- #1

wuliheron

- 2,126

- 0

**The Paradox of Existence**Existence is demonstrably paradoxical, that is, it does not make rational sense. Nature makes abundant sense but existence itself is patently irrational and, thus, possibly supernatural. So profound is this paradox that it may be forever beyond our ability to comprehend much less articulate clearly. Nonetheless, attempts to rationally explain existence have proliferated since the dawn of humanity, but all of these have led back to paradox rather than resolving the paradox of existence.

One commonly proposed explanation of existence is that it just is. The reality of our existence is self-evident, so the rationale goes, and to think otherwise is pointless and often destructive solipsism. As Aart Van Der Leeuw put it succinctly, “The mystery of life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.” Whether true or not, this decidedly pessimistic and anti-intellectual attitude fails to resolve the paradox in any intelligible manner. Rather than supplying an explanation for the origin, disposition, and authenticity of existence, it perfunctorily dismiss the wisdom of exploring the mystery while asserting the validity of existence and experience without providing the slightest evidence.

Along similar lines, many have proposed that paradoxes and the mystery of existence are not real but, instead, are entirely the result of the natural limitations of language, abstract thought, and perception. It could well be then that humanity is simply incapable of rationally conceptualizing its own existence. However, this remains unsubstantiated and summarily denies the manifest empirical evidence of the paradox of existence.

Infinity is one of the more popular accounts of the paradox of existence. Uncounted multitudes have argued that if existence is infinite some respects this somehow makes it rational. Unfortunately for such arguments the concept of infinity itself is paradoxical. Lao Tzu expressed this conundrum of infinity and the paradox of existence with elegant classic flare some twenty-five hundred years ago:

The mother of nature.

It has no name,

But I call it "the Way";

It has no limit,

but I call it "limitless".

To declare something is infinite is to assert that it has no limits. However, this presents a paradox because the statement contradicts itself. Specifically, it imposes the limit on itself that there are no limits. Because of this irrational self-contradictory and self-referential statement we can interpret infinity any way we so desire and none can prove us wrong. All they can do is point out the inherent paradox and its irrational nature.

This inability to rationally express much less prove or disprove the reality of infinity, has not prevented people around the globe from using the term for everything from casual everyday use to elaborate engineering designs and obscure theological debates. Infinity, for example, is central to the Calculus, which has revolutionized modern science. Thus, paradoxes and infinities are not so easily ignored as meaningless, trivial, or useless. Nor for that matter, can they be casually dismissed as manifestly wrong, misleading, or vague.

Now there is little doubt that when people normally use the word infinity they are referring to something so vast it may be impossible to measure. Even so, like countless reflections in a house of mirrors, with infinity you can never be quite certain if what you are looking at is real or just a reflection. Whichever way you turn looks the same and where exactly we are within the maze of reflections, much less if there is a way out of the maze, cannot be determined by just looking around. William Blake expressed this somehow flowing yet timeless, comprehensible yet incomprehensible quality of infinity in his popular poem, “Auguries of Innocence”:

To see a world in a grain of sand

And a heaven in a wildflower

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand

And eternity in an hour

Over the millennia these often confusing paradoxical images of infinity have been logically and mathematically manipulated to prove an incredible number of absurdities including, for example, that one plus one equals three. Eventually now famous mathematicians and philosophers, such as Bertrand Russell and Kurt Godel, finally established that mathematics and logic could not be used to prove the validity of infinity without producing paradoxes. In other words, if the concept of infinity is not irrational or just so much illusory smoke and mirrors no one apparently can ever prove it logically or mathematically.

In an actual house of mirrors we can walk right up to the nearest image and touch it to see if it is the real McCoy or just another reflection and, using this hands on method, we can find our way out of the maze. Unfortunately this direct approach is evidently impossible in the case of infinity. No one has ever scientifically proven any kind of infinity exists in the real world much less that the concept is logical.

Everything science has investigated to date has eventually turned out to be, by the standards of science itself, rational and finite or presumably irrational or paradoxical. This continuing failure to prove anything in nature is infinite leads, once again, inexorably back to paradox. If existence is finite, then how can it have any reasonable causal origins? If it is infinite, then how can it be rational? As a result, classical science seems has been just as helpless to clarify the situation as everyone else.

For all these reasons and more, existence presents the astonishing likelihood that at least one paradox is real and not merely the result of ignorance on our part. Whether invoking eternity, oneness, or the supernatural each new explanation proposed for existence has inevitably lead back to paradox. For something to be eternal, God-like, or all encompassing invokes logically impenetrable paradox. If God or eternity really can explain and validate existence, then where did they come from? If everything is profoundly unified, than logic is the illogical. Coherent explanations to this puzzle of existence are impossible by the very definition of logic if, indeed, existence truly is a paradox, as it certainly appears to be.

Among the many ramifications of this enduring base ignorance is that the very foundations of logic, philosophy, and science have remained dubious. Despite innumerable attempts by extremely sincere, capable, and dedicated people throughout history the paradox of existence has consistently defied all rational and objective investigations for obvious and self-evident reasons. The humbling and mounting realization accompanying this failure is that, in addition to existence, everything else may ultimately be paradoxical.

Once we have accepted and acknowledged this simple fact of life, we can then move on to more easily and objectively explore how best to approach, conceptualize, and use paradoxes and the irrational like any other handy and ubiquitous tools. By further extending this pragmatic approach we can adopt the position that we do indeed exist in some sense, but that the precise nature of our existence is fundamentally impenetrable to reason until proven otherwise. In fact, whether or not we ever solve the mystery of life, the universe, and everything may be irrelevant. Obviously there is still a great deal more we can learn about life and, in the process, about ourselves.

In fact, although the paradox may be illusory and ultimately beyond reconciliation in light of these historical failures, dramatic progress has been made in this century. Superficially from these tired old arguments it may appear unapproachable, but this is simply not the case and I expect progress in this area to accelerate in the near future. Quantum Mechanics, for example, also deals with another enigma that may even be closely related.

The Quanta and mass-energy of modern physics are every bit as mysterious as the paradox of existence. Exactly what these “things” are that particle physicists study is a matter of debate, but their behavior is decidedly irrational. Despite this ignorance of what their equations describe, using statistics, multidimensional mathematics, and experimental data physicists have managed to narrow the field of reasonably likely possibilities considerably and, in the process, helped to narrow the likely possibilities for explaining the paradox of existence. However, before discussing such abstruse modern developments further, it is helpful to first understand more pedestrian paradoxes.

Last edited: