In “Book Review: Schulz on Jim Holt’s Why Does the World Exist?” (Vulture , 7/8/12), Kathryn Schulz wrestles better with the conundrums than most:
Yet the very intractability of the problem turns out to have a salutary (and fun) side effect: All the ordinary kinds of answers being impossible, one begins to think in earnest about the extraordinary ones. This is a book that gets us to take seriously, at least for a few pages, the proposition that the universe was brought into being by the abstract idea of Goodness. (Hey, Plato thought so.) Elsewhere, we get a probabilistic, Bayesian case for the existence of God. We hear Heidegger speculate that nothingness is an agent, that noth-ing is a verb (“Das Nichts nichtet,” or “Nothing noths”: shades of Hopkins, for whom the self “selves”); perhaps, then, nothing nothed itself, thereby creating Being. We contemplate panpsychism, the theory that consciousness is a fundamental property, irreducible to physical components and pervasive throughout the universe: that, in the words of the astrophysicist Sir Arthur Eddington, “the stuff of the world is mind-stuff.”
Actually, it is a sensible idea. Almost all the problems with consciousness result from an attempt to reduce it to something else. Hardly anyone studies what it actually is. Also:
So much of contemporary science writing traffics in the illusion of knowledge; it’s quick to close the case, eager to peddle solutions, determined to be useful or profitable to readers. Holt traffics in wonder, a word whose dual meanings—the absence of answers; the experience of awe—strike me as profoundly related. His book is not utilitarian. You can’t profit from it, at least not in the narrow sense. Sometimes you can’t even understand it. And yet it does what real science writing should: It helps us feel the fullness of the problem.
We could start with consciousness.
See also: From the Why does anything exist? files …
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