Year Read: 2022
Every one of us is an experiment, and we don’t even know what the experiment is testing.
It came from Buddhism, the Four Immeasurables. “There are four good things worth practicing. Being kind toward everything alive. Staying level and steady. Feeling happy for any creature anywhere that is happy. And remembering that any suffering is also yours.”
I couldn’t imagine Robin toughening up enough to survive this Ponzi scheme of a planet. Maybe I didn’t want him to. I liked him otherworldly.
Every belief will be outgrown, in time. The first lesson of the universe is to never reason from only a single instance. Unless you only have one instance. In which case: find another.
Small, light, portable parallel universes turned out to be the only thing in this life I’d ever collect.
[note: this quote is a description for books ☻]
Nine is the age of great turning. Maybe humanity was a nine-year-old, not yet grown up, not a little kid anymore. Seemingly in control, but always on the verge of rage.
They share a lot, astronomy and childhood. Both are voyages across huge distances. Both search for facts beyond their grasp. Both theorize wildly and let possibilities multiply without limits. Both are humbled every few weeks. Both operate out of ignorance. Both are mystified by time. Both are forever starting out.
I had forty minutes to prep my lecture on abiogenesis—the origin of life—for the undergraduate astrobiology survey. I’d taught the same course only two years before, but dozens of new discoveries since then made me want to start over. In the auditorium, I felt the pleasure of competence and the warmth that only comes from sharing ideas. It always baffles me when my colleagues complain about teaching. Teaching is like photosynthesis: making food from air and light. It tilts the prospects for life a little.
It takes a certain kind of strangeness to hear the cosmic symphony and to realize that it was both playing and listening to itself.
I told her how a person had ten times more bacterial cells than human cells and how we needed a hundred times more bacterial than human DNA to keep the organism going. Her eyes crinkled in love. So we’re the scaffolding, is that it? And they’re the building? Her scaffolding laughed again and climbed on top of mine.
“Sometimes, the less people know about something, the more they want to talk about it.”
My son loved the library. He loved putting books on hold online and having them waiting, bundled up with his name, when he came for them. He loved the benevolence that the stacks held out, their map of the known world. He loved the all-you-can-eat buffet of borrowing. He loved the lending histories stamped into the front of each book, the record of strangers who checked them out before him. The library was the best dungeon crawl imaginable: free loot for the finding, combined with the joy of leveling up.
Grief must be older than awareness itself.
Her whole life was variations on one theme: whatever work your hands can do, do now, for there is no work for you in that place where you are going.
Everything on Earth was changing him. Every aggressive word from a friend over lunch, every click on his virtual farm, every species he painted, each minute of every online clip, all the stories he read at night and all the ones I told him: there was no “Robin,” no one pilgrim in this procession of selves for him ever to remain the same as. The whole kaleidoscopic pageant of them, parading through time and space, was itself a work in progress.
The laws that govern the light from a firefly in my backyard as I write these words tonight also govern the light emitted from an exploding star one billion light-years away. Place changes nothing. Nor does time. One set of fixed rules runs the game, in all times and places. That’s as big a truth as we Earthlings have discovered, or ever will, in our brief run.
Our days seemed to improve, and not just because I looked for evidence.
Fascination had made him invincible.
Old Robin would be all: Waaah! He pointed up at the ceiling. New Robin is up there, looking down on the experiment.
She was a planet all her own.
He wasn’t studying anymore. He was simply toying with things and enjoying the unfolding.
Holding still and looking had become his favorite activity in all the world.
“The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence.”
How would we ever know aliens? We can’t even know birds.
Robbie stopped in place on the sidewalk and said the strangest thing. Dad? If you went to sea or to war . . . if something happened to you? If you had to die? I would just hold still and think of how your hands move when you walk, and then you’d still be here.
Someday we’ll learn again how to train on this living place, and holding still will be like flying.
I felt so weary. I wanted to set life down and leave it by the side of the water. Instead, we went to work.
Which do you think is bigger? Outer space . . . ? He touched his fingers to my skull. Or inner? Words from Stapledon’s Star Maker, the bible of my youth, lit up in a backwater of my brain. I hadn’t thought about the book in decades. The whole cosmos was infinitely less than the whole of being . . . the whole infinity of being underlay every moment of the cosmos. “Inner,” I said. “Definitely inner.”
Every creature alive would feel all things they were built to feel.
And then the words that would never weaken and never go away: Can you believe where we are?
I felt no need to speak to anyone ever again. It was enough to stay inside, to read his notebooks and look through his drawings, and to write down everything I could remember about our time together.