Dav*d Hargrave was looking up at the sky in his backyard one day when he received a sign from the universe.
For two decades he had been building a framework of existence and consciousness, which he dubbed the OptiMystical Universe. That day in his backyard, he wanted cosmic affirmation that he was on the right track.
"I looked up into the universe and said, 'Listen, I need to know this now. Is this just a bunch of fluffy ideas that are making me high, like smoking pot? That's not what I want. I want to know, is this stuff really important? Is it real?" recalled Hargrave, who spells his first name with an invisible "I" in acknowledgement that "90 percent of us is invisible," including our emotions, intellect, and imagination.
As if on command, a thin, grey cloud floated over Hargrave. "Embossed in an ultraviolet color was the symbol for pi with an eye in it," he told me. The cloud seemed alive, said Hargrave, and gave off musical vibrations "like liquid stringed instruments being played by fingers of wind."
Depictions of Hargrave's pi appear on his website, consciousness.com, alongside many teachings about his OptiMystical Universe.
Hargrave believes the universe consists of seven tiers of centrifugal fields, each of which is coupled with a state of consciousness. Every tier, which Hargrave refers to as an "azium" (a word he made up), also corresponds with a note on the musical scale (do, re, mi and so forth).
The aziums form a trellis, up which one's consciousness can climb like a vine until reaching its final level, or hitting the next octave. Hargrave calls this ultimate destination the "Divine Everpresence."
The website also features a gallery of cloud photographs by Hargrave, who claims to have cloud vision. Sometimes he sees manifestations of his own thoughts and emotions in the sky, sometimes he sees symbols, like pi, and other times he sees separate life forms, like ghosts or genies.
"I call myself a kindergarten clairvoyant. I see levels of energy and things in the clouds," he told me.
Consciousness.com had a modest, somewhat accidental beginning. In the late 1990s Hargrave had an enterprising friend named Mike who wanted to hop on the dot-com boom. One day Mike towed Hargrave to an internet café in downtown Seattle to register a bunch of domain names.
"OK listen Michael... I can't spell consciousness. Can you really spell this word?"
Knowing about Hargrave's existential leanings, Mike inquired about consciousness.com, and discovered the name was available.
"Mike ran over to me and he said, 'David, David, "consciousness" is still available!'" remembered Hargrave. "And I said, 'OK listen Michael... I can't spell consciousness. Can you really spell this word?'"
The two confirmed that Mike got his spelling right, and with that, consciousness.com stumbled into existence.
Today consciousness.com sits in its corner of the internet relatively untouched by the rest of the rapidly evolving web. Hargrave has not really changed its basic content or format since he started working on the website in earnest in 2007, mostly just adding new ideas or cloud images as they come to him.
Consciousness.com doesn't get much traffic. The hit counter read just over 256,500 when I first visited the website in early March. "I get 12 or 15 views a week, if that," Hargrave told me. He suspects many people just don't think to search for consciousness.com.
Only a handful of people have contacted Hargrave through his website, mostly to share that they also see cloud visions.
A few winters ago a company from Ireland inquired about buying the domain name to create a site exploring different ideas about consciousness, said Hargrave.
He said he gave the proposal serious thought. He let them fly him to Ireland, and he even named a price—$30,000 a year, plus 3.14 (pi) percent of their company. Ultimately, though, it didn't pan out, and Hargrave thinks that's for the best.
"Maybe the reason I got consciousness.com out of the blue is so I can share this information that I have, this OptiMystical Universe stuff that just kind of filtered into my head through time," he said. "Without consciousness.com how is anybody going to hear about the OptiMystical Universe?"
The website is outlandish, it's true. But it also recalls a different way of using the internet, one that's disappearing. Browsing through the pages of consciousness.com, I felt transported back to afternoons I spent as a 13-year-old blindly trawling through the internet in my bedroom.
Back then the internet felt as big and strange as it does now, but I was my own explorer. I didn't have a given roadmap to follow, or routes that I automatically traveled everyday. It was the era of GeoCities websites with unabashedly busy backgrounds and neon Times New Roman font. I was writing weird poetry on my Xanga, reading queer Harry Potter fan-fiction, and getting exposed to Neil Gaiman and PJ Harvey for the first time in anonymous chat rooms. Unlike today, I didn't have the creeping feeling that invisible forces were guiding me to read the same think pieces and watch the same videos that all of my friends were consuming too.
"Without consciousness.com how is anybody going to hear about the OptiMystical Universe?"
"Those guys from Ireland said, 'We're going to put all kinds of stuff about consciousness on there.' And I'm going, 'God, that just sounds like the internet.' The internet is so flooded with stuff," Hargrave said to me. "I have a little place that people are going to stumble into, the people who can spell consciousness right in any case. I don't know, maybe in a weird way, it's important to leave it pristine, just keep my ideas on here."
Hargrave's authenticity shines through on the site. He's doing his own thing, like a man selling homemade knick-knacks out of a cart, oblivious to the fact that he's standing in the parking lot of a giant Walmart. It seems like there are few islands left on the web like that.
I talked to Hargrave on the phone for nearly two hours. Apart from some brief moments of self-grandeur, Hargrave seemed mostly like a harmless guy with eccentric and elaborate theories. He has put a lot of thought into understanding what it means to be alive and conscious, and he is genuinely excited to share the ideas he's come up with.
"Everything I said, it's all loopy and goofy, I know," he said. "But it also sounds like it could kind of possibly be real, right? There's always just a fringe of possibility."
The 65-year-old lives with his wife in a small house in Seattle that was built in 1910 and boasts a giant vegetable garden. He spends his days teaching yoga and water aerobics classes, trying to sell his cloud photographs and taking on other odd jobs like gardening or cat-sitting for neighbors. He and his friends frequently throw big parties filled with music.
Hargrave still wants to get the word out about the OptiMystical Universe. His big break hasn't come yet, but he feels optimistic that it will.
"One day we're gonna go to Hollywood Bowl, an amphitheater down in LA," he said. "It's going to be full of people who have been laying around in these azium fields for a while, and we're going to have a big concert, and it will be glorious."
Masters of their Domain is a column that investigates who owns popular or interesting domain names, and what they're doing with them.