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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Almost Everything Has Been Forgotten

The map you see here is a circa 1739 rendering of the Antarctic region by an esteemed French geographer, cartographer, and architect Philippe Bauche. There is some debate about this map, because it seems to represent the physical landforms that exist under the ice at the South Pole... and this, 83 years before Antarctica's existence was a certainty. (It's generally agreed that the first confirmed sighting of the continent was in 1820 during a Russian expedition helmed by Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen and Mikhail Lazarev.)


I first came across this map in my recent readings about alternative theories of consciousness, which in this day and age of the hyperlink almost inevitably lead to so-called "fringe" theories of aliens, close encounters, Aleister Crowley, and the Bavarian Illuminati, just to mention the leading edge of the fringy onslaught. Some claim that infrared photography and sonic explorations reveal that the actual bedrock landforms under the Antarctic ice are remarkably close to what Bauche shows on his map.

Others have pointed out that if one actually reads the marginalia of this map you'll understand what's really there: a speculative rendering by Bauche based on the testimony of sailors and fishermen and whalers and so forth... kind of like making a map of the entire Rocky Mountain chain after talking to someone who drove through southern New Mexico and someone else who rafted on a river in Idaho. At this point, the intense arguing begins about just how "remarkably accurate" (or not) Bauche's rendering of the supposed "land under the ice" really is. A few who claim adherence to the weirder theories about this map then suggest that Bouche (or his predecessors in cartography) were privy to some sort of imaging technology that was... wait for it... orbital. In other words... Ancient Astronauts. 

In a previous post I mentioned (hopefully without putting too much needling worry into your heads) that I'd been depressed lately. For a white male American, there's plenty to be depressed about - just as a starting point I could bring up the existential guilt about how our lifestyles have virtually killed any long-term chances of the survival of the human race, but I won't - but in my case it's a textbook manifestation of mid-life crisis: the realization that someday I'm gonna be dead. 

This is not a fear; I fear pain, not death. It's more of a sadness that I won't be around to see whatever neat stuff comes along after I'm gone. (I'm continually astonished when I remember that my late wife never saw the "Lord Of The Rings" movies, for instance.) And of course, since I'm an artist this brings up something even deeper: someday nobody will be around who remembers me; taken far enough, not even my works themselves will survive. Which (finally) brings me to my point:

Almost everything has been forgotten.

Scientists state that the Universe is somewhat more than thirteen billion years old, and the Earth itself is between 3.8 and 4.6 billion years old. (The Christian creationists have left the building...) Genetic studies suggest that the DNA of modern humans and Neanderthals diverged about 500,000 years ago, and anatomically modern humans appear in the fossil record of Africa about 195,000 years ago. Do you realize how recent that was, compared with the supposed "lifetime" of the Earth, much less the Universe?

Most people don't really understand the number billion. "One Billion" means "a thousand millions." Let me illustrate it for you: a million dollars is a stack of one-hundred-dollar bills about three feet tall. A billion dollars is a stack of one-hundred-dollar bills more than twice as tall as the empire state building.

So... compare 3.8 billion years with 122 years and 164 days, which is the longest recorded human life span (Ms. Jeanne Louise Calment, France).

What the hell might have happened in all that time? Tell me again why you don't believe in Atlantis and Lemuria?

My recently invigorated skeptical agnosticism is healthier than ever. I'll add that I don't believe in Atlantis and Lemuria either... my own "reality tunnel" is becoming ever more suspicious of "belief" of any kind. But the possibilities seem endless to me... think of the length of time we're talking about! And think about this: even before the Earth existed, the Universe had already existed for ten billion years! Don't talk to me about how travel between galaxies would take too long... ten billion years is a long damn time! How wonderful!

We're constantly revising our knowledge of what came before us. Charles C. Mann elucidates some remarkable new discoveries in his book 1491: New Revelations Of The Americas Before Columbus that suggest (for instance) that proto-Mayan urban civilizations on the west coast of South America may pre-date Sumer and Ur. (Holy crap!) But whether this is "true" or not isn't even my point... 1491 was only 521 years ago! That's nothing! Who says there weren't Ancient Astronauts?!

I'm an artist, and to a (hopefully small) degree I'm probably bi-polar... so I know that someday sooner or later I'll get really depressed again. Maybe I can use that to fuel some great art. But at the moment, I'm okay, and here's why: almost everything has been forgotten, and that's the way it is. I suppose it's a drag that someday nobody will ever again hear one of my songs, read one of my blogs, or look at one of my paintings. From another point of view, all the bullshit we have to put up with - taxes, indigestion, grumpy kids who don't want to do their homework, bodies that don't look the way we want 'em to, not having enough of those stacks of hundred-dollar-bills - means absolutely nothing.

This is not a cynical excuse to do nothing, since "nothing matters anyway." It is freeing, and puts all our joys and miseries in a context that we can not only understand, but cope with. It allows us to do good things and create great works with the specific knowledge that they won't last, which in my reality tunnel means I'll appreciate those works a lot more knowing they're transitory. And it allows us to say with a completely clear conscience, "As long as I'm not causing harm, who cares what I do?" It also makes it a lot more fun to debate the possibilities of Ancient Astronauts, close encounters, Aleister Crowley, and the Bavarian Illuminati.

"Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law; love under law, love under will."

And as my really smart wife says, "Someday the sun will explode and the entire earth will vanish as if it had never been here; we should eat out more often."














1 Comments:

Blogger Dharmonia said...

Brother, you are turning into a Buddhist. :-) Love this blogpost.

11:02 PM  

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original artwork by Chipper Thompson

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