The Mystery

In the middle of the great darkness, past the infinite floating nothingness, you can take a right turn at the corner of the abyss and there boils a grand nebula. In this nebula there is a lively transfer of gas clouds billowing from star to star, and in these clouds there are cooler bodies flying about. One of these cooler bodies seems to be different. It is a luscious planet, green and pregnant in the mellow starlight, but that isn't what makes it different, for there are other lush planets. Instead, it does not have an elliptical orbit and hence is not married to any star but flits with deceptively effortless grace through the nebula, looping its mass around blazing novas, wrapped in the cool cocoon of interstellar gas and atmosphere; it flirts with the stars. And on this planet there is a lucky and intelligent species of clam.

These clams bask in the warm shallows composing poetry. Once a clam finishes a poem it opens its mouth and a swarm of tiny worm-like creatures swim with great purpose and organization to transfer this poetry to fellow clams. The clams evolved normally over eons until finally sexual selection grew bored of the old tricks for impressing mates and started an eloquent literary pressure, pushing for personification, alliteration, and metaphor. And mates there are, for since the clams have been around for so long it is often a close call between different poetic treatises, and the female part of the clam often ended up choosing a myriad of suitors at once (these clams had lost the ability to release eggs into the water, and hence some system of selecting which sperm to receive was desirable).

So great is the power of the clam's brains that in their free time (which is all the time) they compose music, tell stories, and occasionally try to figure out the meaning of life. Sometimes they bother with the trivial activity of composing rigorous mathematical equations to describe their surroundings, the activity we would call science. They had long finished their thoughts about the question: "why are we so lucky?"

As a side note, there is also a lucky but lesser creature that lopes about on the higher and dryer surfaces of this planet. It is a trickster and gossip; and through sexual selection for proficiency in these social games it has developed a brain powerful enough to occasionally grasp at the mysteries in its universe, but ineffective at proceeding much beyond that without becoming extremely confused. Nevertheless they brag voraciously about their ability to do so and pride themselves on the fact that they are most concerned with their own ontology and purpose--even though the majority of them are not so concerned and instead put the most importance on playing their tricks and games. They also are proud of being extremely pragmatic by concerning themselves with a complex system of trade based on a clam shell currency.

Paradoxically our story begins with them (the clams are too much for you to handle at this point). There is a philosopher named Nim, who is trying deduce the laws of the heavens through reason. Today (for it is always daytime because of the surrounding stars) she stares out of her makeshift telescope and wonders for the thousandth time how she and the rest of the planet's inhabitants appear to be so lucky.

She is committed to discovering the most elegant explanation: She feels that to have solved something you must understand both the question and the solution; therefore she cannot accept the idea of an intelligence being responsible for the planet's motions. She is getting to the core of the problem by scratching thousands of equations on somber clay tablets. For the past ten years, everyday at what would have been sunrise (for stars are rising all the time) she has carefully selected from yesterday's tablets and put them in her hand-cart, trundling them slowly up the dusty foot path to the edge of the cliff over-looking the sea. Here she has her telescope mounted, and through it she bravely looks like a thirsty explorer about to cross another desert, and every day after she carefully measures the positions of the heavenly bodies she lets out a scream and is forced to retreat from that desert; she dashes her tablets into the sea, and the sea--controlled by the same laws she so desperately searches for--will dash her tablets against the cliffs, wearing them away with mathematical certainty for untold eons into the future.

Today is a normal day for everyone except an extremely intelligent clam (which had found out the answer to the questions Nim is asking, and is in the process of deducing how to communicate with her) that abruptly became unintelligent when it had great difficulty figuring out what had killed it. Also today, Nim is approached for the thousandth time by two fellow philosophers by the names of "Rackand" and "Plaitna". Nim knows that she is going to have another repetitive argument where nothing would be solved.

"What ho!, oh Nim of the cliffs and great scribe of tabletures. We are honored to be able to kiss the ground you have walked on; may you live forever." Plaitna bowed as she said these words. "Yes great scribe of tabletures, I would be honored to be your slave" said Rackand as she also bowed. Nim had always been annoyed by the culture she grew up in because she did not see any point in saying things that you didn't actually mean--and she knew that they meant it far less than she for they had come to challenge her to a debate and would most likely gloat by reciting favorable parts of the dialogue word for word to their respective home villages--but nevertheless she is polite. "Greetings great Rackand and Paitna; I am not worthy to wash you; would you like to have some fresh clam?" (for it is mandatory in that culture to be hospitable) "Thanks a thousand, but we are not worthy enough to eat your food". "Please oh kind madams honor me by having this clam", "If it is to your honor then yes, may we have all your clams!". Nim let out a sigh, and the trio picked up sharp rocks and made their way down the cliff face to slice and wrench open the helpless creatures.

Finally over juicy clams the topic is broached: "What laws have you discovered today?" smirked Plaitna. Nim silently handed her a tablet and made a small circle around a section of scratchings. After a brief dexterous touch with a myriad of her glowing primary cilia Plaitna opined "This new property of the heavenly ether does not account for the collision witnessed last month", "I know" said Nim, "it bugs me, but that star formation will be in my view tomorrow." Now Racken jumped in, "I have come up with a new analogie for you to think on. Let us consider our questions, and ask the question 'why am I not incapable of asking questions?' and consider the consequences of answering 'because there is some universal law that causes me have questions', not only are you raising a bigger question than you are answering but it really does seem patently absurd. Wouldn't it be simpler to state that I am capable of questions because of chance and not because of some underlying universal law that causes me to be so? For those that cannot question simply cannot raise this question in the first place."

Nim sighed again "I could ask the question of 'why am I totally incapable of understanding your argument?' and ask myself whether it is simpler for it to be the fault of your argument or the fault of my understanding, where would that get us? You are also being too specific when you ask why you yourself are capable of questioning. The question should be: 'why is anyone capable of thought?', there should be a universal law behind that, and through the use of pragmatic induction we can see the effectiveness of theories that incorporate universal laws to explain reality. This is so foolish, both you and I said the same thing last year!". Rackand opined: "Simply saying my argument is at fault does not prove it to be so!.", "I did give an analogy as to why I couldn't even parse it! Thats the best I could do!" yelled Nim, who is now getting upset.

Excited by the fray Plaitna jumped in "It is interesting that we talk of simplicity. I want to remind you both that there was a time when our species would often forget conversations that they had only a few years ago and those with lesser talents than we were considered 'prodigies'. It was thought at that time that the dawn of our kind would lead to the theory of everything, and a philosophy as well, since it was possible for our ancestors to know everything worth knowing in all fields. But once they took over, the fields expanded and nothing was solved in the end, even though everyone knew more. What we need is not something that we can understand, per se, but something that is more explanatory, and isn't an intelligent force so explanatory in this case? Let me explain..." Plaitna began (while picking a shard of clay out of her clam), "It is not the question of why we continue to live on this planet but why it is the way it is in the first place, and to simply say that if the planet did not move as it did we would not be here to raise these questions solves nothing...". The argument ground forward but as Plaitna had ironically pointed out: nothing was solved, and the planet drifted into a gas cloud causing a phenomena that was close enough to night to say that it had fallen, and after much to-do with goodbyes the philosophers returned to their respective villages.

They contemplated the things they had repeated in their conversation (for there was nothing new) and those things included the observation of nothingness being indistinguishable from everything. The argument being: since every particle has its anti-particle and every energy its negation, then if all actions and particles happened to appear in an area they would cancel and not appear at all. Also contemplated was the theorizing about intelligence being subjective, where we ask ourselves if we are the most able to comprehend, and then observe that we cannot say this with certainty since we cannot know the mental states of other creatures or even the inanimate. In addition they theorized that intelligence may only be the brute complexity of material interactions and that, in this case, a star (for example) would be more intelligent than their own minds.

They were so busy contemplating these things that they did not properly disguise the clam shells that they had taken illegally from the coastal waters that belonged to Nim's village. This would start something similar enough to a war to say it was fought so ruthlessly that not even Nim's great library of tabletures was sacred.

After Nim's library was destroyed she exiled herself to an island and once again nothing was solved. Nim waded through the shallow waters wondering if her search for truth was entirely misguided. She wondered so many things that bright night as she hunted for clams. And at one point, in her sadness, she slipped on a clam and fell into the water and heard the most beautiful music ringing in her ear. But as soon as she shook out the water it was gone and in her self pity she even wondered whether the clams knew better than she, and then it struck her: There may after all be a universal law, a logic to everything, but it may be that these universal laws describe probability distributions in which all the events in the universe are pure stochastic chance. There may also be an intelligence that controls the movements of their nebula and planet, and if that intelligence was in fact the abyss that surrounded their nebula, it would be too brutishly complex for them to comprehend. If this was true, she, Rackand, and Plaitna would have all been correct, and yet so wrong. It was now impossible to describe luck, or much of anything else. It was a beautiful theory, and she realized that she couldn't decide if its beauty made it more likely to be true. Maybe it was the nothingness that was more beautiful after all. Nothing was solved; it was all chasing after the wind.


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