In what furnace was thy brain?
When things are as bad as they are these days, when even good people line up as Volunteers against the basic human decencies, it is useful to have something immense, remote, and beautiful with which to divert ourselves, something to muse upon without any nervous responsibility for its disposal. I need something crazy and wonderful, nicely beyond my daily worries, something that will in the end take care of itself and leave me to enjoy myself and to ponder, however uselessly, the imponderables.
I turn to Language for permission to pursue this or that obscurity with questions, questions quite beyond the limitations of my mind. But, I ask them anyway. Language bids me go ahead, ask away, and relax.
The Big Bang. Now there is an imponderable for you. My betters tell me that it was no bang of an explosion at all, nothing at all, just a steady expansion of nothing into something. Cosmologists speak of an expansion like that of an infinitely tiny metaphorically balloon-like thing that pre-existed itself and managed, as it expanded, to create its own entirety: our space-- our lovely, terrifying space.
Funny that we should know almost exactly when it happened, those 13.7 billion years ago. But we do not know for sure what happened, except that the universe happened. All that increasing hydrogen and helium destined to become you and me.
“Nothing” is the operative word. Nothing, becoming “Something”, becoming “Anything”, even “The Thing” .The words follow in stately order and eventually come to us, poor Things, in our most daily lives. Am I correct?
If the Big Bang was the expansion of Nothing. Where does that leave our language? “Nothing”! How can I get behind that word to find what lurks there? I feel helpless.
I read that it all began with a singularity-- beautiful word-- something of an act of love about it…. They say a singularity can be found at the root, or core, or bottom, or center or depth-- all tender words -- of a Black Hole. Well!
And so, far from nowhere, the Bang began in an unimaginable somewhere-- where a single singularity could do that strange thing. That infinitely tiny singularity, without dimension: neither had it width, nor breadth, nor even height. Still, it had that local habitation and a name, neither here nor there nor anywhere at all. I try to get behind these damned words which I love like love itself, frustrated as I am with them. Still they are the very words of the very language(s) that by its very nature invites me to ask these damnable questions. Damned? I have heard that our Faustian culture of pressing for world-knowledge has gone dead. But, dying stars explode horrifically across the heavens, and so may our Doctor John Faustus explode, the Super Nova of our time! (O, dear heaven, let me not begin to worry about Time!)
I submit that “nothing” is not the back-side of “thing.” Something else is going on there… The “thing” was, after all, and not to be missed, Elizabethan cant for the male member. (Remember Iago.)
Those who work in the language of Shakespeare, tell us how favorite a word “nothing” was of his. It comes into the immensity of King Lear’s horribly mistaken tragedy of “nothing” from the “nothing” in the title of Much Ado about Nothing, where the experts suggest it may mean the process of “noting”. I am, by God, taking note and noting down all this nonsense with which I hope to beat the bottom of you with this slap-stick of the human comedy.
But still there lies, sits, hangs, lodges, or lives that Nothing of a lovely Singularity which I am told is at infinite heat and infinite density! “Infinite” what can possibly lie behind that word? What may be its shadow? What’s it all about?
And, pray tell,
Just where is the fire for such a heat?
Where is the compacter for such a density?
The experts beat a retreat; they hustle for cover into a mathematics where they know I can never follow. They save themselves from the rude responsibilities of ordinary Language without which, if they were to admit it, they could not in the beginning of things have had the wit or will to ask these questions. They dream of numbers with which to see around the corners of and behind phenomena. And they falter over words.
In the beginning, Language handed them a profession as it has handed me this saving diversion of an essay-- to ponder these questions in this struggling way. Words, though they may not bang, though they are as difficult to get behind as the very universe, surely they, too, can expand infinitely into the ever new.
This is turning into not much fun. I think there is a fault-line in professional intellectual life, that between numbers and words. Numbers are the glamour and the bread-winner of institutional intellectual life these days-- which means the universities baby their “hard” scientists and grow them up into Nobels in order for them to return home in triumph with the loot of grant upon grant with which to nourish university competitions.
I think I have been “modified” or socialized to believe that had I but given my life to numbers, I might have amounted to something. Those number folks are so much more worthy, are they not? (Down, down, Moral Philosophy! I’ll none of it!)
In a sour mood now, I wonder what our sense of the cosmos would be were we to pump great money into the study of 16th century French literature. Perhaps we might learn just how the hell it is that a Frenchman of that century could reach across a nowhere, a dimensionless space that is no space at all, to command and commend me, at this instant, in the process of this essay.
Where before there was nothing, there was that singularity, that most powerful engine in the universe, that brain, even as feeble a one as mine, to make things like this, this impossible, unpredictable thingish essay of mine, which is really nothing at all.
Still, as a blog it might become an infinitely tiny residual, a sub-atomic particle of the dark matter that sustains our lovely nothing.
“Give a man a piece of paper and he will write to you for an hour.
Give him a blog and he will bore you to death for the rest of your life-- or his.”
But, my consolation, for now, this highly specific now, this point in time, a point with or without dimension, must be last night’s roast Canada goose which “did coldly furnish forth” this day’s excellent dinner.