The Universe According to Frank Zappa

The universe works perfectly, whether you understand it or not.1

The Universe According to Frank ZappaThis is a profoundly mystical statement by the great Frank Zappa, which can be interpreted in two ways.

Is the creative genius inferring that the attempts to explain the universe by rational thinking philosophers and scientists have thus far have feeble? Or is Zappa negating the importance of science as a means of providing purpose in life, although acknowledging its strength in providing a description of the physical world.

I don’t think he could have intended to say that science is useless and all work by engineers and scientists, as he himself was one of the pioneers of composing electronic music using the Synclavier. Zappa can thus by no means be called a sceptic regarding science and its attempt to provide a model of the world.

His statement has to be interpreted as a existential claim about the value of our rational attempts to explain how and why the universe works the way it does. The fact that we now have some clue on the mechanics of the universe does not imply that we have a better culture than, for example, traditional cultures around the globe, who base their explanations on mythology and religion.

The way I see this statement is as an implicit acknowledgement that science and technology should not have primacy over more intuitive modes of explanation. Religion and mythology are not archaic forms of science, they are simply complementary systems.

  1. (Source: Frank Zappa: American Composer). 

3 thoughts on “The Universe According to Frank Zappa

  1. hi im just a by passer..well im studying soc175 at macquarie uni.doing some research and happened to searched up a few of your essays that are exactly what im after lol..but yeah i’m just wondering on your thoughts about the question ” are we free to choose your own identity?”…thats the one i chose to write on for my last the way, your work is great…well you seem to love philosphy,sociology and all…but im only doing sociology as an elective hehe…anyways…just like to hear about your thoughts.

  2. Knowing and understanding are two different things. One can know the world without understanding it as a bird knows how to fly without understanding aerodynamics. Hence the fundamental difference between philosophy and science.

    • The difference between knowing and understanding is one of my central arguments. Knowing and explaining are scientific ventures, based on agreed methodology, while understanding is hermeneutic.

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