Roger Ebert’s contemplative mood

April 6, 2011 | By | 1 Reply More

Roger Ebert is best known for his movie reviews, but he is a deeply thoughtful man, and this article captures him in one of these contemplative moods. The thought that we are far from alone in the universe drives this essay along. Ebert illustrates his article with lots of perfect images, including a chart of the known planets. Here’s an excerpt from his writing:

[W]hat good does it do me to think of the universe as an unthinking mechanism vast beyond comprehension? It gives me the consolation of believing I conceive it as it really is. It makes me thankful that I can conceive it at all. I could have been a pair of ragged claws, scuttling across the floors of silent seas. In this connection I find the Theory of Evolution a great consolation. It helps me understand how life came about and how I came to be. It reveals a logical principle I believe applies everywhere in the universe and at all levels: Of all the things that exist, animate and inanimate, some will be more successful than others at continuing to exist. Of those, some will evolve into greater complexity. This isn’t “progress,” it is simply the way things work. On this dot of space and in this instant of time, the human mind is a great success story, and I am fortunate to possess one. No, even that’s not true, because a goldfish isn’t unfortunate to lack one. It’s just that knowing what I know, I would rather be a human than a goldfish.

Some reject the Theory of Evolution because it offers no consolation in the face of death. They might just as well blame it for explaining why minds can conceive of death. Living things must die. That I can plainly see. That we are aware of our inevitable death is the price we must pay for being aware at all. On the whole, I think we’re getting a good deal.

When I die, what happens? Nothing much. Every atom of my body will continue to exist. The sum of the universe will be the same. The universe will not know or care.

When I happen to read Roger Ebert’s work these days, I’m reminded of the tough times he has been through, medically speaking. I also wonder how much of this contemplation is provoked by these tough times.

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Category: Astronomy

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. MikeFitz17 says:

    Hard to say what prompted Ebert's metamorphosis from witty movie reviewer to philosophical essayist. But it'd be reasonable to conclude his penchant for expressing deep thoughts coincides with his very serious medical problems, along with the death of his movie review partner and partner Gene Siskel. Nothing focuses the mind like your looming mortality.

    In any event, Ebert sure can write about stuff that makes you stop and chew hard on the Big Questions of life. More power to him.

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