Monday, February 13, 2012

Imaginary Time

Dragons don’t believe people exist. Most dragons have never seen a human being. Which makes sense when we recall that a human lifespan is just a firefly’s blip in the eye of a dragon. To catch a glimpse of us, they have to focus really hard. That’s why in the original Greek the word ‘dragon’ means ‘to gaze strongly.’ They’re gazing to see if we’re real. Most of the time, they never find us, because they search in the wrong places. The concept of surfaces is not a clear one for them. They explore planetary depths or the stratosphere and then leave, confident they’ve visited Earth and convinced we’re myth. It’s just as tricky for us to grasp the reality of dragons, which is not at all like our familiar world. Dragons exist perpendicular to time.

Physicists call perpendicular time ‘imaginary time.’ You can read a friendly explanation of imaginary time here: Imaginary Time. Dragons mostly just imagine us—and, likewise, most of us only meet dragons in our imaginations. Dragons and people occupy two different realities. We know of each other—but only in myth. If one were to meet a real dragon, what might that be like? A real dragon actually appears as itself, in perpendicular time, within Lord Dunsany’s “Miss Cubbidge and the Dragon of Romance,” from his 1905 collection The Book of Wonder:
There sat Miss Cubbidge at evening on her balcony quite alone, waiting for her father to be made a baronet. She was wearing walking-boots and a hat and a low-necked evening dress; for a painter was but just now painting her portrait and neither she nor the painter saw anything odd in the strange combination. She did not notice the roar of the dragon's golden scales, nor distinguish above the manifold lights of London the small, red glare of his eyes. He suddenly lifted his head, a blaze of gold, over the balcony; he did not appear a yellow dragon then, for his glistening scales reflected the beauty that London puts upon her only at evening and night.
Lord D captures the emotional reverberations that usually accompany the presence of dragons. I think most of us, like Miss Cubbidge, have sensed the ethereal power of these magnificent creatures without realizing what they are. We touch perpendicular time when we hear a train whistle crossing miles of night. A forest afternoon with sunlight scattered like popcorn invites dragons. And so, as we see, do cityscapes. Most dragons don’t believe people exist. But there are a few who do, and they gaze strongly at us. What do they see?


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