Last night was laundry night, and when I pulled my comforter from the dryer, it was alive with radiant heat. I cocooned myself in its warmth and pulled a chair out onto my porch, where I could look out at the night sky, safe from the chill breezes.
And it so happened that my porch afforded a perfect view of Orion…my eye being caught first by the belt, then the four surrounding stars, and then the dangling line of stars known as Orion’s ‘sword’, which I still maintain is a euphemism for Orion’s dick.
And I thought about a Greek man, a million yesterdays ago, looking up at those same stars, and I wondered if he was thinking about me as well.
I wonder what he would think of this world, of our many advances and inventions. I think he’s a smart lad, and would be able to grasp a great many things. Cars may be a new and wondrous device, but I imagine he would quickly understand and accept the basic principle. So too with airplanes and telephones and television. He would not understand the whys and wherefores of these devices any more than I do, but he could learn to use them: get in this box, and it takes you into the air; talk into this machine, and your voice comes out the other end.
But we have innovations built on innovations built on innovations. At a certain point, the mind loses its ability to fathom such things. Suppose this Greek imagines a simple adding machine. Can he, from that, extrapolate the possibility of a computer? If he can get his mind around that, can he dream of the internet, or is that a stretch too far? What about something like Facebook? Is our Greek capable of imagining an entirely new form of social interaction, based on a massive invisible interlinking of unbelievably complex machines?
I don’t think so. And I mean this, in no way, as a slight on my dear Greek friend. I don’t think any genius of this modern age, were he born in this earlier era, would be able to make so many leaps of concept to imagine these things that we take for granted.
And this thought gives me hope. For as I’ve thought on our Greek from a million yesterdays gone by, I think also of a man of a million tomorrows, looking back on these same stars, or perhaps rocketing towards them at incalculable speeds. And I wonder what he thinks of me, an Ancient American, and which of his mundane marvels I could have conceived of.
For I can imagine a great deal, as can we all. Science fiction has given us minds to consider ideas like faster-than-light spaceflight, teleportation, psychic abilities, time travel, artificial intelligence, and more.
But what will a million tomorrows really bring? Will these current impossibilities be cracked, and serve as stepping stones toward ever more unimaginable heights? Composers writing music that can only be heard at relativistic speeds. Nanosecond-speed social networks for AIs. Chefs cooking paradoxical dishes using time travelling culinary techniques.
I have no idea. The world of a million tomorrows is as foreign to me as my world is to the Greek. But you know what? I’m excited about it. And you should be too.
We like to come up with reasons to fear the future. We think of time travel, and we imagine a woman going back in time and kills her own grandmother. We think of psychic abilities, and we imagine people bursting heads with telepathic death waves. We think of artificial intelligence, and we imagine robots rising up to enslave humanity.
And if our Greek friend thought of mechanized flight, he imagined Icarus’ wings bursting into flame from he heat of the sun. The future is never as frightening as we think it will be. In the end, a million yesterdays ago, or a million tomorrows hence, all you find is more of us, looking up at the same stars.
The future is an exciting place.
I’ll see you there.