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

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