I’m ill and have been in bed all day, something unusual for me. Last night in my feverish, highly coloured dreams my illness linked me to humans colonising the universe. Let me explain.
My illness is gastroenteritis, and I felt sick as we travelled home from Glasgow. When I got off the plane I was sure that I was going to vomit, but I didn’t. We took the tube to South Kensington, and as we pulled into Acton Town I was sick. I wasn’t very sick and managed to get most of it into a sick bag I’d brought from the plane. We got off at Acton Town, and I sat on a bench cold but sweating and wished I was home. Eventually I was, and I was in bed by 9.30 under two downies. Only by lying face up with my head raised on pillows could I stop myself feeling sick. If I moved my head to right or left I felt sick. I thought that I’d have to stay in the one position all night.
This being very restricted was, I think now, the origin of my dream. I couldn’t move freely. I was confined just as small colonies are confined, perched on the edge of a hostile land. Actually this probably wasn’t just a dream: rather, it was mixed with waking, although not at all clear, thoughts.
I dreamt/thought first of Neolithic people, moving in small bands of around 150 people to new sites–and so spreading themselves across the globe, destroying the natural fauna as they went. But I thought most of the ancient peoples of the Mediterranean creating outposts of their empires, beginning from around 3000 BC. I dreamt/ thought of these because I’m reading The Great Sea: a Human History of the Mediterranean, which begins in the earliest times. Dozens of empires came and went, flourishing as they spread across the Mediterranean to colonies in Spain, France, Sardinia, Sicily, North Africa, Egypt, the Levant, Greece, and Byzantium.
These impressions led me to the modern day and the conviction that we are close to the destruction of our planet. To survive humans will have to move on as those ancient people did in the Mediterranean. I thought of a Universe “infected with life,” a phrase I heard the other day on the radio. It’s impossible for me to believe that we are the only living things in a universe of billions of stars and planets. We, like the ancient people of the Mediterranean, are one of many peoples and to survive we must colonise other planets. Perhaps like those ancient people we will trade with, intermingle with, and marry those other forms of life.
In my confused dream I thought that we already had such colonies, or at least one on Mars. Just as I was constricted in my sick bed so this tiny colony clung to a small part of Mars, preparing to travel further. That this was mostly dream was illustrated by my conviction that the colony was run by Lys Doucet, a BBC war reporter. But I was worried by the logistics. How long does it take to travel to Mars? At least a year I thought, making a note to look it up. (Actually NASA says it will take six months.) But I thought about more hospitable planets, the universe’s equivalent of Sicily, and worried how we would get there. Andromeda is 2.5 million light year away. We’d have to be put into some kind of suspension, or perhaps it wouldn’t be us that arrived, but our great great great grandchildren.
This was all too much. During the night I found that I could turn into my side, as I usually sleep, and felt better. I slept for 12 hours instead of eight, but when I eventually woke I was filled enough with my thoughts of colonising the universe that I wanted to record them.