Thursday, May 19, 2011 7:01 PM
Given that this is the actual state of everything, where do we find how to live? Morality? A catch-all, seemingly devised to find out and explain our weaknesses. Many have had a go at it, hoping to come up with a panacea for humanity’s mistakes. Plato tried Justice, Bentham tried math- so many merits against so many de-merits. Modern scientists, on the other hand, will have no truck with such vagaries, substituting a bigger vagary than them all. For them, nothing is certain, only probable.
Good and bad are mixed up together and no course of action is entirely right or even safe. Often the best bet is to base ‘oughts’ upon what works. Faith in what works at least has something going for it. Others who hanker after the supernatural may try prayer - the so-called spiritual way, meaning ‘feelings’. Feelings come with an excuse to deny what everyone else finds obvious. But those for whom a feeling is preferable to a formula, are too uncertain to rely on in an emergency. Better to be like a scientist, follow the probable and see what happens. So much for ought. What about Truth, Justice and the big ideas? Compared with the little ones, they make a lot of trouble. Philosophies get so bogged down in them they upset more than they seem to be worth. Or take Existence and Reality. How about them? Oceans of ink and endless mouse clicking have resulted in high flown definitions that no one can agree upon, so they have become more and more uncertain, and we are left wondering if they can be said to exist at all except as secret parts of some other conundrum such as Being or Truth.
Knowledge is another big idea that poses similar problems. We can know nothing, say today’s wise men, while all the time acting as if they don’t believe a word of it, again like Religion.
We get ourselves muddled when we breach the world of abstraction only to get lost in page after page of inconsistencies and more often contradictions.
That is why the solution to all this lies in the world around us, the everyday world, rather than some Nirvana where Truth and Reality float forever beyond our reach. After all, the world around us is full of stuff we can get our teeth into and provides a more reliable road map to guide our mental perambulations.
Existence, for example, means our bodies, our houses, our automobile, our gardens and so on: the weather, jobs, food and flowers – all real, all mixed up together and all on their way to join everything else, and yet all made of atoms. That’s reality! Even though clothes wear out, flowers fade, bodies die nothing is lost; it just keeps moving along into something else, and it doesn’t stop even when you stop thinking about it.
When Democritus – or was it Leucippus? – first thought of atoms he couldn’t have imagined that one day we’d be able to photograph them in action. This was in done in 1986 by Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer (of IBM) who won a Nobel Prize for doing so. Two thousand five hundred years it took, largely because the tools to do it with hadn’t been invented and that was because some humans had got it into their heads that material things like metal and human flesh (among virtually everything else) were second class or of no account in the big story of life. How wrong they were! Atoms are everywhere. Without them we wouldn’t exist, for they are actual bits of energy in action.
So why do we ignore such important details? Perhaps its because we have gotten so used to the Big Picture – the big screen – ignoring the world around, or seeing it always through other people’s eyes – dangerous, because it gives us a slanted view of everything.
But once we acknowledge that everything around us – walls, floors, ceilings, streets – are formed of atoms all on the move and not always in one direction, we can see that there’s no holding things down in one place. And since we also are part and parcel of the maelstrom of each and every moment, we can also see that we, like everything else, are taking part in an endless exchange, a mind boggling phenomenon and not at all the heavy, static description of existence that some would have us believe. We don’t see the sun move or ourselves growing old – but try to ignore it. Ask any flower – or a raindrop – they’ll tell you!
However, few experiences explain existence quite so clearly as does death, the dissolution of our bodies into the beginning of what we usually describe as the ‘end’. However we choose to deal with that experience, we are forced to admit that it is neither so lugubrious nor so uninviting as we thought. For we now know more not less than what happens and it is nothing like the horrid Judgment Day we once supposed it to be. In fact, it’s more of a party to which everyone is invited. And what’s more, everyone comes! First the tiny ones who rejoice at the abundance of the goodies being offered; then they prepare for their offspring who very quickly provide invitations (as it were) to larger diners, and so on until all has been distributed far and wide. Our trillions of atoms become part and parcel of any number of other beings, many of them very beautiful indeed!
Of all our parts (and we have so very many) nothing is more ubiquitous than the molecules of oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen that we all breathe in and out: they fly from our bodies to join the clouds and even the breath of other humans: they cavort among the winds and reach around the world.
Just so have millions upon millions of us passed into the lives of millions more. And we too will follow them, never far away from our ancestors, our friends and loved ones, all of us caught up in the grand everlasting tour of our planet. It’s a grand feast of energy. Sad, you say? Only to those who prefer things to stay the same – which nothing ever does!