Snowflakes on Titan

It’s been a while since I’ve read it, but a book like The Library of Babel sticks with you, so I’m going to write about it now.

Once upon a time I read a book called The Library of Babel by Jorge Luis Borges (holy shit, really? Here I’ve been lying to this guy at work thinking I’ve never read any Borges. Well, there you have it.) and it was one of the most comforting things I’ve ever read. In it, a hypothetical library is proposed, that has billions upon billions of rooms, and in each room are walls completely full of books that contain every possible thing that could possibly be written with our 26 letter alphabet. All combinations are included, whether they be words or not. And this Library goes on forever. There’s a room in which the only letter used is “A.” A room that does not have a single word the belongs to any language, and a room that contains every book that I have in my own library. This last room even has Richard Sala shelved next to Scary Go Round. And as Borges (I’m still reeling that I’ve read one of his books!) presented his concept, he worked his way through all the possible and impossible combinations of books in this infinite library of babel, he reached the conclusion that eventually they would begin to repeat.

This made me smile as I was reading it. The idea that, given a set number of symbols to work with, and infinite time, there is nothing that will be truly unique. As a kid it’s nice to hear you are special. It’s that snowflake thing; no two are alike. But then somewhere around middle school it gets weird. Like… “I don’t wanna be alone” kinda weird. I had a doppelganger living in Tacoma around 2007. She drove a tan and sage green super beetle, and occasionally I’d go in somewhere after seeing the beetle pull out of the parking lot and people would ask “weren’t you just here?”

I never saw her face to face, thank goodness. That’s how you die. Meeting your doppelganger face to face. She sold that super beetle and she’s not been around town, so she must have decided that it’s not our time to die. Perhaps we’ll meet someday long from now after we’ve both lived wonderful lives and then blink out of existence.

Anyway, I enjoyed knowing there was another girl who looked like me. And beyond that, there are people out there with brains close enough in approximation to mine, that I do not have to write to a market. If I write what I want to read, those people who’s libraries are like mine- maybe they’ve shelved Scary Go Round up in the A’s for John Allison, but they’re still on the same shelves as Sala- will want to read it, too.

Which brings up the problems with snowflakes. I get contrary at work sometimes, and I was looking at the back of a picture book with a snowflake, and under it a caption: “no two are alike.” And of course, I decided “No, I have to disprove this.”

There’s snow on Titan. The largest of Saturn’s moons, where the sirens live. Titan is a long way from the sun, and it’s so cold there that the snow doesn’t have time to develop slowly like it does here, growing little crystals. It’s just shot out of ice springs into the thin atmosphere and covers the whole planet like talcum powder. These snowflakes are small. They don’t have time to grow out in strange fractals, and with a limited amount of possible crystalline building blocks (seriously, the molecules themselves can only build a certain number of ways), and a moon that is entirely covered in snow, there has got to be a few repeats. The snow on Titan is not special. Isn’t that awesome?!

Thank you, Borges. You taught me that everything is special, and nothing is, and everything is again.

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