By now you’ve probably seen the stunning new images from the Webb Space Telescope, which takes us 13 billion years back in time. That’s 8 billion years before the Earth was born. We stand here now looking back at a time before there was ground to stand on, or a human consciousness to see or grasp anything at all. We are looking at a speck of sky no bigger than a grain of sand, they say, yet filled with millions of galaxies and trillions of stars, and who knows how many planets or moons or intelligent life-forms looking back. Only they wouldn’t see us. For we don’t exist yet.
It’s mind-boggling. And certainly puts the turmoil we’re experiencing here on Earth into a new perspective. No less urgent or relevant for our fire-fly timespans. But it points us away from the personal and relative “here and now” into one that is infinitely larger than our selves and the tiny blue marble we call home. Our “here and now” encapsulates not only the present moment but the “here and now” 13 billion years ago. We are the link that spans that distance through time and space. Our consciousness. Mine. Yours. Now. Enfolding all that. Surely it means something significant.
When we turn the eye inward rather than out, into the micro-universe of atoms and particles swirling inside us and everything that exits, we grasp a new paradox. Quantum physics has shown us that those inner worlds at the most infinitesimal level exist only as clouds of potentiality rather than as concrete substance. These clouds of potentiality only become “real”—that is, fixed in time and space—when observed. Unseen they exist only within a hazy realm of the possible.
In comparison to the infinite universe swirling around us and inside us, we humans may seem pathetically insignificant. Not worth a mention in the footnotes of atomic and astronomic legers of Science. And yet we seem to play an essential and outsized role.
Without the human mind to grasp the universe there would be no universe to be grasped. Our bodies may have been evolved from star-dust. But it’s our minds, our own conscious grasping of such, that moves “star-dust,” and all else, out of the realm of the potential and into the realm of the real.
Such is the circular and utterly paradoxical wonder of a world we live in.
In several of his films, Ingmar Bergman plays with the notion of multiple layers of reality. This can be seen as early as The Seventh Seal, and continues with Autumn Sonata, and Wild Strawberries, culminating in what was intended to be his final film, Franny and Alexander.
In some ways, Franny and Alexander is a tour de force. It speaks to us on so many levels. It can be seen, in part, as a family saga, a farce, a fairy tale, a theatrical play, a Gothic Romance, and a supernatural horror story. It is, in fact, all these things at once.
Yet each differing perspective can be seen as a different layer of reality, a different way of looking at the same material. Each appears as a separate backdrop against which the film can be seen, which, when lifted, offers a new view, a new level of perception, a new “reality.”
We can see this in the opening sequence. The first shot reveals a close-up of what appears to be an ornate building. As the camera moves down the building, we see a row of footlights and what now appears to be a stage. A series of painted backdrops are lifted to reveal new scenes. But it is only when the last backdrop is raised that we see a child’s face, huge, behind the scenes. This is when we realize that the stage is but a child’s theater and the row of footlights are candles. The camera seems to be inviting the viewer to see through these multiple layers of “reality,” perceptions of the real, to the final revelation, the child, or rather, the child’s imagination, as revealed through his dreamy gaze.
The film continues to pull back layer after layer of curtains to reveal the tenuous and shifting nature of reality.
In the final scene, the grandmother is reading from Strindburg’s “A Dream Play.” She reads: “Anything will occur. Anything is possible and likely. Time and space do not exist. On the tenuous ground of reality, imagination reaches out and weaves a new pattern.”
Reality is seen to be not singular, but as consisting of ever-deepening layers of reality, one on top of the other, in a richly dense and complex multiplicity.
I was reminded of this film when listening to one of Alan Watt’s talks that I wrote about in another post. And I wonder if the reason Bergman’s films resonate with so many people is that we sense a truth here. We see this perspective not only in film and art, about the mystery of things, these shifting perspectives and “layers of reality,” but we see it in science, how beneath these seemingly solid bodies lies unseen, shifting worlds that swirl and collide and contradict each other.
I question often what is real and not-real, and wonder if it’s more complex than that. Perhaps it’s not a case of what’s real or not, of one or the other, but shifting perceptions of what’s real, some dark, some light, that weave together a reality that is deeper and more complex than our superficial lives allow us to see.
POSTSCRIPT: In searching for photos for this post, I happened upon Roger Ebert’s review of the film, which also, surprisingly (or maybe not so), refers to the film as having “shifted into a different kind of reality.” I’ve added an excerpt of his review here:
“There are fairy-tale elements here, but “Fanny and Alexander” is above all the story of what Alexander understands is really happening. If magic is real, if ghosts can walk, so be it. Bergman has often allowed the supernatural into his films. In another sense, the events in “Fanny and Alexander” may be seen through the prism of the children’s memories, so that half-understood and half-forgotten events have been reconstructed into a new fable that explains their lives.
What’s certain is that Bergman somehow glides beyond the mere telling of his story into a kind of hypnotic series of events that have the clarity and fascination of dreams. Rarely have I felt so strongly during a movie that my mind had been shifted into a different kind of reality. The scenes at night in the Jacobi house are as intriguing and mysterious as any I have seen, quiet and dreamy, and then disturbing when the mad Ismael calmly and sweetly shows Alexander how everything will be resolved.”
What do you think? Have you seen any of Bergman’s films? Do you think there’s more to us, or reality, than what we experience in the everyday?
I first posted this, in slightly different form, in 2014.
I spent Sunday morning in bed with my coffee listening to Chopin’s complete nocturnes playing on my phone beside me. Think of that. Music created centuries ago played by a pianist years ago streaming in my room, my consciousness, here and now.
Each keystroke playing me as if I was the instrument it played. As if the music arising in the room with no piano in sight were fingers keying notes within the body of some vast collective consciousness.
Aside from the way the notes rippled through me, thrilling and caressing and demanding, was that crystalline silence between each song and each hovering note. The silence that held thought at bay as I listened. The silence that allowed feeling to be all, to allow me, whatever this me is, and this music, whatever this music is, to be one entirely inseparable thing.
I’ve discovered for myself that hope and faith are feeble things compared with trust. Hope is a kind of yearning for something that seems beyond our immediate grasp, something that may or may not happen. It carries within itself a sense of uncertainty. Hoping for the best, hoping for a miracle, hoping they will be safe, hoping he will not die.
Within the hopeful thought is the possibility that what one hopes for may not happen. Hope is a telltale sign that someone or something is in peril, that danger awaits. Hope itself seems precarious. With any little wind, setback, relapse, or adverse circumstance, it can be toppled and turned into despair.
But trust is more steady, purposeful, positive. Grounded. It cannot be easily reversed even when obstacles or adverse circumstances assert themselves. It’s like the “Little Engine That Could,” the storybook train that steadily chugs along, even when it’s uphill the whole time. “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.” Not hoping it can, but trusting in it’s own strength, power, determination, and ability.
We don’t “trust he won’t die.” We trust he will live. And we base that trust on something we feel firm about, something grounded within our very being. Our belief in him, that he has the courage, the love, the wisdom, the goodness to survive his addiction. To surmount whatever obstacles may stand in his way, whatever chains may attempt to hold him down.
Trust is even more keen-edged than faith, I believe. Faith, like hope, may waver. Trust never does. Trust allows us to leave worry and fear behind. It just doesn’t figure in with the mind-set of trust. You can’t trust and worry at the same time, like you can with hope, or even faith. For the fear there, resides is in the very Source we pin our faith on. The knowledge that God’s will may not be our own. And within that gap lies doubt, uncertainty, fear. Or resignation as we give up our will for His greater wisdom.
But trust, the kind I’m talking about now, is an inner conviction, not reliant on something or someone apart from ourselves or the things we trust in. When we trust the dam won’t break, it’s because we know something about the dam, know how well it was made, how strong it is, it’s ability to withstand whatever comes down that river. To merely hope it will hold? To have faith it will hold? Such mindsets seems flimsy in comparison with trust.
I understand that there are some things you can’t trust in, but only hope for. You can’t trust the cancer won’t spread. You can’t trust cancer. But trusting in the body’s ability to generate what’s needed to fight it off? Trust in the chosen therapeutic to do what it was created to do? Even trust in prayer. These trusting mindsets are better than hope or faith, for they leave no room for fear. And fear itself is a cancer.
So much of what we know about how the world works, is how the mind affects everything, physically as well as emotionally. More and more evidence gives credence to the notion that mind, consciousness, not matter, is the bedrock of all that exists. How we think affects everything around us. So we must chose our mindsets carefully. And hope and faith pale in comparison with trust. Even when it comes to God. Or my son.
I wrote this years ago, a kind of declaration for a state of being with which I passionately identified, although it seemed so beyond what I or anyone could reach at the time:
Epitaph for a Tombstone
I am compressed within my skin like a time bomb.
There is more to me than time allows to be.
When the end comes I’ll explode like an atom.
It is my end to explore infinity.
It seemed at the time I wrote it that there was so much I wanted to do and explore, and yet I wasted so much time on trivial things, that I feared my end would come before actualizing even a fraction of my potential. I could not accept that such would be the end of me. Surely this keenly felt unlived life would burst through the shell of being into something infinitely elastic, and all that I was or was meant to be would be realized eventually.
Now that my end of days have grown so much nearer, that sense of there being more to me than time allows to be has not diminished. But I think of it somewhat differently. That escape into an ever-expansive sense of self no longer seems to lie upon a birth-death or time-space axis but within the here and now which defies such limitations.
That smallness of being which so ill-fits us, which pinches and punishes, which we all in this present life seem heir to, does not define us and has little in reality to do with us. It’s but an ill-shaped mind-box that seems to contain us but never really can.
It’s as if this limited life which seems to bind us is like a box with four sides. Before and behind us are Birth and Death, and on either side are I and Other. Below is the Ground of Being which supports us. But there is no lid above. It is open to the Wonder or Mystery of Being, enticing us to rise beyond the strictures of time and space, birth and death, I and Other. Inviting us to explore what lies beyond this small sense of self; and so we do, each following our bliss. Through exploration of the sciences or creative arts, or by pursuing the ideals of freedom, equality, justice, service, selfless love, and the common good, we rise somewhat out of our smaller selves into something more expansive.
But until those opposing walls of birth and death, time and space, and I or Other collapse, we are still confined within a smaller, ill-fitting sense of being. We can slip in and out of that box, but cannot escape it altogether. Death is not the door that frees us. Mind is.
Rising to a higher, more expansive sense of self that identifies both with the Ground of Being that supports us, and the Wonder of Being that surrounds us, we find our freedom. There the restrictive walls that would bind us collapse for lack of identity.
All the great spiritual teachings point in that direction. Not toward something outside or apart from us, but toward a more expansive identity : the Kingdom of God, Enlightenment, the Tao. All lie within a higher consciousness or understanding of being.
We know this, it is not new. Nor is it far away. We all taste it, hear it, glimpse it in rarified moments even within this limited sense of self.
When one student asked the sage to show him this higher reality we sometimes call God, the master said, “There, do you not smell it?” as their feet crushed the sweet arbutrus beneath them.
Nothing is hidden. We all catch that whiff of the infinite in humble and exquisite ways along our journey within.
But perhaps this is all too esoteric. Here’s something more concrete.
The other day we all learned how President Trump had contracted Covid. Not a fan of Trump and angry at how he had been been downplaying the disease in a way that appeared to cost thousands of lives, I was not sympathetic. I thought this was his just dessert. I even felt a bit gleeful since he had been mocking Biden about wearing a mask only a few days previously. I hoped he would experience more than mild symptoms so that he would have more compassion for others who had suffered, and not come away saying it wasn’t so bad after all, nothing to worry about to his followers.
Yet thinking this way felt uncomfortable, like putting on shoes a size too small. They pinched. But I couldn’t quite lift my thought away from such feelings, thinking them justified.
The next morning during my spiritual practice my thought completely shifted as I once again began to identify with this higher sense of self, where I and Other melted away. I felt this deep empathy and sympathy toward the president. Not toward his plight contracting Covid. But rather toward the plight we all share when confined within this small, tight, pinched sense of identity. I thought of what he could be, and actually is, when those four walls of restriction fall away and he too experiences that more expansive sense of self where there is no I or Other.
I remembered what his niece, Mary Trump, had written about his upbringing, how he’d been shaped to be the boastful, selfish, egotistical man he seems to be, how his values and sense of self had been warped. Each of us have similar life experiences that shape and limit us, that we all need to outgrow. Perhaps this Covid experience will help him. Perhaps not. Either way it wasn’t my business.
My business was to lift my own sense of self beyond the thought-patterns that had so pinched the day before. To experience the deep sympathy that rises from the ground of being and unites us all. To once again savor that sweet wonder that lifts us beyond ourselves.
When I first encountered one of Sohan Qadri’s paintings, I was plunged like a pebble into a still pool, radiating ripples of bliss.
An overstatement? I don’t think so.
The effect was profound, even if the words I use to capture it fail.
“A synthesis of emptiness and peace, radiating power,” is what Qadri is trying to express in his art, he writes.
”Art can have the same effect as meditation,” he tells us, “but only if we drop our constantly interpretating mind and learn to simply see . . . . This can happen if you grasp the painting at a subliminal level, let it filter in through your pores.”
With me at least, he succeeded.
His work is made from thick soft paper deeply saturated in brilliant colors, punctuated by ragged tears and rips, wavering furrows and trails of tiny pinpricks, like scattered drops of light–or bread crumbs — leading toward the vast unconscious.
“When I start on a canvas,” he explains, “first I empty my mind of all images. They dissolve into a primordial space. Only emptiness should communicate with the emptiness of the canvas.”
“People are always interested in dreams. I am interested in the question: ‘Who is the dreamer?’” Qadri writes. “I would like to know: ‘Who is the artist behind the artist?’”
When I entered his painting, I felt the presence of the artist behind the artist.
I think I was drawn to his work because when I’m writing, in some way, I am always trying to do that as well, tap into the writer behind the writer.
At my best writing, I feel as if it’s not “me” writing, but something writing through me, beyond me.
As writers and artists, I think we are seeking to move beyond ourselves, dip our pens and brushes into the deep storehouse of the unconscious, the rich field of the imagination, where colors and forms and images and emotions flow.
We tap into it and let it flow out through us, filtered by our experiences and sensibilities, onto paper or canvas.
Readers and art lovers are also seeking to move beyond themselves, to be swept away into other worlds–magical realms or gripping tales created by words, or rich fields of form and color beyond conceptual thought.
The best writing, the best art, for me is when we feel the presence of the creator behind the creator, and recognize, if only for a moment, the face of our larger selves.
This post was first published in a slightly different format in June 2013.
Last month around this time when the moon was full, our nights were filled with howling. Almost every night we could hear the mournful cries of coyotes in the fields behind our house, along with ecstatic barking, yipping, chortling–as if they were celebrating a kill, or worshipping the moon, or engaged in some wild orgy. Or perhaps they were merely giving voice to the irresistible life force pumping through their blood and brains and hearts, a force of nature too wild and fierce to hold back.
The sound, terrifying and exhilarating at the same time, echoed long in my mind afterwards, like ripples of water moving away to the edge of consciousness and reverberating back again. Like something heard long ago deep in my bones, from an evolutionary or primal past.
They say we humans carry in our genes the imprint of life-forms going back to when the first cells emerged on earth. Deep in our blood, our bones, our very atoms, lays some faint memory of our ancient beginnings. Phylogenists call it our “vast evolutionary tree.”
If we go back even further, traces of that time when the morning stars first sang together may still be felt when we look out on the night sky. We are the stuff of stars, after all, so say astrophysicists.
Carl Jung envisioned our Collective Unconscious as a reservoir lying deep within our psyches containing our evolutionary memories. While they lay below consciousness, they break through in dreams and myths and fairy tales, in primitive urges, the call of the wild, in our more-than-human yearnings.
Sometimes we feel this wildness rising within when witnessing powerful displays of nature: thunderstorms booming across the land, waterfalls careening over cliffs, huge waves crashing against rocks, hurricanes lashing at trees, lightening forking across a dark sky, earthquakes heaving beneath our feet. It frightens and excites—creating both the desire to escape and to embrace that primordial power. One wild howl elicits another—the urge to howl back, to voice our own wild yearnings—to sing or dance, or paint or play, or grab words from the air and fling them onto paper. I heard that howl and answered back one night on anchor watch in Pago Pago. A hurricane was blowing a few miles off Samoa and we were set to ride it out if it blew into the bay.
I stood at the bow of La Gitana, hanging onto the staysail as the deck lurched beneath my feet like a wild stallion while the surging waves rose and fell and the chain from the anchor rooted deep in the mud below grew slack or tight.
Overhead a torrent of clouds crashed against a full moon, sometimes swallowing it whole, then washing away streaming moonlight. All around me the night raged while the anchor held tight, and I held tight, the terror and exhilaration pumping through my blood and brain. The wild urge to let go and be carried away by the night was fierce. Later I tried to capture what it felt like. Here’s what I wrote:
(Anchor watch in Pago Pago, Samoa)
Alone beneath a wild and ragged night I watch,
moonlight and clouds wind-tangled across the sky.
Suddenly I am loosened, lifted, flung far–
fingers raking stars, mouth howling moon, mind mooning time
riddles the universe.
Alone beneath a wild and ragged night I stand, astonished,
gaping into the maw of some vast mirror.
It’s close to capturing what I felt, but the last two lines trouble me. “Gaping” and “maw” keeps the visceral effect I’m looking for, capturing the sense of trance-like awe and terror. But mirror moves it away into something more philosophical or intellectual.
I’m tempted to stop with the line “my heartbeat riddles the universe.” That captures the physicality of my wildly beating heart breaking out of my body to become the heart-beat of the universe. And it also hints at the mystery of human heartbeat itself being a riddle, the riddle of the universe, that the evolution of the universe over eons led to the creation of a human being, whose heart—its essential being—is the ability to reflect back upon the universe, to take it all in.
Human consciousness is the mirror through which the universe sees and knows itself, and through which we see and know ourselves—the fullness of being, our primal past and present standing face to face.
Dancing Poppies in a Blue Bowl by Deborah J. Brasket
I fell in love with the title of Milan Kundera’s novel “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” long before I ever read it. To me it evokes something unbearably joyful and rich, playful and profound.
So I was disappointed to find the novel itself, while a wonderful read, playful and profound in its own way, suggested a different interpretation of its title, a profound sadness at how fragile and transitory life is, how quickly its bright light fades.
I don’t see life that way at all. I mean, I see it, I understand why it may seem that way. But I don’t believe it.
To me, the beauty of this “lightness of being” is not that it is “unbearable” as in too horrible to bear, but “unbearable” as in too delicious to bear, to contain. It spills over.
I think that’s what I was trying to convey in my painting of the dancing poppies in a blue bowl. The beauty of the seemingly solid things that surround us, that make up our lives, is that they are not “heavy” or “static,” but constantly in motion, “dancing” as it were through time and space. Constantly dissolving itself and resolving into something else, similar, but not quite the same. The way the present moment dissolves and resolves instantaneously as we move through time.
There’s a wonderful analogy of the universe/reality by the physicist David Bohm. He sees reality and consciousness, what he calls the “implicate order,” as a “coherent whole, which is never static or complete but which is an unending process of movement and unfoldment.” He likens this whole (all that ever was and ever will be) as a tightly woven ball of yarn, one infinite thread. Yet the way we perceive it through time and space is as if the ball of yarn is rolling away and unraveling before our eyes. We glimpse “what is” second by second, inch by inch, as it reveals itself to us in micro-bites and nano-seconds. It’s not that reality is actually unraveling, but that the illusion of its unraveling is how we come to comprehend it, see it, know it, love it. We are one with it all the while, even while it appears as something distinct and separate from our selves.
Another analogy that I love is Indra’s Net. Here the universe/reality is like an infinite net with a pearl at each interstice. Each pearl reflects every other pearl as well as the whole net itself. Each pearl contains within itself, as part of its own lustrous being, part of its own distinct individuality, all the others around it. The part contains the whole and vice versa.
This view of reality makes sense to me, not only from a scientific and spiritual viewpoint, but experientialy as well. I experience this every time I walk through the house and pass through one doorway after another and watch this interior landscape flowing past me, one room dissolving as a new one approaches. Every time I look out the window and take in the trees and hills and houses and sky and hold them in my mind’s eye even as I turn away. Practical, ordinary, experiences we all share.
I hold all those I love with me wherever I go as I know they do me. My breath is constantly circulating through my body as I breathe in the world around me and breath it out again. Nothing is still for even a second. All of life is in constant motion, the atoms within us and the galaxies swirling about our heads.
This is the unbearable lightness of being. Dancing poppies, dissolving bowl. Brush dipped in water and paint spilling images across a page. All this spilling together going on right here and now as you read this, my heart and mind spilling out to you.
What could be lighter, brighter, more playful and profound than that? This unbearably rich and joyful lightness of being.
Every time I write about nature I get deep into human consciousness. You can’t really separate the two. There is no “nature” – no way to identify, quantify, categorize, articulate, or understand it—apart from human consciousness, from how we think and talk about it.
We can’t study or explore or write about nature as something separate from ourselves, our own senses and experiences, our own thinking, perceiving, observations, experimentation. In that sense, nature is subjective, no matter how hard we try to objectify it.
This is not new, of course. Better writers and thinkers, from different disciplines, have explored this in more depth and detail that I can here.
This grand book the universe . . . is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometric figures without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it: without these, one wanders around in a dark labyrinth. —Galileo, Astronomer
All my knowledge of the world, even my scientific knowledge, is gained from my own particular point of view, or from the experience of the world . . . . –Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenologist
We see and hear and otherwise experience very largely as we do because the language habits of our community predispose certain choices of interpretation. –Edward Sapir, Linguist
If the world exists and is not objectively solid and preexisting before I come on the scene, then what is it? The best answer seems to that the world is only a potential and not present without me or you to observe it. . . . All of the world’s many events are potentially present, able to be but not actually seen or felt until one of us sees or feels. –Fred Allen Wolf, Physicist
Ah, not to be cut off, not through the slightest partition shut out from the law of the stars. The inner—what is it? if not intensified sky, hurled through with birds and deep with the winds of homecoming.
-–Rainer Maria Rilke, Poet
The sun shines not on us, but in us. The rivers flow not past, but through us, thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide and sing. –John Muir, Naturalist
At times I feel as if I am spread out over the landscape and inside things, and am myself living in every tree, in the splashing waves, in the clouds and the animals that come and go, in the processions of the seasons. There is nothing . . . with which I am not linked. –Carl Jung, Psychologist
See this rock over there? This rock’s me! –Australian Aborigine
But in the ordinary play of our day, we forget this. We experience everything outside ourselves as “not me,” “alien,” “other.” Even our own bodies are commonly experienced as “not me.” We say “my stomach growled,” or “my foot fell asleep,” or “my sinuses are acting up,” because they seem to act involuntarily, with a mind of their own, without our conscious consent. As does nature, and other people, and the things we create—toasters and cars and computers.
Separating the whole of life and existence into parts is a useful way of talking and thinking about things.
But too often we fail to put everything back together and see how interdependent it all is, how embedded we are in the whole, and the whole in us. When we fail to do so we lose a vital understanding of ourselves and the universe, and we act in ways that may be harmful to the whole.
The see the ocean in a drop of water, to see ourselves in everyone we meet, is not, as some think, merely a poetic and rosy way of looking at the world. It’s to see things as they actually are.
I came across this recently, something I wrote years and years ago.
So much has changed since then, but not this. This sense that something in me was meant to live forever, that a handful of years is just not enough to realize all that I am.
Epitaph for a Tombstone
I am compressed within my skin
Like a time-bomb
There is more to me than time
Allows to be
When the end comes I’ll explode
Like an atom
It is my end to explore
I was obsessed with the idea that I would never be able to see, do, be all that I wanted within the time allotted me. That this little life “rounded by a dream” as Shakespeare wrote, was but an interlude, and that I had existed before and will exist well after it ends.
Perhaps that’s why Wordsworth’s lines in “Intimations of Immortality” mean so much to me, that we come into this world “trailing clouds of glory”. The verses found throughout the Bible about being there “when the morning stars first sang together” have a similar deja vu effect on me.
The suggestion was that there is no science to support such speculation, and these musings by learned men were merely a comforting concession to ease the pain of lost loved ones or the anxiety about one’s own impending death. I took a different viewpoint, and wrote this:
I’m very skeptical of what “Science” knows about anything at this point, but especially of what it knows about the mind and consciousness and the thing that sages through the ages have referred to as “soul” or “spirit.” That individual consciousness would just disappear when life leaves the body seems almost more fantastical than if it should continue in some form.
Look at what happens when we turn out the lights at night–consciousness continues to spin out a type of “reality” at least to the one “awake” in the dream, seemingly conscious and aware of himself and others and a world around him. This waking dream we all seem to be part of seems no more real at times than the one I left when the alarm when off.
And when we look at the “new science” and quantum physics, it appears we know less about how this world is fabricated than we had thought, but what it does seem to indicate is that consciousness plays a much larger role in reality than mere physical particles (if the two can be separated!).
I guess all this rambling goes to say I think when it comes to facing our eventual deaths, scientists can tell us nothing of importance, but the great shock of contemplating a blank slate in place of continuing consciousness may be such an affront to reason that it kick-starts a higher sense of perception or intuition, where the continuation of a person’s spirit or soul, or even that of a dog, does not seem so unreasonable after all. Hence Jefferson’s and Bellow’s musings on death.
Just yesterday I read about a new study debunking the claims of those who have had near-death experiences of an after-life (you know, images of a long tunnel with a bright light at the end surrounded by departed loved ones.)
Apparently researchers have discovered that as the brain dies there is a flurry of abnormal activity—lots of bells and whistle going off , neurons going crazy, atoms exploding, that sort of thing (a bit like my poem depicts, don’t you think?).
These frantic falterings cause those near-death experiences, so they speculate. But a cause and effect relationship can go both ways (as we all well know when considering which came first, the chicken or the egg). It could easily be that in those final moments before the brain goes dead it records the experience of our consciousness of crossing over to a new mental landscape beyond this world. That crazy brain activity could be the last gasp, or mental grasping, of the mortal as it perceives a glimpse of immortality.
There’s no way to know for sure, of course. But when the best minds of this world and many cultures across time all seem to have a similar sense of something of ourselves continuing after this life ends, I think we’d be wise not to dismiss this altogether, despite the lack of science to support it.
Science after all is just evolving thought, new ways of perceiving reality, discovering new patterns of evidence that explain the phenomena around us.
And, if true to itself, Science is open-ended as well as open-minded, poised to grasp things that may never have occurred to it yet. Science too, in the end, may be but one way by which we “explore infinity.”
[My apology to readers who received this twice. Some readers had trouble viewing the first post so I reposted it. Please respond to or “re-like” this one.]