We are nothing but extemporaneous matter, dissolved into a fine fluid of prehensile fear, docked between a sea of chaos and a harbour of doubt. Setting our anchors would be dogmatic, to let them float idiotic. Yet, tossed we are on these rough oceans that would permit only the stars’ ebbing reflection to be a form of stability, and nothing but darkness as a dream.
We arise from what we perceive to be nothingness and will return to nothingness. We are suspended between two poles, existing on a trajectory from a high pole of “birth”, which glides down to join the lower one of “death”. We are a tiny droplet of water snaking down from the first pole to the last, reflecting the images surrounding us from the environment, yet distorting it with the refraction of subjectivity.
Evolution – not any deity – has prefigured us with a consciousness: That is, we are aware of ourselves, our existence and the surrounding world. But consciousness, whatever it is, comes with a horrible cost and it is for this reason that if there is a deity, he is surely a cruel one.
The reason I say this is due to the shadow set aflame by the light of consciousness: The awareness of death. The two most horrid combinations one could invest in an entity would be consciousness and transience. Or perhaps mortality. Regardless, what this means is simple: “You are aware to such a great extent that you are aware of your oncoming death.”
Yet, we humans – especially those of us who face up to the fact that there is no truth to the monotheisms’ metaphysical claims – are not found cowering in corners, spitting at clocks, defacing watches and ignoring our pulse. Our pulse is the slow countdown timer that leads to a flat-line. Everyone has an amount of heartbeats that they will beat in their life time. The average, if you live till you are 70, is 2.52 billion heart beats. The slow countdown is gradual, like drops off the suspended line between the pole of “birth” down to “death”.
But each drop of heart beat lands to make music in the surrounding environment. We do not dismiss each drop, we should relish in it. It will fall into nothing anyway, so why despair when it is, in fact, more reasonable to celebrate.
As Richard Feynman said:
If a Martian (who, we’ll imagine never dies except by accident) came to Earth and saw this peculiar race [sic] of creatures – these humans who live about seventy or eighty years, knowing that death is going to come – it would look to him like a terrible problem of psychology to live under those circumstances, knowing that life is only temporary. Well, we humans somehow figure out how to live despite this problem: we laugh, we joke, we live.
What a waste it would be to slide down that suspension, from one pole to the other, as a blinkered drop. How distasteful to clamour for dispair because there is no celestial hand holding the string to cater for your every snaking move. It would be better to never have been if you take no comfort in being a reflecting drop, in celebrating your movement and your awareness and the “kingdom of infinite space” – as Raymond Tallis calls it – in between your ears. We do not know everything, nor will we. Our knowledge is various lit lanterns placed on the precipice of the external world, which show the extent where the border into ignorance rests. Crossing into that land is exhilarating, since it requires that only place we know which is endless: Our imaginations.
Imagine can be traced to the Greek phainesthai, which means “to appear”, which itself is related to phaos and phos meaning “light.” Thus, our imaginations light the way for knowledge, which is made tentatively and by incremental snaking – though from a pole of ignorance to one of further ignorance. I have always thought it is better to proclaim the extent of ones ignorance than the extent of ones knowledge, since we can change our ignorance but there is nothing much we can do to our knowledge. This might be translated into Confucius’s better phrasing: “Real knowledge is to know the extent of ones ignorance.”
As tiny droplets, there is much wonder to reflect upon. Why should we be sad? We exist and we can not know non-existence, so there is nothing to fear. It is not death but dying that people fear. Rise up with your flame of knowledge and traverse unknown lands with the map of the imagination. It has been suggested that the fact that the majority of our species do believe in celestial beings, ghosts, demons, witches and one or two other supernatural paraphernalia, is testament to humanity’s inherent capabilities to using its imagination. Even if, like myself, you find ideas of religion and other supernatural or superstitious vagaries annoying, distasteful and perhaps the central problem of today’s world, you can still take comfort in this: At least people are using their imaginations.
Both believers and nonbelievers are using their imaginations to fight off the fear of death. The only difference is that we realise that our imaginations is testament to wonder at the workings of nature, whereas the faithful, the superstitious and the overzealous equate their ancestor’s imaginations with knowledge. There is nothing to be terrified about the ties that knot around knowledge and imagination are allowed to loosen. Many religious already do this and it these many call the “moderates”, who allow for ignorance to be a leading focus and drive. It is the dogmatic fundamentalists who believe so strongly in a god that they do not believe in ignorance. It really has become something of a dichotomy.
But there is beauty in ignorance, in wonder and in relishing in the wonder-full universe we are citizens of. To make a propitiation toward an obscure Palestinian deity, when a universe of wonder awaits, seems to me to be worthy of a criminal offence. We are all heading toward that same end, that same nothingness, that same bottom pole.
Would it not be better to be conjoined droplets, making a lasting impact on that line, to reflect collectively the great wonder and achievements of our past and then create a wave that would prevent us from self-destruction? The line is taught and easily broken. Let us slow down, relax our hold and take a good look around us. There is much light to be shone and only a short amount of heart beats for us to do it in.