Jul 25 2011

#86 “Space Wolf”

From Peter in Honolulu, Hawaii

The vastness of space and time has always been a little unsettling to me. I have a very vivid memory of sitting on the side of my bed as a child as tears streamed down my face. My mother, hearing or perhaps just sensing my concern, came and asked me what was wrong. I responded by saying that I was thinking of Heaven and that I was scared. The thought of living forever, of eternity, was something so unimaginable that I became overwhelmed with the thought of it. It was illogical and seemingly impossible.

But you needn’t breach the realm of religion or spirituality to encounter concepts that are beyond human comprehension. Think about space. Just think about it. Think about how large this universe is and how tiny it is compared to what may exist beyond it. This thought is so sobering that my wife often playfully refuses to look at pictures of the solar system. Simply put, she says that she is scared by the size of the planets and the universe and her size in relation to them. It might sound silly, but there is something to this notion, for we often fear what we don’t understand.

On a related note, I have recently begun to read The Dark Tower series by Stephen King. At the conclusion of the first book, the man in black discusses this notion with the gunslinger. Here are the words of the man in black:

The greatest mystery the universe offers is not life but size. Size encompasses life, and the Tower encompasses size. The child, who is most at home with wonder, says: Daddy, what is above the sky? And the father says: The darkness of space. The child: What is beyond space? The father: The galaxy. The child: Beyond the galaxy? The father: Another galaxy. The child: Beyond the other galaxies? The father: No one knows.

You see? Size defeats us. For the fish, the lake in which he lives is the universe. What does the fish think when he is jerked up by the mouth through the silver limits of existence and into a new universe where the air drowns him and the light is blue madness? Where huge bipeds with no gills stuff it into a suffocating box abd cover it with wet weeds to die?

Or one might take the tip of the pencil and magnify it. One reaches the point where a stunning realization strikes home: The pencil tip is not solid; it is composed of atoms which whirl and revolve like a trillion demon planets. What seems solid to us is actually only a loose net held together by gravity. Viewed at their actual size, the distances between these atoms might become league, gulfs, aeons. The atoms themselves are composed of nuclei and revolving protons and electrons. One may step down further to subatomic particles. And then to what? Tachyons? Nothing? Of course not. Everything in the universe denies nothing; to suggest an ending is the one absurdity.

If you fell outward to the limit of the universe, would you find a board fence and signs reading DEAD END? No. You might find something hard and rounded, as the chick must see the egg from the inside. And if you should peck through the shell (or find a door), what great and torrential light might shine through your opening at the end of space? Might you look through and discover our entire universe is but part of one atom on a blade of grass? Might you be forced to think that by burning a twig you incinerate an eternity of eternities? That existence rises not to one infinite but to an infinity of them?

…and I will leave you with that. But not before offering a sincere thank you to Peter from Hawaii. You’ve touched infinity with this illustration, Peter. Now, there’s no going back.