little planet in a dream
Wednesday, May 25 2005
The other morning I dreamed there was a small natural satellite near Earth that had a thin oxygen-rich atmosphere and a resident flora that had somehow been seeded with familiar plants from our planet. Being small, it had weak gravity, but somehow it managed to hold on to its atmosphere. People routinely visited the planet and for the duration of the dream I was there myself. I was having difficulty breathing the thin atmosphere, so I asked someone about it and he explained that the air there was about as thin as that at the top of Mount Everest.
The interesting thing about the dream was how accepting I was of this wacky little planet with its own forests and oceans. Dreams have their own physical laws that are variations on the ones familiar to us all, and under the laws of this particular dream the little planet constituted the one exception to the rule (familiar from our wide awake reality) that life is known to exist only on Earth. But since Earth had so obviously provided it with its pioneer life forms, scientists considered it a trivial exception.
This dream probably had its origins in thoughts planted in my head by a recent This American Life, the one entitled "Go Ask Your Father." One of the show's segments was about the search for extraterrestrial life, and (among other things) advanced the hypothesis that those who are most fascinated by this subject have unfulfilling family lives. (It even mentioned the plaintive message beamed at extra terrestrials from the world's largest radio telescope by Frank Drake, whose disowned bedreadlocked son was a good friend of mine during my Oberlin phase.) Most interesting in that segment was the tale of Friedrich Gauss, who, during the 19th Century, proposed two methods for informing other planets that ours is home to intelligent life. One of the ideas was to hire an army of Russian lumberjacks to create a massive clearcut in the shape of a right triangle in the forests of Siberia. The other was to dig a humongous trench in the shape of a perfect circle in the Sahara, fill it with kerosene, and (once night fell) set it on fire. That Gauss thought other intelligent civilizations were close enough in space to just look down and see features on our planet now seems so naïve that it's actually a little touching. He must have imagined a universe teaming with intelligent life, and he must have also assumed that the laws of physics (which he was helping to articulate) were what kept technology from advancing past 19th Century limits to allow folks on other worlds to do more than just passively watch us.
Thinking of these things frequently takes me back to the plights of Polynesians on various islands and island groups in the South Pacific. I wonder what theories the Easter Islanders had about unseen peoples and cultures far out across the ocean, intelligent life forms whose technology was insufficient to permit a visit until the 1700s.
Today was the first day that I did much driving with my new "Ribbons are for Cowards Go Fight in Iraq" bumpersticker. I met Gretchen at the Uptown Hannaford this afternoon for a big grocery errand and as I was loading the truck with bags an SUV pulled into the space beside me. I kept waiting for the people to get out and go about their business, but they waited inside their vehicle until I was completely gone (and this took me awhile because I had a lot of shit to load).
As I was leaving I saw their bumperstickers. They didn't have any ribbons, but they did have a ridiculous billowing flag sticker that said something like "Pray for our Troops." It seems they'd taken one look at my stickers and figured I was crazy enough to slice off their heads and sodomize the severed tubes in their neck stumps. The reason people buy mobile SUV fortresses is to protect themselves against people like me.
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