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On Existence, Life, Death, and Time

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In my late twenties I seriously began to ponder the enigmas called life and death. Hoping to come to a clearer, more objective understanding, I tried to minimize the number of necessary, irreducible assumptions, and came up with two. I used them to elaborate ideas included in my booklet entitled Beyond Any Kind of God.

The assumptions are: (1) that awareness of perception exists and that it has unlimited magnitudes of intensity; but exactly what or where it is and how it arises and operates are currently unknowable. And (2) that possibilities exist everywhere, are infinite in qualitative difference, and can be perceived; but exactly what the nature of a possibility is and how it came to be are currently unknowable.

If there is absolutely no awareness, then no possibility can be manifested. So, there is absolutely nothing. Likewise, awareness of no possibility yields the same result -- nothing. Either situation denotes dreamless sleep or death, events that cannot be described, further characterized, or meaningfully experienced. In either case there could be no heaven, no purgatory, no nirvana, no paradise, no soul, no "world spirit," and no god.

Now, if awareness somehow were "turned on" from zero intensity, very gradually progressing to minimal intensity "applied" to the possibility of a certain red color, then for the entity endowed with that awareness the red would be "coming into existence" or "being born." This fairly well corresponds to the subjective experiential development of a newborn infant whose intensifying awareness of ever more possibilities rapidly expands the subjective "experiences" comprising its existence.

Empirical reality consists of awareness centered on or merging with countless possibilities of differing quality, such as color, size, weight, texture, composition. If certain specific possibilities are perceived by awareness of invariant intensity, then one has a static "snapshot" of life. The dynamism of life as we know it is due to by an incessantly oscillating intensity of awareness and a constantly fluctuating conglomerate of possibilities thereby actualized. But without a jot of knowledge about the nature and locus of awareness (other than it exists and is infinitely variable in intensity), and without knowledge about the basic nature of possibilities (other than that they exist and are infinitely different in quality), one cannot account for the obviously uniform regulation and apparently coherent continuum of an astonishing phantasmagory, this scintillating kaleidoscopic spectrum of incredibly minute changes of day to day, sleep-interrupted life and the even more striking gradual changes of aging.

Which brings us to time. We usually think of it as an independent something having arisen in the immemorial past and progressing at a constant rate into eternity. (Isn't it strange how that constant rate subjectively seems to accelerate as one ages?) However, time is not independent of the above spectrum. Past, present, and future always are part of it. For example, very intense indeed maximal awareness of certain possibilities denote "immediate present instant," – for me now writing this sentence. All other possibilities, such as those comprising my desk, my chair, a yawn are perceived with less intense awareness denoting "immediate past" or "immediate future", and even "more remote past" or "more remote future" in the case of the yawn. Past and future (memory and imagination) ensue from the refocusing of awareness on certain other related and unrelated possibilities comprising the "spectrum" one's own existence called life.

It stands to reason that awareness of possibilities is mediated through senses (which themselves manifest awareness of certain possibilities). We humans have five reliable (if not infallible) senses, and a mooter one called intuition or extrasensory perception which, together with sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell makes a total of 5 ½ senses. All are unique. We know that more than 5 ½ senses exist: the bat has a kind of radar or sonar that we lack. How many more unique senses are there? Three? Twenty? An infinite number? Imagine how radically different our lives would be, materially and spiritually, if humans never had sight. An even more interesting question is what would ensue if humans were suddenly endowed with a unique and reliable sixth sense as powerful as sight. Much of our life styles, our sciences, religions, philosophies, and esteemed institutions would collapse as heaps of frivolous nonsense; and martyred visionaries would be proven right. And if three additional unique, reliable senses were added? The collapse would be total and catastrophic.

An amoeba also may have senses -- perhaps touch, taste, and even smell; but hardly hearing, and certainly not sight. We did not know of the amoeba's existence with our paltry 5 ½ senses until relatively recently when sight was enhanced though microscopy. Does the amoeba "know" of the existence of biological entities called humans? Probably not. Could we be the amoebas for some alien entity gifted with a unique sense we lack? Probably.

Let's assume that some kind of sentient entity is endowed with six unique senses, and another entity endowed with six totally different unique senses. How could they ever be aware of or discover each other's existence (even though they might exist congruously in the same universal "space")? If the realm of possibilities is infinite in number and quality, then there could be and most likely is an infinite number of unique senses. And there could be and mostly likely is an infinite number of "conscious" entities or forms of life or existence, in their own "universes" which may overlap and yet be absolutely and mutually undetectable and unknowable.

All of this is reminiscent of an old, somewhat scary and disagreeable philosophic doctrine called solipsism. According to it each individual's consciousness determines all that exists, and nothing exists which is not perceived by that consciousness. All of reality, the whole universe comes into existence and vanishes with the "birth" and the extinction of the perceptive consciousness. Solipsism is disquieting, desolate, egoistic, and easy to discount and ignore. Nevertheless it is fascinating -- and at least honest.

When I wrote Beyond Any Kind of God the age of our universe was estimated to be five billion years, but I predicted that it is much older. Now 40 years later it's said to be 12 billion years. I insist that it is much older than that. I also predicted that there are particles of matter tinier than mesons, muons, pions, and I can predict with confidence that there are many particles much smaller than quarks. The speed of light is not the ultimate speed in our universe. It seems absurd to endow a limitless universe with such a relatively infinitesimal velocity. After all, how could we be aware of a velocity 100 octillion times faster than the speed of light if we haven't discovered the thing going that fast? And soon the "Big Bang" will be a laughable relic.

Scientists especially should never forget that there are no limits in the infinite realm of possibilities, no limits to the longest or shortest, the largest or tiniest, the heaviest or lightest, the fastest or slowest: no beginning, no end. The limits are in us, -- and they are very narrow.

Will we ever comprehend what life, death, and time really are? Probably not.

Can we ever know? Probably not.

Should we stop trying?

Absolutely not!

JK:ONEXISTE-ForbesFinal 5/15/99

May 14, 1999

Mr. Rodes Fishburne, Lead Editor


555 Airport Boulevard, 5th

Burlington, CA 94010


0 #1 Julie InYourFaceNewYorker 2011-05-16 22:18
I like this article, although I'm not sure about how I feel about philosophy; I strongly believe in adhering to the scientific method. Still, these are interesting thoughts.

Whatever the case:

"Now my own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose." --JBS Haldane


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