Saturday, November 15, 2008

Chapter Nine-teen Eighty Three

I want to live responsibly, I thought to myself that fall when I returned to school on the motorcycle. I want to be an adult. A real adult. I don't want to excuse myself from what goes wrong, and I don't want to take pride in what I accomplish. I want to take the responsibility.

Einstein was responsible. He knew that he had only uncovered something that lay waiting in the fabric of science. He hadn't invented something -- it was already there. Even so, he felt responsible when the world took his discovery and began a march for destruction with it. He didn't dissociate himself. He called the mistake for what it was. And what of the other scientists? Where is their responsibility? They would have you believe that their discoveries are neutral -- that they were already there in the material world, and that they aren't responsible for what's made of them.

Yes. But then why haven't they told us what they've really found? Not that there is some new power that can level whole cities. We'll just go ahead and compare it to what we already know. How many sticks of TNT does it add up to? What kind of power can it give us? What kind of wealth?

Why didn't they tell us what they really discovered? That the world doesn't relate to anything we already know. That the old metaphors are inadequate and that what they have done is to upset the very basis for making them. They haven't discovered a new power. They've discovered a new world, and then washed thier hands of it when the reckless driver lurched away.

I was angry with the scientists. I was angry with my own childishness. I was angry. And yet I would accept my ignorance and enroll in their courses until I knew enough of their language to say with authority what I had to say. I had a vague feeling of wanting to become a scientist and make my own discoveries, but a more definite, and even chastened, feeling of wanting to know why they hadn't told. Where was I being misled? What did they know that I don't?

Nothing, I decided for good -- forever. after two weeks when I dropped out

How noble would that have been. In reality, I had overestimated my preparation and ability and underestimated the power of the new distractions I had found my freshman year. I had been admitted to more prestigious technical schools than Yale, hadn't I? I had exceptional aptitude --that was proven. So I enrolled in courses that were too difficult, and found that my attention was incomplete.

It may have been possible to surmount the difficulties, but you can't do something -- anything -- without truly wanting to. Even if you know you don't want to, things are possible when their purpose is clear. Drudgery that has an end is simple. If a degree is important, then the way there is relatively easy. But I wanted an education; not a degree. I was adamant on that. And I found the math which once had come so easily all reduced to a blur. I was good in labs. They were interesting, and there I was as quick as ever at picking up the principles involved. But my mind was too full of meanings in the classroom to be able to take in the detail.

And I didn't do the work. I was too angry, and my anger led to depression and I wanted out. I remember times as a child when I was suffering some emotional hurt or confusion. I had an embarrassing habit of going off somewhere to hide. I wanted my absence felt, but I wanted to remain undiscovered. It was awful when I was found. The shame at my childishness almost eclipsed the weight of the wrong I had felt done me. I must have been twisted by an inkling that I hadn't really been wronged. Or that the explanation and apologies that would follow my tears would overcome the wrong. I wanted my hurt to be real. So I couldn't show it. And if I stayed, I couldn't not show it. So I disappeared.

I hid under some chairs or in some special and impossible hide-out and relished the pain of the first few hours or minutes that I wasn't even missed. They didn't care! Then they began to search and I began to feel bad --stupid. It was too late to come out of hiding; they'd recog­nized the duration of my absence, and it was all getting to be something of a pattern. When it started, I would just crouch in the corner -- ostrich like -- in an absurd implementation of what was only germinal. Then as the pattern became more real, I would find ever more remote hiding places. It was getting more serious. My need to feel real was finding outlets less ridiculous than the ostrich and more in tune with an adult world which always knew where you really were and what you were really doing.

I cried some. But mostly I disappeared. It wasn't that tears weren't responded to. But they must have been a little frightening. Perhaps they seemed too real. When I was very young, my mother cried a lot. She got little sympathy. I think my father was afraid to admit his responsibility in her tears, or he genuinely didn't understand them. The kids were whisked off to clean the basement or something. When we asked why Mommy was crying, my father just said, "Oh, she's just silly." Sometimes he would try to get us on his side, "Don't you think it's silly to cry about burned meat." And we would always be on his side. Because he was fun and because his explanations always seemed reasonable.

But my mother's tears were real, and we knew it, so they scared us. She's told me about one time that my older brother came up and asked me "Why is Mommy cwying?" "She's cwying because she's a slave," I answered authoritatively. I must have heard her say that. We'd gotten somewhat used to her crying, and there always had to be an explanation. My mother tells me she burst out laughing then. But her tears were real, and the reasons for them were probably simply that my father didn't know how to respond to them. They were unreasonable. And so my tears were turned to laughter with a tickle or a joke, and I learned that my pains were not real -- that is, they were unreasonable.

And so it has continued. My pains must not be real. They are the squealing of a brat who has been dealt a smaller piece of cake. I cannot suffer. I've been given everything. I grew up in the suburbs with a clean bathroom, lots of love and attention; recreation -- a taste of nature. I had my successes and my loves. I had my triumphs. I was sent to "the best school in the country" -- not because someone else wanted it, but because I wanted to go there. I had my choice. I had so much freedom. I lived in America which uses half of the world's resources for its pleasure, and I had my bicycle and my car and my motorcycle. I have my boat now, and I can't cry. I haven't cried for an eternity because I want my pain to be real and it isn't real.

I just disappear. The natural endpoint for my progression toward ever more subtle hiding places would be suicide. I thought of that often when I left school. But I'd thought of that before, and knew of its childishness; its evasion of responsibility. I became subtler still. I would change my name. I would lose myself through the mock staging of a suicide and then be finally free. I didn't know that I wanted pain -- or perhaps I did. I would be penniless and have only the clothes on my back. I would crawl out the other side of whatever river I'd drowned myself in and emerge a new man.

In my fantasies I became very elaborate. I would drown in the Niagara River where I could retrieve some scuba gear I'd planted on the bottom. Then I would emerge across the border in Canada. A new man. A new Name. Free at last of all the untold and unspoken pressures of the name I'd been given. My pain would be real, for I'd have nowhere to turn. My failures would leave me utterly lost. My successes would owe no guilt. My loves would know nothing of my past or promised future. They would know only me me me.

It wasn't for lack of courage that I didn't erase my name. It was, rather, that force which pulls the spectator at his own funeral out of his dream. He pities himself for a bit, but in the end can't bear the unnecessary pain. He knows that his disappearance has been noticed. Is there a way back to the unbound freedom of the babe whose cord has just been tied? Bah! What freedom? These are my flesh and blood. My name is me. Without them there is nothing -- can be nothing. A babe cast-off in the world dies as surely as if he'd never been born. There's nothing on the other side of the river. Far better to cry out your pain and believe that it's real.

But I can't. There's only one passage that may be made without desire -- and that's the passage of death to the other side of life. All doors which are opened without feeling lead there. And if you desire death, you desire a myth. But to believe in the myth. To make it real by belief. Then you might die in peace. Or you might go insane.

I am tied to my family and their cares. But how earn the birthright and still be true to myself? How simply to be true to my name? How achieve clarity and desire to love without eradicating all my past. Perhaps I had already crossed the River and was lost. My vision was blurred. I was a ghost within myself. All goals were borrowed, and I had to act the role of the name I'd been given because, for whatever reason, I couldn't leave it. My mother cried when I left school, and I didn't know how to respond.

To my father I could and did respond. They were rationalizations I believed myself. I had to make them to myself because there was my father within, and to that father my mother was but a slave. I didn't know how or where to turn for a simple expression of the pain I felt within. There had to be a reason for my leaving school. I placed it on the door of a world which was polluting itself to death. On an America which was choking the rest of the starving world with its senseless wealth. On a mythos whose apocalypse would only be a nuclear Armageddon. I was profound and I was lucid and I was reasonable and I convinced my father within and my mother, who heard only the pain and that was enough. And I convinced myself, but didn't know what to do. To crusade. To fight the establishment. To tell the world what I had to say. These were all actions that compelled me on occasion --but always left me as with my physics courses -- confused and without having done the work.

There must have been something else. A man bottled up in depression is disappearing. But you have to feel something before it is real. I had started to tell of a time as a child when I was hurt. Then I got carried away about hiding. But I was going to tell of a different response --not hiding from the world, but blocking the world out.

I was sitting on the couch before dinner. I may have felt guilty for having watched television all afternoon -- an internal guilt because I knew that I would have rather done something else. I was always involved with some project or other. But I was susceptible to the narcotic of television. I could get hooked, and was confused that I had thus wasted the day.

Or it may have been a hurt that I feared to show by crying, In any case I sat on the couch in a quiet detached state and slowly went blind. I panicked, but did not move. I squinted and stared and could not make anything visible. No. I could not announce my blindness. It was a noble suffering. I was called to dinner. I made my way there in a non-chalant manner by feel and by the blurs that had begun to show light from dark.

"Is anything the matter, honey?"

"No, I'm fine." spat out in heavy childish annoyed twang -- like a brat. Leave me alone. Leave me alone. Let me pretend I can see. I don't want your sympathy and understanding. Don't make a fuss. This isn't real. It'll pass.

But I was terrified. I took up my milk. I ate my dinner. I felt normal -- none of the fuzziness I was to feel much later in my life. I coluldn't believe that I could just be blind. I ran to my room and cried into the pillow until -- with some relief and some regret -- my vision was restored.

So with depression, I had closed out the world. I believed my rationalizations, but they didn't touch me. I didn't feel the pain I so eloquently declared. I wasn't moved to rally to any cause. If one had happened along -- if someone had understood my qualities and called my name -- I would have thrown my full energies behind the task. But no one did, and I didn't know what to do. I ended up working for my father as a bookkeeper.

"This is all untrue. It's out of sequence. I know you well enough to know that. You're being untrue to yourself --and unfair."

Are you becoming kind?

"Tell the truth. Tell the accomplishments -- the confirmations. Don't dig a pit for yourself."

I was lost. I began to fantasize about how thoroughly I would resurrect myself with the writing of this, and lost the thread. You know, I begin to feel I'm saying something. Things come together and then whammo, I become proud and it dissolves.

"Wait a minute. Are you writing your life or is it writing you? Saying it doesn't make it true. Why don't you go back a bit. I was interested about physics. Something you said about fitting a new world into old analogies."

Ah, I was interested in that too. Always to get lost by what interests me along the way. I forget where I started. You know, I only just thought of that when I wrote it -- the reason for my anger, I mean. But that really was the reason. New words to reify an old feeling that had no clear expression. The rest was rationalization -- an attempt to express what is not yet expressible because it hasn't been lived and felt and realized. I felt the anger. I knew something was missing from the physicists' expression of their lives. But I couldn't have found the words because I didn't know anything about metaphor. I only knew about truth.

A rational expression is different from a rationalization. A rational expression follows the knowing. I rode my bike. I study to be a lawyer because I want to be rich. The world is this way because when I do this it does that. But you know the truth first because you've felt it. A rationalization comes before knowledge or in place of it. I can't help it. I do this because that's the way the world is. I study law because I want to save the world. Rationalizations are conditioned by what is desired -- or required. They don't express truth, they invent it; no matter how truthful or eloquent or convincing they are made. Most of the time there's no way to tell the difference.

"Wait a minute. I protest. You're not kidding there's no way to tell the difference. I wish you'd quit inventing definitions."

Perhaps I have to rediscover the definitions for myself.

"You've discovered squat! Since when is there any difference in the truth about a lawyer going to school to get rich and one who's going to save the world?"

I was hoping you'd pick up on that. Actually, I don't think there is any. That is, there's a big difference in the two people, but little difference in the rational quality of their claims. They're both rationalizations. A young law student can't know he's going to get rich any more than he can know how to save the world. The first statement seems to contain less bullshit because if he's a good student in a good school he can probably get rich if he wants to. More properly, he should say I know that I want to get rich. Anything he says about law school expresses a hope or rationalization. I have no patience with that myself. I would go to law school if I were passionately interested in the law.

"You're so noble."

I'm trying to be honest, and to escape rationalization.

"What about your depression? What can you say about that?"

Sometimes I was honest, and just admitted that I was depressed. That was all I knew. But I always had to find a reason before I could find a way out.

"But the only ways out you ever found were through doing something, whatever came along?"


"Say, what does all this chat have to do with physics?"

I was getting to that. It was a shock for me to discover relativity theory and quantum physics. The world of Newton was real to me. It was confirmed by every action I took and everything I observed. I wasn't sure what connection there was between these things and those very tiny and very far away in time and space. But it all unsettled the reality. After all, Newton's world was subsumed in the relativistic world, not destroyed. The world I knew didn't have to stop making sense -- it just couldn't be taken for truth.

I had taken Newton's physics as a rational statement about the way the world is. Now it seemed that it was a rationalization about the way we believed it to be. I was doubly nonplussed because I was enough taken in by words to allow the new reality to sweep away the old -- despite what my senses seemed to tell me, and because that very thing made me suspicious of words. Did I experience Newton's world because I believed it: Or did it go the other way around? And Newton's world is built on words too. Perhaps things were made invisible in fact by omission from the theory. It was very disturbing. There is matter and there is energy. There are laws. We feel -- perceive -- matter. But we perceive other things too. The sadness of a face. The beauty of a mountain. What is it if not perception?

These things don't matter in physics. They're left to other fields. But this reality suffers, it would seem, as a consequence. All right, I don't want to follow that. But I felt better with a relativistic universe. It dissolved the brick wall at the end of infinity -- or rather it gave infinity a new quality. For the first time I knew that the limits of the universe were the limits of my mind. I couldn't conceive of any but three-dimensional space plus time --space-time -- and so I wasn't bothered by infinity. Within the four dimensions that I could conceive, I knew -- I accepted the proofs -- that the origin and the end are identical. That is the old (by now) principle that if you look far enough long enough You'll see the back of your head.

This is no great discovery. Every simple person knows that his mind is limited, and that this limit limits his universe. Only an idiot would attempt the impossible. And we all know that simple people have an easier time making it into heaven. But sometimes simple people make the mistake of believing that their universe is limited, while someone else's isn't. So they think truth is a matter for experts. And the experts are fooled too, by the adulation of the simpletons. They think they're dealing with truth.

So physicists ignore the identity of origin and end. They ignore the limits of their minds. Big bang is the origin. Who knows what's at the end? Sure, the origin and end aren't really identical. This isn't a mathematical universe. Curved space-time doesn't have a smooth "spherical" quality. And if you look long enough far enough you won't see the back of your head because you'd have been gone by countless eons, even ignoring the fact that all the intervening matter which is what really determines the shape of the universe will have transformed over those same eons. Light takes time to travel. So the origin and the end are identical only abstractly.

And what's wrong with ignoring the limits of your mind? That's how all great discoveries are made. That really is what the process of transformation really is. But there is a big difference between ignoring the limits of your mind in a proud manner and ignoring them humbly. The proud ignoramus believes that with his mind he will transcend its limits. The humble one knows that his mind is naturally limited and might playfully tease it into new realizations. He doesn't attempt to use something that is limited to uncover something without limits. He laughs at absolutes. The humble man is the bold knower. He knows what he knows.

The relativistic universe certainly changed my thinking. First of all, the universe becomes unknowable without transcending certain limits which seemed to me absolute. It wasn't a brick wall any more at the end of the universe; it was a different dimensional structure of which we can't conceive. Furthermore, that kind of nothingness has a wholly different quality than space -- or vacuum -- which is defined by distances between objects or matter. What can't be conceived literally can't exist and so it didn't bother me. Or rather it liberated me because it limited my need for speculation. Anything was possible.

There were more ordinary changes. The problems of equating mass and energy are enormous. It means that the speed of light is an absolute limit which can be approached but never achieved. As that speed is progressively approached, eventually all the matter -- all the energy of our four dimensional cosmos -- would have to be consumed in the acceleration. It becomes absurd. We're stuck, man. There's no escape. In our common sense Newtonian way, we all know how much energy it would take to move a hundred of us to the moon. What we don't know is that beyond that you come to years and millions of years of time -- beside the energy. Nobody seems to remember that there isn't much good in escaping if you can't come back to tell about it. We think about hibernating or freezing ourselves, but the world would be so different upon awakening that you might as well have gone on to a different world in a straight line.

And there's no space when mass and energy are equated. There is no place in the universe where someplace -- a star or something -- is not visible. That very visibility indicates the presence of photons -- light waves or wavicles. Light is a form of energy which is only different from matter depending on point of view. If there is some space that is truly out of touch, then there is no sense imagining that it would be in any way part of the universe. Space becomes inconceivable.

But I got stumped there anyway. Physics books are full of examples of the guy who flies near the speed of light and returns to earth much younger than his comrades who stayed behind on earth. I couldn't get it. In a relativistic universe, nobody's privileged. Earthtime should be slower relative to the time in the spaceship and vice-versa. A consequence of the equation of mass and energy is that time slows for any matter that is in motion relative to any observer. From the point of view of the space traveler, the earth could be considered to be in motion. They couldn't meet again because their points of view would clash irreconcilably. You can't have an old man and a young man who look different to the other than they conceive themselves to be. You can't have two things at once, can you?

Even if it were technologically and economically feasible to get beyond the grasp of mother earth's time convention, you could never make it back. You'd be inconceivable to the earthlings.

I've puzzled on that one for hours. I wanted to make the physics books right. Maybe it was the acceleration. You can't get away from earth and back without starting and stopping, and without turning around. Some physics books point out that this does away with the paradox. General relativity deals with acceleration. Time is slowed during acceleration, and in that sense acceleration is equivalent to gravity. Apparently the math works out so that the traveler comes back younger, but I can't quite buy it.

Keep an open mind. The results of relativity are so astounding, that you must be truly open-minded to accept them at all. But now we have been trained to be open-minded, and the astounding result becomes dogma. There's no such thing as a perpetually open mind. Results clung to, no matter how astounding, may in the clinging turn to lies. The mind closes by its very attempt to remain open. Of course time is slowed at very high speeds. I know it's hard to imagine, but (heh, heh) you've got to open your mind. Not everybody can do that, I guess. There are so many dumb slobs in the world.

I really pity them. It's nice to be elite.

Still, we have traveled to the moon and back. Even though the speeds reached were well within the limits that Newtonian physics can describe accurately, there must have been a miniscule relativistic effect. I doubt the astronauts or anyone else could feel it, but they must be out of synch. How much? A fraction of a second? A world? It couldn't mean anything to us. We kept contact the whole way and back. Nobody forgot them.

We can't know what would happen if contact were ever lost. We have no contact with matter approaching the speed of light. All there is is energy then. From the point of view of energy, maybe we look like energy. Who can know? Ail you can do is theorize -- rationalize. Until you know --and then a new rationalization.

I'm groping. I don't have the energy to be consistent in my understanding of physics. I'm too anxious. I use terms that are fuzzy and slip back and forth between language appropriate to Newtonian physics and the different terms appropriate to relativity. I'm bothered by something about limits. About possibilities claimed that seem to me impossible. I'm going to bed.

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