] Vestibule of the Cosmographic Chambers by Matthijs van Boxsel
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The Cosmographic Chambers

Vestibule of the Cosmographic Chambers by Matthijs van Boxsel

Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Dress for action like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

Or who shut in the sea with doors
when it burst out from the womb?
(Job 38)

The catastrophe

It is generally assumed that the universe was born from an explosion. We live on one of the meandering pieces of debris, a squashed planet, revolving unsurely around its axis. This planet is inhabited by DNA mutants. Is it any wonder that human history is dominated by deviations?

According to aleatory materialism the cosmos came into existence by a chance deflection of falling atoms–Clinamen (Lucretius De rerum natura ii.217- 224). The existence of the universe attests a catastrophe: something came of nothing through an imbalance. The ubiquity of sheer coincidence is inextricably linked to the term idiocy (in its initial Greek definition of uniqueness). Everything that exists is unique in time and space and therefore inconceivable. The world is idiotic, stupid, without purpose or cause, inexplicable, illogical, intangible. The result is intellectual agitation.

Philosophers assert that all knowledge begins with utter astonishment at the idiocy of existence. Guided by the principle of insufficient reality we fall prey to transcendental temptations. Because idiotic objects have nothing to offer, desire focuses on that which doesn't exist. In their attempt to rationalize the world, metaphysicians apply principles alien to the world, such as the Idea, the Spirit or the World Soul. The alternate reality, whose precise coordinates are jealously kept secret, provides what is said to be lacking here and now.

The world is seen as a defective reflection of some other world. Thanks to this duplication, existence ceases tot be gratuitous and becomes open to interpretation. Worldly existence is seen as a flawed counterpart of an ideal, loftier world.

As a result of degeneration (decline) or fall (instantaneous), man has become mortal. The gradual eradication of the source (God or the idea) by increasingly feeble facsimiles implies an ontological devaluation as well as an intellectual and ethical deterioration. The world is full of stupidity, crime and misery due to the decline of divine qualities.

The duplication offers an excuse for avoiding coming to terms with harsh reality. The world disappears behind the paradigm of what it could or should have been. Art and morality rebel not against banality and evil but against the idiocy of existence, which is experienced as disgraceful and unreliable.

Science, too, began with wild speculation about the construction of the universe.


Cosmogony, cosmology and cosmography are interlocked. In trying to unravel the origin of the world, poets resort to genealogies in which Oceanus and Tethys, saltwater and freshwater rivers, are wed. They give birth to Heaven and Earth who, in turn, give birth to the Titans and so on. The seemingly limitless breeding invariably ends with a quarrel; no conflict–no creation. The separation of light and darkness, heaven and earth, water and land, day and night, flora and fauna, result in the separation of the worldly and divine realms.

Little by little, poetry develops into a speculative science. The gods are seen as allegories for natural phenomena and endure in the names of the planets and the elements.

As opposed to poets indulging in cosmogony, who evoke an invisible protohistory, the myth of the past, the pre-Socratic cosmologists attempt to delineate the active principles behind perceptible reality, the manifestation of the essences in all that exists.