This quote came to my attention last week at a public lecture. It has a striking poetic ring to the ear and to the mind. Unfortunately, the more I pondered over it the more it seemed like empty rhetoric rather than a concept to link one’s soul to. When googling it there was a remarkably diffuse trail off into nowhere. Perhaps Karl Marx said it or wrote it, but there wasn’t any solid reference, so there didn’t seem to be any need to chase the quote to a possible source, because it was the idea and the sentiment which intrigued me and not an obscure and perhaps unknowable first author.
“All that’s solid melts into air.” Catches my poetic ear but offends my empirical mind. In the physical sense the statement is nonsense, because although in the infinity of time everything will devolve back into the void of the energy-exhausted universe, there will never be a time in which all solid things would melt into anything resembling what we usually call air.
The sentiment of the statement “All that’s solid melts into air” seems to be oriented to human aspirations and their eventually being lost and dissolved into a cloud of unknowing chaos. It implies that we humans struggle for answers and upon the finding of plausible solutions strive for the fulfillment of those aspirations, but it is the ultimate result of the human place in the universe to fail. That idea is also obvious nonsense too, because most of the things we strive for on a daily basis we do a reasonable job of accomplishing in acceptable ways.
Perhaps the statement concerns the ultimate existential questions: Where did I come from? What is my purpose? Where will I go when I die? Unfortunately, the statement “All that’s solid melts into air” doesn’t offer any helpful advice about how to cope with those types of questions. What it implies is a counsel of despair and the futility of doing anything – productive or destructive. Nothing matters because everything melts away. But who cares?
A more reasonable response is to say something is important because it is important to me and to those who are important to me, and I to them. Of course in some infinite physical time all of this will vanish, but we are here and now, at this time, this place and these people and these events which we participate in are what are important to us now and it is enough.
Being content with living our lives doesn’t melt away because it permeates everything at this moment.