(part of a story told to me over coffee one day)
“… So before they knocked me out to put the screws in my ankle, I felt some part of me, my awareness or conscious mind, leaving my body. I was able to float up to a corner of the emergency room and look around at everything, even my own body lying there on the stretcher, with all the blood and everything.
It wasn’t scary really; it seemed perfectly natural. I thought, Oh, man, I’ve become one of those New Age nutflakes you see on paranormal reality TV. After a while, though, it was like I was able to see even further than the room. My sight went out into the streets of the city, into the hills, up the rivers past towns and villages, into the high mountains, into put it but I felt like everything was aware, everything was conscious all around me and within me. Even rocks and clouds and stuff like that. Like I could read the mind of all living things.
Then I got scared, but I was excited too. Exhilarated. I thought, now I’m going to get an answer to one of my biggest questions. You see, I’d always felt there was some deep hidden meaning to the fact that the poles of our universe are inaccessible. I don’t mean the north and south poles of the planet, I mean the poles of the large and of the small in our universe. The extremely vast and the extremely tiny. I call them poles because we’re like the explorers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, so desperately trying to reach these untrodden places and claim them as our own.
Looking up, we can see no end to the cosmos. Our instruments can’t reach the pole of the vast and probably they never will. And looking within, we can only get so far in our measurements of the tiniest components of matter. We don’t even really know what they are. So the pole of the vanishingly small is also out of reach. Why should it be like that? That’s what I always wondered, ever since I was a teenager and I watched scientists like Carl Sagan on television. Why are we precisely here, on this perceptual equator, you might say, poised midway between the infinite and the infinitesimal? Anyhow, in that moment before the anesthetic took me under, I felt as if all I had to do was exert a little more effort and I would be able to touch both poles, the vast and the small.
I would see and understand the design, if there was one, the purpose behind the inaccessibility that drives us on, keeps us searching, the purpose behind everything. I would understand everything in nature, or maybe I would be everything in nature. Every creature, every rock, every molecule, every galaxy. Every particle of matter and energy. I would no longer know, I would simply be, or it would simply be. Suddenly I was terrified. Absolutely terrified. If I made that final effort, I knew it would annihilate the person I had always been. Over and gone. Gone where? Who knows.
But still I could not tear myself away. I was toppling over the edge. It wasn’t even a matter of my own effort anymore, it was simply going to happen. I was going to be standing at both poles at the same time, and maybe, maybe they were actually one and the same place…. Well, as it happened, sleepytime kicked in and solved the dilemma for me. I went under, and woke up a couple of hours later, groggy and extremely thirsty, but sane, at least relatively. I told myself it was just a hallucination brought on by the drugs in my system, and maybe that’s the truth of it, but still it was … unforgettable. And okay maybe it’s silly, but you know, sometimes I like to pride myself on having gone farther, deeper, than anyone -- Magellan, Marco Polo, Newton, Scott, Amundsen, Armstrong -- has ever gone.”