Monday, December 25, 2023

Bridging the Infinite Strangeness

Thomas Nagel once wrote a famous paper "What Is It Like to Be a Bat?", about how we really can't know what the internal, subjective experience of another radically different being is like, for example, an animal with a strange suite of senses, such as a bat. But have you ever wondered how utterly alien it must be to be the all-powerful, all-knowing Creator and Sustainer of all being? Saying "his ways are not our ways" is putting it mildly.

One can well imagine a degree of difference that the word "eldritch" would characterize it. Why would a Being so transcendent have any regard for us who are less significant than mere ants in comparison? And somehow he loves us so obsessively that he even counts the hairs on our heads. "Creepy," Fr. John Grieco called it (tongue-in-cheek).

Not long ago, I read Stanislaw Lem's Solaris. It's a classic science fiction noval, from which there have been two motion pictures made, about a research facility orbiting a planetary life form. The life-form is the planet. The human scientists have spent decades trying to decipher the meaning of the many quasi-regular phenomena that appear around the surface of the world, but with little progress. Then strange things begin happening on the station. The scientists' lost loved ones begin manifesting. It seems that the planet has reached into the scientists' minds and incarnated these "people" from their memories, including the wife of the main protagonist, whom he lost to suicide. The purpose of these rather complete and sustained manifestations is not entirely clear, but is perhaps an attempt at communication.

What's it like to be a planet? What's it like to be God? Lem tries to deny the similarity, but it's there. How can an incomprehensibly immense being bridge the divide? Taking on the form of the beings one is trying to reach seems like the most effective expedient, one that might work when the goal is communication between creatures, or a mission of mercy from the creatures' Creator. Lovers will go to such extremes.