Living in the Vortices of Infinity

As a boyhood fan of influential American horror writer Howard Phillips Lovecraft (known to his friends as “H.P.”), I was dismayed to discover some time ago a poem which revealed his obnoxiously racist attitudes. I always find it difficult knowing what to do when someone whose artistic work you admire turns out to have a dark side to his or her personality. It’s always hard to separate the creation from the creator. In the case of H.P. Lovecraft I’ve maintained an interest in him and his work, I suppose in an attempt to find some redeeming features.

Anyway, in Lovecraft’s Selected Letters, I came across a passage which is reminiscent of the following quotation from an interview with physicist Steven Weinberg:

I believe that there is no point in the universe that can be discovered by the methods of science. I believe that what we have found so far, an impersonal universe in which it is not particularly directed toward human beings is what we are going to continue to find. And that when we find the ultimate laws of nature they will have a chilling, cold impersonal quality about them.

I don’t think this means [however] there’s no point to life. Usually the remark is quoted just as it stands. But if anyone read the next paragraph, they would see that I went on to say that if there is no point in the universe that we discover by the methods of science, there is a point that we can give the universe by the way we live, by loving each other, by discovering things about nature, by creating works of art. And that — in a way, although we are not the stars in a cosmic drama, if the only drama we’re starring in is one that we are making up as we go along, it is not entirely ignoble that faced with this unloving, impersonal universe we make a little island of warmth and love and science and art for ourselves. That’s not an entirely despicable role for us to play.

This is the passage in Lovecraft’s Selected Letters

As you are aware, I have never been able to soothe myself with the sugary delusions of religion; for these things stand convicted of the utmost absurdity in light of modern scientific knowledge. With Nietzsche, I have been forced to confess that mankind as a whole has no goal or purpose whatsoever, but is a mere superfluous speck in the unfathomable vortices of infinity and eternity. Accordingly, I have hardly been able to experience anything which one could call real happiness; or to take as vital an interest in human affairs as can one who still retains the hallucination of a “great purpose” in the general plan of terrestrial life. … However, I have never permitted these circumstances to react upon my daily life; for it is obvious that although I have “nothing to live for”, I certainly have just as much as any other of the insignificant bacteria called human beings. I have thus been content to observe the phenomena about me with something like objective interest, and to feel a certain tranquillity which comes from perfect acceptance of my place as an inconsequential atom. In ceasing to care about most things, I have likewise ceased to suffer in many ways. There is a real restfulness in the scientific conviction that nothing matters very much; that the only legitimate aim of humanity is to minimise acute suffering for the majority, and to derive whatever satisfaction is derivable from the exercise of the mind in the pursuit of truth (from Letter to Reinhardt Kleiner  (14 September 1919), in Selected Letters I, 1911-1924 edited by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, pp. 86-87).

I think my own philosophy of life is some sort of juxtaposition of these two…

4 Responses to “Living in the Vortices of Infinity”

  1. “I think my own philosophy of life is some sort of juxtaposition of these two…”

    With some jazz thrown in. I think neither Lovecraft nor Weinberg was/is a jazz fan. And a beard.

    Be glad for life because it gives you the chance to love and to work and to look up at the stars.

    —Henry Van Dyke

    When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive—to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.

    —Marcus Aurelius

    Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind.

    —Bertrand Russell

  2. Anton Garrett Says:

    I agree with Weinberg’s statement of belief that “there is no point in the universe that can be discovered by the methods of science.” He then says that if “we find the ultimate laws of nature they will have a chilling, cold impersonal quality about them.” That is a statement about aesthetics, in which Weinberg does not have a Nobel prize. I believe that they will be beautiful, just like Maxwell’s equations and the Dirac equation are. As to WHY these laws are beautiful… that’s the question to which I can now give an answer but which stumped me when I was an atheist: I believe they were put in place by a creator with a sense of beauty. It is the search for beautiful laws which motivates theoretical physicists as much as the desire to be reconciled with the observations. I also disagree with Weinberg’s second paragraph, because I believe, as a point of logic, that it is impossible to manufacture purpose. To find the purpose of something you have to look outside it. So to find the purpose of man, and/or the earth…

    I was sorry to read of Lovecraft’s lack of happiness. I don’t believe that he never let it “react on [his] daily life”, however; it would unavoidably have been doing so, albeit in a way of which he was unaware.

  3. Infinity Live The Life

    […] d the ultimate laws of nature they will have a chilling, cold impersonal quality […]

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