When are we most alive?


There are moments when I look into that deep well of memories, seek out in the brain’s twisted archive of fragmented neuronal lights; dip down into the chemical vats of its blind pathways certain traces that have established themselves, left their mark in a knot of neurons: discover in its uncertain, lingering waves events that have been copied into the tissue of my three pounds of mentation. In such moments I sometimes discover signs of past life, remembrances of past awakenings, moments in that time temple of traced livingness in which I suddenly felt most alive.

Most of the time it comes in snatches like dream fragments: a forest glen where a young doe looks up, her eyes pointedly staring into mine – a meeting of two beings forming a silent acknowledgement; else, other moments when the pain of a nail ripping into one’s flesh touches one’s being, awakens one to the power and resistance of things, of how they can bring one low, destroy in an instance one’s illusion of safety; or, the power of a smile, the trace of a woman’s mouth that hides more than it reveals: her eyes full of mischief, laughter, impishness. Sometimes these fragments from the neuronal stream pop up as one is going about work or play, mindlessly, like an automaton; living habitually through the day to day cycles without thought or care.

At such moments one will stop, awaken from one’s stupor for just a quick second, becoming aware of the other, of that self one has never known, but always seen scampering through the traceries of these neuronal flashes and memories. What is the Self that it follows one like a ghost? Is it nothing more than these disturbed memories? A broken stream of neurons floating among light bundles that suddenly trigger past events? Are we mere moments in a screen play we did not create, but rather have become unwilling players in its willy-nilly fabrications? Or is it more than the dark traceries below these jutting memories that reveal distorted signs of our only ever real life, a life marked by moments of awakening when the mind is so clear and alive that it sees into things as they are, alive and knowing? A life when the knower and the known awaken to each other?

Have you ever thought about the difficulty in bringing back the face of a loved one out of that dark sea of neurons? Seeking the trace of her appearance in the clouds of images that seem like some protean world that is in continuous metamorphosis? The way she would look up at you with that red baseball cap, her hair stuffed up in a knot, her coal black eyes full of dark-fire, that little turn of her lips, a grin sparking at you revealing both intelligence and humor. When she is gone what remains?

Does the universe hold these things forever? Will the memories in my neurons disperse among the stars, or will stars sing of them in some distant corner of the universe the moment my flesh dissolves into the earth? If I transcend my flesh and become machinic as some posthuman fabricators of descent foresee, will those memories have the same weight for that new positronic mind as they have had for my fleshly one? What in the reaches of those eons when our mechanical children look back on their ancestry will they remember? Will they feel as we feel, will they think as we think; will they know love and laughter, sorrow and terror; will they be troubled in their sleep with dreams?

We tell ourselves stories in the night to comfort us against the unknown terrors that surround us. Will our positronic children do the same?

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