“That’s what it was like, this experience—infantile. Freeing, joyous, but also regressive, narcissistic, less about opening himself than opening everything else to him. He wondered if the urge to return to this stage of innocent containment of everything was the very root of his and everyone’s problems, of the lifelong compulsion to consume and append and incorporate and be all and end all in a world ever more maddeningly beyond one’s grasp.”
-Alex Shakar, Luminarium
Sometimes I try to understand by bringing in, and sometimes by going out. Shakar makes me realize how different those two can be.
In Luminarium there’s a device that technologically induces something like meditation by knocking out the brain’s ability to distinguish between self and not-self. The first time Fred tries it, he feels transcendent: he expands to include the room he’s sitting in and the other people nearby and the city beyond them. The second time, the time I quoted, the experience feels shallow. It feels locked inside “the smallness of his own mind.”
Remember the first episode of Star Trek: Voyager? A powerful alien sweeps the Voyager and its crew through the cosmos. Instead of traveling to travel, this alien brings others to it. At first that seems like the opposite of what we humans do, but as I sit here turning it over, it starts feeling more familiar. My (first) tendency is to set a book down on my desk, to put a flower I’m trying to draw on my table and copy down the image I see in my notebook. How many of my interactions start with me trying to move the other into a space I consider mine? Or to put it another way, the Star Trek crew might seek out “new life and new civilizations,” but they spend a lot of time on their own bridge, behind their own view screens and computers and phasers, don’t they? Isn’t that how our society so often travels?
Maybe some of that is inevitable. I don’t know how to start except from behind my own eyes. Most of the time Captain Kirk couldn’t go from here to there without getting on the Enterprise. All the same, Shakar says, once we meet someone, once we stand somewhere, we could stop trying “to consume and append and incorporate and be all.” We could do something else: we could be a little piece of something larger, instead of trying to make all those somethings into little pieces of us. What if we didn’t use “grasp” to mean understand? What if, instead, we tried to cast our little minds out into the largeness, to meet the newness on newness’ terms—what if connecting was a matter of going out instead of bringing in, and instead of saying “she had a good grasp of physics” we said “she’s found a way to let physics hold her?”