by Kenneth C. Eng
It had been a day since last Johnny Spectic saw something spectacular. And already he was bored. So bored that he felt like killing himself. You see, it was the end of his college years and he had nothing left to celebrate. The parties were over. The classes were done. Now, all he had to look forward to was getting a job, working for the next 30-odd years and getting a house that he would brood in until dying of dullness. Sigh, what a way to spend your life. Everything that was remotely spectacular was behind him.
Contemplating many deep thoughts, he took a stroll and wandered to a lens store nearby. That reminded him he needed new glasses.
Walking in, he was immediately intrigued by the idiosyncrasy of the store’s design. All of the lenses that were being sold seemed to be mounted on coiled loops that hung from the ceiling. There was no counter or cash register, but rather, only a circular table upon which sat a crystal ball.
Stranger still were the actual glasses that were on display, for none of them looked like anything he had seen before. Some of them were composed of three lenses, some were large enough for elephants to wear, others had lenses that were shaped like dinosaurs and a few had lenses so small that they were nothing more than slivers of glass. The only thing they had in common was that they were all colorful, some of them having single lenses that were half-green and half-red. How come he had never noticed this shop before?
He called out for service. However, none was to arrive. Thus, he decided to be bold and try the glasses on himself. But which one? The one with the vertigo-shaped lenses? The one that was made of diamond? How about the one that was composed of two awkwardly positioned rectangle lenses, one of which would have extended over his forehead and the other which would extend over his cheek? He was equally interested in the one that had orbs for lenses.
But none of them caught his attention like the object he saw at the back: the spectacles that had rainbow lenses. They were simple yet eye-catching at the same time. And indeed they did catch his eye in more than one way, for he did not hesitate to put them on.
As he did, his vision blurred, as was expected, since they weren’t fitted to his prescription. He saw an array of color blanket everything in his sight, washing over all in an ocean of differing tints and hues. It was kind of like a hallucination or a twisted dream from REM sleep. But after looking through them for ten seconds, his eyes started to hurt.
He tried to take them off when suddenly everything in his vision became clear. However, he did not see the store he was in but rather a barren field of dead grass. The sky was gray and the ground was sickly brown like feces rotting in a latrine. His heart skipped a beat and he stumbled back, thinking he was going to fall flat on the wooden floor of the shop. However, as he hit the ground, he felt mud. He even felt the breeze blowing in his face, and scented the odor of bovine inhabitants.
He took a moment to collect his thoughts. There was no doubt that he was no longer in his realm. He had somehow been transported to another place, and when he tried to take off the glasses, he found that they were pretty much cemented onto his face. Getting up, he started to walk around, shouting for help. However, all he heard was the echo of his own voice resounding for miles on end. He began to panic.
Just then, a number appeared at the corner of his vision: 10,000 B.C. It looked like a year. But it couldn’t be. He was transported both in time and in space? He would have thought it was a dream, but quantum physics held that there really was no difference. But what was the significance of his being sent here? How could he tell it was really 10,000 B.C.?
In the distance was his answer. He saw a group of humans plowing fields and planting seeds. They were the founders of primitive agriculture, the first humans to settle into non-nomadic civilization. Warily, he approached them, careful not to catch their attention. Nonetheless, the closer he got, the more he started to realize that they could not see him or hear him. He was like a spectre in their midst. A ghost in the winds of time.
Curiously, he observed them. They bantered in an incomprehensible language, toiling to grow crops and reproduce. He could not help but think that humans of his era were pretty much the same way. Living for the sake of living, breeding for the sake of breeding. It always saddened him to think of life this way, but this time, it was inescapable.
Suddenly, a flash burst in his eyes. Abruptly, he found himself in another realm entirely: the age of dinosaurs. Triassic verdure abounded all around him, as well as oversized insects and tiny prehistoric mammals. He chuckled when he noticed how much it resembled portrayals of the Age of Reptiles in movies, save a few minor differences here and there. A few dinosaurs passed by, thundering the landscape with their enormous steps. Johnny ran to keep up with them, but the air was a lot thinner than he expected.
Luckily, none of the animals here could see him either. He ran right up next to a group of raptors and they did not even turn to look at him. It was fascinating to see how the dinosaurs’ food chain paralleled that of the Age of Mammals. Tyrannosauruses were like lions, brontosauruses were like giraffes, triceratopses were like rhinos, compsognathuses were like chickens, raptors were like cheetahs and plesiosaurs were like whales. Apparently, though design changed in evolution, concept remained the same. In the same environment, biology seemed to repeat itself over time.
Two groups of ankylosauruses stampeded toward one another. Crashing headfirst into each other, they collapsed into a heap, rumbling the terrain. In fright, he backed away from the fight even though he knew it could not harm him. It was much like how he used to back away from fights back at NYU.
The dinosaurs, he thought, were much like humans as well, constantly battling against one another in the desperate and never-ending war for survival. Sure, their methods were different and there was really not much intellect involved in their battles, but one might argue that there was not very much more intelligence involved in human combat. Most wars throughout homo sapiens’ history were won not through some brilliant device of strategy, but by sheer luck and attrition. It was almost like winning a war through cleverness was luck in and of itself.
Another flash. The numerals at the corner of his vision changed from 150,000 B.C. to 3000 B.C. He could see Aristotle scrawling upon a scroll doctrines on metaphysics, existence, mathematics and epistemology in general. Johnny was always a fan of this great philosopher, but when he looked carefully, he noticed that the man was actually transcribing text from another scroll. Aristotle was copying ideas from another person’s work. Baffled, he threw a punch, but his fist merely bounced off the target’s face, for he did not exist as a physical entity. He was merely an observer.
It made him wonder about history in general when he saw his intellectual hero reduced to nothing more than a hack. How did he know anything in history was real? For all he knew, the ruler of his civilization could have merely fabricated all the mundane tales of the past: the Renaissance period, the torture of Jesus Christ, WWI, or even any generally accepted past event, for that matter. After all, what were scholars but humans with their own intentions? Why wouldn’t historians record history to their own liking, omitting facts where they saw it beneficial to their own views?
He wanted to keep glaring at the hated idea thief, but the glasses once again transported him to another era far beyond his hometime. However, this time he recognized nothing from the present or the past. It was the future, the year A.D. 2400 according to the lenses.
He saw technology far more advanced than that of the 21st century running throughout the superorganism that was society. Quantum machinery made it possible to evolve without reproducing, and humans and machines had essentially become hybridized with one another. All it took was the simple turn of a thought to reshape one’s cybergenetic code, and turn oneself into a new consciousness altogether. People could make themselves think like iguanas as easily as they could make themselves process information at the level of a man with a 300 IQ.
In addition, cyborg individuals could merge with one another to become single unified consciousness. There was no border between one organism and the next; all sentient beings were all elements of the societal superorganism, which in turn, was a cell of an even greater superorganism made of superorganisms.
In a way, Johnny found it heartwarming to see science and technology succeed in such cosmic proportions, but in another way, it made him sad to see one’s identity lose all importance. When all things could evolve without procreation, it really made evolution look less like the spawning of new life and more like the perpetuation of archaic life. Then what was reproduction but the mere extension of one biological organism into another? Was he himself nothing more than a continuation of his progenitors’ sentience? Were all humans then one unified creature undivided and uniform?
Enlightening as the 25th century was, it still held true that nothing lasted forever. Johnny was blasted into the future yet again, cast a few eons forward into the 40th century. Oddly, it looked very similar to the year 10,000 B.C. There were fields of grass everywhere and the sky was gray. In fact, the only difference was that he smelt not the scent of bovine feces, he smelled a different kind of feces that actually had a nice aroma to it.
Two quintuped organisms, creatures with five legs, approached. They were unlike anything he had seen before on Earth. By evolutionary standards, this should not have been probable in a time span of only 20,000 years. Everything on Earth usually had some form of anatomical relationship to creatures of the past, like how dinosaurs and humans shared spinal cords. To have five legs not only seemed completely unnecessary and counterproductive mechanics-wise, but it also seemed like it would take at least a few million years to develop.
As he continued to follow the quintupeds, he saw them moving towards a group of other quintupeds nearby. There was an entire civilization of them, and like the humans before, they planted seeds and plowed fields, seemingly in an endeavor to begin agriculture and non-nomadic society. The similarity was astounding. They even spoke to one another like humans of 10,000 B.C. did.
The glasses warped him into the past so that he might see how this all happened. Into the 30th century he delved, and there he saw an entirely new class of living things. They were neither reptilian, mammalian nor avian, but rather were of an eccentric animal type that had light-sensing organs all over its body. It was still quadruped, conforming to its evolutionary Chordata ancestors, but it also had two wings on its back like a dragon would. Its light-sensing skin made eyes completely unnecessary, and so it only had a mouth at the front of its head. The brain, undoubtedly, could process an incredible amount of visceral stimuli.
Johnny thought it was the only one of its kind. Then, he saw more organisms that were similar to it, but not identical, romp onto the scenery. Each one was an entirely different species, but they all had light-sensing skin, four limbs, and two wings. Like dinosaurs and mammals before them, they also had t-rex-like apex predators, brontosaurus-like massive herbivores, rampaging rhino-like organisms, and aquatic versions akin to plesiosaurs. Again, he saw the same repetition that seemed so prevalent in nature. It was like the same story was being told over and over again in different forms.
By now, he was starting to forget that he even came from the 20th century, and when the glasses took him to the 50th century, he was anything but surprised. He saw one of the quintuped creatures living in an established albeit primitive civilization. The creature, with its five legs, hurriedly wrote upon a manuscript, outlining what looked like a set of philosophies and interesting musings. Somehow, Johnny knew that it was writing about philosophy even though he couldn’t read its language. And somehow, the glasses also told him that the creature, like Aristotle, was doing nothing more than scribing what another member of its kind had already written.
When he looked at the being endlessly writing with its five appendages, he sometimes saw flashes of Aristotle superimposed over it. Were they not the same creature? Were these not the same philosophies written by humans that were long since forgotten? He would have called it reinventing the wheel, except that he himself seemed to be trapped in a wheel that stretched across all of time. A wheel that made the passing eons all alike and the organisms of every evolutionary era the same.
Far into the future the spectacles sent him over and over again. No matter how far he went, he always saw the same events repeating like tracks on a broken record. Different creatures with different anatomies there were, but all of them had wars and battled fiercely in the game of attrition. The winners of those brutal games became the superiors amongst their kind, and heralded the evolution of intelligence and enlightenment.
Intelligence begot technology, and technology begot an elimination of the need to reproduce, which in turn, eradicated individuality for the sake of a societal superorganism’s consciousness. And somehow, from there, that superorganism always deteriorated or became one with the cosmos, allowing lesser beings to form through chaos’ development of self-replicating molecules.
The cycle looped endlessly. Ages echoed one another, history literally seemed to repeat, and in the tides of temporal passage, all accomplishments of every species and era seemed pointless. Ockam would have turned over in his grave (along with every other future organism that was the equivalent of Ockam) if he saw the unnecessary multiplicity of all this redundancy, but then, if consciousness was really nothing more than a whole of one consciousness throughout evolutionary history, Johnny was Ockam. Johnny was everyone and everyone was him, just like the present was the future and the future the past.
Alas, darkness usurped his endless visions. He felt like he hit a wall as he slammed into the End of Time. The darkness of the death of the universe shook him to the core of his soul, and he reeled back, glasses falling off his face. He collapsed onto the floor of the lens store he originally started his journey in, gasping in exasperation.
The ordinary world seemed alien to him after all he had seen, its familiarity feeling like unfamiliarity. His mind spinning, he thought he had gone insane, but after taking a few breaths he calmed himself and cleared his mind. He was back in his hometime, back where he was supposed to be.
But what was a hometime? After what he had seen, all time was the same. The universe, even as it aged, was nothing more than a reality, and reality was infinite. Thus there was no objective constant to measure the passage of time against, and the eon he was born in was therefore no more or less significant than any other eon in the chronology of the cosmos. Indeed, there were no eons. There was no passage of time, and there was no history to catalog past and future events.
Sweat covering his body, he got up and wiped himself off. The rainbow glasses were lying on the floor at his feet, tempting him to crush them. However, he picked them up instead, giving them a quizzical smirk.
There was still no storeowner in sight, but he was beginning to think that this place didn’t even have one. What man would spend 30-odd years working just to sustain his life and maybe buy a house at old age? Who would want to live in a quotidian shade of gray until death took him? If one was to live, one ought to make life an adventure, a party of challenges for the mind and body. Only then could one really celebrate, for it mattered not how long one lived as much as how he lived.
Johnny Spectic pocketed the glasses and headed out the store. He was ready to make something spectacular.
Copyright © 2005 by Kenneth C. Eng