In the past couple of months scientists have discovered that:
1. There are probably at least three times as many stars in the Universe as previously thought.
2. Life probably exists in environments previously thought off limits, as evidenced by the ability of a certain bacterium to utilize arsenic rather than phosphorus in its cells. Phosphorus is one of the structural building blocks for DNA and was always thought to be essential for life. No phosphorus= no DNA= no life. Wrong again.
3. Jonah Lehrer writes in this week’s New Yorker about “the decline effect.” Basically experiments that were done in the past with strong reportable effects, such as, say, the effectiveness of second generation antidepressants, are found to have a much weakened effectiveness when replicated later. And this trend, this “it’s strong when we first discover it, then when we go back and look some more, it’s somehow weaker, across the board,” is being found everywhere they look. Psychology, physics, medicine. It’s as if the universe gets habituated to our own knowledge and we have to go look somewhere else again for the key. We find it, the universe takes it back out of our pocket when we’re not looking.
Offered in support of my increasingly strong suspicion that we are living in a magical realm that could not get any stranger and still maintain a semblance of habitability. Sure, things seem pretty solid and reliable on certain scales, our own body-sized scale, predominantly. But venture beyond the visible and graspable and things begin to dissolve. They get decidedly squirmy.
It sort of reminds me of the set design for a play. Looks pretty good from the audience’s perspective, but if you get up on stage and poke around, you see all kinds of ropes and pulleys and doors that go nowhere and windows that are only painted on.
It’s like how we look back three or four hundred years and laugh our asses off about how stupid humanity was, the things we believed, but we are always going to be trapped in the dark ages of knowledge.
The horizon endlessly recedes.
Having lost my faith in God, I am rewarded with a numinous connection with the universe exactly as it is.
Unknowable as the mind of The Lord Our God.
Plus, it has good food.
I was thinking about my separateness from ‘the field of being’ last night as I was falling asleep after reading some more of Dan Dennet’s book, Consciousness Explained. I mean, I know that I’m not really separate from it, that’s just an illusion foisted on me by my brain. But it’s a durable, unshakable kind of feeling, this “I am me, and everything else out there is not me.”
So I was lying there, breathing in and out, slowly and deeply, and I slowly realized that there was this little engine of transference going on inside of me. I was taking in stuff from “out there” and then I was turning it into little bits of “me.” Right? I mean, that’s my blood, that’s my hemoglobin, my oxygen feeding and fueling my body.
So, with every breath I’m turning a little bit of the Universe into myself.
And with every exhalation? You got it. Turning a little bit of myself back into the Universe.
And this? It made sense to me. In a visceral way. In a way that my guts understood. That my reptile brain could grasp. I know it’s hardly a revelation, or a new idea in any way, but it struck me as such last night.
And of course, the same thing is going on all the time in every single cell in my body. Which is made up of elements that had to be forged in the dark heart of a star more massive than our own sun, billions of years ago.
I was gathered up from the dust.
To that selfsame dust I shall return.
But I am not the dust and never was.
I am the dance the dust does while the wind of life blows through it.
And that’s good enough for me.