Monthly Archives: October 2005
According to the article, Dark Threat, in the July 2005 issue of Astronomy magazine, a star, Gliese 710, will, 1.36 million years from now, penetrate the 6 trillion miles (1 light-year) distant” Oort Cloud and send 2.5 million comets into the inner solar system.” In recent years many articles and news pieces have appeared that focus on the dangers posed by asteroids and comets in our neighborhood that are threatening or someday will threaten our planet. Though the articles are recent, the fear is old. Ancient myths and scriptures reflect the fear, and it appears in popular culture too. In Annie Hall, Woody Allen”s character, Alvy, as a little boy, sits in his therapist””s office, and discloses, with his exasperated mother looking on, that he is tormented by thoughts of the universe expanding: “He stopped doing his homework,” his mother laments. “What””s the point?” says Alvy. Humor is one way of dealing with fear; who doesn”t like or need a good laugh. Doomsday, the death of all life, a cessation event that calls up images, feelings and thoughts orders of magnitude greater than any occasioned by the actual or contemplated death of a single individual. But the essential fact in both cases, that of something coming to an absolute end, is the same. Considering doomsday scenarios like that predicted in the recent Astronomy article, challenges some of us to reconsider our personal beliefs and understanding as well as the explanations and predictions of our social, religious, artistic, and scientific traditions and disciplines. Religions, for example, teach various forms of selflessness as a way to handle life””s problems, and death — one””s own as well as that of others — is certainly one the biggest of those problems. Buddha taught emptiness — also known as an-atman, no-self — and Paul exhorted us to join him in declaring: “Not I, but Christ.” To help us face the “last days” most religions offer prophetic scriptures that explain or describe an apocalypse — John””s vision of the end days recorded in the Book of Revelations is the most well-known of these in the Christian tradition. The fear of endings — both individual and collective. No definitive answers here. Questions mainly. But, I do feel there is exists an effective way to deal with this fear: living, thinking, and acting on the idea, discovery, or realization that the self is an illusion. Science in general and cognitive science in particular seem to be getting comfortable with the idea of no-self, that is, the idea that no-thing exists in isolation. The idea that nothing exists in an absolute, independent sense is not a new idea; consider Heraclitus”” observation that you can””t step twice into the same river; or the Buddhist teaching of pratitya-samutpada; and, more recently in contemporary philosophy, the illusory nature of so-called qualia as described by Daniel Dennett. Of course we do, each of us, exist, as selves, as individual egos; earth, moon, sun, they each exist; the qualia of sweetness, brightness, softness, hope, love, and perplexity are the stuff of life — but none of these exists absolutely, independent of everything else. Meher Baba wrote: “It””s characteristic of the ego that it takes all that is unimportant as important and all that is important as unimportant.” How important or unimportant is that rogue star set to rendezvous with the Oort Cloud and send comets hurtling into our solar system in 1.36 million years?
First, lullaby, my youthful years, — , Gascoigne’s Lullaby (9-12)
It is now time to go to bed,
For crooked age and hoary hairs
Have won the haven within my head.