Sunday, December 28, 2008

Chapter 12, still faster, from way back then

So, I went to the library at Yale to search out some refreshment on my relativity theory. I got angry at the blatant propaganda in some of the more elementary texts. Science writers can sound pretty pompous to a doubter. Then I discovered my objection to the idea that space travelers speeding near the velocity of light return home younger than their counterparts on earth. It has a name -- the "twin paradox" or the "clock paradox". It's amazing and disturbing how easily we forget things -- I forget things. Somehow when this paradox bothered me before, I couldn't find evidence that it bothered anyone else. I was angry and impotent. I've puzzled over it for a long time. I must have come across the twin paradox before, but I'd forgotten.

It's rather silly to just think of things and let them bother you when you don't have the means to understand. I should leave these problems to the physicist who understands them. My anger turned to contrition and remorse. I began to be convinced again that I was terribly misled -- that my life has been a waste, as my advisor so clearly told me when I veered from the straight and narrow. Science is the only important study. Or if not science, then at least gain some expertise in some field so you know what you talk about. I haven't learned anything well. I only speak English fluently. My life has been a shambles of scattered experiences.

I learned some interesting things browsing through the shelves. About the relativity of electric and magnetic fields to explain -- or rather establish the consistency of -- foreshortening. I learned about information-carrying waves that travel, or oscillate, at a speed greater than the speed of light. They can't carry energy because of the absolute limit of the speed of light, but if there are information carrying waves, then everything changes. They might belong to another universe with different limits. But it's still a theory, and we can't know yet. I also found what promised to be a simple resolution of the twin paradox, and settled down to do away with it. I was convinced. It was rather simple. The experts are right again.

There were a lot of explanations that bothered me a bit. But the author anticipated my disturbance and always went a step further. I'd forgotten just how willing I was to be convinced, the first time I encountered relativity. Then, it was a revelation. It angered me at the stupidity of a world that acted as if it didn't know. But I was in the hands of the scientists who'd discovered and explained and explored the phenomena. It was only slowly that I became angry with the scientists for allowing the new truth to be fit into old metaphors. Now I was coming at the theory with an unwillingness, and what had been delightful and exciting was limiting me.

I sat there dejected that my feeling of being limited was misplaced. I'd only limited my own understanding by not continuing with physics. But the paradox kept eating at me. There were mathematical proofs that I couldn’t face puzzling out. I was as sure as anybody that when a spaceman leaves earth and returns, he's aged less than his fellows on earth. Some said the paradox was dissolved because the traveler wasn't in an inertial time frame -- which would be necessary for the special theory of relativity. The general theory which covers the acceleration of the space-man as he turns around to come back, and as he leaves the earth and stops there again, is apparently in dispute. One book assured me that the math would prove that the theory of difference in aging would hold very neatly with the general theory. I couldn't argue.

Yet it bothered me. Acceleration slows time relative to a non-accelerated framework. And gravity is equivalent to acceleration according to the general theory. So perhaps the acceleration of turning around would slow the time of the traveler down, relative to the homebound, enough to solve the problem. I couldn't puzzle out the math. But one book attempted to dispatch the paradox without recourse to the general theory. This dispatch involved the reminder that time is conventional or relative to a frame of reference, and not absolute. It did some chicanery with points of view from home base and destination and tried to show its maintenance of consistency. But I couldn't quite buy. To me, in a relativistic universe, there could be no difference between the homebound and the traveler. They would both be moving relative to one another.

Take the case of two spaceships that depart in opposite directions from one another; pass through no gravitational fields, follow identical preset flight paths, and then meet again. They've had identical experiences, but it's unde­niable that, according to the theory, they would face the paradox of the appearance of greater time having passed for oneself than for the other. It would be a mutual incommen­surability. Of course, this is meaningless abstraction, since spaceships don't just materialize in places without gravitational fields -- there's no such place in the uni­verse. And even if there were, they wouldn’t have any roadmarks or points of reference to get back to one another. They'd have to keep in contact the whole time for the exper­iment to have any meaning. The distance they could travel away from one another would simply be a function of their ability to maintain contact. Distance would have no other meaning. Actually, in this abstraction, I doubt distance would have any meaning at all. Nor of course would anything else.

Or take the case of the traveler who ages only two and one half years during a twenty-five light-year journey. This is borrowed from some text. I can't remember for sure, but I think he is traveling at ninety percent of the speed of light as measured relative to earth. He knows his destination to be twenty-five light-years away when he leaves. News of his departure would have preceded him to his destination accord­ing to the difference between his speed and the speed of light. That news must take twenty-five earth years to arrive, but it will be dated only two and one half years prior to his arrival. The news of his arrival will precede him by two and one half years. Presumably he knows it to have taken twenty-five years to arrive. But if we suppose him to have aged only two and one half years during the journey, then from his point of view the news of his arrival will have traveled faster than the speed of light. Especial­ly when you consider that from his point of view, the earth is aging more slowly than he is.

From his point of view, two and a half years will have passed by the time he reaches a destination he knows to have been twenty five light years away when he left. OK, so it's just the effects of his high rate of travel. I'm sure I can be proved wrong by mathematical calculation. But calculation depends on the choice of where it is applied. The most powerful machinery is useless without some foundation to check its power. A lever long enough will move the earth only if there is a sturdy enough fulcrum. The same calcula­tions that are applied to prove me wrong, if applied by the space-man would have to indicate that something twenty-five light years away is twenty-five light years away. If he is in transit and it is to take him only two and one half years, then the nature of his destiny must have changed so as to make it closer than it had appeared prior to departure. That's fine from the earth's point of view -- nothing will have changed except the time convention in this incommen­surate frame of reference.

But in his frame of reference, the object of his travel will have to have changed. It cannot be twenty-five light years distant, if he is to reach there in only two and one half. If fact, for him, the nearer he approaches the speed of light, the more all destination becomes instantaneously achieved. At the speed of light, there would be no time for the spaceman. All the matter of the universe would have become energy -- not just because of the relativistic shift -- but it would have had to be converted into energy just in order to propel him. The whole universe would be energy on his behalf. And all the material destinations would be instantaneously achieved. There would be no time between one and the next. They would, in fact, have been subsumed within his being. He would be all destiny. Who knows how the universe would appear? We would have been destroyed in the effort at his speed. Not just from his point of view. From our own, we know that all the matter in the universe must be exhausted to propel him -- and that includes us.

Science is uncomfortable with paradoxes. It tries to dissolve them. All language is uncomfortable with paradox -- and usually ignores it. That is the necessity for carrying on. But all language depends on paradox. At its root, all existence is paradox. Ultimately, for science, the paradox that is most fearful, and most essential, is the paradox of self and other. There cannot be one without the other. Black is incommensurate with white. Here with there. Up with down. Life with death. Good with evil. Incommen­surate, but indivisible. Language and existence depend on it. To erase the distinction is to erase existence.

But science, secretly, seeks to erase the distinction. It would make the other into the self. How? Well, I know myself because I know what I feel -- perceive-- and I know what falls under my will. I can move my fingers and feel with my skin. I do this by a very meager understanding. But beyond that meagerness, I can see things that are far away according to visual language. I can effect things far away through the manipulation of my body and its extended instruments. Perfect scientific knowledge would render all accidents perceivable and all events controllable, such that all that is other can be rendered unto the self. The perfect knowledge is a perfect mastery of one's destiny. An ability to perceive perfectly the order of the universe.

Science doesn't pretend to perfection. It is on a journey with that as its Holy Grail. No one expects to find it. But the journey is everything. Not only can't we reach the stars along this journey; we can never render the other-ness of the earth unto ourselves. The examples are myriad, though they aren't proofs. The attempt to bring the earth's environment under our control will only poison us. We simply haven't the means to replace the earth's natural equilibrium-keeping devices with our own. For every piece of land we wrest from nature's grip, we gain a realm of unwanted vassalage. It's ours. We control it. But what then? ' It's us and the other which had sustained us now rebels. It throws its maintenance hard-put to the task of subsuming us back into it. We would be rendered back into the otherness of nature to become once more not ourselves. Dust.

And if we succeed, the otherness of the universe would do battle against us. We would become a world -- totally self contained and self-regulating -- all food would be manufactured according to our intimate understanding of the chemical balances in our body -- and we would have cast ourselves off from the sustaining web of nature. The only difference from our present ecologically balanced spaceship earth would be that we would be in control. The only accidents would come from somewhere other than earth. Outer space?? Nonsense.

Is it really possible? Are synthetic vitamins equivalent to natural ones? Yes, say the scientists, of course. But who in the universe has subsisted totally on man-made products? Nature penetrates even our ruses. The eggs we force unnaturally out of a chicken are still from a chicken. The plants we infect with chemicals to turn them into bags of water are still plants. Even if we replace the soil they grow from, their chemical composition is ultimately beyond us.

Not in the future, say the scientists. What future? They have a lot of faith.

When all the vast library of nature which contains more information than was ever captured by man in words has been rendered obsolete by its replacement with scientific knowledge -- what will be left to know? We may discover the chemical make-up of a bacterium, but that may be all that is left.

But science doesn't kill all the species -- man does that with his technology. But where's the distinction? Are scientists removed from the community of man so that they aren't responsible? They know why species are extinguished. They turn their head the other way in the blissful ignorance of those who can claim not to know what the future holds.

Or is it the scientists turning their heads? Maybe we won't listen to them. Perhaps many of them are trying to tell us what needs to be done. How to effect the stability of the earth once again. How to keep from crashing. There are ecologists. But they don't fit the mythology. We want scientists who act the role of high priests. Not scientists who tell us that it's up to us to understand. Some scien­tists fall into the role, and forget their humility. I imagine that most remain humble. It is not a proud position to watch the careening trajectory of the earth -- to be able to see clearly what is happening, and to have the drivers, the owners, turn their willful blindness on your cries. The scientists will be made martyrs by a blindness that is not theirs alone. It really isn't necessary.

"This is getting insane!!"

Not quite. I'm frightened and angry and excited. I can't find my way out of the web of words. I'm stuck. I'm stuck.

"You want to be insane!"

I want to know.


I want to know that knowledge is impossible. I want to know how to have faith. This is me. This boat that I live in. I put it together. I control it. I feel it. But it remains intractable. It has its own substance and is other than me. But so is my body. It has diseases and spots that I don't know. It is intractable. But it is myself. There is no other. Not my brain or my mind -- but everything. There is no division at the skin. There is only the dividing up of words words words.

"Stop. Do something else. Read a book. You'll go insane."

I will. But there is something more. We are always afraid of what is other because we can't trust it. We get the answers we want. We look into the face of the other and we read there sometimes trust in what we are. And we are not sure that this trust is warranted, because we have not been able to trust ourselves. We can never know when we have gotten the answer we want because we wanted it or because it was offered. We may manipulate, or be manipulated, but where is the true trust when self and other meet on equal terms?

There may be mutual manipulation. Poet's stare at the otherness of the world and find there a response. It is sometimes frightening. They know that something has been given them, but society tells them to copyright. To own. They are told that this thing that has been given is theirs because they have brought it into being with their control. But they know that it was given, and they have no right to possess it. They know that their words are not their own. They cherish the mind that acts as a doorway.

But there is always fear. The door may close. The love may prove false. The other may close its heart. The mind is not in the head. It is everything that is self. The body partakes in fear, and refuses to offer itself where impossible crossings are proposed. The body hangs back while the rest screams for deliverance.

There are many homosexual poets. That bothers some, and causes others to chuckle. But I know the pain that grips their soul. Not pity. But a fear of what is other because of a terrible mistrust of the self. I have slept with men. It is always manipulation. What else could it be? Sometimes it is mutual. There can be no harm. I was raped once, though. I didn't know it. I couldn't have known. A mild and insignificant rape. The simple matter of manipulating the self in blindness toward the other. I have never been able to reach orgasm with another man, though I value the crossing of the barrier of withheld intimacy.

It is difficult to cross that barrier. I could not do it without being seduced. I am shy, but I am trusting. And it is easy to swallow my fear. It is as difficult to cross the barrier of taboo that would have kept these matters secret. But I am seduced by honesty, because it has begun to reveal some of its secrets. Worlds are closed out only by ourselves. The only honesty that matters is the ability to trust oneself. Everything must be told.

I cannot blind myself to the fiction of the skin. There are no true barriers, and no true taboos. But worlds are closed off by the refusal to see. And clear vision requires trust in oneself -- and only trust. There is nothing evil in transgression. It is only when there is the possibility for trust, and it is withheld. That is the only evil. I cannot be homosexual. I am not. I have been curious. Now I fear that all otherness revealed will be sinful transgression for me. I may yet learn to trust myself too well. The man for whom too much is revealed exists with the danger of manipulating every other.

Love is a connection yet to be revealed. The emotion preceding consummation is always painful, because it is the recognition of a severed part. One is suddenly not whole when smitten. It is the pain of severing one's hand, though it is not a physical pain. There is nothing one can do. To seduce the object of one's love; to manipulate her into loving, would be the only sure way to destroy the possibility for true consummation and connection. Seduction is only safe when both are honest. The hand has been cut-off and manipulation is impossible. I fear that I will never be made whole. Such is the pain of opening the heart. But to keep it closed is far far worse.

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