I've got crabs...

on my mind.

Specifically, horseshoe crabs. I spent my summers at the beach when I was young. One of the things we kids would do would be to catch horseshoe crabs as they passed by in the shallow water. We would grab them by their spiny tails, stare for a minute at the writhing mass of legs and claws beneath their shells, and then whirl them around and toss them back in the water.

Only much later did it occur to me to imagine this activity from the crab's point of view. Let us suppose the crabs to be mildly reflective creatures. They have formed an image of the cosmos. The sea they call the Great Mother, who encompasses all that there is, and the other inhabitants of the sea take on different roles in a cosmic myth. This mythology endured for millions of years.

But suddenly, certain individuals have an experience of a beyond, something past the Great Mother. When they return to the sea, they try to express this experience of a beyond to those who remained behind. But it is not at all a simple task: it was confusing, there was stunningly bright light, great and powerful beings, a swirl of colors, dizzying motion, great dryness. How to describe it all?

It turns out that different crabs use different words to convey their experience. This is going to be confusing to those who have never left the sea. If they are at least good empiricists, they should be able to settle on this much at a minimum: to some of those who venture near the edge, something profound occurs, they catch a glimpse of... well, something, and this experience leaves them changed.

But this thought is disturbing: if I have never left the sea, have I missed something? I am comfortable here: I want to ignore whatever might disturb the cozy world I am living in. And thus I might ignore the many great similarities reported by those who return to the sea from beyond it, and instead fixate on the differences in the details of what they report. And if I want to appear clever and superior, I can turn this fixation on the details into what might pass in some circles for an "intellectual critique" of the whole idea that there is a beyond: "Oh, so you believe in a 'beyond,' do you? But whose beyond? Buddha-crab's beyond? Plato-crab's beyond? Lao-Tse-crab's beyond? Moses-crab's beyond? I'll tell you what: you disbelieve in all beyonds except one. I've just gone you one better, and tossed out the childish belief in that last beyond as well."

And if I find a group of like-minded crabs, and we continually congratulate each other for how smart we are to ignore these ludicrous reports of the beyond, perhaps we will be able to convince ourselves that nothing at all really occurs out there at the edge.


  1. Your analogy reminds me of this piece by Raymond Smullyan, which analogizes the mystical sense with the sense of humor:

  2. Excellent!

    Some of them must come on shore to mate for the spiritual experience.

    1. Well, mating *ought* to be a spiritual experience!

      But of course, the whole post is just a metaphor, and it never does to push metaphors too far.