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Anchor 1


Do you ever wonder about all of the lives out there? As in outside your very own singular life? Which is the only life you actually know. And I don’t mean in an ‘of course I wonder about others’ lives, so I read and watch documentaries and travel and ask good questions and buy foreign foods’ kind of way.

I mean. What do I mean?

I mean do you ever just sit down and, I don’t know, try to think about each one of the eight billion other people alive in the world? Individually. One at a time kind of. And wonder, ‘what is this person in, say, Dunedin feeling as they open their eyes after too short a night’ maybe? Or ‘what is the six-year-old in Qaanaaq feeling about going to a new school today’? Or ‘what is the Yahgan man feeling as he holds his first born'? Or ‘what part of my neighbour’s body hurts her most as she goes off to sleep each afternoon’? Or ‘what exactly is the priest in Rome saying to the little boy he will soon, ever so cunningly, rape’? Or what is the person thinking in Kaesong as they give a data stick to their friend’? Or ‘how is the woman at the check-out counter checking out the 200th grocery shopper in Whistler feeling about her job’? Or ‘what is the surgeon in New York City considering as she poises the scalpel'?

I’m not talking about holding people in your thoughts to help or heal them or keeping them in your prayers, important as that is. There is nothing to accomplish here. It is just thinking about them. About lives. Each one.

And then, after thinking as concretely about as many individuals as you can in the little bit of time you have for this apparently pointless practice, have you ever tried to ‘see’ all eight billion lives as if each had just come alive for a second on the screen of your life?

I was just wondering because it’s really hard even to try. I mean, you can only try, and when you do try, something kind of magical happens inside you. But you haven’t, of course, actually come even an itty-bitty bit close to doing it. Obviously.

Yet it is a lovely thing to do. To try, I mean. Even for five minutes. Or one.

Because maybe it is true that connection happens even when we only think about each other. Even when we don’t know each other at all, or ever will. Even when we are guessing like maniacs, trying to imagine each other.

Maybe it all matters, even a little. 

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Anchor 2

The Bit That Works

“I love him,” Jake said “We’ve been best friends since we were kids. That’s special. But when we’re together, I want to kill him about ⅔ of the time.”

I smiled.

He didn’t.

“And I wonder whether getting together regularly is worth the criticalness I always feel. The drain of it. It’s no fun.

“My therapist asked me why I meet with him at all.”

“Why do you?” I asked Jake.

“Because I love the 30% that works.”

“Well,” I said, trying to lighten things, “is there a way for you to get together and experience only the 30%?”

He looked puzzled.

“Gosh,” he said, as if that had been a really good question, “I don’t know. I’d have to think about that. I’d first have to figure out what that 30% is, I guess.”

“Right,” I said as you do when you have no idea what to say.

“Okay,” he said, “Thanks. I think.” He smiled. I did, too.

He went back to work. I went back to the question.

Is there a way for you to get together and experience only the 30%?

I had been kidding, but Jake had heard this: Maybe we can structure our friendships so that we experience only the bit that works.

And I wondered. Is that true? Is it even possible?

Certainly not always. But sometimes? Is it legitimate, okay, allowed, never mind kind, to find ways to be together so that the bit that doesn’t work doesn’t feature? Is that real friendship? Shouldn’t we accept everything about our friends and put up with experiencing the bits that drive us nuts? Can we be a true friend and limit our interactions only to what delights us?

That avalanche of assumptions exhausted me.

So I went back to thinking about Jake. I could see he was right about one thing: he would first have to figure out what the 30% is that works. I wondered how he would do that and what it would turn out to be. I felt inspired.

Then I thought about a friendship of mine that fell apart after many years. And I wondered whether the problem had been that I had spent too much time navigating the bit that didn’t work, and that in the end that bit killed even the bit that did work.

I felt kind of sick. Then exhilarated.

I resolved to examine my friendships: to articulate the bit that works, and then to imagine building our time together on that. What would have to change? Would we do only certain things and not others? Would we meet for less time? Or more time? Less often? More often? Would we meet in different places? Would we discuss different things? Would we ask different questions? Would we be alone? Would be be with others?

A week later I shared all of this with a colleague. She said she already does exactly that. Fed up with times of conflict, of boredom, of resentment, of competition, of one-way listening, she changed how she “structured” her time with friends so that she could enjoy all of their time together. She thanked me for this new way of expressing it. But the concept was nothing new.

Sometimes 'nothing new’ is new. Ravishingly. 


So I will tell Jake. And I will remember. 


The 'bit that works' works. 


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Anchor 3
One-with-universe symbol.png



Ancient Africa was right. So was Protagoras. And Nāgārjuna. And Bohr and Heisenberg and Einstein and before them, Mach. (I recently discovered Mach and am fast becoming a devotee, as much as an anti-worship worshipper can be.)

But ancient Africa said it first, "I am because you are." And more recently, in the 1800’s, Bantu Africans named it “Ubuntu."

Ubuntu says not just that we all live better when we respect each other. Not just that we should treat each other the way we want to be treated. Ubuntu says that we do not actually exist without each other. In effect, we are each other. "I am because you are."

Relationship is all there is. When there is no relationship, there is nothing.

Now finding this idea in philosophy is one thing. Philosophy’s occasional impenetrability doesn’t throw us because it is just ideas, and ideas are like that – they don’t demand proof to justify their acceptance. Sprinkles of logic will do.

Finding this idea in physics, though? Proven by mathematics? Entirely destabilising. And it doesn’t matter that not even the physicists completely understood what it proved. Not as in, “Oh, right, that makes sense. How did I miss that?” More as in, “Well, the math proves it, so let’s name it and use it and see if it will change the world.” It did.

“I am because you are” is now “quantum theory”, and it does explain (at least for now) our world (atoms, skies, medicine, semiconductors, chemical bonds) as if nothing could be more obvious. We say “quantum” and smile. And walk on.

But when was the last time you had any idea what “quantum” means and how quanta operate?

To experience the science of this incomprehensible thing you can of course read Mach and Bohr and Heisenberg and Einstein, and please do. But if you want a treat rather than a retreat, befriend physicist Carlo Rovelli, especially his book Helgoland1. Immediately. It could become your bible on “existence is relationship.” It has for me.

Rovelli says rivetingly and inimitably that the core of all things, those quantum granular/wavey bits that make up our universe, are not individual bits, but rather the relationship between the bits. He says in the friendliest way, as if it is just the best, best thing we could encounter today, that unless those bits, those quanta, are in relationship to other quanta, they do not exist. Rovelli gives us quantum language for "I am because you are".

Enjoy this as an example:

”Whereas previously we thought that the properties of every object could be determined even if we overlooked the interactions occurring between this object and others, quantum physics demonstrates that the interaction is an inseparable part of phenomena." (p. 119)

"We cannot separate the properties of the objects from the objects interacting with them in order for these properties to be manifested in the first place. All of the properties of an object, in the final analysis, are such and exist only with respect to other objects.

“An isolated object, taken in itself, independent of every interaction, has no particular state. This conclusion is revolutionary. It leads beyond the idea that the world is made up of substance that has attributes and forces us to think about everything in terms of relations." (p. 120)


The early Africans were, it seems, the first quantum physicists.


Eventually other philosopher-scientists arose with the same idea. In the 500s BCE the Sophists asserted that there is no existence of anything except as it is in relationship to another thing. They were the early “contextualists.”

In 150 CE Nāgārjuna, voice of Indian Buddhism, said it this way, "There is nothing that exists in itself, independent of something else.” His word for this relationship essence is “sūnyatā” meaning emptiness. He said that “things are empty in that they have no autonomous existence.” “There is no ultimate mysterious force that is the true essence of our being.” There is only relationship. (p. 127)

1400 years later Bogdanov, Russian thinker, polymath and reasoning genius, said it, too. He distinguished between a non-physical/spirit world and a physical world arising from the “non-bits” that are relationship. Relationship, he said, is physical. It is not “spiritual.” Relationship is not off in a woo woo world somewhere. It is the “without which" of right-here physical reality.

Bogdanov then applied this idea to constructing a post-revolution society. He recognised, much to Lenin’s fury, that any ideology that produces a revolution in culture will no longer be valid when the new culture is in place. The new culture, therefore, will require a new ideology. (p. 111)

In other words, relationship is everything. Ubuntu, Russian style.

And just yesterday my friend Trisha sent me this contemporary thought from the South African writer Darrel Bristow-Bovey: “…humans are not whole in and of ourselves. We exist in and through each other.”

I am because you are.

Astonishing, always. As if never before noticed.


I started this piece wanting to illustrate the importance of our relationships with each other. I wanted to build from the wisdom of relationship philosophers and scientists to a so-what. “So,” I wanted to conclude, "we must treasure each other because there is no ‘I’ other than ‘we.' We don’t just need each other. We are each other.”

But now I want it to be enough just to marvel at that idea. I want “we are each other” not to have to suggest a path forward. It does, of course. But I want it just to sit here, happy to be contemplated, some day to be cherished.

I want it to quiet the pest that populates our otherwise astonishing intelligence, the malicious “otherism” that hurls us into vats of compartmentalisation and separateness where we thrash and chew up “we."

I want “we are each other” to hold us tenderly while we flail, until we settle down finally and allow it to be both true and impossible.

[1] Carol Rovelli, Helgoland, Penguin, 2022.

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Anchor 4

Our Brains

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I emerged from it today, once again in a kind of trance. This time I found myself as much in awe of the human brain as of the galactic fire.


I kept thinking: isn’t it truly something that there is a construct we call the human brain that looks at the fire and space in the universe and finds its light and shapes and voids beautiful, and that this brain in trying to comprehend the size, the distances, the longevity of those galaxies is overtaken by part of its own architecture: emotion?


As far as we know there is no other creature that does this thing of observing and feeling.


Tonight look up. Let your brain consider that everything you see in the sky beyond our solar system does not exist in that state now, or maybe at all. Most of what you see up there existed 10 or more billion years ago. You are seeing it as it was then, not as it is now, because its light only just arrived.


When we gaze at the stars, we are looking into the past. The colossal past. Our brains get to know that and then to feel overwhelmed by the un-absorbability of it.


All of that from just looking up.


This is my thank you note. Where should I send it?


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