A Million Different Things: …And Night, Meditation #1
That’s what life is, you know, a ramble. I changed my thinking a while back about how all that apparent motion goes. Like most, I’ve thought of my life’s course as passing along a trail, following a thread with a lengthening segment left behind. Over time, we meet others, read books, smell flowers, sing songs, throw rocks and let our imaginations drift with the clouds.
( …And Night begins the final section of my book, A Million Different Things: Meditations of The World’s Happiest Man. It’s concerned with realities invisible in our three-dimensional world and how we experience it.)
Appreciating exposure to the world experienced in our journey is the primary flavoring of a joy-filled life.
One perfect July morning, I sat by myself on a usually ignored section of lawn near the rear of a motor inn outside Hershey, Pennsylvania. I’d driven from New York to meet my family the night before. My wife would be arriving in Harrisburg at midday on a train. It wasn’t often that I had the opportunity to kill a summer hour or two, idling the way I did as a child, browsing a sunny Saturday morning with nothing more to do than just be myself.
In a small ravine on adjacent property, the fields were left to grow wild. The departure from trimmed to natural was abrupt. Wild grasses grew high and had acquired a stilled rhythm set by rain and wind and passing animals. A scattering of flowers flourished among the weeds. At the far edge, a hundred or so feet away, a small forest of immature trees bathed in the sun.
I was beginning then to consciously absorb more of the complex beauty I so often saw around me, and I’d started watching for signs and messages in nature. That morning, a colony of white butterflies danced in singles, duets and triplets, wandering freely over the top of and occasionally diving into the tall grasses.
One advanced closer and fluttered crazily over the mowed area. I pulled out my small camera and took a picture, fairly certain that this tiny, rapid object would be lost in the resulting photo when I fed it into my computer. I didn’t much care about the quality of the image I froze. I wanted to capture the memory as a reminder of that moment when I had nothing better to do than enjoy this slice of nature.
A couple of years later, I was no longer thinking of the world as a trail to be walked or anything that came to me. I realized that I, like everyone else, lived at the center of my own, creative universe, and that the movements were all mine. I went to things, and when I didn’t, my world slowed and waited. My options were limitless. No one ever saw such a cupboard full of possibilities.
This revelation gave me a new perspective on how I thought about my ramble. So far, what we capture as modern humans is a three-dimensional universe that our brains anchor with an invention referred to as time. We then create what we perceive as a time-space continuum, a motion forward into which we all gather.
Others can debate my conception, but words can only substitute, more or less effectively, for truth. We all do our best to describe our experience, telling and retelling our stories to ourselves and others. This is mine.
Over millenniums of human evolution, we have learned to accept that, “What you see is what you get,” to put it up the vernacular. There aren’t any invisibles. This is it. And we’ve always known that a rock is a rock, and a tree is a tree. In the same way for everyone.
We all looked at the same stuff and came up with similar conclusions after exploration and discovery. Sooner or later, we thought we’d find out enough to explain it all. God’s good, green, brown, white and blue creation would have an encyclopedic rendering anyone could study. Once we knew all this, it was only a matter of learning how to use it or manipulate it to make life better for all, whatever that might mean.
Now, we know that these three, common dimensions can’t be everything, not even the majority. The most widely accepted theory among physicists posits eight additional dimensions. Some suggest many more. We already recognize height, width and depth and that they are held fast by time. Even accepting the presence of more, we don’t know what they are. We don’t even know what to look for, which may be the main reason we never see them.
Depending on our profession or passion or even faith, this puzzle introduces an array of considerations and concerns. If the unknown thrills you, you’re in luck. After every major discovery, questions proliferate. There’s plenty of mystery still to explore.
But if the unknown appalls or frightens you, you might scramble for arguments that discredit the implications of what we are learning. Some have religion to hold them in place or continue to embrace that “It is what it is” point of view.
The simple and overwhelming truth is that our species has barely started our quest to discover reality. It’s anyone’s choice about how we wrestle with mystery, but struggle as we may, we still have centuries of eye-opening adventure accelerating ahead of us.
Explorers, a few centuries ago, knew where the water was and the mountains and the plains. Curiosity drew them for a closer look, some to uncover secrets, others to gather riches. As a result, we no longer know as much as we once did, and even when we know a lot about something, like distant mountain peaks, spiral galaxies and space dust, we’ve only started contemplating vehicles to take us near enough to touch them.
All of us here now are in our moment, and in this time, we will never set foot on Mars, let alone star clusters twinkling at us from light years away. Or will we? Are we any less exotic than what is being revealed by space probes, like Hubble, searching the farthest corners of our universe? Are we made up of some different kind of stuff? The surprising answer is that, no, we are not. Our universe and everything in it seems to be made up of identical materials in a variety of compositions.
Outer space, as we call it, is a screwy idea. There seem to be objects settled at unimaginably remote distances from us. Millions of lifetimes would be required in reaching any of them, but is this true or just what we’ve conveniently decided is true? Is it just the easiest way we’ve learned to describe the vastness around us, or is it built from fact? Just as I arrived at the wisdom that we move and space and time do not, I’ve realized that our universe, at least in the moment we experience it, may be small. The phenomenon that changed my thinking is quantum entanglement, a strange situation with qualities unreconcilable within a universe of vast distances.
Simply put, or as simply as I am able to put it, here is what has been observed. If you have no familiarity with the basics of quantum theory, please accept for the moment that there are structural elements of matter much smaller than cells and atoms, most so small there is little hope of our ever seeing them. Quanta are marked by electrical charges, positive or negative.
Participating in the active, underlying structure of reality, they collide and split and generally perform actions that maintain the Earth on which we walk. Please, assume also that the absolute we all “know” is that the speed of light is the maximum speed possible in our universe. Nothing can pass light in any race, and everything else gets measured by this standard.
Simple so far? It won’t get any worse.
Take any electron, a common bit of quantum matter, and imagine it split in two, as if, say, by a tiny ax of extreme precision. Now, we have two electrons, one with a positive charge, one with a negative.
These energetic particles, separated from their origins, spin off into space, like teenagers left without supervision for a summer. They vibrate separately for centuries, traveling many trillions of miles away from each other. Maybe they want to visit totally different sections of our expanding universe before it collapses. Anyway, after separating to enormous distances, something, anything, in space reverses the polarity of one of the electrons.
It doesn’t matter what causes this because the effect never varies. No matter how far apart those once twinned electrons have moved, no matter how many eons have passed, when one twin changes from positive to negative, the other does exactly the opposite. Instantly. There is no chance whatsoever that even light as a messenger could get there in time to order the other twin to change. It always happens by some mechanism that belies the notion of distance.
Scientist hustle to creatively explain this quantum entanglement in a way that preserves space and time, not so much unlike religious fundamentalists cobbling together an explanation of how
Earth can be six-thousand years old in spite of the evidence. Without space and time, universally accepted physical laws fall apart–as I believe they inevitably must, once the egos let go.
Isn’t it simpler and more honest to admit that, maybe, our universe is not large, maybe we have every bit of it in our immediate grasp, and that vastness is just the most plausible explanation for now, a story we use to explain reality in the most coherent way we can?
We need newer, better stories and, especially, ones that don’t require the advanced learning the most widely accepted ones do. What are now secrets of the universe must be understandable by anyone, if not in words, in spirit. We need better stories with greater accessibility that allows us to change the world.
…And Night is an excerpt from A Million Different Things: Meditations of The World’s Happiest Man.
David Stone is a New York City based writer.