A Grain of Sand

Kelp and Sand
Kelp and Sand
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour

The light in Iceland in the high summer is superb. The air so clear that a view of 50 miles looks like a comfortable walk - until you naively set out! And so too is the detail of all that is around, such as this sea weed on the sand at Brei∂avik on the north west coast.

It is magical the way that we can look closer and ever closer at any corner of our lives, and as we look more and more unfolds. Indeed worlds unfold. Blake and Kant had a common characteristic, neither of them strayed far from home, both their lives were lived out within a small compass, and yet, in their separate ways, they saw more clearly, than almost any other human being, just how great the universe was.

These worlds within worlds, whether due to the relative size, or angle of view, confuse us. We do easily forget that size is relative; just like everything else. The difference to us between a grain of sand and the universe appears vast. And with that difference seems to come the idea that larger is somehow more important; as though without the smaller elements the whole would be the same. So too with our affairs; to make the big decisions is what matters. To declare war here, or build a hospital there - that is what matters. To lend a hand or smile is less important. Maybe in the pyramid of human society the weak are at its base and it is the few acts from the top that seem far reaching, but those higher up stand on many shoulders: no base, no far reaching acts. All the grains make the sea-shore. We are utterly interconnected...
...and our views and acts are relative to where we stand. The grain is smaller than the universe from here. If we were a molecule in that grain both it and the universe would seem incomprehensibly large. Size is relative to the view, and there is no view from no-where.

And so too with matters of ethics. Acts are not absolutely good or bad, only relatively so, there are no absolute criteria for actions. With age the little things seem of increasing importance: it seems to matter no more if the universe shifts, than if there is a glance, a tone, a neglect. This roof, so easily brought down, is the only roof there is.

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  • Blake, William (1803) 'Auguries of Innocence' (First published 1863)
  • Nagel, Thomas (1986) 'The View from Nowhere' OUP.

  11th September 2014 ~ 10th June 2015