We exist on a middle scale. This means when we look down in scale, there are things much smaller than us and, if we look up in scale, there are things much larger.
It is easy to think the middle scale represents reality and that these other scales are simple distractions, unimportant, and strange. But is the middle scale really that medium-sized? Every time we look up or down thinking we have found the limits of scale, we are eventually proved wrong. We have disproven the idea that ours is the only planet, the only Sun, or the only galaxy. And once we split the atom, once thought the smallest unit of existence, we find things inside it and things inside those things.
Isn’t it silly to think the largest thing is the universe (as we know it) or that the smallest is a quark or a string? Isn’t it more reasonable to conclude that in fact things continue in scale more or less infinitely? And if there is infinity above us and infinity below, how can we say we are middle-scale beings – for surely infinity has no middle point!
Time warps from this perspective also. If the universe as we know it is destined to fail and be reborn over and over, with time running forever onwards, then is time not infinite? And if time is infinite, then any division of time is also infinite. Half of infinity is infinity. We exist on Earth for some fraction of an infinite time and are therefore infinite – although our perceptions lead us to believe we have a discreet beginning and ending in time just as we seem to do in our bodies.
You exist, however, outside of the boundaries of your own skin. Action occurs at a distance. Your thoughts and feelings spread to others – part of you becomes part of whomever you are with. More concretely, because you are made of stuff and some of that stuff is very tiny, it obeys quantum rules. This means action at a distance: you are entangled with subatomic particles potentially infinitely far away. When your states change, their states can change also – they are part of you. You project energy into your immediate environment and that energy – part of you – can potentially travel infinitely far.
When you die, all the things that made you who you are dissolve into the background energy of the universe. They continue – you continue – with no more conscious recollection of the form you once had until the universe has dissolved into a matter-free state of meaningless energy, perhaps to be subsumed into some larger force.
Yalom (1980) urges us to reflect on the universe to give us a sense of perspective. It is hard to be very upset about life’s little absurdities when faced with the entirety of the cosmos. And Schneider (2008) urges us to reflect upon the cosmos to cultivate a sense of awe and wonderment. We really can’t know anything important with any certainty, and comfort with this ambiguity helps us be gentler, more understanding, better custodians of this flesh while we inhabit it.
Out there are billions of stars, trillions of galaxies that we can observe. And in here are objects so small that to them we are the size of the whole of existence at our scale. Translating that sense of wonderment to everyday life at this middle scale is the cultivated naivete that other cultures take for wisdom – the knowing of this moment for how it really is rather than how we conceive or wish it to be, the openness to experience that makes us profound.
Satir was known to say that every human being is wonderful. I disagree – there are some humans who clearly do not meet this standard as the word is used presently. I should rather think that every human being is wondrous – full of ever-tinier scales and playing some role in the huge vastness of the cosmos, and deserving of some awe and wonderment rather than some hasty labels and manualized interventions.
— Jason Dias
Schneider, K. (2008). Existential integrative psychotherapy. New York: Routledge.
Yalom, I. (1980). Existential psychotherapy. New York: Basic Books.