ah, yes. now i know more about new thought in physics. i have tried to understand some of the connections between the quantum world of the small things that seem to constitute our universe, and the large things that go bump in the night. this is where the rub comes.
at least i am not the only one who finds this difficult, although whether that is consoling or not i haven't decided.
i am closing out my look at the new (understanding) of creation with one of bede griffiths' last books, a new vision of reality (springfield, illinois: temple gate publishers, 1989). a quote from dom griffiths is perhaps helpful:
'. . . in physics . . . the whole is in some way present in every part and, further, . . . every part is interconnected with every other part.' (p. 17)
he concludes with a simple but helpful reiteration of the revelation of the holy trinity that is at the heart of christianity, phrased in language borrowed from classical physics:
'in christian understanding [the] absolute ground of being from which the whole universe comes into being is known as the father, the one, the source, the godhead. . . . from this ground, from this source, there springs a word, a wisdom, an image of the godhead, and that is [the] cosmic person, who reveals the father, the source. in that cosmic person, in the word or son, all the archetypes of all created beings are contained. . . . we also speak of the spirit, understanding that from the original ground there springs the spirit which is uncreated energy. as the word or son is the source of all form in nature, so the spirit is the source of all energy.' pp. 269-270.
as st. james says, 'every . . . gift is from above, and comes down from the father of lights . . . .'
st. paul recognized our interconnectedness:
'there is neither jew nor greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in christ jesus.'
and of course jesus, whom dom griffiths described as the cosmic person in whom the archetypes of all created beings are contained, insisted on the identity of all beings at any scale:'inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.'
house-sitting for a thoroughly post-modern couple--partners, not spouses, home-schooling the hyphenated-surnamed children, with a cubboard full of food with names like natural valley and a 30-minute commute by 4-wheel drive suv or pickup--who are mostly spiritual not religious, although one spouse's paycheck comes from a religious institution, i randomly picked up a book and opened to the book-marked page. e.o. wilson, the southern baptist mega-preacher of the new ethical synthesis, was beginning a new chapter: 'mankind is hardwired . . . ', he began.
in a short part of my short lifetime a new paradigm has taken over so successfully that it has become the water in which we live and move and have our being: the universe and its parts and/or inhabitants as computing engines. god is not dead, necessarily. he is simply thought of in the new religion as a self-organizing algorithm.
such an idea is not new. the seed certainly seems to have been sown in the work of leibnitz, but it sprouted slowly. charles babbage hoed and watered the new planting, but it didn't really emerge as a green and visible shoot until alan turing suggested it could spread like kudzu, doing computations at all times and in all places. instead of nitrogen, turing machines, whether in microscopic plants or human nervous systems or the tablet i'm using to write this blog, are powered by electrons.
the only real discussion seems to be about the details--god or the devil, if one still includes those assumptions, and writers about computation seem very happy to use the g-word, if not the d-word. does computation begin, as seth loyd suggests, at the quanta level? is the universe a self-generating program? indeed are there multiple 'verses' running simultaneously, except of course that simultaneousness is a difficult thing to see since 1905 and the suggestions of albert einstein.
i confess i find this paradigm as intriguing, as absorbing, as anyone else. how do things work? what happened at the beginning--and before? our creation myths, whether they center on genesis' enigmatic elohim or the navajo's spider woman, say just enough to make me want to hear more.
so i confess that i am totally intrigued with the singular role of light in this new paradigm. for me it makes the 'light from light' phrase of the symbol of faith more intriguing than ever. (i know i'm violating the first rule of modernity that there is some sort of wall of separation between what we can know by observation--science--and what we can know by what--faith? a priori? and i know that science claims to be about things that all observers can observe as the same--the cosmological principle--and that obviously not all observers see 'light from light' the same.
but i'm not demanding that anyone else follow me on this peregrination,. i'm just sending back field notes. and recognizing the new 'scientific' paradigm for the dogma that it is, and insisting that we also recognize that real dogma is always the best we can do to describe the way things are with the knowledge i have.
mr. einstein (yes, the same einstein) said that time is what clocks measure. (and that distance is what rulers measure.) this he said as the face of the newtonian world was beginning to fail to give what seemed to be the true time.
such an understanding of the world, with constancy and extension and causality, had been around at least since the time of aristotle. it was isaac newton's singular gift to find the 'natural laws' required by such an understanding, and to express it in the language of mathmatics.
. . .
i started writing this post more than three months ago. it was going to be an easy middle piece of a series exploring how we folks see ourselves in our biggest new thing. this one would be about clocks, with the third exploring our self-concept as computers.
but, it hasn't been that easy. i was going to mention robert hooke's 1660's invention of coil spring mechanisms for clocks, newton's laws as a suggestion that if we knew the position of every thing at a particular time, and their motion, we could predict the position of every thing at any other time. of course there would be a paragraph about reliable clocks as the british solution to longitude, and their importance to the empire. laplace's remark to napoleon that the hypothesis of god was no longer needed, and i would end with einstein's looking out the patent office window at the swiss standard railroad clock and his mind experiment about time as measured by clocks on a train.
but clocks are harder to dismiss than that. apple computers still use the swiss railroad clock face, rendered digitally. i have been fascinated that adverts for watches continue to be an important source of revenue for print media. and despite the perhaps wishful thinking of john wheeler and roger penrose, time remains irreversable for us. tim keeps on slipping into the future, and the time runs out of us.
so: how to look at the universe as a clock? where do we fit into such a universe? the answer is that we are the observer, the watcher. there is no longer any universal time, despite the success of british navigators. they were successful in returning to new zealand, for instance, time and time again merely because of the convenience of scale. but when one moves really fast or in very small spaces, all newtonian bets are off. there is only the observer's time. the tree in the forest is only an observed tree. schrodiger's cat has no say in its own life or death.
(obviously if this were a wikipedia article it would be criticized for lack of sources. but i'm assuming that you, gentle reader, can google as easily as i.)
the image that keeps coming back to me thinking of the universe as a clock and ouselves as the observer whose constant gaze holds it in existence is that of a small child, who thinks that covering one's eyes makes the world go away.
i find thinking about such a world confusing. when i lived in santa fe i was surrounded by rich folks drivding big white toyotas like some sort of ngo, with bumper stickers saying 'i create my own reality'. i wondered what the folks in the toyota factories thought of those bumper stickers; were they merely part of some very rich divorcee's dream? and i wondered about starving refugees--what were they thinking? couldn't they come up with a more nourishing morning affirmation?
and sometimes i think with miranda, someone who exists to be observed, an early 17th. century character born just before accurate clocks, long before japanese virtual character hatsune miku, ' what brave new world, that has such creatures in't?'
if the world is a clock that exists because we are watching it, who or what is watching us? that leads to the next installment: world as (perhaps quantum) computer.
the book in the picture is probably as famous as any except perhaps the gutenberg bible: the book of kells. it is famously and profusely illustrated, but it is also itself an illustration of the power of meda, and the difficulty of co-existence of the two great powers of symbolic speech and the written word. far more decisive than such 'decisions' as the council of whitby--there were after all those monks who did not accept osway's decision and left his little kingdom; even i today in an act that is mostly symbolic, and a small nuisance, continue 'celtic tonsure'--were the written copies of the gospels and psalter they carried with them.
the book of kells is a beautiful but typical attempt of an old medium--traditional celtic, or insular, symbolic carving--to contain the new medium--the written word. but as mr. mcluhan so insistantly told us half a century ago, the medium is the message. whatever may have been particular about 'celtic christianity' was doomed when monks could read the psalms instead of memorizing them.
i like this post-modern icon of st. chad for a number of reasons, two of which are his celtic tonsure and his empty hands. there is still (again) the possibility of the word being spoken, and of the spoken word being understood as symbol of the word made flesh about whom john had spoken in the beginning of his gospel, the particular favourite of the celtic church. (for an interesting discussion of the ambivalent term logos in holy scripture, see umberto eco, semiotics and the philosophy of language (bloomington, 1984), pp. 147-153.) wilfred'sbooks even more than the support of rome meant that such an understanding of the word as symbol would not long survive.
the more widely accepted understanding of the word would be seen in this icon, with a more normal depiction of chad, with his teacher st. aidan. my patron has been given a proper roman tonsure and a book. aidan's tonsure remains--unless he was simply bald--and he holds the required book. the book would remain central to the western church for the next millenia and a half. not that the book wasn't important to the eastern (orthodox) church and the church of the east. but partly at least because of the continuation of the oral tradition in the syrian church, and if mcluhan is correct, the shortage of papyrus in the byzantine church, as well as the differences between latin and greek and syriac with it's daughter languages, the book in the west became close to being the object of worship, the thing which itself was holy. of course. it was the medium. it was the message. in the byzantine liturgy the gospel book is kissed and censed at its reading, but it is the open book, the words it contains. the ultimate western veneration of the book can be seen in dozens of protestant chapels, where the closed 'holy bible' is reserved, as it were, on the central altar. and throughout much of the united states, at least, and those parts of canada i've visited, there are 'bible churches.'
all of this seems distressingly distant from the understanding that the letter kills, while the spirit gives life, a thought floating through my mind as i write this on tuesday in the octave of pentecost.
what has all of this to do with the new creation of my paschal koan? perhaps not much, except that it helps me to recognize the differences between a world-view in which the creator is identical with the creation, one in which the creator is imminant in the creation, and one in which the creator takes on the stuff of the creation and becomes part of it without becoming less its creator.
it has been a while since my last post and i know the whole world has been waiting on tinterhooks, so here's a report on my latest project. (which is actually a return to an old project as i shall explain below.)
maybe five years ago now i started observing lent with a koan. it started because i had found the epistle reading for the first sunday in lent befuddling, and i thought i needed some time to 'solve' it. this year my koan was paul's statement that thelast enemy is death: very rewarding and fruitful, it seemed, with readings fromthe egyptian book of going forth by day and the tibetan guide through the bardols, with revisiting the controversy of the toll houses; and the nature of time and eternity.
then came pascha and i thought another koan for the great fifty days might keep me out of trouble. so, i'm trying to 'solve' the new creation, which jesus is said to mention in the gospel according to matthew and which paul says exists for any man who is in christ.
so i've been reading cosmology and physics and such. one of the interesting continuities through the history of cosmologies is a sort of agreement with the claim of genesis that we (human beings) are created in the image of our creator, even amongst folks who don't really recognize 'creation.' one of the other continuities, parallel with the first, is our tendency to describe creation or the cosmos in terms of our latest invention, the thing of which we're most proud. this crops up in places we don't always notice. isn't john doing it in his gospel when he says 'in the beginning was the word . . . and the word was god.'? think how rare it is for a saint in an icon not to be holding a book. famously after the invention of reliable clocks allowed the english to navigate the empire, the universe became a clock, and the creator a clock maker (a big boost to protestantism and pre-destination).
now of course the universe is a computer. (the photograph is an ancient greek 'computer' recently reconstructed. i think it might also be considered a clock or a calendar, but that's not likely to happen this year.) and not only a computer, but a quantum computer, of course.
how does any of this 'solve' the new creation as a koan? probably in no way. but it does remind me that most of the philosophic, epistomilogical concepts underlying the 'new physics' are part of the neo-platonic tradition of eastern orthodoxy. i love the constant of the speed of light and marshall mcluhan's claim that light is pure information wit no content and that in genesis the first thing created is light.
but none of this is new. our noticing it is new. but then again jesus is over and over saying that knowledge of the kingdom of heaven is for those with ears to hear or eyes to see.
one of the more interesting aspects of these ponderings for me is how much of it is a return to the readings of my early education. plato and boole and leibnitz. of course mr. eliot would not be surprised, although i do not imagine that i am close to the end.
how is this photograph different from all the other pictures that have appeared in all my blog-posts over the past half-decade?
i 'took it' rather than finding it on the internet.
and, it was 'taken' on the beach at port townsend, just a few feet from the cold waters of the beginnings of puget sound. it marks a sort of double turning-point in my life.
since moving to the olympic peninsula from the ozarks, where i had thought i would be buried and resurrected, i have bought several electronic 'devices' as they tend to be called: a laptop computer, a copier/printer/scanner, a kindlefire tablet, and a 'smart phone'. now, these are not of course unusual things for someone living in the u..s.a. to have these days, but they seem odd to me, since i have spent half of the past decade without electricity, using the hardware at the public library, and proudly holding up my black papermate flair pen as my 'wireless device.' i confess the price of flairs has gone up until they are nearly as expensive as 4-g connexion, and they are harder to find.
and i confess i have found all these new-fangled contraptions mighty convenient. for years i have read on sunday afternoons a chapter from bernard of claivaux sermons on the song of songs,* but the four volumes of that set were part of the more than 3,000 books i gave away when i left the ozarks. for the past several months i have read st. bernard on the already-seemingly-trusty laptop, and now i can read him even down along the creek on the telephone. so i'm spinning all these new gadgets as a sort of un-cluttering of my life. i really could live in a tent now, although i would want an extension cord. (alright: i confess. i do still have 'real' books, but not nearly so many of them, so i could keep them in a nice dry box.)
i'm also trying to understand the change to non-print media as no worse a thing than the change to written media and then to print media. of course all of these things were huge changes, and our little brains seemed to have changed to adjust to them. i'm hoping my old brain isn't too calcified to make the change, and that i won't lose the ability to read real books. but i hope the change will help me to listen more easily to people with all sorts of brain patterns for using information.
the ocean: well, that's a bit more of a personal lark. i just missed the sound of it. i'm moving in a week to a little cabin in the woods (so i will have room for 3,000 books again, should i live so long), and it is only about long city blocks from the water. i can walk to town right along the waterfront. of course part of me wonders if i'm not just influenced by the romance of the old celtic saints who stood in the water and prayed the psalms, but i don't think that would be a bad practice even if i did adopt it for romantic reasons. i wonder, though: if i droped my samsung in the water, would an otter be able to retrieve it for me unharmed?
i wish i were a better listener. if i were, i could hear he song of all creation where ever i might be. but since i listen poorly, i have left the coziness of my little cell in the ozarks, where the song of the sea is captured in layers of limestone, for the newer shores of the pacific northwest, where the ocean beats still incessantly against the rock.
i love that in greek the nicene creed speaks of the father as the ποιητὴν, the poet, of heaven and earth. i never really came to appreciate all that meant until i spent several years mostly in a small kayak, bouncing on the rhythyms of the waves. there is a basic beat under it all, a beat that is perhaps best understood in the notion that john the beloved disciple 'listened to the heartbeat of god'. j. philip newell has a wonderful book with that title, which i recommend.* but out on the face of the deep, the waves often seem much more complicated than that. rhythym piles up on rhythym, and sometimes it all seems very violent. i well remember one noon off point wilson, where the pacific ocean has to decide whether to north to vancouver or south to seattle, and fights about it, that i thought 'this is a good day to die'. but instead, i just rested in the waves and recognized that there was a pattern, even if i did not see all of it, and that i did not need to see all of it. but to fight it would have meant almost certainly a cold death.
it is because of that experience, particularly, that i am always interested in people who see the world in terms of waves. particles are fine, in their place, but it is the waves that seem to make their places. so, poems such as psalm 96, 'o sing unto the lord a new song; sing unto the lord all the whole earth' seems to me not so much a call to write new music but to listen to the new song that the holy one continues to write, so that we may 'learn it by ear'.
it was this joy in the song of creation that made me happy to find an essay by frank a. mills about the song underlying creation in his understanding of celtic creation, so happy i thought i should share it.**