Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Windows In The Wall

Imagine a group of people who live their entire lives within a single room. Suppose this imaginary room has no windows and that the people inside this room draw conclusions about the larger world from the noises they hear coming from outside. When they hear a dog barking, imagine what stories they must tell about the noise, having never seen a dog. What about a siren? What sorts of explanations would they make to explain such strange and mysterious sounds!

People inside the room might say that the sounds are produced by molecular vibrations within the walls. Such people might study walls intently, perhaps becoming exerts of wallology.
Others might say that the sounds are not from the walls, but are the result of sound waves converging at or near the walls that emanate from moving objects within the room. Such people might be called experts in sociophonic theory.

Yet others might sincerely believe the sounds are something like an “audio mirage,” the fabrication of bored brains. These would be the psychologists of this imaginary room.

And finally, I would think, there would be another group of people; people who believe in a world “beyond the room.” They would repeat old stories about beasts and thunder and about mystical water that runs down from a ceiling so high that no one can see its end. Those people would doubtless argue endlessly about the color of dogs (which, you will note, none of them have ever seen) and about the subtle differences between nonsense words, such as “snow,” meaning soft frozen water, always to be distinguished from “ice,” meaning hard frozen water, or from “rain,” meaning water falling from high up, or from “flood,” meaning water accumulating from underneath, and other such examples of hopelessly muddled obscurantism.

The people who live in this closed-in room might call those who believe in a world beyond the room something like, “the foolish ones.” The people who believe in the world beyond might simply call themselves “believers.”

Despite all the differences between the groups within the closed-in room, there is one belief they all share. Every one of them will know that he or she must someday walk out of the room. None of them will know why. They only know that each person somehow receives a mysterious summons. After this summons -- sometimes immediately and sometimes a while later -- the one summoned must walk out the door. This door (called, naturally enough, the GREAT DOOR) opens with a terrifying groan.

Once a person exits through the GREAT DOOR, he never returns.

People in the room would be divided over what happens when a person leaves the room. Some say that there is a feast on the other side of the GREAT DOOR. Others warn that those who leave the room are tortured. Yet others insist that those who walk through the GREAT DOOR disappear and cease to be.

It’s all very mysterious.

No matter how wise people get, they are always a bit frightened of leaving the room. It is therefore rare for a person to willingly walk through the GREAT DOOR.

Now imagine that among the foolish ones who tell the old stories, there is a smaller group. Those in this smaller group make an amazing claim. They say that a long time ago one man discovered what was on the other side of the GREAT DOOR.

The foolish ones claim that this man walked through the GREAT DOOR just like everyone else. Then, they say, he came right back through it. He then walked around the room, speaking to his friends. He then left the room once again, promising everyone that he would soon return and lead them all into the great OUTDOORS.

According to those who believe this story - and not everyone does - this same man now invites his friends to gather once a week at a certain place at the wall. They claim that at this appointed place and time, they converse with him. Not only that - they claim that in the wall are places through which one can look out and see (very dimly, they admit) the other side, to the GREAT OUTDOORS!

Those thin places in the wall, claim these foolish people, are made up of one part “this room stuff” and one part “outside stuff.”

Not many people these days go to those thin places in the wall.

Some say the so called “thin places” are a hoax. The places are made of “this room stuff” and nothing else. Others say that the thin places are boring, or that they require too much work. Some say that at best one can only see dim shadows of things that are probably nothing more than figments of one’s imagination at these “thin places.

Some however, return from their weekly visit to the thin places with certain feeling called “joy unspeakable,” because there is no “inside word” to describe what they feel.

So, I imagine, the people of our imaginary, closed-in room are deeply divided. They are all trying to make sense of the only world they have ever known; trying to deal with desires that seem beyond any possibility of fulfillment. Most of all they deal with fears about the Great Door, and spend a lot of time sorting out all the contradictory stories about what it means.

Perhaps we can forgive them for being confused.

Were it not for the outside noises, the old stories (that even the most skeptical among them enjoy,) and their desire to experience such things as “light,” “rain” and “dogs;” the people in the room might adjust to the fact that this closed-in room is “all there is.”

Unfortunately, the noises, stories and desires don’t seem to go away. So the people of our closed-in room can’t seem to adjust, no matter how smart they get.

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