Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Ant in the Basketball

During my dad's last days, when it became clear he was soon going to die, I could no longer acceptably answer my curiosity about what happens after our bodies die with an analytically derived "it is outside the realm of science, therefore unknowable".  Until that moment, my answer to that question was scientific:  We cannot know what happens, but a logical approach tells us that whatever happens to my dad will one day happen to me, so we will both one day be in the same state or place again.

I do my best thinking visually, drawing lines, pictures, graphs.  I often understand things only when I've found a picture or scene that provides a good analogy -- but what is a good analogy to line between life and death?  We are stuck in the universe of the living, unable to see outside of it.

I was treating this whole question with too much deference and respect.  I decided it was perfectly fine to go with silly, fanciful imagery if that helped me understand the nature of life.  It came to me very quickly:  An ant inside of a basketball.  Not just any ant, but an ant with the superpower of incredible intelligence.  The ant, I thought, would be tasked with figuring out the nature of the universe.  However smart the ant might be, he would describe the bounds of the universe as ending at the walls of the  basketball.  Beyond those walls, he would quickly realize, lies the unmeasurable and therefore unknowable.  

I contended myself with this answer:  "Just as the ant cannot know what lies beyond the bounds of the basketball, we cannot know what lies beyond bounds of the universe of the living."  I became convinced that it was simply OK not to know.  The answer was that it was not capable of being answered, and I accepted, therefore, that anything might lie outside of the boundaries of what we can measure.

That answer was acceptable until a few days ago.  While the story is best told in its own post, I realized that I've spent my life building intellectual genius without focusing on seeking any kind of parity in the growth of my emotional intelligence (thank you, #awesomenessfest, for that revelation).

I added a very simple change to my very simple analogy of the ant in the basketball:  Imagine that the ant is not limited by what can be analytically proven, but it also in touch with emotions and open to sensations that cannot be explained with science.  What does our emotionally attuned ant now think of the universe?

Sometimes the faint echoes of voices and sounds outside of the basketball make their way through the walls of the basketball, muffled, distorted, and beyond reconstruction with even the ant's finest scientific instruments.  Sometimes light hits the outside of the basketball and a few errant photons make their way through the wall -- not enough to measure with any scientific reliability, of course. But our ant is open to the possibility that information exists that can be observed subconsciously -- perhaps information that is so distorted and weakened by the time it makes it inside that it can only be observed by the way it makes the ant feel.

The ant is now capable of understanding a tiny bit of the universe beyond the walls of the basketball.  Where science and analysis came up short, emotional intelligence became emotional observation and the ant picked up clues, hints, maybe just the promise of what lies beyond.  Even if the information was capable of being measured with instruments, if the ant were predisposed to seek scientific answers only, the ant might seek to explain the errant photons by describing (erroneously) nuclear decay within the basketball as the source of the photons.  Because our ant has stayed open to the possibility that he does not know all that can be known, the ant will not accept the nuclear decay explanation without first considering whether other explanations exists.  Leakage of data from the outside of the basketball to the inside is not impossible to the ant as an article of faith, so the ant has a chance to understand a tiny bit of the nature of the universe beyond the walls of the basketball.

So it is with what lies beyond the boundaries of life.  There may one day be a point of singularity, where our scientific instruments and techniques are capable of measuring these tiny, errant bits of information, but we need not wait for science to catch up with what our brains are already capable of doing.  I feel something beyond the boundary.  I don't know what it is, but I am paying attention to what it feels like and I am open to the idea that there is something there.

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