Tuesday, November 29, 2011

I Have a Question

I am a person who always has questions. I wonder who the missing link was, envisioning a hairy, stooped fellow who wakes up one morning and announces to his cave mates, "I've decided to do something with my life." I wonder who decided the order of the lights on traffic signals. Did a committee haggle over this - "Red, green, yellow!" "No, yellow, green, red!" "I still think we should use blue instead of green." - until one stalwart member stood up and pronounced, "Enough of this, we're going with green, yellow, red and that's final." And did we give people the green light before or after the invention of traffic signals?

Questions. How could there be nothing, as in, 'Before the Big Bang, there was nothing but a void.' For me, even a void somehow implies thingness. It has a name, it must be something. Ideas are intangible in the same way that nothingness is intangible - you can name it. The naming does not create the existence of the thing, but it calls up the memory of it. When I name a table, for example, I can touch it's surface in my brain, I can see the crumbs left from a meal, I can hear the scrape of chairs being pushed under it.

What do I imagine when I contemplate the void, the no-thing of the no-time before the Universe exploded into existence? My brain balks at the task. It wants to imagine something, needs to imagine something, because humans are, after all, the essential imaginers. Not to imagine the nothing seems impossible to me. My human brain keeps trying to bring up memories of nothingness, to feel it under my fingertips, to hear its missing sound waves, to see across it vast invisibility.

More questions. Are the billions of cells in our bodies really citizens of human-sized universes, having sprung from the nothingness before the sperm collided with the egg? Each cell seems so intent on its task, and the tasks themselves seem so complex, so improbable. Could all these bits of aliveness really perform all their duties without some kind of sentience? I imagine one cell among the teeming masses of cells, pondering the same questions I ponder. "Where do we come from? What existed before the Big Bang that created this universe of which I am a part?"

And more questions. If I had done what my parents wanted when I graduated from high school and attended the local university, what life would I be living today? I try to imagine myself being someone else, yet essentially me. I would probably have married and had children, because marriage and children are part of the expectations I have always had about my life. But what husband, what children? What would Alix and Nick look like if someone else was their father?

I imagine Alix and Nick in different housings, the same people but with different skin color, or hair color, or eye color, but that's not how it would be, is it? My Alix and my Nick wouldn't be at all, other someones would fill my life, if there even were children populating my other imagined life. Perhaps in my different outcome, I would marry a man who was sterile, or I would miscarry every pregnancy, or I would abandon my husband and children, leave them behind.

In books and movies that tackle these questions, the lives we might have lived are often portrayed as parallel universes where things are just slightly askew, where a small change has small repercussions. But why would that be so? Why wouldn't a small change have a giant repercussion, make an alternate life that bears not the least resemblance to the actual life we live?

I love these questions. I love giving in to the absolute impossibility of following a metaphysical question to its conclusion, but trying to follow it anyway. What if we discovered the secrets of psychic phenomenon and everyone could participate in ESP and telepathy and telekinesis? Impossible, you say? But consider sound waves, consider explaining sound waves and radios or telegraphy to someone in the tenth century.

"There are these invisible waves, like the waves of the ocean, and they are continually emanating from everyone and everything that makes noise. And if you build a machine that can capture these sound waves and transform the invisible waves back into noise, then you can hear things from another village, or another country, or another continent." And the people you shared this insight with would consider you a lunatic or heretic or witch, none of which you'd want to be considered in the tenth century.

So, what if psychic phenomenon are just another kind of wave, waves we haven't discovered yet? What if the mechanism to decipher them exists in the structures of our brains, but most of us just don't know how to use those structures. If that were the case, then those few of us who were naturally inclined to pick up the psy-waves would be actually psychic, not loony or frauds or misguided.

I had an intensely psychic experience when I was sixteen, something so profoundly real and frightening that describing it to other people brings tears to my eyes 45 years later. How do I explain that experience in a rational world where ESP is bunk? I don't explain it, of course, it becomes another question for me to ponder.

Did I tell you I loved questions? I once asked my husband something like, "If I died in a car crash and my face was disfigured, how would you identify my body?" He did not respond well to this question. What I really wanted to know was this: do you know my body well enough to identify the scars and small anomalies I have accumulated in my life?

For many years, Michael became irate, and frustrated, and put out at many of the questions I posed. He had a moment of insight a decade or so ago, a moment he remembers with fondness and even relief. Michael has told me he suddenly realized that I wasn't necessarily looking for an answer to my questions, but that I just enjoyed playing with the questions. Bravo, Michael. It is not the answers, but the questions that I love. I will admit, though, that when I think of Heaven, of life after death, I envision a place where the actual true answer to every question I have ever asked or ever could ask is available, an infinite Wikipedia where no one has fudged or lied or misunderstood, and all the explanations can be counted on to be absolutely correct. Now, that would be Heaven.

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