I’ve always loved watching people. The ‘shower thought,’ if you will, that each and every person you see and pass has their own, equally complicated and chaotic world that they alone inhabit – that no one else will ever know completely, has always been in equal parts comforting and terrifying to me, and I love to sit and wonder about other peoples’ little worlds: are they like mine? Do they see what I see? Are they wondering the same? Although there are many spots on campus where one could engage in such an activity, my favorite is in the Prior practice rooms. Enclosed by glass walls, I can watch the people on the ground floor, three floors down from where I sit, do everything from study, to sip tea, to perform. The result, at least for me, is the happy knowledge that, although separated by sound-proofed walls, I am far from alone.
My Montserrat course, entitled “Worlds of Sense” this semester, has been reading German philosopher Markus Gabriel’s “Why the World Does not Exist.” (By the world, he means an idea, category, or uniting factor by which everything that is real can be defined [and if that doesn’t make sense to you, don’t worry – it doesn’t to me or any of my classmates either!]). Although we are only a few chapters in, and barely two weeks into the semester, a few of his claims have already taken up semi-permanent residence in my mind, leaving me constantly puzzling over his words and ideas. Now, sitting in Cool Beans, watching the students, professors, and staff come and go, this quote comes to mind:
“From a cosmic perspective, it looks very much as if, in the interests of pure survival, we cling to an arrogant fantasy, namely the idea that humanity and its life world are something special… To a galaxy long since deceased, whose light has just reached us, it is of utterly no concern whether or not I ate breakfast this morning.”
This sounds, albeit fatalistic, correct. The world will go on, and each of our little worlds will each go on too, with seemingly no effect on each other. I will practice in that little soundproofed room while a class above me will study philosophy, and the workshop below me builds a set for a play; the people across the building from me will wonder at the art gallery’s new exhibit, and the students who sit at tables below me will sip their tea, study their work, and laugh with one another. But Gabriel doesn’t leave us there, as little ants in a galaxy far too big for us. In fact, the entire basis of his claims is that the universe – everything that we know and see of the space around us – is just one, tiny part of the world.
In fact, to Gabriel, I am not separated from the rest of the building at all, despite being alone. For the students on the ground floor, I am the cellist practicing on the third floor, and to the passers-by in the hallway, I am the one whose music they can faintly hear. To the art gallery, I am the musician across from them, and maybe for another student, I am the one whose little world they contemplate. I exist in the material world, yes, but I am also a part of each of those little worlds as well – the worlds that I may never even think about.
So while my world may be small, even miniscule, and insignificant from the perspective of the universe, you and I are not. No, we are so many things, and a part of so many worlds. I may not understand Gabriel’s philosophy, and I may never know the depths of your worlds, but I can say this: how wonderful it is that I ate breakfast this morning! How wonderful is it that, from my and your perspective, breakfast is of such importance! And how wonderfully, fantastically arrogant indeed that you and I are so special, our existence so multi-faceted and so relevant from the view of that practice room!