Saturday, June 22, 2013

This Monkey can Swim on His Own

I'm not a huge poetry fan, but I heard one this week that speaks to me.  It certainly has fueled my thinking and provided me with imagery for my Twitter feed and how I've been handling myself in life.  I invite you to read it now, since it will help to get what I'm writing about today: 
When I first heard it, lying in bed as the radio came on, trying to gather the courage to face another long day at work, I felt this intellectual spark.  I immediately decided that I like the poem.  That it was speaking to me in some way.  There was some humor to it, true, but there was something about it.  I got out of bed, a bit more eagerly than I had in recent weeks, and tried to fit myself into the poem somehow.  It took me a couple of tries, but I finally got it.  
I am the monkey.  The monkey is me.  And the guy with the rifle, doing all he can to "help" me cross the river?  He was all the people I was pissed at.  
Let's set the people aside for a moment and move on to something else...
I like TED Talk.  They are those 18 minute talks on science, technology and culture that the Sapling Foundation organizes.  I have listened to several of them and found them all to be fascinating.  
I saw a link on someone's Twitter feed to a "banned" TED Talk.  The idea of a TED Talk being banned seemed a contradiction to me, so I immediately knew I had to view it: 
Dr. Rupert Sheldrake is a biologist by training and profession.  In his talk, he described the "Dogmas of Science," and how it was these dogmas, things which he said form the basis of the scientific world view, were interfering with intellectual inquiry.  The term, "banned" turned out to be an overstatement.  TED decided, on the recommendation of their scientific board, decided to not post the talk on their website, though it was available on YouTube.  After a debate through the TED website, the video was eventually reinstated and can now be found there.  
Like all the previous TED talks I've viewed, I found this one to be stimulating, particularly from my standpoint as a science fiction writer.  The most interesting concept was that of the "Laws of Nature" being not so much laws as "habits," conditions that persisted due to what Sheldrake termed, "morphic resonance."  A giraffe embryo, Dr. Sheldrake said, becomes a baby giraffe because of its connection with all the giraffes that have gone before it.  
In such a universe, if Dr. Sheldrake is correct, then the constants of nature are not constant.  They could, in fact, fluctuate as the universe itself evolves.  He cited a time period where measurements on the speed of light, around the late 1940's, actually showed that the speed of light slowing down.  The scientists that study universal constants, they are called "metrologists" told him that it was an "embarrassing error" in the history of their field.  Dr. Sheldrake wondered if instead of a being a mistake, that it might have been an era when the speed of light actually slowed, but because everyone "Knows" that the speed of light is constant, everyone assumed it to be a mistake and never investigated it.  If we ever did discover that "constants" change over time or under certain conditions, science magazines might one date post, like a stock market chart, the current values and trends for the speed of light and the gravitational constant.  We might one day need to consult metrologists about the state of the universe the way we watch the reports of meteorologists about the state of the weather.  
"Today, the gravitational constant is down by point-zero-two percent.  This will cause a noticeable increase in light speed close to planetary bodies, so anyone boosting to Alpha Centauri for that Labor Day vacation should watch out for speeding transports..."  
The idea of change and evolution made me think about work, and what's being going on there.  
There has been a lot of pressure on me since the start of the year.  Due to my department's success last year, the company raised the standards I'm supposed to meet this year by a considerable amount.  Long hours, restructuring, hiring new people, buying new stuff from computers to big expensive printers to chairs and drawer units.  Lots of stuff going on.  For most of the time, it's felt like work had turned into this long, hard slug through the mud that was never, never, never, EVER going to end.  
I kept remembering quotes like that of Henry James about life: "Life is a slow and steady advance into enemy territory."  And I would tell people lessons that showed us the true nature of the universe, like that of the lobster.  
The lobster, if you don't know it, is cellularly immortal.  That doesn't mean lobsters have really good smartphone plans.  It means that, if left to themselves, and if they did not get sick or injured, a lobster would live forever.  Most animals have mechanisms in the their cells and genes that limit how long they can live.  The theoretical maximum for humans is around 150 years.  Lobsters, though, have no such limits.  
Except this: The universe, along with giving the power to live forever made it one of the tastiest things in the ocean, so that most of the other creatures that live there, and us on the shore, want to kill it and eat it.  This is what the universe does.  This is how things work.  
This week, though, it felt like something had...  Changed.  The constant, universally constant, feeling that this was how things were going to be, now and forever, started to fade away.  I started to see in the tiny universe of my department the faint outlines of the department I had been wanting to see for weeks.  
Or perhaps, as Dr. Sheldrake believes, the image in my head, projected through my eyes on to the objects and people around me, was changing the morphic resonance of the universe in which I live in such a way that a new resonance was being created.  
Changing things is hard.  That's a given.  A constant, if you will.  It is harder when it feels like everyone and everything is out to get you, to prevent you from reaching the other side of the river.  Especially when "they" think they're trying to help you, by shooting into the river behind you to keep you moving along.  
You need to keep paddling.  I guess that's all there is to it.  And if they poke their fingers through the bars of the cage to get you to smile?  I say, go ahead and bite off a joint of that finger.  
Sometimes, to do what's right you just have to do what's wrong.  
From a little monkey that's learning on to swim on its own, thank you very much. 


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