The Argument of Windows

It can be dangerous to look out the window. A quick glance is safe – to check the weather, maybe, or to see who is pulling into the driveway. But it’s a different thing to really look at the world, as you might look at a picture or a page in a book – to look carefully, thinking about what you see.

It is a strange world, outside that window. If you watch long enough, you might see something terrible but, of course, that’s the exception, or we would not make windows. Most of what we see through them – the trees and sun and birds and the million leaves of grass – is wonderful. Literally: objects of wonder, beautiful and important in ways we sense but don’t fully understand. Their existence feeds something in us, and so we make windows.

But there is a danger in looking out the window, a slippery slope that leads from beauty, which happens in nature, to wonder, which happens in us. Our sense of wonder at the beauty around us suggests that there is something powerful and purposeful at work in the universe, something benevolent before which we might be quiet and from which we might draw comfort.

Through the centuries, most humans have hurtled down that slope, seeing no reason not to. But it is different in this century, and especially in this generation. Great minds have found a reason to refrain from wonder and an explanation of the world that puts us in no one’s debt. They have found our creator, and his name is luck.

In our age, wonder is becoming a false religion and even beauty a dangerous illusion. There is no power at work in the universe, they say. No purpose, no benevolence – and no malevolence, either, for there is only matter, and matter knows nothing of good or evil. There is nothing alive that did not spring by luck from muck. Nothing to thank. Nothing to admire. Nothing to revere.

They know this, they insist, though it seems odd that they can know anything. If, as they say, our brain is also an accident – if our mind is a little raft of thought sensations floating on a restless sea of blood and tissue and nerve endings – why trust it? What, in their view, inspires confidence that there is such a thing as truth, or that such a peculiar instrument could know it?

Still, they are sure they do know the truth and they shout down anyone who disagrees. They know there are no Gods or morals, or even girls or boys. And nothing, it seems, can stand against the force of their knowing and shouting. It is a world without truth, except for their truth.

Well, all right, but they should be wary of windows, which have defeated many great minds before theirs. It is a strange world, outside those windows, full of beauty and elegance and complexity that our science is still trying to understand. Even an innocent person, trying her best to believe their story, might look out a window and lapse into wonder, or even ask herself why, for all our proud knowing, we cannot make even an amoeba. If building a living world is so easy that luck can do it, why can’t we?

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