Prime Numbers

(June 12, 2005)
Comment on this story | View comments

In the beginning, there was a light. Now, don't look at me like that; I can't tell you where it came from, and it's not like every creation story doesn't have that problem, anyway, so let's not be too picky. Maybe the universe's cosmic-father lit a cosmic-match, wanting to peer inside his pregnant lover to see if things were coming along as they should, or if he'd have to perform another alternate-dimension procedure. Whatever the cause, there it was, crossing the empty space in no time at all.

Nothing else was ready to exist yet, but there were still certain rules that came with the light. In accordance with Universal Property #00000001, wave-particle duality, and #00000002 (which grew significantly more popular when a certain uncertain Heisenburg latched on to it), the light didn't know quite what or where it was. It's perplexing, you know, potentially being several things at once and not being able to figure out which because it's impossible to observe oneself in action and, in any case, observation changes everything - so as you might imagine, the light had to pause on its way and question itself.

In such an empty space, anything has weight, and this unanswerable question was infinitely large and significant, relatively speaking. The light faded as quickly as it had come, but its creation remained. It shook itself out and took on its own life, and it was a god for lack of an answer satisfying enough to overpower it. For the sake of simplicity, let's call it ?.

? was, like all good deities, made out of the fabric it produced in an appropriately incomprehensible loop. Its cause was missing as if it had never existed, and it was presented and filled with nothing but questions: Why? How? When and where and for how long? (Who isn't really an issue when you're the only thing that exists; you can make an educated guess.) It had all of the universe's energy at its disposal but that doesn't mean its life was pleasant; what's the use in being an infinitely confused god?

Somewhat later - or so we'll say, though this may not be accurate, since Time... well, you'll see - ? made up its mind: despite the fact that it possessed only questions, it held all of the universe's potential energy since there was nobody else around, and it was going to use that to fashion itself some answers. Nice, snazzy ones, ones which would light everything up again and keep ? from arguing itself silly with repetitive, cyclical premises.

? wasn't too concerned with accuracy; I mean, who could dispute its conclusions when it's the only one who saw the arguments? (Quit making the problem worse and get to the answers, you bloody philosopher, it mutters from its perch outside of Time. Let's obey and move on before the smiting begins.)

So ? worked its way through the endless list of questions, peeling them out of itself and weaving them into more useful substances. To give itself a purpose, it filled the void with elements and set them in motion, playing with material possibilities and seeing what resulted. So employed - it assigned itself the job title of Lead Engineer and rewarded itself with a hefty salary -? found its Whos? and Hows?, and felt freer immediately. When? was simple, since the progression of ?'s creations required a linear space and it pulled Time from its belly like a disagreeable, overdeveloped baby to help them along. The various Whats? and Wheres? almost answered themselves, since ?'s favourite underrated piece of work, carbon, turned out to be quite a go-getter. ? was ecstatic, since it was turning out to be very good at annihilating its problems.

But there was a slightly bigger problem that it wasn't solving; ? should have seen it coming, since it was pretty much omniscient, but 'pretty much' apparently doesn't reach one's own blind spots. As it found its answers, it also found itself unravelling. It was becoming diffuse and pale, (if the universe's theoretical cosmic-mother were paying attention, she'd have prescribed bedrest and soup, to be sure), its substance flowing out into its creations and leaving little for its own existence. The fewer questions remained, the smaller and more frail ? grew; it was rendering itself extinct through tidy cause-effect statements and highly satisfying patterns of hydrogen. By the time it realized this, its task was almost complete, and even dredging up one question of extreme import - What the hell am I going to do? - took all of its strength.

Luckily, it realized, there was one archetypal question left, one ? had been leaving for last because it was going to be the most satisfying, the one to wrap up everything else and make it all worthwhile. If it could leave it perpetually open, it would have a place to hide, a way to thrive and exist for at least as long as its creations; ? could not vanish so long as anyone was questioning, after all. It would be frustrating for everyone involved. ? ground its cosmic-teeth at the idea of leaving such a hole, even if it would become its saviour, and considered answering it despite the cost of nonexistence, but its drive to exist was far too strong for that. (Which is probably a good thing, since if the first and most significant creation in this world were willing to curl up and blank out, it would not bode well for its various fabrications.)

You probably don't need me to tell you where ? is hiding, where any such god can be found, but I'm going to anyway, because this is my creation myth and this is the big, fantastic climax: it wrapped itself in Why?, and has been existing in there ever since. The unanswerable questions of purpose, the problems with no solutions - Why are we here? Why is objectivity impossible to monitor? Why the hell are prime numbers like that, anyway?! - are the remnants of ?'s last bid for personal continuity, and signs of its success. Trust me, ? doesn't like them either - and you'd probably have liked its answers, since most of them were funny - but it understands the need for a certain level of mystique, a certain confusion. It's about survival, because when all of the doubt is gone, there is nothing left. If nothing else, ? knows what it is.

God is not found in the answers, after all; it is in the questions.