Nothingness

A familiar character from the Pendragon cycle, Ben, 62, speaks to us of the philosopher David Hume and the possibility of a solipsistic universe in Nothingness.  Ben tells us the story of how Hume, exploring the lack of necessary relationships between causes and effects, and contemplating the possibility that what we call reality is just a set of appearances, began to feel an irrational panic, doubting the reality of everything, including himself, and feeling with horror that if he opened the door to his study there would be nothing outside.  But he does open the door and the old familiar world is there.  He finds his friends playing billiards and concludes that if cause and effect is an illusion, it is at least a consistent illusion.  Ben finishes the story by telling us that Hume walks back to his study, opens the door, and falls into absolute nothingness.  Ben explains that Hume had been dreaming, but then asks what we mean by reality.  Reality, he says, changes because it is only what is real for us at a specific time.  If there is an external reality outside our subjective experience, we can never know it.  He says he lives alone in the woods, thinking about these things, particularly about his father’s pool table.  When Ben was fourteen and very angry because his mother had left them, his father purchased a pool table even though they had very little money.  They got it into the basement and set it up.  His father, although he had a bad leg from the war, had superior hand-eye coordination and Ben got very angry because of his own lack of expertise.  Slowly, patiently, his father explained how to hit the ball to make it go where you wanted.  Ben learned to calm down and concentrate on the task at hand.  He says he realized years later that his father was not teaching him about pool but about something else.  Ben says his father has been gone five years now and cats sleep on the covered pool table.  He says that to get old in relative isolation is to live more and more deeply inside the theatre in your head.  Hume must walk to his door with absolutely no assurance that there’s anything behind it.  But he also knows, Ben says, “as I know, that one night he will open that door and before he knows what’s happening step into absolute nothingness.”

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