My clothes and persona do a pretty good job of throwing people off the scent, but if you want to know how dark and twisted I really am, my TV choices are a good place to start. One show that pretty much defines me is the Twilight Zone. It ran in the 50s, so think bad special effects but incredible writing. Like all good tv shows, it overran its course and was pretty terrible by the time it was pulled off network television. That being said, the original episodes are, in my opinion, some of the best creative work of all time. And not just on television.
One of my favorite episodes starts out with a couple waking up the morning after a quintessential night before, only to realise they’re not in their own bed. They get up, and trot downstairs, finding themselves in a strange but perfect house. The wife tries to fix breakfast, as you do when you wake up in someone else’s house, but she discovers that the all the food in the well-stocked fridge is actually made of plastic. Toy food, which just looks incredibly real. More than a little bemused, they walk out of the house and into a perfect suburban colony. The only problem is that there seems to be no one around: no people walking, no cars honking, no kids playing, even though they can clearly hear a little girl laughing. Finally, they find one living creature, a squirrel perched on a tree. As the wife reaches for it impulsively, desperate for some contact, the squirrel topples off onto the ground. A toy squirrel, which just looked incredibly real. And that is when the couple finally looks up, beyond their limited vision, to see a giant shadow looming over them. This is no suburb, its a dolls house. Which would make our lead characters dolls too. They’re toys, they just thought they were incredibly real.
That story rings true on so many levels. In our limited understanding of existence, we believe ourselves to be so important and real. But we are inconsequential to everyone other than ourselves. The universe does not revolve around us, or for us. Our being is immaterial. That’s a sobering thought, but one which gives me solace on the worst of days. I know my life is miserable, but its really not a big deal. Not in the grand scheme of things anyway.
Jostein Gardener also based his book, Sophie’s World, on the same concept. And it was his book that made me realize why I was so drawn to science in the first place. When you are working in a lab, trying to discover and create, that alone is the moment when you are incredibly real and undeniably important. You are in communion with the Universe, prying out knowledge that has been denied before. Knowledge, and our capacity to acquire, recall and use it, is the reason why we run this world. We think, therefore we are. And only by engaging in that quest for knowledge do we justify our existence, and that of the human race.
I don’t want to be a scientist because I like challenges, or I like answering questions, or I like science. I want to be a scientist because that’s the only way I can escape the dollhouse.