Existentialism at Work in the Mountains: "Creating Something out of Nothing"

Updated: May 28

Picture a vault with nothing inside. Imagine a vacuum that sucks out the air in it. All there is inside the vault is nothing but darkness – not air, not a movement. Yet somehow, you can feel that there is something – a matter – inside the vault. Picture yourself cutting a small hole, enough for light to shine through but not so much as to disrupt the dimness. As you observed what is happening, you witnessed the ray of light still passing through steadily. Then, you realized that although there is nothing inside the box, that “something” is still allowing anything to move in a stable motion. Somehow, life continues to flow

The concept of nothingness has long been pondered by many scientists and some philosophers throughout the decades. The truth is, there is no such thing as nothing. What we assume as nothing is simply, like everything else we never chose to fathom further, an assumption. For if there ever is truly nothing, then existence would finally have an opponent. Everything in the universe revolves around an equilibrium.

In the case of us climbers, there is an essence of equilibrium in every mountain we climb, and the experience we dwell in during the ascent. In the words of Victor Hugo, "There is no such thing as nothingness, and zero does not exist. Everything is something. Nothing is nothing. Man lives more by affirmation than by bread."

A climber, in particular, creates human meaningfulness, and performs the ultimate existential act, by the very act of climbing a mountain, which is an activity unique to human endeavor. The climber thus, by force of will, creates something out of nothing by infusing the mountain with the stamp of the climber's personality and experiences. See my Poem, Being and Nothingness, p. 2 of my Book, Reflections on Mountaineering, A Second Revised and Expanded Edition (Copyright 2021). In mountain lore over the years, climbers have given place-names to different features of a mountain, such as the Eiger, a German word that means "Ogre" -- for the earliest tribes believed that the mountain itself was an evil creature, and that there were evil spirits harbored within the mountain (of course, this is not the case).

Accordingly, they named the mountain by reference to a superstition supposed to reflect the human experience on the mountain. Thus, what was once only a mere pile of snow, rock, and ice, was infused with the personal beliefs of those who dwelled in the mountain's shadow. There is a line in my Book that says, "What is a Mountain but an eruption of earth, devoid of significance, except what we impart to it by our efforts to achieve great wonder: We invest in the mountain the lore of the climbers travails" (See, What is a Mountain That We Should Take Notice, p. 12 of my Book, supra.)(emphasis added). As that Poem proceeds to relate, "...for all the would-be conquerors, it [the mountain] is comprised of interlocking features with all having names with human meanings, infused into the mountain by a cadre of prior devoted Seekers who imposed their meanings, their very own being, onto its blank form -- An existential act of human dimension pressed onto the formations of the Mountain." id. (emphasis added). In this fashion, the notion of "creating meaning out of nothing" evinces itself during the very act of climbing a mountain, through imparting human meaning into it, where what would otherwise have been no more than an inert pile of rock, snow, and ice. We invest ourselves into the mountain by designating place-names to memorable features of the mountain, like:

"The Shattered Pillar," "Death Bivouac," and "The White Spider "-- which become historical reference points for future climbers, all sharing in a collective memory. By that process, climbers have participated in in the mountain's history and the efforts of their forebears. The mountain thereby reflects the historic experience of all its climbers in perpetuity, forever documented for the generations to come; in this fashion a climber truly creates meaning out of what otherwise have appeared to be nothingness. REFERENCES: Sorensen, Roy. "Nothingness." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Stanford University, August 31, 2017. What is Nothing? You Tube. You Tube, 2012.

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