Down the Rabbit Hole

It’s spring. The birds are chirping, the sun is shining, and all’s right with the world. OK, maybe that’s a bit overstated. We’ve had more snow in the last couple of days than we had all winter. Still, there’s warmer weather on the horizon and maybe winter’s back is broken.

So, on with it.

The phrase, through the rabbit hole, is one I’ve used a lot of late because it means, to me at least, to examine things in depth, to deconstruct them and see how well the parts look closeup. It comes from Alice in Wonderland, of course, which I’ve always loved, and I highly recommend Martin Gardner’s annotated version of it, which puts it into the context of the times in which it was written and explains the less obvious.

And I’ve been going down a lot of rabbit holes: origins of Mormonism origins of the universe, origins of the Jesus myth. The deeper that you travel down any of these holes, the more wonders that you find. Curioser and curioser, as Alice so wonderfully put it.

In Mormonism, I like the Spalding-Rigdon theory, where much of the Book of Mormon was already written, or perhaps stolen, even before the small group of men found Joseph Smith to use as their expounder and spokesperson, with others adding small bits to it. I used to blame Joseph for the incredibly bad writing, since it was said that he was functionally illiterate, but as it turns out, the original fictional tale, “Manuscript Lost,” contained all the bad writing before its content was lifted and published in the Book of Mormon. The level of known, or suspected, detail is amazing.

In the Jesus myth, there is little of the story of Jesus, if anything at all, that can be considered historical. Mark’s gospel was, apparent to me, written entirely as a fictional story, and whoever “Mark” was, it’s clear that he would have known and expected his readers to know that it was fictional, or at the very least based in the works of others. The other gospel writers copied Mark, adjusting the story to fit their own positions and politics.

And finally, on the universe origins, I find a rabbit hole that never ends. A lifetime of study can only touch on the vagaries of theory and speculation about the whichness of what and why are the wherefores.

Now, when asked, “So, do you believe that everything just came from nothing?” I can answer with aplomb: Your question is meaningless. You do not know what everything is, and you do not know what nothing is, and therefore the question, as posed, is null.

I expect my questioner to reply that they know exactly what nothing is, and it’s obvious what they mean by everything. Then I will take them down the rabbit hole. “Everything” seems composed of molecules, made up of atoms, and finally of particles. What’s a particle made of? If you cannot answer that, and I certainly cannot, then you obviously do not know what everything is. 

And nothing is worse. Suppose I hand you, dear reader, a shoebox. I tell you, “There’s nothing in here.” You know exactly what I mean: there are no shoes, no wrapping paper, no bank records, no marble collection. In other words – nothing. But there is something, isn’t there? There’s air. Perhaps there’s an old dried-up spider’s leg that’s too small for you to see. Dust mites, maybe. Dust. There are particles passing through the box, unobserved and unfelt. There is quantum flux, whatever that may be. So it doesn’t really contain nothing, does it?

In fact, I would challenge my questioner to point to a place in the universe where there is nothing. Even in the vacuum of space we find light everywhere, particles flying on their way to somewhere, perhaps popping in and out of existence or travelling forward or backward in time, because particles, whatever they may be,  do no seem to be limited to a particular time direction. At the quantum level, everything you think you know breaks down and you have to begin to understand things in ways that the human mind did not seem to evolve to understand. Nothing is intuitive and anthropomorphic thinking is useless. For those of us deaf to the scientific formulae, it just doesn’t make sense anymore, and the closest we can come to finding “nothing” is the empty space in the quantum flux of a proton, which, as I recall, contains about 80% of the mass in the universe. So even that isn’t really nothing, is it?

If everything were to come from nothing, we’d first have to find some nothing. Otherwise, it’s just another hypothesis in the dustbin.

Then there’s the difference between infinity and eternal. It appears that infinity is a mathematical construct, and not much use in practical terms. If you count the moments between one thousand years ago and today, no matter how big a number you come up with, you can always come up with a bigger one, depending on your idea of a moment. 

But eternal, now there’s a horse of a different color. Is the universe eternal? Are matter and energy really indestructible? Is the universe a product of quantum tunneling or was there a big crunch before that big bang? I don’t know. And not only do I think that no one knows the answers to these questions, I don’t think that there’s enough data that anyone could know the answer, and I’m not certain that any human being could comprehend, ever, the exact nature of the universe. 

I’m fine with that, as long as somebody keeps trying. And then I’ll go a little further down the rabbit hole again.

“I wonder if I’ve been changed in the night? Let me think. Was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I’m not the same, the next question is ‘Who in the world am I?’ Ah, that’s the great puzzle!”  — Alice


About herkblog

I'm an atheist. Although that's just a part of my life, I consider it to be important enough to me to be the main theme of this personal screed. I am self-employed in a service business and I live in Idaho, a place not known for its liberal qualities.
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2 Responses to Down the Rabbit Hole

  1. That was great. I can’t wait to try that out. “something from nothing” has become a common argument on The Atheist Experience and they usually end up saying “show me nothing”. But this really turns it around. You should email them.

  2. herkblog says:

    Oddly, I was listening to the latest Atheist Experience show while reading your reply in my email . . .
    More oddly, the mass in the proton, reportedly, comes from the empty quantum space in the flux inside the proton. Now there’s nothing!

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