It is said that group of renowned sages were once convened by the Emperor in order to resolve the age old question of what kind of thing the world was, and what business men had being in it. The Emperor promised the wise men whatever resources they required while engaged with the task, but asked that they did their utmost to resolve the question quickly, as he was an old man, and wanted the answer to be known in his lifetime. The sages set about the Emperor’s task with the utmost rigour, but found themselves beset with profound difficulty from the outset. They first tried to use reason to resolve the question, assuming as men of their generation did that reason was the most natural instrument to apply to any such intellectual endeavour. They quickly discovered, however, that knowledge arises out of a conflict between intuition and reason, intuition having the function of producing premises, and reason the function of questioning the premises arising out of intuition. Intuition, they found, was a powerful thing, but it was as fallible as such red-hot passions as are engendered by the candle-light and the warmth of the third wine glass, and yet might vanish in the light of the new day as swiftly as those places visited in dreams, that never were before, and never will be again. Reason, on the other hand, was like the wily companion who warns you of the distempering effects of candle-light and wine; he may be right, even to the majority of instances, but how many fine passions were lost through his wise but bloodless council; how many nights under the stars, lost forever like those places in dreams that never were, and never will be again?
And thus it was that those sages resolved nothing, and the Emperor died, like all Emperors before him, without knowing what kind of thing the world was, and what business men had being in it. The new Emperor was a young man, at the outset of his journey through the days that march at first so slowly, and then so rapidly, that it would seem in either instance as though they didn’t march at all. He thought that surely in his lifetime the sages might resolve the question, and so he continued to offer them whatever resources they required. But the sages were old men, and they had become disillusioned. In their youth, they had put their faith in reason; but in the course of the passing days they had found that reason was an instrument that was designed to question things, but not resolve them; and, as such, reason would question all its own conclusions, until a man was certain of nothing but his own ignorance, and not even certain of that, so had endless reasoning and questions unsettled the certainty once offered by his intuitions. So the sages took the Emperors gold, and fed themselves handsomely on it, and lead lives of such comfort and luxury as it afforded them. And the sages elaborated a doctrine, whereby they said that the world was just such a thing that happened to a person, during the time that he was alive, as a sprained ankle was such a thing which might afflict an athlete who had chosen to run in the games; and since the prudent course to the runner who had inadvertently sprained his ankle was to seek what comforts the physician might offer him, so the person who had encountered the world by being born into it was best counselled to feed himself handsomely, and lead a life of such comfort and luxury as the world afforded him.
The Emperor quickly tired of that dissolute party of sages, and had them expelled from their lavish apartments and citadels of learning. He then assembled the wisest young men in the Empire, and offered them the same terms, if they might resolve the question in his lifetime. This younger generation had turned their backs on reason, and sought again the certainties offered by intuition. They had elaborated a doctrine which held that since the greatest insights arise spontaneously and without conscious striving, then it must be that the surest path to knowledge was through a deliberate inducement of that part of the brain, hidden from ordinary wakeful consciousness, which causes the sudden flash of intuition, and facilitates the putting together of puzzle pieces that the conscious mind gathers in random heaps about itself. Some say that they derived this doctrine from the Mystery Cults that practise their initiatory rites in the hot desert lands in the East, where the Ibis and Jackal headed gods are worshiped; others say that the doctrine was whispered to them by the phantasms of their dreams, since it is sometimes said that the phantasms of dreams would have the men that dreamt them sleep forever, so that their substance would never flitter away, and go the way of all such phantasms that never were, and never would be again. However it may be, the second generation of sages sought to contemplate the question of the world consciously for a period of several years, after which they would induce in themselves the most profound slumber ever that the human body might experience; and in that profound slumber, or such was their hope, they would be visited by an oracular dream which would answer the question posed by their conscious minds. And the Emperor was satisfied by this course of action, both in terms of its apparent sincerity, and to the extent that its asceticism made less demands on his gold.
Hence, the second generation of sages went to a temple in a secluded part of the Empire, and set about their work. For ten years, they consciously contemplated the world in all its myriad detail, and some say that they created a whole map of the world and the heavens in their minds, and went hither and tither about it, probing and inquiring into all that they saw. This strenuous work they undertook for ten long years, and then they set about inducing their slumber. To do this, the second generation of sages had studied all the techniques of the meditative priests who came from the mystic continent in the East, were people were baptised in the waters of the same river to which their cindered remains would later be scattered; they had learned the secret arts of postmortem preservation practised by the priests in the lands of the Ibis and Jackal-headed gods, by which the kings of those lands sought to remain in the body forever; and they had studied the physiologies of all earthly beasts known to hibernate for long periods. And by all this accumulation of lore, the sages went indeed into a slumber so profound that they might have been dead men, and any creature that went into the temple of the sages, be it mouse, beetle, or bandit, fell also into that profound slumber, wherein they neither stirred nor aged; and any plant that was growing in the temple of the sages ceased to grow, and neither grew nor wilted all the time that the sages slumbered. And the Emperor knew where the temple of the sages was located; and he know the precise manner of their waking; and it was agreed that he would present himself at the temple after another ten years had passed, to wake the sages, and find out the answer their dream had given to the question of the world.
This was the plan; but alas things did not pass in the Empire and the world as they did in the temple of the sleeping sages. The Emperor grew out of the days that marched so slowly that it was as though they didn’t march at all, and he and the Empire passed into days which clattered down on the world like the hooves of great steeds over such villages as are painted on porcelain plates and teacups. And everything shattered under the pressure of those days; the Empire was invaded by a horde of barbarian chieftains that came from the deserts and the pirate routes of the ocean; and the Emperor himself was killed, and passed away, like every Emperor before him, without knowing what kind of thing the world was, was what business men had being in it. And all the while the sages slept, all the wisdom that the Empire had accumulated was lost, and its riches were plundered, and its temples and palaces razed, and there came a day when the Empire was but a memory in a land of savage and dispersed tribes. But there still lived a wizened old man who had been a page to the Emperor when he was a boy, and he remembered eavesdropping on the day the sages told the Emperor where their temple was located, and the precise manner of their waking; and this old man, being infinitely saddened by the passing away of the Empire, resolved that he would travel to the temple, and find out what answer the sages’ dream had given to the question of the world.
And that old man found the temple, and woke the sages, and this is what they told him:
Standing above this world is another one, which is infinitely greater and more complex than our own. In this higher world, objects do not extend in space merely by virtue of length, width, and height, but rather each of these spatial extensions possesses an extra-dimension undreamed of by our geometers: length extends inwards on itself, like a network of fluid, infinitely multiplying lattices that look inward on their outward openings; width extends outwards from its circumference in minute re-iterations of itself that spin infinitely fast, and move, as it were, like a tide, outwards and back to itself; height bifurcates itself in rivulets like flowing waterfalls that tumble down across itself. And these objects are always stationary, but to our eyes they are constantly rotating and morphing, and to look at them is like to falling into them. And time does not merely travel in a straight line, but rather moves forward, backward, and sideways; and backward along its forward, and sideways along the backward of its forward, and so on, so that it is like a labyrinth of infinitely many paths, heroes, beasts, and unfurling threads to guide the way back to the beginning of the quest.
And the beings that live in this world are like to humans in shape, but being extended across so many dimensions of time, it is as though an infinity of arms and legs extend behind them, dancing. And their faces are immobile, profound, and terrifying, like to our statues, and their skin is crystalline, reflecting as a prism the colours of the objects that seem to rotate and morph about them; but after long intervals their skin flashes a deep blue that casts its luminescence through all the spinning world about them, and this seems to be their native colour.
And it happened that once in the Higher World, a group of renowned sages were convened to resolve some difficult problem which had eluded even the minds of these god-like people; and these Higher World sages, knowing the sleeping mind to be infinitely wiser than the wakeful one, resolved to seat themselves in the Higher World, and go first into a trance, and then into a profound slumber, wherein they might be visited by an oracular dream; and hence they seated themselves, and their bodies became utterly immobile, even while their trailing arms and legs continued their endless dance across the forking Pathways of Time, and their skin lost its luminescence, but a flash of that blue, their native colour, continued to pulse faintly like a heartbeat, and that blue light went back along their trailing limbs across the forking Pathways of Time; and in such fashion, the Sages of the Higher World fell into a deep slumber.
And the dream that those Sages are dreaming is all our world, and everything that can be found or thought within it; and just as we, in our dreaming, forget many things, and create little worlds that are like to jumbled fragments of the one without, so our world is composed of partial memories of the Higher World, and hence our space has but three dimensions, and the Pathways of Time are shrivelled down to an arrow loosened from a bow, flying ever towards the western horizon; and just as we, in our dreaming, think not on our yesterdays, but rather become lifelong natives to whichever world we find ourselves, so the Sages have passed through our world, forgetting altogether the Higher World and the problem they sought to resolve, and they have been all things in our world as it grew, from the tiniest on earth to the largest in heaven; they have been the fire of the distant star and the sands of the desert it parches, and they have been the beasts in the air and the water and the land; and they have been incarnations of men as long as men have existed; and some of us living today are dream avatars of the Sages who sleep in the World Above, and who have travelled through all things from the beginning of this world, unconsciously articulating the question that would be answered at its ending; and when the Sages start to awake they will do so slowly, and parts of the Higher World will increasingly be seen in this one, and this will continue for long, strange eons, until the last one finally rouses from his slumber; and then all our world will be gone forever, and all that we knew will be only a strange, ineffable memory in the minds of the awakening Sages, fleeing their wakefulness, as all dreams must.
The tale does not record whether the sages were satisfied by the answer their dream had given them to the question of the world, or whether the wizened old man who had served the Emperor in his boyhood derived any comfort from it. It is an old tale, and I know not if it were a true record of events, or some yarn such as those that were fashioned to illustrate a moral or maxim, and have common folk profit by it, who were fond of such tales.