Wrap your mind around this…

The human mind is a wonderful instrument, capable of intense reaches of imagination and ingenuity.  With it, we’ve traveled the stars and delved into the interior of the atom.  We’ve investigated the mechanism of disease, evaluated the bottom of the ocean, and produced treatises of word and music of immense beauty.  Among other things.  Now, I’m not an anthropologist and I don’t have my finger on any real scientific evidence, but it seems likely that the human mind developed its ability for visualizing the abstract and hypothetical as a mechanism of giving Homo sapiens an evolutionary advantage over its competition.  After all, humans don’t run very fast (compared to many other animals), and don’t have a lot of the other physical attributes such as sharp claws, muscle mass, extreme height or weight, etc., that might give us an advantage out in the “real” world.  No, we use our head.  But we’ve gone well beyond simply outwitting predators to great art and literature and science, and even activities based on physical attributes such as athletics (I’m thinking here of baseball and golf), as well as music, require great mental activity.  You could, conceivably, train a monkey to blow through a horn and produce a sound, but will it compose a symphony?

But wonderful as the human mind is, it still has limitations.  There are some things of which it is impossible for the mind to conceive.  I ran across this not too long ago, researching the sun as a part of my science-fiction novel.  The sun is a star, actually a regular star, and other than the fact that it’s “ours”, it’s unremarkable in the Milky Way Galaxy.  The interior of the sun undergoes atomic fusion, breaking down molecules of hydrogen and fusing them together to form helium.  To do that, it has to be hot, millions of degrees.  (It doesn’t matter if you use Fahrenheit or centigrade, at these temperatures the difference is gorp.)  I’ve seen figures of  20 million, 30 million, even 50 million degrees for the center of the sun.  That by itself is amazing enough, and almost incomprehensible, though I can vaguely imagine it.  But not only is the center of the sun hot, it’s incredibly dense.  The one report I read said the density is ten times that of solid lead.  I’ve read other reports that use different similes, but the message is clear:  it’s damn hot and damn dense.

At this point, my mind breaks down.  I can’t readily visualize a substance (astronomers call it a “plasma” but that hardly does it justice) that is at the same time millions of degrees hot, yet solid and more dense than lead.  It doesn’t enter my normal state of consciousness.  The human mind, vast and adaptable as it is, can’t grasp that kind of data.  It just doesn’t compute.  Normally, we think of something that gets hot as going through phases from solid to liquid to gas.  Yet, here’s this substance that is extremely hot, yet solid.

We, on this mortal coil, live too much in our own world, what we call the “real world,” the world to which we adjust day after day.  But out there, in the vast reaches of space, is something different.  If a star can be so unperceiveable (I’m making up words as I go along), what else is out there?

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