Like a miniature Podcast Hadron Collider, my recently upgraded-to iPhone 5 nearly destroyed the known universe.
Without warning, my two most severe passions circled back on each other at speeds approaching that of light, when the Sports Guy, Bill Simmons, this week, dedicated an entire podcast to the cinema career of Jodie Foster. Like two tiny neutrinos of cultural icon, my favorite sports analyst collided with the star of my indisputably favorite movie, when he declared Contact “unwatchable,” nearly tearing a small earbud shaped black hole in the ESPN Podcenter of space/time. (Actually, I believe he said that this masterpiece of movie story telling “put the ‘un’ in unwatchable,” if I remember correctly. At the time, my body was being stretched infinitely high by the extreme gravitational effects of the microscopic black hole, so I can’t be certain.)
Ask my wife. After years of reading him, I just whisper, in a delicate Boston brogue, “That’s Bill Simmons – That’s Bill Simmons – That’s Bill Simmons,” whenever he does NBA Countdown or appears on PTI or calls in to Colin Cowherd.
Ask my friends. How many times I’ve made them watch Contact. On Blu-Ray. And, repeat:
I guess you could say, “I’m a man of the cloth . . .
without the cloth.”
We all eventually disagree with someone we admire. But, to pursue with such august, over so long a time, such weirdly disparate enthusiasms, as Bill and Contact, and for them to so impossibly and ruthlessly meet on a sports podcast, is to feel as though you’ve reached a kind of event horizon of your interests. Like finding the end of the internet. Only, when you get there, you realize that at the intersection of all you love, your one passion thinks your other passion is a piece of crap.
I’ve been reading Jim Holt’s book, Why Does the World Exist?
I didn’t invite any, but my daughter naively answered the cover, “Because God made it.” I laughed at her and told her that she was not very smart.
Holt’s book is subtitled an “existential detective story,” which I think can be roughly translated, “Small moves, Ellie. Small moves.” (Yep. Contact quote. Won’t be the last.)
To various know-it-alls, scientific and philosophical, Holt asks, “Why is there something instead of nothing?” Which really is the most fundamental question one can ask, whether or not you are a person of faith. I suppose, on its face, it sounds irreligious or sacrilegious. But, it’s not.
For atheists and other variety of secular humanists, the question obviously focuses on what proceeded the singularity in the big bang. Nothing. Or Something. Did the dot of matter and energy at the dawn of time materialize from a real kind of nothingness or is there some alternative explanation of oscillating or infinite regression?
But, the question is true for any Divine belief, as well. How do you explain the existence of a Creator God? Either It came from nothing or always was.
Both theories are imponderable, of course. But, they are the only two possible explanations regardless of your conception of creation, religious or secular.
Since Einstein, the concepts in quantum physics have slowly increased in their philosophical influence over the culture of how we understand our origins and purposes. And, I generally love it. The New York Times Bestsellers List, every year, is guaranteed to have offerings of this kind. As Holt’s subtitle suggests, we love collecting the clues. And, the 13 particles (including Higgs Boson) of the Standard Model are like galactic breadcrumbs, through the universe, back home.
But, it dawned on me, what a weird perspective this is. To look at the manufacturing or components of our existence to draw conclusions about origin or purpose.
I mean, you would never presume to look at a sparkplug to guess about the purpose or design of a Ferrari.
Or to the electrode in the sparkplug.
Or to the copper-core of the electrode in the sparkplug.
Or to the atomic structure of the copper-core of the electrode in the sparkplug.
There is nothing about this “drilling down” that brings you closer to knowing or explaining the joy that the Italian sports car brings to sentient, testosterone fueled bipeds.
I mean a sparkplug tells you something about a Ferrari. It’s electrical. It’s a machine. But, the view at best is fairly myopic and provincial. The truth is wildly more spectacular.
Driving the Ferrari on the Autobahn? Everything you need to know.
So, why isn’t this generally true of humanity? Why doesn’t this personal and relational consciousness we experience, inclined towards morality albeit imperfectly so, tell us more about our origins and purpose than the randomized, inhuman, subatomic particles from which we exploded?
In the same way, driving a car to the store or work or graduation should tell you a good bit more about it’s actual purpose than reverse engineering one of its gaskets or spark plugs.
I won’t make a full defense of Contact, here. The last 30 minutes, however, are essentially flawless. They include (1) the most likely and realistically depicted extraterrestrial encounter ever shown on screen (embedded above) and (2) one of the most poignant expressions of existential faith and experience (embedded below), since Chewy screamed when they slammed the Rebel Base blast doors shut on Han and Luke still trapped out in the perilous subzero landscape of Hoth.
In her earlier disbelief, Jodie Foster’s character, Dr. Arroway, at one point challenges the fully believable priest character, portrayed by Matthew McConaughy at the height of his smarm:
So what’s more likely? That an all-powerful, mysterious God created the Universe, and decided not to give any proof of his existence? Or, that He simply doesn’t exist at all, and that we created Him, so that we wouldn’t have to feel so small and alone?
I have been conditioned my whole life to believe the former. So, my take is not very objective. But, when you look at the Ferrari of our existence, in contrast to the gasket of our quantum origins, I would disagree that a mysterious and relational God has given us no proof of Its existence.
And, in our disagreement with Foster, Bill Simmons and I appear to, in fact, agree. Again.
Black hole averted.
Written and performed by theipoetlaureate. Music produced Haralduz7.
Today’s blong here: