Galileo, an old hand at astronomy, often held court with the pope. Galileo thought the Bible was reliable yet might be read wrong. Urban the Eighth couldn’t be bothered with celestial gossip about the comings and goings of the sun. He wanted an oracle.
“The world is firmly established,” the pope said. “It cannot be moved. Also, I’m worried about the future and am having trouble sleeping.”
Galileo shrugged, squinted, and cast the pope’s horoscope.
Unimpressed with news of his own death his holiness had all the birds in the Vatican gardens killed, blaming their nocturnal calls for disturbing his slumber.
This disturbs me. But we control what we can.
Listen: God said, “you must not eat from the tree of knowledge.”
We did anyway. Just one bite. And now look. The Vatican’s secret library contains more than 52 miles of shelving.
Try this: try everything at least once.
Live by experiment instead of whim.
Rise, set and return. The sun does no such thing.
But what difference would it make to say the sun skirts us? The Pope had a point. The earth would continue to fall around the sun regardless. So why not adopt an opinion which fostered sound sleeping?
“I am human, and nothing that is human is alien to me,” said the Roman playwright Terence.
Is it possible to rule out behavior unserviceable to truth? Is truth really beneficial? Define beneficial: an egg balanced in everyone’s beer; a boon God sent.
A gain for society is good for you too. Probably. But to what reach? Unto death? Sometimes.
But almost never.
Einstein found out: we cannot outpace the light.
The Earth spins in one direction with no fathomable intention.
I’m convinced someone else will save us. Not me. Maybe Superman, Christ, or Sigourney Weaver. Somebody else. Some better body. Someone modified, improved, extra terrestrial.
Everything human is alien to me. So far as I know, we are alone.
But it’s fine.
Buddha said: “The whole secret of existence is to have no fear. Never fear what will become of you, depend on no one. Only the moment you reject all help are you freed.”
I am sometimes given to fits of melancholy, violence, laughter. It is impossible to be me, let alone us. It is impossible to call oneself a unit when one’s existence is a succession of fits.
Hold still. Neruda said: “Let’s stop for one second and not move our arms so much.”
Don’t whisper “centrifugal force” to me. Don’t say it. None of us can leave this gamble-wander in mostly empty space.
Some ancient thinkers saw the stars as orbs within orbs. They called the matter – and everything they didn’t know – which by the way we still don’t know –aetherial. A “transparent fifth element. [The] quintessence, like jewels set in orbs.”* In other words, rare.
Rarified means to make rarer; less dense.
As in: moisture rarifies when heated.
Yet one cannot rarify the friary.
But people are only people. An ancient thinker told me “hold still.” I did. I thanked heaven the stars were fixed. They aren’t anymore.
Once there was perfection in heaven. Those crystal spheres, fitted like nested dolls, never moving like sequins on a shroud. Especially they did not spin. For if they did we would be flung.
But Edwin Hubble found out: The galaxies appear to abjure. What I mean to imply is that the universe is leaving us, and has been leaving us since the beginning. We just didn’t know until we looked.
Did God really say “You must not?”
Regardless we opened our eyes. If you can’t hold still, hold on. The Earth has begun to spin and nothing short of the unreasonable can stop it. Pale knuckled we anchor to a planet in flight.
“Where are you?” God asked the first of us.
“We heard you,” we said. “We were afraid.”
Now the dead outweigh the living by about one hundred billion. So I’m pretty sure heaven is full by now. And it’s no stone’s throw away. Like the stars it’s retreating. And in fact it’s gaining speed.
An ancient thinker told me there was no beginning. If the earth spins, then everything must spin.
“Turn back while there is still time,” he said. “Turn back while time is still not yet something else.”
Wun-Yi Shu found out: The conversion factor is light. Rather, the speed of light. Once something travels fast enough time and space become interchangeable. As the universe travels out and apart and away time will be changed. We will be changed. But the equation works only if there is no beginning and no end.
There’s still time, winding out in a line. A length in place of a moment. And nothing human is alien, for now. But I’m utterly lost in these miles of shelves and couldn’t turn back if I tried. Preceded by all those whom I’ll never meet yet still hold their lights out to me, their nocturnal calls disturbing my sleep.
* Grant, E. (1994). Planets, stars, and orbs: The medieval cosmos, 1200-1687. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, [eBook].