What Do I Think About Lying Awake at Night?

Keith Wiley


What do I think about lying awake at night?

I revel in the enormity of the universe. I dwell on what I envision humanity could become, not on the scale of centuries, not even millennia, but on galactic-travel scales (another three zeros at least). I can see the vast extent of life, intelligence, and mind, spread across the galaxy, each locus virtually isolated by interstellar spans and temporal delays. I can see the diversity that such a system would evolve into...technological, far removed from any original biology, all but absent of its Homo sapien origin...each point (stellar society, what have you) further diverged into a near separate civilization, a species, a "kind of conscious mind", whatever that would entail.

What do I think about lying awake at night?

I look back from that distant time in the future and see us now...and see how we are still part of a single early stage, the same stage that includes all known antiquity: the industrial revolution, the middle ages, Rome, Greece, Egypt, Mesopotamia. We are still part of a single temporally-connected civilization, the nascent rise of humanity. I see us, not as members of the advanced twenty-first century, but as members of a single larval period in our own eventual history. I see the stupifying short-sightedness of our economic and political systems and see how that will appear in retrospect from the future.

When I lie awake at night, I can see how mind is the most incredible thing the universe has produced...there is something profound about it, this system of organized (is it organized?) perception, realization/awareness, intent...desire...

I see mind's destiny — forgive the purple prose — its purpose (maybe): to escape its disparate points of origin, these miniscule planets so sparse as to be beyond one another's perception...to boil on the surface of its original planet as it self-organizes the necessary society to jump higher and higher — and I mean this literally — to embark and follow wispy threads through the cosmos, filaments to the nearest stars, still young, still fragile...still prone to extinction. But I can see its potential survival. With each new stellar system reached, each new island where subsequent civilization and mind can thrive and root and regain strength, and express that distinctly biological growth — to coat previously brute spherical rocks with information and complexity, with beauty, thought, passion...with awe.

I can see it all when I lie awake at night. But the vision takes a turn. I can see the end too. We are still in the early stages of our universe. Fourteen billion years is young in a universe that will eventually be measured in the trillions. I can see those glorious minds (are they civilizations? are they individuals?), the ancients, the wise...clawing against entropy, flailing to maintain their life, their pattern, their existence in a universe fundamentally predilected against such preservational interests. The stars whither, the protons decay, the heat is flat. They are all dead.

I can see our size, our lack of it.
I can see our potential, our risk of failing it.
I can see our hope, our chance to losing it.
Can I see our fate? I'm crying.

...I lie awake at night a lot.