I spend an inordinate amount of time that coulda/shoulda/woulda been spent as a productive member of society, instead supposing a limitless myriad of alternative points of view of the universe. Part of me almost naturally accepts the thinking that we all have been, will be, and are part of the same consciousness, but even that is a monumental leap away from the logic that each person’s thinking is inside their own head alone, that once we die all biochemical thought ceases, and that the only thing that connects us truly in this regard is our common ability to ponder the subject from our varied perspectives. Very few of us, it seems, reach the same conclusions using nearly identical operating systems.
Speaking of perspective, can you imagine being an artist in the Fifteenth Century, having apprenticed most of your young and adult life, finally having gained the intricate mastery perfected after generations, only to have some architect-punk named Bruneschelli point out that parallel lines recede together into the same point on the horizon, thus reinventing the way we approach art, and indeed the whole world?
Inspired individuals often (perhaps necessarily) uncover new truths that entirely alter for the rest of our species the way in which we view the world. Imagine falling asleep like Rip Van Winkle during the Dark Ages, your eyes closing to the night sky, only to emerge from your slumber after the Renaissance, a plethora of books now available on the theories of a sun-centered system of planets, a complex and moving cosmos of unimaginably distant stars, that each star was its own sun with perhaps its own planets and therefore perhaps their own inhabitants.
Germ theories of disease, and indeed the very existence of ‘invisible’ microorganisms, were very controversial even by the time Louis Pasteur landed on the scene. His demonstration of simple, easily replicated lab experiments opened up a disgusting world of factual reality to the rest of us, finally accepted, and led to immunization with antibiotics and hygienic practices not the least of which includes pasteurization.
And what of all those enterprising thinkers who worked on their theories for years, researching, experimenting, formulating, hypothesizing, and all of it ultimately wrong? For some time in historical record our ancestors believed insects to be born of pebbles, based in part on observation. When Johann Joachim Becher postulated in 1667 the theoretical existence of phlogiston, a fire-like element that was contained in combustible bodies and released during combustion, and could also explain the rusting of metals, he was observing a phenomenon for which he had no contextual understanding in his place in spacetime; the chemical process of oxidization. Or when psychoanalyst Wilhelm Riech posited in the 1930’s a theoretical orgone energy, yet another in a long series of fictional ‘life-energies’ to be historically uncovered, his ‘discovery’ nevertheless affecting the study of sex, music, literature and parapsychology forevermore. And how was Mao Zedong to know that, by popularizing the ‘barefoot doctor’ medicine of unlicensed country practitioners, merely out of financial necessity to at least somewhat treat the millions of Chinese not living in modern cities with access to hospitals and expensive pharmaceuticals, that the paramedical advice would be taken out of context and used ad nauseum by white middle-to-upper class Americans years later? Or homeopathy, when it is not a malicious ploy to trick ailing victims of poor health into diverting their dollars to another profession, is often a genuine, sincere (and altogether incorrect) proposition that medicine diluted down to nonexistent doses might somehow be more efficacious than what they see as an archaic medical establishment in dire need of progressive revolution. Or all the sorcerers and alchemists and religions and quackery that insisted that they had the freshest revelations that would shape a new world, and though the facts did not bear them out, somehow left a lasting affect at least upon popular culture.
Shaman, without benefit of scientific equipment, pop psychological terminology, or socioeconomic awareness of larger global themes, have been able to use psychotropic drugs to explore and create entire mythos of humanity, the self, the universe, and gods by simply delving into their sacred states. The discoveries they made, one could argue, have little to no bearing on the truth of reality as it pertains to all of us. But it had plenty of that and more for the shaman.
Our understanding of the universe and ourselves not only changes through time, but with a greater understanding of time. Before a certain point in history, time could only be determined by the sun, the stars, or other natural occurrences and features of the cosmos and our planet, itself a giant clock. The slow evolution of invention in gnomon to mechanized and finally atomic and digital clocks allowed for better time-keeping, at first for the very rich, but soon for anyone who could carry a pocketwatch, wristwatch, or iphone. Both Galileo and Newton and most people up until the 20th century thought that time was the same for everyone everywhere. This is the basis for timelines, where time is a parameter. Our modern conception of time is based on Einstein’s theory of relativity, in which rates of time run differently depending on relative motion, and space and time are merged into spacetime, where we live on a world line rather than a timeline. New perceptions in time affected art, as the impressionists left their stuffy studios to capture the world more quickly or essentially, and photography managed to capture it instantly. Art became more figurative, gestural, or symbolic in response.
Armed with curiosity and new innovations in film, Eadweard Muybridge managed to capture for analysis the biological movement of beings, with ramifications on the worlds of science, medicine, art, and the burgeoning worlds of film and animation as well.
And so the world unfolds itself to us, and doubtful is it that anyone alive at the time of this digital imprint being left in the historical record will coincide with the full revelation of cosmological knowledge and truth, (liberally granting our species even gets that far). Each achievement begets others, can sometimes be lost and have to be rediscovered, eventually building a decently accurate portrayal of how everything works. Neuroscientists, philosophers, string theorists, particle smashers, self-wallowing alcoholics and religious zealots are all working out the same thing. The facts remain the same throughout, it is up to each of us on our own and all of us as a whole to construe them accurately.
You could have been born a synesthete, or been a paranoid schizophrenic before our modern conception of mental disease, or an acid freak, or have had a distinct vision of Mother Mary, or been a released prisoner of Plato’s cave previously shackled knowing only shadows, or born a Chinese villager whose favorite delicacy is eggs boiled in boy piss, or genuinely believe you were abducted by a UFO, or forced to pose as a double agent for so long you don’t remember what’s true, or been the surreal sole survivor of a mine collapse, or fought for the Confederacy, or been born transgendered, or been in a Sam-and-Diane relationship for many years, or been Constantine the Great or Elizabeth Bathory or Bill Hicks or Jim Morrison. You can be a skeptic or a believer, an optimist or a pessimist, lead an active or a sedentary lifestyle, passive or aggressive, dominant or submissive, studious or stunted, martyred or vindicated. And in many ways no other human being has the right to say you were right or you were wrong about a great deal of the choices and decisions and rationalizations in your life.
Ah, but for science.