Lunchtime Photo

As the week draws to a close, I leave you with this enigmatic yet profound declaration of self against an uncaring universe. South Gate Is. But is it? How can we know? In the 17th century Descartes believed existence was proven by his own consciousness. In the 18th century Johnson demonstrated it by kicking a stone. Kant later added German notions of rigor to the question of existence by distinguishing between the ding an sich and our mere observation of the thing, which was necessarily incomplete and ultimately unknowable. In the 19th century, advances in pure mathematics brought new insights, with existence implied by the Zermelo–Fraenkel axiomatization of set theory. In the 20th century, as modern science captured the popular imagination, Schrödinger insisted that existence was contingent on observation. Schrödinger’s cat thought Schrödinger was a crackpot, but put up with him anyway because he provided a nice bowl of cat food every day.

In the end, despite the brave affirmation of this sign, perhaps we can never know whether South Gate truly is. And even if we did, what is it? The sign itself—rectangular, cold, and asymmetric—provides no clue, and anyway, south is a purely relative term. South of what? At the north pole, every gate is south. At the south pole, no gates are south. In space, the word lacks meaning entirely. We can therefore hardly accept South Gate Is as a statement of universality, but only as an aspiration limited in spacetime. Life sure is complicated, isn’t it?

June 1, 2018 — San Onofre, California

FACT:

Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2020 demands.

payment methods

FACT:

Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2020 demands.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate