As with many of you, I hang out with a lot of scientists and engineers. But unlike me, probably most of them believe that we can know absolute truth. In particular, the world depicted by everyday physics has you in it, sitting there as a pile of organized atoms. Every move you make, every sensation, every thought, even every feeling can be explained as electrical activity within and between cells. While I agree with that, it doesn’t mean it’s true, just that it works pretty well. But I am amazed that so many of my colleagues miss one astoundingly obvious fact that the pile of atoms model could never possibly explain. They miss the fact that they exist.
I’ll try to elaborate. As a pile of organized, interacting atoms moving through the world, sensing, emoting, thinking … I should certainly appear to act as a conscious being. We atom piles should be seen to laugh, cry, jump with joy, be struck with awe and wonder, and write essays like this one! I have no problem with that. But … if it is sufficient that this pile of atoms appears to host a consciousness, why is it that I actually do exist? Why isn’t my body an empty shell, only acting as though occupied by a mystified and awe-struck consciousness? Why is the pile of atoms actually occupied … by me? *
I believe those who are not puzzled by this question deny the deepest and most fundamental mystery of life. To ignore this question is to deny one’s birth into real existence. I believe many live an entire life denying they were actually born.
Well, I, like you I hope, find my birth a mystery. It is furthermore our faith that this gift of life truly matters. It is not to be denied, or even taken lightly. That is perhaps the deepest reason you find me at St. Mark’s. I am mystified by this gift, but I have faith as well. I have faith that life matters, that we were intended to love one another, to share our joy, and share our appreciation of our birth. At St. Mark’s I seek to wend my way through life with a community of the faithful and mystified. My fellow pile of atoms, nice to have you on the journey.
*For more on this, google “philosophical zombies.”