We’re at a bar. Actually, we’re at a speaking event hosted by a bar. Eight speakers talked of Darwin Awards and veganism and brain chemistry and infinity. I talked about infinity. The night is now late. The event is now over. The speakers spoke. Now everyone is sipping beer and chatting in small groups. I join a table of three in the corner. Is this chair free? I sit down. I draw one of their portraits. The three stare. This isn’t what they expected when they said “yes, this seat’s free.”
Yes, it takes a few moments for them to resume talking. Now I am the subject of conversation. The one I draw has a question for me: “do you think we discover math,” he asks, watching my two hands drawing his picture, “…or that we invent it?” I give him my take: patterns in data are there whether they mean anything or not; whether it is chance or something deeper is behind I don’t trouble myself about. Yes, I reply, We discover math. We discover these patterns.
This isn’t the response he wants to hear. He’s spent a week in a meditation retreat, eating once daily and staring at walls. I’m a guy that just gave a talk about hierarchies of sizes of infinity impossible to truly comprehend, now handing him a portrait of himself, drawn with two hands. These are strange circumstances. So he decides to ask a strange question: “What are your thoughts on existence and experience and the universe?”
I take a moment. What can you say to a question like that? Under what context do you ask someone a question like that? It’s flattering to be asked about the meaning of life by a sixteen-year-old. It’s flattering to be asked what one should do with her life by a fourteen-year-old; by a new high school grad; by a college freshman. But this gentleman is older than I.
It’s strange I’ve come to accept that answering these kinds of questions comes with my hobby. I don’t know all the answers. I’m just a beginner, learning as I go. I only answer what I can.
Nevertheless, she takes notes. There are four of us at this table: two speak of existence, experience, and the universe, one with glasses listens wordlessly, and the last takes a piece of paper, a pen, and jots my words down as I say them. She’s a quiet type—preferring to make herself invisible at the table than join the discussion—but you can tell there’s a lot going on between her ears. It’s a strange night. It’s strange to be asked these kinds of questions. It’s stranger to see someone recording my responses in careful scrawl to remember them by.