The Singularity: An Exercise in Phenomenology

*Written on March 18th, 2019.

A Preface

Just a few days ago, I experienced it. It occurred when I was sitting in a coffee shop, in a moment of switching from task to task, from thought to thought. When suddenly, a feeling washed over me. It was embodied as a weightless breeze, cool and calming. Yet despite the wispiness of its form, it cut through me, searing a gaping hole into the center of my being. It posed a question that demanded to be answered, coaxing me dangerously and grazing that part of me that could trigger either panic, despair, or paradoxically, hope. The answer proved to be truer than anything else I had experienced in my life. It floated down to me, like a falling feather, as if it could have just as easily landed elsewhere. Still, its force shot through me like a bullet, and for just one moment, it allowed me to peer beyond the ambiguity of life and of truth to see something that was truly true. I’m calling it the singularity.

As humans, we crave “to know”. We long to be able to plant a flag in the ground and declare “we know something to be true!” Yet the granular experience of our lives makes this difficult. I’ve found that truth is often squeaky. It needs some brushing up before it becomes palatable. At times, this is all it really is—some piece of information, an idea, or a concept that’s been “cleaned up” so it smells nice. It becomes true when, after it’s been through the wash, it seems to corroborate our curated experiences, which (often) have been through the same cleaning process, being bleached until they are synthetic white and have lost all of their nutritional value.

In reality, truth is plagued by contingency—a chain of contingent ideas, information, or beings delving deeper and deeper into something else entirely—something either very human, very divine, or very deranged. On the other end of this chain of logic is where all the “facts” are—those squeaky-clean truths that have passed inspection and are ready for consumption. It doesn’t take much observation to spot the ammonia glaze on these. A quick sniff will suffice. Although if you sit in a quiet room long enough, this will work too. You’ll quickly find yourself falling down this chain of logic, but you’ll most likely stop before you hit bottom. You’ll breath out some prayer halfway down before you begin losing your sense of self, when where you end and where the world begins becomes convoluted. At this point truth becomes hazy. If that ammonia has turned to vapor, burning your nostrils and hissing in your ear, then you’re on the right track—just days away from epistemological limbo. Most people are happy to not descend into these depths, and I don’t blame them. Part of me envies them, and I often wonder if ignorance is the more noble path.

Despite these atmospheric conditions, this seems to be the way things are. As someone who has been living in this haze for some time now, truth has become something different all together. Your eyes get heavy and your head gets foggy as the acidic rain patters on your brain. I’m explaining all of this to you in order to tell you one thing—that the singularity is true. I know it is true because of its effects—its locomotion. It effortlessly moved both matter and spirit. Although its effects were temporal, it seemed as if it fell from heaven. It was transcendent. And if it was transcendent, then it must be true. This is why I have worked so hard to absorb it and hope to dispense it liberally.

Please know that I did not climb some mountain of enlightenment to receive the singularity nor did I descend to some depth of ascetism to unearth it. It came to me, as I mentioned, like a falling feather. It seemed so contingent and arbitrary, as if it could have just as easily not happened. But this is where my agnostic or atheistic tendencies halt. We know the world at times seems to be highly contingent and thoroughly ambivalent to us. Yet, unexplainable events occur in our lives that make us question this. When the feather falls on you instead of someone or something else, we ponder just how capricious our existence is. At this crux, I become as sure as I am allowed to be that something Other does exist, even if it’s just a whisper or a wind. And now, we must turn to my experience of this phenomenon. I will describe it briefly.

The Phenomenon
I awake to find I am moments from being executed. The landscape is dark, unusually dark. Clouds abound, and leafless trees are scattered across the countryside. Rubble pokes over the horizon. This is the scene. I only have a few seconds before the guns go off—machine guns. As I try to situate myself and discern my emotions, I’m afraid to look to see who stands next to me in this piecemeal line of poor creatures. I’m jostled by the image of a young man with devilish blonde hair who struggles to hold his weighty instrument. As it precariously sits in his youthful hands, I can sense he has an itch somewhere due to his slight squirming. I can’t believe this is how people die. Much like sex, it’s more awkward and messy than I had imagined. There’s no trio of wraithlike ladies discussing whether my string should be cut or not, and even more surprisingly, there’s no gravity in this moment. The air is as light and ambivalent as usual. I could be waking up to go to work on a morning like this. Instead, I’m moments away from dying. But death is not imaginable until it happens. Until I breathed my last breath, I never believed that I was going to die. It’s just too difficult to imagine. I take a deep breath, and the crisp air chills my lungs like a menthol cigarette. This will be my last uninhibited breath. Moments later, my breaths will be heavy as my lungs try to ejaculate the blood that has been spackled on them.

I keep telling myself, “this is not it”. But my breathing gets heavier and heavier as I begin to feel the warmth of my blood settle into fleshly receptacles not meant to contain it. Parts of my body feel incredibly warm, while others become icy. I’m trying not to panic, but my mind doesn’t have the strength to do otherwise. There are no last regrets of dying people, not when they are actually dying. Your body pulses with a fight or flight instinct, like some broken evolutionary record. You’re immobile and your thoughts are, like this skipping record, fractured. I wish I could tell you that I thought of God in these moments. I wish I could tell you I thought of my wife and children (if I had them in this life). But I only thought of my twitching body as I fought to expunge the blood and air from my lungs. As I grew weaker, my mind never decided to relent and die. It was still playing that broken record until it finally stopped spinning.

My body provides a stark contrast to the drab scenery of dirt, leafless branches, and colorless clouds. The whiteness of my skin adjacent to the dark pool of blood that is surprisingly thick would make you believe I died tragically or maybe even heroically. I did not. But this doesn’t matter. The real enigma is who stood adjacent to me. It’s my singularity. There’s no going back once you peer into it. It’s beyond the darkness and can only be viewed from the other side. It’s the piercing question that we are all too afraid to ask. Did I die alone? Did I die with those who I love? Who was he or she? Did they have my dusty blonde hair or were their eyes dolefully green? Did they think of me in their last moments or were they broken records too, fearfully replaying the uncanny shock of our possible ends. I’m too afraid to look. I could find a stranger, a child, a wife, a lover, or worst of all, no one. Just thinking about swiveling my head to see, to know who was there, ignites an earthquake of anxiety—an anxiety that could kill you in instant. As I just consider turning my head, my world begins to shake violently in revolt, as if all the unconscious parts of me are screaming, retching, yanking me away from the edge. On the other side lies either my salvation or my condemnation—the meaning that I failed to realize and actualize in this life. It’s the unswallable truth—that pale chalky pill, too large for your gullet that scrapes your throat all the way down. The answer is cold and indifferent, sharper than a diamond’s edge. It just might kill me, or, it just might save me.

I must know. I must see. The truth is only that which is unconcealed. And this is my singularity.

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