Nihilism gets to people because there’s really no answer that can stand up against it. It’s like a black hole where all meaning and explanations are emptied of content. Nihilism is probably the most honest of philosophies as it is an intellectual skepticism. At the extreme end of nihilism is that ‘nothing is real,’ a slogan first recorded in the West as being attributed to the Greek sophist, Gorgias. Of course, the sophists denied metaphysical inquiry on principle, as they held it to be superstitious and irrelevant to happenings in the visible world. Socrates was also a sophist with little regard for religion (or democracy, if we believe I.F. Stone, who gives a good case for this in his book, The Trial of Socrates), and he concentrated on practical matters as persuasion and moral conduct. Plato and Aristotle decided that the sophists disdain for metaphysical speculation wasn’t worth studying, and the skepticism of knowledge was buried in the sands of time, coming briefly to the surface from time to time, but never taken seriously.
Of course, there was one stream of nihilism that exists as a watered down and emasculated version of that kryptonite to meaning that has managed to survive through the centuries in some form or another; atheism, which is of course, the theory or belief that God does not exist.
There is an incoherence within the atheist that the atheist is unaware of speaking. It is that his belief that ‘God does not exist,’ is of the exact same nature as the metaphysician’s and the theologian’s belief in a unseen Higher Power. Their is a similarity of dynamic between the systems – in that a theory or belief is built up that attempts to explain something that appears so, which in the case of the Theologian and Metaphysician, is the unverifiable proof of the existence of an omnipotent, singular principle of reality. The Atheist has a similar problem, a problem of verification that the denial of God cannot remove, as “absence” in itself is not a valid “proof” for non-existence. If the mailman failed to deliver my mail today, it doesn’t necessarily follow that my mailman is dead. I could only construct a theory or a series of alternative, if likely plausible “reasons” for my mailman’s absence. Any of them could be correct or incorrect. But it would be mental to confuse what I believe or theorized about was the same thing as “truth.” This is the incoherence of the Atheist: confusing a plausible explanation for truth.
There is a principle in Quantum Physics (a subject I am no expert on, but can appreciate some of its interesting findings), of the Uncertainty Principle, which states that the velocity and position or a particle cannot be determined at the same time. This reminded me of the Pythagoreans when they discovered that the square root of 2 could not be expressed within a ratio of whole numbers. “Ratio” – from which “rational” is derived – comes from the Latin rat, or reckoned – to count, calculate or measure. The archaic dimension of reckon is “settling of accounts, or to be ‘reckoned with.’
Like the Theologian and the Metaphysician, the Atheist has not “settled accounts” with the Uncertainty Principle, the irrational, that which cannot be measured fully. They cannot, as a rule of the opinions they share, ever settle accounts. The irrational number, which eventually destroyed the metaphysical model of the Pythagoreans of a universe of mathematical perfection, was a black hole of infinite uncertainty – an unmeasurable length that could never be reckoned.
The Mystery of our Missing Mailman provides the same principle.
The Theologian would have constructed a system of beliefs that indicate the Missing Mailman is about to return any day, for the prophets have promised it to be so.
The Metaphysician would explain that the essence of the Mailman is with us, always. We only have to become one with the Mailman’s essence, as the substance of the Mailman is everywhere in existence.
The Atheist would construct a series of proofs as well, explaining that the Mailman never existed in the first place, it was just a bedtime story told by mothers to explain why there were mailboxes.
The Nihilist would not only would say that the Mailman didn’t exist, but that any attempt to discern his whereabouts with knowledge was likely doomed to failure. Any “Reason” for the Mailman’s fate can only accomplish “explaining what appears to be so,” with no proof of what we see is actually what is happening. The Uncertainty Principle points in the direction of the limits of knowledge. Atheism is limited because like religionists, it’s an opinion that has made no headway in sorting this world out. It provides no ethics nor does it provide a principle for what is best for all. The only thing Atheism gives to its believers is nothing other than satisfaction to its believers that their opinions are ‘right.”