That Tiny Circle of Firelight

We have always existed in a tiny circle of firelight and everything outside that circle is the great ‘Other’ – something from beyond, something out there, something to be treated with suspicion, aggression and terror. It’s one of the most fundamental instincts we have – responsible for so much of our behaviour from gang warfare, to a lot of horror fiction, to joking about the French or those south of the river, to caring more about the terrorist attack in your own city than on the other side of the world.

This is why science and the basic spirit of enquiry has such power for me – it has pushed beyond that circle of firelight into the surrounding darkness and attempted make connections with what lies beyond. It’s expanded our horizons so much that it is dizzying – the universe, the world, other people, the hidden depths of ourselves, the lies that we have told ourselves – simply the act of looking and asking questions is so immeasurably powerful. It’s the most powerful antidote we have to the basic small and aggressive repugnance of the human entity, if I may be rather dramatic! In comparison, I’d say that imagination (powerful though it can be) is entirely constrained by the circle of our awareness – whether that circle is a fire-glow or a universe.

That is why I find the anti-science arguments so bemusing – indeed, they fill me almost with a kind of grief. I think that word fits. Some find science cold, but what it reveals could hardly be warmer because there, removed from as much faffing around as possible, is ourselves and the world we live in, not as some unknown Other but as a partially known entity that we can then connect to and relate to. Some even accuse it of being materialistic, though how a tool and a basic human instinct can be that I am not sure. Instead, it is striving to be realistic – and what people do with that reality is up to them, as always. Some just seem terrified of the whole thing, seemingly desperate to bring that encircling darkness crashing back for all of us. Is it because they themselves never left it? Do they still feel all that old fear and hate and can’t face the act of revealing what is out there? Can’t cope with the scale of the universe and even of themselves, of humanity?

If we lost all that though and did indeed slide back into some kind of new dark age, I can barely even imagine the contracting of our horizons – can barely imagine the claustrophobia of that firelight, surrounded again by the hurricane of fear …

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Published in: on September 28, 2017 at 3:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

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