Baskets Containing Emptiness

Did an answer create the universe? Or did a question?

If one can describe religion as a system of answers and certainties about the cosmos, taken on and held in faith, has modern science become just another religion? What does honest inquiry into the natural world look like? What does the natural world itself look like?

Baskets containing emptiness.

Set adrift in a raft, on the vast ocean of the the world, two Trackers, grandfather and grandson, have a conversation, passing the eternity of the voyage, from birth to death…

Do facts exist? Does certain knowledge exist? How would one build the case for such a proposition? And what would motivate such a quest?

“Grandfather”, says the youth, “To where do we travel?”. “Ah,” smiles the elder, “to the ends of knowing, till we lose ourselves.”

If, according to the current understanding of physics, matter contains mostly empty space, empty space bounded by the paths of moving particles, from the subatomic level to galactic level, how might we describe the nature of reality?

Baskets containing emptiness.

“Grandfather, I feel lost”, says the youth, a tear upon his cheek. “The ground beneath me won’t stand still. It constantly shifts. The world appears empty, all the way to the horizon, and in a grand circle about us. Nothingness upon nothingness. Air and water, shifting cloud, nothing remains the same.”

What if “facts” and “truths” as we know them did not exist? What if the word “fact” meant “a good question to ask”? What if books of facts, stories, knowledge itself, instead of answering questions, asked questions? What if we read “books of facts” as “books of questions”? A field guide to birds, a physics textbook, a journal recording one person’s history, what if every statement in their pages, every proposition, every law, every affirmation of a particular reality, all said: “What if this did describe our reality well? What if birds did behave this way? Build these kinds of nest? And do they? Can you find evidence that supports this? Does the constant of gravity stay constant? How do we know? Will we ever know? Who measured it last?

“Grandson,” spoke the elder, as he put a hand on the youth’s shoulder, and looked deep into the boy’s moist eyes, “all you see around us, our people see as a gift: the changes, the flows, the patterns, no one thing seems to stay the same. Though you may feel we bob about aimlessly, like a leaf, I feel anchored by our curiosity. The mystery itself anchors us to the center of all things. At all times, each one of us stand in the center, as the world whirls around us, dancing its dance. What more beautiful certainty can you ask for?”

To make certain kinds of baskets, you cross flexible sticks, creating a centerpoint. Then, spiraling out from the center, you weave other long flexible materials under-over-under, bending the outer edge of the cross upward, making the center also the bottom of the basket.

A valley may have a river running through it. Surrounded by the valley’s high ridges, most animal trails wind their ways under-over-under around the bowl of the valley, past fallen obstacles, connecting to sources of water, and food, and shelter. The water, the food, and the shelter themselves have settled into spaces and containers. A small pool rests in the netted palm of the mineral structure beneath it; sand and stone, trapping it so that it can rest momentarily in that place. Before long, the thirsty mouth of a deer presses against the surface of the pool, and the water travels into a new container; a web of veins, and bones, and rushing fluids, ultimately trapped by the watertight basket of the skin. On the skin one can see the whorls, lines, criss-crossing patterns unique to each of us. At the cellular level, the same structure continues, lines of force, structures filtering, holding, releasing. And even smaller down to the molecules and atoms comprising the living cells, billions upon billions, each a tiny basket, holding flows, bounded by flows, containing emptiness, directing nothingness.

Baskets, made of webs, made of nets, containing unending mystery, holding questions, answering nothing.

Something seemed to spark in the youth’s eye as he looked out upon the ever-shifting expanse once more. It seemed new, alive in way he hadn’t yet noticed, full of mystery, heavy with question, comforting in its unknowableness. The elder spoke again. “Grandson, as long as the shifting sea of our world continues, we may observe it, notice patterns, and tendencies, make predictions about our futures based upon insight into the workings of our past, but all our myths, our models, our stories, our words, in the end they lie. Only by dancing with it, from moment to moment, cheek to cheek, can we honestly reflect this shifting world. We cannot find knowing in knowledge. We only find it here,” he said, pointing a bony finger at a place just below the boy’s belly button. “And here!” he laughed, pointing at himself, at his own belly.

Written by Willem