Though I would realize later that it have already presented itself to me several times in less obvious ways, the first time I gave it a name was in one night this June. A friend of mine and I went on the roof of a college dormitory where we were staying for a training camp, in search of a place to talk without disturbing other people in the building. We were very good friends with similar interests in science, computers, linguistics, and philosophy in general, and we did have a lot to talk about. Sometimes we discussed various matters at length; sometimes we simply listened to music on the radio and gazed at the stars in the sky.
The stars were more than a beautiful background. It represented a surrounding in which our daily, mundane lives and down-to-earth necessities were no longer important—instead, offbeat, speculative, and even random concepts and ideas emerged and mingled. The process resembled daydreaming but was more productive, because many ideas that I and my friend discussed were practical and became embodied in projects that we later took on. It might be interesting to note that although the our native language was Chinese, we felt more comfortable using English and conducted most of our conversation in it. Perhaps it is because both the thoughts that we entertained and the very act of entertaining those thoughts on the roof of a building at midnight are closer to the English culture.
We went back to our rooms to sleep at about four o’clock. Enchanted by the free intellectual context, we returned to that roof several times in the next few weeks, as the training camp went on. The entire experience made me even more fond of stargazing—since then, whenever I participate in a camp or other activity away from home (and thus did not have to worry about my parents telling me to go to bed early), I would pick a night to go out and dissolve myself in the Midnight Ambience, sometimes in company and sometimes alone. It was glorious in a very humble way.
Later this year, while I was coming home late in the evening from a packed day at school, it dawned on me that what I have been calling the Midnight Ambience is not an ambience that pertains exclusively to midnight. Rather, it is an internal state of mind—a combination of zeal, perseverance, and most importantly, enthusiasm. It is a quality that, if constantly observed in a person, would probably label him or her as a nerd. Indeed, the eccentric freedom of midnight wanderings and meanderings very much reflects the nerdiness which, I think, lies deep in the heart of every human being as the impetus of advancement.
Another quality symbolized by the Midnight Ambience is detachment, or “jumping” out of the usual way of looking at things. We no longer have to be synchronous with the rest of the world when isolated on a bare roof; we have the privilege to pace our minds as fast as the vibrating atoms down under or as slow as the gliding stars up above. That is a privilege enjoyed by few in the bustling modern society. The structure of the world at several levels can only be felt in its entirety by looking at it from several perspectives, both inside and outside the human point of view.
I believe that evolving dynamicism is the essence of the harmonious beauty in the Universe. What I chose to call Midnight Ambience might not have anything to do with midnight, but merely chose to present itself to me in that form. Other people probably have invented different names for it, but in any case it ought to be recognized at once and cherished forever. As the author Robert Pirsig put it, “What is good, Phaedrus, and what is not good—need we ask anyone to tell us those things?”