Objectifying the World

The Modern world would be nothing if it were not naive. Given that limited choice, most of us prefer being naive to being nothing, and so we go on about our business as usual. If even a few of us ever stopped to think things over, the whole world might come crashing to a halt, which is a scary prospect. In a world founded on naiveté, thinking can seem sociopathic, unless you are a professed eschatologist, as I happen to be.

Actually I am ambivalent about the end of the world. It may be more interesting to imagine than to experience, but, given its inevitability, I take it upon myself to make the eshcaton as enjoyable as possible, which will require some thought.

The hardest part of thinking is deciciding where to begin. Worrying about the bills that need to be paid will never get us any further than the nearest bank. While owning a bank may facilitate the thought process, it often has the opposite effect, alas.

The obvious place to begin is quite simple. To be or not to be. The question of existence ought to be the beginning and end of any thought process. The beginning and end of existence are of particular significance.

Science takes special credit for our modern naiveté regarding existence. The problem of existence is not likely to come up even in graduate school, and by then it would be much too late anyway. Science sweeps away the question under the rubric of the Big Bang and the Big Crunch. Those two convenient receptacles are the beginning and end of everything that will ever exist. What comes in between are just accidental rearrangements of all those elementary particles. If it were not for an ATM, I would still be teaching that to freshmen.

Modern professional philosophers know better than this, for the most part, but unless they have a plan, they are just throwing good thoughts after bad ones. Everything is business as usual, with minor adjustments, unless you join the eschaton brigade. An acosmic postmodernism, just does not make it, but add a little cosmology to postmodernism and you get eschatology. Voila!

Science is supposed to be studying objects, like electrons and big bangs. But in my six years of physics there was not one mention of the problem of objectification. John Wheeler did not come out of his metaphysical closet until several years later. By then he had tenure and some extra change, and I was on the road, trying to be an existentialist.

The blindingly obvious question is how does an object come to be objectified. How we managed to lose track of that question might be answered if we knew why, historically, the Western tradition posited God as creator rather than as objectifier - a fairly subtle distinction. Perhaps it - 2 -

had to do with the idea of creation from nothing, one might suppose. Lately, when the problem of objectification does come up it is likely to be swept under the quantum rug, as if the quantum domain were the source of the problem, rather than just a symptom.

One does not need to be a tenured professor to suppose that objectification might entail objectifiers, and that is us and whoever else might be lending their thoughts to our reality. Yes, I am reiterating the notion of a socially constructed reality. Recently when a physicist pretended to argue that quantum gravity might be a social construct, it was supposed to have been a joke, but it might all depend on how you define 'social.' To say that gravity is a construct of the American Physical Society is a bit of stretch, but to say the same of quantum gravity might be cutting to the quick. Ouch! In order to say that our weight on earth is a construct of the stars in the sky, you have to be a famous physicist. To say that weight is the construct of cosmic mind, including ours, you would only have to be a little less naive than the average scientist.

The more we attempt to objectify the world, the more complex and abstract it seems to become. Instead of any real objects, physicists have been left contemplating a dizzying spiral of mathematical abstractions. This predicament has led more than one physicist to suggest that the world is much more like a great idea than a great machine. But then why do so many of us continue to insist, to the contrary, that the world has got to be an arbitrary, self-existing object in which we happen to find ourselves purely by accident?

There is a palpable sense of security in believing that one is standing on a solid object. All of human history can be understood as an extended journey into the illusory security of materialism. But as the abstract complexities continue to mount, we must wonder if we have reached the logical limits of the illusion of materialism. As we awaken to our situation, where will we turn next to find security?

Our only real security can come in recognizing our origins and destiny. In doing so we can consider that we are part of something larger. The fear that the cosmic mind will now proceed to swallow our microcosmic minds is a very reasonable one, but that might be the easiest way out for us. Even more troubling would be the notion that we are about to become that cosmic mind. No one had warned us that becoming God was part of our contract. But did we ever wonder what else we might possibly become? We might choose instead to become cosmic Peter Pans. Perhaps that could be arranged, but isn't that being just a bit escapist?

Dan T. Smith, Baltimore, MD