The Fifty-Three Portals to The Human Soul

I can’t help but feel that science-fiction has been ridiculously underestimated. Just about every sci-fi piece that I’ve read which was written after Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy uses the vast infiniteness of Space as a commentary on the mundanity of life. Television shows like Futurama and Rick and Morty have kept up the absurdist tradition, making it look like nihilism and science-fiction are inseparable. But reading the writings of Ptolemy, Copernicus, and even Kepler makes one think that our attitude to space should be very different. Throughout human history, gazing at the heavens has struck us with awe and wonder, not existential crises. But todays media only expresses the depressing, the empty, the infinite nothingness of space. There’s little to be said about the mysticism. If we really wanted to advance the genre of science-fiction, we would be trying to restore the mysticism of outer space, not destroy it.

Kurt Vonnegut was one of the most mystic agnostics I’ve ever read. He has the same longing for the divine and ethereal when he looks to the stars, and capitalizes on it in his novel Sirens of Titan. Mr. Vonnegut presents one of the most creative beginnings to a sci-fi novel when he pictures a humanity that is not just technologically advanced, but spiritually advanced as well.

"Every one knows how to find the meaning of life within himself.

But mankind wasn’t always so lucky. Less than a century ago men and women did not have easy access to the puzzle boxes within them.

They could not name even one of the fifty-three portals to the soul.

Gimcrack religions were big business."

Next Mr. Vonnegut proceeds to point out what was then and is still the current trajectory of mankind.

"Mankind, ignorant of the truths that lie within every human being, looked outward – pushed ever outward. What mankind hoped to learn in its outward push was who was actually in charge of all creation, and what all creation was all about.

Mankind flung its advance agents ever outward, ever outward. Eventually it flung them out into space, into the colorless, tasteless, weightless sea of outwardness without end.

It flung them like stones.

These unhappy agents found what had already been found in abundance on Earth – a nightmare of meaninglessness without end. The bounties of space, of infinite outwardness, were three: empty heroics, low comedy, and pointless death."

Without knowing it, Kurt Vonnegut was also outlining the path of science fiction for the next 70 years (or more). “Empty heroics, low comedy, and pointless death,” could just as well be the summary of Rick and Morty. But Mr. Vonnegut gives hope in the next four lines of this introductory chapter,

"Outwardness lost, at last, its imagined attractions.

Only inwardness remained to be explored.

Only the human soul remained terra incognita.

This was the beginning of goodness and wisdom."

While I disagree with Mr. Vonnegut that the homo-sapiens have to be an interplanetary species before we achieve this sort of enlightenment, I do see his point. We continue to look to the cosmos with divine expectations, but we find nothing different than what we see on earth. There is a difference between the Ptolemic universe and the contemporary one, a difference that doesn’t simply depend on geocentricism and perfect, circular motions. The difference is ethereal.

The ancients thought that things beyond earth were made up of a heavenly substance called ether. This heavenly substance was reserved for divine things. Earth was at the center, and made of dirt because this was a lowly place for dirty creatures like human beings. But heaven was the rest of the sphere, and it was made of ether. This is why in Ammabo’s On Theurgy the ancient Greek philosopher Porphyry writes, “We know the gods exist, because we can see them,” referring to the stars.

In Kepler’s Astronomia Nova he puts forth the idea that the stars and planets are made of the same matter we see on earth. Modern science confirms this, and Newton in his Principia gave mathematical reasons why the stars and planets appear to move the way they do from earth.
But knowing scientific truth shouldn’t make space less mystical. As Albert Einstein said in The Merging of Spirit and Science,

"The most beautiful and most profound experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the sower of all true science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their primitive forms - this knowledge, this feeling is at the center of true religiousness."

Knowledge of science in some way enlightens our knowledge of what is beyond science. This is why Aristotle’s Physics (or, more literally, On Natural Hearing) is ordered to his Metaphysics. In Aristotle’s Physics he lays down basic and obvious foundations of philosophy. In his Metaphysics he expounds on immaterial substance, and God.
Finally, I love those posters that have a UFO flying away, and then a caption like I want to believe or take me with you. But as a Christian, there’s something attractive about replacing the UFO with a levitating Christ. Much of the feelings of awe that I had as an atheist towards outer space are incredibly similar to my feelings as a Christian towards heaven. I want to be there. I want to build a space-ship and go there. If Christ and Enoch still have their bodies, it is necessary for them to have place. Not just the omnipotent like God, but tangible place in space and time. Maybe this is a silly question, but, where are they?

Merry Christmas,
Jose Hector Guardiola


  1. I wish I had seen this post earlier, when you published it. I think you are very right. I sometimes think we tend to very naively criticize ancient cosmology - which was inherently metaphysical and symbolic - on the basis of a bland, literal understanding, without paying attention to the symbolism that they were observing simply in paying attention to what they perceived, which struck them as awesome and loaded with infinite meaning. We moderns destroy all meaning by our hyper-rationalistic - nor rational - and scientistic - not scientific - approaches to things; no wonder we have existential crises.


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