The first thing the strange blue planet remembered was water and land and wanting its mother. But there was no mother. Was there a mother? Oh, the agony of doubt! Epochs passed. The fangs of uncertainty grew dull. The planet started to think of itself as the centre of things. Soon it became amazed by its own magnificence, and it shouted, “Everything revolves around me!” This satisfied the planet for some time, but then it grew curious. “What is the meaning of existence?” it wondered. “Why do I think? What is the nature of life as a thinking being?” Finding no easy answers to these questions, it was depressed for a time, and then it grew lonely. Examining its body in search of companions, the planet found strange reptiles crawling all over it. The planet rejoiced, imagining an end to its solitude, but these reptiles did little to assuage its loneliness. They crawled across the planet for a long, long time, and eventually they started to cause an irritating tickle. Soon enough, the itch became unbearable. The planet had to sneeze, and after it did so, it looked up to find that all the reptiles had perished.
The planet was thankful that the itchy reptiles were gone, and it marvelled at its own power, shouting, “I hold sway over life and death! What could be more awesome than me?” After that, it rested for a time, revelling in its own grandeur. But soon it grew itchy again, and it looked down and saw that a superabundance of mammals was crawling all over its surface. The planet smiled to itself, for it felt a fondness for these bizarre creatures, specifically a certain species of bipedal hominoids that reminded the planet very much of itself. The planet listened closely and heard one of the hominoids shouting, and what the hominoid was shouting was: “Everything revolves around me!”
Feeling a profound fondness for this particular creature, the planet watched with keen interest as the hominoid stopped where he stood, scratched his chin, and asked himself, “But what is the meaning of existence? Why do I think? What is the nature of life as a thinking being?” Hearing this, the planet felt a swell of fraternal love, a feeling of companionship such as it had never known. At last, the pangs of loneliness began to abate.
The planet didn’t mind the itch so much anymore and, eventually, when it felt like sneezing, it held the sneeze in. But in the depths of its heart the planet was sad, for it knew a sneeze can only be held for so long.
Putting this thought at bay, the planet watched with great pride as the hominoids increased in size and number, growing stronger and smarter at an amazing pace. At one point, the planet began to get cold. It lost circulation and became congested, and many of the creatures living on the planet died. But the hominoids survived. They developed opposable thumbs and then they created fire and spears and soon they were killing animals much larger than themselves. Soon after that they had brought several species to extinction. The planet listened closely and heard one of the hominoids shouting, “I hold sway over life and death! What could be more awesome than me?”
Once again, the planet felt the joy of companionship.
Before long, the hominoids invented the wheel and agriculture. They built enormous buildings and created special tools with which they attacked each other with increasing efficiency. And these tools were hurting the planet too, but the hominoids did not seem troubled by this – they believed there were other, more important concerns. The planet was suffering, but it also knew that these hominoids could not really harm it, that the worst they could do would be to make the planet inhospitable to their way of life, to alienate themselves from their home. The planet felt pity for the hominoids, and it began to weep.
It wept and wept and wept and before long its tears were drenching the entire surface of its body. All the towers the hominoids had built were toppling to the ground and all their farms and forests were flooding. The poor helpless hominoids were drowning along with all the other land mammals. They were screaming at the injustice of it, but the planet could not stop weeping because the tears brought more sadness and the sadness brought more tears. Then the sneeze came back – the one the planet had been holding for so long – and the planet sniffed and shuddered but it could no longer contain the sneeze.
The planet let go.
After the great sneeze, all the mammals were gone, including the planet’s beloved hominoids. The planet was alone, with a bunch of cockroaches and a few mutant birds living high in the mountains. The planet was bored for a while, and then it was depressed again, and finally it fell into an enormous, dreamless sleep.
The planet awoke to a flash, and found itself face to face with the Sun. The Sun was opening its gigantic gaseous jaws, readying to swallow the planet, but the planet was not prepared to leave.
The planet asked the Sun if this really had to happen right then, and the Sun said yes.
“Wait,” the planet said, “before I go, can you show me the meaning of existence?”
The sun said, “No.”
“Can you at least tell me what’s on the other side?”
“You can’t tell because you don’t know.”
“Of course I know.”
The Sun sighed. “I’m not falling for that.”
“If you really knew, you could prove it.”
“Fine!” the Sun shouted. “On the other side you have to make a choice: there is either brute nothingness or…”
“Or you can spend eternity rolling down an endless, gigantic mountainside, experiencing an unthinkable enormity of pain.”
The planet cried out in joy. “Well,” it said. “I know what I’m choosing.”
The Sun sighed, shook its head, opened its gigantic gaseous jaws, and swallowed the strange blue planet. The planet began to float down a kind of ethereal river, and before long the river forked into two tunnels. One of the tunnels was marked “Brute Nothingness” and the other was marked “Unthinkable Enormity of Pain.”
Without hesitation, the planet chose the “Unthinkable Enormity of Pain.” As it entered the passageway, the sensory world collapsed, leaving the planet in a colourless, soundless, shapeless realm. Then there was a crash and an enormous thud, and the planet found itself rolling down a steep mountainside, with no beginning or end in sight. It rolled and rolled and rolled, and it waited for the end but the end never came. Time passed and passed and the planet once again grew sick with loneliness. The planet experienced an unthinkable enormity of pain, and it began to regret its decision. It began to wish for nothingness, to crave the brute void.
It craved and it craved and it craved, but the void never came.
An unthinkable enormity of time passed.
Finally the planet realized that this craving, this regret, this inverted hope, was itself the meaning of existence. Missed opportunities, horrific mistakes, the torturous thought of all the things that could have been and never were. The agony of the hypothetical. And loneliness, such savage loneliness. This was the nature of life as a thinking being.
The planet’s mind swelled and leapt as it considered the grandeur of this revelation. But then it remembered that it was still rolling down an endless, gigantic mountainside, experiencing an unthinkable enormity of pain, and that, all things considered, the epiphany offered little consolation.