Write it down, they said, otherwise no-one will believe you. So I wrote it down. But they still didn’t believe me. That was, until so many of them landed that they couldn’t be denied…
‘And so, to the person travelling on the train, it appears as if the person on the platform is travelling backwards…’
Mrs. MacMaster was in full swing, facing out the window as the class struggled to keep up with the brain-numbing reality of Einstein’s discoveries. Her hands were shoved deep in the pockets of her loose trousers, her voice a deep monotone. And yet the class was as attentive as usual, listening for the possibility of a contradiction. Would she, could she, contradict one of the most famous scientific figures of all time?
‘Of course, Einstein never considered his work complete,’ she went on. ‘He understood that science is not finite and yet he, and many others, held out hope of discovering a universal theory of everything – one that would explain in an elegant simplicity how everything works. Some call this theory God and are satisfied with that as an explanation. The rest of us look for proof. Who knows which of us is right.’
‘Both,’ Isaac heard a voice whisper. He looked around. The seat beside him was empty, with Emily being off school sick, and no-one else near by showed any sign of having spoken. It seemed like a logical answer though, so he decided to risk offering it.
‘Miss, it could be both, couldn’t it?’
‘Yes, Isaac, it could. That’s very insightful of you. Would you like to explain how?’
Bummer. He hadn’t thought that he might need to elaborate. But The Voice was still with him, whispering, ‘it depends on how you see God.’
‘It depends on how we see God,’ Isaac repeated out loud.
‘Interesting… Yes, I suppose it’s possible that those who ascribe the functioning of the universe to God might discover they need to re-assess what they mean by God.’ Luckily the science teacher had picked up the thread of logic and followed it by herself.
‘No, it’s the scientists who need to rethink their notion of God,’ Isaac heard The Voice whisper.
‘I can’t say that,’ he muttered under his breath.
‘What was that, Isaac?’ The teacher, alert now to the possibility of an interesting interlude, had noticed his mouth moving.
‘Nothing, Miss. I was just wondering if… maybe it’s the scientists who need to rethink their definition of God?’ It came out a little clumsily but Isaac was unwilling to offer it with the same amount of certainty with which he’d heard it.
‘Well, I have to say that’s possible too. Most of us scientists don’t spend much time thinking about God. We’re too busy in the realm of logic to be engaged with the mystical.’ Mrs. MacMaster looked amused.
‘The mystics understand God,’ The Voice continued with its unique perspective.
‘I don’t even know what a mystic is,’ Isaac hissed under his breath, making sure he didn’t move his lips this time. ‘How can I say something I don’t understand? You sure pick your time to talk to me!’
With Isaac offering no further stimulation, the teacher returned to the exercises and examples of The Theory of Relativity as laid out in the text book. But The Voice didn’t stop. It had found a quiet time in the young man’s mind and was taking full advantage of it.
‘Mystics are those who have a direct experience of what you call God. They understand personally what God is, not because someone has told them but because they have felt it. When you experience something yourself, you believe it in a way you never can when it’s just something someone else has told you.’
‘And what does that have to do with Einstein?’ For some reason, Isaac found himself wanting to argue with The Voice again. There was something about its gentle certainty that made him want to disagree with it if he possibly could.
‘A lot,’ The Voice answered with that same unwavering certainty. ‘He was looking for a way of explaining how the universe works. And he knew, like all great scientists know, that there are things which cannot be explained by science, that science is naturally limited by the limits of the human body.’
‘Like trying to explain you?’ Isaac asked, more by way of a statement than a question.
There was an amused silence. An amused silence? How can a silence be described as amused? He didn’t know but that was certainly how it felt. He couldn’t see it and right now he couldn’t hear it either, yet somehow he knew The Voice was smiling.
‘This invisibility thing is starting to freak me out,’ he whispered.
‘Would you prefer it if we materialised in the seat next to you? Perhaps as the wisps you saw at the fort? Or maybe as one of those skinny large-headed aliens you’re more familiar with?’
‘Jeez, no don’t!’ For an instant, Isaac forgot to keep his voice to a whisper and his alarmed voice rang out across the class, cutting straight through Mrs. MacMaster’s monotonous flow. Everyone turned to look at him.
‘Isaac?’ The teacher, startled by the abrupt command not to do something, was seeking an explanation. ‘Do you disagree that strongly?’
The boy blushed a deep red. He had no idea what she had been talking about.
‘Sorry, Miss. I think I was daydreaming.’
The class erupted into laughter.
‘Must have been some dream, Isaac,’ cackled Seán. ‘Wanna share?’
‘Yes, perhaps you’d like to share, Isaac. It was obviously much more interesting than Einstein.’ It wasn’t like Mrs. MacMaster to feel annoyed at lack of attention but having offered an interesting perspective earlier, the teacher was a little irritated that Isaac had now decided it wasn’t worth listening to her class.
Isaac squirmed. ‘Please, Miss, I’d rather not.’
How on earth could he explain what had been going on.
‘Tell her about the mystics,’ The Voice prompted and, in the desperation of a fly caught in a web, Isaac did just that.
‘I was thinking about mystics, Miss,’ he offered in a quiet voice, half-hoping nobody else except her would hear what he had to say.
The class erupted into even more laughter. Not that any of them knew what a mystic was either.
‘Interesting train of thought, Isaac,’ the teacher said, her tone softening again. ‘What about them?’
‘Erm… don’t they look to experience things themselves rather than be taught?’ He knew it wasn’t exactly what The Voice was saying but he couldn’t remember the exact words.
‘Ah, I see where you’re going. Yes, mystics are different to scientists in that they rely on their own personal experience rather than collecting evidence to support a hypothesis.’
Hypo… what? Isaac wasn’t sure what she meant exactly. The voice, though, wasn’t finished.
‘Most people work that way, although evidence might suggest the opposite,’ it whispered. ‘I mean, does the relativity of time mean anything to most of you?’
Isaac shrugged. They had a point.
‘Go on…’ The Voice prompted.
‘But, Miss, most people don’t understand the theory of relativity because they don’t really experience it. Most people only believe what they experience themselves so it doesn’t matter what any scientist can prove really, does it?’
He knew he was probably over-simplifying what The Voice had said but he just wanted the whole thing to end, and quickly.
For the first time, the class saw Mrs. MacMaster laugh. It started as a chuckle, which they initially mistook to be a cough, then the chuckle grew until she was holding her sides and laughing so much she could barely get a word out.
‘Isaac…’ she eventually got his name out, wiping tears from her eyes. ‘Who would have thought! I had no idea you were that interested in science and all the time you’ve been mulling over the workings of the universe!’
The students looked at each other and at the now very-confused Isaac. What had he said to make her laugh? Was she laughing at what he’d said or at him? And why was she so impressed? It was hard to tell.
‘In all my years of teaching, I have never had a student give it to me quite so directly. Much as I might wish it to be otherwise, you are probably correct. There is a huge divide between what ordinary people believe and what scientists think they have proven as fact. And history shows that both are usually wrong and also right – neither the scientists nor the non-scientists have the monopoly on truth.
‘Now, we have five minutes left, after all that! Please take down the following homework.’
With that, the conversation was closed and the teacher turned to write on the blackboard. But out of the corner of his eye, Isaac could see Fiona Clarke eyeing him with what looked like distaste.