On a cloudy evening in Vancouver I stood on a busy street corner and pointed my iPhone to the sky. Through the eyes of my recent app purchase, Star Walk, 2.99 plus tax, I peered confidently through the white noise into the darkness like never before. The view beyond twinkled and moved, animated with women wearing crowns, Romans carrying swords, children and wolves playing … and crabs and serpents, satellites, nebulas and planets all connected together by a series of green lines between the dots. The sky has never been so alive with answers.
This got me thinking.
A society that sells a pocket universe for the cost of bus fare makes a bold statement: that whatever little mystery there is left comes cheap. I pointed the phone to the concrete at my feet. Below me was Leo on the screen, in full cosmological glory, gnawing on a cigarette butt and an oval-shaped piece of gum turned black. Her stiff grin said society is a know-it-all. Leo, with rib cage frail and exposed, hungers for mystery. So do we.
Modern cosmologists are now hypothesizing something that only a few years ago was considered laughable – the same laugh showered on heretics throughout the ages when they said everything might be wrong. As Big Bang absolutism and ensuing hubris gobbled up the grant money, a minority of scientists lamented rationality’s killing of the universal mystic. How human indeed they thought, to pinpoint the origin of it all to an exact event at an exact time. In turn they asked from their labs of dissent, what if the Big Bang was just a cosmic blip? What if it was merely one universe shedding its skin for another or a single heartbeat in a much larger and incomprehensible and cyclical process? That the universe as it can be observed is 13.75 billion years old from the Big Bang onward, this new crop still agrees, but what before, what parallel, what beyond and what now is anyone’s guess. It used to be that the one thing you could trust other than the certainty of death was that it all started sometime and somewhere. What these cosmologists are saying is that those concepts no longer apply.
I looked to the device in my hand for a morsel to satisfy Leo’s hunger. The light dimmed, the battery died, and Leo darted like a harpoon to the bottom of the abyss. The languages of science and religion may change but the questions remain the same. They are still two sides of the same coin asking the wrong question.
I can point to a star without seeing it but I can’t tell you what that means. I know the names of the stars but on a long enough continuum these names will all change. I was told Earth was a planet when I was born but it might be an asteroid when I die. I know the coordinates of the farthest corners of the abyss but I still get lost in my city. Today, the Big Bang, that rock of our existence, might just be an outer ring cast by an infinite stone-thrower reincarnated from a dead star. Never doubt that even the most absolute of absolute truths can fall away. There is a world so far beyond and there is a world so far behind. Don’t tell me there is no more mystery. Dear Star Walk, I’m still waiting for the app update.