The universe (he said) is the Great All, and offers a paradox too great for the finite mind to grasp. As the living brain cannot conceive of a nonliving brain – although it may think it can – the finite mind cannot grasp the infinite.
The prosaic fact of the universe’s existence alone defeats both the pragmatist and the romantic. There was a time, yet a hundred generations before the world moved on, when mankind had achieved enough technical and scientific prowess to chip a few splinters from the great stone pillar of reality. Even so, the false light of science (knowledge, if you like) shone in only a few developed countries. One company (or cabal) led the way in this regard; North Central Positronics, it called itself. Yet, despite a tremendous increase in available facts, there were remarkably few insights.
“Gunslinger, our many-times-great grandfathers conquered the disease-which-rots, which they called cancer, almost conquered aging, walked on the moon—
“I don’t believe that,” the gunslinger said flatly.
To this the man in black merely smiled and answered, “You needn’t. Yet it was so. They made or discovered a hundred other marvelous baubles. But this wealth of information produced little or no insight. There was no great odes written to the wonders of artificial insemination—having babies from frozen mansperm—or the cars that ran on power from the sun. Few if any seemed to have grasped the truest principle of reality: new knowledge leads always to yet more awesome mysteries. Greater physiological knowledge of the brain makes the existence of the soul less possible yet more probable by the nature of the search. Do you see? Of course you don’t. You’ve reached the limits of your ability to comprehend. But never mind—that’s besides the point.”
“What is the point, then?”
“The greatest mystery the universe offers is not life but size. Size encompasses life, and the Tower encompasses size. The child, who is most at home with wonder, says: Daddy, what is above the sky? And the father says: the darkness of space. The child: What is beyond space? The father: The galaxy. The child: Beyond the galaxy? The father: Another galaxy. The Child: Beyond the other galaxies? The father: No one knows.
“You see? Size defeats us. For the fish, the lake in which he lives is the universe. What does the fish think when he is jerked up by the mouth through the silver limits of existence and into a new universe where the air drowns him and the light is blue madness? Where huge bipeds with no gills stuff it into a suffocating box and cover it with wet weeds to die?
“Or one might take the tip of a pencil and magnify it. One reached the point where a stunning realization strikes home: The pencil tip is not solid; it is composed of atoms which whirl and revolve like a trillion demon planets. What seems solid to us is actually only a loose net held together by gravity. Viewed at their actual size, the distances between these atoms might become leagues, gulfs, aeons. The atoms themselves are composed of nuclei and revolving protons and electrons. One may step down further to subatomic particles. And then what? Tachyons? Nothing? Of course not. Everything in the universe denies nothing; to suggest an ending is the one absurdity.
“If you fell outward to the limit of the universe, would you find a board fence and signs reading DEAD END? No. You might find something hard and rounded, as the chick must see the egg from the inside. And if you should peck through that shell (or find a door), what great and torrential light might shine through your opening at the end of space? Might you look through and discover our entire universe is but part of one atom on a blade of grass? Might you be forced to think that by burning a twig you incinerate an eternity of eternities? That existence rises not to one infinite but to an infinity of them?
“Perhaps you saw what place our universe plays in the scheme of things – as no more than an atom in a blade of grass. Could it be that everything we can perceive, from the microscopic virus to the distant Horsehead Nebula, is contained in one blade of grass that may have existed for only a single season in an alien time-flow? What if that blade should be cut off by a scythe? When it begins to die, would the rot seep into our own universe and our own lives, turning everything yellow and brown and desiccated? Perhaps it’s already begun to happen. We say the world has moved on; maybe we really mean that it has begun to dry up.
“Think how small such a concept of things makes us, gunslinger! If a God watches over it all, does He actually mete out justice for a race of gnats among an infinitude of races of gnats? Does His eyes see the sparrow fall when the sparrow is less than a speck of hydrogen floating disconnected in the depth of space? And if He does see… what must the nature of such a God be? Where does He live? How is it possible to live beyond infinity?
“Imagine the sand of the Mohaine Desert, which you crossed to find me, and imagine a trillion universes—on worlds but universes—encapsulated in each grain of that desert; and within each universe an infinity of others. We tower over these universes from our pitiful grass vantage point; with one swing of your boot you may knock a billion billion worlds flying off into darkness, in a chain never to be completed.
“Size, gunslinger… size…
“Yet suppose further. Suppose that all worlds, all universes, met in a single nexus, a single pylon, a Tower. And within it, a stairway, perhaps raising to the Godhead itself. Would you dare climb to the top, gunslinger? Could it be that somewhere above all of endless reality, there exists a Room?…
“You dare not.”
And in the gunslinger’s mind, those words echoed: You dare not.
—1982, The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger, Stephen King
I’m not entirely sure what compelled me to share this today, well—actually—I know exactly what made me go back and search for this particular passage, and I suppose I know why I’, sharing it (because I now have a blog to do so on), but I’m not sure yet how much detail I plan on sharing with you in regards to that story.
Two people who read this will recognize the passage almost from the first words that they see. They were the ones who made me read it in the first place. Another person, whom probably has never read this blog, would probably never recognize this passage, but she is probably the reason, more than any other, that I’ve been thinking about this particular passage.
I’ve been loaning the streaming qualities of Netflix from a good friend of mine for quite some time. Recently, however, I have been spending much of my Netflix time watching nerdy documentaries, my recent preference being ones on astronomy and quantum physics, the latter of which has been blowing my mind to say the least.
Anywhosies, watching these documentaries, particularly the ones on quantum mechanics has forced me to think of things quite differently from how I used to, and it is the same way that the person that I referred to used to think and share with me.
The ideas that are present in this passage, although told by a fictional character in a fictional world, resonate quite clearly with the real world, or after reading that passage again, the “real world” as we know it.
The whole idea nothingness is impossible, is very hard for me to wrap my head around. We were always taught since we started learning about science, that an atom is the building block of all life. It is what makes cells, which make elements, which make compounds, which make everything we know to be real. But what are the building blocks of atoms, and what are the building blocks of those building blocks, and so on?
It goes against everything I grew up believing to be true and “real.”
It makes things that used to be important to me so incredibly insignificant and unimportant that it makes me feel like a child again, but at the same time it makes things that never seemed important to me at all, seem astronomically important.
Innocence is bliss; it’s a phrase I’ve grown up hearing my whole life, but I never really understood the meaning of it, or at least the meaning as I understand it now. More times than not, the phrase would be used if I was about to tell my mom about something I got away with when I was younger or how they never caught me sneaking out of the house while I was in high school, but now, those words do more to explain the human race to me than any other combination of words.
It explains why my mother cried when I told her that my faith in God is not as strong as it once was, almost nonexistent. It explains why when I told my parents why my beliefs have changed, and I use the knowledge I have gained from my life as support for my argument, they deny me entirely, deny logic, my mother much more than my father, saying they would rather believe what they believe than believe what they don’t and lose their sense of purpose in life.
I used to get so frustrated with them, and them with me, but I feel like rereading that passage has snuffed some of the frustration that I have had with them in the past.
“Few, if any, seemed to have grasped the truest principle of reality: new knowledge leads always to yet more awesome mysteries.” King says through the voice of Walter. “Greater physiological knowledge of the brain makes the existence of the soul less possible yet more probable by the nature of the search. Do you see? Of course you don’t. You’ve reached the limits of your ability to comprehend. But never mind—that’s besides the point.”
I may think that I understand the universe and the earth and existence more fully than my parents do, but all that means is that I know even less, because I’m continuously learning about things that are unanswered and never will be answered in my lifetime.
My parents have chose to believe in a system that has been designed to answer all of those questions through faith that the other system cannot answer through logic. Sometimes those two systems intersect, causing, at times, a butting of heads or a rare moment of agreement, but regardless of what happens, both are doing their best to explain the unexplainable, and to put some sort of finiteness on the infinite.
I owe a lot of these thoughts to the two people that made me read this book in the first place, and I definitely owe a lot to the one who first started having these conversations with me, however brief that period of time that we had those intimately personal conversations was. It made a profound impact on my life to say the least
I hope this little bloggy-blog has been pretty good so far. We’d love to hear suggestions on how to make it better, because we really know nothing about this stuff. We’re just havin’ fun.
And if you liked that passage and are considering reading the series… Just a heads up, the fourth book is the best, the two people I mentioned earlier who made me read these books would be very upset with me if I didn’t point out how much more superior the fourth book is to all of the other books. (Not my opinion, theirs.)