The Unsaddled Mind
On the [ful]filling potential of empty space
“When one enquires into the essential nature of things — into the deeper realms of matter in physics; into the deeper realms of consciousness — one discovers a different reality beyond the superficial mechanistic appearance of everyday life.”
- Fritjof Kapra
The pursuit of common denominators through the fringe-intersections of physics and philosophy is as frustrating as it is enlightening. It draws a person deeper into the existential muck, and at every rational occasion of doubt, the intuition gets hooked by another tantalizing clue, prompting those most desperate to wade deeper into the abyss.
Like metal detecting and continuously finding junky items but slowly realizing, dig after dig in a contained area, that all the excavated pieces seem to hint at some kind of story - a story which is itself relegated as the fascinating treasure by the end of it all.
My pseudo-intellectual meandering through quantum physics and Eastern philosophy, through the twisting world of psychology and consciousness, has convinced me that the proverbial voids often referenced in any such context — the emptiness of space, the superposition state before a wave function collapses, the neurological pre-consciousness conditions — mean something.
There’s some kind of inherent aesthetic to it, an imprint of self-resonating truth, as poetically compatible with countless Buddhist or Hindu conceptualizations as it is complimentary to numerous interactions of particle physics or dynamics of neurochemical consciousness.
The difficult part is surrendering the expectation to truly understand it — as it seems to be fundamentally unknowable to the rational mind — while maintaining an engaged pursuit of trying to figure it out anyway.
Instinct seems to demand it.
Our movement — our navigation through reality — seems to consist of filling the voids around us, prospectively as much as retrospectively.
We tend to focus heavily on the time/space related voids: filling our temporal experiences with hobbies and events under a ticking biological clock; filling our physical voids with materials and hoping this delineates our levels of success.
There are of course other voids that we fill, sometimes less emphasized but just as important - those of subjective fulfilment, intellect, or of a spiritual/existential nature.
Regardless, as the modern 21st Century humans we are, we seem to be hyper-obsessed with making the most out of empty space.
We move through this space in an effort to manipulate it, eventually seeking more — because more space (bigger houses, bigger cars, bigger jewels) signifies more power; likewise, we assume that more milestones on a timeline signify more fulfillment.
And maybe they do — who’s to really say.
But one thing that’s clear is that we’ve become very good at efficiently filling the spaces, and at continuously finding more of them to fill.
For example, in an age where we can send data as abundantly and quickly as ever before, or connect with one another more efficiently than ever, we still always seem to be short on time, finding new ways to speed things up or maximize any output that we can.
Is it healthy?
The rat race of filling voids — getting a degree, buying a home, getting a well-paying job — the imbuement of such voids comes to define us.
We’ve grown to fear or, at least, avoid the emptiness, as though it were an uncomfortable silence, jumping from one space to the next restlessly because we feel like we have to keep ourselves moving, else we sink into the quicksand of a lost moment in space and time.
But what if the point isn’t to simply fill the space or, to put it another way, to optimize our occupation of space and time?
What if we were to allow some of the emptiness to define us as well or, at least, if we were to try not to avoid it so?
That’s where things can get a little bit less existentially clear but, for some reason, instinct still pulls us to acknowledge the murky underside — the nothingness of reality.
It’s cliché, but consider an empty void to be like an empty plate or pallet.
The options are infinite; the wave functions haven’t yet collapsed; the choices haven’t yet been made. A filled void, one soaked in habits and steeped in paradigmatic grooves and presumptions from the mass consciousness of culture, is not a free one.
It’s burdened with some kind of presumption, if not pessimism about the state of the world or the industrial complexes, or distracted by things irrelevant to our ultimate purpose(s) and fulfilment(s).
A mind constantly maneuvering through empty space in a way that considers said empty space to be completely boundless — that mind is unsaddled and free.
If each empty space is a real empty space, not one loaded with preconceptions or paradigmatic baggage, the potential is just that much more potent.
Liken the mind to a horse — it could be a utilitarian animal, designed to optimize our movement through space and time, or it could just be a free and wild horse.
Eventually, culture becomes a cart, affixing itself to this horse; constructs affixed to a primal intuition.
And no amount of material beautification or existential justification can detract from the fact that a horse is now always [perceptually] tethered to a cart, having to navigate atop an established road, weighed by presumptions and burdened by external drivers.
The cart or carriage, which now defines the horse as opposed to vice versa (for a carriage designed to optimize need not be a prima facie bad thing) can be decorated as much as possible; hell, many people successfully use the cart to their advantage or turn their cart into a spaceship that transports the horse around — kudos to them for beating the system.
But this is about being free from the wrong kind of saddles, on the most fundamental of levels, in the first place.
And one way (because I’d struggle to say the only way) to free ourselves from such saddles is to acknowledge the empty space — to appreciate the voids around us.
Because they’re not necessarily empty; if fact, they’re anything but.
Contain any ‘empty’ space into a vacuum and zoom in close enough — like ocean-water, you’d see that no physical space is ever really empty.
Quantum physics can get lost in a box of empty space; philosophy, likewise, can get more out of empty space than it can out of anything else.
This is because of the potentiality at play.
The voids aren’t empty — they serve an embryonic function, a function that allows for the very existence of potential.
And this potential itself seems to be the whole point, the fulcrum of our experience here, that which drives us forward.
In a frustrating way to put it — the meaning generated comes not from the fulfilled state but from the process of fulfillment — the journey more than the arrival.
So if the point seems not to be about filling the voids — if it seems to be about co-existing with their presence and leveraging their prospect, what does that mean for our overall perspective?
We currently seem stuck in this perspective of depletion (we have less time every new day; less opportunity because of less time; less joy because of less opportunity). Maybe it’s because we apply our biological characteristics (i.e. aging & death) to everything, which is ironic given that, by exclusively doing so, we disregard the more poignant statements of birth and life.
If we could see the embryonic potential of the voids — the fact that anything and everything can sprout from absolutely nothing — we could begin to see the circularity of time and the infinitude of space, vessels of meaning that can never be completely filled.
The emptiness, the silence, the non-existence, death — these are not to be avoided or ignored despite how uncomfortable they may make us feel; they’re meant to be juxtaposed, celebrated, pursued or at least observed with respectful curiosity above all else.
All this is not to say that we shouldn’t fill voids, because they do fundamentally exist to be filled; but we ought to consider our perspective — emptiness need not be imbued out of utilitarian duty as much as it ought to be inviting of opportunity.
Nothingness ought not represent a glass half empty but a glass half available.
It’s all about how we stride into these empty moments and spaces, and how we generate opportunity within them. And maybe we see that we’re not meant to fill or define them so much as they’re meant to fill or define us.
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