wild-eyed glum chum

How long does a rainbow last?

Will the rainbow last long enough for us to see it?

As I was pacing across this room and contemplating the rather dreary news about the currents state of affairs in this world we live in, where people are still living with

  • the possibility of (another) World War
  • the likelihood of nuclear weapons being used
  • and so on…

I was thinking about this poem which you might see sooner or later on this blog. If you read this poem you might feel that it sounds quite pessimistic.

The poet ponders the extremely short period of time we are given to spend on the crust of this planet.

Immediately I had to ask myself:

Why are we so keen on deploring, on begrudging the short period of time we are allowed to spend here?

The answer lies in the heroic scale on which we imagine and project our Selves. We have a way of thinking about ourselves in the tradition of the Iliad and the Odyssey, the Homeric tradition:

When history begins, it begins with people standing tall, against the gods, as it were.

We have continued in this vein up until Nietzsche. Even Nietzsche has to contrast his Above-the-Human with (what he calls) the Dead Christian God, even he feels the need to scale up our self-image.

What shall we call it? An instinct of self-aggrandizement, I guess that’s what we would find in a dictionary. An overwhelming feeling that

  • you have to make yourself BIG
  • you have to project a LARGE shadow.

This feeling notwithstanding, we know the real scale of humankind in history, as brilliantly shown in geology and biology:

The briefest look you can take at the history of this planet and universe tells you in no uncertain terms that we are but a speck.

We are immediately dwarfed by all else.

  • I don’t mean just WE who are trudging along, doing our small jobs, driving taxis or buses, working in factories or tilling the soil or whatever.
  • I mean WE including the head of the IMF, or the President of the Russian… Federation (is it now?).

We’re all quite small, but we should not despair. I don’t say this because it is not good to whinge; I say that we should not despair because in despairing we forget that which is more important on a scale which

  • has nothing to do with history, geology or biology and
  • has all to do with an ability to self-reflect.

Of course we are small in this BIG universe, in this galaxy, lost in the eons in which we occupy but a blip.

Of course we are small, but we are aware.

We have a consciousness that allows us to write poems and philosophy. This is wherein lies

  • not our power, but rather
  • our feeling that we should be proud we exist (=Stand-Forth) in this universe.

Not on the scale of what we can do, but on the scale of what we can think.

Not on the scale of what we can effect in this world.

Not on the scale of what technological innovations we can bring about, or what brave experiments we can attempt (e.g., smashing together atoms and smaller particles and trying to re-create what happened in that instant at the Big-Bang).

No.

If there is a reason we should be proud to have been given life in this universe, it lies in our ability to do something and to think about it, to realize what it means.

Consciousness reveals meaning, and the meaning is not one given by a god or by a spirit (whether these exist or not). The meaning is given by the fact that

  • among all these gigantic forces and interactions,
  • among all these countless galaxies,
  • across all these eons,

within that short time when we appeared, something called consciousness developed.

In a way, this consciousness we have right now is not (substantially) different from what it was

  • 200 years ago, or
  • 2000 years ago, or
  • 20,000 years ago…

Consciousness is (obviously) different in

  1. how we explain its workings
  2. why we believe we happen to be here

What has not changed in thousands of years is that elemental principle of being able to become aware of being.

Is this because of Reason? Is it because of “I think, therefore I am”?

No, it’s not because of Reason. Why are we aware?

  1. Accidents?
  2. Evolutionary advantages?
  3. The universe awakening?

Up to a point, I suppose you could argue that a dog is aware of some things. However, it is not aware in a way that allows that dog to travel immense distances with the mind and to reach back (or forward) across time into the Past (or into the Future).

(That don’t mean you’re better than the dog: Just luckier).

This is something we can (and should) take pride in, even if you didn’t do much to bring consciousness about:

  • We were just given it.
  • We were simply presented with this.

So don’t despair because you are aware of the desperately small place you occupy.

On the contrary, this awareness provides us with grounds to be infinitely hopeful. By this I don’t mean

  1. hopeful that we will survive eternally and populate the whole universe
  2. hopeful that we can shape reality in such a way as to survive eternally in a perfect world.

I mean hopeful in (and taking great comfort from) knowing that

this world did not blink itself into existence and out of it again with no eye to glance upon it.

Upon the beauty.

Upon the wonder.

Upon the sheer scale required to produce a consciousness

Upon the sheer improbability of our having the good fortune to look upon this world, to wonder and to enjoy together with all these other motes of dust who have also been given this extremely-heavy-yet-light gift.

Heavy in the despair consciousness carries with it: The despair of being aware of our own passing all-too-soon out of this wonderful world.

Yet matched with a lightness of being which has allowed us to encompass in our mind not only the span of our short lives, but also

  1. a lot which has come to pass before us,
  2. a lot which will come to pass,
  3. a lot which has never come to pass and will never come to pass, although it could be encompassed within our minds…

Yes! In our minds the scales are reversed. In our minds we are the giants that stand out, even if in reality we are but small creatures, too busy to notice…

We may even push ourselves off the stage sooner than our time should come.

No matter when this time comes, remember this. Remember the scales.

Remember all that you have seen, all that you have imagined, all that you have heard, and all that you have contemplated.

Remember all the thoughts that have passed through your mind, and worry not then, my friend.

Because you, like me and like thousands and millions and billions of others have walked on the crust of this planet and have enjoyed the same privilege.

We still have this privilege and we can still bestow this privilege upon our children.

Try to bestow this privilege upon your children.

Worry not about the Creator so much as about yourself as a creator and not a destroyer of worlds, within minds, or outside minds, but especially within the mind.

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