If you could make a globe of the earth that was correct in every detail, right down to the last grain of sand on every beach and every drop of water on every ocean, then that globe would have to be the same size as the earth itself. But this would render the globe useless, since the whole point of making a globe is to understand at a glance the spatial relationships between different places in the world, and on a globe the size of the earth you can’t see these relationships at a glance. You’d have to hitch a ride with the Soviets and view it from outer space, and by then you’d be too far away to see the grains of sand and the drops of water anyway, and how are you going to spin the globe for a better view? I suppose you could just fly around it, but you don’t know how to steer a spaceship and you don’t speak Russian and the pilot is passed out drunk (“Stereotype Alert, Danger, Danger,” the on-board emergency system would be screaming) so you’d be pretty much screwed.
At that point you’d be kicking yourself for having been so O.C.D. about your precious, perfect globe. Your time would have been better spent making a smaller, good-enough globe—one that’ll fit in your home office—and yielding the balance of your time to walking around and sightseeing. Sure, maybe your understanding of the earth would be merely approximate with this inferior, smaller globe, but approximate was all you really needed in the first place, wasn’t it? You can just feel out the nitty gritty details as you go along in the actual world.
Knowledge and understanding become, therefore, a good place to start, but in the end, experience will provide you the minute measurements you were looking for—plus you can marvel about the fact that you are walking on not just the planet, but on what can arguably be called the only perfect model of this planet in existence: the planet itself. You will have started out trying to understand the planet, only to discover that the only perfect model of the planet includes your own living body—your own living tissue walking around and thinking about globes and standing on the one perfect globe and smelling roses as you are wont to do.
But you’ll still like your little, good-enough globe in your office, because it’s interesting to look at, it orients you in the context of the world, and it has nice fake gold plating on the globe stand.
In the same way, if you were to tell the perfect story, one that sums up all of creation and explains everything in a single descriptive narrative, without leaving out a single atomic detail or historical tidbit, the only way to do it would be to run the entire universe itself through a 3D Xerox machine and plunk the copy down next to the original. Not only that, but you would have to make a separate copy for every point of time in all of history. Working backwards, you’d have to Xerox the infinitesimally small moment that occurred just before the current one, and then the one before that, and so on for infinity, back to the beginning of time, back to the beginning of God himself—if you believe in that sort of thing—and if God really has no beginning and no end, then we’re really starting to run low on ink, and I’ll be darned if I’m coughing up another $40 to the Canon Corporation, the extortionate snakes. I am so sick of those people. Then you’d have to stack up all those copies, bind them into one big master copy, and then make a few dozen copies of that so the editorial board can proof it for typos, formatting, logical consistency, and of course Does It Got Enough Full Frontal Nudity and product placements.
Or you could just write a good-enough story about all of creation, one you can throw in your purse or suitcase, with maybe a tastefully understated leather cover that looks nice next to your good-enough globe in your home office that you Twitter in. This story doesn’t have to be perfect. After all, we’re just talking approximate here, seeing as a perfectly accurate story about all of creation would simply be cost-prohibitive and Save a Tree and whatnot. The story just needs to have enough stuff in it to orient you and give you a general sense of what’s kind of going on.
Since it’s you reading it, and you’re human, and we’re trying to save on ink, let’s just have it focus mainly on humans. It might as well be relevant to you as a human, right? You can’t beat the ego appeal of that, so Marketing should be pleased. Also, let’s have some action. Fight scenes, magic tricks. This little story about all of creation for all time should be fun to read! Why not? We have a few hundred pages to work with; let’s use them for something. Speaking of: Let’s make the pages really thin so we can pack in some extra stuff about cataclysmic floods and being nice to your neighbors.
Also, fake gold leaf. To match the globe.
See? Good enough. It doesn’t need to be logically consistent. It can be messy; go loose with it. It’s not like any of the other stories and explanations about the whole history of the universe are any more useful or accurate or interesting than this one would be, not when compared to the Xeroxed-universe-as-accurate-story-about-the-universe-itself. I mean who’s really going to notice or care about the difference between evolution and creationism anyway, when it comes right down to it, am I right? As if that has any bearing on our personal lives. Okay, some scientists will probably make some really good points about how we should probably try to acknowledge our own five senses, but that’s fine. It’s just one book we’re writing here. Let everyone write their own book. There’s room for everyone’s creative output in the market. (Note from Sales to Editorial: Advise insert self-referential bits claiming inerrancy, divine inspiration, deity clinginess.)
It doesn’t even need to have all the same author. You can have a lot of authors contribute! Try to get some of them to the same editorial meetings if you can, but whatevs. After all, this book is supposed to function as the ultimate story about everything-amen, which would be a ridiculous amount of pressure to put on one freelancer.
Oh, hold on. I just had a thought. A brilliant thought. Interns. We save money, they get “bylines”, cough cough. Cheers.
As for the big story itself—the real one, the life-size one, the one that can only be told by Xeroxing the whole of creation itself unto infinity—maybe everyone would be better off just living in that story as characters and getting lost in it. And why not let them get lost in the stories of their own devising, to boot? After all, a story’s a story’s a story. Its value can be measured by asking how it moves in your life, how it makes you feel, what it motivates you to do. A story is a creative enterprise by humanity, a way to compensate for the fact that we cannot tell the One Grand Story as it really is, though we so badly ache to do so.
Let our stories feed us. Let our stories be fanciful. Let us move in them as characters in a dream. Let us not fear our absurdities, and let us appreciate the power of stories as a tool not just for evil but also for good. Perhaps all these good-enough stories are really the only form of reality we can even remotely hope to even begin to approach understanding; and perhaps our interpretations of those stories are as close to true perception as we can possibly get; and perhaps these interpretations are themselves just another layer of the creative process—so let our perceptions of our stories be generous, and kind, and good, and beautiful.
Let us be nice to the bible and to other texts deemed holy, let us show them some respect—and their passionate adherents some compassion—but let’s all have a sense of humor about the whole thing, and everything’ll be just fine.
I for one love getting lost in the bible. You may prefer the Quran. Maybe your lodestone is Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. Maybe it’s The Tao of Pooh. Maybe it’s one you made up yourself and scribbled on a bar napkin.
Whatever is your favorite story about the history of everything ever: May our stories overlap in many lush places, and may we meet in them in peace.