Hawking Paradox Sutra, the Buddhism of Big Questions…

Stephen Hawking is certainly one of the most interesting figures of the last century, and his previous best-seller A Brief History of Time was certainly a page-turner, if not exactly a nail-biter, so I was excited to have a chance to read his latest, and presumably last (since he is now deceased) offering, Brief Answers to the Big Questions, like, you know: Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where do we go now? Who invented ice cream? Why are women so beautiful? Hey, you gotta’ have priorities.

Backstory: Freedom and the lack thereof is one of my big themes philosophically, and so it is for many of us, generally in the West, and especially in America, to the point that you can’t escape it, even when you are reading Eastern philosophy, especially that of the Indian/Hindu variety, in which pandits and acharyas will go on and on (I would like to say ‘drone’) about you and your boundlessness and your limitlessness, and wouldn’t it be great if you were unstoppable.

And it may be because these Brahmins share a large amount of DNA with us westerners, so they may just be repeating themes that arose back on late star-studded nights somewhere on the Pontic steppes, back when all we Indo-European speakers were one, or it may just be because their brand of Vedic fortune-telling is not so different from Western ‘psychic readings’ in which telling people what they want to hear is always a viable punch line, especially when looking at the bottom line.

And so Rajneesh became Osho, but still counted his R & R’s in the driveway, because of his ability to ‘resonate’ with you, and Transcendental Meditation became a brand with a plan, in six easy payments, and Holly Woodstar gives you guided meditations on a soft mat, while the traditional Buddhist monk in saffron robes just sits there for hours eyes closed unflinching, and is better off for it, because what he is thinking—or not—is not important, but the fact that he is saying nothing and moving not even a muscle is paramount, in my opinion, at least.

But my thesis is that there are limits to our existence, and profound limits to be sure, but that they are neither onerous nor oppressive, at the same time that they are fundamental and necessary, even beautiful. I think that I am qualified to advocate this position even though I’ve traveled to 155 countries, and counting, while the Buddhist monk sits in unflinching dhyana, bhavana, samadhi, or zazen. Emptiness and fullness are only flipsides of the same coin, especially if that coin is denominated in 10’s, 100’s, or 1000’s, in which 0 is the emptiness, and 1 is the fullness, endlessly exponential, yet still limited.

And such are the frequencies that we perceive, easily measurable as a range of hearing, below which we cannot make it out, nor above which the same, but within which we can experience the most unimaginable pleasures of musical delight, whether Bach, Bob, or Brian in between. We can even feel those frequencies, such is our existence defined by those mechanical waves either auditory or earth tremors, percussion or repercussion, our blessed limits, shock and awe.

Frequencies of light are even more sublime, and point to a dimension above, electromagnetism, which we can only perceive as a force, rather than its full dimension, but best appreciated in the semi-divine scribblings of the Surrealists and the Impressionists and many others to boot, and possessed of great Art. That soon leads to the hard stuff, language and literature, which only begins to see its potential with the advent of the Digital Age, and union with mathematics, and media made manifest, all of which are limits, and without which they would be merely empty, sublime but empty.

So I was excited to see that Mr. Hawking seemed to have found a physical basis for our unhealthy addiction to freedom, with no limits, rather than a healthy freedom, within limits. Because right there on page 127 of the aforementioned book Brief Answers to Big Questions, he states that, “If the 3-d space were really the surface of a sphere in another dimension, its volume would be large but finite.” Boom. Infinity is a product of our limited dimensions of perception. The very fact of our limits assumes an ultimate reality of no limits. Makes sense, I guess

It doesn’t’ last long, though. Because right there on page 203, while closing out the book’s narrative, he states, “There should be no boundary to human endeavor.” But imagine if that were really the case! How would police departments cope with that? The robbers would go wild! The robber barons would go wild! And they did! And they are doing it again! And that has serious repercussions, e.g. poverty, global warming, homelessness, hunger, you name it. Limits are beautiful, e.g. Art, music, truth, beauty, and goodness. Will you at least meet me halfway?

“Freedom’s just another word, for nothing left to lose,” according to Foster and Kristofferson, and truer words have never been written, I don’t think.