The meaning of life (why you matter)

If there is a single book that can make a convincing argument that comic books are an art form, it would undoubtedly be Alan Moore’s WATCHMEN.  Published in 1986 and 1987 as a 12-issue limited series, WATCHMEN was eventually collected in a single-volume edition that TIME magazine listed as one of the 100 best English-language novels published since 1923.

I won’t attempt to summarize the story here, as it is expansive and complicated.  Instead, let me tell you briefly about two of the characters.  The “Watchmen” of the book’s title are a group of superheroes struggling to find relevance in a world that has largely come to hate and fear them.  One of the Watchmen, named Dr. Manhattan, possesses almost godlike powers to control matter.  He can teleport instantly to any place in space and time and can instantly dismantle and rearrange the atomic structure of any physical object (his name is an allusion to the Manhattan Project, which led to the development of the atomic bomb).
Dr. Manhattan
However, Dr. Manhattan has a problem: he is so powerful that he is quickly losing touch with his humanity.  He can’t quite understand why life matters, since to him, it’s all just subatomic particles.  At one point he makes the following observation: “A live human body and a deceased human body have the same number of particles.  Structurally there’s no discernable difference.  Life and death are unquantifiable abstracts. Why should I be concerned?”

Hmmm.  It’s hard to know how to respond to that.

Believe it or not, Dr. Manhattan has a girlfriend.  She’s also a member of the Watchmen; her name is Silk Spectre.  Not surprisingly, she is devastated by Dr. Manhattan’s cold detachment from the rest of the human race.
silk-spectre gnAt one point in the book, Dr. Manhattan decides that he’s finished with the human race and he teleports himself to Mars, bringing Silk Spectre along with him (he creates an air pocket around her body allowing her to breathe). In the process of their conversation on Mars  he comes to the conclusion that life is meaningless, that it’s the particles themselves that are important.  The vastness of space has no life in it, and look how beautiful space is! Mars has no life on it, and look how beautiful Mars is! Et cetera.

But then Dr. Manhattan has an epiphany.  It’s actually quite remarkable and thought-provoking, and it relates to Richard Dawkins’ essay “To Live at All is Miracle Enough” in such an obvious way that I strongly suspect Dawkins was a Watchmen fan (the comic book series was written about ten years before Dawkins published Unweaving the Rainbow).

I’ll let you read it for yourself:
Watchmen Part 1

Watchmen Part 2






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