Two in Seven Billion; or The Ink Drop and Heaven

When I was growing up there was only one explanation of heaven that made it sound remotely appealing: the idea that lambs would lie down lions. I was fixated on animals as a kid and the idea that predator and prey might set aside their differences to cuddle satisfied my adolescent yearning for cuteness. Religion was a thoughtless encumbrance when I was growing up, it was always there, ruining my wont for fun and implying guilt for having done something like drinking soda or stealing a cigarette.

Heaven sounded like an awful place, quiet and pious, like an eternity spent at your grandparents house surrounded by outdated furniture and weird smells. But if there would be animals there, then my eight year-old logic admitted that a case could be made for such a place. I didn’t realize lions and lambs aren’t always pitted against one another in mortal combat, this is a trick of development and community as much as it is genetic code.


One of the biggest arguments against atheism is that something can’t have come from nothing. Peering back into the history of the universe, no one in science can account for the origin of any of the matter in the big bang. Because its origin can’t be attributed to any scientific law, it must be proof of the existence of a creator. Stephen Hawking points out that if the conditions of the big bang had changed in any small way, and the resultant rate of expansion of the universe had been altered by one one-millionth of a percent slower or faster, the necessary conditions to form planets, and sustain life on them, would never have been met.

We cannot account for our origins, the “something” from which the universe sprang, we can say with a fair amount of certainty that there is a great deal of nothingness waiting for us. Leonard Susskind described the theory of conservation with an example of an ink drop falling into a bathtub.

As the ink diffuses, eventually becoming invisible, it would still be possible to determine where that ink had come from, from what height it had been dropped, what shape and size the dropper had been, and how much ink there might have been in it. The only stumbling block is that we’re not that good at math yet, and we don’t have instruments fine enough to detect the movement and energy exchange of sub-atomic particles.

While we will eventually be able to infer a great deal about our origins, and the origins of the stuff with which we are made, I don’t think there’s any reason to believe our ends will be divine. The ink may have come from a dropper held in some ethereal otherness above the bathtub, but it is not going to be returning to that dropper ever again. Things fall apart, they don’t fall back together again. If there is a heaven somewhere, it’s behind us, not waiting up ahead.

My friend Rannie died this Sunday. She had been fighting cancer since 2008, when a mysterious toothache turned into a metastatic growth in her salivary gland. She died four days after being married.

When my other friend N left for New York last year she told me to be thankful for the brief romance we had. We had the best part of any relationship, she said; the idealistic beginning, when everything is in orbit around the center of gravity that inevitably becomes more and more distant over time. We got the warm glow of those first moments, the big bright bang, the smiling hello.


If you look back on these experiences, it’s mind-boggling. It’s all but impossible to imagine two specific people might have bumped into one another and felt some common and innate gravity. To follow the history of each of our separate lives up to that point of meeting is to tempt the notion of fate. A cosmic sneeze could have thrown the whole thing off. The odds are two in seven billion, which is close enough to zero so as to be considered null. And still it happens; all the time, everywhere, and every day.

And then, almost as soon as it’s happened, by the very nature of its origin, the interminable drift begins. The interim is a process of holding on for as long as possible against the pull of infinite dissolution.

I hardly knew Rannie. I used to get her emails in the mornings when I’d come into the office and turned on my computer, rifling through the days first wave of press releases. I saw her a few times at parties and press events, we made small talk. We had a common interest in a charity.

Today she’s gone. But I can still remember her when. And so I will. For as long as I can.


11 thoughts on “Two in Seven Billion; or The Ink Drop and Heaven

  1. Again, you have a poignant post with good imagery. I have to disagree this time, with some of the assertions, even as I think you do have a valid opinion.

    I believe in God, and I am a Christian, though I suppose there are reasons why fundamentalists would challenge me labeling myself so.
    I also believe in heaven, though perhaps not in the same way most people do. God knows there aren’t going to be loads of fluffy white clouds and harps. That would be a disintegration of what we are now, as much as we hurt and struggle. Heaven, I believe will only be a place of building. A place of creation and discovery. It will be a place of change and evolution, but not through death and destruction.

    I don’t see it as returning the ink to the dropper. Going to heaven (which I don’t believe happens at death, as there is little Biblical evidence for it, but rather at the end of the Earth’s time) is rather a creation of a new heaven and a new Earth (Revelation 21:1 if you’re curious.) It is a restructuring, a recycling. It is taking the disintegrated pieces and building something new.

    Relationships and love are proof that there are forces that both build and disintegrate in the universe.

    It is true that relationships of all kinds often fall apart. We see the evidence of the destruction of existence all around us. But if the example of the ink drop were a perfect metaphor then the only direction is down. Only apart. Yet relationships still form. Things are still built, creation and love still take place. The fact that there are any examples of positive motion in the universe is as much proof that there is something to build toward as destruction is proof that there is a nothingness to disappear into.

    There is a scale that is obviously witnessed in nature, going up towards greater existence and down towards nothingness. If there is one extreme, nothingness, then I would posit that there is another extreme. An extreme that is the exact opposite of that nothingness. Where nothingness is defined by what it doesn’t have, such as life, love, power, knowledge, space and time, then the opposite scale must have such, for that matter being the essence or source of what it. It is the source of life and love. It must be all powerful, all knowing, all present and all time. It must be one and many, it must care about promoting itself and all of existence. This extreme on the scale I define as God.

    Now, perhaps I’m going to far into theology and philosophy for what I intended to say.

    At the least, whether you agree with the entirety of my conclusions or not, I hope you see that there are forces that build,. create and promote life love and happiness.

    At the very least, we are not an inkblot that will inevitably separate and disappear for all intents and purposes. Otherwise why try to create? Why try to live and to love? We are more.

  2. “At the very least, we are not an inkblot that will inevitably separate and disappear for all intents and purposes. Otherwise why try to create? Why try to live and to love? We are more.”

    Wouldn’t that question be more aptly put towards a religious person? Assuming there is a hereafter, why bother with anything now, especially when the truth and divine reconciliation await on the other side?

    With no such expectation, trying to create something positive and long-lasting in the present becomes of paramount importance. This may be all there is, but that’s quite a lot. The question answers itself: one tries to live and love now because there is nowhere else to do it… and it is in our nature, it defines what it is to be human.

    • “Assuming there is a hereafter, why bother with anything now, especially when the truth and divine reconciliation await on the other side?”

      This is a misconception, I believe, that is held by many, including those who believe in a hereafter.

      What happens here does matter. Using the skills and creative abilities that we have been born with is the affirmation of our existence. It is the fulfillment of who and what we are. I also do not believe all is erased before we go to “heaven.” We still retain our memories, experiences and growth both spiritually and mentally. The relationships we form are incredibly important both to our own growth and evolution and that of others.

      Everything we do now has every bit as much importance as what we do after. Existence is important. Bettering the existence of ourselves and others is always “right” if that is an adequate term for it.

      “one tries to live and love now because there is nowhere else to do it”

      I think one should live and love now because it’s worth it no matter where or when. They are ends in themselves.

      “it defines what it is to be human”

      Indeed it does 🙂

  3. The biggst issue, among many big issues, with what you say is that it departs so dramatically from the source material of what christiandom claims to be the word of god that it becomes no better than a metaphysical hunch, but one that claims for itself a privilege to speak for others that it doesn’t deserve. And it requires the setting aside of some of god’s words while dramatically reinterpreting other recorded claims, both of which were recorded during roughly the same time and, in many cases, by the same correspondent.

    This is a dusty debate, but I’ll rest my case on the words of Marx: “The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.

    Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers from the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation, but so that he shall throw off the chain and cull the living flower.”

  4. “what christiandom claims to be the word of god” – kinda vague. I mean no one believes or espouses exactly the same thing. Not a single individual on the face of the earth believes the exact same as anyone else.
    That some Christians are naive enough to claim to speak for all the rest should no be surprising. Every belief system has members that claim to speak for the lot.

    I speak for myself, just as you speak for yourself. I lay claim to the label of “Christianity” because I agree with much of the basic framework (existance of God, creation of what exists, love as the only way people should react to others, salvation, some sort of afterlife, etc.) I merely thought I should inform you of what basic direction I’m coming from. I didn’t mean to give you a one word description of my exact belief system.

    “a metaphysical hunch” – there are two things that an individual can know for truth: I exist. Something else exists. Everything else is a hunch, or belief. Though I believe that we can extrapolate from those two truths to come to a logical framework for “truth” so long as we acknowledge that it is merely belief. That is something I have yet to see an atheist admit. Atheists tend to refuse to admit they believe something. It sounds vulnerable.

    “And it requires the setting aside of some of god’s words while dramatically reinterpreting other recorded claims, both of which were recorded during roughly the same time and, in many cases, by the same correspondent.”

    I’m not sure exactly what you’re implying, but it sounds like you’re doubting the assertions concerning the timing and authorship of the scriptures. Not surprising. Not validated either, but not surprising.

    I would address the acusation that I’m setting some things aside and “dramatically reinterpreting” others. But you are right of one thing, this is a very dusty debate and this is no forum. I seriously doubt either of us have the time, resources, etc. to fully delve into the issues right now. I doubt even more that either of us would “get through” to the other.

    Marx would have us trade a “veil of tears” or an illusion of religion for a veil of another kind, though of course he would disagree with my assesment of him. It is easy to blame religion as the source of the world’s problems, as the illusion, it’s much harder to see that the problems in religion AND “real life” come from illusions people make for themselves. People of all walks, people who claim any truth, ultimately have to believe in something. Blaming belief itself is to blame everything.

    I do not, as you seem to think I’m implying, believe I know all truth. I do not have a perfect belief. Do I think I have a good handle of things? Mostly. I must operate by what I believe to be true, as we all do. But I am completely open to the idea that I may be very wrong.

    This is all turning into an argument though, and I didn’t come wanting to argue, merely to comment from my perspective. And here I thought I left all of this vitriol behind me in the forums I used to frequent. I aparently have a long way to go in handling such things.

    Have a good day!

  5. “I exist. Something else exists. Everything else is a hunch, or belief.” This is a paraphrase of Socrates, and part of what led to his execution as a heretic (though we can’t say for certain whether or not he actually existed, irony of ironies). It’s as fine a belief as any one can have, but it’s not a christian belief. It predates christianity, both in Socratic thought and in Confucianism.

    Just curious, also, what you think is this other veil Marx might want to lay over people? I don’t think you’d find much support for that conclusion in anything he’s written…

    • It’s true that the thought predates Christianity, but I do not think they are incompatible.

      Still, you are right that many Christians would suggest the opposite. I came to my conclusions concerning Christianity from a different approach than most Christians, in that I discovered my belief system based upon What you have quoted, and then the extrapolation led me to believe that certain tenents of Christian thought have a pretty good handle on things.
      This doens’t endear me to Christians who come at it from other approaches.

      We come at it from different angles and come to similar conclusions. It’s complicated I guess.

      And as to the “veil” concerning Marx… That was kind of stupid of me. Not just because Wil is completely correct, but also because it is a logical trap.

      If one defined “Veil” as “the interpretation one gives to existence” then both Marx supporters and anti-Marx folk would merely be throwing stones at each other in a my-world-view-is-better-than-yours kind of way. I don’t want to be a stone-thrower, so while I may disagree with Marx’s assertion, I retract my statement. I do not have the time nor the willpower to delve into the specifics of that particular debate, to give specifics as to why I think he is “wrong” so to speak.

      Both viewpoints claim to expose the real truth of the world and give their adherants a means with which to disgard the tears and self-oppression of the world.
      The problem with that is, either position would have to have proof that their interpretation of the world is indeed “The Truth.”
      That is hard to do, if not impossible.

  6. Wil: Indeed… how quickly words escape the intended purposes when we gloss over them. I didn’t even notice the switch..

    If you’re an asshole, you have license to be, on those grounds at least..

  7. To Vince and Family,I wish you all the best for you and your family. Vince, I alyaws knew that someday you would be able to get out of the drug monster. I just knew he could never keep you in there forever. I’m proud that you have been able to turn away from drugs and make a fresh start. Sue, thank you telling this story. You’re all in my prayers.

  8. Once upon a time, I was talking to some freidns of my boyfriend and I told them I was a journalism major. You should’ve seen the looks I got from a table full of future pharmacists. I know I will have a job because the world will always need talent writers and our new media skills are going to be invaluable. Kershner was reassuring when it comes to the idea of having a future job!

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