Whenever I brought up my “big questions” as a youngster, people left the conversation for a “more interesting” subject. Some though, were more direct, gave me a weird look and asked, “Why’d you want to know?”
When WW II ended I got out of the Navy at Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay. I didn’t go directly home, but first went to see California’s giant redwoods.
They raised even bigger questions. These were now questions about “Time.” And they have never left me.
One of those redwoods had been living for more than 2,500 years! I couldn’t imagine. But I tried.
When I thought about that tree, I realized that it was there in the redwood forest at the same time that Socrates and Plato were discussing philosophy in the streets of Athens. And that was five hundred years before Jesus was born.
I can’t help it. This mystifies me. That tree is a bridge across the millennia.
It separates me from Plato. I mean, it is “a living connection” between my time and the time of those ancient ones.
Time mystifies me in many ways.
During nights when I’ve been camped out and gaze up at the stars, I can usually find the Big Dipper. That intensifies my wonder.
I, of course, knew that each of the Big Dipper’s seven stars is at a vastly different distance from the earth than all the other stars.
Once back home, I looked up those distances. They are so far from us the distances are given in light-years; a light-year being the distance that light travels in a year at 186,000-miles-per-second.
And of course, nut that I am, I couldn’t help wonder what people on the Big Dipper’s stars might see on earth, if they were all looking down at us at the same time as I was looking up at them.
I mean, what would those gazers on the Big Dipper’s stars see on earth? None of course, could see me, for they would see our earth’s light from times past, not me at the time I was looking up at them.
But if they were looking down to earth all at one time, at that very moment, what would they see on earth?
This is what I imagined they’d see on that day in 1950 when I first imagined all this.
A Look at Earth from the Big Dipper
I see all the stars in the Big Dipper glowing at the same time. If there were people at this same moment, one on each star, gazing toward earth they’d each see something on earth that occurred at quite a different historic time, because of the time lapses.
They would see, each from his own star, in earthly times, something like this.
A fellow on Dubh would be watching Voltaire attend Isaac Newton’s burial in Westminster Abbey in 1726.
At the same time, someone on Phecda would see the Reno Gang, in 1866 robbing the train in Jackson County, Indiana.
Over on Megrez a fellow might be watching Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1892 inaugural performance of a Sherlock Holmes’ murder mystery.
The man on Mera probably sees Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicking over the lantern to start the 1871 Chicago Fire.
The person on Alioth could be watching Congress pass the 15th Constitutional Amendment giving African-American men the right to vote. And he might sneak some peeks at the girls dancing in the first Folles Bergère on stage in Paris in 1869.
A gal on Alkai might find it fascinating watching Abraham Lincoln getting his career moving along, with words like, “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time,” although the 1849 California Gold Rush boom and the first woman becoming a doctor might offer more interesting viewing.
Simultaneously, a chap over on Mizar would likely find Jesse James robbing his first bank in Columbia, Kentucky in 1872, a better “Western,” and more thrilling than Congress creating Yellowstone as the first National Park.
I found playing with this stretch of the mind, gave me better understanding of T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets.
Just consider Elliot’s Burnt Norton‘s opening lines:
Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.
I Began Reading Einstein Rather than Philosophers
Along about that time, probably by then I was a sophomore in College, I began reading physicist as more interesting than philosophers. I mean philosophers were dull, except for my quartet, Plato, Descartes, Kant and Nietzsche, While they were imaginative enough to hold my attention, I liked stretching my mind with physicists, like Einstein, Schrodinger, Heisenberg, and Gleick.
Physicists’ take on philosophical questions were far more fascinating than the college philosophers.
And the reason I set up this blog is to see if I can find a few rare birds like me who enjoy talking about big questions and who still consider they may not have the answers. Not yet, at least.
Out of the billions who have computers and are now browsing, there might just be a half dozen or so, who also like dabbling in the metaphysical soup as much as I do.
If you are as nuts as me, come join me on my blog.
And for fun, you might like to have a look at my latest book, Backpacker & Hikers’ Handbook.