18 April, 2012

Deity Reflex

I was walking home from the gym a few minutes ago. It's open until midnight on weeknights, which is convenient; the kids are in bed, the wife's ensconced with Bejeweled, tonight's leftovers are put away, and I can squeeze in a workout without anyone bothering me for anything.

On the way home, I looked up at the spring stars, and, as happens to me from time to time, I was briefly taken in by the endless infinity of the universe. I thought about how cool it would be to be able to see the ecliptic projected on the sky, as if the world were my own personal Celestia—or better yet, if I just had bionic eyeballs that could superimpose whatever I wanted on the world.

That thought led to a kernel of an idea for a story, about a future civilization that has mastered biological engineering and where everyone who wants them has bionic eyes, so that they can gaze upon the wonders of the universe with all sorts of informative overlays and HUD elements—and, hell, Wikipedia—at their disposal. And then I thought, what if that was their religion?

The universe is vast, so vast that we simply can't comprehend it. We have to use terms like light-year, of which just one is already unimaginably larger than anything we can comprehend. (A little under 6 trillion miles. And you thought it was far to Pomona.) And then we talk about billions of them.

The human brain is capable of feeling connected to all that, even if we can't rationally contain it inside our—admittedly amazing—brains. Not everyone feels that connectedness in the same way; those who have been taught to be Christians feel it as the presence of their deity, Jehovah. Muslims call it Allah. We interpret that deity reflex by whatever cultural framework has been imprinted upon us.

That reflex is a double-edged sword. We feel an unimaginably pure sense of belonging and comfort when that reflex is engaged; it's unfettered emotion, and the lure of that feeling cannot be denied. But reason and rationality are what brought us out of the darkness. Is there room for both of them in this world?

I don't want to be too definitive here. Reason can conquer many problems, but no one wants to live in a world bereft of joy—or even of less favorable emotions, like apprehension, confusion, dismay. Sometimes it feels good to feel bad, as the great poet Shirley Manson taught us.

As writers, we have the ability—and, perhaps, the responsibility—to help others tap into that reflex. There are few acts greater than to describe a feeling in terms so precise that it makes someone say, "Yes! That's it!"

No comments:

Post a Comment