Tag Archives: God

Question

“Why do we never get an answer, when we’re knocking at the door?”   Question, The Moody Blues

Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story by Jim Holt (Liveright Publishing Company, $27.95, 309 pages)

From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time by Sean Carroll (Plume Reprint, $17.00, 448 pages)

“Could it be… that the world exists precisely because it is, on the whole, better than nothing?”

Reading Tim Holt’s extended treatise on life and the universe is the equivalent of listening to a classic philosophical album by The Moody Blues – one hears numerous questions about being and existence but receives no answers.   All in all, Why Does the Earth Exist? is an entertaining read but it’s far too clever by half; one gets the impression that Holt is trying to dazzle the reader with his brilliance – supposed or real – as he all too often gets off track.   Holt never answers the question raised in the book’s title, and much time is wasted on diversions such as mathematical formulas and the rules of formal logic.

The writer seems to be at his most engaging while pondering deep thoughts after nights of imbibing far too much alcohol at the world’s glamorous hotspots.   As such, he comes off as a tamer, more intellectual version of the Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Rum Diary); one whose entertainment value (unlike the late Thompson’s) runs thin very, very quickly.   Another flaw with Why concerns Holt’s unwillingness to acknowledge that much of the interest in time, and the birth and death of our 13.7 billion year old universe, relates to our personal fears of death and non-existence.   Occasionally, he grudgingly concedes the point:  “Our mild anxiety about the precariousness of being…  might yield to cosmic terror when we realize that the whole show is a mere ontological soap bubble that could pop into nothingness at any moment, without the slightest warning.”   “The life of the universe, like each of our lives, may be a mere interlude between two nothings.”

“…philosophy is a terribly difficult subject, and sorting out the hardest questions in the finite time of a human life is asking a lot.”   (Emphasis in the original)

This book’s recommended only for those few selected – if perhaps strange – individuals who felt they didn’t take enough tough philosophy classes in college.   And if you want to cover the majority of the same ground – from Einstein to modern physics, time travel and more – and get even deeper into the weeds of existence, existentialism and science – a better choice would be From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time by Sean Carroll (2010).   Carroll offers less entertainment value, and fewer side trips than Holt but he delivers more content that actually helps us understand “how we came to exist” and where our existence (our world and our universe) is headed.

From Eternity to Here is well recommended, although it has the feel of a very serious college textbook.   The universe itself is a terribly difficult subject, one not for the timid, weak or lazy.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy of Why Does the World Exist? was provided by the publisher.   From Eternity to Here was purchased by the reviewer.

Note:  Tim Holt was raised as a Catholic.   Undoubtedly, some will find that he spends far too much energy on religion in this work, while others will decide that he’s not said enough about God.   What cannot be denied is that he gives full space to the arguments (and views) of all of the great modern and ancient existentialist philosophers – a matter that some will find pleasing, and others extremely painful.

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Coming Up Next…

A review of The Language God Talks: On Science and Religion by Herman Wouk.

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A Painful Read

“Though it makes no sense, I’d like to get on the court again.   I want the pain that only tennis can provide.”   – Andre Agassi

Pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world.   – C. S. Lewis

“(Brooke’s) concerned.   She hates I was so upset…   that I’m in pain.”   – Andre Agassi

“This is why we’re here.   To fight through the pain…”   – Andre Agassi

“…seek the pain, woo the pain, recognize that pain is life.”   – Gil Reyes

‘Cause feeling pain’s a hard way/To know you’re still alive   – Barry Manilow

“…let’s go put some pain on your opponents.”   – Brad Gilbert

This one is about pain, as reflected in the selected quotes – all taken from Open: An Autobiography – listed above.   One would think that the autobiography of a glamorous tennis star, one who ranked at the top of his profession, who owned his own jet, and dated and married famous actresses and tennis stars, would be a fun read.   Open is anything but, it’s a morose slog though a life of torture and misery.   It seems like Agassi tells us a million times in the book that he hates tennis:   “I hate tennis more than ever – but I hate myself more.”   And the point of this is?

Of course, this book was not actually written by Mr. Agassi.   It was dictated to a ghostwriter whose name won’t be used here to protect his ghostly status.   This is an “as told to…” tale in which the Agassi-ghost pair appear to emphasize every painful moment in their character’s life, while minimizing the positive.   But then Agassi, clearly, loves his stays in the state of misery:   “Rock bottom can be very cozy, because at least you’re at rest.   You know you’re not going anywhere for a while.”

It’s not as if Agassi is unaware that he’s a lucky man, “I tell myself you can’t be unhappy when you have money in the bank and own your own plane.   But…   I feel listless, hopeless, trapped in a life I didn’t choose…”   Yes, all of this misery comes from playing a sport of the leisured class.   “I’ve played this game for a lot of reasons…   and it seems like none of them has ever been my own.”   Perhaps he thinks that we’ve all been in complete control of our lives from the moment of birth on, ignoring the comment of John Lennon, “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.”

Lennon also wrote about pain:   “God is a concept by which we measure our pain.”   But it never seemed like his music was overtaken by the need to paint his life as a prison of pain.   Agassi’s book does so, over and over again.   Because Agassi does not like himself much, he can hardly be expected to have nice things to say about his former competitors in the sport.   After he said some not-so-nice things about Wimbledon champion Jim Courier, Courier responded, “I’m insecure?”   Indeed.

Of course, by the time the reader finally reaches page 384 there’s the to-be-expected happy ending, with marriage and beautiful children and the founding of the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy charter school.   But what an exhausting march to get there…   filled with too much pain and too little hope.   Tiring.

This work is the opposite of a life affirming one.

Joseph Arellano

Note:   A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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