If you arrived here without reading part I of this post — Are science and religion both standing on thin air? — you may want to go read it first. But not necessarily. It’s about whether we can reason about God, or maybe Nothing, as the origin of all things — or whether the universe just popped up of its own accord.
Obviously, different people have different opinions about all that, and if they’re argumentative types, they argue.
What I want to do here is to avoid the argument completely, and ask you how you feel.
I am going to offer you three quotes, by three well-known writers, each of them saying in effect, “that’s it in a nutshell”.
One of them is a medieval Catholic mystic, one a poet from the transitional period between the medieval-religious and secular-contemporary worldviews, and the third hopefully somewhat representative of contemporary secular thought.
First, the mystic Julian of Norwich:
In this vision he showed me a little thing, the size of a hazelnut, and it was round as a ball. I looked at it with the eye of my understanding and thought “What may this be?” And it was generally answered thus: “It is all that is made.” I marvelled how it might last, for it seemed it might suddenly have sunk into nothing because of its littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: “It lasts and ever shall, because God loves it.”
As you read this post, I would like you to get a sense of how free you feel to breathe. Does it feel constricting, with its religious terminology, its “vision” and its God”? Does it feel liberating, with its sense of another, visionary world, beyond or behind the one that presents itself to our senses?
And then, hey, there’s the poet William Blake:
To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
Does that let you slip past the constraints of religiosity, while retaining a sense of poetry, of mystery perhaps? Or does it still seem a bit fey, more fantastic than real, just, let’s be honest about this, not entirely practical?
And hoo boy, do I have a third quote for you.
This one’s from an interview the science fiction author JG Ballard gave to The Paris Review. I’ve dropped out a question from the interviewer, because it would have made for a clunkier read — but I think Ballard, whose The Crystal World I very much admire, comes across “clean and clear” here:
I would say that I quite consciously rely on my obsessions in all my work, that I deliberately set up an obsessional frame of mind. In a paradoxical way, this leaves one free of the subject of the obsession. It’s like picking up an ashtray and staring so hard at it that one becomes obsessed by its contours, angles, texture, et cetera, and forgets that it is an ashtray — a glass dish for stubbing out cigarettes. … Yes, so the unity of the enterprise is forever there. A whole universe can be bounded in a nutshell. Of course, why one chooses certain topics as the subject for one’s obsessions is a different matter. Why was I obsessed by car crashes? It’s such a peculiar idea.
How’s that for dystopia?
And so, my question:
As you read those three quotations, each of them centering on a universe in a nutshell, so to speak — which one gives you a sense of freedom? which one sits well on your shoulders? Which world do you live in? Which do you prefer?
Do all three fall under the general rubric of Fantasy and Science Fiction, perhaps?