Samuel Beckett wrote of James Joyce: "To Joyce reality was a paradigm, an illustration of a perhaps an unstatable rule…It is not a perception of order or of love; more humble than either of these, it is a perception of coincidence." Before we can comprehend reality, we must perceive it accurately, we must examine closely.
Upon closer examination, the apparent continuity error in the game of chess between HAL and Poole in 2001: A Space Odyssey was not an error, it was simply a bluff made by HAL to gauge the perception of Poole. This truth, although in plain sight, was buried by Kubrick, and would only be discovered and understood by the majority of his audience until many years later. It appears Kubrick, like HAL, was also bluffing. Was it for the same reason HAL bluffed Poole, to gauge the perception of the audience? Sneaky bastard.
Joel and Ethan Coen are a couple of sneaky bastards too.
There is nothing wrong with simply appreciating A Serious Man as a dark comedy, or enjoying 2001: A Space Odyssey as an epic special effects driven science-fiction film. But the Coen's are, as I said, sneaky bastards. And like Kubrick, they are offering us something much more profound than just a comedy.
In A Serious Man, Lawrence "Larry" Gopnik and Arthur Gopnik are brothers, who both involve themselves with extremely complex and intellectual exercises. One embodies the madness of artistic creation, the other the burden of proof.
Arthur is a lonely lumpy soul who spends his time gambling, lurking, and obsessively scribbling into print a work called The Mentaculus, a title that conveys a calculus of mentation. It is his "probability map of the universe", and is written in a language that seemingly only makes sense to Arthur. One quick glance and it looks as though poor Arthur is quite ill, mentally. Yet it reminds me of something else written in a language no one can seemingly understand….
James Joyce, one of the most highly respected artists of the 20th century, spent the last 17 years of his life working on what he called his Work In Progress, which eventually became Finnegans Wake. Finnegans Wake is a work of literature that makes absolutely no sense to 99% of the people who attempt to actually read it. The other 1% claim, rather loudly, that it is a work of genius. It would be a whole lot easier for the majority to dismiss this book if it weren't for the fact that so many intelligent and respected people populate the 1% who revere Finnegans Wake. What the hell do they know? What do they see that 99% of the people can't?
It is possible that The Mentaculus is also a Work In Progress, and is Arthur's work of genius. Unfortunately, Arthur's is living in Minnesota in the 1960's, and cannot command the kind of audience that Joyce did. We don't even know if Arthur has ever allowed anyone else to read it. Ironically, he lives with the one person who might make sense of his masterpiece, his brother Larry.
Larry is more successful than Arthur, he has a wife and two children, a career, and a solid social identity.
Larry is very intelligent, a Professor of Physics, and spends his time lecturing on the laws and theorems calculated by people even smarter than he, yet he remains the epitome of "those who can, do, those who can't, teach." Larry is shown lecturing on the Schröedingers Cat thought experiment, and it is a good reflection of Larry's life. Larry is both Teacher and Student, Married and Alone, Faithful and Faithless, Found and Lost. It all depends on the observer.
Schröedinger's cat is also a good reflection of the Standard Model of Quantum Physics at the moment, as it remains both Fact and Fiction at the moment. The calculations and equations of quantum physicists promise a unified theory of everything, and promise an explanation for the existence of time, space, and the universe that we live and die in. The mathematical equations have promised that matter is composed of certain scientifically observable objects, the most important being the top quark, the bottom quark, the tau neutrino, and the Higgs Boson, So far the the bottom quark (1977), the top quark (1995) and the tau neutrino (2000) have been discovered, just like the calculations have promised. But the Higgs Boson remains the elusive companion of this group, and is still referred to as the Hidden Variable. We can't claim the Standard Model to be fact until this is finally observed.
James Joyce uses the symbol "Ǝ" in the architecture of Finnegans Wake to represent what the Buddhists call "void" and the Taoists call "wu-hsin" or NO MIND. This NO MIND represents the "class of all possible minds", meaning the aggregation of all possible minds. This mind does and does not exist, like that damn cat, and is best expressed in the paradoxical language of mystics and the mathematical equations of quantum physics. Robert Anton Wilson in his brilliant essays on Joyce equates Joyce's Ǝ with the Hidden Variable of quantum physics.
If we allow ourselves to fill in the missing letters through this lens, this message, written on the edge of a void, might be trying to say:
WHY? Well, we have two brothers embracing each other, one a poor man's James Joyce, the other a poor man's Schröedinger, and both are lamenting their relationship to the divine. The message is both pessimistic (NO DIVINE = NO GOD) as well as optimistic ( Ǝ NO DIVINE = the Hidden Variable, the class of all things Divine is right by you!). The Coen's have planted a message that seemingly embraces both the pinnacles of artistic and mathematical expression, a message buried as deep as the bluff of HAL.
But do the Coen's believe that the message is the pessimistic one or the optimistic one?
There is a clue, another message buried somewhere else in the film, one that is more explicit even though it only appears for a brief second of screen time. If you are paying very close attention, I think the Coen's are very clear as to their answer, because it seems that the elusive companion of the quarks, the Hidden Variable of the Standard Model of quantum physics is as close to Arthur and Larry as the coincidental message painted in black by the side of the pool. It's right there in The Mentaculus.
I think I'm going to go re-read THIS.
Update: Courtesy of The Secret Sun