If the Fish Only Knew
For this opening paragraph to make sense, skip to the 2:41 time mark in the video below. What you are witnessing there is inter-dimensional travel made possible by a higher form of life. Not an alien life, nor one that is from off-world. But just a higher form of the same stuff the fish is made of, that happens to understand more of the fish’s world than the fish does. Now imagine yourself as the fish.
The scientific equivalent of grammar-nazis are going to yell that humans and fish are technically in the same dimension, the 3rd dimension — where everything has length, width and depth. Which is true, but when you account for the insurmountable physical barriers that prevent humans from living in water as fish do (and vice versa for the fish), we may as well be in two different dimensions.
We also know that a fish doesn’t posses the mental faculty to observe and extrapolate data about the complexity of its own world. Which is a shame, it would be interesting to hear what a fish thinks we are. But lets imagine that it could, what would it see when it looks up from the depths to the surface?
It would see light, sparkling through the currents and giving them definition. Intrigued, the fish may wonder what that light is and so, venture upward to examine it closer. Once near the surface, they would feel the temperature increase.
“How curious,” the fish might think, “It’s so different up here then back down there.”
Reality would come crashing in, however, when the fish swam back downward; turned around; mustered some courage and then started swimming towards the top, at speed, to breach the surface and see what’s up there for itself. At once, their gills would stop working and the sudden lack of pressure acting on them would be a sensation they never want to repeat. Luckily, after a brief moment in the open air they would fall back down to the safety of their world.
But in that instant, in the sun, just above the surface, they might have seen a horizon suddenly lean forward. A realization that what they thought was the edge of their world was actually the beginning of another, much bigger, one.
“And what are those bi-pedal organisms swimming on the surface?” The fish might wonder. “Are they aliens or gods? Are they peaceful?”
The sobering realization that the only way it could ever experience this new world is as a food or a captive — is still far off. Right now, the evolutionary need to just know more is intoxicating. The fish doesn’t know yet that a life with even the most well-intentioned of those bi-pedal organisms, (maybe the vegans) would still mean a life of benign yet mundane aquatic slavery (Not so benign if they end up at a water park). Still, the thought of an unceremonious flush down the toilet at death would never even cross its mind. Nor would the thought of the absolute house of horrors that awaits it at a fish market.
Before all that, they would be immensely curious about us and perhaps even ascribe traits to us that they think we have. They would judge us from their limited frame of reference and wonder where our gills are. They may even make up stories about where we come from and what we did. A fish tour-guide taking a group around a B-52 that crashed into an atoll might say:
“This was a gift from the gods.”
They may also see their numbers depleted by waste left in the ocean and surmise that the same gods are trying to kill them. To the fish, our entire existence is a higher dimension they can never experience on their own without incurring an early death. A dimension they know is there, but that remains an “otherness”they have not been permitted to experience in any meaningful way.
To fish, creatures like dolphins, whales and sea turtles would be sage holders of eternal wisdom. Equivalent to our astronauts, astrophysicists and great thinkers of the past. Hermes and Archimedes, but with flippers. Brave journey men who breach the great divide to go on odysseys. Returning with tales of sand, harpoons and bi-pedal organisms who mistake the shape of their mouth for a smile.
It makes me think of what “space” and “aliens” are for humans. We can see lights in the sky and know there is some “otherness” up there too, but we have no clue what it’s actually like. We’ve had five generations of science fiction looking into the future and telling us what to expect. We’re excited because something great is coming. It’s not here yet but science says it won’t be long now. Never mind that science-fiction has been wrong more times than correct and that science itself now requires more of our faith than it used to. The bait of a technocratic future in the otherness has proven too good to resist.
But consider this, every useless fact about space we’ve ever shared on social media was a second or third-hand account by the time it got to us. We quote Lawrence Krauss or post Scientific Observer articles to look smart and progressive. The fact remains though, that if someone asked us to prove that new hip theory or analyze its data, we would be the fish and the data would be land.
And yet, so many of us have rested our faith on scientific explanations that paint a world of quasars, black holes, dark energy and all sorts of phenomena incompatible with human life as we know it. The cool thing is that the critical thinkers among us no longer want to be told what is true about space, we want to know, see and observe.
Less than 600 of us have even been up there. Only 24 have actually left low-Earth orbit. More fish have breached the water’s surface of their own will than humans have seen space first hand. And yet, the testimony of astronauts and astrophysicists are the definitive, unquestionable record. What is funny is that every once in a while, one of the astronauts or astrophysicists will make a reference to aliens or the possibility life in space. Never an express admission that we are not alone, but just enough deduction for us to arrive at that conclusion ourselves.
Last year, the BBC reported on a video that existed which showed a US fighter jet chasing an unknown flying craft at amazing speeds. Just last week, CNN reported on a hot dog-shaped, half a mile-long-object near our orbit that may be an alien space ship.
The prevailing thought is that the governments of Earth know definitively whether we’re alone in the universe or not but they suppress the knowledge to avoid mass panic. This creates the prevailing suspicion that all these sudden references to aliens in pop culture and mainstream news sources are a way of collectively preparing our minds for eventual disclosure. Science fiction and pop-culture have already fleshed out the possible characteristics of alien life with every trope imaginable. From benevolent federations of beings who share our common values to giant, angry bugs with an over-bite. Even mainstream science has joined in on this and speculated that it is possible to have beings made of rare metals on planets where it might rain diamonds. All of this conjecture, based on images compiled from satellite meta-data and red-shift calculations from telescopes.
What this creates in the minds of people is an entire universe of separation between us and what these aliens could be like. A universe separating two (or more) completely divorced histories that we accept as fact even though access to raw satellite or telescope data is denied to 99.99 percent of us. The legal hoops you would have to jump through to gain access to one, functions rather nicely as a deterrent, not to mention the steep academic barrier itself. Besides, the complete anthology of Babylon Five just went live on Netflix. You have better things to do, the scientists got this, right?
The fish might also think there is a universe of separation between them and us too. However, we know different. Neil deGrasse Tyson’s famous quote;
“The universe is under no obligation to make sense to us.” basically asserts that next to the horizon-less chasm of what we don’t yet know about what space, we are more like the fish than not.
There is so much talk of aliens from mainstream sources that they must be preparing us for some future disclosure event where the question is finally answered and we can move on to the next stage of human development. Personally though, I think it makes more sense that what ever is coming, won’t be coming from far away and possibly, will be more like us than we have the faculty to understand.
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[Sergio Monteiro lives in Asia with his wife and is the author of two books. His first book, Other American Dreams, dealt with the migrant crisis of Africa and Europe and was compared to the writing of Portuguese novelist, Jose Saramango. His latest work, Enoch’sMuse, follows the life of Enoch, a biblical figure, and is available on Amazon. Enoch’sMuse was selected as a finalist in the 2017 Proverse Prize for Unpublished Fiction, Non-Fiction or Poetry and has been compared to Mary Renault’s, The King Must Die.]
- Silvio Borges Graciano — Administrator, Macau Literary Festival.