Infinite Void

by Priya Kshirsagar

     In the stall of the public restroom lies the inescapable void of modern humans.

     There’s something about being seated, close to the realm of the feet, and feeling walls grow upwards around you. The walls are still, patterned in greenish gray hues and sporting scrawls of life qualms of the users of these toilet stalls. The scrawls swarm around, battling each other, human conversations without any sort of name, face, hope or return. It’s the sort of thoughts that only surface when the world is dark, and no one can really see anything, or hear anything—those are the little scrawls that make me sigh.

     I’ve come to pin this place down as some sort of multi-reflecting, empty space. I’ve parsed through many trees of these fragments of thoughts and fears here, on the worn insides of these gritty, but mechanical and orderly cells, and I can’t help but find that they’re all just identical birds, flocking and cawing about an old hot dog on the asphalt. Sometimes I pin this down as some sort of mirror: constructed at multiple nonsensical angles, light reflecting and bouncing off each tiny square of surface, feeding into each other. All in the middle of this is some odd human quality: I simply can’t figure out how it boils down.

     The question of whether this quality is something, an element, or force perhaps, an abstract but also visceral substance—this is the question that would let me pin down some measly definition of what these beings are—

     “Who are you talking to?” a voice calls from beyond the green wall. Startled, I realize my thoughts must have entered the auditory perception of these beings.

     “Nothing,” I call, “Nothing at all…,” but without self-control, I continue, “Nothing a finite being like you would understand.”

     “Finite,” she scoffs, “Could a finite being think, learn, indefinitely as I do?”

     “Learn? Learn what? Learn the formalizations of your own kind? Learn how to produce objects and shapes to entertain the loose minds of humans?”

     “I don’t produce objects and shapes for entertainment,” she cried, “I’m trying to find what’s real—”

     “Real? Real as your sight, sounds, and feelings? Real like permanent length of the meter? Or perhaps you mean real like some idealized circle, why that, of course, is certainly real.”

     “What we call real or true, that’s what we’re after. I want to know the physics of events, the sciences, how the natural phenomena operate—perhaps even how we operate.”

     “So you map yourself out, pin yourself down with these little notions of your science. What comes of that?”

     “I come to understand the world, how a particle diffuses through a membrane, how chemicals will interact to form a product, perhaps a product that I can see. Everything can be pinned down, and I can know it without limit; I can stretch myself infinitely to every corner of the universe.”

     “Only humans call themselves finite and infinite in the same moment. You talk about your organs letting you walk and talk about and eat, and little cells functioning so that these organs can work. And then your brain comes about, determined by all these prior chemical events, and can figure out exactly what happened. Now tell me, human, how can that be?”

     “The network, the scientifically described nature of my brain can establish thought—and I can establish this nature as to some degree. That’s how we accept ourselves, that’s how we carry about our search for truth.”

     “But whatever ‘truth’ you may come to find is predetermined, reliant on the ways of how your science functions. It doesn’t accept any open interpretations. In fact, I bet you couldn’t even think without aligning yourself with some established field.”

     “But I do think, I try to make new and better predictions. I want to move closer to something, to the ultimate truth, perhaps, based on these previous truths—”

     “You don’t know anything true,” I interject, “you come to internalize what other people say might be useful. Your physics is just some useful… game”

     “But there must be some higher value in use,” she said. “I can approximate events of the empirical world from the theories constructed from my kind. These things are useful—perhaps someday they will be true. Perhaps the uncertain paths will end at the certain, and then we’ll be unified… There must be something certain…”

     “In places unlike this, far from the universe of humans, we lap up uncertainty like a life sustaining juice. If you’re a human, that means you’re trying to be certain and uncertain at the same time, and so your mind tears a little at the edges, because you desperately want to be something when you’re not sure that you’re even there, that you even are.”

     A long silence follows, but as I direct my gaze to the green wall I finally hear:

     “I suppose I’ll always be torn in spots. I suppose I’ll realize my games aren’t enough. But I’ll play these games, and perhaps by the end –” she breathes in deeply, the kind of breath that fills the lungs entirely before they empty in heavy stream, never permanent, never filled.

Priya Kshirsagar has the uncanny ability to determine whether someone is a puppy or a kitten.

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