When I was a child, I was under the impression that clouds were solid objects. This was before science class taught me that just because my eyes saw something as solid and tangible didn’t make it so. In fact, science taught me that most of what we see is a simplified version of what actually is; that the human brain can not perceive the world in real time and must filter and process things together so everything makes sense and we all don’t go utterly insane and starting shrieking manically at the realization that we are no more than cosmic vapor clinging to what is essentially a pebble being hurtled through space around a small (really really small) insanely hot furnace. It was my first understanding of the duality of human existence: Our brains are incredibly smart, able to devise ways to destroy anything larger than us and create marvels such as an Etch-A-Sketch and, I don’t know, the Parthenon or whatever, but they were also incredibly dumb when it came to things as truly imagining the size of the universe. We can create words (like infinity) to describe a loose concept of the size, but the truth is simply too big for the human brain.
This understanding wasn’t so bad for me, as the wonder that my imagination created had been replaced by an even bigger wonder of all the crazy crap we live through everyday. And yet there was some magic lost when I grasped that if one were to try to step on a cloud they would plummet to their deaths. It’s the same magic that will make a kid run down the street with a garden hose in their hands, trying to chase and catch the rainbow that has suddenly appeared out of thin air (and a fine spray of water and a sun positioned behind you, as I later came to know). I did not mourn for the actual idea of walking on clouds, but rather for the childlike sense of unending possibilities.
The first true instance of the separation of fantasy and the real-world is jarring because it’s not just drawing lines in the sands of our contemplation. As a child, everything is sand, a desert where what is and what could be imagined have no distinction.
It’s like Schrödinger’s cat (sorry, I’m about to use and twist this famous intellectual experiment in an utterly incorrect way, but fuck it, it’s my blog), except the cat is the child’s reality and the box is the kid’s perception. As a child, the reality and the fantasies are the same thing, existing both at the same time, which would explain imaginary friends. It’s not that the children are unknowingly conducting their first thought experiment, they are thought experiments. And when school/parents/the world comes in and starts to show them the difference between make believe and reality, it’s not simply saying, “This doesn’t exist,” or, “This doesn’t happen.” To the kid, it’s the end of the experiment; it’s opening the box and finding out that, yes, the cat is dead.
It is a horribly unfair, and yet completely needed, alteration of how they perceive their world. As they grow, they will have that done many more times, and hopefully they will start to do it on their own accord. But that first time is the hardest, because with the understanding that the fantastic is different, separate, and only in our heads, comes the realization that we can never go back. We can not trick ourselves into being in that dark box again, where both reality and fantasy collide and mesh. We can visit it through movies and books and other such things, but we can never live there again. It’s a hard lesson, no matter what age it happens, because if you were aware enough, you would actually be able to feel yourself grow.
I also thought that if you were on a street named Colorado Street in New Hampshire, it was the same Colorado Street you would find in Utah. This wasn’t out of childlike wonder, I was just stupid kid.