It's in this post-finale everything-is-wonderful mindset that I will write about my recent bout with existentialism. I'd heard about "existential crises" before, but I hadn't actually experienced one until two weeks ago. It was, I'm pretty sure, a Saturday, or maybe a Sunday. On that day my family and I were returning from a trip to Santa Fe. It happened while on a winding road through the Rocky Mountains, the four of us silent with our thoughts, half-listening to whatever music was softly coming out of the car speakers. There was greenery to all sides, hundreds of pines surrounding the road we were on, the afternoon sun touching all but the most secluded trees which stood crookedly along a river at the bottom of a ravine to our right. I could just make out the familiar shapes of birds flying around the top of the forest, traveling from treetop to treetop in search for whatever birds need at the tail end of spring. Some of those birds, I knew, were just now experiencing their first year of life, having been born and taken flight in just the few months since winter. Within this calming atmosphere, surrounded by all of this wondrous, splendorous life, I had a single, sudden question:
Why is any of this happening?
I looked at all of this complexity and beauty and I realized, as a fledging mathematician, an amateur physicist, an aspiring writer, an avid reader, and a tentative philosopher, that it would make way more sense for this to be not happening. It's hard to explain, really, but I'll try. From a mathematician's perspective, the world is needlessly complex, to the point where we aren't yet even sure what system describes it, if any. There are simpler laws, easier rules to follow. Why, then, is all of this here?
Here the physicist's perspective comes in: the world does seem to follow laws. Those laws are all expressed in mathematics, usually with mathematics that was invented well before those laws were discovered. Why? Why should we be able to figure these things out? How exactly has it worked so well so far? Not only is the universe real, and beautiful, and complex, and alive; it is also understandable to us, even when it seems mysterious.
As a writer and a reader, then, I start to think of my other worlds, those that I have spent so much of my life experiencing and creating. Why aren't they with me? What do I have that they do not that makes me out here and them in there? Out of all on the narratives that there are, out of all the lives that have ever been lived and not been lived, why is mine being lived, right now?
The small amount of philosopher within me did not have the answers to my questions. I had of course seen these questions written before, and had them posed to me, but I had never really felt them in the way that I did at this moment, driving through the Rocky Mountains. My previous answer had been an anthropic one, which I now see as joking and dismissive. Why is there something rather than nothing? Why am I here to write these words right now? Well, if there was nothing rather than something, or if I was not here to write these words, then you wouldn't be reading this. But you are reading this. Therefore there is something rather than nothing, and therefore I am here to write these words.
While before this answer had satisfied me completely, and even made me feel smugly superior to those who did not accept the logical argument, now I could see why this circular reasoning was woefully incomplete. The question is not asking for a logical argument; the question is asking for some explanation for the fact that we are when we so clearly shouldn't be.
I don't remember if I managed to answer the question to my satisfaction at that point, but I think I probably did not. Eventually I got distracted by the music or some other thing and the urgent, all-consuming question simply fell out of my mind. It wasn't until the following Tuesday night that the question bared down on me again. But, before I get to that, I think I'll have a rest and a day of work to clear my head. It's 1:16, and I need to sleep, and this first half has taken too long already. See you tomorrow.
That night, as I lay in my bed with my sheets drawn closely around me (this was before I bought my blanket), I was hit by that same feeling again. Here I was, here, wrapped in an artificial fabric on top of an artificial mattress encaged in an artificial room within a building full of identical rooms and a city full of similar buildings on a tiny patch of land on a little blue ball hurtling around a star like any other in a galaxy like any other in the universe. The same question came to me a second time.
I had been reading about physics, about breakthroughs that had been just around the corner but had never come. Black holes and strings and extra dimensions just beyond our reach, all perhaps soon to be found by experiments in the next year, or five, or ten. But we didn't find any of them, and 15 years later we're still in the dark. But surely something is underlying it all, right? But then again, there's really no reason why anything we try has to work. And we seem to have run up against a wall, despite our best guesses and hopes.
And, yes, I kept thinking in this way. I wrote yesterday about how it felt, or at least I tried to. If you'll indulge your imagination a bit, let's pan away from my bed, zoom upwards and backwards in time to see where these thoughts might have come from. We zoom back in on Santa Fe, where I'm lying on a couch the Tuesday previous. The week preceding our ride through the Rockies was one in which I read a great deal, I'm happy to say. A Natural History of the Fantastic and Of Mice and Men were the two books that I spent the most time on.
The first book is about a slightly ramshackle world created by one Christopher Stoll, with just enough mistakes and contradictions to pull me away from the world, despite all its interesting contents. The second is about two friends in as real a life as they can find, chatting and getting along and dreaming just like real people. I know that Of Mice and Men isn't a happy story. That's why I didn't finish it before leaving. I stopped myself from getting to the end so that I could spend as much time as possible at the highest point yet, with everyone's lives taking turns for the better. I just want them to be happy.
In addition to reading these fictions—an act that I now associate entirely with experiencing other worlds—we went to Meow Wolf's House of Eternal Return. It reminded me of a lot of things, like the Foundation and the pattern screamers and those shows that Nigel Marven used to do. It was a collage of thoughts and ideas and experiences, with one little puzzle thrown in if you happen to like puzzles. It also reminded me of what little I knew of Annihilation at that point, mostly in the visuals and the theme of reality breaking down, or becoming what it was always supposed to be.
And, as I said, I read Annihilation on the plane to Pittsburgh. I'll write more about it on the book blog, but I'll say a few words here. Epistemology. Ensuing. Erudite. Aplomb. Bickered. I'll also say some words that belong to sentences. Annihilation is about the breaking down of experience and reason and how humans deal with it. It's very much a Lovecraft-inspired work, but it's better than any Lovecraft story I've read. Like in the House of Eternal Return, and in the story of the pattern screamers, and in the many entries to the Doomsday Contest (which I also read over the week), and in my own still-private OK-Class Everything Is Fine stories, Annihilation focuses on reality being rewritten and replaced with something new.
Some people believe that reality gets rewritten on a regular basis. It's known as the Mandela Effect, and it apparently describes many thousands of people being yanked from their reality, in which things make sense, into this stranger reality in which things do not make sense. My mom and I chatted about The Mandela Effect on the way home from dinner one day during that week in Santa Fe. We had gotten to the subject in a sort of meandering way from the Bermuda Triangle, and were entering a large empty parking lot when one of us brought up an old assertion of mine. When I was little, I apparently believed in everything. This is not to say that I believed everything I was told, but rather that I actually claimed to believe in everything. I sort of grew out of it in time, and I believed less and less. There was the real world, and then the not-real worlds, and that was that.
Now, zoom back out of the darkened empty parking lot, out until Santa Fe is just a speck of light in the mountains, and turn back towards me in my bed the next Tuesday night, being assaulted by these thoughts about the incomprehensibility of everything. Suddenly I remembered that belief I'd had when I was very young, and I embraced it as hard as I could. This is my solution to the problem. This is my answer to the question. I believe in everything. Either everything is real or nothing is, and I'm certainly here, so therefore everything is real. I am here because I can be. The universe is the way it is because it is also other ways, just not right here and right now.
That was my answer, and I'm happy with it. It might not be the right answer for you, and that's okay. (I probably accepted it so completely in large part because my brain was so tired.) In fact, it might not even be the right question for you, yet. I know that I had never really understood what the question felt like until two weeks ago, coming back from Santa Fe. Until then, I had seen the question but scoffed at it. This might be your reaction as well right now, and that's fine. The question may hit you later on in your life, or it may never hit you. All this has been is my personal story, my experience grappling with the question.
With all that said and done, I'll leave you with this short essay about truth, philosophy, and flaming laser swords. I need to go to sleep, as it's 1:47. Good night.