Thursday, March 10, 2022


            The 19th Century philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer believed that we live in a dual universe: the one that we perceive with our limited human senses and reasoning, and the universe as it truly is, which is unknowable. Does anyone disagree with him on this point?


            I might argue that it’s more than a dual universe, for there are as many universes as there are people. We each construct our own version, often convinced that the version corresponds to “reality.” Sorry to inform you, but it doesn’t correspond. Think, for example, how faulty and usually self-serving our memories are. Do you really think our brains do any better with our perceptions?


            I don’t want to bad-mouth the brain. Just think what our three pounds of meat can do – generating language, dreams, philosophy, music, fiction, societies, and wars. There’s a Kurt Vonnegut novel that I read years ago, Galapagos, which argues that our human brains have grown too big, just the way the antlers of elk (I think) have grown so big that they have become a liability, except, perhaps, for impressing the ladies. 

Irish Elk (Thanks, Bill)

Our extra-large human brains have led to overly complex and destructive societies, leading to the potential extinction of the human species. Sound familiar? The few surviving humans evolved into a kind of sea lion, without our too-large destructive brains. These creatures swim, mate, eat what they need, and don’t invade Ukraine.


            But I digress (my brain being what it is), and get back to Schopenhauer’s buzzing but unknowable universe.


            I experienced that buzzing unknowable universe directly a few days ago. I was down at the shore tossing chunks of suet out onto the ice so Kim could photograph whatever comes to eat it – fox, coyote, crows, eagle, whatever. It was sunny and still, and I could hear this quiet, low throbbing hum radiating up from all over the lake. It was magical. I’d heard the ice boom before, but nothing like this. I felt like I was hearing the secret engine of the universe.


            And then yesterday we caught another glimpse of the magic. It was another sunny day, and we loaded our cameras into the car to explore the back roads. After nothing really special, we saw this:



The Rough-legged Hawk is a new bird for us. Kim did not have time to set up her tripod, but she took the above hand-held. The sighting was a glimpse of something so beautiful that it’s beyond the language of fact and reason. It may be that art, which includes music and photography, is the best way to appreciate the magic of Schopenhauer’s unknowable universe as it really is.


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