Letter from the Editor: Esoterica
By Rob Carroll
First Published in Issue 009 of Dark Matter Magazine, May 2022
The universe is an enigma, and it will remain that way forever. Science, philosophy, religion—these are just systems that attempt to explain certain aspects of our existence via observation, measurement, and extrapolation. Discoveries are made and answers found, but the path to total understanding is anything but linear (we’re lucky if it even moves in a consistent direction along the X and Y axes). Whenever one mystery is solved, a thousand more take its place.
Science is an amazing tool at humanity’s disposal, but even with our vast knowledge—built upon millions of years of collective discovery and achievement—we’re still scratching our heads in confusion about a lot of things. Experts can only theorize on subjects like dark energy and dark matter. No one has a clue why there is more matter in existence than antimatter. We don’t know why measurements collapse quantum wave functions (this is why when you observe something, you change it). Time might be an arrow, or it might not be. Human consciousness is a big question mark, as are parallel universes. String theory nicely reconciles the laws governing particle physics, but it’s never been proven, and until it is, the random nature of said particles will continue to mock the existing laws. What really is gravity? Is there order in chaos?
Philosophically speaking, we’re still asking the same centuries-old questions. What is the meaning of life? Why is there something rather than nothing? Why is ‘something’ all this stuff and not some other stuff? Who am I? How do I know what is right or wrong? How can I truly know anything? Does God exist?
The unknowable nature of the universe has always been fuel for mankind’s most nihilistic tendencies. And why wouldn’t it be? If existence has no purpose, or if it does have purpose, but that purpose is never explicitly revealed to us, it’s a fair response to wonder why anyone should care about anything at all. Why care about morality if it’s merely an evolutionarily beneficial construct? Why stress over love if it’s just another chemical reaction in the brain? Why worry about truth if truth is simply what you make of it? Why take yourself seriously, or have any respect for yourself at all, if you’re just a walking product of all the random stimuli and response in your life—just a complex, living algorithm with self-made delusions of grandeur?
But even though the response is fair, a mind that refuses to move beyond this initial frustration leads to a mindset that is harmful (even the absurdists will agree). And yet, so much of our modern discourse centers the idea that nothing truly matters. We attempt to deconstruct for the sake of deconstruction. We yearn to see through all accepted knowledge, including truth itself. If we can’t see through it, then the structure still exists, and that’s bad, because something that exists without our consent, exists in order to oppress us (or so it can be believed). But if we keep trying to see through things, eventually we’ll see nothing at all. And if we keep trying to deconstruct things, eventually we’ll have nothing at all.
Unfortunately, this movement to reach a null state of meaning and/or existence is not going to end any time soon. As science continues to prove that the universe is deeper and more complex than we can ever imagine (and it will), our de facto skepticism will continue to grow proportionally stronger to match (as will our de facto resentment for anything that could be true, since it threatens the elastic nature of the subjective realities we prefer and can control).
Science fiction has often explored the idea that in the future, humans—to their detriment—will blindly accept all knowledge handed down to them. Critical thinking, the fictions say, will be outsourced in favor of digestible, memetic information exchange, the speed of which will discourage discernment and encourage the propagation of whatever narrative (true or false) is currently acceptable or in fashion. But in reality, the opposite is proving to be more likely. While it’s true that we often forego discernment if it means we’ll be atop the speed-of-information leaderboard, the idea that a population will blindly accept all knowledge handed down to them is false. We may not always choose to believe the truth (or the lie presented as truth), but we will choose. Those malignant AIs that want to control us? They’re going to have to vary their messaging widely and in very creative ways if they hope to contain our multitudes. And honestly, they’ll probably still fail. Even to a hyper-intelligent AI, the human mind will always remain a mystery. And for good reason. It’s the most unknowable thing of all.
In this issue of Dark Matter, nine stories confront the unknowable nature of reality and bravely choose to make meaning in response. In “Declare the Typhoon’s Coming,” by Noah Codega, we see that nihilism is no match for dignity, neither in life, nor in death. In “The Editorial Process,” by Andrew Sullivan, even ‘evil’ science must have purpose before it can warrant its own existence. Roni Stinger’s “The Ground Shook” declares two truths: 1) the world is often cruel and uncaring; and 2) choosing to carry on amid such circumstances is heroic. “Muscle Memory,” by R. L. Meza, reminds us that a limitless universe means limitless possibility, and that under these conditions, triumph over hate, suffering, injury, injustice, and even death can be achieved, and we won’t care if the resulting form is unfamiliar. Monte Lin’s “This Choir of Ghosts” and Christi Nogle’s “Cocooning” both acknowledge the prison-like nature of existence, but only to prove that no prison can hold humanity back forever; the collective will of our species is a wild tempest that cannot be bottled up for long. In “Flight Delay,” Rich Larson posits that even when all is lost and there is nothing left to gain, humans can and will still choose existence as long as there is a reason for them to exist. In “Roaches,” Ai Jiang warns that complex and increasingly unknowable forms of governance are the pillars of modern day oppression, and that to accept your shackles is to be complicit in the theft of mankind’s greater inheritance. And finally, “Refuge,” by Mark Joslyn, ignites our fear of the unknown by exposing that which has long been hidden, forcing us to wonder if we’re truly equipped to know all truths, or if in certain instances, ignorance is a more purposeful choice.
© 2022, Rob Carroll