Facing The Unknowable Music

Only once have I been in Alaska. My stay lasted no longer than forty-five minutes, yet it made an indelible impression on me. The beginnings were inauspicious. Our plane had stopped to refuel at Anchorage, and after exhausting the diversions offered by the airport lounge I picked up a local newspaper to help while away the remaining forty minutes.

Immediately my eye was caught by the editorial. “We do things differently up here on the frontier,” it modestly admitted, “but this is ridiculous.…” What was ridiculously different, it emerged, was that a prisoner had escaped from the Fairbanks calaboose fifty-two days earlier, but his absence had just been noticed. The editor went on to wax justly indignant, but it was his conclusion that I liked most: he speculated on what other dark disclosures might be made if the citizenry but knew what was going on.

C. S. Lewis somewhere points up the diabolical dangers that confront a man cooped up alone with a free-ranging imagination. In this case I got to thinking of the Alaskan editor’s words, and decided he was probably righter than he knew. That is, of course, if we think in terms of the Unknowability of the Constant Factor—a concept with which classical readers of this journal will naturally be familiar.

The latter involves an old and honored bit of reasoning, the original purpose of which was to prove the existence of God. Found in an ancient myth about the music of the spheres, this held that the heavenly bodies combined from all eternity to produce the most ravishing of music. But since to human awareness the music has had neither beginning nor ending nor intermission, it has never been heard by human ears. Only as its opposite can enter in and be contrasted ...

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