For a freshman course on Introduction to Philosophy, I was assigned to write a paper on the question of whether the universe was based on a tangible reality, or only ideas and internal perceptions. I dismissed the question as simply being unanswerable. Rather than utilizing the analytical tools the course was intended to teach, I cut it like the Gordian Knot. The thrust of my argument was a glib, wise-ass dismissal of the exercise. I compared the eternal question to a debate over who would be the winner in a fight between Frankenstein and the Wolf-man. For many years afterward, I regretted the lack of seriousness I had brought to that particular question, and to much of my formal schooling. I often thought of that paper, completed during an all-nighter before the day it was due, as being a prime example of many wasted opportunities.
And yet, that freshman philosophy course had provoked a lifelong interest in that and other questions I had sought to dismiss as unanswerable, and that interest led to the discovery of the answer to those questions, which I’m setting forth, in summary fashion here. The answer lies in the fact that ideas and the tangible world are made of the same constituent self-contradicting bricks, which means the answer actually does lie in its unanswerability. That old philosophy paper drew upon a cultural artifact I have since recognized as part of an American mythos, an embedded folklore consisting of, among other things, genre fiction, old horror films, pulp magazines, and comic books. The battle between Frankenstein and the Wolf-man is itself an iconic representation of the conflicting methods of reasoning that make the question unanswerable—the conflict between science and magic.
The Conflict between Magic and Science.
The science of Anthropology had its origins, in part, in a classic work by Sir James George Frazer, The Golden Bough, which was a study of ancient ritual and religion, a kind of an encyclopedia of magic.
Frazer wrote, “Hence the strong attraction which magic and science alike have exercised over the human mind; hence the powerful stimulus that both have given to the pursuit of knowledge. They lure the weary enquirer, the footsore seeker, on through the wilderness of disappointment in the present by their endless promises of the future: they take him up to the top of an exceeding high mountain and show him, beyond the dark clouds and rolling mists at his feet, a vision of the celestial city, far off, it may be, but radiant with unearthly splendor, bathed in the light of dreams.”
All of human perception is based on a combination of Magic and Science. The two work together in tandem, in paradoxical and complementary fashion. This site explores the relationship between the two, through art, essays, fiction, and myth.
THEY LURE THE WEARY ENQUIRER…
Let’s start with the proposition that everything is true. You just have to find the context in which it is true. This really isn’t a novel proposition. To a certain extent, it is part of an old, very powerful intellectual process that lies at the heart of the way attorneys are trained. But legal training takes that process and weaponizes it. This site attempts to beat that sword into a plowshare. If we try to understand the truth of something that seems false, in the process of arguing, we might learn from one another.
The answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything.
It is 42. And it isn’t.
There is too much information. That’s not just the way things are now, that’s the way things have always been. There’s too much information to take in at any given time or on any given subject. The amount of information is infinite. The history of human understanding is as much about reducing information as increasing it. Accumulating and deleting information are natural laws of the universe, equal and opposing, like gravity and centripetal force.
We are forced to parse data. We must run it through various filters, to make it comprehensible.
There is only one way to create useful information. One must have specific criteria for deciding what to select and what to delete. Deciding what to leave out is as important as what to leave in. So, the only usable information is necessarily incomplete, and necessarily false.
What we identify as “truths” are simply usable sets of information, collections of reduced materials, analogous to mathematical sets. One can find an example of a very concrete and understandable truth in the set of even whole numbers between one and ten. The number Pi also represents a concrete and understandable truth, though it has an additional layer of complexity.
Every truth contains the weaknesses of its omitted elements, an embedded contradiction that is equally true. Every truth contradicts itself, a paradox that includes this statement. That’s because all information, at its most basic level, is composed of equal and opposing bits—ones and zeroes, things that either are or are not, being and nothingness. At the most basic sub-atomic level, all of physical reality is built with the same stuff as information. Something that either is or isn’t. The universe is made is like a wall of bricks, with each brick contradicting itself. This isn’t a new insight. This is an ancient insight, not sophistry or a trick of language, but an intrinsic property of reality.
We use intellectual tools to parse information in different ways. These tools are the various disciplines and schools that constitute distinct branches of knowledge, such as science, mathematics, philosophy, art, and religion. They all contain absolute and concrete truths within their own realms, though they often contradict one another. Every truth has been created according to its own criterion and methodology for selecting and deleting information.
Because there is an infinite number of ways to sort infinite information, there is a context in which any given value or item or statement is true. But that proposition encompasses its embedded contradiction. In other words, there are propositions that are not true under any circumstances, but this might be one of them.
MARTIAN PUPPET SHOW
As a result of this inherent paradox, which is an inseparable part of human perception, we have a grand heritage of producing countless pages of debate over questions such as whether fate is determined by free will or mechanical forces, whether there a supreme intelligence and conscious guiding principle in the universe, whether the fabric of reality is based on material or ideas. Within those countless pages lie countless arguments arriving at opposite conclusions, but all of them valid (or invalid when the context shifts). There might be at least one statement that is universally true, and not simply true within a limited context, but this one statement might be it.
We learn as much by deleting information as accumulating it. The innovations of Issac Newton’s physics owed much to way he junked portions of Aristotle’s theories. Claude Shannon, who coined the term ‘bit”, went so far as to separate meaning altogether from information, so that he could examine it. Mathematics, as a formal discipline, is a way of looking at reality stripped of sensory information. But even stripped of the universe itself, the study of mathematics still contains infinity.
THE MOUNTAIN CLIMBER
The conflict between science and magic is a variation of, or constituent part of, many of the eternal philosophical questions. A universe based on ideas and subjective thought is magical; a universe based on material is scientific. A universe governed by a deity is magical; a universe governed by mechanical laws is scientific. A universe governed by free will is magical. A universe governed by determined rules is scientific. And so it goes. One arrives at different conclusions based upon the way one sorts and sifts through the information. There is no single correct answer, but rather a multitude of contradictory correct answers, which itself is a self-contracting single all-encompassing correct answer.
And if the word magic is troubling, the term spirit, in this context, can mean the same thing.
Will and Arial Durant provide a brief, but majestic expression of how to intellectually reconcile paradox and competing views:
“As men are members of one another, and generations are moments in a family line, so civilizations are units in a larger whole whose name is history; they are stages in the life of man. Civilization is polygenetic– it is the cooperative product of many peoples, ranks, and faiths; and no one who studies its history can be a bigot of race or creed. Therefore, the scholar, though he belongs to his country through affectionate kinship, feels himself also a citizen of the Country of the Mind which knows no hatreds and no frontiers; he hardly deserves his name if he carries into his study political prejudices, or racial discriminations, or religious animosities; and he accords his grateful homage to any people that has borne the torch and enriched his heritage.”
THE LIBRARY OF SOULS
The ultimate answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything is, in fact, 42. And that answer is irrefutable. But only within the limited context of another deeply embedded contemporary cultural artifact that has become part of our modern folklore– Douglas Adams’ “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”
This is the structure of the universe, with permutations of truth sorted into different sets. Like mathematical sets, some sets contain others. Some exist only to describe what they lack. Like the colors of the spectrum, truths are opposite at their outer bands, but transitioning into one another. The result alternately appears dazzling in its design, suggestive of deep purpose, or random and chaotic, suggestive of nothingness.
The truth does exist, but the trick lies in understanding the right context for finding it. And that is tricky indeed. America is torn between competing, opposing, but deeply related integral imperatives that must be balanced. Freedom and equality, competition and cooperation, magic and science. I’m not going to dive back into the rabbit hole of dealing with mankind’s eternal questions in this introductory statement. What you will find within this website is not the truth, but a mythology about the truth. And it draws upon a uniquely American mythology that welled up from pulp magazines, and diversified into comic books, horror films, and romance paperbacks. And it is a myth that embodies the spirit of America, a myth and a truth about the way this country’s contradictions congeal into a variety of unified paradoxes.
Despite the grandiosity of my opening claim that this inquiry and explanation represents the answer to life, the universe, and everything, it isn’t offered as a universal modality of perception, or meant to dispute any competing ideas, even those that hold themselves to be universal and exclusionary. It’s a view that’s deeply personal. Nobody in his left mind would ever think like this.
I was formally trained in writing fiction, which is the art of lying convincingly; in literary criticism, which is the craft of finding truths contained in obvious lies, and in the practice of law, which is the mechanics of dealing with facts without regard to whether they are actually true. I practice law in the healthcare industry, so that I continually have to deal with the interface of opposing disciplines, those of law and medicine—the intersection of science and magic.
THE RANDOMNESS OF THE UNIVERSE AS PROOF OF INTELLIGENT DESIGN
To escape the boredom and harassment of 4th grade, Stuart Hopen wrote and illustrated a science fiction and fantasy short story collection that began with a work titled “Me, Temporary Teenager.” He’s been escaping into his writing and art ever since. A graduate of Princeton University, he has written comic books published by D.C. Comics, Marvel, Fantagraphics, Eclipse, and Amazing Comics. His critical writing has been published by Rain Taxi Review of Books and the Comics Journal. He married a woman who bears an uncanny resemblance to the cover painting on the first edition of his novel, Warp Angel, and they have three children. Though he has traveled extensively across galaxies and dimensions, he has spent most of his life in a small town mantled with its unfulfilled dreams of becoming the east coast motion picture capital of America– Hollywood, Florida.
My artistic heroes, heroines, and influences (in no particular order):
Thomas Pynchon, Graham Greene, Joseph Conrad, Jack Kirby, Tanith Lee, Phillip K. Dick, Brian Aldiss, J.G. Ballard, Roger Zelazny, James Ensor, Jules Bissier, Gunter Grass, James Joyce, William Shakespeare, Elizabeth Hand, Jeff Jones, Alan Moore, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ray Davies, A.S. Byatt, Anais Nin, Ingmar Bergman, Barrington J. Bayley, Stanislaw Lem, Angela Carter, Michael Kaluta, William T. Vollman, China Mieville, Herman Melville, Eudora Welty, Robert E. Howard, Mike Carey, Will and Ariel Durant, G.I. Gurdjieff, Winsor McKay, Neal Stephenson, Toni Morrison, Arnold Drake, Kin Platt, Thomas McGuane, Patti Smith, William Faulkner, Michael Moorcock, Herman Hesse, Lester Dent, Marisha Pessl, Steve Ditko, Maurice Ravel, Ken Russell, P. Craig Russell, Cormack McCarthy, Samuel R. Delaney, Vladimir Nabokov, Colin Wilson, Dashiell Hammett, Donovan, Raymond Chandler, Lon Chaney, Tod Browning, Lawrence Watt-Evans, Norman Spinrad, William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Flannery O’Connor, John LeCarre, Don Delillo, Neil Gaiman, Ian Fleming, Bert Jansch,Gardner Fox, Robert Stone, Norvell Page, Bob Dylan, and…
Site Contents: Writing, Paintings, and Drawings ©Stuart Hopen 2014, 2015 (or earlier as noted on individual works), excluding quoted material, Whisper, Delta-Wave, and Daemon Mask Art by Russ Martin, Delta Wave Art by Albert Val and Kenneth MacFarlane, and Cyril Knight Art by Mike Hoffman.