Brian Greene’s latest book Until the End of Time searches for meaning in our universe by connecting prevalent theories on everything from atoms and astronomy to art and angst. Most interesting of all is his analysis of why we tell stories.
What evolutionary utility could arise from following the exploits of imaginary characters facing make-believe challenges in non-existent worlds? (274) Through borrowed eyes protected by the tempered glass of story, we intimately observe an abundance of exotic worlds. And it is through these simulated episodes that our intuition expands and refines, rendering it sharper and more flexible. Through story we internalize a more nuanced sense of how to respond and why, and that intrinsic knowledge guides our future behavior. (279)
Storytelling is our most powerful means of inhabiting other minds. And as a deeply social species, the ability to momentarily move into the mind of another may have been essential in our survival and our dominance. (283) The stories provide a means for experiencing the universe from a perspective that is otherwise unattainable. (284) Through narrative we explore the range of human behavior, from societal expectations to heinous transgressions. We witness the breadth of human motivation, from lofty ambition to reprehensible brutality. (285)
None of which explains my dream of my cat Popo (who died in 1999) as an evil red-eyed monster driving an open-bed truck, wreaking death and destruction while Allen (a friend who I haven’t seen since 1987) careened off in an outboard boat, almost killing sunbathers and then vanished in pile of gravel as my father (who dies in 1989) accused me of plotting to kill my mother (who died this year) because I had a number of pictures of her on my wall when I was only trying to sleep.
Existential responsibility started long before Nietzsche and company espoused those virtues, dating as far back as Aeschylus in his portrayal of Prometheus, the giver of light:
I know exactly every thing/That is to be; no torment will come unforeseen/My appointed fate I must endure as best I can/Knowing the power of Necessity is irresistible/Under such suffering, speech and silence are alike/Beyond me. For bestowing gifts upon mankind/I am harnessed in this torturing clamp.
For I am he/Who hunted out the source of fire, and stole it, packed/In the pith of a dry fennel-stalk. And the fire has proved/For men a teacher in every art, their grand resource/That was the sin for which I now pay the full price/Bared to the winds of heaven, bound and crucified (ll 101-111, Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound)
The being that exists is man. Man alone exists. Rocks are – but they do not exist. Trees are, but they do not exist. Horses are, but they do not exist. Angels are, but they do not exist. God is, but he does not exist.
The proposition “man alone exists” does not mean by any means that man alone is a real being while all other beings are unreal and mere appearances or human ideas.
The proposition “man exists” means: man is that being whose Being is distinguished by the open-standing standing-in in the unconcealedness of Being, from Being, in Being. (Martin Heidegger)
I have been blogged for close to eight years. Sometimes I have been on my game, especially in the post Hurricane Sandy days.
Other days not so much. Greenland can definitely slow me down.
It appears that these quarantine days have got me back on my virtual pony. I have blogged fourteen straight days now – on everything I can think about and some I don’t as much.
I like the routine of blogging, no matter the irrelevance of it. It is a distraction, like my new spinning routine, part three of my speculative trilogy or filling in the sky of this 2,000-piece puzzle.
I much prefer these things to ruminating on the next steps of the quarantine, watching other people coping on social media, reading about those who have to work and realizing how little society actually cares about them, thinking about how stupid we all are, when this world will finally end, how pointless our existing ever was…
So, yeah, it’s better to stick to the blog. Maybe the puzzle too.
Not sure what to do with yourself as you look out that window hour upon hour upon hour? There’s nothing better than a little existential thought to crack that nut. Let’s start with the nihilistic captain himself, Friedrich Nietzsche:
“Whither is God” he cried. “I shall tell you. We have killed him – you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now?”
“Whither are we moving now? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder?“