dreamers down from the mountains - الحالمون ينزلون من الجبال - part ii
Close your eyes and follow humanity's tale back through the fabric of the cosmos, across the gravitational rainbow, and into the myths and stories that make us who we are.
When he wasn’t surreptitiously running over the toes of his enemies, Stephen Hawking spent his waking hours blowing the doors off everything we thought we knew about the universe. Although Einstein gave us the framework of a space-time continuum, his theories came to the world before we’d even managed to master flying across an ocean, nonetheless flying up among the stars.
And although he might’ve been confined to a wheelchair, at night when Dr. Hawking closed his eyes to dream - like all of us - he could go anywhere he wanted. Beyond whatever walls were holding him, and back to a time before he slowly lost his ability first to walk, and then to stand, and finally even to speak.
But close his eyes.
Close his eyes and Dr. Hawking didn’t have to be a cripple anymore, he could close his eyes and go somewhere else - somewhere with infinite rainbows you can follow to the edge of the event horizon of time itself, or just into our history books as one of the most prolific scientists ever to have lived. Since in his dreams, Dr. Hawking knew he was no cripple.
Since when he dreamed, a tiny cripple could become a giant - the question would always be, gigantic relative to what?
Because under the theoretical framework that Einstein dreamed up, the stars and everything else in the universe all lie on a blanket of ether woven from the intersection of space and time, since it turns out that especially at galactic scales there is very obviously no one without the other, and changing either the speed or mass of an object will inevitably create at least a small ripple in this fabric. The relationship between space and time isn’t perceptible to our naked human senses, but throw an atomic clock up in an airplane and send it up into the skies at several hundred miles per hour for a little bit, and after it lands any clocks it was synchronized to before the flight will now be showing a time that’s a few fractions of a second later.
So relative to the clocks and everything else on Earth that wasn’t on that flight, the atomic clock and everything else in the plane has effectively traveled in time, not backwards in a sexy way, but in the sense that the speed of the plane caused a small ripple in the spacetime continuum, effectively slowing time down just a tiny bit, that shows up in a few fractions of a second being shaved off the time experienced on the speeding plane.
Turns out that just like size, time is also relative, and the clock you’re using to measure its assumed passing needs to be carefully watched to make sure that time is really doing what’s assumed.
From the perspective of someone standing on the sun, there wouldn’t really be any difference at all between any of the clocks at all, since although planes fly at about 500mph relative to the surface of the earth, the earth is zipping around the sun at some 67,000mph - so to anyone observing from the sun, relative to them both clocks on earth would be showing functionally the same time, and the tiny blip of picoseconds would be functionally irrelevant. And with the Earth weighing many trillions times more than a commercial airplane, the relative masses involved don’t really matter here, although the speed does.
A plane flying at 500mph creates a ripple in the spacetime continuum that's only as deep as the speed being traveled and the mass involved. So with the Earth’s orbit creating a ditch that’s over 100 times faster and which is magnified by a mass many trillions of times greater, a plane’s mass and speed only create a teeny-tiny ripple in the ditch already being dug out by the Earth’s massive combo of space (mass) and time (speed), everything happening on Earth is occurring at just about the same speed and time relative to anyone observing from the Sun.
Einstein’s observations changed our understanding of the concept of time entirely, and gave us an explanation for what would happen with time-traveling clocks on planes long before it was demonstrated. And even more spectacularly, he also managed to predict the behavior of ripples in the spacetime continuum across galactic scales 100 years before it was possible to empirically measure them: Einstein’s predictions about intergalactic gravitational waves was finally confirmed in 2016, nearly a century after his theories were first published.
So if an airplane weighing under 100,000 pounds traveling at 500mph creates a tiny little ripple in the fabric of spacetime, effectively sending out a small wake of gravitational waves behind it, the collision of two blackholes each weighing somewhere in the neighborhood 5 to 10 solar masses - a measurement that captures the weight of our Sun, each solar mass is about 4,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000 pounds.
And it took about 1.3 billion years, but in 2016 we were finally able to observe the aftermath of such a collision, and track this cosmic tsunami of gravitational waves as it traveled through galactic spacetime and around various stars on its way to our telescopes. These measurements confirmed both the widest intergalactic applications of Einstein’s theories, and also confirmed Stephen Hawking’s more nuanced predictions about what would happen with the masses involved as two blackholes collide and consume each other.
Hawking spent enough time theorizing about what happens right at the edge of a blackhole’s inescapable gravitational pull, its event horizon, that he managed to get a form of radiation named after him: Hawking Radiation. This radiation was theorized by Hawking to emerge due to the paradoxical nature of all matter when it’s considered at the smallest most fundamental levels, the world of quantum physics.
Things get pretty wonky at this point, but in a nutshell: The same effect that creates the colors of the rainbow - a phenomenon that emerges as white light is bent into its component colors through billions of tiny raindrop prisms - also occurs at a blackhole’s event horizon. Rainbows are always red on top and purple on bottom with the same exact colors in between because of the red-shift that occurs as pure white light is bent through the prism of misty raindrops still floating in the sky after a storm.
So all the colors of the rainbow emerge as individual photos are refracted off floating raindrops, effectively turning white photos into red ones at first with the first perceptible disruption, and then orange and yellow and green and finally blue then purple, as the disruption in their path gets more and more severe and they’re bent harder and harder by the prismatic drops.
This exact same phenomenon also occurs at intergalactic scales, but here the red-shift doesn’t create rainbows, but instead creates small differences in the light reaching Earth that’s being emitted by various celestial bodies well outside of our own Milky Way. Generally just touching the top of the rainbow and making it a little more or less red, since the changes involved generally aren’t enough to involve other colors. And intergalactic red-shift isn’t created by the light being manipulating by refraction, but instead by the enormous speeds and distances involved in the cosmos, where different bodies often have relative differences in speeds that measure in the many millions of miles-per-hour.
So in additional to confirming Einstein’s overall framework, the observation of intergalactic gravitational waves in 2016 also further confirmed that Hawking Radiation gets emitted at the edges of event horizons as pairs of photons are torn apart by the gravitational tide, and one gets sucked into the abyss and the other shoots out into the universe, red-shifting its way out towards infinity unless it runs into something else first.
And so in a way, the entire edge of a blackhole’s event horizon can be seen as the edge of a giant cosmic rainbow, although only the outermost red band is visible, with the rest sucked down into the abyss. This means that the red-shifting created by Hawking Radiation fits within the broader framework of Einstein’s description of the universe, and helps astronomers measures the distances and speeds involved across intergalactic distances, especially outside of our own Milky Way.
There are, however, still two paradoxes that physicists need to iron-out before they declare victory over Time, and ride their wheelchairs off into their event-horizons.
The first is a fairly household paradox, the existence of “dark matter,” which should really be named “dark gravity” since the issue is a bunch of unaccounted-for gravity pulling on space-time that’s been observed, not actually any matter. But since there’s a bunch of gravity where it shouldn’t be, physicists are largely operating under the assumption that it must be due to a bunch of invisible matter somewhere, since under Einstein’s framework that’s what gravity is - dimples and ripples in the fabric of spacetime that’s created by matter, the faster its moving and the more it weighs, the greater the gravitational effect that emerges.
However the second paradox is far less notorious, and is something that NASA has been attempting to cover-up since at least 2002 by using one of the most notorious tools of propagandists everywhere looking to occlude the truth: Photoshop.
It was way back in 1971 when a five-meter telescope atop California’s Mount Palomar first observed a “luminous bridge” between the spiral galaxy NGC 4319 with a nearby quasar, Markarian 205, both found within the constellation Draco. But it wasn’t the bridge itself that was notable, as Dr. Halton Arp first pointed-out back in ‘71, it was that this luminous bridge appeared to very starkly violate the rules set down by Einstein and Hawking’s model of the universe: The amount of redshift that was expected to occur between two objects with their assumed relative distances and speeds was completely and entirely wrong, given that this bridge appears to physically connect these two objects, placing them close to each other in intergalactic terms.
So NASA tried to put this paradox to rest in 2002 by using the Hubble Telescope and its concomitant Hubble Constant, an algorithm that uses Einstein’s and Hawking’s theories to calculate the distance between interstellar bodies outside of our galaxy using their assumed distances and speeds and relative amounts of redshift. And although the Hubble Constant isn’t, well, very constant at all - and constantly fluctuates as new measurements come in and new arguments emerge, it still provides a broad mathematical litmus that astronomers and physicists can agree on at least in general terms, even if no one can agree on exactly how precisely it should be tuned.
NASA pointed the Hubble Telescope towards this luminous bridge in 2002, took a photo, and then said: “Look, no bridge at all!” However there appears to be just a bit of technical chicanery going on, as all it takes is slightly tweaking the settings on Photoshop, and the luminous bridge pops right back up, even on NASA’s own photo.
So although the measurement of gravitational waves confirmed a huge amount of Einstein’s and Hawking’s theories about the rules that regulate our universe, the reality is that dark matter and this luminous bridge inside the constellation Draco mean that we definitely still haven’t gotten things all the way figured out when it comes to everything about space and time in our universe.
Despite how confident physicists always seem to sound, they’re something clearly wrong with the clock they’re using - there’s still some very significant piece of the overall puzzle missing and waiting to be found, despite the fact they act like nothing’s wrong with their Big Picture.
A puzzle that our ancestors already figured out, or at least turned into an object of worship instead of a problem - since to them the heavens and its constellations have always been a source of mystery and wonder, one that didn’t necessarily need to be solved so much as revered. And so everything in the megalithic department, from the Pyramids to Stonehenge and countless structures in between, are very obviously oriented using celestial landmarks up in the firmament, and every civilization in recorded history has had some kind of mystical connection with the skies and stars spinning up above.
When our ancestors weren’t using the constellations to place their structures, they were often worshipping them, with the constellation Draco - home to a luminous bridge that directly and profoundly violates the rules that are supposed to regulate the cosmos - taking one of the most ancient and powerful seats in the ancient cosmological pantheon. The ancient Mesopotamians, who preserved some of the earliest samples of writing at all and history’s first epic adventure of brotherly love, saw Draco as home to their All-Father, a god up-above so powerful he was seen as the source of everything else:
In the Mesopotamian religion, Anu was the personification of the sky, the utmost power, the supreme god, the one "who contains the entire universe". He was identified with the north ecliptic pole centered in Draco. His name meant the "One on High", and together with his sons Enlil and Enki he formed a triune conception of the divine, in which Anu represented a "transcendental" obscurity, Enlil the "transcendent" and Enki the "immanent" aspect of the divine. The three great gods and the three divisions of the heavens were Anu (the ancient god of the heavens), Enlil (son of Anu, god of the air and the forces of nature, and lord of the gods), and Ea (the beneficent god of earth and life, who dwelt in the abyssal waters).
And so the idea of a Holy Trinity certainly isn’t something the Catholic Church coined, and has been a dynamic that’s been part of pantheons and religions since humanity first managed to consolidate them within our civilizations.
The ancient Mesopotamians gave us multiplication and written laws, and also the oldest story in the world: The tale of Gilgamesh, a 4,000 year-old exploration of many things that define civilizations, including the nature of the bonds that tie best friends together, and the bitches who come between them. And within their ancient pantheon, everything else in the universe paled when compared to Anu, who lived within the distant constellation of Draco, distant and aloof, high in the northeastern night sky.
So although the vast preponderance of modern scientists would argue that the Mesopotamians originally emerged from Africa within the past 200,000 years or so along with all other modern humans, there’s an issue with the clock used in genetics bulwarking that argument that’s just as troublesome as dark gravity and the luminous bridge which are rattling around in cosmology’s clock.
But although there’s a genetic angle to the temporal conundrum underlying everything modern anthropologists want you to believe waiting to be explored, examining the history of human mythology and religion provides our first avenue: After all, if the ancient Mesopotamians originally emerged out of Africa, why is their most powerful god - the source of all life and power in the universe from which all else emerged - hanging out in the opposite direction, within the constellation Draco, high above the Tibetan Plateau?
Because in addition to once being home to Mesopotamia’s mightiest god, the Roof of the World is also still home to lots of sleepy little monkeys. And luckily for us, these sleepy monkeys tell us far more about who we are than chimpanzees, which Science currently points to as our closest cousins. Since when primates sleep - we dream. However it turns out that although humans and chimps may seem to share similar sleep patterns, when our dreams are compared some very obvious discrepancies emerge.
Discrepancies that aren’t shared by those sleepy little monkeys on the Roof of the World, still huddling together for warmth throughout the long, cold winters. Not only sharing body-heat, but also the natural sense of belonging and togetherness that develops during sleepover parties, or whenever humans are forced to slumber together, like military barracks or college dorms.
And oddly enough, sometimes even in prisons too. And like military units or teams of athletes sometimes demonstrate in the short-term with a miraculous mission or improbable championship season: When you get enough humans together all sharing the same dream and willing to work toward its reality, there’s very little we haven’t been able to figure out yet.
Humanity is arguably defined by our capacity to not just cooperate, but to work towards our intangible dreams of what we might achieve together. And although in the first months after birth both chimpanzee and human babies seem to drop into REM sleep and presumably dream in roughly equal proportions, humans quickly differentiate themselves, and compared to our furrier cousins end up sleeping for less time but much more deeply, with a significantly higher proportion of our sleeping being sent in REM dreamtime, but with less of our overall lives spent sleeping.
Sleep and dreams serve several vital physiological purposes, in a subtle sense REM sleep helps our retinas oxygenate and in a profound sense humans will die after a few days of complete sleep deprival - our brains simply shut down. And so perhaps there’s something to the fact that dreams are ubiquitous in human mythology, providing us with something we literally need to survive, as well as a time and a place to poke through the divine, win a few Nobel Prizes, and attempt to peer at whatever it is that’s on the other side - ready to listen to whatever the gods are willing to whisper.
So to understand how humanity developed this capacity in the first place, it makes sense to take a look at what kind of celestial worlds our very first dreams revealed to us, the first stories we found on the other side of Morpheus’s curtain.
Since our ancestors have been mildly bipedal for some seven-million years, we actually started to come down from the trees a long, long time ago. And yet in all this time, we’ve never lost our fascination with the intersection of heaven and earth, a concept captured by the ancient concept of an Axis Mundi, which in astronomy strictly means the axis of rotation for any celestial body.
However in more mythological circles, it’s spun-off several more far more symbological leitmotifs: the Cosmic Axis, World Pillar, and the World Tree. And so the connection between the heavens and the earth is one that’s become a fundamental part of how humans see the fantastical in the universe around us, and has been preserved as Christmas Trees and crucifixes alike.
But of course a Christmas Tree isn’t something that the Son of Man would’ve recognized at all at the time, or at least if he did he would’ve had to pretend not to, since they didn’t become linked to Christianity until many centuries after his death - as Christianity become a formalized bureaucratic religion instead of a spiritual movement after spreading to a region whose Pagan inhabitants wanted to hang-on to their native symbology.
And so the concept of a World Tree from some Eurasian mythologies, best known as Yggdrasil in Norse mythology, became co-opted into Christmas Trees, and subsequently commercialized along with pretty much everything else the Catholic Church touched that wasn’t a little boy. However in many regions of the world, really big trees are nowhere to be found at all.
So for much of Asia and the Middle East, the concept of the Axis Mundi, the sacred connection between Heaven and Earth which unites humanity with the mystic impossible, is embodied not by trees but by mountains. Within Chinese folk tradition there’s Mount Kunlun, which was eventually incorporated into Taoism as an Axis Mundi, as well as the sacred apocryphal source of China’s four great rivers. And as it so often does, etymology leaves us with some rather useful clues linking the concept of Mount Kunlun to the Roof of the World.
After all, Mount Kunlun was not named as one isolated soaring peak, but instead even at the simplest level its phonemes speak of “primal chaos” or “muddled confusion” as well as a sense of a hill or a mound, as opposed to one isolated majestic peak soaring alone up into the heavens, as the term “mount” implies in English. And so in its original tongue, Mount Kunlun translates as something like: “Chaotic Cavernous Grotto-Heavens,” with each cavernous grotto serving as roughly the Taoist equivalent of a church.
So although today the Tibetan Plateau doesn’t invoke the supremely sacred for most of us, keep in mind that prior to Yellowstone’s explosion 2.1mya and for millions of years before - it was a vast lush land, filled with burbling geothermal vents and wide temperate lakes. Even today, although due to the relative lack of flora and fauna the Roof of the World isn’t thought of a particularly active place, there’s an enormous amount going on underneath the surface:
“Statistics show that this region’s base temperature is greater than 150 °C, and 19 zones are found with surface thermal fluid above boiling point. Other geothermal active areas are basically unexploited. In middle Tibet, the geothermal active zones are still in natural forms without any exploitation.”
Oh and in case you were specifically wondering about the “grotto” part of the Tibetan Plateau, the idea that in addition to geothermal activity you’d need myriad caves to talk to your gods within, well:
“In the coastal regions of South China, where geofractures are widespread, there are NNE- and ENE-trending fold zones and closely associated active geofractures characterised by early intensely compressive fractures and distinctive late-stage tensile fractures. Along these zones there are numerous thermal springs. The Tancheng-Lujiang fracture zone, which cuts longitudinally across almost the whole eastern part of China, is an active fault system which cuts a zone of Mesozoic-Cenozoic magmatic activity and, probably, the entire thickness of the crust. Thermal springs are frequently exposed along this zone. At the Dontangchi thermal spring of Lujiang County in the southern sector of this zone, a borehole yields 5000 tonnes per day of water at a temperature of 63°C.”
This geothermic activity and the natural hot pots of boiling water and hot rocks just below the surface provide an alternative heat source for Wrangham’s human mastery of cooking to have used as our brains caught fire roughly 1.8mya and rapidly expanded in volume. Using geothermal heat would’ve been especially vital in the long winter that followed our scramble off the Roof of the World following Yellowstone’s explosion, when keeping fires lit during the cataclysmic extended winter would’ve been extraordinarily difficult and isn’t something that there’s any record humans could do until about 300,000ya - and yet over the eons these burbling and often underground sources of heats would’ve appeared eternal.
Since all primates appear to prefer cooked food over raw, it’s perfect reasonable to imagine that the Hamrcas started cooking within the Tibetan Plateau’s steamy springs and underground vents long before it became necessary for survival. Perhaps at first leftovers from large kills were buried for protection from scavengers, and when this happened near heat-sources, that happy accident birthed the human culinary adventure. But whether it was a preexisting practice that lent itself to instant adaptation, or a culture revolution that emerged as a response to that first Long Winter that began 2.1mya, given the reality that the detonation of the Yellowstone Caldera created several decades of bone-chattering darkness, it’s difficult to imagine that our ancestors weren’t sticking close to the abundant volcanic rifts and grottos that line the Roof of the World in the years they first scampered off of it, seeking warmth so they might survive.
And another dietary link ties us right back to the Roof of the World, as purine is the only nucleic acid precursor that humans have far lower concentrations of not only compared to our simian brethren but even Neanderthals, especially within our brains, where nervous system disorders also often appear if mutations disrupt its clearance. Which is exactly what you would expect if high-altitude was the unique evolutionary niche we’re adapted to, since living at altitude makes it much more difficult for humans to process purines, meaning life on the Tibetan Plateau would’ve selected for Hamrcas with far more efficient purine-processing than the brains they left down closer to sea-level.
Additionally, since the geothermal water from the Tibetan Plateau has plenty of radiation, and proximity to these type of vent can accelerate mutation - cooking with and around geothermal vents could easily have helped add to the accelerated rate of mutation that began around 1.8mya, which Wrangham currently attributes to cooking over flames. However access to cooked food alone was far from the only major adaptation that humanity needed to survive those cold early years of our exodus from our ancestral home, but that path will have to wait a bit until it can be walked together, since it’s dangerous to go alone.
And it’s no mistake that up in the top-left corner of that map you will in fact find the Kunlun Mountains, not necessarily our mystical ones, but bearing the name since it’s in the general region where those lost Chaotic Cavernous Grotto-Heavens were thought to exist: Directly under the pole-star, more a job-description than a name since intergalactic celestial procession of the equinoxes means the northernmost star is constantly changing. But the stars that pass along that moniker can almost always be found within Anu’s home, the constellation Draco, including the once-polestar Thuban.
Which, very fittingly but making Harry Potter cringe a bit, is Arabic for large legendary draconic serpent. And although today this star is an inconspicuous glimmer within Draco’s serpentine sprawl that never sets across the northern nights, so too does the Roof of the World today just seem like an empty wasteland - belying its welcoming lush and geothermically warmed nature so many millions of years ago, when we were first defining our humanity.
And so Thuban, found within the cerulean Draconic Serpent our ancestors watched slither across the twilight skies, was once the most important celestial marker in the night sky, and “served as the North Pole Star from the 4th to the 2nd millennium BCE.” Not just for Arabs, for all civilizations at the time of the Late Bronze Age Collapse - which began in roughly 1,300 BCE when the five great civilizations around the Mediterranean Sea all seemed to implode almost in unison. And for periods deep in the past due to the celestial 26,000 year-long axial precession, like an off-balance top’s wobbling spinner, that makes stars come in and out of focus as galaxies and other cosmic dust changes their relative strength in the night sky as perceived by our eyes over the eons.
So given that the constellation Draco never sets across the northern sky, circumnavigating the northern pole as season becomes season and eon becomes epoch, its nearly always held humanity’s northern polestars since it’s coiled so tightly around this celestial axis of the Zodiac around which the equinoxes appear to rotate, one of the Axis Mundis that humanity has always held in reverence.
After all, the story of humanity isn’t one of constancy - it’s one of change and cycles, the samsara and ouroboros. The later being, of course, a neverending cosmic snake swallowing its own tail. Definitely not trying to tell us anything, still slithering around in a circle up there in the night sky, probably rolling its eyes by now. Poor Draco, “Geth it together you guyth, thith tail tasteths awthul!”
However perhaps these astrological parallels and Mount Kunlun alone aren’t enough to convince you, and so radiating away from China we find Mount Kailash, which is a real mountain within the Tibetan Plateau and the actual source of several of Asia’s longest rivers, long revered in Hindu and other Indian traditions. And then back to the mystical, Buddhism has Mount Meru, or simply Sumeru, the sacred five-peaked mountain thought to be the “center of all the physical, metaphysical, and spiritual universes.”
Sumeru returns us to the idea of the Axis Mundi’s astrological meaning, as a literal axis of rotation around which all meaning spins, and also forms the blueprint for Buddhist, Jain, and Hindu temples as well as Chinese Pagodas - meant to be five-peaked dwellings housing the gods within the vast Cosmic Ocean. And Mount Meru itself is described in each of the Eastern religions as absolutely beyond massive - but mystically disappeared somehow, with four vast often bejeweled faces that once gazed-off into infinity.
Or as Hinduism captures it: “It is a pillar of the world and is located at the heart of six mountain ranges, symbolizing a lotus.” A massive Axis Mundi, that Fate somehow separated humanity from.
Well, Fate, or just the two million years of geothermal activity that’ve been raging across the Roof of the World since the Hamrcas left our ancestral home about two million years ago - the roiling lakes and vents pushing the land thousands of meters higher than it was when we left it, with this geothermal activity creating far too much heat and humidity to allow for much fossilization - serving to slowly wash away the evidence of our earliest days over the eons.
This steamy curtain has occluded much of this lost ancient history, since the same geothermal vents whose heat would’ve saved the Hamrcas after the Yellowstone Caldera blew and brought on a roughly 50 year winter, also would’ve caused far too much humidity to allow any fossils to form. Even in ancient African deserts with ideal circumstances for fossilization, hominid fossils make up under 1% of the animal fossils that’re found, making it fairly unrealistic to expect to easily find fossil evidence of our past presence in region dotted with the lakes and the intertwining rivers that gathered our ancestors around them. And even if fossils do form, over the course of hundreds of thousands of years, the underlying upwell of magma slowly roils all the history that once happened above it back down into the earth below.
This slow geological roil of magma becoming lava becoming dirt is imperceptible to our eyes, but the Roof of the World doesn’t get its additional roughly 2,000 meters of elevation over the last two-million years without the proportionate amount of new earth being created and relocated by the heat and pressure from below, roiling history down into its depths as one generation fades into the bones of the next.
And so after we left the Roof of the World as Hamrcas, the civilizations we’d initially form all around the Tibetan Plateau would all refer back to this ancient home, now high above the clouds. Also preserved later as Mount Olympus and the common Christian conception of a fluffy cotton-ball clouded Heaven, somewhere ephemeral but definitely Up Above.
The idea of sacred mountains made its way as far south as Australia, all the way down in the southern hemisphere far below Draco’s den in the northern sky. Because you can also find Draco down under, where he took a new name and now rests near where the massive sandstone mesa Uluru looms over the outback.
Uluru offers abundant springs to those who would come to its cliff-faces, and provides the Aboriginal people there with a source of reverence and protection - waxing and waning each sunrise and set from otherworldly red to brown and back. And just off to the west is the rock formation Kata Tjuta, where Draco crawled down from the sky and found his new home among its 36 large domed ripples - after all, who else could the Great Snake King Wanambi have once been?
Our gods often swap names, no different than we do as we move across cultural and linguistic barriers, and with the Aboriginal people having a much different language than anyone up in Asia, there’s no reason to imagine that Draco’s idea didn’t follow down the neverending chains of island southeast of Asia, following some of the Hamrcas down to Oz. And so Draco became the Great Snake King Wanambi, a distant cousin of the gods who gave birth to all humanity in Chinese folklore, Nüwa, the Chinese mother-goddess who was both sister and wife to Fuxi, the Emperor-God - both mythical beings with the faces of humans, but the bodies of snakes.
And so having left Nüwa and Fuxi back up by the Roof of the World, one of Draco’s variations slithered down from the stars and became the Great Snake King Wanambi and found Kata Tjuta, another mountainous home. Imperious of the humans below, Wanambi only comes down during the dry seasons, but is always ready to punish the wicked with his breath, the source of the cyclones he sends as his retribution for their evils.
All of this is known by the Aboriginal people who have revered Uluru and Kata Tjuta for longer than anyone can figure out, because it was once told to them during The Dreaming. This is their sense of Everywhen, a timeless ancestral dawn that isn’t tied to sleep exactly:
The concept of the Dreaming is inadequately explained by English terms, and difficult to explain in terms of non-Aboriginal cultures. It has been described as "an all-embracing concept that provides rules for living, a moral code, as well as rules for interacting with the natural environment ... [it] provides for a total, integrated way of life ... a lived daily reality". It embraces past, present and future. Another definition suggests that it represents "the relationship between people, plants, animals and the physical features of the land; the knowledge of how these relationships came to be, what they mean and how they need to be maintained in daily life and in ceremony."
But of course, in English this concept of the reality-bending timeless and impossible is universally captured by the mercurial concept of a dream, leading to the straight-forward etymological adaptation. And so along with their Great Snake King, this Dreamtime also gave the Aboriginal people the concept of the Rainbow Serpent, a mythical creature deep below the ground who like Nüwa and Fuxi, is often conveyed as having an indeterminate gender.
The Rainbow Serpent’s roiling coils churn beneath the Earth, forming the gullies and channels that bring and keep the rain, and at times he joins Wanambi to smite us with storms and lightning.
However like many other mercurial gods, when he’s not feeling ornery the Rainbow Serpent at times teaches us more about rebirth and healing and harnessing Nature, one of the countless instances that serpents are tied directly to these traditions - best preserved today by the medical Caduceus, and found again and again throughout our shared histories from the serpents that slithered across the floors of Roman healing temples, to the staff that began the Ten Plagues of Egypt.
Because although it appears still to our eyes, relative to the lifetimes of the gods, the entire Tibetan Plateau is one roiling mass of geothermic activity - just as the Rainbow Serpent created the ridges of the Kata Tjuta, so too have serpents always been seen as the archons of geologic activity.
Relative to our mortal lives the surface of the Earth doesn’t seem like it’s moving unless magma is actively flowing. But in the eyes of the gods, every geothermically active area is a roiling mass of shifting strata and pulsing pumice, as Gaia remakes the surface of the earth with Medusa’s wig over the course of many millennia - something that can take a literal form as untold thousands of snakes can emerge from the ground together in writhing balls of breeding following their hibernation.
Even before the cataclysm of 2.1mya which drove the Hamrcas from the Roof of the World and began the current Icehouse era, snakes would’ve been drawn to geothermal pools for their warmth and ready prey. And then especially in the intergenerational winter that followed the Yellowstone Caldera’s eruption - snakes would’ve become ubiquitous around these vital pools, their roiling masses seeming to blend into the warm muck around their edges, especially when that Long Winter forced them to find a replacement for the missing sun.
Serpents have a special hold on humanity because within the adversity that defined us a species, they were an inescapable neighbor at the volcanic geothermal pools whose heat sustained both of us - predictably but still almost magically appearing out of the warm muck as if birthed from the dirt itself. Their venom allowed them to carry Death’s kiss, while at the same time their molting seemed to make them immortal. And so they became symbols of both wisdom of healing, and of so much power that not only could they kill in an instant with their kiss, but when given enough time - they’re able to remake the very surface of the Earth itself.
The aboriginal Dreamtime gives us a direct etymological link between the idea that the veil between reality and the fantastical is frayed while we sleep, giving time for gods to whisper their stories into our ears, and it’s a concept that underlies every religious system that’s ever coalesced.
No matter where our ancestors are from, the idea that what happens while we sleep may exist somewhere beyond the realm of the possible, and even provide a direct line to the Lord, runs through every culture and civilization that’s ever existed. And so perhaps it’s more than a coincidence that REM sleep, when all primates dream, is so much deeper in humans than other apes - just as our societies themselves are more complex and layered, so too are our brains and the dreams required to nourish them.
And within the world of apes, there’s only one hairy group remaining who shares our dreams of the volcanic cataclysm that drove us from the Roof of the World. The only ones who’ve managed to survive the past two-million years since without really moving too much, demonstrating that something about their physiology uniquely equips them for surviving present-day conditions on the Tibetan Plateau, an echo of our ancient past.
Not only present day conditions, but since not only can Asia’s black snub-nosed monkeys inhabit higher elevation than any other non-human primate, but their close cousins, the far-more-photogenic golden snub-nosed monkeys can survive colder temperatures as well - meaning that no other extant primate gives us a better idea of what it would take to survive the dark 50 year winter that followed the explosion of the Yellowstone Caldera around 2.1mya, causing the Hamrcas to flee their paradise and begin the journey to becoming who we are today.
Both black and golden snub-nosed monkeys handle extreme cold the only way we primates know how, a behavior that all monkeys who deal with extreme cold display: After the coming cold causes them to fuse together into large peaceful bands of as many as 600 individuals, at night snub-nosed monkeys huddle together in sleeping clusters of as many as eight, all grouped together in a shifting mass of snuggles and warmth, each and every evening. Within these sleeping clusters all social hierarchy melts away, and no one questions the natural rotation of individuals from colder to warmer spots. And as you’d expect from monkeys managing this sort of crowded existence, snub-nosed monkeys living high up in the mountain cold are both highly social, and incredibly peaceful.
To survive underwater, as mammals pass through the Doorway to the Deep and adapt to life holding their breaths, their sleep patterns shift profoundly and become biphasic since they can only let one half of their brains fully rest, keeping one side awake to monitor oxygen levels and their blowholes. In the same way, as modern humans begin to approach the ancestral height of the Roof of the World, the roughly 1,800 meters or so the Tibetan Plateau was when we left it as Hamrcas, less available oxygen means we begin to have trouble keeping track of when and how much to breath at night - suffering sleep apnea as a consequence of sleeping at elevation, and our neurological expectations being thrown off.
So although it’s not as extreme as dealing with the complete lack of oxygen found underwater, the decreasing concentration of oxygen that the early hominids who first walked onto what would become the Roof of the World many millions of years ago would’ve dealt with as the Tibetan Plateau was slowly pushed upwards by the geothermal activity beneath, also would’ve taxed our neurological metabolisms - especially during cold winter nights when monitoring thermoregulation and metabolism becomes the most delicate.
During cold winter nights at elevation there’s no energy nor oxygen to waste, and so the Hamrcas’ brain metabolism began to change as they slept, opening the Door to the Deep in our dreams millions of years ago. And in the process of passing through, and learning how to dream while areas of our brains monitored oxygen levels and other metabolic processes, not only was there a concomitant increase in intelligence just as there is for all our underwater mammalian brethren - but the thing about the Door to the Deep is, once we open it in our dreams, it never quite closes back all the way shut even after we wake.
Once you’ve walked about a bit in the Everywhen, part of you stays there. Because as mystics and sages have been trying to explain to us for millennia everywhere from our most ancient pages to the silver screen: All we need to do is wake up.
Uni-hemispheric sleep in humans has already been witnessed when we’re acclimating to a new sleeping situation, and not only is the underlying wiring there, but it turns out ancient teachers were speaking much more literally than we realized when they implored their followers to awaken from the slumber of this material world. Since when you really look at the underlying neurobiology of human consciousness, it turns out that “waking-up” has at least one more meaning than you realize.
Because not only have dreams given humanity many of our most revolutionary ideas and a home for our gods, they’ve also been hinting at a truth that most of us probably aren’t quite ready for yet. It’s something we all suspect from time to time, but then push to the back of our minds.
But what if that feeling isn’t just a hunch, and holding on tight and following it leads us to the only message we’ve ever needed - one that’s been right there in front of us all this time. Waiting for us to decide to let go of the nightmares and hatreds of our collective past, open up our eyes, and see that True Love has been right there all this time, waiting to protect us from the ice-cold darkness?