Even though my wife is now walking with a cane (and even a little without), she can’t remain on her feet for very long, so my morning schedule remains about the same.
This morning around 5AM as Halley and I left the house, the sky was clear. I don’t think I’ve ever seen more stars. I’m no expert astronomer, but I’d swear some of those constellations were never there before.
As I gazed up at the sky while Halley occupied her curiosity over some scent or another, I saw three stars, clustered together, slowly move across the sky to the sound of prolonged thunder, or the rush of many waters.
Of course it was a cargo plane landing at Boeing Field. But when I look at the stars, I can’t help thinking about the distant past, and I imagined what an ancient observer would think of a DHL 757, especially at night. No doubt they would consider it a chariot of the gods, like that of Baal-Hadad, the original Rider on the Storm. I’m not a subscriber to Erich von Däniken’s theories (mostly because of his highly questionable interpretation of ancient texts), but I don’t completely rule them out, either.
Then I thought, what if some of these ancient apparitions weren’t alien at all? What if they were us? Could someone a few thousand years ago look up into the sky and see what I’m seeing this morning? It calls for a radically different view of space-time, doesn’t it?
Ever since reading Hume and Kant I’ve entertained the notion that space-time and causality are crude concepts through which we view the world, and nothing more. We (along with other animals in varying degrees) evolved these perceptions in order to be able to predict what happens next — an important tool for survival. Humans have developed the concepts to such a systematically refined degree that we almost no longer have the ability to frame ideas that violate those principles. When we do, they are termed “irrational” or “insane”.
This serves us well, in perhaps 99.99999% of the cases. We don’t need to be able to frame other concepts, because we can safely ignore any phenomena that belie our framework. We can easily believe that, given enough knowledge and a good theory or two, these occurrences could be understood in the context of our axioms. We almost can’t disbelieve that.
But perhaps our perceptions of space-time and causality are limited, just as our range of perception in light wavelengths is limited to roughly 400-700 nanometers — or rather, was limited until we developed tools with which to “see” more.
As long as the number of phenomena that conflict with our concepts of time, space, and cause and effect remains small enough to discount them as flukes, we don’t need to frame new concepts to deal with them. But is it that minute, or do we ignore more than we care to admit?
When I was a child, my mother and sister and I went to visit my grandparents as we did every Sunday. They lived on a huge farm that had been in the family for generations. On this particular Sunday the grown-ups decided to visit Uncle Dan’s cabin, a small dwelling that was nestled by a spring on a remote part of the farm. Uncle Dan was my grandfather’s brother, and he settled there after retiring from the Marines.
We enjoyed the clear spring air as we walked along the farm road by the wide pastures until we arrived at the shady hill by the spring. Then we proceeded up the steps and into the cabin. Uncle Dan was seated in a chair on the porch, leaning an elbow on a table. He waved at us children as we went by — and silently smiled, as if keeping a joke to himself.
My sister and I explored the upstairs loft while the grown-ups were busy doing grown-up things downstairs. After a while, they called to us that it was time to go. We ran back down the rickety staircase and out the front door.
“Where’s Uncle Dan?” I asked.
“Oh child, he’s gone,” responded my grandmother.
“Heaven knows, child.”
“Momma!” my mother said.
We continued on the farm road in the same direction we had been going before, knowing that it looped all the way around the ninety-some acres of farmland and back to the house. It was a walk that we enjoyed on many occasions over the years, often after a huge Sunday dinner.
Many times we would stop near the end of the loop at the family cemetery, where generations of my mother’s family were buried. As I got older, I became fascinated with the family history, and enjoyed reading each headstone and piecing together the past events of the family with their births and deaths.
Imagine my surprise the first time I noticed that Uncle Dan’s headstone bore a date of death less than two weeks after my birth.
“There’s a mistake on Uncle Dan’s headstone!”
“No, that’s right. He passed away while we were still in Germany,” my mother replied.
“But I MET him!”
“Oh, no you couldn’t have, son. You were with us. And besides, you were just born.”
Eventually I became convinced that I simply had gotten something wrong, being so young. Parents always had a way of proving that you were mixed up by repeated assertion.
I’m not saying that I saw Uncle Dan’s ghost. Why, even just a few days ago I was asked if I had ever seen a ghost, and after thinking it over I replied, “No, I don’t think so.” This incident didn’t even occur to me as a ghost sighting. I saw someone sitting there as clearly as I’ve seen anyone since (and much more clearly than I see you now, dear reader — who are actually in the future).
Did I catch a glimpse of the past? Or a ghost? Or just my imagination?