Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

Editorials

March 25, 2010

The Drapery

As a boy, I heard my father recount a lesson he had once learned in college. As I look back, that lesson had an impact on my own thinking. It went something like this.

Imagine yourself at the end of the universe, wherever that happens to be. You have a ball in your hand. Throw the ball toward the end of the universe. If it continues flying forward, you obviously haven’t reached the end of the universe. If on the other hand the ball bounces back to you, you can ask about what lies beyond the end of the universe -- on the other side of that wall, as it were. Whatever it is, it belongs as much to the universe as anything else, which means that on the other side the universe continues and, once again, you haven’t reached the end of the universe.

The point I wish to make is not about the physical or logical solution to that paradox. Rather, I am introducing a kind of archetypal awareness that has since shaped my own thinking about the relationship of what lies before you with what lies beyond.

Philosophers have wrestled with this problem of surface and depth since the beginning. Thales held that the world is full of gods. Obviously, you cannot see them, but he assured us they are there. Other Greek philosophers attempted to give their own explanations, about how a world filled with so many different things is comprised of only four elements or of tiny atoms. Heraclitus wrote about a hidden reality that is more than we can hope to understand. Plato developed an elaborate theory distinguishing a realm of appearances, on the one hand, with a realm of forms, on the other. Much, much later Immanuel Kant made the distinction fundamental to the rest of his thinking between phenomena we experience through our senses and things-in-themselves. He wrote in The Critique of Pure Reason that “though we cannot know these objects as things in themselves, we must yet be in a position at least to think them as things in themselves; otherwise we should be landed in the absurd conclusion that there can be appearance without anything that appears."

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