“The infinite is in the finite of every instant.” – Zen Proverb
This is the my third installment in a series of posts expressing my view of religion and the universe, having been a programmer/analyst for the bulk of my adult life. In the first post, I began by describing the similarities between the fundamental construction of the universe and how similar it is to the way software is designed. The second post, I took a look at the concept of “purpose”. Today I would like to talk about the concept of existence.
Existence is such a nebulous concept. We can look at something sitting nearby, and it exists. Or at least we think it exists. But when we start to delve into the world of the really small, the quantum level, it becomes apparent that existence isn’t exactly what we thought it was. Things only “tend” to be there — which returns us to the age-old question, “If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there, does it still make a sound?” Some schools of thought would suggest that it doesn’t fall, or make a sound. This is possible, or I should say “probably”, because of the nature of the atoms that make up all matter in the universe. Basically, an atom is composed of a cluster of neutrons and protons, orbited by 1 or more electrons. Electrons, as observed scientifically, have a “probability wave”, which means there is an equation that governs all the possible positions it can be, everywhere in the universe and not just around the atom. An electron has a probability, though very small, that it can exist anywhere in the known universe — though that probability may be some insanely small fraction of a percentage — e.g. a million billionths of a percentage point. The idea is that it is possible, though very improbable. But understanding this key concept, makes it possible to understand the other “weirdness” that governs our existence.
So what makes an electron “behave” or “tend” to be where you want it? That is another source of great contention. Some believe something doesn’t exist unless it is observed by someone, others believe it is there when it interacts with something else. Either one of these concepts presents another problem. Who was the first observer, or who was the first interactor? Aristotle tried to explain this in his book The Metaphysics by introducing the concept of the Unmoved Mover — a primary cause or “mover” of all the motion in the universe. It had not been moved by any other action, making it perfectly beautiful, indivisible and engaged in perfect contemplation of itself contemplating.
There is therefore also something which moves it. And since that which moves and is moved is intermediate, there is something which moves without being moved, being eternal, substance, and actuality. – Aristotle The Metaphysics 12.7
This very elegant philosophical concept allows the universe to exist without an observer, but it leaves the 13 billion year old elephant in the room — What was or is the unmoved mover? And how did it get there? This question again introduces a plethora of concepts which you are probably already familiar with – creationism on one hand, the big bang on the other. And unfortunately, this is where all human reason must end, as there is currently no known way to see beyond the moment of that our universe came into existence, because nothing was there to record those events. Try as we may, spending billions of dollars to smash atoms together, hoping to get a glimpse of that first moment when the first particle formed, giving way to the universe. But we have not discovered it yet, and I would have to say that we probably never will. Not that we aren’t intelligent, and resourceful, but because the question and the answer are irrelevant.
We are so entirely wrapped up in the pursuit of finding the purpose to it all, we have forgotten that the moment is what matters. We have existence, do we really need to understand why it is here? Isn’t existence its own question and answer? So back to the programmer’s perspective, do you need to know how your computer works internally to use and enjoy it? Certainly not. We do not need to understand how the universe works to enjoy it, or utilize it. We knew nothing about the universe, really, 2000 years ago and we survived, lived life and persisted.
I write software using fundamental components. I am the unmoved mover as far as my programs are concerned. I am that which is programmed but programmed by myself and myself alone. Do my bits of code wonder how they came into existence, while they await to perform their functions? Who is to say.
Next time, we’ll explore the pinnacle of existence — life and the state of being.