Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Chasm



            An adventurous group of PMs (post-moderns) gather at a local tea house to discuss the meaning of air. One of them has a basketball and they all chuckle on recalling they at one time thought Bill Cosby was right. They debate this further and come to a series of conclusions.
            The first is that gravity only holds power over those who ignore it (like babies and animals), study it (like modernists) or fear it (like John Madden who will not fly in an airplane). Since they choose none of the above they conclude (or rather they agree together with an important sense of purpose and camaraderie) that gravity has no power over them.
            The second conclusion is that space (breadth, height, depth - the dimensional quality of reality we learn to measure with a ruler in grade school) is ruled by perception (e.g. English versus metric). They develop the view that space is neither English nor metric - these having quickly been discarded as obsolete grand narratives that continually oppose one another and remain mutually exclusive as proven by numerous cases of faulty conversions leading to the catastrophic failures of various engines of science and industry - as I said neither English nor metric ... but Elastic, sometimes contracting and sometimes expanding depending on the boldness of those determined to defeat its restrictive qualities.  This actually takes them quite some time as their initial consensus was that space was elastic depending on the temperature of matter within it. An older gentleman of considerable influence (and secretly a neo-modern Gnostic preternaturalist) is adamant that matter did not matter as evidenced by the almost random and illogical changes in the definition of the universe that man construed over the centuries: concentric crystal spheres, the petrified earwax of primordial giants (in a spiral universe actually comprised of the giant’s cochlea) or the back of a very large turtle. He vehemently asserts that matter is defined by space and furthermore it is man (who conquered space) that determines its real extent. His arguments are long, loud and mesmerizing until the others are deeply moved to agree with him (although they are troubled that his arguments seem to be too logical, but they do not admit this to each other). To summarize, any one space can be wide, long, deep, narrow, short or shallow simply depending on, and because of, one’s perspective.
            Lastly they conclude that air is essentially an elastic solid. This takes very little discussion at all, which frightens them as it almost seems a self-evident truth, and that is the subject of a typical nightmare for them (“Billy”, scolds their mother, “you have to use your head, no one can use it for you. If you go to school in your underwear, people are going to laugh at you.”). PMs are uncomfortable with something that is clearly objective truth. Truth that results from direct observation cannot be separated from the bias of the observer (standing on the ground we conclude the earth is flat, but floating in outer space - air stretched beyond its yield point - we can see it is spherical). This bias is always present. Therefore one person’s observation is no more valid than another’s misconception.
            Nevertheless, having come to such startling fresh views about air and so on, they order a last round of Chai tea and cranberry scones, and toast their success. With effusive exuberance they agree to demonstrate the validity (a pesky habit from their modernist past) of these conclusions that very day. Brushing away the crumbs they proudly stride off to gather friends and families. As they proceed through the village a crowd assembles with gleeful anticipation of discovering what illuminating new framework of thought has been forged. They labor up the hill outside town and down the other side, enjoying a jaunty hike through a shady forest and the glade beyond that ends at a precipice known as the Leap of Faith. The grassy ledge gives way to a chasm about 200 yards wide, through which the Laughing River splashes merrily along a quarter mile below.
            This band of merry fellows explains to the crowd what distinctive notions they have delineated, the oration of the old gentlemen in particular bringing the audience to a rousing cheer. They now proceed to the chasm’s edge and pronounce that since space is elastic, the chasm is no more than a few feet across.  Furthermore, since air is matter and since gravity is powerless over them, they will walk to the other side without so much as getting their feet wet. The townspeople gasp and clap and cheer wildly, all except one little girl.
            Her somber face stops the merry making when she walks boldly to the front and picks up a rock. She makes her way to the old gentlemen who greets her with a smile and asks, “Did you want to join us in our momentous walk today, young lady?”
            She replies, “Well, Sir,” as she hands him the rock, ”if you are able to make your considerable self walk across this chasm without getting your feet wet, then surely you will have no trouble throwing this rock to the other side, as it must be much less taxing on air and space than you. If you are successful in doing so I should be very happy to join you this day.”
            “Hmm,” says the old fellow scratching his chin thoughtfully, “I believe this rock will have no problem reaching the other side even by just rolling along over the air, it being only a short way and the air being of significant volume.” Wild applause breaks out all through the crowd and the proud band of men at the edge clap each other on the shoulders as they prepare to make their crossing.
            The older man sets himself to release the rock like the bocce bowler he is, and everyone holds their breath. He draws back his arm and swings it gently forward not in the least trying to fling the rock any great distance. It falls immediately, hits the side of the canyon, knocking one small rock and another, and these in turn loosing larger boulders, until the whole side is smashing downward with a roar and a billowing cloud of dust. All of the people run to avoid getting swept down by the crumbling chasm wall until they are well back into the forest, coughing and sputtering from all the dust and fright. After the crashing thunder stops the resilient air begins to clear. They become silent in their disbelief and creep back to see what this rock that failed to roll across the air has done. There at the bottom of the Leap of Faith is a tremendous smoking mound of earth and stone. The Laughing River is laughing no more.
            Some are already thinking of an appropriate name for the lake that will soon build up behind this natural dam. “Fools Lake” is a name that occurs to more than one of the shocked and grimy townsfolk. They look for the old gentleman and his band of merry thinkers but they cannot be found. Meanwhile the little girl has wandered off to the top of the hill behind the forest. She is scattering tiny parachute seeds of dandelion which climb in the breeze, drift over the trees and across the chasm. She knows what air is for.