Look up. If you could see past the ceiling and the clouds, above the blue sky and the light pollution, beyond the orbit of the moon and into the highest heavens, you would see the zenith, the point of the celestial sphere directly above you.
Of course it doesn't exist, not really. Whatever shape this universe is, it's not a sphere centered on the Earth, and if you choose to talk of points on its boundaries, you risk a philosophical and cosmological confusion that you would not wish on your enemies. Were you to erect a Foucalt pendulum where you are now, and follow its fixed and absolute axis as far up as it is possible, well after "up" ceases to have any meaning, you would end up … well, who knows? My astronomy is weak, and I couldn't tell you whether you'd end up in Andromeda or Arcadia or Australia. For all I know, you might even end up where you started.
We went to see Murrray Perahia perform with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields the other day. At one point he conducted them through a Haydn symphony. I have to confess my mind wandered a bit from the music as I watched him command the orchestra grand gestures of his hands. I caught the fancy that he was playing them rather than conducting them, and that instead of individual performers exercising their own talent and artistry, they were instead parts of one large, mechanical instrument.
We can't build such things, of course, but it's conceivable one day that we could. Robots that play the violins and cellos and clarinets with more precision and finesse than any human could. Robots that exactly play the score and never deviate from it. Robots that play perfectly.
Of course, no one would want to listen to such a monstrosity, and such a strange and narrow perfection is as nonsensical as the medieval's "zenith". Perfection cannot be a single, static on the vault of the heavens. It must be something living and active, a moving, changing, interconnected nexus. Despite how much one strives or what path one takes, it cannot be reached as though it were the summit of some holy mountain, as though the pinnacle were that obvious. It remains elusive and unapproachable and ill-defined, like the zenith of the true universe.
And yet, it can't hurt to look up every now and then.
This post is part of the Alphabet Supremacy, a collaboration with Bice Dibley. There is no word for next week.