Courtesy of Anthony Goto, flickr
You’ve had this conversation before.
You’re lying on your back in the grass or in a lounge chair, staring up at the night sky. Maybe you’ve had a few drinks or enjoyed some of our planet’s botanical pleasures. You’re feeling good, with your mind and soul flung wide open.
“Isn’t it crazy to think that the light we’re seeing left those stars 65 million years ago,” you say to a friend lying next to you.
“Right?” they reply. “They could have exploded long ago, before the dinosaurs existed, and we wouldn’t know.”
“And how wild is it that there’s a storm on Jupiter that’s three times the size of Earth?”
“And we’ve put a robot on Mars. A robot from Earth is rolling around scooping up Martian sand right this minute.”
I hung out with my four best friends last weekend, and not long after the sky went dark, we had a version of this conversation. It’s a talk we’ve had dozens of times before, starting back when we’d hang out in each others’ backyards in high school, back before college, before marriage, before having kids.
Between our jobs and our families, it’s hard for us all to get together more than once or twice a year, but every time we are able to assemble, the conversation at some point always veers into expressions of wonder. It’s not always so cosmic. Sometimes we marvel at how rapidly technology has progressed or how strange our current lives would have seemed to the younger versions of ourselves.
At some point during last weekend’s conversation, right about the time we veered into amazement at how time slows near black holes, one of my friends remarked, “Oh man, how many times have we had this conversation?”
To which another friend replied, “It’s a good conversation to have from time to time.”
I’ve been thinking about that ever since. How we need to cultivate fascination, stoke our wonderment, and try to stuff big ideas into our little human minds.
For me as a writer, this exercise is especially critical. My love for these massive ideas is part of what drew me to sci-fi. Without the challenge of tackling concepts that shake my foundational perceptions of reality, I couldn’t sustain the interest necessary to show up at the keyboard consistently. And my success as a writer depends in no small part on my ability to provide my readers with flashes of this awe.
Even for non-writers, this generating amazement is important. You’ll find peace in shrinking yourself, shrinking your problems. You’ll use new parts of your brain and give the worn-out practical parts a much-needed rest. You’ll feel better.
The sky is clear in the Midwest tonight, and Jupiter is looming large in the western sky. Go outside and track it down and think about that big storm and try to get your mind around the idea of a planet made of gas.
Even if you’re alone, have that conversation with yourself. And think about how crazy it is that your brain lets you talk to yourself. Whoa.