My trucker friend, Jorge, stopped by yesterday on his way to Sioux City, Iowa. My pal said he had just had an epiphany or a mental flash that caused him to slow down on the road in order to avoid an accident.
Jorge was on a lonely stretch of highway in central Nebraska and had been listening to a podcast on which Neil deGrasse Tyson was the day’s guest. Dr. Tyson had just explained the “event horizon” of a black hole to the podcast’s moderator. “All the stuff within the event horizon is collapsed to an infinitesimal point at the center.”
The astrophysicist described a gruesome, hypothetical example of himself being sucked into the black hole. As he approached the event horizon, his body would be snapped in two, then those halves would be snapped in two, those pieces would be broken in two, then on and on until only the atoms remained, then they broke down into subatomic particles.
Jorge said the epiphany probably happened because of a combination of factors. It was nearly time for his highway rest break. He was hungry for a snack. His mind had been concentrating on the podcast. The topic was fascinating. The flash of insight then happened when Tyson said the process of getting stuck in a black hole was called “spaghettification”.
The absurdity of the name triggered an uncontrollable fit of laughter that almost caused Jorge to pass out from hyperventilation–the reason he slowed the truck’s speed. It was while Jorge resumed driving at the speed limit that the realization happened. It was at this part of the story that my friend stopped talking and just sat and smiled at me.
He could tell that I was getting eaten up by curiosity. He remained silent until I gestured with my hands for him to continue his story.
Jorge began by asking me about the fundamental concept about the absence of a separate self. Some Eastern teachings seem to imply the existence of a separate self, but they stop at the point of affirming such an idea. A related teaching goes on to explain that reality is actually an undivided whole. Jorge said he has long understood this dilemma on an intellectual level, but hasn’t actually felt it.Jorge smiled again. “When Tyson said ‘spaghettification’, all the pieces fell in place. That’s what triggered my big aha moment. I felt the concept in a spiritual sense.”
I said, “So that was your moment of Zen.” Then we both had a good laugh when Jorge said that he had a classic case of arriving at an epiphany. That is after mulling over a big problem for a long time, a profound realization just pops into the mind.
Jorge then mentioned that he began to think about another scientist, Johannes Kepler, and his realization. It was Kepler who speculated about various aspects of the Universe in relation to musical harmonies. He had been studying the ideas about the nature of the Universe by other astronomers. They failed to provide a satisfactory explanation about his own observations and calculations. Then, one day, Kepler experienced a realization, seemingly out of thin air. He writes it down and goes on to postulate his own concepts regarding the geometrical basis of the Universe.
Jorge asked if I had ever had any sudden realizations about anything.
I mentioned that mine happened after I had been pondering the same questions about the nonexistence of a separate self that Jorge mentioned. I didn’t have the lucky coincidence of having Dr. Tyson’s quip about black holes. My aha moment happened after many contemplations on the subject. Then, while walking to work one day, out of nowhere, the realization hit me like a ton of rocks.
I explained that most of my huge realizations come about in small steps. I understand small pieces of a mental puzzle, then it’s like the pieces of the puzzle slowly come together and the combination of them appears as the whole notion. It’s difficult to explain what happens. Some people might say I have visions of concepts.
I then said I had just come to the realization that Jorge might be thirsty. Would he like something to drink? We then adjourned to the kitchen to talk about the rest of his trip to Sioux City.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes the writer, David Jauss. “The best epiphanies approach their revelations indirectly, through imagery, metaphor, and symbol rather than through direct statement. In short, they arrive with some elusiveness, like insight itself.”