Lately, I have found myself thinking about how surprised he would be by technology. The self-correcting typewriter was the iPad of his day, and vinyl records had not yet been replaced with compact discs. Certainly the Internet would have amazed him.
There is also a pining for what I, myself, will miss. Had he lived just one more decade, my father, who had a fatal heart attack, could have been saved by the advances made in heart surgery. Similarly, when I think about my own mortality, I wonder if I will die just this side of a discovery that could have saved my life. Then, there are these questions: After I’m gone, will it be shown that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe, that space existed before the Singularity, that there is a God particle, that there is a God?
I am not only haunted by what I might miss in the future. I am just as preoccupied by what I do not know. Although I have gained some knowledge over the years, it is nothing when compared with all I could have learned.
And I am not just talking about the kind of learning that comes secondhand from reading or from listening to others. I am also talking about the kind of learning that can only come from living. I might still have many years ahead of me to learn more Spanish, for example, but I will never be able to live in Mexico, or Ecuador, or Colombia, or Venezuela, or Peru, or Argentina, or Spain, where I might come to understand something about the soul of the language or the soul of a people.
I am finding, too, that the more I learn the more I want to learn. Last night, for instance, I watched a TV program about the wildlife in South America. Consider the electric eels found in the ponds and streams of the Amazon. I know that they store power to shock and take down their prey. But, how is it that these eels don’t electrocute themselves? Or, the anteater whose long, sticky tongue can lick up thousands of insects in a feeding. How did a camera come to be placed inside a termite hill so that I might see the animal in action? Or, the leopard whose nighttime stalking habits I could see as plain as day. Who came up with night vision cameras?
From each question come new questions, and on it goes. Perhaps, though, I can take some comfort in considering the idea that there is nothing there to be learned if I am not there to learn it.