Crane on Impossible Objects
Crane on Impossible Objects
I don’t entirely know what I think about religion. I’ve always liked asking questions too much to commit to one, including atheism. I’m not convinced this is a good thing. Despite being a scientist I can’t help but find mysticism intriguing.
I don’t consider myself a Christian, because I don’t know that I’d want to call myself a follower of anyone.
But I confess I’ve always been enamored with the idea of Christianity. Not just the stuff about self-sacrifice and unconditional love and all that — anyone in their right mind can see the appeal of that. But I mean the person of Jesus.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ve always liked the work of Penrose, and these impossible shapes like the staircase connected upon itself or the impossible triangle.
The idea that, while you cannot create an impossible object, you can represent one, and even do it in a way that the average person can understand. The closest I’ve come to religious conviction is seeing a drawing of an impossible triangle or a tesseract, and believing that there must be a universe where such a thing exists. That the impossible would be possible if only our laws were the slightest bit different.
And then I thought, suppose a tesseract, or an impossible triangle did exist somehow. Suppose appeared in front of you. What would it look like? What would you perceive? The intuitive answer, and perhaps a stupid one but the best I can manage, is that it would look like the representation, just as a representation of a sphere looks like a circle with a bit of crude shading on its flat surface. I suppose the term for this would be optical illusion. But it is more than that. Optical illusion suggests that the illusion takes place within your eyes. Your eyes are just fine. The illusion is that your brain wants to believe the representation. It wants to draw connections that don’t exist. It’s one step ahead of your eyes.
I’m getting carried away here. The point, and I’m not sure there is one, is this. If we cannot create the impossible, we can simulate them. Create a representation of them we are able to perceive. And, to us, in our limited human perception, that would be just as good as the real thing.
There’s been plenty of speculation about this in the field, but for all we know, our own consciousness is a simulation. I don’t mean the universe is a simulation, that’s another discussion. I simply mean that, regardless of scientific findings it remains intuitive to most people, appealing, almost seductive even, to believe that something like a “soul” exists — some basic essence of personhood, distinct from the clumps of cells in the brain. It’s possible that there is no such thing, but when we talk about souls, the appeal of the idea of souls, we are really talking about the value of a physical configuration. To say someone has a configuration of cells which predispose them to kind behavior seems vulgar, even though from a scientific standpoint it is almost certainly true. To say they have a kind soul, now that seems to have meaning. We are not coldly commenting on atoms in a petri dish. We are talking about something valuable, sacred even.
The idea seems to be that Jesus is in some impossible way, not just similar to God but an accurate representation of God such that, as far as our limited perception should care, IS God. I wonder if we could do the same with man. Simply represent him — draw our impossible object.
So the question doesn’t have to be whether the soul exists. The question is, if it did exist, what would it be made of? That’s a question I can work with.
Though I confess I’m an idiot when it comes to metaphysics. But that’s exactly my point. I will simply make a crude drawing of the soul, using computer science as my pencil.