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meager slices of reality

Anne Dalke's picture

A number of years ago, when we were traveling in Spain, we were struck to find, in the main piazza in Madrid, what seemed to us a kind of stand-off between the cathedral and the palace: it looked to us like two heavy power-hitters facing off across an open space. In Antigua we see the remnants of this arrangement: on one side of Parque Centrale are the ruins of the Cathedral, on another the Palacio Capitanes (which now houses the tourist bureau).

But on one of our walks this week, exploring the fourth quadrant of the city, we found ourselves on a road out of town. And there we were surprised to happen upon, all in a row 1) a conference center, 2) an evangelical retreat center, and 3) Nestle’s headquarters. Basically the same line-up, this time away from the center of town-- which is seeming more and more to us like a constricted, controlled environment, one where tourists like ourselves are stumbling over the uneven sidewalks, outside those closed-off walls, thinking whatever thoughts we think, but really knowing nothing whatever of what is going on here (including where the real money and power lies).

And I’m realizing that this is all metaphoric. My current reading is not Guatemaletecan, but an up-to-date colloquial account of theoretical physics, Brian Greene’s The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time and the Texture of Reality. Greene makes it very clear from the beginning that the current best candidate for a grand unifying theory of space and time—super-string theory, which requires 9 or 10 spacial dimensions and one time dimension—is telling us that our own experiences are but “glimpses of a meager slice of reality.” There may be other worlds, “nearby in the extra dimensions--of which we’ve so far been completely unaware.” We’re not seeing the tiniest bit of what is (nor can we ever expect to).

I just finished reading The Beggar’s Knife, a collection of troubling dream-like stories by Rodrigo Rey Rosa, in which inside and outside, reality and perception, constantly interpenetrate one another: dead men talk, those who find their bodies become them, their spirits inhabit the living. One of those characters muses that his

relationships with the world were uncertain…. He was never able to understand why others were not aware that the outside, what one could perceive of animals and objects, was a dream….He looked at the stars and thought: Perhaps they are holes, and their rays are ropes that other fishermen hold in their hands.