Notes and Fragments on Being

In thinking about the nature of the everyday and the banal, the ordinary and the forms that life take within the spheres of the everyday worlds human beings inhabit, I want to elaborate Being. I think there is something missing in the discourses that contemporary debates about human life. In saying that missing something is a working concept of what Being “is” I am returning to a question that was not only not answered in Heidegger’s Being and Time. I am attempting to see how various strands of thought about the human–from the scientific to the purely theoretical–have managed to miss the centrality of the meaning of existence not because it hasn’t been their aim. On the contrary, the aim of almost every discourse about human life has been about elaborating some sense of meaning for the contexts in which human beings find themselves. Rather, these discourses have managed to mask the question of Being, shrouding it behind words that use its potency without referencing its ever being there. I don’t want to rehearse the impossible and laborious Heideggerian task of the question of Being and the existential problems that such a question highlights. I do want to illustrate how the complexities of our debates about humanity have left Being as an already answered question. How the question of Being has a tendency to be falsely problematized as leading to an inert opposite of the more inviting thematic question of “Becoming.”

There is nothing, so to speak, in the question of Being that would lead to the conclusion that Being is static and unchanging. I can use cosmology and quantum physics as a means of illuminating the reasons for this assertion. Consider Stephen Hawking’s text A Brief History of Time as not a purely rationalistic text that seeks to address a popular audience in ordinary terms about complex physical theories. Instead, Hawking is engaged in an attempt to find an underlying and unifying cause or force that can piece together the disparate theoretical maps of general relativity and quantum theory. In that sense, he is engaged in the question of Being of the universe. But nowhere in the text does he suggest that this kind of Being, or these underlying and unifying laws, would inhibit the spectacular diversity of the universe. He argues for an endlessly complex universe on macro- and micrological scales that seem to emerge from some common fabric that static-ness. Physicists have already demonstrated that something can come from nothing–the philosophical equivalent found in the statement that Nothingness is not Nothing. This Being that Hawking is trying to grasp often takes the form of dark energy, dark matter, and theoretical particles that have non-visible yet identifiable action on things we perceive to exist. Things can emerge from “empty” space. The Nothing of space is actually filled with virtual things. Nothing exists. What is more philosophically worded than that! In the scientific pursuit of meaning, Hawking betrays the fact that philosophy is never far behind. And it is precisely ontology, or the theory of reality, that Hawking seems to be most attuned to (and unaware of). 

When I hear astronomers speak of stars and cosmic phenomena, they almost always come back to a few simple yet profound assertions. The chiefest among them is that we, as in the human organism and all of life that exists on this planet, are made of the stuff that stars helped to create. The atoms in our bodies are all present thanks to the forces of gravity and nuclear fusion and fission–from violent phenomena caused by an equally violent original force (or big bang). Such investigations have as their ground the question of the human’s place is within the larger cosmic context of a possibly infinite universe. For the scientist, our Being rests in the Being of cosmic proportions. Whether that makes us terrible unimportant or unique is an answer about which they have yet to come to a consensus. There is never a moment in which a scientific question is posed that does not–even tangentially–relate to the place of humanity in some (worldly, cosmic, universal) context.

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