The following excerpt is a sneak preview of my current work-in-literary-progress, ‘How to Sit in a Chair’ is a book I’ve been working on for some years. I thought I’d share it with you, if only to fish for feedback and criticism. Even though this work remains unpublished, it is covered by the copyright of this website, and as such may not be copied in whole or in part without expressed, written permission.
“It is our creation
And like all things we see
Is made up of the same stardust
As you and me
Look around you, what do you see? Furniture? Possibly a chair or two? Small objects, big objects, soft things, hard things, people, animals, plants, earth, and even stars if you look up.
You are surrounded by the miracle (and I use that word loosely) of the universe. Every particle of every atom, of every cell, of every thing came from the same small source, billions upon billions of years ago. It seems strange to use a human convention, the word years, to describe the evolution of the cosmos, but such as we are, we will have to remain. Somewhere between five and six billion years have passed since that first galactic event, The Big Bang; an explosion, so vast it sprayed cosmic elements across an expanding area so vast that our minds are largely incapable of comprehending its size. So much so that I won’t even try to illustrate it.
Since that initial event, regardless of its cause, time has worked its magic. Floating disks of gas slowly combined in empty space, they captured more gasses, combining elements in ways that now seems so basic. As progress held its course, these gas disks compressed under the growing forces of gravity, driving elemental gasses together with such pressure that the first chemical reactions took place, eventually becoming the bright stars we see in the heavens above the earth.
This process was crushingly violent, though cosmically slow. Over times’ course, the pressures that created the stars served to force the chemical processes which created elemental by-products; hydrogen and helium, as well as heavier components such as iron and carbon. These elements make up everything in the universe. They, together with all of the base elements on the periodic table, are the foundation of every celestial body our minds can conceive and our technology can scan.
We too, are made from the dust of stars; our wondrous evolution was made possible through the most violent of acts. We are the children of a cosmic accident (in more ways than one, quite possibly), and in that spirit we move on, we grow and learn and build.
As mentioned earlier, everything you can see, touch and experience is made up of the same stuff; Carbon is the building block, but the atom is the engineer.
Atoms, with neutrons and protons and nuclei; spinning, vibrating and orbiting, make up everything you can see and experience. The subtle difference between your rear-end and the chair it rests on, is the simple matter of a vibrational frequency. Essentially, the frequency of vibration of an atom and it’s complementary nucleic particles, determines it’s alignment with other atoms, and through that process, determines what type of matter it makes up on a macro scale. Though, again, the difference on the atomic scale is almost negligible, and in effect reduces the difference between you and your chair to semantics.
Does that reduce your intrinsic meaning? No, not necessarily. That subtle difference between you and your chair is the same as the difference between you and a bar of gold, or your chair and the body of a Lamborghini. Though, as we move up the scale of magnification on both your body and the chair, the effect of those differences becomes apparent and undeniable. The similarities are also highlighted; you are both made up of biological matter, reinforced by elemental matter, and at different times, you are both energized by the power of the sun’s radiation.
The fact that you and your chair are made up of the same special stuff, the same stuff that makes up everything in the universe, means that you are both governed by the same laws of physics. You are both at the mercy of gravity, you are both limited by the speed of light, and you’re both subject to the weird rules of time. My lack of understanding in the science of non-Euclidian geometry not withstanding, I’ll spare you the tedium of a mathematical assessment of your chair, and its interaction with the environment at large, and in place I’ll open the door a little further to exploring the physics and biology of the chair.
Empty space is especially intriguing, and at reading that statement you might wonder if I’m making a joke of some kind; let me reassure you, I’m not.
When you think of matter, you most likely imagine a solid thing, an object, a fluid, a person or a planet. But there is much more to matter than meets the eye. If you close your eyes and imagine the atomic structure of matter, do you envision a cluster or grouping of tiny atoms, stuck together, standing shoulder-to-shoulder in a huddle, straining against the varied forces of nature to maintain the shape they hold?
What if I told you that the molecular structure of matter contains more empty space than solid mass?
Consider that the molecular structure of a chunk of rock resembles a single molecule, standing alone on the centre of a professional football field in a large NFL stadium, and his next closest kin stands on the edge of the stadium’s parking lot.
That’s a lot of empty space. So much so that the mind can scarcely believe it’s true, for if there is that much distance between molecules, why does anything appear solid?
The same applies to your chair, more empty space than solid mass, in fact, far more empty space than that of the rock. So much empty space that the lonely NFL fan molecule’s closest kin would be several city blocks away. While you consider what that means, try not to think about what’s keeping them connected.
Perspective is everything in the universe, if you and I were naturally tiny enough for us to see the molecular structure of our chair, without the aid of a very powerful microscope, we would certainly have no need of a chair any longer, but then our perspective would be such that the empty space would seem most practical.
As it is, our perspective has necessitated the need for objects with mass to appear completely solid, hence, the chair can support your tush for while longer.
Where would we be without Sir Isaac Newton? Well, probably right where we are, we’d just be a little worse off is all. Where would we be without gravity? Better yet; what would we be without gravity? This would be very different indeed. Gravity defines life on earth; it binds us to our planet and binds our planet to its position in the solar system. It also binds our sun in its position relative to the rest of the universe, even though that position is ever changing; gravity is what makes everything make sense for us. It is a constant in our universe (though cutting edge science is beginning to refute that idea) and it dictates what we can and can’t do.
It governs our weight, relative to our atmosphere, it provides the means to assign a value to mass, and in fact it was the first invisible phenomena of our universe to be detected, categorized and measured. In essence, gravity is the reason we’re here at all.
Without gravity, the chemical wastes spewed out by our sun billions of years ago, would never have had the chance to connect, to congeal and to ultimately form a solid. Without gravity, hydrogen and oxygen molecules could never have condensed to create water, and well, without water, we don’t exist. Gravity is the ultimate designer too, it provided the means by which plants grow their many varied structures, and eons ago it forced early sea creatures to adapt their biology in order to survive on land (among other things).
It restricts us as well; it says we can’t fly, and proves it every time we jump off a cliff. Gravity gave birds the advantage of flight, but they tricked it by reducing their mass by way of hollow, non-dense bones, making them light enough to glide on air currents while big enough to survive.
And in this way, gravity has shaped the chair. This one constant demanded that we abide by its laws and be governed by the pressure of the universe pushing down on us. Inevitably, we got tired and decided to sit down, and the chair was there to support us in our time of need. Its structure is sturdy, four legs (though sometimes not), supporting a seat, a back support (or not) and possibly some arm rests, all of which are under the same pressures as us, they feel the same weight, the same pull as us, and yet, the chair holds us. In structure and form, the chair defies gravity.
This is no big deal you say; after all, most everything on earth defies gravity in some way or another, and you may be right…in fact, you are right. It’s nothing special, until you think of life without gravity!
Amorphous blobs of proto-matter, floating, hovering and clinging to the atmosphere. They resemble giant three-dimensional pools of toxic waste. They’re grey, sticky in texture and seemingly lifeless, until you hear it. It’s quiet at first, a low rumble, like the infancy of some great gurgling burp in the belly of a bar-stool football fan. The rumbling gets louder, it creates sound waves that resonate deep inside you, and soon it becomes a deafening boom, over and over, and through all this invisible commotion, you finally see it; the grey blobs of matter begin to move, slowly at first, but they pick up speed, moving away from you, changing shape and propelling themselves by sound waves.
On this strange planet, gravity, or the lack thereof, helped evolution create a very different animal population. They didn’t feel the force of gravity pushing them toward the earth, they didn’t have to fight against their own weight to move through their environment, and as a result, natural selection took them on very different paths of evolution than us. They have no need for legs or supportive structures; they have no need of limbs at all, for locomotion or for any other reason. Theirs is an existence of weightless leisure, though I’m certain they face perils none-the-less. Weather patterns exist on even the most barren and alien worlds we know, so for sure, this planet would suffer the same changing winds, and I would imagine a species whose life is spent hovering above the surface of the ground, would be acutely affected by the winds.
Consider the chair in such an environment, it would be utterly absurd. To confine ones self to the rigid formality of furniture, when the atmosphere is more than supportive and much more appealing; who would do such a thing? Though, if a higher intelligence evolved in such a place, would they not have need to structure and organize the things in their lives? The acquisition and collecting of things may be uniquely human, and it may be limited to us because of our gravitational environment. In our gravity, things generally stay where we put them, though not necessarily so on a low or zero gravity world.
This is only one end of the gravitational spectrum however, what about life on giant planets, whose gravitational fields are many hundreds of times greater than that on earth? Can life survive in that environment? The answer is yes, resoundingly; we know from the study of extremophiles here on earth -a growing field of micro biology studying single celled and some multi-cellular but simple life forms mainly classified on both the archaea and eucharyote branches of the biological tree of life – that species of microbial life, such as bacteria and protists, thrive in the vast and crushing depths of our deepest oceans, huddled near geothermal vents in the sea floor, and virtually unchanged for the past billion years. Life can, and does, exist and flourish in such extreme environments. So what does that mean for the chair?
One would imagine that the demands of survival in such crushing gravity would necessitate the development of very small organisms, creatures whose structures must be dense enough to survive the atmospheric pressure, yet small enough to ensure their super dense mass doesn’t make movement impossible where necessary. Very little in this environment would venture above the crust of the planets surface, and most life would exist inside protective rock formations. It, again, would be ridiculous to conceive of such life making use of chairs.
These are two extremes however, and while we may not reside at the mean mark of the universes’ gravitational spectrum, we are at least living in the only environment that we could possibly have survived.
Mankind, even among the many thousands of species of life here on earth, is exceedingly fragile, we are frail and weak compared to our evolutionary counterparts, we are naturally ill-equipped to survive even in the environments we continually inhabit. Outside of a small swath of tropical and sub-tropical locales around the equatorial belt of this spinning blue ball, humans would surely perish if left to survive only with our uncovered flesh exposed to the elements, anywhere but within walking distance of a sandy white beach. Indeed, just beyond that beach is a soup of oceanic life, teaming with diversity and evolutionary adaptability, all of it surviving and thriving in an environment that is in direct opposition to that which is necessary for our own survival, and none of it, not a single species other than man, has ever seen fit to design, construct and use a chair of any kind.
It’s our big brains which leave us seated high at the top of the remedial food chain, not by brute force or natural predatory skill, but by ingenuity alone. We adapt at a rate far faster than any creature ever known to this small planet of ours. Through that adaptation, we have collectively harnessed the power of physics; we’ve manipulated, tweaked and experimented with those immutable laws, and used them to our advantage. Thanks to that adaptability, we now inhabit nearly every corner of the globe, largely changing the face of the environment with the core purpose of protecting our fragile selves from the harshness of that same ecology. We change everything we see and everything we touch, we force it all to become our slave, slaves to comfort, slaves to aesthetics, and slaves to progress; the chair is no different.
Whatever its shape, whatever its size, we can all recognise its form as that of a chair. Its purpose, clearly, is to be sat in. To support us, to provide respite and shelter from the long journey of life that has left us weary and tired, or to house our ingenuity as we careen recklessly down the varied roads of life.”