This song by Blind Willie Johnson was chosen to accompany the Voyager spacecraft’s “Golden Record” as a representation of the human experience …of loneliness. It’s quite haunting, at least to me, to think of this humble fragment of a troubled man’s soul sailing silently out there, 36 years and 18 billion kilometers apart from the beings that built it and almost certainly doomed to a quasi-eternal solitude in the unfeeling darkness.
For the interesting Vsauce video which brought this to mind, click this link (or just because Vsauce is awesome and you should watch every video they have):
colette s/s 1998, by matt jones for i-D march 1998
I remember seeing her, in that half-shadowed way.
How she would shake with the ache of the memories within,
The sins of her father etched in her skin,
The unspoken question still hung in the air of how God could exist in a world so despairing.
In loving her I did what I thought was noble,
To offer my soul as a home for her sorrows;
But in the tomorrow I didn’t know then,
I’d learn that you can’t heal what’s broken again –
The universe tends to disorder and chaos and so will our hopes and emotions betray us
No more could I have cleansed her of his touch than could we have escaped like the paint off her brush
Into some ethereal, seraphic realm where the raptures we’d captured together prevailed
Where action and passion could mend what’s been done
Where ash-crafted phantoms can’t breathe down your neck
Where love can flow freely like ink from a pen
And all my old promises aren’t laments.
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Everything I want I don’t deserve.
Everything I have I don’t deserve.
Everything I do amounts to nothing.
I am the disease that spurns the earth.
Everything I love sinks into shadow.
Everything I touch transmutes to ash.
Every word I speak is a betrayal.
The severance of a vow from eons past.
Everything I am is forged in fiction.
Everything I promise is a lie.
Everything I call you is projection.
Every time you leave, I know it’s right.
Every word of concern nearly breaks me.
Every time I see I’m loved I cry.
Irony is wishing you would vanish,
When your audience has seen through your façade.
If I’m to be taken, I’ll go gladly.
If my sins return for me, that’s fine.
Were I not a coward, I’d embrace it.
But as it is, I’m still afraid to die.
Despicable, to pass along the burden
To circumvent the taking of a life.
I’ve sacrificed quiescence for inertia
In abnegation of my pact with God.
Sublimity in sorrow is familiar
Resistance to transition grips me tight
In pity, I submit to my own demons
For destitution is my lot in life.
My only self-consistency is avarice.
My sole source of sustenance is pride.
My soul longs to feel to touch of sadness.
My heart knows it comes for me tonight.
There exists within me so vast a reservoir of untapped passion which funnels through my very bones and rides the current of my blood through breath by quantum breath of life, through all the daily wanderings and all the nightly sufferings and through my head, where lies a breadth of discontented wonderings.
I would rather die resigned and disconsolate that I never managed to find that person who could take me where I so desperately yearn to be, than pass on wondering if perhaps I should have looked a little harder. I’ve been fully prepared to die hopeless once before – I mean to ensure that if I face the situation again, that bleakness will be empirically warranted. What else am I to do with the undeserved extension I’ve been granted with this body, which houses my hopes and dreams and doubts and fears and everything I’ve ever known; for all these things are strictly linked by one communal fundament – I’ve only ever known them in my thoughts.
Cogito ergo sum. I think, therefore I am; and as I am I am comprised of you, of everything we ever knew, of hopes and fears, the Earth, our tears and all their quantum elements. I am the face of empty space; these hands cradled the galaxy; my ancestry dates to ages immemorial, to the time before time was a concept. Forged in a hearth of nuclear fire, I walk the earth a testament to all the beauty of the cosmos, reifying existence itself by the very act of perceiving it. But so too do I rove this land ever exemplary of the fallacy of consciousness: for the very faculty by which I am gifted cognizance of myself and my environment will likely be my own undoing. I do hope; indeed, I pray - to God, to the Dead or the Void or whatever higher order there might be to the universe in which we live – that my failures and the failures of my generation represent a waning of the tide of suffering in human existence. That we shall perish in the penultimate era of a cruel and indifferent humanity, perhaps even living to see the death of the anthropocentricism of man and departing with some measure of faith that our species will live to grow beyond the bounds of our Mother Earth, to venture forth into that vast, expectant void to one day knock upon the door of God and pose that one ancient, exigent query: What are we doing here, and why?
Though I hold a sneaking suspicion that his answer may prove exceedingly simple: “Welcome home, my kin. It’s your turn.”
Well, it’s late…and I don’t really know what else to say. I had a strange day, something profoundly significant stirring from deep within me, stronger with each passing moment. And then I wrote this song. I had the opportunity to record it, so I did. As such, I apologize for any mistakes. I hope someone likes it.
Here are the lyrics:
I see you walk to me, your smile the light of day
I feel you come to me; a child of God inveighed
And like the thunder in the sky we cry together
We’ll die here. We’ll die here.
It’s getting far beyond our years, this melancholy
Your fevered breathing as I travel down your body
We’re like the beauty in the chaos of a flame
One and the same. One and the same.
I shield you under me, as life is torn asunder
We reel and tumble through the dark and ride the suffering
And like the lightning cracks the air, you scorch my soul
As we grow old. As we grow old.
A demon seizes me as dreams and hope forget me
I’m feeling queasy as my breathing’s getting heavy
And as I briefly meet with God, this much I know
I’ve found my home. I’ve found my home.
This sweet disease in me is leading me astray
But I’ve known eons as my hand ran down your face
And like the tempest o’er the sea inside your eyes
I’ll never die. We’ll never die.
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Who am I? The question is so deceptively simple and yet underlies a deep and profound mystery that has haunted even the greatest human minds for millennia. What is “being”? What does it mean to “exist”? For instance, I define myself as many things. A man. A poet. A brother. A son. A lover. An animal. A child. A question. A tragedy. Not all of these things are tangible, yet they comprise the totality of what I am. And within that grand aggregation lies not only my physical being and identity within the present moment but my past, and my future, and all points in-between. Therefore perhaps the simplest way to define myself, at least as a physical entity, is to say that I am a conglomeration of matter in its simplest form, cobbled together into a uniform organism that exists simultaneously at all points in space and time where ever it is or was. Time being non-linear, I am no more a physical truth at this very moment than I was – than I am – fifteen years ago at the age of five. I exist at that point as physically and substantially as I do now. It is our human experience of the dimension of time which gives it the appearance of being linear.
So what of those things which go beyond the physical? What of consciousness? What of the “soul”? It could very easily be argued that, as the brain is a physical object, then the thoughts and feelings which make up consciousness (and therefore the cognitive processes and emotions which comprise what we label as “the soul”) are in fact physical manifestations as well, electrical signals interpreted by the brain and no more. Such a supposition all but discounts the possibility of the “immortality” of the soul, or even of an afterlife – at least in any conceivable “physical” sense. But many still hold to the idea that the physical brain and what we call the mind (or the soul) are two separate things. If so, what is it that binds this immaterial part of us to ourselves? How could it be that something exists with no physical form? Perhaps the answer lies within the realm of science.
String theory is a conceptual framework in particle physics which first emerged as a truly self-subsistent theory in the early 1970’s, but which boasts a deep and profound history which has its roots in the work of such scientists as Werner Heisenberg (1901-1976), Albert Einstein (1879-1955), Niels Bohr (1885-1962) and even as far back as Bernhard Riemann (1826-1866). It is one of the few candidates within the mainstream realm of modern physics for a “Theory of Everything”, or a consistent framework which can successfully reconcile the laws of General Relativity (the theory of gravity developed by Albert Einstein) and the more haphazard world of quantum mechanics, the equations of which – while self-consistent within the quantum realm - are difficult or impossible to unify with GR. Forgoing an overly technical explanation, String Theory essentially proposes the idea that the most fundamental particles which make up the universe are not zero-dimensional points, but one-dimensional oscillating “strings”. The manner in which these strings vibrate essentially dictates what these particles are, how they interact, and therefore how our physical universe appears on the macroscopic scale.
An interesting consequence of String-theory (and particularly its most “refined” version, M-theory) is that it requires the existence of extra dimensions beyond the observable four of space-time. M-theory in particular postulates the existence of seven “higher dimensions” which could possibly be “curled up”, or compactified into an infinitely small space that exists all around us, or – ever more interestingly – exist in a “Bulk” dimension outside of our own three-dimensional world (or as a string-theorist would call it, our “Brane”).
Imagine for a moment you are living inside of your television. You are existing, at least spatially, in a two-dimensional world. Like the Jack on a playing card. Given the dimension of time, this means you are living in your own, separate three-dimensional space-time. You would have no knowledge of, nor means of perceiving, a hypothetical “third” spatial dimension. You would likely find the idea ludicrous. But it would indeed be there, just out of your reach, in a vast and mysterious hyperspace in which not only yours, but millions of other three-dimensional TV universes are contained.
In order to understand the concept of higher dimensions in the world of M-theory, one must consider this analogy. In fact, among String Theory’s influences was a novella by an English Schoolmaster named Edwin Abbot Abbot titled Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions. While the book was originally intended to be a satire about Victorian Culture, it portrayed this in a scenario similar to the TV-Land parallel. We exist in a four-dimensional “brane”, which exists within the confines of a higher-dimensional “Bulk” space or “Hyperspace”, which could be (roughly) likened to our own four-dimensional space in the TV scenario.
So how does this relate to the concept of Being? How could it be said that we know something to exist as anything, if we lack the sensory input to fully perceive said entity in its entirety? For if there may be dimensions compactified to such a miniscule scale that they literally exist within and around me, then where do I begin and those unknown dimensions end? What is it, truly, that composes me? And if these dimensions are rather a part of this mysterious Hyperspace in which we exist but cannot perceive, then what else can we not perceive? Could it be that many of the things which we understand cognitively or philosophically, but which we cannot identify physically (i.e. – The Soul, Love, God), may in fact be nothing more than manifestations of physical entities or processes (forces) within those higher dimensions? Could love be a force, like gravity? Could “God” be a higher-dimensional organism, with senses capable of perceiving things which go beyond the limits of our own – such as the physical composition of time?
Consider again the TV analogy, only this time imagine you are a fish living in a pond. You know nothing outside of your world, which in this scenario is four-dimensional – Three spatial (the water of the pond), and one temporal. But every Sunday, like clockwork, an old lady comes down to rest by the pond, and feed the fish while she’s there. You, as a fish, obviously have no clue what sorcery is transpiring when delicious food mystically appears out of thin air (the surface of the water). You don’t know what water is – how could you understand that anything exists outside of it? Therefore the food appeared from nowhere, and you attribute the miracle to a deity you label “God”. So you build little fish temples in His honor, and worship at His alter every Sunday, and like clockwork, the food is there. And all the old lady sees is that when she drops the food into the pond, all the fish swim up to eat it. She smiles at the nonevent, then continues gazing out at the splendor of her higher-dimensional world, knowing nothing of, nor caring for any of the meaningless labors of the nameless fish under the murky water.
A different, though equally confounding, possibility for parallel universes is the Many-Worlds Interpretation within Quantum Mechanics. This idea arose from consideration of and/or attempts to resolve paradoxes and inconsistencies which arise within the study of the Quantum realm such as the Schrödinger’s Cat thought experiment, conceived by Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger in 1935. The experiment was his attempt to illustrate the strange and paradoxical nature of quantum mechanics by imagining it applied to everyday objects.
Imagine a cat placed inside a box along with a flask containing a potent (lethally) toxic gas and some source of radiation. An internal Geiger counter measures the radiation level – if and when it detects radiation, it triggers a mechanism which shatters the flask, releasing the gas and thereby killing the cat. Because the rate of decay of the radioactive material is unpredictable, prior to opening the box and physically observing the status of the cat there is no way of knowing whether it is alive or dead. The interpretation of quantum mechanics which Schrödinger was examining with the experiment – The Copenhagen Interpretation, which is arguably the most widely accepted among mainstream physicists – would state that after a time, the cat is simultaneously alive and dead. While seemingly illogical, this is how the world of particles works according to quantum theory.
The Many-Worlds Interpretation (MWI) offers a solution to this conundrum by supposing that every possible outcome of any given quantum event will in fact occur, in that each event is actually a branching off of different timelines or universes. So in the cat experiment, the cat is indeed both alive and dead – but in separate quantum realms. If we open the box to find the cat deceased, we would know that we are existing in the quantum timeline/universe where the cat perished, and that there is a separate universe in which the cat is as whole and healthy as ever, and none the wiser to the untimely fate suffered by his quantum counterpart.
While the fundamental notion of the MWI begets many significant philosophical quandaries in and of itself, some physicists have speculated that these quantum worlds could remain “weakly coupled” through a force (such as gravity) that could theoretically “bridge the gap” between these separate realms – thus allowing communication between them. Similar to the notion of inter-universal travel through the use of wormholes (the warping of space-time caused by immense gravity focused into an absurdly small area – such as within a black hole) as postulated by many theoretical physicists examining String Theory and General Relativity and their interrelation. (Interestingly, according to physicists like David Deutsch, the MWI also allows for the possibility of time travel in a similar respect – one could theoretically travel to the past without encountering conundrums such as the Grandfather Paradox if it were assumed that in the process of moving backward in time (a quantum event, per se) one would simply be experiencing another quantum split, therefore placing them in the past of an entirely different universe than the one left behind and fully unrestricted in their actions, as nothing they might do could introduce a paradox because the past (and therefore the future) of the universe they left behind will remain unchanged. Though many have challenged this idea, including Alan Everett – the physicist who originally proposed the MWI – it is still a highly interesting consideration.
Were we to assume any of these theories as true, or even indicative of paths to a more complicated, even inconceivable truth, their implications raise many a question even stranger than those we’ve previously explored. Are we simply the collection of matter which comprises our physical being? Are the non-qualitative processes which derive from our minds a part of ourselves? And if they are…are they only a part of us? If not, where else are they present? Along what dimensions do they travel? Are they spatial? Temporal? Or do they perhaps move through a medium we do not yet understand? Therefore affecting things in ways we cannot yet comprehend? Consider the famed “ESP”, or the idea of a sixth sense. It has been proven in certain studies that human beings are capable of perceiving things without utilizing the traditional five senses, even predicting future events (to a degree). Could it be envisioned, then, that a “sixth sense” – if possessed – would simply be an additional sense capable of perceiving stimuli not spatially present (or at least not present in our three-dimensional space). As mentioned earlier, perhaps this sixth sense could be a primitive ability to perceive what might be understood, albeit abstractly, as the physical manifestation of the dimension of time? After all, if space-time is a singular construct, then should it not be possible perceive a length of time as one perceives a length of space? An absurd concept, to be sure, but perhaps it is naught but a limitation of human faculties of observation which leads us to dismiss it as such.
To tread ever deeper into the inconceivable unknown, consider again the idea of multiple universes through the quantum many-worlds interpretation – could the cognitive processes we carry out in fact be physically manifested in some other dimension? For instance, could a fictional story I write (or even dream, or think) in fact be a reality somewhere out there in one of these universes? And if so, what does that make me? Am I a God? Did I cause this universe to exist by the mere act of imagining it? After all, if thoughts are included among properties of higher dimensions, then could I actually be utilizing the inter-dimensional (and therefore, inter-brane) link of unsubstantiated energy to affect other branes, or perhaps branching off other quantum worlds?
However, if time is a dimension which exists only within branes, then how could I be originating said worlds? They could never conceivably not have been, for there is no duration to measure in which they would not have been. No terms make sense in a timeless arena/space except always or eternally. Temporally uniform. Essentially meaning that I am doing no more than experiencing one of an infinite number of quantum crossroads, just as I am every second that I exist within this universe, or any parallel thereof which possesses a temporal dimension.
However, another suggested constituent of the Many-Worlds Interpretation is that the splitting of timelines does not actually occur until the event is observed – that is, the cat in Schrödinger’s equation would not be definitively alive or dead until one opened the box and observed its status, thereby causing the rift to occur. While a strange concept, were it true it could mean that in the imagining of a scenario (a fictional story, perhaps) I am essentially observing a possible sequence of quantum events with my mind’s eye, and possibly then branching off this imagined universe through my “observation” of its possible existence.
Far-fetched, maybe, but then who is to say? The discoveries we continue to make day by day about the true nature of our existence are continuously challenging our preconceived notions of what is possible.
Whatever the case, there are other interesting components of existence within our universe that are interesting in consideration of its nature, being, or inhabitants.
Music. From the moment we began creating it and even before, in some respects (if ever you find yourself deep within the forest, listen close and you shall hear what can only be described as the symphony of nature, a pure expression of the most acute understanding of what it means to draw breath; such is the opus of life), it has been an integral part of us, permeating our lives and cultures throughout our recorded history. An indelible medium through which we strive to elucidate the ineffaceable marrow of being. One recalls the essential premise (and namesake) of String Theory – the concept of the universe as a network of strings, vibrating into distinguishable particles which in turn make up the elements of matter – and life. There becomes clear, in light of this supposition, the correlatively intense and intrinsic effect music and rhythm has on the human mind and soul – even our bodies. Music can express the essence of a feeling, an experience, a basic truth of being alive so completely that it can affect us physically, chemically and emotionally on a deeply profound level. In some cases as strongly as - even taking precedence over - basic survival instincts and impulses. And at the risk of getting too personal, I can say that music has held on to me through, and lead me out of, some of the nights which still haunt my darkest dreams. I live for it – and most days, I believe, even because of it.
And so, whatever quantum timeline we may be a part of, and however insubstantial the most integral elements of our consciousness may be - if the universe is comprised, at the most basic level, of infinitesimal strings vibrating in eleven dimensions – then we hold no separate identities, in the sense that we are all as a singular physical form. The universe as we know it is a vast cosmic orchestra, and the entirety of its history is one grand symphony played perpetually upon the strings of creation across the cyclic dimension of time. In this sense, time could be viewed as the medium through which the manifestation of quantum harmony may be observed. And through it all I am but a single instrument, playing out my inconceivably small, yet equally real contribution to the piece as I traverse the pages of my own history. But I am still a poet, and a brother, and a son. And I will always be a question.
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I know I haven’t really posted anything, I’ve been pretty busy - work, insomnia, illness, work, insomnia, etc. But I will be posting something again soon I’m sure. Not that I imagine all of you are holding your breath, but just so ya know.
Aside from that, I want every person I’ve ever met and anyone I haven’t to hear this song, and preferably this whole album, which you can find and download for free (with the option to donate an amount of your choosing to the artist) here - http://cloudkicker.bandcamp.com/
This song is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard. There are no words to describe how these notes reverberate through my soul. All I can say is that listen to this song, and you will know the man that I am more fully and completely than if you’d met me.
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A tone of infinite sadness
A pitch of fervent joy
A solemn beat of anger
Drums against the will
A lyric sung by angels
A devil’s rhythmic rhyme
And all that goes unspoken
The soul will know in time
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There is something uncannily beautiful about being gripped in the throes of unwavering depression. There is a certain point, swift on the approach and rarely foreshadowed, where all sorrow ceases and is replaced by an otherworldly calm. An indescribable junction – a standoff of the mind and soul in which one must bend to the will of the other, fighting for control of the fragile puppet they inhabit. The result is a serenity beyond definition, in which all emotion is drained from the body, which in the absence of thought and feeling is left free to bask in the utter beauty of the present moment. This tranquility is something I have sought for a long, long time to master willingly. Yet I have rarely succeeded in doing so. Perhaps this is why I seem to conspire to keep myself in pain – hoping that once more I can reach that point, so overcome by a fierce and agonizing torment too horrific to be named or chronicled in exposition that the sheer depth of its intensity overpowers the very mind that feels such things, short-circuiting the perpetrating neurons and signals and synapses and leaving my body and soul free, if only for a moment, to enjoy the forgotten wonder of life, and the true sublimity and magnificence of the universe in which we exist.
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Walks through the city
In livelier times
Livelier spirits and healthier minds
Dreams of felicity
Borne of naivety
Withered by anguish and unconscious crimes
If I could find
A passage through time
I’d find the man who wasted his life
And stepped on his brothers
And spoke all these lies
Mistreated his lover
And left her to cry
Fought with his family
Hurt them inside
Left them in agony wishing to die
I’d take his eyelids and open them wide
Force him to witness the pain he’d incited
Force him to relive that miserable time
And give him a dagger to do what is right.
After the disastrous choices I’ve made
Nothing can keep me from going insane
Not with these images stuck in my brain
Not when these memories keep me in pain
Cut out my heart
Open my chest
Take out my soul
And sew up the rest
Send out the body to do what it will
Leave everybody to say that I’m ill
Deal with this figure who acts out the will
Of demons conspired to take what I’ve built
All I’ve aquired and all that I love
Set it on fire and kill what it was
Set back my soul in my chest as knelt
Screaming and pleading to end all the guilt.