The Zero Theorem

Qohen Leth, the protagonist of Zero Theorem, is a rather peculiar individual who spends his days anxiously awaiting for the phone call which holds the meaning of life. Like many other office drones employed by Mancom, Qohen is “crunching entities to bring order to disorder” in the hope of finding the solution to the mysterious Zero Theorem. In a connected world, those who choose to become disconnected from society are able to pierce through the superficiality of the modern world and end up seeing through the nonsensical messages that those in power desperately attempt to sell. As a result of such detachment, physical reality ultimately appears as loud, feverish, intrusive, and exhaustingly meaningless. Qohen’s city is filled with rundown buildings, mind controlling advertisements, and colorful people who sound insane and all look the same. Eventually, Qohen discovers that the Zero Theorem is nothing more than a mathematical formula which will prove the meaninglessness of life. Ironically, Qohen’s obsession with uncovering the meaning of life causes him to lead a meaningless life. In the end, everything is nothing and pure consciousness is the only reality.

This movie made me realize that deception is a necessary feature of human existence. We live in a delusional state of awareness, using our minds to filter meaning in a perpetual attempt to ignore our sense of powerlessness. Science itself is nothing more than a consistent method for doubting and scientific efforts can only make us sure that we can never be sure, under no circumstances knowing what we truly know. Scientists construct a fantasy for us that is logically consistent but upon skeptical examination is filled with nothing more than contradictions.

Despite human predilection for positive thinking, negative truths are more fundamental than positive truths. It is no accident that all logical connectives are defined by the NAND operator. Because negation is mentally difficult to accept, we are steered towards the danger of drawing existential conclusions from our own psychological preferences. Yet, the wound of non-meaning is inevitable. Nothing matters and our existential angst is before nothing. In philosophy, we become ensnared by the explanatory trap of deducing the existence of something by relying on the existence of something else. There is no logical bridge from nothing to being, unless we rely on existential premises. Hence, our existence is trapped in an infinite regress where space is contained in higher space and time dated with another time. In the end, the metaphysical bias for simplicity, when taken to its logical conclusion, takes us to nonexistence.

Certain interpretations of quantum physics seem to support this view. According to the holographic principle, the universe consists of 2D information encoded on a light-like boundary, such as a gravitational horizon. Every object contains information through its particle arrangement and, upon crossing the event horizon of a black hole, that information is captured and encoded on the surface of the black hole. But what type of information is it? The division of particles into sub particles has to stop at some level with the smallest fundamental particle being a 0 or a 1, that is, a bit of information. On a quantum scale, bits are everywhere at once. They are dimensionless, motionless, and lack an absolute location. Extending this concept to the whole universe makes it nothing more than the projection of distant data. The macroscopic scales and low energies that make up our perceived reality cause us to observe three dimensions. Nevertheless, as Einstein stated, “Reality is only an illusion, albeit a persistent one.”

It is likely that in our everlasting quest for knowledge all we are going to discover is that we are trapped in this illusion of space and time, just like insects in amber. Like Qohen, we are going from nowhere to nothing. And true freedom can only be attained through the realization of nothingness. Life is nothing more than a movie projected onto the big screen. Nothing is real. All there exists is the sound of silence.

The Zero Theorem

To Self or Not To Self

Is there a self? At first glance, the answer to this question seems obvious. Of course there is a self. I am me after all. But what is it to be me? I could identify myself with my name, my job title, my physical characteristics, my personality traits, my beliefs, my culture, and so on. Yet, these labels are nothing more than a social convention employed by humans to attribute a fixed identity to noumenal reality. Certainly, this concept of self we have created for ourselves makes us feel safe and in control. We identify very passionately with it. After all, how could we go about our daily lives without knowing our identity? How could we have meaningful interactions with others?

Nevertheless, despite how strongly we would like to believe the self exists, it is nothing more than an illusion. We are not the same person we were five years ago, both psychologically and physically. We are not who we think we are. Consciousness gives individuals the illusory sense of continuity by allowing them to be inside their own heads, to place their past sensory and emotional experiences into a unified and seemingly coherent sense of presence. Yet, consciousness is irreducibly subjective and memories are not as trustworthy as we would like to think.

Since the greater part of the mind is unconscious, how can our consciousness define who we are? Split brain experiments show that the intentionality of mind can function both at the conscious and unconscious level. People are capable of inventing reasons for behavior that is unconscious and many high-level brain functions such as complex language and abstract math can occur outside of consciousness. Moreover, people can repress unpleasant memories and unknowingly transfer them to the subconscious level.

Memories themselves are not very reliable because of their malleability. When we form memories we are interpreting external experiences in a manner consistent with our beliefs, culture, prior knowledge, and personal goals. Cognitive behavioral studies show that the relationship between memories and reality is quite complex as subjects are able to recall both true and false memories. And just like the frames that make up a movie, individual memories produce the illusion of continuity.

So, if consciousness is deceptive, why did it develop in living beings? According to some neuropsychologists, consciousness is a delusion created by natural selection to serve our interests. Consciousness allows individuals to feel emotions, which in turn correlate external events to different brain states. Emotions provide the motivation to do things that are biologically beneficial. Hence, as Hume said, the self is nothing more than a discrete bundle of perceptions, feelings, and sensations aimed at serving our own interests. The bounded, unified self is merely the product of brain activity and consciousness is responsible for giving us the illusion of the continuity of the self.  Impermanence is an irrefutable property of human existence. We are changing beings, always in flux, just like the water flowing in a river.

The Discourse on the Not-self, purportedly delivered by the Buddha, states that the five aggregates of self (consciousness, form, mental formations, feelings, and perceptions) are impermanent and therefore unsatisfactory in defining the self. According to Buddhist philosophy, only by transcending our deceptive sense of self can we experience the world more clearly. With this clarity of vision we can flow in harmony with the reality around us without trying to change the nature of things. Once we become liberated from the illusion of the self, we will be left with pure awareness.

Maybe the true nature of our existence, and the self, will manifest itself only in a state of complete mental emptiness, in the absence of perceptions, emotions, and thoughts.  Or maybe being both the subject and the object, the self is incapable of understanding itself. Just like in Russell’s paradox, self-application makes the problem unsolvable because in order to know that it is impossible to know, one must prove that there is no proof.



To Self or Not To Self