Seven wonders of existence

It is little wonder, in the light of what we know, that our cause to wonder changes, indeed grows, in the light of what we come to know. It should be of no surprise then to find that official listings of the ‘Seven wonders of …’ remain inadequate despite their range. Fortunately, Wikipedia offers a suitably democratic forum for further resolution; after all, ‘a wonder’ can only belong to the mind that wonders, and cannot be prescribed by an authority that tells us what to wonder about – a point emphasised by no less of a mind than that of Albert Einstein.

It is with some bewilderment then, that I find cause to wonder about a conspicuous omission from Wikipedia’s coverage. Despite all the interest, I can find no listing for the wonders of the universe or existence? Nor can I find evidence elsewhere for the topics being addressed separately. Therefore I am moved to fill the gap with some interim suggestions, in humble recognition of the fact that this is not a task I can accomplish on my own. So I would like to get the ball rolling by making the following tentative suggestions for a provisional listing of the ‘Seven wonders of the universe’, which I see as being a subset of a bigger issue, namely, the ‘Seven wonders of existence’ – a topic which I felt a little more able to expand upon below:

Seven wonders of the universe

1. The ‘big bang’/ inflation
2. Space-time
3. Gravity/ strings/ branes
4. Stars, galaxies and black holes
5. Dark matter/ energy
6. Quantum uncertainty
7. Lawfulness/ order

Seven wonders of existence

Preamble: In compiling this list I am mindful that the notion of ‘wonders of existence’ evokes the related idea of a mystery. And in this centenary year of Einstein’s enduring masterwork, it might be fitting to defer to the master’s insight – that although wonder is the driving force of inquiry, no amount of discovery is likely to prove sufficient to do away with the need for ever more discovery, or our underlying awe of the persisting mystery of it all. Suffice it for me to add the following observation: that we cannot dispel the mystery of existence by finding out how it works, since the facts can show how it works only because it exists.

1. Energy: The universal presence, prime mover and perpetuator. The formless former. We ‘understand it’ as ‘a thing’ in transition – a beginning with no discernible beginning, the progenitor of other beginnings – the ‘sub-thing’ at the source of all things, which we associate with things as they are and then as they change again to become more than they were.

2. Matter: The form of ‘the thing’ seen as its substantive nature and explained as a conversion of energy. A locus of space and time wherein the physical earth exhibits dimensionality whilst being one thing and another in a relativistic state of reality – massive yet diminutive, solid yet filled with space, inert yet brimming with life – risen of a darkness and oblivion that is now filled with light and thought.

3. Life: The synergy of structure, function and organisation within a motility appearing as a radical change in the nature of nature – re-animating it with need, drive, motivation and purpose – adorning the material universe with properties that were hitherto absent from and alien to its character and reflecting the inexplicable fact that every living thing is made of stardust coming to life, yet it all remains as it was beneath the surface, unliving and unchanged.

4. ‘Being’: The pivot of reality. The larger character of things. An evolved state. The perceived nature of ‘reality’ manifest as a pattern of activity built upon previous patterns. We see the process of becoming in the shaping of reality; but it is not possible to predict the shape of things to come by examining the possibilities obtaining beforehand – as if the nature of dust can reveal the nature of life.

5. Awareness: Sight seeking insight. The subject of subjectivity – vacillating between awareness ‘of’ and awareness ‘in’. Being beholds itself in awareness, forming the sense of ‘I’ and locating its recognition in a source seen as giving rise to the perception, which is also the way regard is paid to an outside world. Nevertheless, there is more to awareness than its rendition as a ‘self’ contrived in the desire for its own perception; but to the extent that we obsess over ‘self-awareness’ we lose the ability to see perception as anything other than a fact owing to its object – which is, in the case of ourselves, ‘ourselves’ – in a self we feel obliged to look for as a part of a world that apparently doesn’t know it is being observed.

6. Mind: The font of meaning and belief. The differentiation of awareness into conscious thought. The purposive selector. The arbiter of the arbitrary. The agent of knowledge, deliberation and realisation known to itself as the person. Knowledge introduces the paradox of the knower choosing to know whilst deferring to the facts for an authority they do not have – as if the facts tell us what to know – a stratagem that breaks down spectacularly in the bid to know ourselves. In the same vein we try to reduce our ethical deliberations to independent matters of logic and reason, as if to put them in charge. However, the expansion of the mind (and reality) involved in getting to know suggests that our minds are adumbrated by something bigger, which doesn’t belong to the facts that remain oblivious to what is known about them.

7. Power: The capacity to be. The possibility for there to be possibilities. The ineffable isness that is simultaneously one thing and another, nothing and all things. The dynamic fulcrum of stability and change moving between nothing and something, chaos and order, cause and effect, chance and synchronisation, oblivion and knowledge. Things in existence occupy a power in being which we tend to ascribe to the process of becoming, yet in everything we know of ourselves and the rest of existence, we discover that it is all remains a mere reflection of a greater power to be – an holistic power that is at least sentient, because we are.

Mike Laidler

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Questions: ‘Loaded dice’ and ‘a theory of everything’

’What is a theory of everything?
Based upon the current idiom of science, it is a theory that can capture the whole of existence in a single factual or mathematical proof – as if that fact or equation can stand apart from the realms of theory, and as if reality dictates to theory that everything reduces to that one thing.

What is a theory of chance?
We are surrounded by chance events, which prompts us to ask whether the universe might have started that way. Chance can be seen to operate within certain boundaries to yield uncertain outcomes. For instance, rolling a die can have uncertain outcomes, but they are limited by the nature of the die, which doesn’t look like it got here by chance. Of course there may be additional uncertain consequences, such as an ensuing fight, but these are indirect and tend to remain only notionally connected. Normally, chance and probability are used to calculate the likelihood of an outcome, but that’s not quite the same thing as explaining it; however, other, more fanciful suppositions court the idea that anything can happen by chance – that a rolling rock could in theory turn itself into a die – although fewer still would go so far as to say it is theoretically possible for a rolling rock to turn into a chicken. Yet many hypotheses are promulgated, to varying degrees of nonsense, in the attempt to explain changes we can’t explain except by putting them down to chance – even to the point of decrying the importance of known non-chance events – as if the works of Shakespeare could, in theory, be replicated by placing typewriters in an infinite monkey cage. Other theories place chance at the origin of ‘life, the universe and everything’ – as the essential pre-existing or spontaneously exiting cause, or as a nexus in multiple universes.

If the answer isn’t ‘in the beginning’, where is it?
It’s likely to be in ‘an end-point’ outside of our reach. That’s why we prefer to look to beginnings – because they seem more accessible and there are still clues to be found, although we tend to treat each discoverable beginning as not the actual beginning of ‘it all’. However, an ‘ultimate beginning’ is not likely to be a repository of everything in any event, simply because of the fact that we can see things changing to become more than they were, and it is happening right before our eyes. So we are witnessing new beginnings all the time and remain challenged by the inexplicable facts of change, which we try to make explicable by looking in vein to ever more distant beginnings for a more ample cause. Meanwhile, theories of beginnings and ends remain highly theoretical – for isn’t every end a new beginning in the bigger picture of a dynamic universe where effects adorn the reality of their causes with something new? Furthermore, the idea of a first cause setting up a consistent chain of events, seems to suggest that ‘the dice were loaded from the start’, unless this consistency is an illusion of our place and time in ‘our universe’ – because the infinite variety of alternatives that are consistent with chance remain hidden from us in an unobservable ‘multiverse’.

Is there a purpose to existence?
This is a question we can feel more at home with, indeed we can also make some firm inroads towards an answer, because we already know there is purpose and meaning in existence, if only by way of our own presence, nature and outlook – and since we happen to be a real part of the universe we bear proof in ourselves of what can transpire. This change in the nature of nature is no less significant in cosmic terms just because we find it happens to be peculiar to us. But questions remain to be answered: where does it all lead and does it end with us? It seems that the answers lie in the bigger picture, where ends turn out to be bigger than beginnings – whereby our sense of meaning and purpose, despite manifesting as a part of us, may in fact be a staging point of a further beginning. (The question of ‘a bigger picture’ has been examined above).
So it may well be the case that we are privy to only a part of the answer, given that it is fair to assume that we exist in a universe that is bigger than us and that the nature of our being owes to more than we bring to it. Nevertheless, we can take comfort from the incompleteness of our situation, in the stark realisation that the purpose in existence is likely to be bigger than all we can make of it, just as the facts are likely to remain bigger than all we can make of them. Thereafter, the main obstacle to our progress is ourselves and our equally deficient observation that reality is confined to the facts of a purposeless nature that fixes the fate of what it all adds up to, which we uphold by promising ourselves that this explanation will win through in the end – as if we can deem ourselves adequate to explain the existence of existence or the extent of its nature and possibilities.

Mike Laidler