Walking Around the South Pole of Enceladus

Life is such a peculiar thing. It’s so—essential. We’re so unbreakably anchored to its patterns that trying to look in at it from the outside is nearly—or maybe completely, for us—impossible.

I was walking by the woods this evening, just moments before the sun went off to start another day in another place, and looking into the woods I saw the sharp shafts of low golden light piercing the darkness of the forest. And high up in the trees, bunches of leaves here and there were on fire, engulfed in the dying light. Entire branches were bathed in it. Old trees, standing with their scaly bark for so long, now softly touched by the whispers of passing light as it moved slowly across, never able to stay too long in one place, before dying out completely and leaving the forest on its own once again. But something was different. Or I was different. I saw something—a pattern, a layer, a manifestation somewhere deep beneath the surface of it all but visible in that instant, something in the way the sun was touching everything at once and changing it at once into something completely different. And it shook me. It’s something that you can only recall seeing once or twice before and can never remember exactly when or where or even what—what did I see? Probably nothing.

So I walk on and keep thinking. Keep thinking of how it would be possible to look at life from outside it. How it would be possible to imagine existing beyond our terrestrial life. Our visions of ourselves are so bounded by our earthly existence. We cannot imagine life divorced from our earth. Or can we?

And I look up, directly across from the woods, across from where the sun had just set, and there is the moon, almost full now, as day departs and evening sinks down, softly calling out to everything its quiet invitation. And I think, yes, of course. I can easily imagine being on the moon. I can imagine standing there, what I would see, how it would feel walking around, what the earth would look like, and, with a tinge of terror, how I would feel on the inside. How at once in awe and yet so completely alone I would feel, standing there, looking at earth—seven billion souls on a small ball nearly a quarter of a million miles away, nothing but emptiness, utter emptiness, in between. Complete separation from all I’ve ever known.

I can vividly imagine standing on the moon, I can feel it. So our perception has nothing to do with earth. And I go on. I can imagine standing on Mars, kicking around red rocks in freezing temperatures that rival an Alaskan winter. I can imagine walking around the south pole of Enceladus, poking around in strange pools of geothermally heated water, all the while seeing Saturn loom large in the sky, pulling everything within reach so definitively into its orbit.

Earth is not a necessary reference plane for our minds. There’s something much more basic. I can send my mind far out and look back in at our galaxy from another, impossibly far from the earth we know. I can create that instance in my mind and simulate it as if I were actually there.

What I cannot do is separate my mind from physics. As soon as I try to imagine my self, without physical things, or detached from physical things, everything falls apart. Why?

It’s hard to answer that question at first, but the answer is so remarkably simple. It’s in the words. I was trying to picture myself—Picture. I was trying to imagine my self—Imagine—Image. All our words are so specifically tied to our physical plane. Image, picture, see. Trying to think outside our four dimensional box is impossible, bound by these words. We simply don’t have the words to describe realities beyond our understanding of physics. And why should we? More to the point, how can we? And yet as unthinkably large as the visible universe is, it must be that this is only a thin surface, a frail veneer, on what is the totality of reality.

And so I’m left to wonder about spirits, about how it is possible to consider oneself separate from a body. And I wonder if the key, although it’s impossible for our earthly brains to even consider, is realizing our selves outside of time. Because once time is nullified, the other three dimensions fall away naturally on their own. But that quickly plunges necessarily beyond the realm of words we humans can speak, and thinking without the help of words is so difficult, even in music.

And I’m drawn back to thinking. And thinking about thinking. And thinking about seven billion minds thinking all at this very moment. Trying to imagine what they are all thinking of, and how similar must their thoughts be. And then I try to consider everything at once and imagine all the moving pieces of the world all at once. And then I collapse back in, and see how truly small I am, and am happy just to have taken this journey in thought across a small sheet of paper.

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