What is it about “down” that is so vital? How come I have never come across a philosophy of down, of the ground or floor that supports? Only in metaphor can I find these philosophies: in the form of spiritual guidances.
Besides life and all that supports life such as air and nutrition, I can think of almost no other fundamental that sustains our existence (besides the existence itself). The ground, the most constant support throughout all our lives – in fact, the only way to even think of having “no ground” is to contrast against ground: the verbs “to fly,” “float,” “hover” all rely on “ground” or “down” with which they operate against.
The ground is so constant as to be unnoticed. At the same time, we are constantly aware of if it. We tire after traveling over it (and so find ways to travel more easily), we use it as a support in exercise, we alter its quality and feel with different types of flooring or carpet or paving, we envy the astronauts who glide over it in free-fall. Yet for all these ways in which we interact against ground, we take it for granted. More so than air, more so than gravity, even. It is at the same time the most unnoticed and the most worked with support against which all on Earth depend.
But now that I point it out, I have no doubt that all my readers are thinking of astronauts, babies born in free-fall, and any number of invented conditions where we may live without a ground. Or perhaps you point out other things we take for granted, such as air, the dimensions of space, or the laws of physics. All true. All true.
So in this way, we can use this foundation (pun intended) as a base to question all aspects of existence. Why stop at the ground? We take the three dimensions of space for granted because how could we live without them? They “hold” the structure of existence with such authority. Edwin Abbot’s Flatland imagines creatures living in two dimensions, the concept of a third almost unimaginable to them.
In science, there are theories which state that the constants of our universe were formed in the fires of the Big Bang. And with the wonderful tools of mathematics, we can form models of the universe with varying numbers of dimensions (some of them curved, even!). With math, we can change the constants of physics and see what happens (read Greg Egan’s Orthogonal series for an exploration of these themes).
But in thinking about the varieties of existence, maths can only take us so far. If we have trouble imagining life in more or less dimensions, how can we even imagine existences in which our “mathematical objects” can not exist. An existence where 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 objects are uncountable because even the differences of plural vs. singular can not exist. Or an existence in which the simple idea of “left / right” or the simple ideas of yes / no or 1 and 0 are impossible. I am not speaking of a negative existence, of “nothing,” of negation. Rather, I’d like to know what other might populate separate existences, an other that holds true. Concepts that in the context of those existences, make as much sense as plural / singular do to us. A schema in which mathematics and logic too, are but qualia.
Literally unimaginable, and so vital for us to think about.
Since we can only perceive through the brain, we can never apprehend an existence independent of ourselves. Imagination will always be human, and the most abstract and gifted thinkers will always be human too. Numbers and logic, math and thermodynamics, laws of physics; truths about the physical universe – incredible fortresses of science. Human gifts of human thought.
These are foundations. The grounds that we use to think. It is no accident that in many languages, expressions of instability use words that refer to the ground. We aren’t grounded. You have no grounds to say that. I feel unstable. Constants are literally vital for our continued lives in this universe. But imagining no ground: start with the literal and extend the metaphor. Wonderful. Wonderful.