an atheist viewpoint

thoughts from a non-theist


Swim” said Fassin. “You know; when your head kind of seems to swim because you suddenly think: “Hey, I’m a human being, but I’m twenty thousand light years from home and we’re all living in the midst of mad aliens and super weapons and the whole bizarre insane swirl of galactic history and politics! That; isn’t that weird?”
Iain M. Banks, The Algebraist

Though, obviously, I’m not living on the other side of the Milky Way in The Future, I did have a burst of what Iain Banks calls ‘swim’ this week.

In fact it’s happened more than once, the most recent time being when I was sat in the training room at my new place of work on Monday. Looking around the room I suddenly had a clear, and thoroughly shocking, moment of realisation – I saw, with absolute clarity, that I was sitting at a table surrounded by apes, and when I looked at my own hands I saw ape hands. The feeling only lasted a few minutes, but for the whole of that time I was very very aware that we’re simply animals who got lucky.

I’ve had this happen to me a few times, the first most memorable one (before this week) being when I looked at the Moon one night and suddenly had the feeling that I was looking down at it from a great height (which, I suppose, I kind of was). Again, for a short moment, I was hyper aware of just how far away the Moon is, and how tiny I was in comparison.

I’m sure the religious have something similar, but they are able to comfort themselves with the (erroneous) idea that they’re somehow special, or (if they’re Calvinists) that the deserve to feel small and should get to grovelling asap.To feel real wonder, in my opinion, one has to have a realistic notion of one’s lack of importance, and of the size of the Universe – only then can you truly have that moment of ‘swim’.

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2 thoughts on “Swimming

  1. I wonder what happens if you put a Catholic into the Total Perspective Vortex. Does a Calvinist come out?

  2. You get either Matt Slick, or the Pope.

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