I'm suggesting, and I know I'm ill-equipped to make any suggestion at all, is that even given a purely materialist, secular, empirical view, it's reasonable to posit consciousness as not limited to creatures. Consciousness however vague, intention however alien, creativity however aimless – an impulse to explore possibilities – whatever you want to call it, we've yet to begin considering the advent of multiplicity of form as a cosmic force. And so, to consider consciousness as a function of the brain that disappears when the brain runs out of juice isn't necessarily the only way to soberly, scientifically understand it. Those contemplating "the hard problem" of the nature of consciousness are not strangers to aspects of this speculation. So I'm told.

We can all remember, if that's the right word, a time before our own identities existed. And so it's easy for us, if we choose to, to imagine a blank, empty time after our identity ceases. But identity isn't all there is to creativity, or exploration of possibility. What is going on all over the place? It's not as simple as we sometimes imagine it to be. Death is not the end of the chemicals we're made of, nor of the energy the interaction of those chemicals produce, even if it's only heat. And there is an entire universe creating structures and energy out there with unfathomable inventiveness.

I don't want to get your hopes up that our destiny is to join in some godhead in a beautiful eternal unity. Imagine the egg on my face if you woke up to oblivion! I do, however, declare that the universe is here, inside and outside of us, and I want to open up my thinking, if not yours, to the likelihood, without having to conjure up anything magical, that the mystery of its existing doesn't end with the end of yourself. All the things we fear and abhor and honor and love have to do with that mystery, and are unified by it, across the billions of light years and millions of millennia, in a vast and varied myriad.

By the way, I'm not happy about this state of affairs. It's only grudgingly I give in to this grandiose chirping of mine. My ideal universe is much simpler, with less clutter and fewer events going on, but this one we're in now will have to do, and it's a decent alternative, despite its shortcomings.

This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!

Moment of Truth


Share Tweet Send