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Mind Travel

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I’ve been a bit of a hermit lately, for reasons I will save for another post. But from inside my bedroom, where I have spent most of the past few days, I have traveled all over the world. All over the universe, in fact, in search of what there is, and what is real, and what is true, and I have made a few discoveries (well, ideas new to me, at least), all thanks to Netflix, and the “interwebs” and some good books, and my own imagination and reason. Which brings me to the first of these new insights…

1) IN MY MIND, I AM FREE. Absolutely free. It was Stephen Hawking who presented this fact to me. Those were his exact words, in fact, spoken from the wheelchair he inhabits every day, unmoving, depending on a computer for communication, and on numerous machines and caretakers to meet his basic needs. And while it seems like a given now that I’ve thought about it consciously, I never had before. It seems somehow inappropriate to take Stephen’s words – so profound in his case – and apply them to myself. And yet I think any human being could do it justly.

We are all constrained in so many ways by the circumstances of our birth and biology. We will never experience first hand another time, another perspective, another set of DNA, another childhood, besides the ones chance bestows on us. But like Hawking, all of us still can experience infinite other worlds, unconstrained by location or genetic ability or socioeconomic privilege. Our memories and imaginations, together, can take us anywhere – to bygone moments of our own previous lives, or to infinite other worlds, past, present, and future, so long as we can dream them up…or look them up on the world-wide-web.

And our minds can do this instantly. At one second this morning, I was jogging past a newly remodeled home, enjoying the neighborhood scenery, mentally constructing my to-do list for the coming work day; the next, I was breathing in the scent of fresh-cut wood and standing in my sixth grade shop class, seeing it all through the somewhat hazy lens of memory, but feeling acutely – for just a brief second – all the angst and wonderings and insecurities of middle school life in the 90’s. Smell is a powerful vehicle for mental travel, isn’t it? Like a time machine inside your brain. And speaking of time…

2) TIME IS NOT CONSTANT. Did you know this?!? I guess it has been common knowledge since the early 1900’s, but somehow it escaped me. Turns out, time flows, like a river, sometimes slower and sometimes faster. There are a couple of things that slow time down. One is proximity to mass. The nearer one is to a massive object, the more slowly time moves. Did you know that the 36 satellites orbiting our planet, which together support our global positioning system, each contain a super-precise clock that measures time to the billionth of a second? And that, in addition, this clock contains a mechanism to correct for the difference in time between earth and space (approximately 38,000 nanoseconds per day) that would otherwise accumulate and render the GPS system useless?

The other thing that slows time down is speed. The faster you travel, the more slowly time passes. As with proximity to mass, the difference in the passage of time at higher and lower speeds in miniscule. It is not until you are moving super, super, super quickly that there will be a significant difference. And of course you wouldn’t notice a difference. If you were traveling in a train around the earth at a crazy-fast speed, and had a very precise clock aboard the train with you, both you and your clock would perceive time as passing normally. However, when the train came to a stop and you stepped out, you would find that your clock was slightly behind the clocks that had remained stationary outside the train, where stationary people (and their clocks and watches) had also perceived time as passing normally. Crazy, huh?!?!

I guess Albert Einstein calculated/predicted these things in his Theory of Relativity. A lot of people didn’t really believe it completely, though, until we started messing around in space where we (and our fancy-schmancy super clocks) were removed a sufficient distance away from the mass of the earth and, likewise, able to achieve speeds that friction from the atmosphere on earth made previously impossible to attain. I don’t know where I was when they taught this in grade school. Maybe too concerned with those angsts and wonderings and insecurities I was talking about earlier. But Stephen explained it to me yesterday on Netflix, and now I am just like, WHAAAAAT?!?

I have been telling my mother since the time I was 11 or so that time is weird. And my conviction of this fact keeps growing.

3.) DISCOVERY IS AWESOME. One of the most exciting characteristics of life is the potential it holds to change us. In one moment our picture of the world can totally morph, or expand exponentially. To grow in our understanding of the universe and what it contains; to think consciously about it all – even about our own consciousness; and to ponder what it means and what we are to do with the precious, precious thing that it is – this, by my definition, is what it means to really live. I started my third career a few months ago, in a new field, mostly unrelated to the previous two which, in turn, were themselves fairly unrelated. And with each new work experience, I am filling in, bit-by-bit, the pieces of my self puzzle, figuring our what makes me tick. Discovery – for sure – is a big ticker.

I’m thinking about going back to school to get a PhD in neuroscience. Anybody want to fund that? 😉

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