By William Markiewicz

If some outer space alien were to judge the mental preoccupations of earthlings based on observing the Americans, its report to home might say that the sentient beings on this planet are more interested in: "Who" (created us?), "Why" (are we here?), "Where" (are we going?) and judgement values (good-bad, right-wrong) than "what's" (going on?). Those patterns are not typical for Europe, for instance. I want to analyze this difference in preoccupations of those who live on the new and less new continents.

There is a saying in Japan that the Japanese are not so preoccupied with religion because living in Japan is already a religious experience. The Europeans can say the same about themselves even if, being less inclined to ritual than the Japanese, it is buried deeper in their subconscious.

Professor Grasse, Paris, developed the theory of 'group effect' which says that individuals belonging to social species can't live without each other. Bees and ants die quickly when left alone, even if kept in the best of conditions. For certain pack mammals like wolves this is also true, though to a lesser extent. According to Professor Grasse, when humans crowd on often uncomfortable beaches it is to satisfy this need which seems to be of electromagnetic origin. May I add "roots effect" to the rosary of human needs. For the tourist visiting medieval sites, for the visitor, who after years of absence, returns to renew contact with his roots, the effect may be overpowering to the point of getting high.

Ouspensky wrote before the First World War that he knew certain old houses in St. Petersburg that whispered. I believe that indeed they were "whispering" to him. Perhaps science will some day be able to photograph "ghosts." In the meantime, certain sensitive individuals like Ouspensky, can perceive the past that emanates from their surroundings. Even if you are not ultrasensitive, when you walk on the old countries' streets, see the buildings around you, monuments, ordinary houses pregnant with history, it must permeate you somehow even if you don't realize it. I remember being once in Barcelona, which is perhaps unique among European cities in that it knew uninterrupted peace from Roman times to the Spanish Civil War. So the layers of old Europe are plastered one upon the other like the rings in the trunk of an unmolested tree. In the residential part of town, I saw a teenaged girl in tee shirt and blue jeans entering a small eighteenth century mansion. In front was a small green yard and in the yard, a huge Eighteenth century academic statue. It was very strange to see such a statue towering in a tiny garden; the Romans in their traditional way built Barcelona between sea and hills, and its inhabitants learned how to live graciously though crowded. The young girl didn't even pay attention to the statue which has seen her forefathers. And I thought: "This girl looks exactly like her American counterpart and she probably lives the same lifestyle. Still, there must be a difference between a girl who lives in such a setting and a girl, living for instance in a bungalow in a suburb of Houston."

Conclusion: people who live in a dream don't need to dream dreams. They dream realities. The Americans live without roots. There is still no patina of architecture, music, history, or simply centuries of forefathers for "roots-hungry" individuals. Not seeing legend around them, they are obliged to look inward and compensate with dreams. Still, Americans are dynamic and do not have introspective traditions. America in human and spiritual matters is a continent of emotions rather than reflections, and therefore has produced more evangelists than theologians. For the European who comes here, the Americans may seem spiritual dinosaurs while the American going to Europe may find European sophistication superficial and light hearted.

What provokes this phenomenon of root-hunger, sense of spirituality? Why can we be spiritually tantalized and moved? My guess is that it could be to compensate our intellectual limits. We recognise tacitly that the brain, in the best of cases, shows us landscapes we can never visit. A small example: multidimensionality. We know that a square is a lateral face of a cube. But we only seem to "know" that the cube is a lateral face of a fourth-dimensional body, a fourth-dimensional body is a lateral face of a fifth-dimensional body, and so on into infinity. We can discuss those things just as Helen Keller wrote about sounds and colors. It was Stephen Jay Gould, I think, who, in a short science fiction sketch, described a planet so hot that all non-metallic liquids evaporated. It still possessed intelligent species, who, in many aspects, were like us; they enjoyed good parties and complained about traffic jams. They developed their technology to such a degree that they created water steam in laboratory conditions. They went even lower in temperature, and created liquid water. Then they went lower and created ice. The author asks: would this discovery give them a hint of what it is to ski on slopes when the snow and wind is blowing in your face? His point was that it doesn't matter what we know, our real knowledge cannot go beyond our sensorial experiences.

Another science fiction story describes intelligent, microscopic life forms in a drop of water. They developed their science to the point that they were able to make a jump into another drop of water and they were dreaming: "Perhaps one day we will reach those points shining down on us at night ..."

In the immensity of the universe we are intelligent particles jumping from drop to drop, eventually from one luminous point to another. As a compensation, we make our interior travels towards our roots, towards our souls, towards the infinity of our imagination. But - is spirituality only a dream trip? - Nobody can swear to that either. 

Back to the index of the Vagabond
© Copyright 1996 E-mail to: William Markiewicz
Brought to you with the help of: PD