Philosophical musings of Chic Hollis
“If you start with nothing, and you end with nothing, does anything that happens in between matter? Is so, to whom?”
There is no correct solution to this riddle that I made up years ago. Nevertheless many attempts to answer the two questions have been made by friends based on their individual interpretations of the sketchy narrative. The riddle’s challenge messes with the mind of anyone who tries to solve it. Yet, the most obvious narrative implied was the coming and going of human life.
The two key words in the riddle are “nothing” and “matter.” No one knows exactly how any living creature crosses the threshold from nothing into something, and no one has any proof that there is an ongoing existence of any kind after death. The void from which the physical universe suddenly appeared at the moment of the “Big Bang” cannot be identified and described. The void into which the universe may eventually disappear is another enigma. So, the “life time” of our universe also is a possible narrative for my simple riddle.
As humans, we grow up believing that we are important to someone, initially to our parents, then to our spouses, and finally to our friends and our children. But how can we know that the sum of all the energy we spend in getting an education, pursuing a career, raising a family, and avoiding the Grim Reaper has any lasting value to anyone besides ourselves?
The struggle to survive exhibited by all plants and animals has been codified into a commonly known “family value” which strongly insists that we should not let ourselves become discouraged, give up, and commit suicide. We automatically accept those instructions without asking any questions, and we rarely inquire why we should strive to be what other humans want us to be. What do they know? Are they the ones who will eventually judge us and our performance? What do we gain from “hanging around” with them as long as possible?
To whom would it “matter” what six plus billion frantic, flightless, featherless bipeds did on this small planet? And all their ancestors who wearily trod this globe before them? Who cares about the earth, the solar system, the Milky Way Galaxy, or the fictitious human life depicted in the popular play “Our Town” written by Thornton Wilder about the small town of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire – Wilder’s gentle inquiry that raised the same question many years ago?
Yes, we humans care. What happens to us matters to us as long as we are here inhaling oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide – and wasting our precious time surfing the web and playing computer games. After we’re gone, will anyone be crying? And how long with the crying last?
I didn’t mean to disturb your tranquility and touch your delicate protective bubble of self-esteem. Those of us who understand the English language like to play around with hard to pronounce words, weird ideas, and mind-numbing riddles.
Sometimes words make us laugh and sometimes they make us wonder why humans learned to speak, read, and write. The universe is a very deep mystery that evades a clear explanation from our most learned philosophers and scientists.