Tuesday, July 3, 2018

HOW IT WORKS

In an attempt not to be redundant, I will refer you back to all posts that discuss yin and yang: YIN, YANG AND BEYONG!, HIGGS AND CREATION, WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH MATTER,
PARTICLE FEVER,  THE COMPLETE THEORY OF NOTHING,  and UNDERSTANDING THE QUANTUM.  It would have been more convenient if I knew everything that I know now when I first started writing this blog.  Then, I could condense all this information in one long post and I wouldn't have to keep adding on.  Convenience aside, fortunately one thing leads to another and the more I write and think about these topics the more insights I get.  So here goes:

Every naturally formed object, from protons, neutrons, atoms, molecules, cells, multi-celled organisms, planets, stars, galaxies and the universe itself, is more yang at the center and more yin at the periphery.  Yang is that force that contracts into itself.  It pulls every part of an object toward the center (mass) and also pulls everything surrounding the object toward the center (gravity).  Pure yang is a force, not a thing.  Things emanate from forces, rather than forces emanating from things.  Things, the physical universe, every observable phenomena, is a result of the interplay of yang with yin.  Yin is expansive.  Yin is also not in the physical universe.  It moves at infinite speed, so is inconceivably fast and absolutely still at the same time, since it takes no time for yin to traverse the universe and return to the same identical space.  There is also no matter, no thingness to yin; so there is no friction or inertia to impede its velocity, and no separation between one part of pure yin and another.  Pure yin is everywhere that pure yang and yin and yang that is already bound (the physical universe) is not.  It exists in all the interstices between yin and yang combinations that we call particles.  It instantly surrounds pure yang whenever pure yang is unbound and keeps pure yang from contracting into itself and from combining with the nearest large pure yang.  In the same way, pure yang at the center of an object keeps pure yin from dispersing at infinite speed through the universe.  Yin and yang do not so much attract each other as they entrap each other.  The real attraction is between smaller yang and larger yang.  The seeming resistance between yang and yang, which in some cases is called 'Coulumb's Law,' is really the strength of the yin force surrounding each object and resisting their union.

While yang is referred to, variously, as mass or gravity; there is little acknowledgement in Western physics for the yin force.  Expansion is seen as a residue of the Big Bang.  Yet the expansive force was there in an extremely contracted form prior to the Big Bang.  The Big Bang did not create the expansive force, it liberated it. The expansive force, yin, is spread everywhere.  We function within the yin force, yet it is so dispersed and ubiquitous that we do not notice it.  Everything grows out from the center.  So we are born in a yang state with yin forces bounded by yang and holding yin back.  When yin gets strong enough it bursts through and we get rapid expansion.  This is true in all explosions including the Big Bang and in the explosive growth of every living thing.

When yin and yang combine they form spirals.  Experientially, we are a combination of yin and yang.  When we are too yang, we are too concentrated, too focused, too tense.  We are obsessed with time and have little patience.  We urgently want to accomplish things, but in our urgency we may create difficulties for ourselves by offending others, or lacking the flexibility to deal with any obstacles to our goals.  When we are too yin we cannot focus, have lots of circular thoughts and laziness.  When we do manage to entertain a goal, we cannot accomplish it because we are quickly distracted by whatever is happening in the space around us.  A balanced person is one who achieves her goals by staying with them and, at the same time, having the flexibility to adjust to whatever stumbling blocks there are along the way.  The goals one chooses are also reflective of yin and yang.

The real attraction in the universe is not yin to yang, but small yang to larger yang.  When yang is liberated, it is instantly surrounded by yin.  Yin keeps yang from combining with the nearest stronger yang and keeps the strongest yang from twisting into itself and disappearing into an alternate universe.  Yin and yang entrap each other, rather than attract each other.  The balance of yin pushing away from yang, but unable to escape the power of yang, and yang pulling in against yin, but not able to contract everything into itself because of the power of yin; this balance creates the illusion of particles and larger things.  Things have dimension because of yin.  Things have boundaries because of yang.

Yin is too dispersed for us to notice.  All noticeable force is yang.  What we call mass is yang, the inward pull of an object.  Mass is not a function of matter.  Matter is an illusion of yang force bound by yin force.  There is a space between the inward pull of yang and the outward push of yin.  The inward pull of yang is too strong in this space, so anything that enters it is crushed into yang, which combines with the central yang that is already there, and yin, which  either becomes bound by the peripheral yin of the object, if more yin is needed to make balance with the yang core, or is expelled.  We cannot observe this expelled yin unless it is attached to some yang.  The smallest amount of yang that could be attached to expelled yin is that which is found in electro-magnetic waves and light.  This tiny amount of yang is too weak to be detected in our atmosphere, but it is the reason that light bends when passing larger stars and the center of galaxies.

Yang is also not a thing.  At the center of black holes is nothing, no  thing.  The yang force is so strong there that all atoms and molecules are crushed into their yin and yang elements.  There is a black hole at the center of every galaxy.  The galaxy is the yin periphery of the central black hole.  At the center of the universe is a black hole.  All the galaxies of the universe are the yin periphery of this central black hole.  That is why the universe is over 95 billion light years in diameter.  Everything moves at light speed, but yin, which is not a thing, moves at infinite speed.  The event horizon of the central black hole of the universe is a sphere 67 billion light years in diameter.  The physical universe surrounds this event horizon and is the outer layer of this sphere, fourteen billion light years deep.

Negative particles, like electrons, move at light speed, and keep moving in all directions until they come upon an imbalanced particle with which they can make balance, like mosquitoes frantically moving in every direction looking for something that they can eat.  But negative does not attract positive.  Negative is attracted to positively imbalanced particles.  Once the yin buffer is balanced with the yang center, then yin tries to pull away from the yang center.

Pure yang is the source of all energy.  It is also the hand tool of the Atman, the cosmic consciousness, Infinity, or whatever you prefer to call it.  I will use God.  God places a certain strength of yang and a certain shape of yang and a spiral of yin instantly surrounds it.  We know a sub atomic particle is there because we can identify a certain spin, a certain mass and a certain charge in a discrete area.  This measurement is a result of whatever instrument we are using to make this measurement, which has the power to collapse a wave (which is a particle in its more yin state) into a particle (which is a particle in its more yang state).  There is no wave/particle duality.  Everything is a wave until we particularize it with our measuring devices.  Our measuring devices include the tandem of human brains, eyes and nervous systems.  We collapse waves into particles.  Every species has their own way of doing that.  So every species sees a different universe, and defines the objects of the universe in a species specific way.  A species is a way of experiencing the universe.

The embryological development of any organism is a system of moving yang objects from the center toward the periphery.  Every organism has their own ways of organizing yin energy to carry these yang objects away from the center.  Once they are moved away, they are surrounded by their own yin periphery and the organism becomes more complex.  With the consumption of more yin and yang energy (nutrients) the embryo then has enough yin energy to move the new added yang energy even more toward the periphery where it is again surrounded by a yin buffer and new outposts are formed.

Everything is spinning.  Take a weighted rope and spin it in your hand so that it makes a circle.  You can feel the centrifugal force of the spinning rope in the palm of your hand.  But you are keeping the rope on its circular path by exerting a countering centripedal force in your thumb.  The spin of an object, as measured, is the spin of the yin periphery.  But it is held in place by the centripedal force exerted by the yang center.  This is not measured as spin.  It is measured as mass.  Without a physical rope or a physical hand, this is exactly what is happening in every atom and subatomic particle, every solar system, every galaxy, and in the entire universe.

There is no dark matter or dark energy.  These are two constructs to try to explain the discrepancies between calculations based on a Big Bang explosion and the actual movement of matter.  What is neglected is the enormous black hole in the center of the universe.  The great pull of that black hole slows down the expansion of every galaxy near it.  That is the explanation that eludes the scientists who created 'dark matter.'  Every galaxy much farther away from the central black hole moves away much faster, which is the explanation that eludes the scientists who created 'dark energy.'  All our calculations, including the speed of light, are made from our perspective, feeling the expansive force as we feel it, as measured against the contractive force of the central black hole, as we feel it.

If God interferes in your life, He/She/It/We makes a subtle adjustment to the yang energy at your center.  That adjustment causes a shift in the entire yin periphery of your organism.  Your energy is liberated, your love is liberated, and the things that you desire are no longer limited to the selfish dreams that you previously had.  There is a name for this in every religion.  In Christianity it is called, 'being touched by the spirit.'

God is not a thing, but if you prefer to think of God in a personal way, then yang is God's power, will  and concentration and yin is God's love, beauty and compassion.

I am going to publish this article now, but I will be adding to it and updating it for some time.


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Wednesday, June 6, 2018

DESTINY

My wife and I met at a natural food store called 'Erewhon' in California.  I had a long history with Erewhon by this time.  Erewhon started in Boston. It was begun by Michio Kushi and his wife Aveline Kushi.  Their life long dream was to improve the mental and spiritual health of people through diet and the ancient understanding of yin and yang.  I moved to Boston to study with Michio and in less than a year I had created a pushcart, which was really a steam table on wheels that sold natural food dishes, as inspired by the Kushis,  on the street in front of Boston University and ,within the next year, also in front of M.I.T. and Government Center, a very busy commercial district in the heart of downtown Boston.  Years later I was a frequenter of Erewhon in Los Angeles.  Angela,  my wife to be,  had just arrived in town within the last week or ten days.  She originally wanted to get a fill in job at the cafe next door, called 'The Nowhere Cafe.'  When she went over there to apply she found out that the cafe was not hiring, but  the Erewhon Store, which was a sister store to the Nowhere Cafe, (Erewhon spells nowhere backwards....sort of); that the Erewhon store was hiring.   Anyway she was working there at Erewhon for about a week behind the soup counter when I arrived looking for a bowl of soup, which I found, and, also, looking for a life companion, which I also found.  As I write this, Angela, that's her name, and I have been together for thirty-four years.  The soup, of course, was dispensed with within the hour.

What were the chances of us ever meeting?  I had gone back and forth about staying in LA or moving back to New York.  Angela had her own back and forths about leaving the midwest and coming out West to California.  Would I have gone into Erewhon if I didn't have a long history with it?  Would she have been working there if the Nowhere Cafe, which I had never been to, had a job opening?  There are so many seemingly serendipitous events that happen in the getting together of any couple.  And yet, so many couples are convinced that the other was the one person that they were destined to meet.  How could that be true?  Yet how come that feeling of 'destiny' is experienced so strongly in so many people.  Many widows and widowers are convinced that their deceased was the one person that they were destined to be with and that kind of 'rightness' in relationship and the feeling of seeking a shared destiny is no longer available to them after the death of their spouse.

I don't believe that we are receiving some sort of over arching guidance that determines all the specifics, going back for generations, that resulted in the particular, unique personality, that is you, to encounter and become enamored of that particular unique individual who, also, has been the recipient an endless series of seemingly serendipitous events, not only in her life, but in the lives of her ancestors,  that resulted in her being the particular person that she is and landing in the particular place that she happened to be in at a certain 'special' moment.

Does that make me a cynic.  Not at all.  I believe that we are all moving back to Oneness.  That we are separate aspects of One being and we chose to experience this world of separation, but that we are ultimately destined to return to the Oneness from which we came.  This journey back to union, which can and often is experienced with another person, but can be experienced with oneself and one's God, or with a cherished activity, or with an environment, a culture, a pet, a hobby; this feeling is so special, seeming to be the experience that we were born for; this feeling that we were meant to be in this relationship and the more we explore it, the closer to Oneness we get, is the most profound movement that we make in this life.  And it is our destiny to travel this road with whomever or whatever we are travelling it with.  We were lucky to find this person, or activity, or subculture, where we had enough compatibility to begin this journey.  But the journey itself, that is a destiny that we share with all creatures and the journey itself, can be made in many ways and with many people.  I am not undervaluing it, at all.  It is every bit as special as you think it is.  And I believe in monogamous relationships, through which an understanding can deepen between two people and oneness is realized over time at deeper and deeper levels.  Yet, it is not exclusive.  We have this capacity to take this journey with anyone else and with whatever else is open to take this journey with us. Our destiny, which we feel so strongly, is to move back toward Oneness; and we experience that with anyone that we are compatible enough to feel it with.


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Wednesday, May 23, 2018

IMPERFECT WORLD

I will be using the word God in this post.  Don't get nervous.  By God I mean the Atman, the cosmic consciousness, Infinity, etc., not an old white man with a beard and a big brain.

People ask, if God made the world, why did he/she/it/we make it with such imperfections?  These people are understanding God as separate from themselves.  Dawkins wrote a book called 'The God Delusion.'  There is a God delusion, but not the one that Dawkins writes about.  The real God delusion is that there is anything else but God.  Everything else, the entire physical universe and everything that separates us, physically, emotionally, and spiritually from God is a delusion, or rather, an illusion.  And it is that very illusion, that is God's creation, that allows people to live exciting, creative, adventurous lives within it.  

God is within us and without us.  What we observe is only one part of God.  So is the observer.  Should this world that we observe be perfect? The Garden of Eden is a retirement home.  There is literally a retirement home by that name on Stillwell Avenue in Brooklyn.  In a "perfect' world, in a Garden of Eden, there is nothing to do; everything is already perfect and there are people (staff) there to return it to perfection when it is not.  But perfection is a very dull affair, indeed. There is nothing that could be improved upon, nothing to accomplish.   Therefore, no drama, no excitement, no passion, nothing to live for.

Yes, there are imperfections in the observable world and those are in perfect balance with humans that are born with powerful but unobservable passions to rectify those imperfections.  We have exciting lives fighting  for justice in a world where injustice exists.  We struggle to create beauty in a world where ugliness exists.  We fight to unfold and disseminate knowledge in a world where ignorance exists.  We labor mightily and inspirationally to bring health to a world where physical suffering exists.  And if these innate, divine passions are not enough to solve all the world's problems, there are also humans born with a passion to inspire others to greater passion.  And what they accomplish, these passionate people, is never enough, and that is perfect, because there are future generations of people bursting into life at every single moment, and these people are hoping to lead passionate lives, themselves; something that they could not do being born into a world where everything was already perfect, i.e. a retirement home.

And don't think I am talking about an elite few brilliant and passionate politicians, artists and scientists.  I am also talking about the billions of people who struggle to make this world, or the world of  their families, or the world of their neighbors, a little better.  Creating a family is hard work.  If it wasn't, if your children were already perfect, if you had hired help to change their diapers, you had enough narcotics to sleep through the birth of your child, without suffering, born into enough money to support your child without working, etc., etc., then you would still struggle to find a way to make your child even happier and more secure in that context.  But if your child were perfectly happy and perfectly secure already, with no input from you, then you didn't really have the experience of parenting, which has to do with the efforts we make to improve the lives of our children and the deep, abiding satisfaction that we get and love that we feel, after making that investment, in seeing them turn out, not perfect, but fine, loving, people, ready and passionate to make their contribution to a world that still needs it.

This is the game of life.  If the world ever achieved perfection, it would end.  When, and if, that should ever happen, then we would return to the cosmic consciousness where the only thing left to do would be to create a new universe which, by necessity, would have to include the imperfections needed to make it a truly exciting, challenging place for humans to live in. 

What of those victims who do suffer and do not, themselves, have the where with all to improve their situation?  You have to think bigger and wider.  They are there to offer you an opportunity to do something for them.  They are there to teach you to deepen your compassion  They are there for parents to broaden and deepen their understanding of love.  And they are there to learn something about this experience themselves, which is that it still can be transcended by love, that you still have innumerable blessings beyond the few that you are lacking.  You can think and, miraculously, your brain throws up to your consciousnes, from somewhere hidden among a hundred billion neurons, the very things you want to think about the moment you want to think about them.  Now that is miraculous, whatever else your body can or cannot do.  Every movement you make, even if your movements are limited, are made possible because of millions of neurons linking to millions of other neurons in a precise path that sparks the contraction and release of billions of muscle molecules that are instantly responsive to your moment to moment desire to move.  Whatever you can do with and within your body, is miraculous and you have never lost the capacity to love.  And if you are alive, in whatever condition, you have not lost that most cherished of abilities, the ability to experience.

And of course consciousnes is not generated.  Consciousness is.  So these lives that we lead are not our only shot.  We are here to learn something and we will get many more shots as we learn how to overcome challenges, how to find the love within the challenge, and how to discard the passions that lead us to further isolation and selfishness, and keep or develop those which lead us to greater love and connection.

The understanding of a transcendent God does not lead us to passivity.  We too are God's creations and we have a passion within us that God has placed there and a world  around us that is the perfect external environment within which to lead our passionate lives.




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Sunday, December 31, 2017

LIFE

Life is not an empirical phenomenon.  Life is whatever you experience at each moment.  That experience cannot be measured or observed.  All life is whatever that living being experiences at each moment, and that includes whatever phylum, whatever kingdom, whatever class or species of organism that being is filtering its life through.  An organism is the means by which consciousness has an opportunity to experience the world in a particular way.  Each organism provides a different experience.  Each organism of the same species provides a similar enough experience so that the beings that are attached to these same species' organisms  have the sense that they understand each other and do not experience their lives in total isolation.  Each organism of the same species is also different enough from each other so that the beings that occupy each of these different organisms has the capacity to surprise each other so that they do not experience their lives in total boredom.  Variation within a species also provides more survivability in the face of environmental threats. This is another benefit of variation, but certainly not the only one and not, necessarily, the most important one.

Science's insistence on studying purely what is observable, means that science can never study life, but only the apparatus, the organisms, that beings use to be able to experience their lives in  particular ways.  The being that occupies an organism is not what is observed, but the observer.  Science does not acknowledge this being so that within the organism there is no one that science recognizes who is enjoying the amazingly complex equipment whose workings scientists so elaborately describe.

Darwinian evolution is an attempt to describe life simply as material organisms and the awesome complexity of life due merely to an endlessly long and fantastically improbable series of molecular accidents.  From this perspective, consciousness, the ability to experience things, which is the very definition of life, is something that accidentally emerged by molecular mutation and stayed around  because it yielded a survival advantage over non-conscious life.  But non-conscious life is death.  Non-conscious life is an organism which is no longer the vehicle for anyone's experience, in other words, a corpse.  If evolution has anything to do with survival of the fittest, then that assumes that there is some entity that prefers surviving over not surviving.  The material world has no preferences. The only entity that prefers one state over another is a conscious entity, therefore, consciousness must be part of the definition of life from its inception.

When you say something is red, I can agree with you, but I have no way of knowing that the experience that you call 'red' is in any way similar to the experience that I am having when I call something 'red.'  We can agree on many terms to label the size and length and weight and color and emotional quality of our experience, but what any of these things actually means to each of us is beyond our knowing.  The only thing of which I can be sure is the self.  Everything I experience, I experience from the perspective of a unitary consciousness, which is me.  I am the non-physical bowl, the context, of my own experience; as you are the context of your own experience.

Desires are part of the milieu of consciousness.  All living things experience the world through the filter of an organism and each organism needs various things from its environment in order to survive and for their progeny to survive.  Although living beings need things from their environment in order to survive and propogate, they are not often consciously concerned with their survival.  They are concerned, however, with a series of desires whose fulfillment insures their survival for the longest possible time.  These desires include the desire to eat and the desire to eat specific foods which just happen to be the nutritionally best foods, or the best foods among whatever is available in their environment, to insure their survival.  The same with thirst, which is the desire for water.  The same with fatigue, which is the desire for rest.  The same with the experience of heat, which is the desire for coolness, and the experience of cold which is the desire for warmth.  The same with the experience of pain, which is the desire for that experience to end, and the experience of pleasure which is the desire to seek out and prolong that experience.  And it is the same with sexual desire, whose satisfaction unwittingly results in the production of progeny and the survival of one's species.

And each species is born with a particular set of desires that are perfectly suited to that species.  A male hippopotamus in heat, will trot past the most alluring human females to get to the watering hole where the real action awaits him in the form of a female hippopotamus, which will assure the production of progeny in a way that wasting time with Scarlett Johansson would not.  The dung beetle will march right through the kitchen past the smells of baking pies and roasting meats to go directly to the septic tank, drawn there by the truly alluring scent of human waste,  which just happens to be the most nutritionally perfect food for the dung beetle.

And each species has a way of organizing their experience, whether it is with the help of a brain or not, into which things are attractive and which are repellent, which are safe and which are dangerous, which are familiar and which are foreign, and who are kin and who are friends and who are enemies.

From the perspective of life as a way of experiencing the world, we understand that we inherit not just an observable brain and organism but a set of species specific desires and species specific ways of defining the things and the other organisms that we encounter in our environment.  These desires and definitions are not a product of the genome and the brain, but rather, it is the genome and the brain which are organized to deliver a consistent and hopefully satisfying way of experiencing the world.

This is a way of looking at the universe as starting with consciousness.  This may seem fanciful to those of a materialist bent, but how would materialists imagine the origin of the universe?  Our imaginations are limited by the boundaries of time and space.  To go beyond those boundaries stretches all of us, no matter what our perspective is.  Do you think things began with an explosion, a Big Bang?  Yet what is it that was exploding?  Was it forces and not matter?  What was the origin, then, of those forces, and the precisely calibrated laws and ratios of forces that allowed a physical universe to materialize?  There are only two possibilities.  Either you postulate that there was nothing, as in literally nothing, no time, no space, no matter, nothing, and then, suddenly there was something, and something that was perfectly calibrated and designed to engender a physical universe (in fact that would have to be at least two somethings, since nothing could be engendered by one thing in isolation, it would have to be one thing reacting to at least one other thing), which seems, at least to me, to be utterly impossible; or there was something that is not a thing that has no beginning (and no end) which is consciousness, and the material world is an expression of that consciousness.  This is a much more satisfying explanation to me, because I realize that I am, in essence, of that very same stuff, consciousness; and I realize that, although my surroundings and my thoughts and my feelings and my body has changed many, many times in my lifetime, I still remain, in essence, the identical, unchangeable consciousness that I was when I first began.  I also realize that everything around me that is constructed by humans, is a manifestation of the conscious will and desires of humans.  The subtle creates the gross.  So I live in a world that is based in consciousness and is driven by will and intention.  I do not deny my most essential reality, consciousness, and I do not think of my 'self' and my ability to observe and experience the world as the product of a molecular accident, but as the very reason that I and the world around me exists.


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Sunday, November 26, 2017

GIVING THANKS

My family is not committed to any particular organized religion.  The one ritual that we do practice religiously is taking turns around the Thanksgiving table to express what it is that each of us are grateful for.  Although I can't vouch for the others,  I don't prepare what I am going to say. I have noticed that the things that I am grateful for have changed over the years.  I am not as engaged as I once was in the world in a way that I am concerned about the outcome of events.  Of course if I get sick and especially if a loved one gets sick, I hope and pray for their return to health.  And I celebrate the successes and empathize with the failures of these loved ones.  But for myself, my life has stabilized more and more over the years and the things that I am grateful for have less to do with how things  turn out as they have to do simply with my ability to observe and remember events as they are unfolding.  These abilities that I have gratitude for are not things that special luck or  talents or opportunities have brought me beyond the immensely lucky  opportunity to be born.  They are abilities that I share with every living being.

I am grateful for life itself.  What a remarkably wonderful thing life is.  I am able to experience things.  I do this at every moment.  I can see.  I can hear.  I can feel fresh air on my skin.  I can eat and drink and taste whatever it is that I am eating and drinking.  Like everyone else, I have intentions; there are things that I want to do.  But as I grow older, the things that I want to do are almost exclusively things that I am able to do, simply by intending them.  I am not invested in a set of desires that are in competition with other people's sets of desires.  If I want to go for a walk, miraculously, all the muscles that I need to constrict and relax in order for me to go for that walk automatically begin to constrict and relax the moment that I have that intention and they constrict and relax in precisely the sequence and timing that allows me not only to walk but to walk in the specific direction that I intend to walk in.  That is wondrous.  It is no less wondrous because I share that ability with every ambulatory creature on this planet.  I can instantaneosly direct my body in the direction that I want to direct it and to do precisely what it is that I want it to do.  And these activities are very precise : like typing this essay, or getting a glass of water or tying my shoes, activities that require remarkably precise cascades of firing neurons and contracting and expanding molecules within my musculature.

I am grateful for the sun, not as an object,  but as an experience.  I observe the light and experience the warmth that it brings every day.  I feel that on my body.  I observe how all my fellow creatures react to the arrival of light every day.  I see the energy that it produces.  The same with water.  I walk the same trail at least a few days every week, and I live in an area that has a rainy season.  Prior to that season, right now for instance, most of the plants along that trail are parched.  They wait with eager anticipation for the arrival of the rains and when the rains do arrive they swell and grow and turn radiant colors in their happiness.  This is a glory to behold and I am able to observe that any time I want, simply by directing my feet in that direction.

I can think.  You may not agree with the way that I think, which is fine; and you will never know all the ways in which I think as I will never know all the ways in which you think; which is also fine.  But I can still think, and I can think about the things that I want to think about, simply by focussing on whatever it is that I want to focus on.  Again, this ability is something that I share with all my fellow humans, and with, I believe, a lot, lot more creatures that are generally not thought of as 'thinking.' And again, it is no less glorious, no less wondrous, that I am able to do that because I share that ability with everyone else.  I may live in a nominally capitalist, competitive economy and I may live in a society that shares many beliefs about the inherently competitive nature of biology, but the things that I am grateful for are not things that I am in competition with you about.  And it does not diminish, one iota, the miraculous nature of these abilities because they are shared by countless living creatures.

Life itself is truly wondrous and miraculous.  If I wish for anything, I wish for more of my fellow creatures to stop wishing (at least once in a while) and really take stock of these wonderful abilities that we are each already able to do and experience.  A lot more happiness, a lot more mutual respect, a lot more peace and joy would be generated if we did.  Belated Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

INTENTIONS

The basic thrust of modern theoretical science is to provide a framework to explain how the world, both animate and  inanimate, came to be the way that we find it today without the intervention of any intelligence or guidance.  In other words, a random world without intention. This is not only the thrust of modern theoretical science, but it is the unspoken context within which many of us experience our lives.  And this random nature of our existence, that we are the result of countless trillions of random but fortuitous collisions ( fortuitous if we have any appreciation for our lives and the world around us)  between particles of matter interacting at the mercy of blind forces,  is something that we have accepted, not happily, but with resignation because, alas, scientists, people that know much more about the world than we do, have proven it to be so.  Or have they?

The randomness of life troubles us at very deep levels.  Many of us, for instance,  pore over the details of how our parents met; all the little specific details that brought our mothers and fathers to be in the same exact place and time.  Once our parents had discovered each other, it may be more plausible to think that "something just drew them to each other."  Or that, "they knew immediately that they were meant to be together," but did all the little specific details,  including ancestors coming to America at a certain moment in time, choosing a certain neighborhood to live in; our parents sharing the same interest or sharing the same particular schedule on a particular day, or sharing some common social connection, that brought them to the same place at the same time, so that that "pre-ordained" chemistry could be allowed to occur in the first place; could all of that, that whole litany of specific circumstances, could that possibly have been the result of anyone's intention?  And, if so, whose intention was it?

My parents met at a resort hotel where they were both attending a single's weekend.  Did my mother frequent such places?  Not at all.  In fact, this was the first time she had ever gone to a single's weekend.  Why did she feel compelled to attend on that particular weekend?  I don't really know how frequently my father went to such events, and he is no longer around to ask, but even if he did go a number of times previously, why this particular weekend?  Why this particular  hotel?  My mother went with a friend.  Did they just simply decide to go or did they consider going for a while, considering different hotels and different dates until finally honing in on this particular one?  My father, also, although he attended alone, must have certainly considered other weekends and other places.  If either of them had made any other decision, they most probably would never have met; my father being from New York City and my mother from Scranton, Pennsylvania.  The hotel just happened to be about half way between these two cities.

They met at a ping pong table.  My mother was playing with her friend.  My father asked if he could play the winner.  What if her friend had won?  What if my father had walked, that morning, over to the tennis courts rather than the ping pong tables?  What if my mother did not play ping pong?  Would I have ever been born? Or my sisters?  Or our children and grandchildren, and their future children and grandchildren?

In an unfathomably vast and complex universe, we seem to be random and trivial accidents in the huge flux of physical and social forces. The idea of personal destiny, of being born to fulfill a purpose, of arriving on this planet with anything but a body filled with extremely complicated physical equipment, seems self-delusional and to fly in the face of everything that we have 'learned' in the twentieth century.  If we have any sense of purpose, we think,  it probably grew out of the particular circumstances that we were exposed to after we were first born and especially out of the particular psychological dynamics between our mothers and fathers and their relationships to us, or we can say to ourselves and others a phrase that is currently enjoying great populariy, "It's in our DNA."

We do know that DNA is part of a wondrously complex system for manufacturing proteins.  DNA is that component of the system where the recipes for these proteins are stored.  Each of us is born with a slightly different set of protein recipes and we do know that some sequences of these recipes are associated with certain behaviors and desires as opposed to others.  For instance, organisms that contain the human genome are born with a craving for their mother's milk, seek out their mothers breast and already know how to suckle it.  Newborn koalas, or centipedes, or termites, or dung beetles, each with their own unique sets of DNA sequences are also born with cravings, but with very different cravings, and seek out very different looking mothers to satisfy those cravings.  Are these different inherent cravings caused by the different arrangements of DNA in each of these creatures, or are the different arrangements of DNA associated with these different cravings, and there may or may not be a causal relationship between them?  Is there a deeper cause, some kind of over arching intention that caused a being to be born with a particular sequence of DNA because that being or some other being wanted that being to experience an existence with a certain set of desires; those desires being satisfied through a certain organism with certain characteristics and certain ways of satisfying those desires?  Is the particular set of DNA sequences that an organism possesses, in other words, the particular set and sequence of manufacturing particular proteins in an organism, is this the root cause of the way an organism is, or are these particular proteins, the sequence in which they are manufactured and the system in which they are delivered, intentional?  Is this the DNA sequence that corresponds to  the kind of organism that we want to be; in the environment in which we want to experience the world, with a particular set of desires and particular biological ways of fulfilling those desires, that we somehow chose?  Do we live the life that we want to live, facing the challenges that we want to face, and possessing the biological equipment that we want to possess to meet those challenges?

So much is made, in Darwinian evolutionary theory of  random "mutations" resulting from reproduction errors, that cause, in combination with natural selection, all the DNA differences among organisms.  What if these DNA differences were not caused by random variations and natural selection, but the result of an intention to design a being with a particular set of desires capable of functioning in a particular environment?  And not just an external environment, but an internal mammalian or reptilian or avian environment?   In other words, is the particular DNA sequences that we have another random accident, or is DNA, also, part of some kind of intention, some kind of choice that we or some other being has made prior to us being born?

What is an intention?  An intention is a desire to somehow manipulate or even create something in the physical universe that provides an experience for ones self or for others that is preferable to the experience that is provided by the physical universe prior to this manipulation.  We want ice cream because we prefer the experience of eating ice cream over the experience of not eating it.  We want a sturdy house because we prefer the experience of the safety and security of a sturdy house  over the experience of the insecurity and exposure of  an unsturdy house.  We want to scratch our foot because we prefer the experience of itchlessness over the experience of itchiness.  We want world peace because we know enough about the discomfort of tension and the horrors of war to prefer the experience of calm and peace over the experience  of tension and war.

To have an intention, a preference for one experience over the other,  implies the capacity to experience.  Inorganic material, clearly, has no such capacity.  Inorganic material is passive.  It moves or doesn't move, changes form from liquid to solid to gas, combines with other substances or separates from those substances,  purely based upon the forces that impinge upon it.  It has no preference to be stationary or to move at light speed, to be in great heat or in great cold, to be part of a huge conglomeration of matter like a star or to be an isolated atom floating through the universe.  Having no capacity to experience, inorganic matter has no preferences at all.  All the behavior of inorganic matter can be explained in terms of the forces that impinge upon it.

There are three kinds of phenomena that cannot be predicted purely by the forces that impinge on them.  Among living organisms there is biological activity and there is behavior.  Both of these, biological activity and behavior, make sense in terms of forces, but the forces are generated, in both cases, by metabolism, by a system of gathering fuel and generating energy from that fuel, not to violate, but to overcome the natural forces that impinge upon the organism.  A corpse is an organism with no self generating metabolism, therefore, no activity, biological or behavioral, which overcomes the natural forces impinging on it.  Behavior is activity that is motivated by our preference to have a certain experience or to avoid a certain experience.  It implies the capacity of living beings to experience and to prefer one experience over the other.

The third category of phenomena that cannot be predicted purely by the forces that impinge on them are the activities of machines.  A machine is a way of  using a source of energy to accomplish an activity.  The activity that a machine accomplishes, if it works,  provides an experience that is preferable to the experience provided by the physical universe prior to the use of the machine.  This experience is preferable to the inventor of the machine, the builder of the machine and the user of the machine.  It is not preferable to the machine itself.  The machine itself, including our most sophisticated electronic machines and computers,  is not capable of having an experience, therefore not capable of prefering one experience over the other; therefore the machine, itself, really has no self; the self being the nexus of the capacity to experience and the nexus of a set of preferences for one experience over the other.

A lot of idiotic science fiction movies notwithstanding, machines and all the components of machines, have no capacity to experience.  They can do very complicated tasks, but they do so with no consciousness, no experience.  Now we have many sophisticated machines in our current environment that use electricity.  These machines are able to  match patterns of electrons, but they do not know that they are matching patterns of electrons.  They can switch to matching new patterns depending on which patterns had previously matched or not matched.  Again, however, they do not know they are matching patterns or switching patterns.  They know nothing.  Knowing is a conscious activity and machines are not conscious.  The machine, called Big Blue, that beat the great chess player Garry Kasparov and the machine, called Alpha Go,  that beat the great go player Lee Seedol, did not know that they were playing chess or playing go.  They did not know that they were in a competition.  They did not know that they were called Big Blue or Alpha Go.  Although they were referred to, affectionately, by their creators as 'she' or 'he' or even 'it,'  they were not really a he or a she or an it, in the sense that we usually use those pronouns.  If these pronouns are used in the case of computers or other machines that we are fond of, they do not refer to a unitary source of agency, intention and experience, that we usually think of when we say, "He went to work,' or "she  doesn't like to be bothered"or "they are very busy at school." We usually use these pronouns simply because the machine enables us to satisfy intentions that are important to us and we have affection for these machines because they do that.  These machines, of course, do not have any affection for us.

Because they have no capacity to experience, a machine does not seek out one experience over the other.  A self driving car, thankfully, does not go where "it" wants to go.  It takes you to where you want to go.  Your computer doesn't write the emails that it wants to write to the people that it wants to get in contact with.  It assists you in writing the emails that you want to write to the people that you want to get in contact with.  It searches for the information that you are interested in, not for the information that it is interested in.  It is purely and utterly the servant of your intentions, not its own intentions.

Our bodies are a conglomeration of organic machines that also, like inorganic machines, are the servants of our intentions.  Now there are, also, within our bodies innumberable microbial creatures and viruses that are pursuing their own intentions, some of which are congruent with our intentions and some of which are in conflict with our intentions.  And there may be cancer cells, which are behaving in their own interest, gathering fuel for their own growth and expansion at the expense of our continued growth and longevity.  But our actual bodies are designed, miraculously, to do whatever it is that we want to do, the moment we want to do it.  And we are born with a set of desires that align perfectly with the environment in which we find ourselves.  As I said earlier, we are born with a craving for our mother's milk, an attraction to our mother's breast which is the source of that milk, and the knowhow to suckle that breast.  All of this, of course, is wonderfully convenient, since we are born to a human mother that has the specific kind of breast with the specific kind of milk that we are craving and that we already know how to suckle.  If we, with human desires and preferences, were born to a centipede mother or a koala mother or a termite mother, we would be in very serious trouble trying to satisfy human desires in a centipede environment.  The same, of course, would be true of a newborn centipede, trying to satisfy its centipede desires in a human environment.

When I say that the equipment that we are born with, that we call our bodies, is miraculous, I am not referring to the staggering molecular complexity of this equipment, which is wondrous but not miraculous.  I am referring to the way in which this equipment is put into motion.  The precise neurons allowing the precise cascades of sequences to deliver the behavior that we want to do to assist us in fulfilling our intentions is initiated instantly simply by us having that intention.  As I said, intention is part of our experience, and we, who we are, is that center of experience, intention and awareness, that is, in this life, connected to our bodies, but is not part of our bodies.  We are that non-physical center of awareness, intention and experience, and we initiate the manifestation of our intentions simply by having them.  This initiation of intention is a movement from the non-physical (us) to the physical: firing neurons and the cascades of molecular, and muscular activity that result.  I call it miraculous because if fits the definition of miraculous, that is: physical activity resulting from a non-physical cause.

Of course, the modern thinking is that it is the brain that has these intentions, that we are simply the passive responders to what our brains want us to do.  But if the brain is not a machine, if it is, itself, the center of intention and experience, where is that experiential center located?  When we look at the brain we see neurons with dendrite extensions that connect to other body cells and axons that connect to other neurons,  and electrical charges moving through those neurons and dendrites and axons.  In what part of the brain are these intentions and experiences located?  We can now map out different areas of the brain that are connected to different kinds of experiences; but the differences in those areas is location, not structure.  We find the same neurons, the same axons, the same dendrites, delivering, depending on location, our visual experiences, aural experiences, thoughts, memories, touches, and tastes.  Where is the consciousness that is translating these patterns of electrical charges into the actual experience that is the very moment to moment fabric (although a non-material fabric) of our lives?

We are not our bodies.  We are the non-physical center of our experience and intentions, and we attempt to realize those intentions  through the agency of our bodies.  Our bodies and, yes, our brains and our DNA, are those systems that allow us to experience the kind of life that we want to experience and the fulfillment or frustration of those intentions that we want to pursue.

What about biological processes? Those processes that exist beyond our purview, including those that exist without any intrusion of our consciousness, and those that are initiated by our conscious desires, are all of those activities, which are metabolically energized  activities, are all of them  intentional? Yes.  Their intention is to keep this entire organism functioning, so that we can experience this world from the perspective that our bodies and brains and DNA determine that we shall experience it, for as long as possible.  So, whose intention is it to allow us to have this particular experience of life on this planet for the longest possible time?  That would be the ultimate being, the being of whom we are all an aspect; that would be the Atman, Infinity, God, the Cosmic Consciousness, Allah, Hashem, the being that has been referred to by countless different names over the centuries, but always the same One being.

I asked a scientist once, a man who had been running a research lab at MIT for thirty years, "What is the difference between a firing neuron and the experience of a firing neuron?"  He said, "I don't think there is a difference."  Really?  Is there a difference between an apple and the experience of eating an apple?  Is there a difference between a CD and the experience of listening to a CD?  The materialist scientist's blindspot regarding their own experience, the entire plane of experience, could not be more clearly dramatized.  And all of modern scientific thinking and brain research rests on the totally unproven assumption that consciousness is the result of very complex electronics.  This may comport with the general assumption in our modern society that matter is the ultimate bases of the universe and that forces and experience and our conscious life spring from matter; but it is totally unproven and is the exact opposite of the much older mystic tradition that the subtle creates the gross; that matter is  the result of forces and that forces and the precise balances between forces are no more than ideas that spring from the Cosmic Consciousness and that allow us to have a material world in the first place.

We now know of many different areas of the brain which are dedicated to either thoughts, memories, visualizations, hearing, touch, heat sensations, etc.  Each of these areas are distinguished by nothing much more than their location.  The multitude of neurons in our brains allow us to make distinctions; the more neurons, the more distinctions.  We can distinguish near from far, round from square, dangerous from friendly, attractive from repellent, beautiful from ugly, and many, many distinctions between those, depending on how many neurons are devoted to that area of our experience.   Yet how can basically the same neurons, the same dendrites, the same axons, the same electrical current moving through all of these; how can this sameness be responsible for the inexhaustible richness and complexity of our moment to moment experience?  When I see a sunset, I see a sunset.  I don't see electrical patterns on my cerebral cortex, no matter how precise and complex that pattern is.  I see the sun.  Evidently scientists must first admit that there is a difference between electrical currents and consciousness.  Then, they might want to explain how such a difference could exist, and how there could be this instant translation from current to consciousness when we are considering  perception, and from consciousness to current when we are considering the translation of intention into action.

Creation, either the first creation of the physical universe or the first creation of life, began with intention.  This intention implies a being that has the capacity to experience and to prefer one experience over the other; in this case the preference that there be a physical universe rather than no physical universe and that there be life rather than no life.  A being has intention and preferences but no physicality.  A living being, like a human being or a dog being or a maple tree being, is attached to an organism, experiences this life and has preferences in this life through the medium of the physical body that it finds itself attached to.

Intention preceding creation from a non-physical being that has no beginning, that is increate, may be a mysterious way of looking at creation, but what would be a non-mysterious way of looking at creation?  Creation appears, in its essence, to be mysterious to a consciousness such as ours which is brain bound and organism bound to time and space.  If you disagree and say there was creation without intention,  then what are you left with?  That there was literally nothing, and then suddenly there was something; that physical matter or energy or force, just appeared and appeared with precisely the right amount of force and ratio of forces and velocities and energy for everything to fall in place and make an entire, synchronous, coherent and stable universe with just the exact right balance of attraction and repulsion to make this universe coherent and stable, those pockets of instability (which supporters of the 'electric universe' make so much of) being necessary to maintain the stability of the whole?

Or do we say that there was something,  some force field say, or some kind of radiation or some kind of conglomeration of particles that led to the Big Bang.  In that case the Big Bang was not really the origin of the physical universe.  Whatever you describe as preceding the Big Bang was the origin of the universe.  And if that origin was physical, did that origin have a beginning?  Do you see where I am going with this?  Something either has to be eternal, or something just popped into being from absolutely nothing: no atoms, no molecules, no forces, no energy fields, no particles at all.  There was literally and absolutely nothing and then, suddenly there was.  This to me is far more mysterious than to say that creation began with an intention; an intention that belonged to a being that had no beginning and that will have no end, and has no physicality. Why is this explanation more satisfactory than the other one?  Because I have discovered, as you can discover, that you are also a being that has the capacity to experience and a set of preferences and a desire to manipulate the physical universe in ways that satisfy those preferences; and that you are not your physical body, any part of your physical body, but you are the non-physical context within which you experience your physical body.  You are consciousness.

A brain scientist trying to explain to me where that center of consciousness may be located in the brain, shared with me that we have begun to discover a specific place where the brain attempts to make coherence out of incoherent thoughts.  Or is it, as I would suspect, the place in the brain where our attempts to find coherence from incoherence are recorded?  But whether we describe this person as being coherent with a perceptual and thought framework that she is comfortable with, or incoherent, with a perceptual and thought framework that is torturous to her, we are still describing two different conditions of the same person.  The context of consciousness is still there, it's just having two very different experiences.  So if consciousness is the context of our very deepest thoughts, if it even encompasses our very sense of coherence and incoherence, then what,  the brain scientist wanted to know,  is this context of consciousness that you talk of?  This context that we can neither see nor hear?  The context is you, you, you!  You are coherent or incoherent.  You are lucid or impaired.  Whatever the contents of your consciousness, whatever the strength or weaknesses of those contents, the good or evil of those contents, the coherence or incoherence of those contents, the context of those contents is still  you.  You are consciousness.  Not what you experience, but the experiencer.  Not what you desire, but the desirer.  Not what you observe, but the observer.  You are not a that, but a that which; that which experiences and desires.  You are consciousness and consciousness is you.



Once again, the comment lamp is lit.

Matt Chait



















Saturday, September 30, 2017

OLD SCHOOL

Deep in the middle of the ocean there is a gigantic school of fish, a veritable thalassic mega-university.  The student population is so large that it dwarfs that of UCLA, the University of Texas and NYU combined.  It is so old that the universities of Bologna, Oxford and Salamanca are mere upstarts in comparison.  At this venerable and mammoth institution there are only three professors: the Minister, the Marinologist and the Mystic.  Are these the same three professors who have been teaching at the university all through the millennia?  Probably not, but it's hard to say, because each of them teaches the identical things and in the identical manner that their predecessor taught.

When they first arrive at the University, the fishmen (they used to be called freshmen, then fresh fishmen, then fresh fish; but fishmen was finally settled on), these new arrivals study exclusively with the Minister. The Minister asks them to close their eyes and to imagine something so great, so powerful, so essential to their lives that they are utterly dependent on it.  The fishmen all try terribly hard to imagine such a thing, but then confess that they cannot.  The Minister at that point always cries, "Exactly so.  This thing is so much larger, so much more terrifying and so much more benevolent than we can imagine.  And we call this thing Water!"  "But how can we believe in 'Water' if we cannot imagine it?" cry the fishmen.  "Because you must!,"  cries the minister, "and woe to you who does not.  Because if you do not believe in Water a fate awaits you worse than you can imagine, and if you do believe in Water you will find your reward in a paradise that is also beyond your imagining."  Terrified, all the fishmen would shout in unison, "We believe!  We believe."  But underneath that belief there always lurked this nagging doubt.  "What if there really was no Water?  What if we believe only because we are afraid not to believe?"

After the passage of some time of alternating believing and doubting, each fish, still seeking some solid truth, finds its way back to the University.  These returning students now study with the second professor, the Marinologist.  The first thing the Marinologist asks them is to not close their eyes at all, but to keep them open, wide open.  He then leads them on a long journey of observation where they encounter arthropods, cnidarians, echinoderms, hemichordates, lophophorates, every possible form of sea vegetable and sea animal and every form of coral and rock and sand formation.  At the end of this long journey the Marinologist says, "We have now seen all there is to see.  So I ask you this: have any of you observed anything called Water?"  And the entire multitude of fish confess in unison that they had observed no such thing.  "Then do not let me hear you, ever again, refer to anything called Water.  It is a myth, a delusion, a superstition.  It is something that you learn when you are children, little fishmen, but now you are older and wiser.  You are adults and to be a knowledgeable and sophisticated adult you must give up these childish things."

Older and wiser, they return to their homes, but after a while nagging doubts resurface.  The minister had impressed upon them so powerfully, the need to believe in Water and the dreadful consequences of not doing so, that the thought occurs, "What if there really is Water and we just cannot see it?"  So after leading this wise and sophisticated life for some time, the doubts and insecurities that underlie that sophisticated veneer come to the fore and the fish find themselves returning to the University yet again.  This time they study with the third professor, the Mystic.

The Mystic says nothing.  Rather than lecture his students, he takes them to a very high underwater mountain.  The top of this mountain, which is a flat rock, protrudes at the moment of lowest tide, for a fraction of an inch above the water line.  Then, in another moment or two, when the tide starts to rise, the mountain top is, once again, submerged.  All the student fish follow the professor to the mountain top just before lowest tide.  There they all, for a few moments, endure a ghastly experience including the inability to breathe or swim, but merely to quiver in helpless fear and anxiety,  until the water returns, at which point every fish on that mountain top can now, for the first time, experience something that they can without doubt, refer to as 'Water.'  For the rest of their lives, these fish do not believe in Water, because they do not need to.  They know Water, because they have known 'no Water.'  Although they may not have all the information that the Marinologist has, they are, in an important way, wiser; because they have experienced this world from a wider and deeper perspective;  beyond the box within which the Marinologist, unwittingly,  views the world.  They also do not share the beliefs of the Minister.  They do not believe; they know.  And what they know they cannot observe, because water is not part of the observable content of their lives, but part of its unobservable context.  

When they return home, they return with knowledge.  They are not morally better than the Minister and his believers; but they are more secure and their gratitude for Water is never insincere.  They realize that life within Water is, already, the paradise that the Minister had promised.  Also, all the information that they received from the Marinologist is still with them.  They do not know more than the Marinologist, but they realize that Water is the context, not the content, of everything that they had observed under  his guidance.




Thanks for reading.  The comment lamp is lit!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

THE SUN

I went with my son to see the sun; more specifically, the total solar eclipse of the sun.  We drove 1800 miles in two days and watched the eclipse from a mountain top accessible only by a logging road, 17 miles outside of the town of Sweet Home, Oregon.  I really didn't know what to expect, but here is what I saw:

Through my 'eclipse' glasses the sun looked roughly as illuminated as the moon, except that this was an orange moon.  Everything else, besides that orange 'moon' was inky black.  Then a black sphere, starting in the north east portion of that moon, started eating away at it.  In the beginning it looked like the Apple logo.  Then it looked like a fat banana.  Then a crescent.  Then a tiny crescent sliver.  Then it disappeared.  While this was going on, I could see from around the sides of my little eclipse glasses, that we were moving quickly from day to night, including the growing sounds of crickets and cicadas.  But the real pay off, the thing that I wasn't really expecting, and which proved to be the most amazing thing I had ever seen in my entire life, was that when the sun was totally eclipsed and I could see nothing but blackness through my eclipse glasses, I could then look at the sun, or the eclipsed sun, with my naked eyes.  The moon was dark, but not completely dark.  It was illuminated by the reflection of those parts of the earth that were not being totally covered by the moon's shadow, so you could see the surface of the moon in amazing detail.  But surrounding that dark moon was the sun's corona.  Still pictures of the corona do not do it justice.  It is a mass of roiling, boiling, silver gasses spread out for millions of miles in all directions.  Suddenly I experienced, for the first time, the majesty and awesome power of the sun.  Not the gentle,  warming, comforting sun, that we are used to,  but a terrifyingly gigantic, smoking engine; an unfathomably powerful ancient generator that energizes every living thing on this planet and keeps the entire solar system and all of us in its orbit.  We are all falcons and suddenly we get to glimpse  the falconer; an immediate, visceral sense of the power of this universe and our total dependence on it.

If you saw it, you will know exactly what I mean.  If you didn't see it, make your plans NOW to see the next total eclipse, which will arrive on April 4, 2024.  The band of totality in the United States will spread from Texas to Maine.  This time, God willing, I will be flying, not driving.  Driving that distance in two days at my age was a stretch.  In seven years it will be an impossibility.

See you there!

Sunday, July 9, 2017

UNDERSTANDING THE QUANTUM, THE PARTICLE/WAVE DUALITY

The quantum is the world of tiny, very tiny, unfathomably tiny sub atomic particles that make up the fabric of our bodies and the world around us.  It is said that “if you think you understand the quantum, then you don’t.”  That the behavior of these particles is so bizarre, so weird in relation to the way that things behave in our familiar world of visible objects, that it is just impossible to make any sense of it. The point of this post is to do exactly that, to suggest to you a framework in which not only quantum phenomena, but also phenomena in our familiar visible world, phenomena in the astonomical world of gigantic objects hurtling through space at unfathomable speeds and even the personal world of our internal experience all make some kind of consistent, coherent sense.

In this post I wont be discussing all the weirdness of the quantum, just one important aspect of it; the particle/wave duality. To do that we’ll hone in on the experiment through which the particle/wave duality was first discovered, the double slit experiment. Now please really focus on this so you can appreciate how truly weird this is.

Here is an illustration of this experiment done with light. 





We normally think of light as a wave, and it is, but it has also been found to contain tiny particles, minute packets of energy, that we call photons. In this illustration, light is shone at this wall that contains two slits, and some of that light goes through the slits and photons hit this plate, which is a light sensitive photographic plate; so when a photon hits it, it makes a tiny white dot. As the photons build up a white pattern emerges.  If I cover up one of these slits, so the light can only go through the other slit, you would expect to get a band of white, directly in line from the lamp, through the open slit, to the plate. That is what you would expect and that is what you get.  And if I expose this other slit, you would expect to get two bands of light in the direct line from the lamp, through either of the two slits and onto the plate.  That is  what you would expect, but that is not what you get.  

What you get is this: 



a series of bands of light alternating with bands of darkness. This is called an interference pattern.  And it is made when two waves overlap.   Waves move in crests and troughs.  When a crest emerging from one slit overlaps a crest emerging from the other slit, they make one higher crest and when this higher crest reaches the plate, you get a solid white band.  Same with troughs. If troughs from each wave overlap each other, then you get a deeper trough and when it reaches the plate you get another solid white band.  But if a crest overlaps a trough, their energies  cancel each other out. In that area, no photons reach the plate and you get a dark band.    Light, dark, light dark, like that.

So when the light goes through one slit, the photons behave like perfectly respectable particles, continue in their straight trajectory and you get one band.  But when both slits are open, you get a wave of light emerging from each slit, not a particle. The  two waves merge and you get this interference pattern. Although please note that no matter how the light travels from the slits to the plate, either as a wave or a particle, when it collides with the plate, it always collides as a particle; always making a single dot of white and not a white wave. That is important and I’ll get back to it later.

So this is weird, but here is something weirder. If I set up a detection device at the slits,  so we know which slit the photon is passing through: the first one went through the right slit, the second one went through the left, etc., when we know that, then the interference pattern disappears, the light acts like well behaved particles and we get just the two bands directly in line with the slits. When we know which slit the photon is passing through, we get the two bands; when we don’t know, we get the interference pattern.  Now that is very weird.

Okay, weirder than that:  If I dim the light so much, and reduce the aperture of the lamp so much that only one photon is being released at a time, say at intervals of ten seconds, and both slits are open, a tiny white dot will appear on the plate every ten seconds and very gradually a pattern will emerge; but that pattern will not be the two band pattern, it will be the interference pattern.  What?  Hold on!   How can one photon, or one wave, interfere with itself, or interfere with another photon that will be making a wave, but hasn’t made a wave yet?  That is very, very weird.

Most weird of all:  It doesn’t work just with light,  but with electrons, protons, neutrons, whole atoms, even molecules consisting of several atoms.  When you shoot particles at two slits and you don’t know which slit the particles are passing through, you will get an interference pattern,  indicating the intermingling of two waves and not the separate trajectories of two particles.

The atom?  The atom?  So long thought of as completely indivisible and eternal, the bedrock foundation of the materialist point of view, and then once it was split in the twentieth century  only with the release of terrifying powers, enough to decimate whole cities and the release of deadly radiation that threatens all of civilization;  this same atom, does what? casually morphs into a fluid wave, maybe two waves, mingles, becomes a particle again?  There’s no explosion, no damage.  The laboratory is fine, the equipment is fine, the researcher is fine.  What’s going on?

Erwin Shrodinger, a prominent physicist, first thought that the wave was  an extended form of the particle.  If the particle were, say, an electron, the wave would be a stretched out electron.  In that case, researchers felt, they should be able to detect fractional electrons.  If the particle is stretched out, there should be a tenth of an electron here, a twentieth of it there, etc.  Yet no such fractions were ever detected. If you are in the business of detecting electrons,  you either detect nothing or you detect a whole electron, with the same mass, the same charge, the same spin as every other electron. 

I should note here that all the subatomic particles that we will be discussing have never been seen.  They are way, way too small for that.  They are detected, but not seen, by detecting a certain mass, a certain spin and a certain charge coming from a precise, discrete area.   

So if the wave is not an extended form of the particle, then what is it? There is no agreed upon understanding of what the wave is and no agreed upon explanation for the wave/particle duality. There are methods of calculating, and calculating very accurately,  the probabilities of where particles will be if they become waves and create interference patterns; basically, the brighter areas of the pattern would be the areas where a particle would be more likely to show up, and dimmer areas, less so.  But these are methods of calculating results, not explanations of how these results are achieved; not explaining in a satisfying way what a wave is, or why it  turns into a particle, if it does,  or why a particle turns into a wave,  if it does, or why in the world it is effected by whether or not we know which slit the particles are passing through.  

The field abounds with wild speculations:  The wave is a wave of probability.  It susses out, like a pathfinder,  all the places along the interference pattern where a particle could land, but doesn’t actually move the particle there, itself.  Then, how does the particle move from the slits to the plate?  Actually, it doesn’t. The particle disappears into another universe when it leaves the slits and reappears at the plate, shuttling back and forth between two universes.  Or, each particle lands at every possible landing site on the interference pattern, but in a different universe for each site.  Or, there is no wave.  The  particle simultaneously travels every possible path from the lamp through the slits to the plate, including getting there via the moon and the Andromeda galaxy and is effected by the forces it encounters on each of these journeys, until all other paths are cancelled out except the ones that will bring it to the interference pattern, with more paths leading to the brighter spots and fewer paths leading to the dimmer spots.  This one is called the ‘sum of paths’ approach and although it calculates the probable location of particles with great accuracy, it’s author, Richard Feynman, is the very man who said, “If you think you understand the quantum, then you don’t.”

Many prominent scientists have been pondering the particle/wave duality for  over a century; Neils Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, Max Planck among them.  As brilliant as these men were, they were all looking at the world from a Western perspective which is really, now, the dominant modern perspective of both East and West.  And deeply, deeply ingrained in this perspective is the idea  that forces are connected to matter, and emanate from matter.  That matter, in the form of particles, is the foundational structure of our universe and that everything, including forces, planets, galaxies, even life, consciousness and love, somehow come out of the endless and countless and unguided interplay of these particles. 

If you went to school when I did, you learned that civilization and the accumulation of accurate knowledge began in Greece, not quite three thousand years ago, proceeded to Rome , continued from there through a few different European countries until some of those European people came to America at which point some of civilization and real learning spread here as well.  

About 2500 years ago Democritus, in Greece, had the idea that the world around us was not made of solid matter, that it was actually divided into tiny bits, way too small to be seen,  that he called atoms, from the Greek word atomos, which means indivisible.

Here is an illustration of Democritus’ conception of the atom: