Life consists of profundities, occasional great wisdom, and enough trite, boneheaded statements to make one give up on language. For whatever reason the universe frequently sprinkles weird thoughts on our otherwise reliable brains, the hackneyed phrase that came to mind this morning is the frequently shallow, ersatz philosophical, misty-eyed wonderment that there must be “something out there.”
Perhaps I’m being too harsh. In fact, there is no alternative to there actually being something out there, though the phrase doesn’t distinguish among the Andromeda Galaxy, dark matter, and Zeus. I suppose the speaker would not have meant one of those, but an unidentified “something” that, if known, would explain most if not all the mysteries of reality or, indeed, what reality is. That brand of agnosticism coming from someone influenced by Abrahamic religions likely refers to a person-like god of which existing religions are but a pale reflection.
Yes, I know the phrase might just be an expression of disappointment—or perhaps hope—in reaction to the “is this all there is?” cliché. But to risk making heavy weather of the matter, “there must be something out there” can be a last ditch effort to save oneself from descent into atheism. I admit it has a patina of cosmology, the kind where quizzical pondering substitutes for thoughtful inquiry. Come to think of it, although I’ve heard the phrase uttered many times, I can count on one hand the times the utterer went further into deliberation, as if proposing a great spiritual force was enough to demonstrate one.
Besides, why is it there must be the kind of something pontificators mean by the phrase. “Musts” are propositions themselves requiring proof in logic or in demonstration. So I suppose the most cogent response would simply be “why?” Why must there be the speaker’s kind of “something” out there? And, while I’m on a roll, what exactly is “out there”? It seems to imply not here, but somewhere else. Maybe I’m being overly severe again. Maybe “out there” is akin to the ubiquitous, loose wording that conveys that heaven is up (which would be down to our antipode friends) or that the moon is a nocturnal object (it’s “up” as often in daytime as at night).
OK, I’ll stop this and merely note that there is a lot of the universe we haven’t understood yet and may never be so privileged as to do so. To say those as-yet unknown parts are the “something” that is out there doesn’t express anything worth noting, since it merely says there are things beyond what we now know. But if the expression is meant to refer to something supernatural, then we are justified in asking just what the speaker has in mind. Where “must” demonstrably fits (as just shown) is meaningless; where “must” does not demonstrably fit (i.e., where it goes beyond a mere a truism) is pure conjecture.
And speaking of must, I must get back to more meaningful blog posts. But I hope readers can tolerate occasional light-minded, not to say frivolous, musings. However, that may be an unnecessary worry on my part.
There might not be somebody out there.
[Comments on, challenges to, or requests about this or any other posting can be sent to email@example.com.]