Present and Happy to be here
Can there be anyone more present and happy to be here than Stephen Hawking in zero g?
And can there be any greater poetry than Stephen Hawking slipping the surly bonds of gravity, when Hawking himself for 20 years held the same professorship once held by none other than Sir Isaac Newton, the first of our kind to formulate a meaningful theory of how gravity works?
Poverty and Murder
I take attendance at the top of my creativity class at USF each week, and when I call each student’s name I make them respond with an enthusiastic “Present and Happy to be Here!”
Because as my friend Professor Nathan Schwagler has pointed out, if you do the math on world poverty and starvation, and the murder rate, you conclude that at any given time there are probably more than 1 million people in the world who would gladly kill you in order to take your place.
Because life is about the paths we choose to walk down, and if you can’t say you’re fully present and happy to be here, then you should go choose another path.
This is as true for society as it is for the individual. What choices should we make in order to live long and prosper?
I am personally convinced that the universe is teaming with life and someday the aliens will land and when they do they won’t care much about our technology.
If they can master interstellar travel, they probably won’t be terribly impressed by the iphone 6s.
What they will judge us by, is our culture. They will care about our art; about our stories. They will want to know about our capacity for love and whether or not we attend gracefully to the weak and infirm among us.
Is it so bizarre to think that they will be auditioning us … either for admittance into the galactic ranks of mature, responsible civilizations… or as a cancer to be destroyed?
They will care about the path we’re on. They will want to examine our dreams. Ah yes, to sleep perchance to dream, there’s the rub.
Can you imagine what it would be like if you had absolute control of everything that happened in your dreams every night? If you could simply wish for something and then dream about it? In high fidelity?
Why, you’d be a god.
You’d be a god
When you discovered you had this power you would probably spend weeks or months engaging in all manner of hedonistic debauchery. No pleasure would be unattainable to you.
But after a time you would probably grow bored with that, so you might try risk taking, jumping off cliffs, firing yourself out of cannons, that sort of thing.
But eventually you would grow bored with even that.
Because a world of absolute control lacks the element of surprise. When you control everything, when you’re omniscient and omnipotent, there’s nothing to shock or amaze you.
So at some point you would design a dream in which you would enforce a sort of amnesia on yourself, so you could forget that you were god, so you would not know what comes next on the path, so that you could be surprised.
Hide and Seek
You would effectively play hide and seek with yourself. Every night. You would dream the dreams of surprise and amazement.
Is that who we are? Are we just god playing hide and seek with himself?
Is life but a dream?
Are we all just walking a path of willful ignorance just hoping to be surprised and amazed?
What happens next will amaze you
Because if you really pay attention, what happens next will amaze you. Every time. At its most fundamental, existence is just chock full of click bait.
The universe made itself into you.
14 billion years ago it was a cloud of hydrogen and today it’s you.
Why aren’t you more amazed by that?
NASA Control Room of the Mind
I’ll tell you why. It’s because you’re too busy paying attention to your own mind.
Your mind is like the NASA control room, full of sound and fury, with a multitude of voices clamoring for your attention.
“I wonder if that person likes me.”
“My bank account is overdrawn.”
“Did I leave the iron on?”
And in the back of it all, sits you, desperately trying to take it all in and make sense of it.
And it’s hard to be amazed at the beauty and poetry of life when you’re constantly distracted by the ravings of the lunatics in your head.
And those voices are full of anger and fear.
Fear is the universal language of your psyche. Fear is such a constant motivator in our lives that if fear didn’t confer the extraordinarily valuable selection advantage of preventing us from being eaten by tigers and falling off cliffs, it would clearly have constituted an evolutionary fumble of epic and tragic proportions.
Because fear and anger inject themselves into everything we do. Every choice we make, every path we walk down.
It is the master of fear and anger who is in control, who is free to be amazed at life.
Like the author of this Enso – this calligraphic circle that is traditionally hand-drawn in one or two uninhibited brushstrokes to express a moment when the mind is free to let the body create.
A free mind is one that is unburdened by fear and loathing.
Parable of the 2 monks
Two monks were walking through the forest when they came upon a princess fretting and complaining because she could not cross a stream without getting wet.
The elder monk walked over, picked her up, carried her across, and set her down on the other side.
Instead of thanking him, the princess walked off in a huff.
The monks continued on their path for while, until finally the younger monk blurted out, “Master, that girl was so rude! She didn’t even thank you for helping her!”
To which the elder replied, “I put her down 10 minutes ago. Why are you still carrying her?”
The peaceful, fearless mind, the mind that is ready to be amazed at what happens next, is the mind like a mirror.
When you step before a mirror, it reflects you without evaluating who you are or filtering its reflection of you through its preconceived notions. A mirror simply reflects your image.
Because we are so fearful, however, we evaluate everything we see to assess whether or not it will eat us instead of just being amazed by it.
We have very little insight into the operation of our minds.
Which brings up the thorny question of the 5 pound hunk of jelly right behind your face.
The brain is the hardware on which the mind operates.
The brain is made of matter. And like all things made of matter the brain is subject to the laws of physics.
But the trouble you see is that the laws of physics are really very strange, at the subatomic level.
At the subatomic level, nothing really exists in the classical sense.
Subatomic particles like electrons, photons, and quarks are merely probable to exist, unless they are interacting in some way with a conscious observer.
Let me restate: The particles that make up you and me and all that we can see don’t really come into being unless someone – some sentient human being – is paying attention to them.
The two slit experiment
We can test this to prove it is true.
When you shine a light at two slits you get lots of stripes because each photon of light passes through both slits at once and interferes with itself like a wave so we get these light and dark stripes.
But when you put a detector on the slits so an observer can tell which slit each photon actually goes through, the stripes disappear and you just get a smudge.
When we look at it, reality creates itself into existence for us.
Using photosynthesis, every leaf on every tree turns sunlight into food with near perfect efficiency.
When a photon of energy enters the cell it must be transferred around until it reaches a reaction center, and there are a multitude of paths the photon can take to get where it needs to be.
It turns out that the photon actually travels down all the paths simultaneously, and then retroactively chooses the one that was most efficient.
Red Pill, Blue Pill
Alas if only reality at the level of day to day human interaction permitted that level of take-backsies!
If only we could try every path simultaneously and then go back and choose the one that turned out to be the best.
Or perhaps the better claim is to let ourselves be content with the path we’re on.
It is OK to be amazed. This is not a dress rehearsal. This is the whole show. If you’re going to be amazed at anything, now is the time.
Life is the sum total of the choices we make. That in itself is pretty amazing.
We all, like Robert Frost, shall be telling this with a sigh, Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I… I took them both, like a photon.
And I am present and happy to be here.