Friday, January 19, 2007

Where does space end and heaven begin?

Who's asking: Grace Lechner, Freeport, ME

Let's start with what we know. Space begins where the Earth's atmosphere ends. NASA gives astronaut status to anyone who flies more than 50 miles above the surface of the earth; some scientists say space begins at 400,000 feet (75.76 miles), where rockets start to experience the friction of the atmosphere when they come back to earth.

So where does space end? No one knows. NASA says that space may be finite or infinite, but in either case, nothing exists outside it.

We live in three dimensions, meaning that we have line and surface and direction. We can measure and describe what's around us, and that's what scientists do.

No one has ever been able to measure or describe heaven. Heaven is not on any map. Depending on what you believe, only one person has ever been to Heaven and come back, and Jesus didn't get terribly specific about what Heaven was like.

But people have always believed in some kind of heaven, which suggests strongly to me that such a thing exists (this is the ontological proof for God: if He didn't exist, we couldn't imagine Him). People have always imagined that Heaven looks like the place they've always wanted to be, whatever that is: warmth for people in cold climates, water for desert-dwellers, vast wealth for the poor.

My own theory is that Heaven is no place outside; Heaven is a secret locked in each of our hearts, and it's only when our hearts stop beating that Heaven takes over. I think that Heaven is not a place at all, but the best feeling we ever had, of trusting and being loved and going home.

Grace, who is five, probably doesn't remember where she was before she was born. None of us do, by the time we're old enough to put things into words. But if we were somewhere, maybe that's heaven.

What I Read This Week

Charlie Huston, Already Dead. Huston lays his own modern vampire mythology -- in the tradition of Matheson's I Am Legend -- on the structure of the classic hard-boiled PI novel. Very dark, graphically violent, extremely well-done.

Jess Walter, The Zero. The tag-line of this book is "A novel of September 12." It sat on my shelf for months, because I wasn't ready to put the events of September 11, 2001 into a story that would narrow its scope or reduce its significance. The Zero doesn't do that. New York police detective Brian Remy shoots himself in the head on September 12, but doesn't die; what follows is a surreal journey, as he agrees to work for an obscure government agency -- or maybe it's a private firm? -- and deals with his son's insistence that he's dead. None of it makes any sense; even at the end, you're not exactly sure what's happened. Which is exactly right. The Zero captures that lost, baffled, paranoid feeling of the autumn of 2001 better than I thought anyone could, and will go into a box of things to leave for my (hypothetical, very far in the future) grandchildren.

Charlie Huston
, Caught Stealing. I'm interviewing Charlie next week for another Mystery Bookstore podcast, along with Megan Abbott and Theresa Schwegel; I've read both of Megan's books and both of Theresa's, so needed to catch up with Charlie's. (He's written five; I won't have time to read them all before next Saturday. Sorry.) Huston's first novel is the story of a very, very bad week in the life of Henry Thompson, failed baseball star-turned-bartender, who agrees to care for his neighbor's cat and winds up a murderer on the run. No redemption here, just survival -- that's not giving anything away, because Huston went on to write two more Henry Thompson novels (Six Bad Things and A Dangerous Man).


Running from my House said...

but belinda carlise said that heaven was a place on earth !

AnswerGirl said...

Yeah, and David Byrne says that Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens... but the Psychedelic Furs say that heaven is the whole of our hearts. So who are you gonna believe?

Madley said...

Loved this!

tod said...

The Eurogliders said Heaven "must be there, it's just got to be there," which is just existential enough for this atheist.

AnswerGirl said...

And to round it all out, Too Much Joy says, "I believe in Something." Which is what Mary Roach concludes at the end of SPOOK, too, so it's good enough for me.

Martha Demeritt said...

A great explanation and a pleasure to read.

AnswerGirl said...

I do not allow anonymous comments on this blog. If you want to share your dogma -- atheist or fundamentalist, either way -- with my friends and regular readers, you will kindly do us the courtesy of leaving your name.

emie said...

hi i found that peice really helpful thanks, just one question are you a scientist?

AnswerGirl said...

No, I'm a professional researcher. Thanks for stopping by!