What does it mean to live in a contingent universe?

Does this mean the end of metaphysics (at least for this bicyclist)?:

I think that the below Walker Percy quote, though about declining suicide (not the lucky escape of an accident) goes rather nicely with the above video. The above bicyclist, like the person who declines suicide, has the opportunity to think of the rest of his life as ridiculous and unnecessary, and therefore profoundly open. The Walker Percy quote, by the way, comes from his brilliant book Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self Help Book (Pocket Books 1984, 80-81):

If you are serious about the choice [of suicide], certain consequences follow. Consider the alternatives. Suppose you elect suicide? Very well. You exit. Then what? What happens after you exit? Nothing much. Very little, indeed. After a ripple or two, the water closes over your head as if you had never existed. You are not indispensable after all. You are not even a black hole in the Cosmos. All that stress and anxiety was for nothing. Your fellow townsmen will have something to talk about for a few days. Your neighbors will profess shock and enjoy it. One or two might miss you, perhaps your family, who will also resent the disgrace. Your creditors will resent the inconvenience. Your lawyers will be pleased. Your psychiatrist will be displeased. The priest or minister or rabbi will say a few words over you and you will go on the green tapes and that’s the end of you. In a surprisingly short time, everyone is back in the rut of his own self as if you had never existed.

Now, in the light of this alternative, consider the other alternative. You can elect suicide, but you decide not to. What happens? All at once, you are dispensed. Why not live, instead of dying? You are free to do so. You are like a prisoner released from the cell of his life. You notice that the door to the cell is ajar and that the sun is shining outside. Why not take a walk down the street? Where you might have been dead, you are alive. The sun is shining.

Suddenly you feel like a castaway on an island. You can’t believe your good fortune. You feel for broken bones. You are in one piece, soul survivor of a foundered ship whose captain and crew had worried themselves into a fatal funk. And here you are, cast up on a beach and taken in by islanders, who it turns out, are worried sick—over what? Over status, saving face, self esteem, national rivalries, boredom, anxiety, depression from which they seek relief mainly in wars and the natural catastrophes which regularly overtake their neighbors. . . .

The consequences of entertainable suicide? Lying on the beach, you are free for the first time in your life to pick up a coquina and look at it. You are even free to go home and, like the man from Chicago, dance with your wife.

The difference between a non-suicide and an ex-suicide leaving the house for work, at eight o’clock on an ordinary morning:

The non-suicide is a little travelling suck of care, sucking care with him from the past and being sucked toward care in the future. His breath is high in his chest.

The ex-suicide opens his front door, sits down on the steps, and laughs. Since he has the option of being dead, he has nothing to lose by being alive. It is good to be alive. He goes to work because he knows he doesn’t have to.

One aspect of the “suck of care” is whatever metaphysical system—scientific, religious, or otherwise—weighs you down (with its accompanying big Truths, big Shoulds, and big inevitable Futures). But if the universe is contingent and not really going anywhere, then the game shifts, ala Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, to “I will.”

So what will this bicyclist do with his unusual fortune (the absurd contingencies on which his existence rides)?

And what will you do with yours?

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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3 Responses to What does it mean to live in a contingent universe?

  1. Muuuuiiitto legal! (portuguese for “veeeeerry cool!”, or Don’t worry, be happy!)

  2. Vivek narain says:

    Nothing is contingent,nothing is live.Not even teleology,force of circumstance pervades all existence.All matter or energy or space or time.

  3. Anonymous says:


    I have struggled with the various ways people die. I make the assumption that a person’s existence consists of a physical body and a spiritual body. Both of these are subject to death and can cause the earthly removal of that person. I have also come to the conclusion that in the eternal scheme of things it doesn’t matter how either one of these deaths takes place.

    A person may die at any age for a variety of reasons, such as, disease, accident, murder, or suicide. The most common is old age or disease which causes the physical body to cease to function. Society and religion accept this type of death. When a person dies by a disease, an accident, or is murdered, society and religion also have some comforting words to explain these deaths.

    But, suicide is not generally accepted by society as a natural form of death. I reject this. I also believe every person has the right to determine his own earthly and eternal destiny. This includes the timing of their death. Each person has the right to decide his/her own time table for the duration of this earthly experience. As the human body is vulnerable to germs, viruses, and organs that degenerate to cause death, so is the spiritual body subject to its unique forms of germs and viruses.

    The spiritual body is influenced by the mind with the inputs from sight, taste, hearing, feeling, but mainly by the emotions. The typical germs and viruses that attack the spiritual body are mainly generated by the actions of other people or the actions of society toward that person. A person’s spiritual body can become so overwhelmed with physical suffering, or the vicissitudes of life, or the relentless actions of other people or government entities, that the spiritual body dies by the suicide of that person. I submit that this is also a natural form of death and that God accepts this as he does any of the physical types of death. I believe there is life after death. I don’t believe in sin, a hell, or eternal suffering. I believe it is an offence to God to think that He would allow such a thing to exist. Even in suicide.

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