Ontology is a fancy word that few people use but we all seek to understand. Imagine a stoned hippie with a Cheech & Chong accent asking, “Hey man, where the fuck did we come from?” That essentially explains ontology. Robert A. Heinlein wrote the definitive science fiction ontological story called “—All You Zombies—“ in which every character in the tale, both male and female, turns out to be the same person. Heinlein used time travel and a sex change operation to create an infinite ontological loop to explain his character’s existence. In the end, he/she tells the reader she knows where she came from but asks them, what about all you zombies. So how do you and I explain our ontology?
In ancient times we had hordes of mythological beings to answer every question about existence, but by the time I got around to being born there were only three left, the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus and God. In the first grade my fellow students killed off the first two. And like all kids who grow up to become atheists, I asked the fatal question that killed God when I was quite young, “If God created everything, then who created God?” Parents hate that question because they know their offspring will grow up to be annoying know-it-all heathen brats.
Most of the billions of souls that inhabit this world stopped their ontological exploration as soon as they heard about the concept of God. This is quite revealing. It says most people aren’t really that into ontology. They obviously don’t care for the gritty detailed explanations of existence, or truly want to know how we got here, because the God answer is no more realistic than the Santa Claus solution for explaining presents under the tree on Christmas morning. For most, it is satisfying.
The God solution is easy to acquire, the concept being quite viral, and addictive, and very hard to throw off. Usually only a few words from a preacher, yogi, shaman, rabbi, priest, spoken to the youthful, will instill a lifelong ontological belief that God created everything. Nice story, but too bad it’s not true. The reason why this idea sells so well is because it comes with promise of eternal life.
Ontological reality appears to be quite different. Science can follow the origins of existence back 13.7 billion years, but now suggests that a multiverse existence has been around for an infinitely long time, and further suggests, it will continue to be around just as long afterwards, in the other direction of time. Our universe had a birth and will have a death, just like us. So on a local scale, everything is finite. Thus asking where reality comes from becomes meaningless, and we move into existentialism.
The real question of ontology becomes more immediate, “Where did I come from?” If you can see beyond the theological, you will know that an infinite amount of time existed before you were born, and an infinite amount of time will exist after you die, so the essential aspect of reality is the few years we get to know existence. Can you explain who you are and how you got that way? After decades of life, I think I can.
I come from a dysfunctional family – my parents were alcoholics, my mother suffered from depression and was probably bi-polar, and my father, from what I can piece together, also came from a dysfunction family, joined the military, which he worshipped, because it was a family substitute that gave him structure. Before I and my sister were born, I believe my parents had a relatively happy and stable life following wherever the U.S. Air Force led them. I was born on their sixth wedding anniversary, and my sister, two years later. We were too much stress for their fragile marriage. My father was restless, and asked for transfers. We moved almost every year of my life until I finished high school, when my father died. I only had two school years where I attended one school, and two years where I went to three schools in one year, and all the rest I attended two schools for each grade.
Who I am is explained in that paragraph. I don’t blame my parents for anything. They had their own problems to cope with, and I was lucky to learn that at an early age. It did take me awhile. Up until high school I was embarrassed to bring friends home because I was afraid one of my parents might be home drunk or passed out. Then the sixties really began, and things changed, and I’d bring friends home and point to my parents and say they were on their own strange trip. However, this upbringing created my personality which makes me isolated from most of humanity.
Growing up I’d see all you normal zombies walking around and wished I had your life. I dreamed about being born into a family that lived in one place, where I made lifelong friends, and knew the same people all through my K-12 education. I wished I had gotten a proper social education where I could belong to groups without feeling like an alien. That was not meant to be, and probably explains why I could escape the trap of theology. But it left me lonely.
Even though I’ve been married for thirty something years, probably in reaction to my parents doomed marriage, I can’t achieve It’s A Wonderful Life integration. I really wanted family ontology to be Father Knows Best, Ozzie and Harriet, Leave it to Beaver, and all those other black and white TV myths I grew up with. We all want myths, but what we get is reality. I live in a reality of mental isolation.
With the study of science I have explanations for most aspects of reality back 13.7 billion years. I spend my time reading books and watching documentaries that add more pieces to a very consistent puzzle, so I’m pretty sure where I came from, but I’m not sure about all you normal zombies. Your stories explaining existence scare me. But I’ve got to accept your beliefs in religion like I accepted my parents strange trip they were on.
[This essay is what happens when I wake up at 4 am and can’t go back to sleep.]
JWH – 5/11/10
One thought on ““—All You Normal Zombies—"”
“Growing up I’d see all you normal zombies walking around and wished I had your life.”
I suspect that no one is normal, Jim. We’re all just abnormal in different ways.
This quote from Margaret Atwood seems to sum it up for me: “Another belief of mine: that everyone else my age is an adult, whereas I am merely in disguise.” I suspect that we’re all in disguise, to some extent.
Anyway, nice post!