Silence Pt. 1

Written by Alexander Greco

May 31, 2019

Three minutes. I told myself to keep my mind silent for three minutes, and then I could stop meditating for the day. Just three minutes of silence. Then, I quieted my mind. I listened to my breathing. I felt my body sitting against the ground beneath me. I listened to the groans of all my subtle aches and pains. I let my emotions drift through my mind, and noticed how anxious and frustrated I was. Then I imagined it all dissolving, and that I was alone with my consciousness.

I was alone. And I was quiet. And I was at peace.

And I remembered deciding to start meditation after the editor-and-chief of our small-time newspaper emailed me. It was something along the lines of, “Angela, I’m sending this as a warning in advance. You’ve done great here for the last few years, but you’re starting to fall apart a little. What’s going on? You’ve had three weeks of poor decision after poor decision. I don’t want to call you in–I don’t want this to become a ‘thing’—but I’ll have to if this keeps up.”

How do you respond to that? How do you deal with that? What do you do after that? I guess you get better, somehow—obviously—but what do you do to get better? I didn’t even know I’d been making “poor decision after poor decision”, no one had told me! And…

And I have to let go of that for right now.

Return to quiet.

Return to peace.

Return to being alone, and imagining myself dissolving.

I imagined that I was sitting with the silence, as a sort of friend and companion. I breathed in all my worries, where they filtered through my lungs like tarry particulates…

Then breathed out all the worries, retaining only peace and goodness…

Then breathed in all the worries…

Then breathed out.

Then breathed in.

Then breathed out.

Then a stray thought entered my mind.

Something trivial—something about a YouTube video I‘d watched the other day.

Well, I guess it was more the memory of the video popping up in my head, not so much the thought of the video. I could hear the two girls in the video talking in my head, then laughing. I think it was about Yoga?

Yoga would be good today—Yoga and meditation. And museli and dates—Ah! What a day that’d be… …but the carbs. Oh, the carbs! What if I slowly gain more and more weight eating more and more carbs? But museli and dates, those have good carbs, right? Fiber and whole grains, and good sugar. Is there such a thing as good sugar? As good carbs?

It doesn’t matter. We’ll think about it later.

Breathe in… my lungs expand with a windy whooshing sound…

Quiet the mind.

Breathe out… with a groaning relief of pressure.

Silence.

Breathe in…

…the worries, the anxieties, the troubles…

…breathe out…

…retaining peace and goodness…

…Breathe in.

Gently bring yourself back to a state of calm and quiet.

Gently.

Quietly.

In.

And out.

In…

Out…

And silence…

My dog. I forgot to feed my dog this morning.

Shit, that’s an important one. I need to do that this morning before for work. I should do that sooner than later, before I forget. I almost started standing up to go feed my dog, but then I remembered, and sat back down. In and out. In and out.

In and out.

I had listened to a podcast once, with the host and his guest talking for almost half an hour on how hard it is to get into meditation. They said for a while it’d be tough, but then you get to some sort of breakthrough, or you notice it getting easier, or you work out your own routine or technique or whatever—something personalized that works just for you. I wonder what’s not working for me? Because I keep getting distracted. I’d been sitting still for seventeen minutes, and I probably couldn’t keep my mind silent for more than thirty seconds. Seventeen minutes after I started meditating, I realized I’d wasted seventeen minutes, gained nothing, and had three minutes left to be “productive”.

I began meditation because I’d been having a slew of issues. I guess the tipping point was work, but really it was everything—it was a life riddled with problems like worms in an overripe apple.  It was not being able to sit still at work. It was not being able to focus while I wrote. It was acting anxiously around co-workers. It was making impulse-buys at the grocery store. It was getting on my phone at all hours of the day. It was—

Dingdingdingdingdingdingdingdingdingdingdingdingdingdingdingdingdingdingding—Tngk.

It was my wind-up alarm going off. Three minutes was over. That was that.

I sighed… Then… I sort of gave up for the day and stood up.

Before I leave, I’ll grab some food, maybe start listening to a podcast, and—oh! My dog! I still need to feed my dog. I hope he still has food left—he should, I bought some not too long ago (right? Didn’t I?). But I need to go to the grocery store anyway, I was almost out of milk, so I could grab some more then. Ooh, and after work today, maybe I could…

I opened the refrigerator.

The light didn’t come on, no Freon-infused air came out, and there was no sound of internal humming.

After a moment of hesitation, I closed the door. I walked around to the back of the refrigerator, and it was still plugged in. Huh.

I turned and looked at the microwave. There was no time on the microwave. There was no time on the oven either. Something had happened to the power, I suppose, but I wasn’t too worried. I figured I’d go check the breakers downstairs. My cellphone was laying on the kitchen counter, and I grabbed it before I began walking to my basement.

Along the way, I thought I’d check the time, maybe see if I got any Facebook notifications, see if anyone I subscribed to on YouTube posted something neat. But, my phone wouldn’t turn on. Strange. I thought I charged it overnight. It should be radiating with life right now. Maybe it was just turned off?

I held down the power button down. And I held it down. And I held it down. And I stopped at the doors to my basement. My phone wasn’t turning on. My heart dropped, but I consoled myself—I can just…

I can’t charge it. My power is gone. And I can’t go into the basement now, my only flashlight is on my phone.

Dread rolled through my body. I tried to calm myself down, tell myself how silly I was, but it didn’t help. I even felt like I might start panicking. What the fuck do I do now? My car! My car has a USB port. I’ll just turn my car on, plug my phone in, let it charge long enough that I can use the flashlight and check the breakers, then call someone and head to work. I walked back through my house, into my living room, grabbed a USB charging cable, my keys, and walked out the front door to my car.

When I pressed the button to unlock my car, nothing happened. I pressed it again, now coming to next to the car, and nothing happened. I put my key into the door lock and turned it. The door unlocked. I sat down in my car, put the key in the ignition, and turned the key. Nothing. Nothing happened. My heart skipped a beat. I told myself that nothing bad was happening, that this situation would sort of magically fix itself

I turned my key again. The situation wasn’t magically fixed.

I kept turning my key and turning my key, but the car refused to turn on. Finally, I reached down and pulled the little lever to pop the hood, then got out of the car and walked around to look under the hood. I knew next to nothing about cars, but upon first inspection everything seemed fine. I checked the battery terminals, and they seemed to be on pretty tight. I looked around at all the various parts, but I didn’t know what to look for. It seemed fine. That’s the best that I could say.

Dazed and panicking, I closed the hood. I tried not to worry. I tried not to begin stressing. I tried not to freak out and have an anxiety attack. I told myself it was silly to do a thing like that—I’m an adult, a modern adult, and I don’t have anything to worry about—but I couldn’t console myself. Then, from the edge of my peripheral vision, I saw them all. I looked up.

My house is at the very end of a cul-de-sac in a nice, suburban neighborhood. My street—my cul-de-sac—is pretty long. There’s quite a few houses on it, with quite a bit of distance between all of them. From where I live, I can see all the houses on my street without having to turn my head. From where I stood now, I saw people from at least half of the houses standing on their front yards, their driveways, and on the street.

It might be an overstatement to say my jaw dropped, but it was ajar when I regained any sort of self-awareness. The sight of all these people frightened me. From where I was, they all looked as dazed as I was. I almost didn’t want to approach them, as if doing so might be an admission some dark, unknown truth pressing against me at that moment. Terror—actual terror—crept through me. Something was going on, and I didn’t know what—andmy car wouldn’t turn on, and I had no power in my home, and my phone was dead.

Then, a thought occurred to me. Maybe they know what’s going on. Maybe they’ve got it figured it out. Surely they’ll have the answer, and, besides, we’re all adults. We’re all grown-ups here. We can help each other out. We’ll be alright.

Among the people around the cul-de-sac, I saw a small cluster of five people, and I recognized three of them. One of them, a guy named Paul, I knew rather well. Then there was a couple, John and Mary—whom I had talked to a few times—and I recognized the other two people- an older man and middle-aged woman who both lived alone -but I didn’t know their names. I began walking over to them. I was still anxious, but I knew there were other people dealing with all this—other people who probably knew what was going on (whatever was going on).

Paul noticed me when I was about twenty yards away and began waving at me. I waved back, then the rest of the group turned around and looked at me. Their faces told me they shared my worries. When I was within twenty feet of them, Paul called out, “Do you know what’s going on?”

I slowed for a moment and almost stopped, then picked the pace up again to reach them. I shook my head as I approached, then stopped about six feet away from their small knot. “No,” I said, “I was hoping you all might know about… Whatever… Whatever seems to be happening.”

We all looked at each other for a few seconds, and, in the silence of that moment, everything felt incredibly real and deceitfully fake at the same time. I broke the silence, trying to get on the same page as everyone. “Is the power out at all of your houses?”

They all nodded.

“What about your cars?”

They nodded again.

“And your phones?”

Reluctantly, almost painfully—almost tragically—they all nodded.

Wheels in my head began to spin. “So, none of you know what’s going on at all?”

They all shook their heads.

“None you can go anywhere unless you go on foot?”

They shook their heads. “Or bike,” Paul added.

“And you can’t get in contact… With anyone?”

Once again, they shook their heads.

Panic began to creep into my nerves again. I felt cold and hot, and confused, and angry and scared, and lost—like I didn’t know where I was anymore. “What… What the fuck?” I said, “Why? Wha… What’s… What the hell?”

Reality seemed to fall out from beneath me. How could these other adults not know what was going on? We were all well-educated grown-ups living in a nice, suburban neighborhood—how could we not know what was going on?”

Paul spoke up, “We were talking about walking into the city, seeing if we could find some cops or something. Do you want to come with us?”

“I have to go to work,” I said.

“How?” asked Paul.

I hadn’t thought about this. I panicked even more, thinking that I might miss work. “I don’t know,” I said.

“So, come with us,” said Paul, gently and cheerfully. I think he could tell I was stressing out. I think they could all tell.

“But, I mean… I have to go to work.”

“I think they’ll understand­,” said John, “especially if this is happening in the rest of the city.”

“Come with us,” Paul spoke with a smile. “We’ll figure this out.”

I thought for a moment, then slowly nodded.

“Yea,” I said, “sure.”

We talked for a little while—talked about where we might go, how we’ll get there, who we might see, what might be going on—and then eventually set out for the city. This was good. We were all adults, working together. We had a plan; we were going somewhere with the purpose of… Of figuring out what was going on and finding… Finding someone, anyone, who might know how to fix any of this… So that… So that I could go to work, then go home, then watch YouTube videos about Yoga, then set the alarm on my phone for 5 AM, and then go to sleep We were good.

A Glimpse

Written by Alexander Greco

May 10, 2019

The monk walked me through the sunlit hallways of our retreat facility. It was a sprawling wooden building, something like a minimalist’s fortress-temple in the middle of the woods. My guide was a young Tibetan man around my age who’d immigrated to America, and began working at these retreats while still studying Buddhism. I got to know him a little while we talked at the orientation, several days before I went on the five-hour drive to the middle of the North Pacific forests. Now, however, there was no talking between us.

The monk walked me through the compound, silently weaving through a honeycomb of stained wood and white painted walls. I tried to keep track of our path through this building, but I quickly lost track of where I was at. Eventually, I was brought to the door of my room—the small, squarish space with one small bed, a nightstand, a clock, and a window. No lamp, no mirror, no personal bathroom—nothing.

The monk opened the door to my small bedroom for me, and I walked inside. The monk held up two fingers. I nodded. The group meditation would begin in two hours. I closed the door behind me, then turned to my room and looked around. There wasn’t much to look at. I took off my backpack, and sat down on the floor, not entirely sure what to do.

I folded my legs, and shimmied around a bit, until I felt I was in a comfortable position. Then I closed my eyes. And I sat there in silence.

I was very self-conscious of myself there. I’d only been practicing meditation for the last year. I’d never gone to a retreat like this before. The fact that I was here, sitting on the ground. It filled my mind. I was sitting still, in a building full of people I don’t know. On this hardwood floor, in the middle of the woods, in complete silence. For ten days. Somehow, this was all supposed to “work”.

My mind stretched across those ten days, watching a small fraction of infinity unfurl. For ten days, I would be that small infinity, stretching on. For ten days, I would be completely silent. For ten days, I would be completely silent, in a building in the middle of nowhere, with complete strangers, all of whom were also silent. That was my existence.

In an effort to ignore the hardwood floor,

And then I wondered about why I was even here. I was here to, what, clear my mind I suppose? I was here to solve all my problems, right? I was here to fix myself, to be a happier, more wholesome person. I was here to live a better life.

I was here to be silent, to clear my head out of all this garbage, yes, yes that was it. I was going to come here to clear all that bullshit out of my head. Erase it all—that’s what meditation is for, right? It’s for clearing all the stress out, erasing the anxieties.

Yes, that’s what I was here for. That’s what I’ll do. And so I sat. And I sat. And I sat.

Breathing, yes, listen to your breathing.

So, I inhaled, and I exhaled. I inhaled. And I exhaled.

And I listened to each breath, fighting the urge to count the breaths, or make some inner commentary on how a certain breath sounded. I listened to each breath, and I felt my body as it moved, and I felt the room around me.

And I realized for the first time since I’d driven up here that it was rather humid here. I didn’t think there was any air-conditioning here—it was all open-aired, somewhat Bohemian or New Agey—but I suppose that was supposed to be the effect. Take it all in.

Just take it all…

In…

All the humidity, all the clammy hands, and all the sticky hair. All the muscle groans and strained spine, and all the ringing ear and itching nose, and all the distant insect sounds and pollen-filled air. It was all so clear, and all so simultaneously focused, and all so simultaneously distracting, and all these distractions were all so good at making me twitch or reposition, or think, and rethink, and monitor, and worry, and wonder, and walk through thoughts I’d thought days ago, wondering always, and wondering, always, “Why?”

And why was I in this room?

Yes, yes, I know, I’d gone through the list myself. We’ve gone over this, to clear this trash from my head.

Then why aren’t you doing that? Look, you’re thinking, you’re not supposed to be thinking.

Then stop!

Hey, calm down, it’s okay. Calm down, we’re here to get rid of the stress.

Right, right, you’re right.

Big breaths.

Big breaths.

In, out.

In, out.

Clear your mind.

Yes, I’m clearing my mind.

Okay, good, good.

Clearing my mind. Clearing my mind. Clearing my mind.

And for moments, there was silence.

I listened to my breathing. I felt the sensation of my skin. And I quieted my mind from all the internal clutter.

I could feel the thoughts threaten to erupt—like a violin bow coming dangerously close to the string—but I did not think any thoughts.

Oh, but how they silently hummed, and how the tear of a squealing note almost escaped several times. How the thoughts tried to be thunk. How the long tensions threatened to erupt.

If only I could think just one thought, I thought, and maybe just pay attention to that thought. Focus, right, and don’t think about anything else? So I sat and thought, well, what one thing would I want to think?

Bills? Love life? My life goals? What I want to do next week?

What was the most important thing I could be thinking about?

Well, I could be thinking about any number of important things, and god there were so many important things to choose from—and so many important things that overlapped in ways where you couldn’t think about one without the other (and god, were those things the worst!—those nests of spiteful misfortune and bad luck, where filthy, diseased hydras lurk in swamps of modern grievance).

Car insurance, rent, scholarships, grants, loans and debt and bills and credit, and repainting the bathroom walls so it wouldn’t come out of my deposit, and my statistics class I’d be taking when the semester began, and the spot where my hair has begun to thin (I’m only barely 21 now), and did all the booze and late night cigarettes do it? Was it all the stress, compounding onto one another? And wouldn’t all that stress affect everything else I had to do? Wouldn’t the raised cortisol, the difficulty sleeping, the straining brain, and the constant drag of anxiety ruin the rest of my life? And what would my mom think? What if I don’t do well in classes? What if the last few years were simply a fluke, and it would all fall apart spectacularly in the next year? One stumbled test, and I might be reeling for the rest of the year—who knows what might happen? Who know what rock I might break my ankle on? Oh, god, a broken ankle. Imagine an actual broken ankle. What in the world would I do? Who knows what river current might drag me down while I’m still padding through this mess without a boat? And then what would I do? What would I do for money? Where would I live? How would I live? How would I pay for the necessities of survival? How would I keep my hair from thinning if this whole world simply collapsed?

What a monster. What a hydra.

No. No, I shouldn’t think of those things. I shouldn’t dare think of those things, not while I’m here—not while I’m trying to get rid of the stress.

But maybe you should meditate on those things, maybe you could discover some deep, dark secret about the meaning of life—or something.

No, that’s not how it works—you don’t focus on the negative, you don’t get distracted with thoughts, you don’t stress yourself out.

What do you do then?

You stop worrying.

But there’s so much to worry about.

That’s why you’re here, to stop worrying, so you can go back to normal life, and…

And find all the same old worries.

Yes, perhaps, but you’ll be better equipped to—

To cope with them? To deal with them? To think about them?

…yes.

What sort of plan is this?

It’s our plan, now sit and meditate. Come on, we’ve been meditating for a year now—we’ve been trying so hard—why can’t you meditate here? Why can’t you do this? Why can’t you—

We’ve been half-ass meditating. We came here to get better at meditation.

Right, right—that’s right! We came here to get better at meditation, so we could meditate better once we went back.

And look at how well we’re doing.

It’s only been [I opened my eyes and looked at the clock]—

It’s been twenty minutes. Of sitting.

It’s been twenty whole minutes? [I was still staring at the clock]

Twenty whole minutes.

But… But we’ve barely been meditating.

Yeah.

Like… No, really, we’ve barely begun.

Twenty minutes.

What will we be like in 10 days?

What will we be like in another twenty minutes?

I was in fact silent now.

My brain sort of stopped. I felt a small amount of panic. A somber, frantic sort of remorse.

I’d already fucked up, hadn’t I?

I’d fucked up from birth, I was sure of that now.

This life had been one long tunnel of fuck-ups leading to this fuck up, I’d realized that.

I was born into the mouths of the hydra. At the hospital, they must have been smiling in wait between my mother’s legs.

Two heads bit onto my feet and pulled me out. All the others wrapped around my body, and they’ve been constricting just tightly enough that I’ve been gasping for air, but I can’t do anything to stop them.

And now, you can’t even sit down to meditate.

Well, give it a try, I told myself, we have ten days to figure this out—we’ve only been here twenty minutes—

Half an hour.

—and we’ve been practicing for a year—

Half ass practicing.

Ten minutes passed by? [I looked back at the clock]

Yupp.

How? What happened?

You were thinking.

But… but I wasn’t even thinking about anything that mattered. Why… What am I doing?

The hydra squeezed until my spine cracked. A numbing, irritating, cold, hot sensation rose from my pelvis. I could feel it spread like wings near my kidneys, and a hellish winter breath billowed up my throat and into my head. My eyes watered from the chill and the burn, and the gripping, grasping, constricting pressure of a thousand worries. I couldn’t keep the rain from raining.

It won’t leave me alone, will it? There’s no escape.

No, maybe there’s not. But we’re here now. We’re right here, in this room, sitting on a stranger’s floor in a stranger’s forest. So, try.

And, so, I did.

I sat. I closed my eyes. And I didn’t think.

For a long time, I could still feel the great beast engulfing me in its gnashing, burning, frigid pressure. Its teeth lazily tore at my body like a pack of wild dogs. The furnace in its belly burnt my eyes, and the rain wouldn’t stop raining. But I just sat there, and let myself feel it.

I felt my body. I felt myself resting on the ground. I felt my chest rising and falling, rising and falling. And I felt the world smothering me in its infinite coils.

And then I felt the air against my skin. I watched the light hitting my closed eyelids. I mapped the movements of quiet sounds.

I sat there, feeling the world, feeling myself, feeling whatever my mind thought I should feel. And I sat there for second after second, minute after minute, feeling and watching and waiting, and giving in to the world I felt. Perhaps, I thought, if I did this long enough, I might feel the Earth spinning in the void. If I watched myself long enough, I might watch myself sleep in the soil. If I listened long enough, I might hear the sound of nothing.

And suddenly, I felt the coils no longer.

I was silent.

And all I saw was black. All I saw were the back of my eyelids cutting the sunlight of the rest of the cosmos off from my pupils, severing the beams of oceans of photons. All I saw was the flesh of the back of my eyelid, staring back at me.

And I decided to embrace the silence—that’s all I could do really—and fill myself with it, and feel myself in it, and watch myself feeling it.

But there was still nothing.

Only silence.

Perhaps a calm.

But not a happy calm.

Not a victorious calm.

Not an enlightened calm.

Just less blustery winds.

And I still wasn’t sure what I was doing there.

But I embraced that.

And, nonetheless, I sat.

And sat.

And sat.

And stared at my eyelids.

And then I tried something different.

I decided to focus on the darkness inside my eyes. I tried to focus on the silence in my ears. I tried to focus on the emptiness in my head.

All my attention of the world around me waned, and my awareness of the world inside my head blossomed. Slowly, the reality in my head eclipsed the reality outside my head. Slowly. Slowly. Slowly the moon crossed over the Sun.

And there was only the silence, the dark, and the emptiness, with fringe coronas of an external reality.

Everything was still. Everything was empty. Everything was nothing.

Silence.

Pure, pure silence.

And then, there was a humming.

A ringing.

A keening.

A crashing.

A baying.

A billowing.

A howling storm inside a vast empty cavern—a numb, midnight-blue, frigid hellfire of silence.

And then it went quiet. And there was nothing there.

Nothing…

And then…

I saw something.

Eyes. Staring at me.

I opened my own eyes. There was just the room around me. Nothing more.

I closed my eyes again. And I was in the void of my head. And there I saw the eyes again.

Violet and indigo, and ultraviolet and gamma-ray eyes. They were glowing eyes in the dark, staring into mine, beaming into the holes in my skull like two supernovas focused at my retina—beaming a crashing river of thoughts into my head. It was so much information, all streaming into my thoughts, or perhaps it was my thoughts streaming into my thoughts, wreathing in quilts of the color spectrum that danced and hummed and shook and shattered.

It was the Truth. I don’t know how I knew; I don’t know what told me so, I don’t know why I believed it, I don’t know what caused me to believe it, but I knew it to be so.

I saw the Truth staring at me with indigo and ultraviolet eyes. I saw myself staring back at me. I saw my self in and of myself. I saw my eyes looking into my eyes. Between my eyes and my eyes, between the black holes staring into our black holes, where all the light disappeared into our retina, was an infinite space. Between my self and I was an infinite mirror, an infinite, lightless pit, and an infinite, empty space. There, in the space between our eyes. That was the Truth.

Something greater than myself, something greater that I was a part of, rose in the space between our eyes. It was a vast thing, a voluminous thing, a cascading and rampant thing. It was the hydra, but it was something more. It was a machine that grew between my self and I like wildfires and swarms of ants—a machine made of letters and numbers, and the crawling insects that formed the shifting architecture carried grammatical nuts and bolts, and division rods, and axles of integration, and the wildfires carried seeds of trees in screaming hands of industrial decorum. My skull bulged at its limits—squeezing diamonds of quilted thought, pushing at the cage around my brain—as I witnessed the mechanisms of gods and daemons and artificers of cosmic muse, and of the architecture that remains ignorantly omniscient and blindly omnipotent.

For a moment, only the briefest moment, I was my self, and I was the universe staring back at its self through an astronaut’s suit of carbon, iron, calcium, oxygen, lipids, proteins, and strings of chemical archives.

And then I opened my eyes.

And I was in my room again.

There was a knock on the door.

It was time to go meditate with the others.

What Do We Know (2.0)

By Alexander Greco

April 22, 2019

What is real? What’s just fantasy?

What is fact? What’s just theory?

What is true? What’s just fabrication?

What do we know about the world we live in, the people we live with, and the person we are?

Light comes in through the cornea, and is refracted into your pupil, then through a hard lens, where the light is focused into the retina. Our retinas capture this constant bombardment of trillions of light-waves/particles, and process this light with millions of special nerves called rods and cones. These rods and cones convert light stimuli, which are picked up by the optic nerve, and sent to the brain.

Your brain processes the optic signals with the limbic system first, where our brain scans for threats or rewarding opportunities. The limbic system first “communicates” with the Automatic Nervous System, which governs our fear response, our fight-or-flight instinct, and our sexual attraction instincts. If there’s an immediate threat, such as a snake on the ground, or a potentially rewarding opportunity, such as a person you find attractive, your brain and body begin responding before you know what you’re looking at.

Finally, the processed light-signals are sent to our neo-cortex, where we consciously “see” the light.

Similarly-complex sensory systems detect what we smell, what we hear, what we feel and what we taste, and this is the foundation of how we understand the world around us.

These senses alone are nowhere near what you need to actually understand what’s happening around us. Humans have an incredibly weak sense of smell, we can only detect a narrow range of light waves, our easily-damaged ears can only hear a certain range of sound, and we only see so far, or so close, with limited clarity. The parts of our brain that process these signals can misfire, or misunderstand what it’s looking at (optical illusions).

In addition, our senses alone don’t tell us how a thing works.

We only began to understand gravity in 1687 with Newton, then with Einstein in the 20th century, and we still don’t fully understand how it works.

In fact, we don’t understand how most of the universe works.

27% of the universe is made of Dark Matter, which constitutes 85% of the total mass in the universe. 68% is Dark Energy.[1] That’s 95% of the universe that we don’t understand. All the stars, planets, black holes, comets, asteroids and space debris make up only 5% of the universe.

But let’s go smaller.

The universe is much so much bigger than what we experience normally, we at least know what’s happening on Earth.

Do we?

As a species, we’ve all but mastered mechanical, electrical, optical, thermodynamic and nuclear physics… To a degree.

We now know vast amounts about of biology, evolution and genetics… Relatively speaking.

We have a deep and accurate understanding of psychology… In some ways.

And we’re more informed about the world around us than ever before…

Except we’ve learned enough to see how little we actually know.

We now know enough about quantum mechanics to know that the subatomic world is bizarre and nonsensical, and often violates “laws” of nature, such as the Law of Conservation.[2]

Not only does it violate the Law of Conservation, but quantum mechanics is incompatible with Einstein’s Relativity, and has led to decades of scientists trying to reconcile the two.[3] Decades later, we still haven’t reconciled the two.

Do we at least understand how people work? Why we are the way we are? Why we act the way we act? How we’ve come to be who we are?

Well… Yes and no…

To a certain degree, we understand how humans work. We understand what our bodies are made of, how our muscles, bones, cardiovascular system and so forth work, and how our nervous system works.

We understand that genetics and the environment affect our physical and psychological development.

We understand that genetics, our brain, past experiences, learned behaviors, hormones, psychological states, emotional health, and physical health all play roles in our behaviors and decisions.

We understand how evolution has shaped and changed us over billions of years into modern humans, and how epigenetic adaptations on the individual level.

We have a pretty solid, foundational understanding of how the human body works, but this foundational understanding has shown us the vast amounts of our genetics, biology, physiology, and psychology that we don’t know.

Let’s take something as simple as hair. We have hair follicles in our skin. They grow using nutrients from our body, and they grow according to chemical signals from our nerves.

However, everything is also controlled by our genes. Everything from the follicles, to the structure of each hair, to how fast each hair grows, is coded by genes. And, there can be multiple genes that code for the same thing. You can have multiple genes controlling the color, length and coarseness of your hair, or one gene that codes for several different traits. These genes can be turned on or off, they can perform different functions based on the hormones in your body, and they can also code other genes.

However, genes are only one part of the equation, and things like your diet or how often you exercise can affect individual traits. Everything in the body is interconnected, and it’s highly

We’re only just beginning to know the ins-and-outs of our body.

There are still mysteries to evolution, unanswered questions, and long-debated ideas.

There are still mysteries about genetics, how genes work, and how genes affect our anatomy and psychology.

And there are still mysteries about the brain. We’re still trying to understand all the ins-and-outs of brain function, of how we think and process information, and why we behave the way we do.

Consciousness is a perfect example. We still don’t even know what consciousness is, or if consciousness is real or an illusion. We don’t know why we’re conscious, or what causes consciousness. Yet, consciousness is one of the most important aspects of being a human.

But what about the basic world around us. What do we even know about something as simple as a desk-lamp?

It’s an object that “stands” on our desk. It has a “lightbulb” you can put in or take out. You can “turn it on” to make light come out of the lightbulb.

But how does it stand without falling? How is it constructed? What materials does it made of?

What even is a lightbulb? How does it work? Why does it work the way it works? What is it made of? Is it incandescent? Is it an LED bulb? How does an LED work?

Yes, you can take the time to answer all these questions, even down to what metals and gases are used inside a bulb, and the reasons why they are used, but can you do that for everything? And can you do that for everything all the time?

What is the desk made of? How is it constructed? What materials? Why does it even work?

What about a flash drive? Or headphones? Or your computer?

Why are we able to look out a window and see what’s outside? Why does one flower look prettier than another flower? Why are the walls of a room painted the color they are, and, for that matter, how does paint even work?

Yes, we can stop and explain everything around us, but how often do we do that? How much do we actually know, from one person to the next, about the fundamental objects of daily life? How much do we take for granted when we walk out the door, or even when we wake up in our bed?

Jordan Peterson has a great explanation of this. A car is a thing-that-gets-us-from-one-place-to-the-next, until it stops working. As soon as it stops working, it becomes a chaotic-object-of-anxiety-and-ignorance—a terrifying monster made of valves, wires, pipes, pulleys and gears. But as soon as the car gets fixed, it transforms back into a thing-that-gets-us-from-one-place-to-the-next.

Even more basic than basic objects around us, do we even know what’s going on half the time?

What’s happening on the other side of the four walls around you? What’s happening next door? What’s happening down the street? What’s happening in the next town over? What’s going on in your state, or your country, or the rest of the world?

Unfortunately, we barely even know what’s happening outside our front doors.

When we do see something happening, how much do we actually know about it?

If we see two strangers arguing, do you have any clue what it might be about?

What’s going on in those people’s heads?

What’s going on in anyone’s head, for that matter?

A friend of mine explained something called a “black box” in computer programming. A black box is a piece of code where you can see what information goes in and what information goes out, but you can’t see what happens inside that code. For example, you input X into the black box, and the black box outputs Y, but you don’t know why the black box took in X and put out Y.

Humans are a lot like this.

As I’ve already mentioned, we’re complicated motherfuckers. We barely know why we do the things we do, let alone why other people do the things we do. We barely even know basic information about people and their lives.

What was someone’s upbringing like? How did their parenting, their early experiences, their education, their environment, and so forth affect their personality? What’s their health like? What matters to that person? What does that person go home to each day? What goes on in that person’s head?

Even things like what a person ate on a given day, how much they slept, or the state of their gut bacteria on a given day can alter their personality.

So how much do you know about the person you’re talking to?

How much do you really know, and how much do you make up, or assume?

How often do we make assumptions about people we know? How often do we make assumptions about who they are, what kind of person they are, and the reasons why they behave how they behave?

How often do we project an easy-to-understand, cookie-cutter identity to a person? How often do we then treat them as if they were a cookie-cutter person, instead of treating them as the complex, dynamic human they really are?

The problem is, we can’t do this for everyone.

We can’t take the time to deeply understand each and every individual we come in contact with. We have to make assumptions about them.

At the very best, we have to make educated guesses about a person, but even these guesses can be way off the mark.

Let’s take it a step further.

How do we know how we know things?

How can we be sure we know what we know?

How can we be sure we know anything?

It seems almost stupid to ask (“You just know, you know?”), but it’s really hard to pinpoint how we can be sure of what we know.

Even asking, “What does it mean to ‘know’ something?” is a rabbit hole in and of itself.

We only know what our brain tells us to know. We only know this because our brain tells us we know this. Our brain can be wrong, our brain is forgetful, and our brain is biased. Our brain can be lazy, tired, confused, misguided, and deliberately irrational.

Beyond that, how sure can we even be about the things we “really” know.

There’s a thought experiment about a brain in a jar (which may or may not have originated with HP Lovecraft’s “The Whisperer in the Darkness”).

Let’s say you’re a brain in a jar, with all these wires hooked up to your brain. These wires send signals telling you what you see, what your body looks like, what you’re doing, and what emotions you have. As far as you know, you’re a person walking around in the world, doing your thing, but in reality, you’re a brain in a jar.

This sounds sci-fi-ish (it’s one of the ideas behind The Matrix), but there’s legitimate speculation in the scientific community about Simulation Theory. Simulation Theory states that we may be in a reality simulated by a computer-like technology, or some higher form of technology that transcends our knowledge of physics. We could be living in a computer-fabricated universe, dictated by lines of 6th-dimensional computer code.

We are reaching an age where our technology and our computing power will be so powerful that we ourselves might be able to create our own simulated realities. We already have virtual reality goggles, we can already create computer-generated realities and interact with these realities (video games), and people like Elon Musk are already creating technologies that can directly link our brains to computers.

What’s to say a civilization before us, or a civilization “above” us, or an indescribable entity in some multi-dimensional tangent of our own reality, hasn’t already created technology that can simulate a universe?

What’s to say some civilization hasn’t created our universe in one of their computers, and has made a simulation that is so sophisticated it replicated consciousness and physics? (Except it starts to fuck up in black holes)

We kinda don’t know.

Many great minds have pondered, many great minds have searched for answers, and many great minds still haven’t figured it out.

We simply don’t know. We don’t know a lot.

We know some things. We know coffee makes people (not all) hyper. We know some people shouldn’t eat gluten (actually, probably no one should eat it, but it’s whatever). We know monkeys and humans both get weirded out by direct eye contact.

We know the Earth spins, and we basically know why, but we don’t really know why gravity works, and we’re still arguing about how gravity works.

We know humans only live for a short amount of time, and then we die, but we know this is controlled by genes and our biology, and we’re starting to be able to control our genes and our biology, but we know enough about genetic editing to know we maybe shouldn’t fuck with our genes until we really, “really”, really know how our genes work.

We know enough to know we don’t know much.

We know enough to know the world is a crazy god-damn place. We know enough to know humans are crazy motherfuckers. We know enough to know the universe is stranger than fiction.

And beyond that, we don’t really know.

Which can be scary to think about. It can be terrifying to know that our world may not be what it seems. It can keep you up at night, thinking about all the people around you that you barely understand. It can be anxiety provoking to think about what will or won’t happen tomorrow, or in the next week, or in the next year, or what will or won’t happen before you die.

But it’s also kind of fantastic that we don’t know.

How boring would it be if we knew everything?

Einstein isn’t one of the greatest historical figures ever because he knew exactly how the universe worked. Einstein went down in history because he explored the unknown, even to his death. He relished in the things he didn’t know, in the things he couldn’t explain, and devoted his life to uncovering the secrets of the universe.

We don’t like spoilers because we want to find out the end of movie for ourselves.

We don’t like people telling us what to do or how to do it because we want to figure it out on our own.

We don’t like learning about the same thing over and over again, because it doesn’t get us anywhere.

It’s okay not to know things. It’s okay if there’s a little bit of fantasy in our reality. It’s okay if life is more theory than fact. It’s okay if we have to fabricate a few details along the way (so long as we can un-fabricate them at some point).

It’s okay, because what we don’t know is far more interesting than what we do know.

We don’t know where this ride’s gonna take us, and that’s half the fun.


[1] https://science.nasa.gov/astrophysics/focus-area/what-is-dark-energy

[2] https://www.physlink.com/education/askexperts/ae605.cfm

[3] http://m.nautil.us/issue/29/scaling/will-quantum-mechanics-swallow-relativity

Pillars of Flesh

Jason stared at the corkboard above his desk. One of the flashcards he’d pinned to it was tilted so it leaned down on the right and up on the left. He held the cared against the corkboard, pulled the pin out, then inserted the pin a smidge further to the left. When he let go of the card, the right side swung down even further, and the left side tilted up even higher.

That’s not how that’s supposed to work, he thought to himself.

He repeated the process, holding the card against the corkboard, pulling the pin out and putting the pin back in even further to the left. The right side dropped even further, and the left side moved even higher. Jason stared at the flashcard. What first seemed like an easily-corrected oddity to him now seemed utterly wrong.

Jason sat there staring at the board, almost terrified to try fixing it again, but, eventually he mustered up the resolve. He held down the card, pulled the pin out, then pushed it into the top-left corner of the card. When the right end swung straight down, Jason jumped out of his chair and backed away from the desk.

Something was wrong. Not the normal, fixable sort of wrong. It was as if some rule that governed reality had been broken.

Jason scanned the room. Something about the windows seemed strange. Jason’s bed appeared to be standing on solid ground, but it might fall to the ceiling at any moment. Then Jason turned to look at his bookshelf.

When Jason looked at his bookshelf, a wave of horror overtook him. He couldn’t read any of the titles on the book bindings. They were all just shapes and lines—squiggles and sharp angles that should have been in English, but they could’ve been in any language now. They were titles he should have known, titles he should have been able to remember without reading them, but he couldn’t tell what any of the books were.

There was a knock on the door. Jason whipped around, almost yelping at the sudden sound, but then he was relieved. It was probably one of his parents, and they’d be able to help him. Jason walked to the door and opened it.

Jason looked where a face should be, but there wasn’t a face. Jason didn’t know what was there. He only saw an arrangement of shapes and colors—curves and colors and shapes and patterns—and Jason couldn’t understand what he was looking at.

Then the arrangement of shapes and colors began making sounds, but it was all nonsense. As far as Jason could tell, all the sounds he heard were disjointed scrapes, hums, clicks and hisses—some absurdist symphony of strange mutterings.

Jason’s mind reeled trying to make sense of what was happening. Something Jason couldn’t begin understanding was at his door, making noise at him. Panicked confusion galloped through Jason’s head. He slammed the door, locked it and stepped away from it. The thing on the other side started making even louder noises. Their pitch warped and churned into a tumbling of dissonant emotions.

Jason ran across the room to his desk. He opened one of the drawers and pulled out small, foam ear-plugs he used when he studied, twisted them, and pushed them into his ears. They expanded, filled his ears, and soon Jason couldn’t hear the sounds coming from the other side of the door. Jason then went to his bathroom, closing and locking the door behind him. He sat down on the floor and tried to calm himself down. What’s going on? he wondered. What’s happening?

Nothing made sense. Nothing, not a single thing around him. He looked around his bathroom, and only knew what the cabinets, the shower, the toilet and the sink were after he stared at them and pieced together what the shapes and colors meant. That thing is square and brown, with a small, white sphere on one side. It must be a cabinet. And that thing there is… That thing is…

Jason was now looking at the mirror, only the mirror wasn’t a mirror. It was a whole different dimension of the room he was sitting in that had exploded into the wall. It took Jason minutes to understand what he was looking at. Once he finally understood that it was a mirror—though only logically, he had no intuitive grasp of what he saw—he stood up and looked at it.

In the mirror, Jason saw another arrangement of colors and forms—like the one he’d seen on the other side of the door—except this one moved when he moved, blinked when he blinked, stared where he stared. It’s me, he thought. I know I’m looking at my own reflection, but… I can’t see myself. Then, Jason noticed a fork of red streaming down the arrangement. He moved a hand to his face—which also moved in the mirror—and touched the red.

Jason looked down. It took a moment to realize the segmented pink-white-red-tan pillars of flesh emerging from the warped square of similar, wrinkle-carved flesh was his own hand. He noticed there was red on these pillars of flesh now. What was it doing there? It came from his face, hadn’t it? Why was there red streaming down his face?