Friday, December 17, 2010

The Radiance of Disassembly


In the past couple of months scientists have discovered that:

1. There are probably at least three times as many stars in the Universe as previously thought.
2. Life probably exists in environments previously thought off limits, as evidenced by the ability of a certain bacterium to utilize arsenic rather than phosphorus in its cells. Phosphorus is one of the structural building blocks for DNA and was always thought to be essential for life. No phosphorus= no DNA= no life. Wrong again.
3. Jonah Lehrer writes in this week's New Yorker about "the decline effect." Basically experiments that were done in the past with strong reportable effects, such as, say, the effectiveness of second generation antidepressants, are found to have a much weakened effectiveness when replicated later. And this trend, this "it's strong when we first discover it, then when we go back and look some more, it's somehow weaker, across the board," is being found everywhere they look. Psychology, physics, medicine. It's as if the universe gets habituated to our own knowledge and we have to go look somewhere else again for the key. We find it, the universe takes it back out of our pocket when we're not looking.


Offered in support of my increasingly strong suspicion that we are living in a magical realm that could not get any stranger and still maintain a semblance of habitability. Sure, things seem pretty solid and reliable on certain scales, our own body-sized scale, predominantly. But venture beyond the visible and graspable and things begin to dissolve. They get decidedly squirmy.

It sort of reminds me of the set design for a play. Looks pretty good from the audience's perspective, but if you get up on stage and poke around, you see all kinds of ropes and pulleys and doors that go nowhere and windows that are only painted on.

It's like how we look back three or four hundred years and laugh our asses off about how stupid humanity was, the things we believed, but we are always going to be trapped in the dark ages of knowledge.

The horizon endlessly recedes.


Having lost my faith in God, I am rewarded with a numinous connection with the universe exactly as it is.


Infinitely strange.

Unknowable as the mind of The Lord Our God.

Plus, it has good food.

And vodka.





I was thinking about my separateness from 'the field of being' last night as I was falling asleep after reading some more of Dan Dennet's book, Consciousness Explained. I mean, I know that I'm not really separate from it, that's just an illusion foisted on me by my brain. But it's a durable, unshakable kind of feeling, this "I am me, and everything else out there is not me."

So I was lying there, breathing in and out, slowly and deeply, and I slowly realized that there was this little engine of transference going on inside of me. I was taking in stuff from "out there" and then I was turning it into little bits of "me." Right? I mean, that's my blood, that's my hemoglobin, my oxygen feeding and fueling my body.

So, with every breath I'm turning a little bit of the Universe into myself.

And with every exhalation? You got it. Turning a little bit of myself back into the Universe.


And this? It made sense to me. In a visceral way. In a way that my guts understood. That my reptile brain could grasp. I know it's hardly a revelation, or a new idea in any way, but it struck me as such last night.

And of course, the same thing is going on all the time in every single cell in my body. Which is made up of elements that had to be forged in the dark heart of a star more massive than our own sun, billions of years ago.

I was gathered up from the dust.

To that selfsame dust I shall return.


But I am not the dust and never was.

I am the dance the dust does while the wind of life blows through it.


And that's good enough for me.





Blogger Melissa Green said...

Tearful, your thinking, puzzling things out for yourself, and then writing it out for us--never ceases to dazzle.I will be sighing a long time over this one:

I am the dance the dust does while the wind of life blows through it.


9:33 AM  
Blogger T. said...

"I am the dance the dust does while the wind of life blows through it."

You knocked my socks off, yet again.

Are you familiar with this?

9:55 AM  
Blogger 37paddington said...

"I am the dance the dust does while the wind of life blows through it."

just stunning. i'll leave it at that.

10:21 AM  
Blogger tearful dishwasher said...

man, I can tell I'm going to regret saying that already! I sound like shirley maclaine.

10:33 AM  
Blogger deirdre said...

hahaha Shirley Maclaine
Funny man.

Well I was also going to quote you, but something other:

*It's as if the universe gets habituated to our own knowledge and we have to go look somewhere else again for the key. We find it, the universe takes it back out of our pocket when we're not looking.*

That's pretty yummy. It reminds me of something I read once about electrons and then wrote these lines which is about the strangeness of things and how even the act of watching will create changes in the watched.

A single electron approaches two holes.

In darkness he can pass through both

at the same time and still remain

single on the other side of the screen.

But should there be a light & someone watching

the electron will stick to only one hole.

And which I can't help but go further and see all sorts of social implications about darkness vs scrutiny and behavior - who knew it worked on an electronic level?

Obviously I'm out of my depth and I'll shut up now.

But this is definitely an intriguing post of yours.

11:42 AM  
Blogger Lisa Cohen said...

"I am the dance the dust does while the wind of life blows through it."

Ahhhh. Yes.

Thank you for this post today.

12:56 PM  
Blogger Ms. Moon said...

For me, it is this:
"Having lost my faith in God, I am rewarded with a numinous connection with the universe exactly as it is."
That is exactly how it is for me. Take away the god and you are allowed to experience that vastness which is as unknowable as the mind of our lord god. Yes, yes, Scott goddam, you get it and this makes me want to cry because I have so often thought it was just me, just ME who felt this way, who was thrown against the side of the universe and arose with my head hurting with the unbearable beauty and mystery of it all.
This post alone would make me follow you anywhere.
Tonight we shall have vodka. Food too.
Keep breathing. The universe needs those bits of you, man.

1:05 PM  
Blogger 37paddington said...

well, there was also this:

"The horizon endlessly recedes."

1:14 PM  
Blogger Pamela Johnson Parker said...

I get the idea of a pickpocket universe. This helps me understand, if not accept, (I never will accept) the loss of my husband this summer. Thinking of him as my stolen pocket watch is helping me right now.


1:48 PM  
Blogger susan t. landry said...

tearful does it again.
the stars are incredibly beautiful on a very cold crisp night up here in Maine, too numerous not to mention.
i am getting all xmas-y sentimental...
thank you.

3:25 PM  
Blogger tearful dishwasher said...


You always say the nicest things. thank you.

8:33 AM  
Blogger tearful dishwasher said...

T. Clear-

Its always a pleasure to have your input. And I was just reading about the simulation argument, although I hadn't seen the website. Thanks!

There are a lot of thought provoking aspects to the whole simulation line of thought, although if the simulation is this good, who cares if it's 'fake'- we'll never know the difference.

8:36 AM  
Blogger tearful dishwasher said...


thank you.

8:36 AM  
Blogger tearful dishwasher said...


Well, you picked my favorite part, as usual. You have a keen eye. I loved your lines on the electron in the 'watched' vs 'unwatched' states- true for all of us, i'm afraid.

that one bit of knowledge alone, that an electron can go through two slots at the same exact instant, and its proven, known- that should be enough right there to shake our little foundations to the core.

But we tend to glide right over it because it doesn't make sense to us. We can't grab hold of the knowledge.

I'm glad that we can converse, even in this 'simulated' way.

yrs, always-


8:40 AM  
Blogger tearful dishwasher said...

LJ Cohen-

Such a pleasure to know that you're here. Thank you.

8:41 AM  
Blogger tearful dishwasher said...

Ms. Moon-

It amazes me that people are not more amazed all the damn time. We get habituated to the stupendousness all around us, I guess.

Since I'll never figure out the deep mysteries, I try to figure out how to be a good husband, a good father, a good cop, a good man. Keep my little blue house and white picket fence shipshape. Be a force for good in my small circle of light, and call it good.

But I do love to wrestle with the great big void, and throw my voice out into it and listen for what might come back.



8:44 AM  
Blogger tearful dishwasher said...


Loss. I don't know how we're supposed to bear it. But if something I said here helps you in even the smallest way to feel some comfort then I am deeply humbled and honored.

Thank you. I hope that each new day brings a measure of peace to you.



8:46 AM  
Blogger tearful dishwasher said...


I am always so glad to hear your thoughts. I hope your wore your funky outfit as planned.

I don't know you at all, but you loom large in my mind's eye as a person of keen intelligence and quiet grace and like the kind of lady that might keep a knife in her purse.

I'm just saying.



8:48 AM  
Blogger melissashook said...

I thought that New Yorker article was fascinating...what to make of it and the results of research...
and thank you for the rest of it all...

5:31 PM  
Blogger Mel said...

A stunning post. I believe the more we learn, the less we know. I am mesmerized by the micro and the macro, and the uncanny similarities between them. The electron microscope and the Hubble telescope have scrambled my world view. I am trying to slog my way through the quantum enigma, but am not sure I really need a learned scientist to teach me how mindboggling the universe actually is, because I'm not sure how much more mind blowing I can take. I love your Shirley Maclaine thought, and it's similar to the way I visualize it, only I see the twinkle of the dust in the fading light of a dying star. I keep myself from hyperventaling by reminding myself that there is always another star in the works.
You and your thoughts are a comforting point of light as ponderous to me as any star in the sky. Thanks for putting your thoughts to words where we can see them.

8:52 AM  
Anonymous Wendy said...

I'm glad we don't get it "right off the bat," as my grandmother would have said. There's something endearing about the scientists and geniuses of the world saying, "Ah-ha!" and then having to mumble, "Nevermind." It makes me feel like I'm on their level...or they're on my level. Either way, I don't think any of us will ever get things figured out. I'm thankful for it, because as your post has proven (or suggested), there's such beauty in the pondering rather than some end result. Oh, and for what it's worth, I'm a fan of the line everyone is citing...but also a fan of the vodka and sex line! Ha!

10:08 PM  
Blogger Claire Beynon said...


And yes.

And thank you, Scott.

There is something luminous and liminal about this space.

11:35 PM  
Blogger Mim said...

Worlds on worlds . . .

Thinking of them helps me to forget about myself, which is such a pleasure and release . . .

Happy Christmas from Mim in Boston

3:28 PM  
Blogger 37paddington said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6:27 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home