Now Boarding

May 28, 2008

Travel always makes me philosophical. Truly, how can it not? You don’t know where you are until you’ve been somewhere else, right? Traveling today has been a balmy experience so far. I’m seated at gate A61 in the Detroit airport, a Greek sandwich of lamb, pita, and tomato digesting away somewhere south of my heart. People all around me are talking on their cells, eating (Bugles for one older gentleman, a “Rio-roll” for a young Chinese woman), and reading the newspaper.

Myself, on the other hand, I’ve been reading words arranged at great cost by the liquid-crystal display of my Kindle. Cryptonomicon is, as I’ve mentioned, my favorite book. Not just because it’s a good read, and I enjoy the characterizations, and the plot is damned interesting, but because it rearranges the way I think. That’s ultimately what knowledge is about, and I learn something new every time I read Stephenson’s work. Stephenson, and his kindred named Niven, Gibson, Heinlein, et al, remind me that I’ve grown up with a distinctly different way of looking at the world.

For me, the man across from me eating the Bugles isn’t just a guy sitting in a chair. He’s the result of millions of years of evolutionary progress. He’s reading a book published from a company with arms reaching across the globe. The paper the book is printed on came from locations across the globe, and the lenses in his glasses were honed through a process perfected only within the last hundred years. He, and every single other person in this airport, is badass in the most strict evolutionary sense. But generally speaking, folks don’t appreciate the depth and import of the things around them.

This is why I love science and – of course – science fiction. It forces your head down, hard, to stare at the little dots that make up newsprint. It jerks your head back, pulling at the roots of your hair, and demands that you understand the movements of heavenly bodies. I don’t say these things to be elitist, though I think I sort of am. Instead, I want to get across how much I love *understanding*; the feeling of peeling back the gristle and bone to get to the core of reality. The sense that you’ve understood even a fractional part of the whole of existance – be it Bugles, evolution, books, or just the contents of a Greek sandwich. It doesn’t happen often, but I think I’m going to enjoy this trip.

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