Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Space Filler

Along the nerves of nothing, where not begets naught, where seconds are years are millennia, the thought occurred: I Am. A stirring of ether, a silent revelation: I am all. The second, less profound but more disturbing. I, a pillar holding up nothing, standing on nothing. Others were made. Reflections, so alike that they too were I. These things, too much like the I Am, were pushed aside, discarded as useless, left alone to find their own way. Later, further attempts: angels, devils, cherubs, demons. Less like the first but still a part of the I Am. Saliva and dead skin instead of brains and heart. Let them do what they will, but there is no doubt what they'll do--a war, a hero, a victory. The I Am recedes, tries to become small. Everything collapses with it. A pin-point encompassing everything. Here the I Am rests and thinks. How to get out of the way? The hero, still there in the point, whispers a new word: We. The Word is born. With a big bang a new space is created, cleverly crafted and hidden from the creator. Rules invented. Light, gravity, atoms, fission, life. Pools of water and crystals spread across millions of planets. The Word speaks to each of them but they do not stir, until at last. From the other place the I Am decrees. They will have two legs, as not to look like pillars. They will have a brain, so that they may have free will. They will have a heart, so that they will love more than they hate. They will walk upright, so that they may not lack pride. They will have eyes to weep from, hands for crafting, knees for bending, mouths for singing, tongues for confusing, ears for understanding, wombs for recreating, and death for meaning. And it was so.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

On the Infinite Nature of Black Holes, Life and Death

I proposed to prove that death is an illusion perpetrated upon the living. Of course professor Strauss said it was an unacceptable topic for an astrophysics thesis. My brief discourse on the ability of small minds to forestall great scientific progress did nothing to further engender her favor. I may have seriously harmed my reputation and hampered the likelihood of my graduating in a timely manner. But where would we be today if Copernicus or Newton or Darwin or Hawking hadn't ruffled the establishment's feathers?

I suppose I should have explained the theory better, particularly on how it relates to astrophysics. The key to the theory, and life when I think of it, is the peculiar nature of black holes. More specifically, exactly what happens at the "Event Horizon." The Event Horizon is an invisible boundary around a black hole, imagine it as the surface of an invisible ball with the black hole sitting in the center of the ball. As an object approaches the black hole time becomes skewed. The closer the object gets the slower time becomes. At the exact point when time stops is when the object has intersected the Event Horizon. To the outside viewer the object appears to have ceased its descent into the depths of the black hole, but really it's just a trick of the light. The gravitation pull has become so strong at this point that the light reflected by the object is frozen in time and space.

Now for the leap. There are certain forces in the universe; some are weak and some are strong; some, like death, are irresistible. The leap, and not a far one to anyone who has lost a loved one—perhaps a leap on the scale of the Grand Canyon, but how small is that earthly scar when we're dealing with stars and galaxies—is that the power of death is at least as great as the black hole's. (I'm still looking for some one from the Math Department to help me with the calculus required to prove this, but I'm pressing forward knowing in my heart of hearts it is true.)

Now let me explain what must certainly happen as one approaches death. As life draws near that overwhelming and all encompassing point that we call death, time too must slow down. And just as time stops at some point prior to reaching the final dense void that is a black hole, time too must stop at some moment prior to death. Time expands if you will. Each microsecond becomes longer and longer until one of them is infinite, never ending. But even that final infinite microsecond is never reached because every fragment of time before it is stretched to near infinite as well. And thus the man or woman traveling in their flesh-bound vessel of life toward that dark spot in the distance never reaches it. Every half measure closer they draw to it takes longer and longer until they seem to stand still.

From the outside, from the point of view of the living, the traveler has stopped still, has died, moved on from this mortal life. The living do not know that what was a mere second for them—the span of that last heart beat—has been stretched out into the infinite for he whose life is on the greatest of all brinks. We lament the lose but fail to realize that death is just an illusion.

Although I consider this theory with just the details already given a profound leap in the understanding of man, far surpassing any singular discovery made prior, I feel a few more details are easily made plain if we ponder what it means a little further. Here's the big question that I think can be reasonably answered using the framework provided: what is experienced by the person in these eternities of solitude? To answer this question it is instructive to look back to our example of the black hole.

As an object approaches a black hole not only does time seem to stand still but the object is also stretched thin. A celestial tower approaching the Event Horizon is pulled from one end until it becomes an immeasurably long spaghetti noodle. With this in mind let us think a little upon the man who approaches death. It could be reasonably argued that a man alone is nothing more than a tower of memories. As such, it is safe to suppose that these memories will be stretched infinitely long and thin like the atoms of our imaginary space-tower. Each moment of life remembered becomes a pin-point of brilliant light composed of memory and feeling. Imagine your favorite memory, boil it down to its most raw emotion, multiply that by infinity and you'll start to comprehend what is possible in the slow drifting state toward our ultimate unreachable end. Of course the corollary is true too, pain and sadness are magnified forever as well. We have infinite experiences piled on top of each other. I believe we can organize these memories as we see fit. Think of them as pages in a book; you can dwell on a single page but that doesn't mean the other pages aren't there, real, solid and waiting for you to visit them. Here we create a book more holy and profound than even the Bible.

Two things should be learned from this. One: fill your life with good memories as they shall be your constant companions when all else has abandoned you, likewise, be good to those around you so that they too are blessed by their own happiness. Two: if you've lived a full life, fear not that dark stalker in the night, the hooded life stealer, life's infinite divide, for the scythe of fate will always drop but it will take a million lifetimes to travel that final millimeter between your neck and the ever expanding universe around you.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

An Uncommon Car

Owning a sports car has pretty much always been a dream of mine. Of course I don't recall the exact moment my dad's (now my brother's) '67 Camaro morphed from the red hunk of steel that sat on four wheels and rarely left the drive-way to an object of desire, worship and prideful fascination. But at some point I realized we didn't drive it all the time because it was special and because it was special it was important. The car is now like a legendary artifact, a literal Holy Grail in my life. Seeing it and being in it, not only invoke the usual joys of a nice sports car, but it also has the mystical powers of nostalgia and it has taken on colossal size and meaning in ways that only childhood memories can properly distort. Stepping into that car is like stepping into a dream, a reversal of time, it's like bathing in the fountain of youth.

So while one might argue that my adventure yesterday had nothing to do with my dad's old Camaro, I'd say it has everything to do with it.

Hello there!

Last year I became a father. For my first Father's Day my wonderful wife and dear daughter rented me a Tesla. This is no small thing. If you compound my love for cars with the fact that the nicest car I've driven in the last nine years is a used WRX wagon (unless you count the numerous times I've driven my old M3 in my dreams) plus Robyn's ambivalence toward cars--at best we can call it ambivalence, but depending on the car it veers sharply toward despise or repugnance--then you can see why this was a pretty dang special gift.

How did it drive you wonder? I'll get to that. You're probably also wondering if there were any limitation on the car since it was rented. The good news is that there were not. It was a stock 2010 Tesla. My preferred driving scenario involves lots of fun turns in the 35-50mph type roads. I did drive the car along 280 from San Francisco to Palo Alto and back but I released most of my 80+mph speeding demons from my system back when I had my M3, so I didn't try topping the car out on the freeway or anything. I didn't exactly go the speed limit but accelerating from 65 to 80 in a blink of an eye is only about 100000 times more enjoyable than cruising at 90+ mph, in this man's opinion.

For comparison I've driven or been in the following cars while they were driven very quickly: a '96 911, a '94 RX-7 Turbo (I never drove this one but had a good time as a passenger) and my '96 Supercharged M3.

The first thing I noticed about the Tesla was its distance to the ground. The car practically sits on the pavement, I'm not sure how anyone over the age of fifty gets in or out of one--I got a cramp in my upper thigh trying to swing my legs in it the first time around (apparently the previous driver had been a shorter person which made my entry all that more difficult). Next time (please let there be a next time) I might implement a stretching routine prior to driving. Related to this is the size of the cockpit. It's tiny. I've been in small cars before, even my old Miata felt like a Lincoln Town Car compared to the leg room you get in a Tesla. But that wasn't a real problem, if I was looking for room to relax I'd have gone on a cruise.

I took a quick trip around the block with the owner in the car mostly because she said it was important to understand the regenerative braking. Anytime you let off the accelerator (I'm not going to call it the gas pedal) the car feels like you've down-shifted and it aggressively loses speed. This was fun, one of my favorite things to do in my M3 was to drop a gear or two when stopping to feel that pull. So even though the Tesla is an automatic you still get that nice down-shifting feel. The second thing that took some getting use to was that the gears are all buttons in the middle console, there is no stick of any type. You press a button for Park, you press a different button for Reverse and a different one for Drive. This took some getting use to and I grabbed Jason's leg multiple times because I was reflexively reaching for the stick I felt should have been there. Jason pointed out after the second time that if I had rented the car trying to trick my passenger into believing it was mine I would have just blown my cover. The regenerative braking also had me reflexively searching for the clutch a few times as well, my mind kept telling me I had to press it before the car died as I pulled up to a stop (which would have been embarrassing).

During that short trip around the block she had me get on the accelerator. Being downtown San Francisco I only felt comfortable going so fast but all I remember from the short three seconds when I hammered it was thinking "oh shit oh shit oh shit." The thing takes off like a rocket, with zero hesitation, and since it's an automatic you get to just mash on the accelerator without a lot of finesse or skill required to feel like your driving the fastest thing ever to roam the streets. The acceleration is crisp and so incredibly smooth. And although I'm sure it's faster than anything I've driven in the past, the smoothness and the lack of the usual sounds I've come to associate with a sports car (and perhaps due to the less-than-accurate memories of being twenty and riding in my first modern sports car) the Rx7 felt faster. I recall moments in the Rx-7 when its turbo would kick in (after you were already accelerating faster than you once imagined possible) and you'd get thrown back into your seat and it would sound like you were sitting on the wing of a jet. That distant experience, in ways that can't be substantiated, still feels faster to me though I'm certain the car wasn't doing 0-60 in under four seconds.

On the drive down to Palo Alto I was amazed by how fast it could go from 60-80. It felt like it had the same power at those speeds as it did starting from a dead stop. I'm so use to driving my Civic now which you have to make decisions about changing lanes years in advance that this felt like a dream where when I wanted something all I had to do was ask for it and it was mine, and sometimes it seemed like the wish was granted before I even finished asking for it. So after one trip around the block and two miles on the freeway I was in love. I even forgave the car its awful red color (call me strange but there is only one car that can pull off red and it's made in Italy and has a horse on it).

It's a strange feeling driving someone else's very nice (understatement alert) car. When I drove my M3 around, even though it doesn't compare to the Tesla in so many ways, I felt a certain sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. I often drove it around just to be seen in it (don't I sound like an awesome dude?). Don't get me wrong there were moments of pure bliss brought about by just driving the Tesla at reasonable speeds (I think I had a least three religious experiences by the time I arrived in Palo Alto), but--and this is where I realize, I know, but it doesn't matter, that I put too much importance in cars--it felt like I was borrowing someone else's life. So while I did miss out on some of that sense of accomplishment that the M3 imparted to me, the detachment, or the awareness of being borrowed, really let me enjoy the car for the sake of the car.

Dang, I didn't realize I had so much to say about this. I had like four or five things I wanted to say and I've only said one of them. This might have to be a double installment.

Friday, May 27, 2011

I speak as though you can hear me

This is something I wrote while Robyn was pregnant, but never posted here.

I speak as though you can hear me
I speak upon the rolling hills
Among blades of grass
Seed upon seed
Soft as a whisper

I speak deep in the green forests
Over maddening monkeys
And ceaseless insects
Wet as rain

I speak under the endless seas
Drowned beneath turbulent waves
Source of life
Songs of whales

I speak of love
I speak of books
I speak of happiness
I speak of sorrow
And Maybe
I speak of God
Yet somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow somehow
(thirty-two because nothing has ever changed
Then doubled
Because I'm certain of certain things)

Yet somehow
I've said nothing

So I rest my head
Upon your mother's swelling breasts
And pray
One day
I'll speak
And one day
You'll hear me

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Filling Empty Spaces

Over the last two weeks Berkeley has had a toy fish bowl that she's greatly enjoyed putting things into and then taking those same things out of. She's had big developmental moments before: eating, sitting up, picking items up, and making noises to name a few, but this one has particularly struck me. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I was never one of those people who was excited about watching the different stages of child development and so I let the obvious stages pass by with less amazement than they are really due. The other factor, I think, is that many of the prior major development steps are not only big and obvious to even those who haven't watched closely the daily development of a child but they are also largely shared across the animal kingdom. Every animal in the world knows how to eat, most animals either know upon exiting the womb or egg, or shortly their afterward, how to manage their main mode of locomotion, and often the first thing done once an animal can breathe in air is to exhale it with some primal noise. Even the picking up of objects seems far from unique, my dogs move stuff all around the house, either by picking it up in their mouths or moving them with their paws. They can even understand different types of things: things dogs do not touch and things dogs are allowed to touch.

But yesterday Berkeley noticed a drawer on the coffee table, at the perfect height for her to pull it out and push it in. She grabbed the handle, opened it, recognized the empty space within, searched around for something on the floor within grabbing distance, picked up a Hot Wheel, and unceremoniously dropped it in the drawer. This pleased her enough that she then put a ball and two more Hot Wheels in the drawer. The next ten minutes consisted of me watching her take the ball out and then put it back in numerous times. In a sense she has discovered a tool. I didn't force it on her, like the spoon she eats with, instead it's her own little discovery, made possible by hundreds of thousands of years of ancestors developing brains that find the use of empty spaces obvious. The Universe has been split in two for her. It now consists of things that possess empty spaces and things that go into empty spaces.

She is now, and has been for 18 months, marching down the path that is humanity's destiny. And I now look forward to more moments like this one, when she looks at an empty box and not only thinks about what can go in it but how it relates to the pains she feels in her heart after losing her first boyfriend (I had no intention of crying while writing this but no one is ever prepared for the Spanish Inquisition). How filling is related to feeling. How people can be sad and lonely, broken and empty, and how she can fill them with joy and how she can be filled by the joy and love of others. And how someone, even a child, can make you realize you had more space available than you ever imagined.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

the beauty of life's invisible derivative

She sits on the living room floor wrapped in the safety of a blue half circle pillow. I lay my head on that pillow, her body between me and the rest of the world.

It's hard to say how much she appreciates the closeness. Her hands and eyes wander amongst her toys, sometimes they cross my face and hair before going back to the stuffed spider or red and white maraca she loves to shake. She steals my glasses, fills my vision with her profile, her guileless eyes, her ears collecting light, her small nose, her divine cheeks. Behind her the window is blurry, beyond the window is an infinite gray that I know is rain, clouds and fogs, but feels like much more. This closeness to her, in the dying light of a rainy day isn't a thing I expected, it wasn't bargained for. Its like going into a used clothing store and stumbling upon a pair of slippers once worn by some mighty queen. It's a thing so great that even though it has just made its appearance on the distant horizon you can already feel its absents growing close. Some day she'll have boundaries, need space, have friends to impress, a life all her own, you can sense all this in that endless gray on the other side of the window, beyond her innocent face. The great arc of her love is steadily climbing, and although that most sacred parabola has many years before its slope hits zero--when the life of a child and her parents' go their separate ways--my mind already looks fondly but sadly upon a moment merely a few minutes old like a lost treasure buried beneath the endless blue seas.