“The reason why certain people turn to philosophy, why I became a philosopher, since I was a little boy, I always felt that existence as such was weird. I mean, here we are. Isn’t that odd?”
– Alan Watts
I want you to imagine we’re together on a park bench. We’ve never met before, and we don’t know anything about each other. What I’d like to do is lean toward you, swivel my head around to gaze toward everything around us, and then say, “This is bizarre.” I nod my head, lean back for a moment, and hope you know what I’m talking about. If you’re most people, I don’t think I’ll connect, but maybe, just maybe, I’ll find someone who shares my sentiment.
People are odd. The world is odd. Our culture is odd. Everything is odd and there’s certainly no shortage of oddities to give you.
The biggest oddity? You want to know the strangest thing of all? Existence. I currently seem to exist. I say “seem” because some days I seriously have my doubts. But, I exist, and here of all places, in the human male form no doubt. To all of our amazement, especially my own, I have two arms, two legs, a mouth, a chest, and all the other things human males possess. I walk around, see things, hear things, eat things, desire things, despise things, run away from things, love things, and do all sort of things.
Impressed? Nah, you’re probably not. There’s billions of other males just like me roaming about. I like to comfort myself by saying there’s no one out there just like me, but truth be told, most other males are 99.9999% the same as me, with a few minor variations, of course. It’s those minor variations which most of us focus on. I’m special, what can I say. But considering this is our first meeting, maybe I could show you something? First impressions are important you know. Follow me? Where are we going you ask? This is kind of gross, but we’re heading to the bathroom for a moment. It’ll just be a second, come on. I just defecated! Well, I did earlier and decided not to flush. What? Oh, don’t give me that look. Just look into the toilet. You do that too, do you not? I ate grape nut flakes for breakfast, spaghetti for lunch, and out came… that. Whooaa, I’m quite a machine! Ladies watch out, the human mulcher is making his way through! Time for the carnival side show! Here’s what you do. You stick delicious food in my mouth, and believe it or not, my digestive acids will toil away for hours, possibly days, making a rather disgusting mixture which will slowly ooze its way through my innards without me even thinking about it! And the end result? Right before your eyes buddy. OOhhhh yeeaahhh, I’m alivvvveeeee baby! You should see when I get the flu bug!
Are you grossed out? I’m sorry. But you know what’s odd? Everything that just happened! We live in an infinite universe, with near infinite possibilities, and out of ALL the possibilities to get nutrients and energy from the environment, my body went with the method above. Yeah. And hey, though I sometimes like to deny it, inside of my body is some rather disgusting looking organs. Isn’t it fascinating that we have long tubes of intestines? No? Honestly, I don’t like them much either, but they’re pretty important to me for the time being. I also have this heart, beating and beating, pumping blood all around. Truth be told, blood grosses me out.
Yep, here I am, checking out that cute girl sitting on the blanket here in the park. You know stranger, I can’t look directly at her. That would be “creepy”. I want to, but I can’t. She may even want to, but she can’t either. We have to exchange glances and I have to catch her looking at me, and vice versa, or something like that. She looks my way, I either smile, or look away awkwardly, or something. Hell if I know, I’m a theoretical physicist. I have no idea how that stuff works. But, she’s practically beaming out there. There’s nothing like distant radiation from a giant nuclear furnace ninety-three million miles away to illuminate the world. Yes, the big yellow-orange fireball. Don’t look at it too closely, it’ll burn your eyes out, literally.
And what do we have underneath us my friend? Liquid magma! Nothing like it. Well, actually a lot of planets have liquid magma cores. It’s a common part of the nebular solar system formation process. It all begins with a giant gas cloud collapsing in on itself, spinning faster and faster due to the conservation of angular momentum. The dense gas cloud at the center bursts into nuclear fusion, blasting out rays of higher energy radiation, beaming their way through space at three hundred million meters per second. The small specs of dust eventually collect themselves together into rocks and stones which themselves gather together into bigger and bigger molten clumps as they slam into each other from their chaotic initial orbits. Quite an amazing process if you think about it. After a while, the top-most rock layer of the inner planets cool down enough to be solid. Nothing like a firm foundation under your feet — well, it’s firm for a few miles at least. If you dig too deep, you’ll reach the magma. No worries though, your drill bit’s going to melt a long ways before that. It gets hot very fast. In the early 1970’s, the Soviets dug a hole seven and a half miles deep. They held the world record for a long time, though it’s just recently been beaten in 2008. Look up the Kola borehole if you’re interested.
Stranger, I see you have a human body too? Guess what? I suffered from a headache the other day. You get those too huh? In my case, the blood vessels within the big blob of jelly in my head start to contract when my blood sugar gets too low, and all in all, it’s not very fun. But hey, look at these weird teeth in my mouth! And my fingers have these strange nails at the end. Our ancestors had claws. If I don’t cut these annoying nails strangers like yourself will think I’m a vagrant. Worse still, that cute girl won’t want to date me either as she’ll think, “Ewww, he doesn’t keep proper hygiene.” And hey, have you noticed that women like to paint theirs? Why? *shrugs* It doesn’t do much for me, but to each their own.
I never chose my parents. I never chose this body. I never even chose what I like and dislike. Consciousness was just sort of crammed into this “thing” which you see before you now. I don’t even remember when I was born. My hippocampus wasn’t finished developing, so my early memories didn’t quite stick. It’s hard to say when my first memory was. It’s not like they have a time-stamp on them. Truth be told, my early life seems to fade from me day by day. I can only recall the especially vivid events from my childhood. The rest? It just seems to be gone.
What is this on the ground? An acorn. Hey stranger. If I stick this in the ground, in a very long time, there will be a giant brown thing protruding upward toward the sky with green leaves! Dirt + water + time + acorn + sunshine = giant oak tree. How is that even possible? Do you have any clue how amazing and absurd that is? Just go and build a machine which can take dirt and turn it into a beautiful tree, and get back with me. Make sure to write out how it all works in detail, because I sure am interested to know.
By now you may be wondering, “Is this what this book’s going to be about? Hundreds of pages of Jason mentioning random mundane events then exclaiming, ‘Isn’t it strange!?'” No, but even if it was, it wouldn’t be about anything “mundane”. There is nothing mundane about everyday existence. Our everyday existence is the very puzzle I plan to deeply discuss.
It’s very common to see people bored with life, thinking nothing is going on around them. I attribute this phenomenon to what I’ll call “living in a box”. The human mind has a strong inclination to become self-absorbed, short-circuiting itself from reality, looping back on its own sensory systems and filtering out all deeper aspects of reality. The average mind is filled with sex, other people’s sex lives, eating, thinking about what they’ll eat later, and other “everyday existence” tasks such as, but not limited to, mowing the lawn, taking out the garbage, getting a haircut, running in place on a treadmill, washing dishes, getting their car’s oil changed, going to the supermarket, watching movies, listening to music, tweeting on Twitter, and checking their Facebook page. None of these time-consuming activities connect them to the deeper picture of life or the universe. At the end of their days, the majority of their lifespan went into working some job, running their children to little league games, preparing meals, cleaning house, washing their car, fixing their bathroom toilet, and things of this nature, and the question is, did they ever connect with the universe?
I don’t think so. But isn’t that life? Isn’t that human existence? No, it isn’t. It might be your life. It might be your parent’s life. It might be your neighbor’s life. But that’s not life. Life includes insects, plants, and fungi. Life includes trees, flowers, beetles, ants, birds, apes, penguins, seals, and parrots. Where do they fit into that schedule other than an as an occasional pet, a bouquet of roses for your lover on Valentine’s day, and walking the dog? If your entire life has consisted in the sorts of everyday activities listed above, you haven’t a clue what life is. You’re completely disconnected from life. You’re living in this box which we might call human culture, and chances are, you’re living in only one culture of many, and you’re probably not aware of how other members of your own species are living. To top it off, if you lack knowledge in history, you won’t even know how people in your own culture used to live in the past. In other words, you’re stuck in one short time period, in your own particular culture, only thinking of your own species, and primarily concerning your thoughts with mating rituals, eating, sleeping, and acquiring junk in the hopes that it’ll make you happy, mostly doing so in a strange competition with the people around you for status.
But there’s even more to life than life, if that makes any sense. Life takes place in an ecosystem and the surrounding universe. What about the weather, the planet, the solar system, and the all the laws governing them? What about black holes, quasars, and distant galaxies? When you look up at night and see the sea of stars twinkling in the sky, have you ever taken the time to just think about all that you’re looking at? Do you know why the wind blows, why the seasons change, the nature behind the beams of light traveling from the sun to you, why the sky is blue, why it becomes black and transparent at night, why the Earth is round, why it’s surface is covered with salty oceans, why it’s spinning, why it’s floating through space the way it is, why we have a moon, why there’s other planets in our solar system and why they are the way they are… Think about your life and ask where all of that fits into your everyday activities? To most people, they don’t unless space and time are used as the theme for a sci-fi thriller or a love scene as two young people stare up at the Milky Way. “Everyday existence” is this incredibly narrow band of activities which pander to a small band of human potential existence. It’s so narrow, it’s infinitesimal in the bigger scheme of things. The reason people feel disconnected and bored is because that narrow band, while it’s interesting and important, is too narrow to be life’s complete focus, and with time it quickly becomes boring and uninteresting. People will say, “Is this all there is to life?” No friend, you’ve been short-circuited. We need to plug you back in.
I hope to connect you back into reality and get you thinking about life, what you are, and where you are. I hope to ignite that childhood curiosity which used to burn brightly in your soul. I wish I could write about all of life and the entire universe, but other people have already written great books on those topics, and I decided that I want to focus on a few particular areas: space, time, and the human mind.