Film Review: The Nature of Existence

A new documentary tackles the big question

2 min read
Film Review: The Nature of Existence

filmaker Roger Nygard

Photo: Courtesy of Roger Nygard
Filmmaker Roger Nygard interviewed religious leaders, philosophers, cultural icons, and physicists for his documentary The Nature of Existence.

Filmmaker Roger Nygard—best known for the cult film Trekkies—tackled the most existential of questions in his 2009 documentary, The Nature of Existence, as we noted in our February 2009 issue, a month before the movie’s debut at the Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose, Calif.

Since then, the movie has gone on to win three awards, including Best Documentary Feature at DocuFest Atlanta, and it has been invited to screen at more than a dozen other festivals. It’s now scheduled to premiere in theaters in New York (18 June) and Los Angeles (2 July), followed by other theaters across the country.

Nygard asked 170 thinkers on five continents 85 of the toughest questions he could come up with. It was the physicists who waxed the most philosophical, he says—except for one. ”Stephen Hawking wouldn’t grant an interview,” says Nygard. ”He said, ’I’m tired of the God question.’ ” Here are a few musings of those who weren’t.

Theoretical physicist Sylvester James Gates Jr.
Supersymmetry expert, University of Maryland, College Park, Md.

”In science, whenever we see a diversity of viewpoints, at the end of the day they all become unified because there’s one reality. If religion is talking about something that is external to us, then all of them will likely follow a similar path.”

Physicist Leonard Susskind
Codiscoverer of string theory, Stanford University

”Sometimes people pray hard for a miracle, and a miracle happens—a miracle meaning something very, very unlikely. But the most unlikely thing of all would be if no unlikely things happened.”

Astrophysicist Stanford Woosley
Director, Center for Supernova Research, University of California, Santa Cruz

”The universe evolves. Stars evolve. People evolve. Everything that is alive evolves. We may be the path toward some ultimate intelligence, some ultimate life in the universe that would be virtually indistinguishable from what we call God.”

Physicist Steve Biller
Tutorial Fellow in experimental particle physics, Mansfield College, University of Oxford, England

”Particles, in fact, don’t exist. Consider, for example, a particle we all know and love, the electron. They’re all the same. You know if you produced an electron on the other side of the universe, and you brought it here and compared it with an electron, they’re the same. Not in the same way that you pick up two red billiard balls and say, ’These are pretty similar.’ We say they’re identical. This is because the electron as a separate, distinct entity…doesn’t really exist, they are merely bumps in something called ’field,’ which is a property of space and time. And if it’s true for the fundamental particles in nature, it’s true for everything that they make up, including us. And so at some level, we don’t exist.”

This article originally appeared in print as "Why Do We Exist?."

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