Saturday, January 14, 2006

The border between waking and sleeping

Every couple months, I fall asleep while wondering "Why is there something, rather than nothing?" It is not an issue I work on professionally. When I think about the issue professionally, I wind up agreeing with the positivists that the question is simply not well put. Nevertheless, I frequently find myself driven to it. The first question is generally something like “Why can’t I find a job?” Intermediate questions generally include “Why did the universe start small, and then expand, rather than just starting big to begin with?” Then I ask “Why is there something, rather than nothing?” At this point I know I should just fall asleep. All hope of productive thought is lost. But really, why is there anything at all? I mean, a lot of incomprehensibility seems built into the structure of the universe--as does a lot of injustice. This bothers me, or at least I think about it when I am bothered and can’t sleep.

A fun answer to the question “Why is there something, rather than nothing,” is “well, actually, there isn’t anything.” You might think this answer is licensed by the Buddhist doctrine of sunyata. But really, sunyata only denies a certain kind of existence, generally translated self-existence. Relational, non-essentialist ontologies are neat, but they don’t satisfy my maundering, late-night mind. Why do relationships exist? Whence the myriad things, the thousands of appearances?

And why do they have to be so annoying? (I have heard this question asked by Hume, and my old roommate Thomas.) At this point I know I am not thinking right. Psychologists who study sleep for some time have urged us to think in multiple categories. “Sleeping” and “waking” are crude divisions among varieties of experience that don’t map on to patterns seen in EEGs. “Exhausted,” “drunk,” and “agitated by irrational questions” are clearly others.

I should just sleep.

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