In Kurt Vonnegut’s apocalyptic novel, Cat’s Cradle, the end of the world has been realized. Plant life crunches underfoot, as though it has undergone a deep freeze. The tropical seas surrounding the fictional island of San Lorenzo have solidified, assuming a dull, frosted appearance. Grand waterfalls flowing from the majestic peak of Mount McCabe become lifeless. The once-scenic island horizon is transformed into a pale, sickly yellow.
The introduction of ice-nine into the environment leads to radical weather patterns and global chaos. Ice-nine is a crystal form of water, much like standard ice, but with a melting point of 114.4 degrees Fahrenheit. When the compound makes contact with water, the liquid instantly freezes solid, turning a frosted blue. The novel begins with a brief but telling preface: “Live by the foma* that make you brave and kind and happy and healthy” (Vonnegut VII).
“Foma” are defined as “harmless untruths” (Vonnegut VII). While this brisk preface may merely seem to be a comical play on the standard disclaimer found within most fictional novels and therefore hold little significance, it sheds considerable light on the murky relationships between truth and meaning, as well as science and religion. Each train of thought has its own way of understanding and explaining the jumbled universe humans inhabit, and each claims to possess a high degree of truth. It is in this vivid and terrifying landscape that Vonnegut conveys to the reader through humor and symbolism that pursuing truth, whether through religion, science, or other pathways, is not an inherently positive or beneficial and does not aid one in the search for meaning in life. For hundreds of years, science and religion have been at odds. From the execution of the Greek philosopher Socrates to the Renaissance in Europe to modern times, the two opposing forces have always had an abrasive relationship.
The beginning of the Enlightenment movement in …