Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Huckleberry Finn on How the World Was Made (or Laid)

Reading Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, I came across the following intriguing passage (in chapter 19), in which Huck tells the reader about a brief philosophical or rather cosmological argument he had with his friend and companion, the runaway slave Jim.

“It’s lovely to live on a raft. We had the sky, up there, all speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs and look up at them, and discuss about whether they was made, or only just happened  - Jim he allowed they was made, but I allowed they happened; I judged it would have took too long to make so many. Jim said the moon could a laid them; well, that looked kind of reasonable, so I didn’t say nothing against it, because I’ve seen a frog lay most as many, so of course it could be done.”
Jim’s reasoning is built firmly on experience: making a thing takes time, and making so many copies of a thing as there are stars in the sky would have taken an awful lot of time, so it is rather unlikely if not downright impossible that anyone would have taken the trouble to do so. But laying, giving birth, is a process that takes almost no time at all, at least that’s how it may appear to the casual observer: at one moment there is nothing, and the next there is. It is not quite happening, but not making either. Our parents haven’t made us, but neither have we just happened. We have gradually come into existence, in our secret hiding place, the maternal womb, before, at some point, we were suddenly thrown into the world. Our parents have set the whole process that eventually led to our existence in motion, but all the rest happened by itself, although clearly following a plan, a plan that was not devised by our parents. Perhaps the universe has come into existence in a similar way. Perhaps God didn’t make the world either. Perhaps he (or rather she) gave birth to it. (I have to admit I’m not entirely sure what that means, but I’m rather fond of the idea.)

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