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I keep six honest serving-men

(They taught me all I knew);

Their names are What and Why and When

And How and Where and Who. 

    – Rudyard Kipling (1902)

There has always been a fine line between comedy and philosophy. As a wise man once said, “there is humour in all things, and the truest philosophy is that which teaches us to find it and to make the most of it.” So in his spirit of “gilding the philosophic pill,” here are my answers to Kipling’s questions. They may appear flippant, but most of them conceal a deeper meaning.

What is the Universe?

Everything and nothing. Everything, in the sense that it comprises all matter and energy. Nothing, in the sense that its essence is an abstract concept, the concept of number.

Why does the Universe exist?

Because it contains philosophers who think it exists, and they can’t possibly be wrong. The philosophers, in turn, exist because they think. An alternative explanation is that the Universe exists in order to permit philosophers to ask these questions. Either way, we’re here because we’re here because we’re here....


When did it come into existence?

Never. There was no Time before the Universe existed.


How did it begin?

1, 2, 3, ....

Where is the Universe?

Everywhere and nowhere. Everywhere, in the sense that every place is a part of the Universe. Nowhere, in the sense that it is not located in any place.

Who is responsible for the Universe?

We, its inhabitants, must all share this responsibility. And you can start by cleaning your room.

No, I meant to say: Who created the Universe.

Yes, and according to Aldous Huxley, Watt created Time. (But as for the third member of this Trinity, I don’t know–ask an Abbott.)

And here are some questions Kipling didn’t ask....
In the Young’s two-slit experiment, which slit does the photon pass through?

Neither: a photon in flight has no intermediate existence. Since it travels at the speed of light, it goes directly from being emitted to being absorbed without experiencing the passage of any time, so it does not “pass through” any places on its way. You might as well ask which part of the barrier fails to absorb the photon.

What did Schrödinger feed his cat?
4½ Lives.
How did Pythagoras’s Theorem originate?

Pythagoras traveled extensively through Asia, Africa and Europe, and even visited North America where he lived for a few years among the native tribes. In recognition of his great wisdom, he was allowed to marry three of their women, and soon he had children by all three wives. His first wife had a baby boy and sat nursing him on a bullock’s hide; his second wife had twin girls and sat on a bison’s hide to nurse them; and his third wife gave birth to Pythagorean triplets and nursed them on a hippopotamus hide. (Pythagoras had acquired this on his travels in Africa). This scene of domestic tranquillity is said to have inspired his famous theorem: the squaw on the hippopotamus is the sum of the squaws on the other two hides.

What is a quantum computer?

A wonderful machine which scientists are trying to build. When it is finished you will be able to ask it any question and it will instantly come up with not one, but two possible answers, with absolutely no way of telling which one is right.

Do you have any questions?

Send them to me and if I can think of suitable answers I’ll add them to this page.

Nick Mitchell, July 2009

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