Five Thoughts Concerning a Rock Thrown in Four-Dimensional Spacetime

Five Thoughts Concerning a Rock Thrown in Four-Dimensional Spacetime

Thought #1: Touching Spacetime

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When I was fourteen years old, I bought one of those fishnet style camping hammocks that come rolled up in a little box and strung it twenty feet off the ground between two upper branches of a giant tree in my back yard. I’d learned from reading Spiderman comic books that people seldom if ever look up. Old Spidey often evaded cops and robbers alike by clinging silently to the ceiling right over their heads until they went away, grumbling in amazement at his uncanny ability to vanish into thin air. I was one of four family members, three of us adolescents, living in a four room house in a small town; one of my chief concerns, understandably, I think, was privacy. I’d wanted my own place to vanish to when the world below became uncomfortably crowded, and the hammock became my web, hanging invisibly in a vertical dimension people seldom explored.

I fashioned four hooks out of old dog leash clips to hold the edges of the hammock together, so I’d be in no danger of tumbling to my death if I fell asleep up there. I’d climb up into the tree, wrap the hammock’s netting tightly around me, fasten the hooks, and swing silently in the breeze like a caterpillar spun safely into his comfortable cocoon. I’d read or sleep or simply listen to the breeze tugging my tether ropes gently to and fro until the soft sounds and motion lulled me into a meditational Theta-state, a perfect calm in a world where I was perfectly alone, only twenty feet away from all the commotion of life.

And no one ever looked up.

European witches are said to have used a device called a witch’s cradle to reach mystical states of awareness and even leave their bodies to travel astrally through the countryside. The witch’s cradle was a sort of body-wrapping, like two heavy blankets sewn together with the witch inside, that dangled and swayed at the end of a rope . Modern consciousness researchers (I’m pretty sure I first learned about the witch’s cradle reading John Lilly) consider the device a precursor to the sensory deprivation tank, made famous in the movie Altered States, in which a person floats in total darkness on the surface of salt-saturated, body temperature water, allowing the exploration of inner states of consciousness through the elimination of outer sensory distractions.

It would be a few years before I learned of sensory deprivation technology (when Altered Statescame out on Christmas Day, 1980), and another decade before I read about the witch’s cradle, but there in my small town back yard, at the age of fourteen, I was unwittingly participating in the four-dimensional time-body of the idea underlying both. As the breeze rocked my hammock, and I experienced the change in brain-state my suspension made possible, my life became a thread in the historical fabric connecting the witches cradle to the sensory deprivation tank and beyond. The connection was made, in that moment, through me. My hammock, with me in it, existed for moment in the four-dimensional time-body of the idea informing both the witch’s cradle and the sensory deprivation tank. My experience allowed me, once I’d learned of these two devices separated by hundreds of years, to make the connection between past and present and to carry the idea into the future — in this essay, for example, which is itself now a part of that time-body.

And which, by the way, weaves you, as you read these words, into that same body. By making you aware of these connections, I am granting you participation in them.

Look up!

Thought #2: Seeing Spacetime

I made this!

The planet earth, seen in time as well as space, looks at its simplest a little like a thick, tubular ring with the sun at its center. The four-dimensional time-body of the Earth must include not only its spherical shape — its height, breadth and depth — but also its motion, the fuzzy cloud made over time by its wobbling, imperfect rotation, as well as the full path of its orbit around the sun. The whole of this motion and the space occupied by it, from the moment of the Earth came into being to the moment of its eventual destruction, makes up the planet’s four-dimensional existence, and so it must be seen, in the continuum of spacetime, as one solid object.

Now factor in the other planets and their effects on the Earth. Then add the sun’s motion, its orbit as part of a star system, that star system’s orbit around the galactic center, then include the motion of our one galaxy around and among the many thousands of galaxies inhabiting even this tiny corner of the universe. See it all as one solid object in four-dimensional spacetime.

Now look at your watch.

Where are you?

Thought #3: Hearing Spacetime

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I spent several years in my youth playing guitar in a string of Rock & Roll garage bands, all in the small town where I grew up, none of them very successful if you define success by the usual standards of fame or money. But the experience was a grand success when measured by insights gained, and by the direct encounter it provided me with the tangible nature of four-dimensional spacetime:

Picture it:

You’re on stage. It’s only a bar, a local dive, but you’re there, above the crowd, coaxing slow motion train-wreck feedback from your Goodwill guitar like it’s Jimmy Hendrix’ own, his spirit beside you…

Or at least that’s how it feels after two pitchers of free beer, your only compensation for the night’s work. As you sail into the song’s throbbing finale, you look out into the sea of faces, the euphoric crowd swaying and swirling and tumbling together, dancing, singing… You hit the power-chord you just knew all night you’d miss and it’s there, solid, ground shaking; you kick the distortion box and everything blends…

And there’s one raw moment of four-dimensional spacetime, a moment when everyone and everything in that room comes together in that single ubiquitous vibration. It wraps around them, soaks inside them, pours out in waves from their eyes and ears and throats until everything dissolves into Oneness, one chord, one pure primal sound. You sent it out there to the crowd, they took it in, sent it back and more. It’s become a living glue filling the room, welding you all together in a long, frozen moment — musician, instrument, audience, sound — as solid as a rock, a planet, a solar system, a universe…

The first time I felt that union I was blown away. I blamed the beer. But then I experienced it again and again, learned to generate it at will from the stage. I came to believe that the so-called “Mystery of Oneness” of saints and mystics was something of a misnomer. In four-dimensional spacetime the mystery is not the Oneness. The mystery is why we should ever live in three dimensions only, forgetting each moment our deep connection to the moment just passed, to the time-body of our individual and collective lives, the interpenetrating paths that make us all one in the long story of human evolution, in the eternal Oneness of a universe in endless motion.

Thought #4: Pursuing Spacetime

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In his 1985 Sci-Fi novel Child of Fortune, Norman Spinrad describes a pan-galactic civilization in which all children, when they reach puberty, are required to go on a Wanderjarr, a “wonder-journey.” They must leave society and set off alone to seek their fate in far away lands, in search of their unique, individual destiny.

I suggest that while we cannot, perhaps, send our own children packing on such “wonder-journeys” literally, we might require their equivalent Literarily. As they approach adulthood, every child could choose some meaningful object or idea, some thread in the fabric of life which passes through his or her personal present, and research it backwards through time, unearthing its four-dimensional time-body wherever fate may lead, and in the process discover a great deal about, not only him or herself, but the multidimensional size and shape of this corner of spacetime we humans all share.

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In his book Catapult: Harry and I Build a Siege Weapon, Jim Paul does exactly this. Starting out from a bare impulse to stand on the beach lobbing rocks into the ocean, Paul traces that impulse through the annals of history, engineering, art, warfare, tracking that ultimate ancient rock-lobber, the catapult, from its roots in the walled city of Syracuse and its inventor Archimedes all the way back to the many strange weapons and ideas that presaged it, and even further to the needs that made the invention of such a machine necessary. In the process, Paul learns about himself, his place in history and the human race, and about the trans-temporal nature of both the inner and outer worlds that make up his experience of the present. What starts out as a lark becomes a Wanderjarr.

Maybe someday I’ll write a similar history, starting out with my hammock swaying gently in the breeze, then working backward to early sensory-deprivation technology, the medieval witch’s cradle, then further still to the prehistoric shamanic use of altered states of consciousness in magic and healing, and maybe all the way back to the first homo sapiens struggling to find a foothold in the strange world of imagery dancing in the dark of sleep.

Like pulling at one thread in a sweater, I suspect that any object or idea pulled far enough loose from the fabric of time would unravel the whole and leave us standing with all of human history piled before us, its Onenesscertain, the illusion of our separation from Nature and each other irrevocably shaken.

Perhaps our society could require every individual to pull one such thread until he or she achieves at least the beginnings of four-dimensional awareness. Perhaps we could all benefit from a personal spacetime Wanderjarr.

Thought #5: Embracing Spacetime

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Pick up a rock and throw it. Watch it hit the ground. Now imagine that rock’s journey, its Wanderjarr, starting in the fiery cauldron of the Big Bang, as the materials it’s made from explode out into the void. Follow them through space over billions of years as those materials cool, coalesce into stars and planets, galaxies and nebulae, so many forms taking shape, dissolving, exploding, moving on… Until for the briefest of moments in the life of the universe they come to rest on Earth, find each other, join other materials to form a mountain, only to be crushed by eons of wind, rain, the ceaseless motions of nature, until this one ephemeral formation, a single rock, breaks free and finds its way into your hand — a hand which, itself, has made a similar journey to this point of meeting. The whole universe has conspired to bring your hand to this rock, and this rock to your hand. It is a meeting of the universe with itself.

Heave the rock. Watch it land. Imagine it continuing on, breaking up over time, falling with the Earth into the sun, being reduced to molten ash, then fundamental particles as the sun goes supernova, moving out again into the universe to participate in new creation…

Now see it all as one solid object.

Jim Paul begins his book with the statement:

“It occurred to me that holding an old rock might be like looking at the stars.”

In four-dimensional spacetime, holding any rock is holding a star, and the hand that holds the rock is a star as well.

In four-dimensional spacetime, the rock, the catapult, the witch’s cradle, the hammock, the Rock & Roll reverb now shaking the radio beside me as I write these words are all threads weaving the same sweater, letters in the same ubiquitous word, the multidimensional call to experience:


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