Drawing: Marek Raczkowski
Outer Space


Łukasz Lamża
time 14 minutes

The more science helps us explain the world, the less we need our imaginations. We strip reality of everything that is uncertain and intangible. Nevertheless, fantasizing is still something worthwhile—so let’s embark on a bold journey to the very edge of modern physics. 

The World Has Become Boring to Us. 

Just a few centuries ago, local villages and forests were teeming with mystical beings: house spirits and water nymphs, banshees, ghouls, and ghosts, in addition to various minor deities. Far-off lands were thought to be inhabited by bizarre creatures such as monopods and dog-headed men, and sailors returning from distant voyages spoke of encountering mermaids and monstrous krakens—provided they hadn’t fallen off the edge of the earth. The inferno of hell raged beneath our feet, while the heavens above us—divided into sublunar, superlunar, and ethereal realms—were vibrantly inhabited by the spirits of our departed, fairies, angels, archangels, seraphim, celestial thrones, and God knows who or what else. Within us, in the profound depths of our souls, flickered the faint echoes of divine wisdom and subtle whispers from muses and demons. 

What a fantastical world it once was! 

But now? There’s nothing but atoms in a void. How utterly mundane . . . 

Dreamers among Accountants

The longing persists, of course. A handful of determined cryptozoologists still continue to debate the existence of elusive creatures lurking in mountains and lakes, while a small cadre of visionary archeologists still ponder the alleged remnants of ancient, technologically advanced civilizations. But these are just mere shadows of the former glories of human imagination. Successive centuries of hard empiricism have made it so that few today have the courage to publicly deny the prevailing belief that everything is ultimately made up of just a few basic types of subatomic particles, arranged in space that scintillates with activity but is nevertheless basically void. No gods, spirits, souls, creatures, or heavens. It’s as if our current view of the universe were meticulously crafted by an accountant—precise and ordered, devoid of mystical enchantment. 

However, within the scientific community, there exists a group of enthusiasts who still continue to stoke the fires of our collective imagination. These are the physicists—particularly those who venture beyond the boundaries of solid observations and revel in the boundless possibilities afforded by mathematics. Particle physicists, with their tales of plectons, sfermions, curvatons, inflatons, pomerons, and meson molecules, are delving into realms that no microscope or telescope has ever glimpsed. Similarly, when astrophysicists tire of studying conventional stars, they turn their attention to hypothetical exotic celestial bodies like preonic, bosonic, and strange stars, or even to the theoretical concept of white holes. A particularly adventurous group of cosmologists has, over recent decades, proposed so many mathematical models for the proliferation of our universe that we’ve moved beyond talking about a multiverse of universes and are instead now considering multiverses of multiverses. 

These are, of course, sensible scientific hypotheses—at least to the extent necessary to justify grant applications. They usually draw a tenuous link connecting these imaginative concepts to the reality we know. And so, in fact, these are physical fantasies rather than metaphysical ones. A person longing for the good old times may therefore fe


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Seeing Green
illustration by Francisco Manuel Blanco (O.S.A.), public domain

Seeing Green

Klaudia Khan

Olivia Vandergriff, a protagonist of Richard Powers’s The Overstory, spends a semester living in a house in front of which grows a tree—“a living fossil, one of the oldest, strangest things that ever learned the secret of wood.” Yet Olivia doesn’t even know that the tree is there. Though she passes by it every day, she fails to notice its existence. The tree—unnamed in the novel—is the gingko biloba. And Olivia’s condition—undiagnosed in the chapter—is plant awareness disparity. 

The ginkgo biloba, a sole survivor of an ancient group of trees that used to cover the earth, is now an endangered species. Meanwhile, plant awareness disparity (PAD)—which was previously known as plant blindness but renamed to avoid ableism—contributes largely to the widespread indifference to the threat of botanical extinction and a limited interest in plant conservation. PAD on a global scale is dangerous, but on a personal level, it is detrimental as it impoverishes our experience of the surrounding world. So much beauty, so much drama, so much wisdom we miss out on if we fail to connect with plants.  

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