In the early twentieth century, The Times sent a question to famous authors of the day asking this: “What’s wrong with our world today?”
A certain gentleman replied:
A century or so later in the year 2010, Tom Shadyac joined the discussion:
Dear G.K. Chesterson,
Shadyac was not a name I had heard of before. But I kid you not when I say it is now a name I’ll never forget. Tom Shadyac made his big directing break in 1994 with the debut of comedian Jim Carrey in “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.” The film grossed $107 million in theaters. From there, Shadyac’s career boomed as he wrote and directed the comedies that all 90s babies undoubtedly recall; “The Nutty Professor” and “Bruce Almighty” are a notable two.
Shadyac had what so many of us Americans aspire to have: a big house, big bucks, a beautiful car and an exciting career. But in 2007, while biking in Virginia, Shadyac took a tumble that would indelibly upset his world. The months that followed involved a constant battle with Post-Concussion Syndrome, a condition involving sensitivity to light and severe headaches. The symptoms were so intense that, for the first time, Shadyac welcomed the idea of death.
With this, something in him switched. He sold his 17,000-square-foot house for a mobile home and gave his excess fortune to a Virginia homeless shelter and Colorado nature preserve. And then he dipped into the genre of documentary. In 2010, he began “I am.”
Like The Times had so long ago, Shadyac posed a question—this time two—to some of the greatest thinkers of our day such as Desmond Tutu, Noam Chomsky, David Suzuki and the late Howard Zinn. He asked: What’s wrong with the world? How can we fix it?”
And on Sept. 6, 2013, I watched his documentary and something switched in me also. I fear as Shadyac does that what is wrong with our world today is the Western mentality of “the more, the merrier,” of individualism and of a dog eat dog maxim. We idolize Bill Gates for his immense money, success and intellect. We envy Emma Watson for her wit, charm and utmost beauty. We partake in the rat race that is one day affording these luxuries. We want the best, we want a lot and we want it ASAP.
Last summer, I walked on my nana’s dock at her lake house and fell through hitting my head on the boards and narrowly missing a metal docking post. I was so lucky. This past summer, a few days into my two-month stay in rural Kenya, I fell through a metal water grate, catching myself on its concrete edges and narrowly avoiding a ten-foot drop underneath. I was so lucky. Again. But this time, this time again when things could have been so much terribly worse, like Shadyac, I wanted answers. My question was simply this: What do I believe in and why?
I have tried to reconcile science with spirituality. I have grappled with the delicate balance of success and happiness. This documentary gave me some clarity in the form of the EPR paradox and Argon.
Albert Einstein, Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen conducted a thought experiment in which two electrons are positioned at an infinite distance. The mathematical result was most perplexing to Einstein in that it suggested that the movement of one electron would cause instantaneous movement in the other. This idea, which has become known as the EPR paradox, continues to challenge the field of quantum physics. What’s more, consider one single breathe of air. In. Out. That one breath you just took is composed of 1 percent argon, an un-reactive element. Of the air you just breathed, it is possible to calculate just how many argon atoms were breathed by Jesus Christ, Abe Lincoln and Clara Barton.
The EPR paradox—a caveat to a model that otherwise so accurately describes our physical universe—and this beautiful notion of argon’s ubiquity through time and space suggest a deep and fundamental interconnectedness of life on Earth.
That is, everything matters. Every movement, every sigh, every situation. Not just because. Actually, physically. It’s the little kind gestures. It’s the moment to moment. We are part of something bigger and far greater than ourselves. Actually, physically.
As one interviewee said, “We do feel like lonely people in a lonely planet in a lonely universe but we are far grander than we’ve been told. The science shows us that we never were alone. We were always part of a grander whole.”
With great gift, comes great responsibility. What will make our world a better place?
Dear Tom Shadyac,
People like you.
Gracie Willert is a Trinity senior. Her biweekly column will run every other Monday.