There was once this pretty stupid rock that was hanging out in outer space and then was suddenly drawn towards a bigger but equally stupid rock, because of something a guy called Newton happened to notice. When it got really close to this big rock, some weird thing called friction burnt it up; and someone looking at it from that really big rock was left astounded.
The shooting star is the coolest thing that I have ever seen so far. It was like a spark in the sky, and it lasted for like two seconds. Two seconds that I was sure that I was never going to forget. And two seconds that I already almost have. It has too much emotion behind it to express in something as measly a medium as prose, and even poetry seemed inadequate. It needs something like a telepathic mind-meld, for all of its beauty to come out. Till such technology is invented, this is the best I can do. The shooting star did a lot of things to me, and one of them was to make me ask all those questions that we stubbornly ignore because we are utterly unable to find an acceptable answer to them. You know those questions, and many have tried to answer them, but no one not even Buddha or Douglas Adams have entirely succeeded. Questions about everything - creation, life, love, universe, god, destiny, karma and of course, above all else, about being. And I am not the first. To my immense surprise, pleasure, and ever so pleasing amazement, I came across this in a moving article about the Columbia disaster.
When asked about how her Indian identity helped her in her great achievement, Kalpana Chawla replied, “…in summers, while growing up in India, we often slept in the courtyard under the stars. We gazed dreamily at the Milky Way, and once in a while caught some shooting stars. Times like those gave me the opportunity to wonder and ask all those basic questions. The sense of awe for the heavens started there…”
This ‘sense of awe’ for the heavens starts everything. If you haven’t seen a shooting star, then you will not know what this feels like, but believe me, this ‘sense of awe’ is the most damning thing that you will ever feel. Simply because there is this infinite enigma staring at you in the face, but you and all the concentrated energies of the entire mankind (and dogs and chimps) are utterly insufficient to ever even hope to fathom space. And this awe starts off with you asking all the questions. Questions that would never have been asked if the answers existed. There is an explosion of thought in your brain, and you cannot handle it.
First of all, the next time you look at the sky, don’t just see all the stars twinkling out there, which in itself is an amazing sight. What you need to do, is feel our universe, get a sense of its sheer magnitude. Look at yourself, as standing on this really infinitesimal rock we call the earth, and looking out into an infinite space. And then, you will see the universe in perspective, the stars are no longer like a blanket over the world, but they finally seem like really massive balls of flame, gradually blowing up in different portions of the sky. The universe literally explodes into your head. And that’s when the damning awe creeps in.
I stopped writing at that point for almost a week. It really has too much emotion behind it. In this article, I am in a line, expressing the awe. I am not trying to answer any of the questions, but merely asking them again, just to share the basic disturbance that they create to the mind.
The mind is almost as enigmatic as space. Probably more. Humans have been carrying brains around everywhere, and have been carrying a pretty good one for almost eight thousand years, and yet we know almost nothing about it. Let alone its various facets, or what we call a mind, soul, personality, attitude et cetera. We know this much, or we think it from the beginning because the alternative would be a really scary one; we know that we have a life. We know that we are fundamentally different from rocks, or rather that rocks are fundamentally different from us. And this fundamental distinction lies in the fact that rocks certainly don’t have a brain. But… here lies the catch - is a brain necessary to have a mind? Why are we so damn adamant about this, even when we do not know, for absolute surety, what in hell a brain or a mind is? And even where a definite distinction between the two can be drawn? If the mind gives us life, as we claim it to, then what follows is that rocks are non-living and that we are living. This is something that we were taught ever since we were sucking thumbs and trying to eat rocks.
And yet, now on hindsight, all my basic ideas have been staggeringly questioned because a filthy rock that couldn’t manage to stay away from those that were too big for it to handle. Humans, (and as possibly sociozoologists will soon find out, chimps and dogs too) have a clear distinction between living and the non-living. The human opinion is divided on whether or not to concede a mind or to use a stronger word, a soul to these pongid or canine cousins, but any ((supposedly) sane) given human on this planet would definitely not concede a brain to as distant a cousin as say, Mt. Everest, even though really really long back, we all came from the same place. So basically, as we have seen, we humans associate the existence of a mind directly to the existence of a brain. And since Mt. Everest doesn’t appear to move on its own accord, and since it certainly doesn’t have a biological brain, we have no problem whatsoever in believing that Mt. Everest has no soul, and what clearly follows is that any freak of a person who does, indeed think that Mt. Everest is a living entity, is immediately locked up in a safe institution with white doors and padded walls.
You may, also be thinking that I am a fanatic who should have been in an institution myself, and then I seriously do not have a defense. Wonderful things like shooting stars do that to you. However there is no flaw in the argument. If you are wondering about motivated mobility then, I ask you, if it is too fantastic to assume that the brain has a control over a body but a mind has no control over it? Can’t this great mountain just sit there and think and contemplate and feel, and even ask questions on existence?
If you define life, not by the existence of brains, but the ability to beget, then I would ask you to stretch your imagination a bit. We start with humans. Humans are, fundamentally, actually not that different from rocks. We are all made up of mostly the same matter. In what we call evolution, where pieces proteins are preserved generation after generation, and exact copies are made, and the most favorable ones survive. The sum total of man’s existence, or for that matter, any supposedly living species is to beget. To create progeny and carry forward these coded proteins called DNA. If you feel that life is this process of transfer of DNA, then it will be alarming to what we consider a normal sane human being, because the only reason for human existence would be to make as many children as possible. And yet, this is, in many ways, exactly what it is. I’ve said that in as nice a way as I can make it to be. But really, it is like that. Think about all you have every wanted to do or have, love, friends, prestige, money, cars, clothes, intellect, excellence in a field – anything. Absolutely anything. All our motives, our instincts, can be summed up to making ourselves comfortable (so that we can continue to live) and make ourselves (generally) more attractive (so that we can get mates) and then have kids. Dogs and Chimps and humans, are in many ways, just different forms of the same creature, because all of us have DNA.
And just because Mt. Everest does not want to have kids, or that it is not burdened with DNA, does not mean that it doesn’t have a life. In fact, if it had a mind, its life would probably be more meaningful than our own, and most ironically, by our own standards.
And if you define life as a distinct organism, and if you are thinking that Mt. Everest is not wholly distinguishable from the rest of the Himalayas, and I wont waste any energy on trying to prove that tectonic plates are actually giant, minded entities. But I will ask you to think about the universe as one giant, humongous mind. This is a fact: according to physics, gravitation, friction, suns, rocks, and humans, chimps and dogs let alone their respective minds (I won’t say brains) were never supposed to exist! The very basic laws that we have drawn for the world around us, negates its very presence. This is simply because, there is nothing that could have disturbed nothingness into somethingness, there is, nothing could have kick started the universe unless it was outside it, which would make it a part of another universe, and suddenly you are stuck with an infinite chain of universes. Nothing that should have sparked the supposedly primordial egg into the big bang except probably a hypothetical thought. And this thought, can only be from an eternal minded supernatural entity. Something that we call god. Is it again, too fantastic to believe that the entire universe is god fantasizing and dreaming? Could god be just nothingness dreaming about a throbbing life? Are all the suns, the rocks, Mt. Everest, apes, dogs, and humans just the extension of the same being? After all, all these things, indeed have one thing in common. They all have masses, and it is something that is the inherent property of everything we know. Even abstract notions like faith and ideas have mass. Lets not go into the messy details, but it is clearly not too far fetched to believe god to be mass, and everything else to be mass in different forms. In which case, Hi! You are/am me/I! This situation would be such a nightmare to grammar teachers, as I have just realized. In essence, all of us are the same thing. Or even worse, and even more unsettling, merely THOUGHTS of this being called god?
I am, and will always be a firm atheist. Let me make that clear. My reasons for this would probably merit a book, and therefore I waste no energy on that. I have, however spent most of the article into a climax that concludes with a god, but I’m taking all the trouble to merely impress you with the effects of a larger picture. The picture of this absolutely amazing thing called the Universe. You have to admit, that around four thousand odd years of stargazing, all that mankind has found is this upsetting infinity, called the universe, that has no business being there, can be safely considered to be nothing at all. He looked for answers and found more questions. That is why he probably needed to invent god – to explain existence in general and of the universe in particular. The only answer to the universe that man can ever hope to find is god, and like many satisfactory answers, it is totally wrong. Any alternate search is hopelessly futile. There is, and can never be any explanation for the basic existence of the universe. So for someone who doesn’t believe in god, there is no other answer and has no option but to live with a maddeningly scary paradox for the rest of his life.
-Aditya MJ