Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

The Aristos, Page 2

John Fowles

  28 The Divine Solution is to govern by not governing in any sense that the governed can call being governed; that is, to constitute a situation in which the governed must govern themselves.

  29 If there had been a creator, his second act would have been to disappear.

  30 Put dice on the table and leave the room; but make it seem possible to the players that you were never in the room.

  31 The good human and so the good universal upbringing gives freedom to develop, or hazard, within fixed bounds.

  32 The whole is not a pharaonic cosmos; a blind obsession with pyramids, assembling, slaves. Our pyramid has no apex; it is not a pyramid. We are not slaves who will never see the summit, because there is no summit. Life may be less imperfect in a hundred years’ time than it is today; but it will be even less imperfect a hundred years after that. Perfectibility is meaningless because wherever we enter the infinite processus we can look forward with a kind of nostalgia for the future, and imagine a better age. It is also evil, because a terminus of perfection breeds a cancer of now. For perfectibilitarians, perfect ends tomorrow justify very imperfect means today.

  33 We build towards nothing; we build.

  34 Our universe is the best possible because it can contain no Promised Land; no point where we could have all we imagine. We are designed to want: with nothing to want, we are like windmills in a world without wind.

  35 Emily Dickinson: If summer were an axiom, what sorcery had snow?*

  36 We are in the best possible situation because everywhere, below the surface, we do not know; we shall never know why; we shall never know tomorrow; we shall never know a god or if there is a god; we shall never even know ourselves. This mysterious wall round our world and our perception of it is not there to frustrate us but to train us back to the now, to life, to our time being.


  37 The cosmos is an infinite proliferation of fire, atoms, forms, collisions, attractions, sports, mutations, all happening in the space-time continuum; only thus can Law survive against Chaos, and only thus can Chaos survive against Law.

  38 Only in an infinitely proliferating cosmos can both order and disorder coexist infinitely; and the only purposeful cosmos must be one that proliferates infinitely. It was therefore not created, but was always.

  39 A finite creation is incomprehensible. If a creator were not self-suincient, it would be absurd to suppose that there was both a time when he was aware of this and did nothing, and a time when he remedied his deficiency. What is easier to believe? That there was always something or that there was once nothing?

  40 Christianity says that creation has a beginning, middle and end. The Greeks claimed that creation is a timeless processus. Both are correct. All that is created and is therefore individual has a beginning and an end; but there is no universal beginning and end.

  41 Our universe may fall in on itself, the red shift change to a blue. All universes may be like an expanding and contracting heart, with the spores of humanity growing in the cool spaces between stars; then withering in the autumn collapse. Or they may expand eternally.

  42 A phoenix infinity; or an infinite expansion. Whichever it is, the astrophysicists now know what Heraclitus guessed: that suns must grow in heat and finally consume their planetary systems. Look out of the window: everything you see is frozen fire in transit between fire and fire. Cities, equations, lovers, landscapes: all are hurtling towards the hydrogen crucible.*

  43 Even if we could establish a definite point of genesis for our own universe, we could never establish the genesis of what may or may not lie beyond the limits of our observational power. It is convenient to behave in science as if what may lie beyond our present domain of knowledge does not exist; but the logical chances are even, and the practical probabilities all on my side.

  44 Nothing is unique in its species, even a cosmos; though everything is unique in its own existing.

  45 If a cosmos is infinite, it has no end. If it has no end, there can be no end it is serving. Its only end must lie in its means. It exists in order to exist.

  46 Only one process allows all conscious beings to have equal importance: an infinite one. If there were any end to which evolution was tending, then you and I would be slaves of a pharaoh, a builder of pyramids. But if there is no end, and only in an infinite universe can there be no end, then you, from whatever world or age you come, and I are equal. For both of us the slope is the same, and reaches as far ahead and as far behind. This is the great proof that the whole is infinite. It was never created and it will never end, so that all that is may be equal in it.


  47 I put the word in inverted commas in order to except it from its common meanings; to purge it of all its human associations.

  48 ‘God’ is a situation. Not a power, or a being, or an influence. Not a ‘he’ or a ‘she’, but an ‘it’. Not entity or non-entity, but the situation in which there can be both entity and non-entity.

  49 Because people cannot understand that what is not can influence what is, they maintain that ‘God’ is and does. But our ignorence of ‘God’ and its motives will always remain infinite. To ask What is God? is as futile as to ask When does infinity begin and end?

  50 Existence is ultimately or potentially knowable; ‘God’ is infinitely unknowable. The most we shall ever learn is why existence is as it is; why it requires such laws and such constituents to continue. We shall never learn ultimately why it is.

  51 St Augustine: We know only what God is not. Existence is individual, therefore ‘God’ is not individual. Existence changes, therefore ‘God’ does not. Existence has power to intervene, therefore ‘God’ does not. Existence is finite, therefore ‘God’ is not. But ‘God’ is omnipresent, since all that exists (and is therefore individual) is not.*

  52 ‘God’ is not; but its not-being is universally present, and universally affects. It cannot exist in any sense meaningful to material organisms; but that does not mean that this situation is meaningless to such organisms. If, for instance, you see two men fighting, but do not intervene (although you could have intervened), then in fact you intervene by not intervening; and it is so with ‘God’.

  53 The whole is intrinsically a situation in which the principles and the events are all, and the individual thing is nothing. Since it is thus completely indifferent to the individual thing, ‘God’ must be totally sympathetic to the whole. But it expresses its sympathy by not being and by its total unknowability. It is wu wei and wu ming, without action and without name.

  54 Tao Te Ching:

  LXVII. If it resembled anything it would long before now have become insignificant

  LVIL The sage says, I do nothing and the people change of themselves. I prefer stillness and the people correct themselves. I do not intervene and the people prosper by themselves,

  LI. It gives the myriads life and yet claims no possession; it benefits them yet asks for no thanks; it looks after them yet exercises no authority.

  X. Can you love the people and govern the state without resorting to action?*

  55 If the individual thing suffers, it is so that the whole may not. This can happen only in a world of individualized matter, in which hazard, time and change are fundamental features.


  56 The concept of infinity bans any purpose except that of infinity. If we experience sensations of happiness, then it must be because matter in the form of human beings experiencing happiness serves the purpose of infinity, which is the maintenance of infinity. For to be happy to exist is to want to continue to exist.

  57 But if the purpose of the whole is simply to prolong itself, what is the necessity of evolution, of causation, of complex physical laws? Why introduce the experience of pleasure, let alone the consciousness of pleasure? Why could not existence be an eternal stone in an eternal vacuum, or an infinite cloud of static atoms? To man the answer has always seemed simple. The gods wish their handiwork to be admired; they want libati
on, psalm and sacrifice. But this is the old and pernicious heresy of the anthropocentric universe, in which we humans are the Few and all the lower rest of creation, the Many. In such a universe we must assume a very active god; and one who is very much on our side, a suspiciously prejudiced figure to be in command of the whole.

  58 Then why should matter exist at all? A single hydrogen atom must seem, if the sole purpose of infinity is infinity, a redundancy. But infinity cannot be of time alone. Time in itself, absolutely, does not exist; it is always relative to some observer or some object. Without a clock I say ‘I do not know the time’. Without matter, time itself is unknowable; and infinity does not exist.

  59 Time is a function of matter; and matter therefore is the clock that makes infinity real. From our very special human standpoint some changes in the form of matter – such as the leap in anthropoid brain size, the appearance of self-consciousness, the discovery of tools, of language – are unmistakable evidence of some beneficent universal intention towards us. But all this might appear, to some hypothetical outside observer, a mere result of the effects of time on matter. He would not see it in terms of progress – the present complexity of matter might indeed seem to be a regress, a devolution, a superfluous ornamentation – but in terms of process.

  60 To this outside observer all the special privileges we claim for our species, all the feathers in our cap, might seem as absurd as the exotic ceremonial finery of some primitive chieftain; of no more significance than the flowers in my garden for a surveyor. My flowers may mean a great deal to me; but I cannot assume that the purpose of evolution is to give them to me.

  61 What we call evolutionary progress is so for nothing but ourselves. The very term ‘evolution’, with its assumption of development-from, is misleading. We are like the observer in sub-atomic physics who distorts the nature of the particle observed by the very act of observation.

  62 This indifference of the process to the individual objects that constitute it, this ‘God’ which is a situation and not a person, which does not intervene, this blind obsession with the maintenance of infinity – all this may appear to leave our human world intolerably bare. But even here one can detect evidence of a universal sympathy. How can we not see? By not being in our sense of being, by not intervening, ‘God’ is a warning to us that Homo sapiens, like every other form of matter, is not necessary, but contingent. If our world is annihilated, and all of us with it, the whole will not suffer. It is madness, a delusion we inherit from our remotest ancestors, to suppose that thanksgiving can influence the course of events; that these man-like projections of our own wishful thinking can intervene on our behalf in the process.*

  63 No one will save us but ourselves; and the final proof of the sympathy in ‘God’ lies in the fact that we are – or can by exercise become – free to choose courses of action and so at least combat some of the hostile results of the general indifference of the process to the individual.

  64 Freedom of will is the highest human good; and it is impossible to have both that freedom and an intervening divinity. We, because we are a form of matter, are contingent; and this terrifying contingency allows our freedom.


  65 We shall never know finally why we are; why anything is, or needs to be. All our science, all our art, the whole vast edifice of matter, has its foundations in this meaninglessness; and the only assumptions we can make about it are that it is both necessary and sympathetic to the continuing existence of matter.

  66 We want to be mastered, but we are masterless. We think always in a causative and hierarchical manner. The process and ‘God’ are co-infinite. Our finity cannot comprehend them, or their causelessness.

  67 ‘God’ is caused by what it causes; is made necessary by what it necessitates; we cannot comprehend.

  68 We go on living, in the final analysis, because we do not know why we are here to live. Unknowing, or hazard, is as vital to man as water.

  69 We can imagine the non-existence of any existent object. Our belief that it does exist is partly assured by the fact that it might not have done so. Behind the shape, the mass, there stands always the absence; the ghost of non-existing.

  70 Just as the atom is made of positive and negative particles, so is each thing made of its own existence and non-existence. Thus is ‘God’ present by being absent in every thing and every moment. It is the dark core, the mystery, the being-not-being of even the simplest objects.

  71 Erigena: God is eternally partially self-ignorant. If he knew all of himself, he could define himself. If he could define himself, he would be finite. But all he knows of himself is what he has created. What is created is his knowledge, what is potential is his mystery: mysterious in him and to him.*

  All this applies equally to man.

  72 The ubiquitous absence of ‘God’ in ordinary life is this sense of non-existing, of mystery, of incalculable potentiality; this eternal doubt that hovers between the thing in itself and our perception of it; this dimension in and by which all other dimensions exist. The white paper that contains a drawing; the space that contains a building; the silence that contains a sonata; the passage of time that prevents a sensation or object continuing for ever; all these are ‘God’.

  73 Mystery, or unknowing, is energy. As soon as a mystery is explained, it ceases to be a source of energy. If we question deep enough there comes a point where answers, if answers could be given, would kill. We may want to dam the river; but we dam the spring at our peril. In fact, since ‘God’ is unknowable, we cannot dam the spring of basic existential mystery. ‘God’ is the energy of all questions and questing; and so the ultimate source of all action and volition.


  74 I do not consider myself an atheist, yet this concept of ‘God’ and our necessary masterlessness obliges me to behave in all public matters as if I were.

  75 Whatever sympathy I feel towards religions, whatever admiration for some of their adherents, whatever historical or biological necessity I see in them, whatever metaphorical truth, I cannot accept them as credible explanations of reality; and they are incredible to me in proportion to the degree that they require my belief in positive human attributes and intervenient powers in their divinities.

  76 I live in hazard and infinity. The cosmos stretches around me, meadow on meadow of galaxies, reach on reach of dark space, steppes of stars, oceanic darkness and light. There is no amenable god in it, no particular concern or particular mercy. Yet everywhere I see a living balance, a rippling tension, an enormous yet mysterious simplicity, an endless breathing of light. And I comprehend that being is understanding that I must exist in hazard but that the whole is not in hazard. Seeing and knowing this is being conscious; accepting it is being human.



  1 Why do we think this is not the best of all possible worlds for mankind? Why are we unhappy in it?

  2 What follow are the great dissatisfactions. I maintain that they are all essential to our happiness since they provide the soil from which it grows.


  3 We hate death for two reasons. It ends life prematurely; and we do not know what lies beyond it.

  4 A very large majority of educated mankind now doubts the existence of an afterlife. It is clear that the only scientific attitude is that of agnosticism: we simply do not know. We are in the Bet Situation.*

  5 The Bet Situation is one in which we cannot have certainty about some future event; and yet in which it is vital that we come to a decision about its nature. This situation faces us at the beginning of a horse race, when we want to know the name of the winner. We are reduced at worst to guessing it with a pin and at best to forecasting it intelligently from the evidence of past form, condition in the paddock, and all the rest. Most serious gamblers know that their interest is better served by the second method; and it is this method we should use when we come to wager on the race between an afterlife and a total extinction. We have two horses, but of course t
hree choices, since we can argue that it is best not to bet – that is, to remain agnostic.

  6 To Pascal, who first made this analogy with the bet, the answer was clear: one must put one’s money on the Christian belief that a recompensatory afterlife exists. If it is not true, he argued, then one has lost nothing but one’s stake. If it is true, one has gained all.

  7 Now even an atheist contemporary with Pascal might have agreed that nothing but good could ensue, in an unjust society where the majority conveniently believed in hellfire, from supporting the idea, false or true, of an afterlife. But today the concept of hellfire has been discarded by the theologians, let alone the rest of us. Hell could be just only in a world where all were equally persuaded that it exists; just only in a world that allowed a total freedom of will – and therefore a total biographical and biological similarity – to every man and woman in it. We may still disagree on the extent to which man is determined in his behaviour by exterior circumstances, but that he is not partly so determined is irrefutable.

  8 The idea of an afterlife has persistently haunted man because inequality has persistently tyrannized him. It is not only to the poor, the sick, the unfortunate underdogs of history, that the idea appeals; it has appealed to all honest men’s sense of justice, and very often at the same time as the use of the idea to maintain an unequal status quo in society has revolted them. Somewhere, this belief proposes, there is a system of absolute justice and a day of absolute judgement, by and on which we are all to be rewarded according to our deserts.