Embrace the Horror

"It is not accurate to say that there is horror in the universe. The universe is horror."

-Dr. Werner Heisenberg, physicist

You're better off not knowing what I'm about to tell you. Once you know it, you can't unknow it and you'll spend the rest of your life wishing you could. Unless you just happen to forget it, though living your life with that kind of a faulty memory would be its own horror, would it not?

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.

My glimpse into the true horror of the universe, like all dread glimpses of truth, flashed out from an accidental piecing together of separated things -- in this case an old newspaper item and the shit left behind by my former roomate.

It fell upon me to examine the boxes of shit that grad student G.O. Fuckart had abandoned at my place, as he left no forwarding address. There was little of note in the shoebox of personal records, the stack of paperback books and the porn, porn and porn that littered the room. But there was one box which I found exceedingly puzzling. Not the box itself -- it was merely the empty cardboard container which once contained a Nintendo Gamecube. But what could be the meaning of the queer clay bas-relief (a sort of sculpture on a flat surface) I found inside it?

I did not know. I would have been happier if I had remained in my slumber of ignorance.

The second discovery that would forever plummet me down the horror hole came when I was cleaning out my refrigerator. In the remote reaches of the produce drawer at the bottom I found the remains of an old piece of fish, wrapped in a newspaper. I tested the fish for freshness by smelling it. I regained consciousness some forty-five minutes later.

I was about to throw the rancid meat away when I noticed the year on the newspaper: 1922. Fascinated, I unwrapped it and saw a small article about a German man named Werner Heisenberg, a scientist who had been ticketed and fined on a public nudity & disorder charge. The fine was cancelled, it said, because Heisenberg was also drunk at the time and in Germany public drunkeness actually earns the citizen a small monetary reward.

The incident piqued my interest and I investigated it further. I'm about to share what I discovered and how it relates to the clay artifact G.O. Fuckart left behind. This is your last chance to turn back. I highly recommend you do so.

Werner Heisenberg was a nuclear physicist, meaning he studied atoms and the particles inside the atoms that make up everything in the universe. He knew these very particles had been continously flying around since the universe exploded into existence a very long time ago. The scientist had, in fact, gone past studying reality and was studying inside reality, into the very building blocks of existence. It was, as he put it, "more fascinating than watching a monkey shit a grandfather clock."

Heisenberg's day of horror would come in the fall of 1922. He was performing his atomic experiments (while heavily intoxicated, as is the way among German scientists) and he noticed that it was difficult to measure exactly where the subatomic particles were going and how they were interacting with other particles, because they're so tiny that the enormous microscope he used to view the particles (called a "Mondoscope") would knock them off course when he turned the light on. It seemed like a minor problem, and he certainly didn't realize that all of reality had just come undone before his eyes. He would find out soon enough.

"Hans!" shouted Heisenberg to his young apprentice, Hans Schmeisel. "I cannot measure the movement of the subatomic particles, because when I flip the switch on the Mondoscope the machine itself throws them off their natural course!"

Schmeisel looked at the Mondoscope, then at Heisenberg, then at a printout of the results scrolling out of one of their gigantic diesel-powered computers.

The apprentice began screaming.

"What is it?" demanded Heisenberg, clutching the shrieking young man by the lapel. "You are screaming like a woman! Remember your penis!"

"But Herr Heisenberg," stuttered the assistant, tears streaming down his eyes. "Do you not see? You said you scattered the particles from their natural course when you turned on the Mondoscope! But it is not so!"

"Fool!" shouted Heisenberg, slapping the man across the jowls. "Look at the results!"

"But I have! It is true they were scattered by the Mondoscope! But the particles are also still on their natural course!"

"That's impossible, you sausage-stinking ass!"

"Do you still not see?" squealed the apprentice. "The Mondoscope is itself is made of the same particles you are observing with it! And so is this laboratory! And so is your hand. And so is your brain."

Heisenberg did not understand. Instead, he grabbed a leather strap and gave the assistant a sound beating, for it was not considered proper among physicists at the time for an apprentice to talk back to his master.

"But sir!" Squealed Hans from the floor as the leather strap lashed across his shoulders with a sound like a gunshot. "My brain is made of atoms and atoms only react to other atoms and energies present in the world! They cannot be changed! It was destined from the beginning of time that I should talk back to you just now!"

"So be it!" Screeched Heisenberg. "And so it was also destined from the beginning of time that I should thrash you for it!"

Dr. Werner Heisenberg, 1919

In the throes of his beating frenzy, Heisenberg had not yet realized that all of reality as humans had ever understood it had just melted away, right there in his lab. But in the long night that followed, the truth landed on him like a jackboot on a ferret. Neighbors found Heisenberg that next morning, naked, clinging to the branch of an Elm tree and screaming insults to the wind.

The tree, he ranted to the police who tried to coax him down, would always grow according to the quality of the soil and the rainfall and the air and the genetic code in the seed from which it grew.

"If you change one factor, you change the tree!" slurred Heisenberg, beery urine dribbling down his thigh. "It is as sure as flipping a switch! As it is for the tree, it is for the man in the tree!"

Heisenberg wept, his genitals vibrating with the sobs. "Don't you get it? What this tree will look like ten years from now is decided completely by forces set into motion billions of years ago. And we're made of the same stuff!"

"Well," chuckled one of the officers, "I could have that tree cut down right now! That would show the universe who's boss! We'll see what the cosmic elements have to say about that!"

"You fool! Don't you realize that the lumberjack is himself formed by the same elements as the tree? The tree grows and sprouts green, the lumberjack lumberjacks, but both do it by the same cause-and-effect domino fall. If he cuts down the tree then he was always destined to cut it down! If he changes his mind then he was always destined to change his mind!"

The officer laughed and shook his head. He had heard all that before, way back in school, fate and free will and all that. Fortunately for him, he didn't fully realize what Heisenberg was saying. The police eventually knocked Heisenberg down from the tree by jabbing him with long staffs called "pokeabstimmung."

"Don't you worry, sir," said the officer as he helped Heisenberg into the police van. "The future is what you make it! Just choose to do the right thing!"

Heisenberg let out a long laugh. "Fool! When you were a babe at your mother's crotch, you had a brain built on the genes handed down by your parents! And they got theirs from their parents, all the way back to the first life formed by an accidental cell mutation! And everything you've seen or heard in your life since was fired into your brain as electrical nerve impulses from your eyes and ears. We can measure those impulses! They are physical things! And each of those impulses, what you called 'sights' and 'sounds' threw certain chemical switches in your brain, all of which can also be observed and measured! And those switches, as they turn as predictably as gears in a clock, are what we call 'thoughts' and 'emotions!' And what you know as your 'self' is just the accumulation of chemical changes made to a genetic blueprint! We could change it in a lab! We could make you fall in love! We could make your soul from scratch! EVERYTHING YOU'VE EVER HEARD ABOUT FREE WILL VERSUS FATE CAN NOW BE MEASURED IN A LABORATORY! THE DEBATE IS OVER!"

The police van was two kilometers down the street by the time Heisenberg finished that speech. It's just as well. With that realization, everything the policeman outside had ever thought or said or done in his life would have been rendered utterly ridiculous.

The cop had woken up to go to work in the morning because he believed that having a job was better than living as a hobo in a train car. But to call one thing "better" or "worse" than another is based on the idea that we are able to choose between two outcomes. This is physically impossible, as Heisenberg had found out.

As a scientist, even in a state of extreme inebriation, he knew that if you cool water enough it has to freeze. And if you send certain impulses down the optic nerve into the brain, the gooey neurons that make up the brain have to chemically react in one way. Those chemicals are our thoughts and emotions and personality and actions. Claiming that there is some magical force in the brain that can let us "choose" how our brain chemicals will react to impulses is just as ridiculous as claiming you can make a pot of water boil only with the force of your mind, or that Randy Johnson can make a pitch stop in midair and return to him just because he "chose" for it to do so. The impulses that play on the brain are bound by the exact same laws of physics as the baseball in flight.

To change them would require nothing short of magic.

You're scoffing, just as you were destined to scoff from the moment the universe burst into existence billions of years ago. "After all," you say to your computer monitor, whilst arrogantly stroking your luxuriant beard, "I can choose to stand up or remain sitting! I'm sitting here right now, making the choice! I can do either one! I know what it feels like to freely choose!"

That feeling that you can choose to do something different than what you wind up doing is just a chemical side-effect, an impression of the emotions that feels like something it really isn't, just as a certain formation of clouds can look like a castle or a tree branch can look like it's flipping you the bird. You're getting an impression of something that isn't really there.

I can prove it. Are you sure you want me to?

Okay. You already know that there is a difference between the statement "the waterfall is 50 feet high" and the statement, "the watefall is awesome." The first is fact, the second is opinion. The first is saying something about the waterfall, the second is only saying something about your feelings toward the waterfall. The waterfall is a certain height even if no one is there to observe it, but the waterfall is only "awesome" inside the skull of a person looking at it. When the person leaves, the awesome leaves with him.

But what lots of people don't notice is that all statements making a value judgement on anything ("better" or "worse" or "awesome" or "sucks") are factually meaningless. It's hard, because if you loved the Lord of the Rings movies you don't just think that's your preference. You secretly think that those movies are better than, say, the Carrot Top vehicle Chairman of the Board.

And deep down you let yourself think that even if the whole world loved Chairman better, they'd simply be wrong, as if "better" somehow was a thing that existed outside of people's opinions (which are just the result of chemical reactions in the skull). If you disagree with that, try to prove it. You'll start sputtering that the acting was "more natural" in your film, that the editing was "superior" and the story was "more meaningful." But you'll notice that all you did was break out a few categories and express more opinions, all of which still exist only in your head. You're just saying you prefer one style of acting to another, one type of editing, one type of story.

If you shoot back that critics and film experts universally agree that Rings was better, then are you saying that all you meant by "better" is what critics thought was better? And that if the critics changed their mind, the movie would factually stop being better? So you can never say the critics are "wrong" about a movie because the definition of "better" is just what experts happen to like?

No, of course not. And when asked why a thing is better if you answer "it just is," you lose. The scientific mind doesn't answer "why is the sky blue" with "it just is." You have to give the logical reason for it. And no statement of "better" can be supported in this way. Try it with a friend. It's fun!

"Goodyear tires are better on snow than Firestone."


"They keep you from skidding off the road."

"So you say it's 'better' to keep the car on the road than to drive into a ditch? Why?"

"Because you could be injured or killed if you land in the ditch."

"So you say it's 'better' to be alive than dead? Why?"

"Because society depends on you to do good things and you can't if you're dead."

"So you say it's 'better' to do good things than not to do them? Why?"

"Because society won't survive if people don't do good things. And people need society to thrive and be happy."

"So it's better for people to thrive and be happy than not? Why?"

"It just is."

Bzzzzt. You lose. Think on it long enough and you'll find that, sure, there are opinions on which lots of people agree, but they are still just opinions. And nothing in the universe is "good" or "bad" on its own, apart from what people think of them. So the feeling you get in your gut that tells you water molecules tumbling over rock are "beautiful"...

...and that diarrhea molecules sprayed on bed sheets are "disgusting"...

...is just superstition. You begin to see Heisenberg's horror revealing itself. Your entire life has been lived based on the idea that some objects and states of being are inarguably "better" than others and you've always acted according to that belief. You're still reading this because you thought it would be "better" to read it than to stop reading it. But when you examine the situation you realize you cannot call anything "better" than anything else without stopping to acknowledge that your statement was so meaningless as to not be worth saying.

You're not reading this because it's "better" to. You're reading it because you were always destined to read it.

Every attempt to claim otherwise falls apart. The illusion dissolves. You see things as they are, see that the molecules are what they are and that by the laws of physics, they could not have been anything else and cannot be anything else in the future other than what they are destined to be. Heisenberg's horror, the utter meaninglessness of everything you have ever thought or felt, reveals itself before your eyes like one of those stupid-ass Magic Eye pictures.

Of course if nothing can truly be "better" than anything else, then that includes people's actions, too. This can be proved in the same way. My message board hosted this long and detailed discussion on dog fucking where a few posters said there was nothing wrong with sexing their pets. The response was as loud and angry as it was clumsy and futile:

"But the dog can't give consent! It's like rape!"

"What if she 'presents' herself to me sexually, the way she does with another dog?"

"But... the dog could be injured!"

"It's a big dog and I have a small penis."

"But... but... it's disgusting!"

"That's your opinion, based on arbitrary social taboos. To say dogfucking 'is' disgusting is no more valid than saying The Fast and the Furious 'is' awesome."

"I can't believe you need a reason not to fuck your dog!"

"And yet, you can't come up with one."

The dogfuckers were right, of course. Even if you argue that dogfucking is "bad for society" and could cause the human race to become extinct due to people fucking dogs instead of women, you're still stating an opinion. You're saying it's "better" for the human race to survive than go extinct. Why? "It just is."

As a footnote, it is interesting to notice that, after his discovery, Werner Heisenberg burned his results, abandoned the area of study and tried to build an atomic bomb for the Nazis instead.

And this brings us to the sculpture G.O.Fuckart left behind. With some analysis I was able to identify the image as a Flying Spaghetti Monster.

The Flying Spaghetti Monster, if you haven't heard of it, is an internet phenomenon started to show the utter ridiculousness of religious belief. They point out that you can't prove the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) doesn't exist, even though it's intentionally retarded, and thus all religions are also retarded because they also cannot be proven or disproven. Here I finally found brethren who grasped Heisenberg's terrible secret.

Their website has signed many thousands to the roster of Flying Spaghetti Monster "worshippers" (who laughingly call themselves "Pastafarians") and they are heroically grinding their boot of sarcasm into the face of the old and obsolete school of thought that Hesienberg could have destroyed had he gone public. That obsolete school of thought, in the form of "religion" or "absolute morality" says there are actually two forces that can make things happen in the universe.

The first is the random, mindless motion of physics, energy carrying forth elements spewed from the Big Bang like a handful of Mardi Gras beads farted from a cow's anus.

The other, they claim, is will. The idea is that humans possess control of some kind of invisible metaphysical energy (what they call a "soul") that lets them actually choose their actions, apart from the pure physical push of genetics and stimulus. It supposedly exists independently from the physical brain and it acts by choosing, not based on opinion, but by recognizing inherent "good" and "bad" things in the universe.

They imply that the emotional impression you get from a kitten in a blanket versus a pile of maggots on a human face is a result of the soul actually tuning into an inherent "goodness" in the first and "badness" in the second. They imply that these attributes exist whether you are there to observe them or not. They imply that if there were only two men left on Earth, and one murdered the other, the murder would still be wrong even though there is no one left to think it is wrong.

And by that, they say, humans are able to do something incredible, which is to re-make the physical universe in ways they see fit. It may have been destiny for a stone to roll to a certain spot and stay there, but this power of "will" lets a human actually interrupt that destiny by picking up the stone and sticking it in his pocket.

It only demonstrates how ridiculous this is when we notice that the only observable instance in all of the universe where this power is exercised is via one particular species living in one short span of time on one particular tiny speck of a planet out in the vast ocean of nowhere:

Earth, as seen from Voyager 4 billion miles away

That would suggest that human beings are not only unique in their physiology, but actually harness a sort of energy that is stranger and, in some ways, more powerful than that found in the stars that dwarf their planet. We're back to the ridiculous geocentrism that says all of the universe revolves around us humans. As if there was something special about us.

They also believe that the universe itself was born from this mystical power of preference or "will," in that there are supposedly sentient energies larger and older than the universe itself (what the Chinese call the "Tao" and the Hindus call "karma" and others call a "god") and that those powers either recognize some things as good and some things as bad, as we do, or that they implanted "goodness" or "badness" in the things they created.

In fact, the FSM thing was started in response to a movement in American schools to teach "Intelligent Design," which would teach in science classes something that cannot be measured by any scientists: that this magical force called "will" exists and influences the universe even though it cannot be measured or weighed or seen or smelt. Of course, they should be teaching in the opposite direction. They should be debunking the silliness of "free will" which also cannot be measured or seen or smelt, and obliterating the concept of "morality," which is made up of many "it just is" (or "you just should") statements that also cannot be proven in a laboratory.

What is baffling about the Pastafarians, however, is that they don't demand that. They stop short in their understanding. While rightfully mocking this magical force called "will" in the form of religious belief, many of them seem to cling to the idea of "will" in the human brain. They'll accidentally use words like "mind" as if the "mind" is some separate thing that exists apart from electrochemical signals transmitted between neurons. They may talk about "love" as if it were also some kind of mystical energy and not just a certain kind of neural chain reaction. They laugh at the idea of a "soul" and then proceed to talk and live every day as if they had something exactly like it inside themselves.

Even worse, one Pastafarian chatted with me online and went from mocking the silly creationists, to talking about attending a rally on environmentalism. He said I "should" support cleaner alternative fuels and cutting greenhouse gases:

"Othwerwise global warming is going to get really bad in 30 or 40 years, mass starvation, the whole bit."

"So? I won't be alive for that. I'm already 72 years old."

"Well, yeah, but your children..."

"No kids. I drive an Escalade and I leave it running 24 hours a day, because it might hurt my wrist to twist the key every morning. Don't worry, I can afford it."

"But... what about future generations? Don't you want them to survive, too?"

"Why? How does that affect me? I'll be dead."

"But... but... you should care about your fellow man even if it doesn't benefit you!"

"That's a false emotional impression, left over from our ancient herd instinct. Surely you're not saying that it's 'better' to care about your fellow man than not to."

"Of course I am! People will die if you don't!"

"So you say it's better that people live than die? Why?"

"It just is!"

I was shocked and disappointed. He believed in this invisible, unmeasurable force called "better" as much as he believed in man's equally-unmeasurable ability to discern and act on the "better" thing and that "it just is" right do that "better" thing when given the chance. He believed in things science can't quantify. He believed in the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

He had to know that the kind of cold logic he demands of the religions to prove there "just is" a god or an absolute morality is just as lacking in his "just is" statements. To say racism "just is" bad or that I "just should" care about my environment is just as unscientific as the Christian saying you "just should" stay a virgin until marriage.

And even stranger, when talking about the FSM they'll say they want to make people, "think for themselves" and "only teach science in science classes." These would all be admirable goals, if it were actually possible for humans to act apart from their genetic blueprint and external stimulus, which we've long proven they're not. What sort of curriculum Georgia's schools teach next year was determined at the moment of the Big Bang, billions of years ago.

The very core of their movement, that it would be "better" for people to abandon religious beliefs in favor of logical scientific materialism, is contradictory because by the rules of logical scientific materialism nothing in the universe can truly be "better" than anything else and nothing can be changed. I suppose I cannot fault them for this. It's easy to debunk other people's bullshit, any college freshman can do it. It makes you feel better about your own bullshit. But it takes real balls to debunk your own.

After all, it is the exact same anthropomorphism that lets humans look to the sky and see "God" that lets them look to their own brain and see "free will." It's simply projecting personality where there is none. It's also the same method of thinking that lets a little girl honestly believe that her teddy bear is her "friend." To believe otherwise, is to believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster. The Pastafarian's beliefs turn out to not be one bit more scientific than those of the Muslim or the Christian or the Malaysian cult that worships a giant teapot.

My friends, we cannot blind ourselves. We have to embrace the horror.

We've let religious quacks say for centuries that there's a layer of self-evident truth at which you stop asking questions because the questions become meaningless. They say asking why dog-fucking is disgusting is like asking why time is running forward rather than backward. They say it factually, "just is." They say you can stop there, that you only clean the windshield until you see the road, and then you're done cleaning.

But that is an arbitrary stopping point. We cannot make their mistake. If you throw up your hands and say, "eh, free will just works somehow, it's Quantum physics or something," or, "I'll just live my life and not worry about it," then you might as well have stopped with, "it just is." Though I guess that would rob you of the chance to make fun of those other people.

No, we must push through to the absolute and terrible truth of the universe, to ride the horror like a dolphin at Seaworld. After we have "cleaned the windshield" enough to see the road we must then look until we can see through the road itself. And through what's behind it and what's behind what's behind it. Real logical inquiry doesn't stop until you've seen through everything. Then, when you can look and see absolutely nothing, you have found the truth.

My pen hesitates at this point, shaking in my very fingers. I have realized, to my horror, that by the very act of writing this I have violated everything I just said. I cannot instruct you on how to see the universe because you were pre-destined to see it in one way, regardless of what actions I think I "chose" to take. I'm even writing this based on the unspoken assertion that it was "better" to write it than not. The very act of saying what I said contradicts what I say, like a man who tells you everything he says is a lie.

So, nevermind, I guess.

-David Wong
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