Friday, February 18, 2011

To infinity and beyond...




Yes, I am well aware that the title of the post is a Disney quote.  I have my reasons for doing so as you shall soon read.
"I can't think about infinity," someone recently told me.  "It scares me to think about the vastness of the universe.  Makes me feel small and aware of my own mortality.  I like learning about NASA and the space program, but that actual concept of space...that scares me."
I get it.  Have you ever been in the dark or fog and been only vaguely aware that there is something far larger than you nearby?  I had it happen once as a child with a lighthouse at night.  It happened again recently with a water tower in the fog.  Unsettling to say the least.  I get the same sensation at times from space.  Something so vast, so dark, and by enlarge, empty.  Look up into the sky on a clear night.  If you're not humbled, you're not thinking.
So we humans come up with all sorts of unique and inventive ways to ameliorate our unease.  Hence the insufferable existence of Disney/Pixar films, Creationism, and the "Let's Start a Jesus Revolution" movement on Facebook.  And I won't pick solely on fundies.  The resurgence of Eastern religions in the U.S. is every bit as much of a manufactured bulkhead against infinity...or should I say entropy? 
I sometimes play a game with myself, one inspired by yet another friend of mine.  It's called "What if there isn't a God?"  Now, I'm excited to meet my Maker.  The lunatic ravings of the fundies have no bearing on that (oh and how the fundies do try me.)  For the sake of this exercise, however, I presume that there is no God.  What happens next?  Well contrary to many fundy arguments, my sense of morality does not disappear.  I am quite capable of discerning right from wrong by the pure act of respecting other living things.  I also do not feel any less "created."  I am a mass of subatomic particles, born in the depths of space by the Big Bang and the smaller bangs of supernovae.  I am the current state of evolution, a process that started with Australopithecus up through Cro-Magnon man.  I (and everyone else for that matter) am the product of about 2 million years of human beings learning and figuring things out.
What does bother me about the no-God scenario is the uncertainty of just what happens after we die.  If God does not exist, then my consciousness blinks out at the same moment my biological form ceases and I return to space dust.  Over.  Done.  Finite.  All that I ever was, all that I believed in, felt attachment to, took joy in, was the mere result of neurochemical reactions inside my brain.  That's it.  Once my weak, squishy, meaty form gives out, the rest of me disappears into the dark as well.  That, dear Strangers, scares me to no end.  It causes me to lose sleep.  It brings a shudder to my very soul, if indeed I have one.  So I am no different than many who seek to find salve for this wound of uncertainty.  I enjoy anthropomorphic cartoon characters, videos of cute animals living in happiness, things that bring light into the abyss, even if they are born of artificiality. Such things keep me blissfully distracted for a time from my need for meaning.
If there is one thing above all else that I have quested for in this existence, it is meaning.  I need that every bit as much as I need oxygen.  Many seek God as a foundation upon which to forge their meaning, or more likely, to buy it off the rack as they would a suit to wear.  Thinkers like Carl Sagan found meaning in the universe as is, seeing amazement in even the tiniest of things.  I write.  Hoping against hope that my writings will help to give me definition and will survive me, granting me a form of immortality if my soul cannot achieve such a state.  A "will to power" of sorts.
So aware am I of my mortality, so inwardly scared am I of the "blink into nothing" scenario, that I have been placing my hope in the advancement of science.  Genetic engineering, nanotechnology, the uploading of consciousness into computers, all promises that may grant me more time, that may stave off that dark just a bit longer...if not forever.  Indeed, when we at last openly interact with aliens, I believe we will find them more machine than organic...or perhaps those two halves so fused together that we won't be able to tell the difference.  It is only logical.
I have no answers.  Regardless, I will keep seeking them.  Just as I have done since I was very little, and for really no better reason than that, I will begin by looking to the stars.  Sometimes I feel that I could find meaning in this universe...if I could only get my hands on the source code.

Music for this quest:

"Until the Day Is Done," R.E.M.
"She's A River," Simple Minds
"Take Me To the River," Talking Heads
"Karma Police," Radiohead
"Space Oddity," David Bowie
"Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," U2
"Discoverer," R.E.M.
Soundtrack to Blade Runner

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

1 comment:

  1. On Facebook, Millsy said: "Jon, you know there are 3 kinds of infinity. 2 movies you need to watch that help me understand what you are talking about are 1) Final Approach and 2) Jacob's Ladder."

    I've heard good things about "Jacob's Ladder" and will likely add it to my Netflix queue.
    One point I need to make that I didn't make clear in the post above: I do believe that living things are much more than the sum of our parts. Just what that means or translates into post mortem, I don't know.

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