Friday, February 17, 2012

Chasing Mars

The teacher’s question hung in the air like the sound of a bell after the bell had been rung and the clapper thing wasn’t moving any more but the bell kept ringing and ringing.

Resonance. That’s the word for it. Resonance.

In 1969 Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. That’s a fact. What happened after that is also a fact. 2012, and all the stuff before that. Every fact in Wikipedia. It all happened. But did it have to happen?

He thought about it.

If atoms and molecules were like pool balls on a pool table, then yeah. The cue stick strikes, creating forward momentum. The triangle of balls shatters, bounces off the sides of the table. But it’s all a function of the original impact. Everything that happens. You could predict it. It’s just mathematics. That’s what Newton said.

But the universe isn’t a pool table. Human beings aren’t pool balls.

He raised his hand.

“No,” he said. “It didn’t have to happen. Nothing has to happen. The universe isn’t a movie. If you rewind it back and play it again, it doesn’t have to happen the same way.”

“Why not?” said the teacher.

“Because …”

He thought about it. Some old movie he’d seen. “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Jimmy Stewart and some money and an angel on a bridge. Two realities. A parable of indeterminacy.

“The random factor. I think that’s the wrong word. People make decisions, I guess. We’re going to go to the Moon. We’re going to make colonies. We’re going to go to Mars. It didn’t have to happen. Somebody made it happen.”

Somebody with courage, he thought. Somebody who stuck their neck out and stood up to some bureaucrat at the right time and place. Risked their job, their reputation. Maybe just one sentence. We can do this. Or just one word. A word that changed everything. Bullshit. One man. One woman. One word that created the future. Maybe ...

“I think you’re right,” the teacher said. “I can’t prove it. But I think you’re right.”

Outside the window, a geodesic dome the size of Manhattan made the sky look like a giant soccer ball. Inside that web of pentagrams, Deimos and Phobos raced each other against the orange sky. He tried to imagine an alternate reality where he wasn't sitting here seeing this.

But it was just too depressing.

No comments: