I may be coming to some sort of a preliminary understanding about one way of looking at the nature of reality. When I studied geological processes and tried to become comfortable with geologic time, I had to radically realign my understanding of the physical rocks and dirt I was standing on, as well as my sense of what permanent might mean. It sort of started for me with the realization that a glacier was just a very, very, very slow river. It flows with the same basic process as a river of water, its just that we are so short lived and sort-sighted that it seems to most of us, most of the time, as a giant, immovable, frozen wall, frozen lake, frozen mountain, field, valley, world, of ice. But if you study closely, you see without too much effort that it is constantly moving, seeking low ground, seeking the sea. You could set a sofa down at the top of the glacier and in a few thousands of years it would flow all the way to the sea and drop into it.
Maybe float off on an iceberg.
So, that was one light bulb going off.
Then you start to understand that mountains are the same. Continents. Rocks, boulders, pebbles, grains of sand, grains of dust. They are what we call them only for a short slice of time, the time that we are present to observe and name them. The vast majority of their existence, they are something else entirely.
You can go see the other end of the spectrum, too. Put an ice cube on a hot stove. Solid, liquid, gas. Watch a flower bud, bloom, fade, shatter, and die. Drosophila Melanogaster has a what, twenty-four hour life cycle? Forty eight?
So, things are maybe not what they seem.
Then there is the matter of my own self. You. Your family, my family. Are you the same person you were when you were a baby? Or is that baby gone? Can you talk to that baby? Is that baby having any feelings or thoughts right now?
Are you still a fifth grader? In high school? On your first marriage?
Or are those folks dead and gone?
It’s not that simple, though, is it? There are maybe fragments, memories, shards, little cloud like pieces of them still floating in the biochemical soup that is your brain. And those Proustian moments when you catch a whiff of new-mown grass and you really are, for a second or a nano-second, but some bit of time, that kid again.
We are as the glacier. As the rock. We are subsumed under the tectonic plate of death and obliterated.
Something comes out the other side, though.
Not recognizably us.
You would not say hello if you passed us on the street.
Circles. Wheels within wheels. Cycles. Rings. Interconnected. Twinned together. Ephemeral. Shifting. Non-quantifiable. Just like our coffee tables and our meal of grilled salmon and baby arugula.
Ah, but the miracle is how real it all feels.
And, of course, it is real. As real as it gets.
And let us not forget that on a quantum level, its all blinking in and out of existence a billion billion times a second. All these patterns of probability winking into some recognizable state just by virtue of our own attention. Without an observer, the potentialities don’t really manifest. They remain potential.
Maybe the large hadron collider will sort it all out.
It is all a great mystery to me, and it slips out of the grasp of my understanding like a dream upon waking.