Monday, October 17, 2011

New explanations create new problems

My head is broken, sinuses, migraine, call it what you will. Last night's searing pain is now a throbbing ache behind the brow. My nose is running, my jaw hurts, and I can't taste this coffee. I only know that it's warm and soothes my throat. Honey is an effin lozenge.

Maybe it's soul-sickness, if there is such a thing. I've been trying to reconcile Kierkegaardian despair at the complete, irrevocable secularization of human culture with a learned optimism at the triumph of science. Look at our unhappiness, then look at our steady progress in rationally explaining natural processes. How can hopelessness and hope coexist in one person simultaneously? Maybe quantum mechanics explains it: the electron is here, there, and everywhere in between, at the same time.

Maybe this pain is due to too much reading. I have tried, god knows, to forswear the religion of my youth, but the language won't leave me alone -- the vocabulary and cadences in The Book of Common Prayer (1928), the rhythms and tropes found in the 1940 Hymnal and the fabulous parallel constructions in the English Revised Version of the Bible. I was programmed early on to chafe against unbelief. Even as my old man, the computer expert, instilled in me a love for the scientific method. Subtle is the lord, but not as subtle as nature, unless you confuse the two.

My head thus deadlocked wobbles this morning. I read the news online. It's getting better all the time. But it feels worse. We primates have leapt across a burning pit and landed safely on a man-made platform that looks a lot like a modern office -- air-conditioned, machine-tooled, modular, CAD-drawn, efficient, exposed. The paintings on the wall are like the music playing in the elevator -- purely decorative. Paint peels, rugs fray, plumbing leaks. But it can all be repaired. Private acts performed in public are encouraged as long as they service a brand. This is written without irony. There is no secret self worth holding on to and soul-sickness, if it is real, merely helps identify the brand. The windows do not open.

You want the news? This world is better than anything that's gone before. We live longer, healthier lives. We are stronger, taller, cleverer. We are less violent, less prone to dogma, less superstitious. We are capable of solving ever more difficult problems. We are, compared to our forbears, enlightened. Pain is no mystery. We can determine its causes. This should make me cheerful but it doesn't.

I wonder if bewilderment can cause headaches? I tell myself that secularization doesn't necessarily imply demystification. If anything, the mystery of human existence without a causal god is deeper than it is with one. Walking from the kitchen to the bathroom, talking to myself. Let be be finale of seem. A sneezing fit comes on suddenly -- the body desperate to rid itself of some vexing substance convulses upon itself. For a few moments, I can't see straight. The pain infuriates me. Would it be best to lie down and let it work its way out of my skull? Or shall I dance, clickety-clack, like a Dutch peasant, on wooden clogs?

My head is broken today. The windows do not open. Tell me, o great coroner, who will commute my sentence?

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