Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Mirror Mirror

A while ago, I walked past a mirror that hadn’t been hung yet. It was sitting kind of slanted, propped up against the wall. I did a double take, looking into that crooked world, in which everything was just tilted enough to be dizzying. Then I wondered: what if the world really was just barely slanted like that, so that everything looked like it was about to fall over but nothing ever did? What if we walked that way, on a crooked floor, sat in crooked chairs eating at slanted tables?

The answer to my what-if was a little disappointing: we wouldn’t notice any difference. We would have no way of knowing that our reality was a little off-balance. If we lived that way, it would be normal. But this train of thought led to a startling realization. We do live that way. We are crooked. And in fact, unless you live smack dab on the North Pole (or 23.5 degrees off of it, I guess) your world is at least a little crooked, too.

But we don’t mind. Most of us go about our lives without the burden of worrying if we are going to topple over suddenly. We are content with our definitions of “up” and “down” and aren’t troubled by the possibility that someone on the other side of the world might have exactly the opposite perception.

And that happens all over the world simultaneously. Someone on the other side of the world goes about his or her business upside-down. But it’s only upside-down to us. When we point “up” and someone on the other side of the world also points “up,” we’re seldom pointing in the same direction. All of a sudden, two of the most solid truths we learn before we can even speak start to lose their reassuring constancy.

I think it’s okay, though. I think up and down can be different everywhere in the world without condemning everyone to lunacy. Maybe once we can wrap our heads around the fact that everyone in the world has a different “up,” we can start wrapping our heads around more complicated subjects, like relationships and quantum physics.