Monday, May 8, 2017

May 8: Great Millipedes, Last Batch of Papers, String Theory

Billy Pilgrim says that the Universe does not look like a lot of bright little dots to the creatures from Tralfmadore.  The creatures can see where each star has been and where it is going, so that the heavens are filled with rarefied, luminous spaghetti.  And Tralfamadorians don't see human beings as two-legged creatures, either.  They see them as great millipedes--"with babies' legs at one end and old people's legs at the other," says Billy Pilgrim.

It's a very Salvador Dali view of the universe that Vonnegut presents here.  All times seen at once by the residents of Tralfamadore.  No beginning or middle or end.  Just a spectrum of whens.  When Billy was born.  When he was captured in Germany.  When he was in an airplane crash.  When he took his first flying saucer ride.  Everything is a big pile of luminous pasta.  Maybe Vonnegut had string theory figured out before there was string theory.

My when right now is in my office at the university.  Correcting my last batch of papers, getting ready to do the final math after that.  Of course, if I were from Tralfamadore, or saw the universe as a Tralfamadorian does, I would already know the grades on these papers AND my students' final grades.  I would exist before the papers were written and after they sat on a pile in my office for a semester or two.

Of course, that's not the way human experience works.  We are chronological creatures, slowly limping toward our ends second-by-second, minute-by-minute.  Currently, my human vision is clouded with a headache.  I have not had any caffeine today, and so there is pressure building behind my eyes.  A dull ache that is steadily building.  After I am done blogging, I will most certainly walk down the hallway to the pop machine.  (For my readers from Wisconsin, pop = soda.)

I have not received any news about the status of my brother today.  I know he is in a Grand Rapids hospital.  I know that that he is undergoing tests and procedures.  Aside from that, I am without information.  Again, if I were Tralfamadorian, I would already know the results of those tests and procedures, his prognosis of recovery.  But, again, I am not Tralfamadorian.

So, in my humanness, I will grade papers tonight.  I will punch numbers and letters into a computer.  And I will wait for some kind of report about my brother.  Perhaps being human isn't all that bad.  In an earlier passage in Slaughterhouse, a Tralfamadorian says to Billy that free will is a foreign concept everywhere in the universe except Earth.  That would probably mean that hope is also alien to aliens.  Right now, hope is all I got, and it makes the grading and waiting bearable.

Tonight, Saint Marty is thankful for being human.

No comments:

Post a Comment