MatterMaterialism, "atoms and the void". Materialism doesn't seem that crazy to me, but possibly my common sense has been warped by decades of hanging out in the vicinity of artificial intelligence labs. For most people, picturing the universe (and more to the point, themselves) as complicated machines is crazy, because there's nobody home.
Feel like I should mention Thales and the other presocratics for proposing not just that the world was made of matter, but a specific kind (water, in his case). This may have been one of the earliest times that the metaphysical question arose, and that someone tried to posit a generalized single stuff making up the plenitude of different stuffs found in the world. So we can forgive him for making a crude guess, but maybe not for opening up this unanswerable and unprofitable line of thinking in the first place.
[David Chapman, whose work you should read if you like this sort of thing, would call idealism simply wrong. My own point of view – and maybe it just means I am not taking these questions as seriously as he does – is that weird-ass philosophical ideas, like weird-ass religious ideas, cannot be "wrong" or "right". They convey world views, and the best you can do with them is get a feeling of "yes, I can with a bit of straining envision what it is like to see the world in this way". It's possible that some of these worldviews may be more or less helpful or harmful to your well-being, but that is to some extent independent from whether they are interesting.]
Elements of what we call language penetrate [so] deeply into what we call reality that the very project of representing ourselves as being mappers of something language-independent is fatally compromised from the start.– Hilary Putnam, quoted approvingly by Richard Rorty
Given that, it's easy to see it as somehow foundational.
The universe is made up of stories, not of atoms.– Muriel Rukeyser, The Speed of Darkness
Pythagoras conceived the universe to be an immense monochord, with its single string connected at its upper end to absolute spirit and at its lower end to absolute matter–in other words, a cord stretched between heaven and earth.I'll say this about music; it has the unique capability of serving mathematical pattern formation/seeking, gut-level emotion, and the spiritual, whatever that is. That doesn't mean it constitutes reality, but as it transcends a whole bunch of everyday categories that seems to locate it somewhere beyond.
Thus we cannot escape the fact that the world we know is constructed in order (and thus in such a way as to be able) to see itself…This is indeed amazing…But in order to do so, evidently it must first cut itself up into at least one state which sees, and at least one other state which is seen. In this severed and mutilated condition, whatever sees is only partially itself…In this condition it will always partially elude itself.A similar idea also apparently appears in Deleuze but I've never been able to make much sense of him
"According to all this we may regard the phenomenal world, or nature, and music as two different expressions of the same thing...” will, the fundamental world-stuff, expressing itself as nature indirectly and indistinctly as through Platonic Ideas, but immediately and subtlely in music as will-in-itself." – Schopenhauer (note the link to music also)
I wish I had time to study these thinkers in more depth, because I think I suffer from exposure to the cartoon versions (Nietzche became a cartoon version of himeself, confounding the issue even more). But I have experienced the feeling that a will to exist lies in the core of everything. See the next entry:
I state this by means of the following hypothesis: What we call “life” is a general condition which exists to some degree or other in every part of space: brick, stone, grass river, painting, building, daffodil, human being, forest, city. And further: The key to this idea is that every part of space— every connected region of space, small or large—has some degree of life, and that this degree of life is well-deﬁned, objectively existing and measurable.
I believe that this is true; not just a nice way of talking. As I try to explain it, quietly for all its grandeur, and try to make the artist's experience real, I hope that you, with me, will also catch a glimpse of a modified picture of the universe.
Humans, or Intelligence, or Consciousness
Self-interest, evolution, conatus
Naturally many of these overlap. After all, insofar as any of them are even a little bit true, they must be different descriptions or aspects of the same thing. Gather enough of them and some common dimensions seem to emerge (eg, human-centric vs not, static vs energetic/dynamic, knowable vs. unknowable, poetical vs formal, reductionist vs holist).
[ [ Next installment: the cure for metaphysics ] ]