The fact that we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well, on the surface of a gas-covered planet going around a nuclear fireball 90 million miles away and think this to be normal is some indication of how skewed our perspective tends to be.
Oh I talk a good game about being awake. It’s part of almost every talk and workshop I do. But most of the time, like everybody, I’m fast asleep to our bizarre, fantastic situation.
Example: We all emerged into the world from our mother’s bodies. We don’t think much about that because it’s always been true. My kids think that pulling up a YouTube video on an iPhone in a moving car is nice, but it’s not incredible, since they can’t remember ever not being able to do that.
I’m the same with things that have always been true. Like the whole Mom-As-Portal thing.
There are other things that I haven’t always known, and you’d think I could hang on to the wonder of those at least. Like the fact that the gold in my wedding ring was made in a dying star, or that I’m related to my lawn, and not just by marriage. And that every bit of me has been around since the beginning of time. Not always quite so well-organized, and not always on this planet, but every bit has been somewhere since the Big Bang.
I contain 60,000 miles of blood vessels. I put that number into my head through my eyes about seven years ago and it stuck because I liked it enough to “remember,” whatever that means. When I needed it just now, I found it in my head and made it come out through my fingers. Don’t know how. Yet I make my living doing that all day.
I try to keep my kids (who are half me and half my wife) awake as much as possible. Every time Delaney and I (two pieces of the universe that woke up) step outside to go to the bus stop, there’s something cool in the sky. Like you know, the sky. We talk about it by using our throats and mouths to make the air wiggle, which in turn makes little bones and hairs in our ears wiggle, which our brains understand.
I get this perspective back for three minutes at a time, then lose it for months. I should be paralyzed with wonder all the time. But I forget.
This past weekend I did a couple of events in Grand Rapids, Michigan, hosted by CFI. A great time, and I left feeling groovy. But what was supposed to be a quick transfer at O’Hare turned into a four-hour gate-wait when my flight to Atlanta was cancelled. I was rebooked on a flight to Dulles, which left an hour late, causing me to miss my connection to Atlanta by four minutes. I had to spend a five-hour night in a DC hotel before hopping an early flight home.
The next morning I landed in Atlanta, surly and exhausted, 22 hours after I’d left Grand Rapids. I’d had more than enough of airports and planes.
But as we taxied to the gate, something incredible happened out the window. Not 200 feet away, an absolutely enormous metal tube with wings, filled with people, suddenly jumped into the sky.
I’m not kidding.
You’d think such a thing would make the news. Imagine my surprise when I learned that it happens over 95,000 times a day all over the world. Here it is compressed into a minute. Look carefully:
Once you get started, you can completely lose yourself in slack-jawed astonishment at the world around us. Not to worry — the anesthetic of familiarity will drag you back to the illusion of normal.
As soon as you get back, start planning your next vacation.
After sleeping through a hundred million centuries, we have finally opened our eyes on a sumptuous planet, sparkling with colour, bountiful with life. Within decades we must close our eyes again. Isn’t it a noble, an enlightened way of spending our brief time in the sun, to work at understanding the universe and how we have come to wake up in it? This is how I answer when I am asked — as I am surprisingly often — why I bother to get up in the mornings.
RICHARD DAWKINS, “The Anaesthetic of Familiarity,” from Unweaving the Rainbow