Curse these clumsy hoofs! said Blurtso, kicking away his rubik’s cube and trying to fit two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. They’re not good for anything! He looked at his hooves, then he looked at the puzzle, then he looked at his hooves. Well, he said, they have carried me down many roads and across many fields… maybe solving puzzles isn’t so important.
What are you looking at? said Harlan. There’s a knot in one of the roof boards, said Blurtso. Yes there is, said Harlan. I wonder how it grew that way? said Blurtso. I don’t know, said Harlan, the wood around it is smooth and symmetrical. A whirlpool in the stream, said Blurtso. Yes, said Harlan. I wonder if the roof is weaker or stronger where there is a knot? said Blurtso. I believe it’s weaker, said Harlan, because when the wood gets dry the knots can pop out. Yes, said Blurtso, now that you mention it, I’ve seen old boards with holes where the knots had been. I guess there’s no good reason, said Harlan, for a knot to remain in a board after it has already asserted its independence by going against the grain. Maybe this one, said Blurtso, asserted its independence by staying.
It occurred to me today, said Bonny, that everything in the universe can be described by a single word. What? said Pablo. Yes, said Bonny, all the diversity, all the different perspectives, all the different realities that people believe in. What word is that? said Pablo. The word “or,” said Bonny. Or? said Pablo. Yes, said Bonny. I don’t understand, said Pablo. Well, said Bonny, do you agree that existence is based on perception? Perception? said Pablo. Yes, said Bonny, that everything that exists is a relationship, that is, everything I hear, touch, taste, and smell is some kind of vibration interacting with my brain, which translates that vibration into what I know as light, color, sound, and smell. And without that relationship those vibrations would be no more than “one hand clapping”. Yes, said Pablo, I believe that’s true. So apart from my brain, said Bonny, or some type of brain, the world is devoid of light, heat, weight, motion, space, and time, because, like a current that won’t flow through a wire until the positive pole is connected with the negative, the vibrations of light and heat do not become light or heat until they have a point of arrival, until they interact with some type of organism. Yes, said Pablo. And because they interact differently with different organisms—the bumble bee’s perception of light is not the same as the donkey’s, or the human’s… the dog “hears” vibrations that donkeys and humans cannot… and though all donkeys are born with similar organs, some hear better or see better or smell better than others—the experience of “reality” is different for all living things. Yes, said Pablo, I believe that. So if someone asked you, said Bonny, to define reality, you would have to say that reality is this “or” that “or” that “or” that, depending on who is experiencing it and how they are experiencing it. Yes, said Pablo. Well, said Bonny, that is the philosophy of “or”. I like it, said Pablo, the universe reduced to a word. Too bad, said Bonny, it can’t be reduced to a letter. It can, said Pablo. It can? said Bonny. Sure, said Pablo, the Spanish word for “or” is “o”. O? said Bonny. Yes, said Pablo. That’s wonderful, said Bonny, a perfect circle, except… Except what? said Pablo. Our circle is incomplete, said Bonny. Why? said Pablo. Because, said Bonny, the universe consists of all the perceptions of all the organisms, so it is not only this “or” that, but this “and” that, “and” that “and” that “and” that. Yes, said Pablo. So a better philosophy, said Bonny, would be the philosophy of “and”. Yes, said Pablo, and “and” is still a single word. Too bad, said Bonny, it can’t be reduced to a letter. It can, said Pablo. It can? said Bonny. Sure, said Pablo, the Spanish word for “and” is “y”. Y? said Bonny. Yes, said Pablo. Well, said Bonny, “y” isn’t a perfect circle, but it looks like two rivers flowing into one… diversity flowing into unity. Yes it does, said Pablo. Of course, said Bonny, by its very nature “and” would have to include “or”… so the ultimate philosophy would have to be a combination of “and” and “or”. You’re right, said Pablo, and “y” and “o” make “yo” which is Spanish for “I”. I? said Bonny. Yes, said Pablo. That’s wonderful, said Bonny. Why? said Pablo. Because, said Bonny, it brings us back to where we started, to reality created by individual perception, except that this new “I” or “yo” is not the individual, separate “I” that we started with, but a comprehensive “I”, a “yo” composed of all the perceptions of all the organisms from all perspectives. That is wonderful, said Pablo. Yes, said Bonny, is there any more popcorn?
Harlan? said Blurtso. Yes? said Harlan. Are you awake? Yes, said Harlan. What are you thinking about? Mortality, said Harlan. Mortality? said Blurtso. Yes, said Harlan, do you believe in reincarnation? I’m not sure, said Blurtso, what’s reincarnation? That’s when your soul comes back as a different animal. After you die? said Blurtso. Yes, said Harlan, if you live a good life you come back as a higher one, and if you live a bad life you come back as a lower one. A lower animal? said Blurtso. Yes, said Harlan. Like a human? said Blurtso.
Harlan? said Blurtso. Yes? said Harlan. Are you awake? Yes, said Harlan. What are you thinking of? Einstein’s theory of time, said Harlan. What? said Blurtso. You know, said Harlan, the discovery that time passes more slowly the faster you move. Is that true? said Blurtso. Yes, said Harlan. So I would live longer, said Blurtso, if I moved more quickly? Yes, said Harlan. And if I ran in my sleep, said Blurtso, I would get more sleep?
The question for today’s class, said Blurtso, is: “What does two plus two equal?”
Two whats, said Morton, plus two whats?
Two cats, said Frank, plus two dogs?
I believe, said Glouster, it means the number two plus the number two, which equals four.
Four whats? said Morton.
Four of the same, said Glouster.
Is it possible to have four of the same? said Emma Lou.
What do you mean? said Morton.
Are any two things, said Emma Lou, exactly alike?
No, said Glouster, they’re not, but the number two plus the number two equals the number four because numbers are a human invention, they only exist in imagination.
So two pumpkin pies, said Morton, are not two pumpkin pies?
The name “pumpkin pie”, said Emma Lou, is an invention that refers to the “idea” of a pumpkin pie—words and numbers are ideas. There are no individual things in the universe.
What? said Chelsea.
There are no individual things, said Emma Lou.
What about me? said Morton. I’m an individual thing.
So am I, said Chelsea.
At the subatomic level, said Emma Lou, there is only the ebb and flow of energy.
E=mc², said Glouster.
Exactly, said Emma Lou.
I’m not good at math, said Chelsea.
Neither am I, said Morton.
E=mc², said Glouster, suggests that a physical system (like the universe) has a property called energy and a corresponding property called mass; the two properties are equivalent in that they are always present in the same proportion to one another. The mass–energy equivalence arose from the theory of special relativity, developed by Albert Einstein, who proposed the idea in a 1905 paper entitled, “Does the inertia of an object depend upon its energy-content?” In the equation E=mc², “E” is the amount of energy, “m” is the amount of mass, and “c” is the speed of light.
The speed of light, said Morton, is 186,000 miles per second.
Very good! said Emma Lou.
Thank you, said Morton, I remembered when Glouster told us last week.
Donkeys, said Chelsea, have very good memories.
Yes, said Morton, we do.
So what’s the point? said Frank.
The point, said Emma Lou, is that you can describe everything in the universe as either energy or mass. And if mass is energy, then everything is in a constant state of flux.
Flux? said Frank.
“Flux,” said Glouster, “is the process of flowing, the process of continual change.”
And that’s why, said Emma Lou, there are no individual things in the universe, because everything is a constant flow of changing energy.
Like a river? said Chelsea.
Yes, said Emma Lou, a river of energy.
And words and numbers, said Glouster, are inventions we use to chop the river into separate parts.
But those parts, said Emma Lou, are not really separate.
If they’re not really separate, said Morton, why do we pretend they are?
Perhaps, said Emma Lou, because we’re uncomfortable with change, and like to believe that individual, unchanging things exist.
Like individual pumpkin pies? said Morton.
Yes, said Emma Lou, and individual donkeys, crows, ducks, porcupines, and mooses.
If everything is a river of energy, said Frank, and we are all just fluctuations of a single stream, does that mean that two plus two equals one?
Yes, said Enma Lou, and it also means that Einstein, the Upanishads, and the Tao Te Ching are talking about the same thing.
Happiness, thought Blurtso, sitting on his haunches with his boxing-glove nose supported on his front left hoof. I see the others, he thought, moving here and there, sniffing and peering, obeying and straying, leading and following with a need on the pillow, a need that stirs them in the morning and settles them in the night. And somehow the reward emerges, from the silence and babble, from above or below, a series of notes rising, repeating in the sound of hoof after hoof after hoof.