The Arcania of Arkani

It is not often you get to disagree with a genius. But if you read enough or attend enough lectures sooner or later some genius is going to say or write something that you can see is evidently false, or perhaps (being a bit more modest) you might think is merely intuitively false. So the other day I see this lecture by Nima Arkani-Hamed with the intriguing title “The Morality of Fundamental Physics”. It is a really good lecture, I recommend every young scientist watch it. (The “Arcane” my title alludes to, by the way, is a good thing, look up the word!) It will give you a wonderful sense of the culture of science and a feeling that science is one of the great ennobling endeavours of humanity. The way Arkani-Hamed describes the pursuit of science also gives you comfort as a scientist if you ever think you are not earning enough money in your job, or feel like you are “not getting ahead” — you should simply not care! — because doing science is a huge privilege, it is a reward unto itself, and little in life can ever be as rewarding as making a truly insightful scientific discovery or observation. No one can pay me enough money to ever take away that sort of excitement and privilege, and no amount of money can purchase you the brain power and wisdom to achieve such accomplishments.  And one of the greatest overwhelming thrills you can get in any field of human endeavour is firstly the hint that you are near to turning arcane knowledge into scientific truth, and secondly when you actually succeed in this.

First, let me be deflationary about my contrariness. There is not a lot about fundamental physics that one can honestly disagree with Arkani-Hamed about on an intellectual level, at least not with violent assertions of falsehood.  Nevertheless, fundamental physics is rife enough with mysteries that you can always find some point of disagreement between theoretical physicists on the foundational questions. Does spacetime really exist or is it an emergent phenomenon? Did the known universe start with a period of inflation? Are quantum fields fundamental or are superstrings real?

When you disagree on such things you are not truly having a physics disagreement, because these are areas where physics currently has no answers, so provided you are not arguing illogically or counter to known experimental facts, then there is a wide open field for healthy debate and genuine friendly disagreement.

Then there are deeper questions that perhaps physics, or science and mathematics in general, will never be able to answer. These are questions like: Is our universe Everettian? Do we live in an eternal inflation scenario Multiverse? Did all reality begin from a quantum fluctuation, and, if so, what the heck was there to fluctuate if there was literally nothing to begin with? Or can equations force themselves into existence from some platonic reality merely by brute force of their compelling beauty or structural coherence? Is pure information enough to instantiate a physical reality (the so-called “It from Bit” meme.

Some people disagree on whether such questions are amenable to experiment and hence science. The Everettian question may some day become scientific. But currently it is not, even though people like David Deutsch seem to think it is (a disagreement I would have with Deutsch). While some of the “deeper ” questions turn out to be stupid, like the “It from Bit” and “Equations bringing themselves to life” ideas. However, they are still wonderful creative ideas anyway, in some sense, since they put our universe into contrast with a dull mechanistic cosmos that looks just like a boring jigsaw puzzle.

The fact our universe is governed (at least approximately) by equations that have an internal consistency, coherence and even elegance and beauty (subjective though those terms may be) is a compelling reason for thinking there is something inevitable about the appearance of a universe like ours. But that is always just an emotion, a feeling of being part of something larger and transcendent, and we should not mistake such emotions for truth. By the same token mystics should not go around mistaking mystical experiences for proof of the existence of God or spirits. That sort of thinking is dangerously naïve and in fact anti-intellectual and incompatible with science. And if there is one truth I have learned over my lifetime, it is that whatever truth science eventually establishes, and whatever truths religions teach us about spiritual reality, wherever these great domains of human thought overlap they must agree, otherwise one or the other is wrong. In other words, whatever truth there is in religion, it must agree with science, at least eventually. If it contradicts known science it must be superstition. And if science contravenes the moral principles of religion it is wrong.

Religion can perhaps be best thought of in this way:  it guides us to knowledge of what is right and wrong, not necessarily what is true and false. For the latter we have science. So these two great systems of human civilization go together like the two wings of a bird, or as in another analogy, like the two pillars of Justice, (1) reward, (2) punishment. For example, nuclear weapons are truths of our reality, but they are wrong. Science gives us the truth about the existence and potential for destruction of nuclear weapons, but it is religion which tells us they are morally wrong to have been fashioned and brought into existence, so it is not that we cannot, but just that we should not.

Back to the questions of fundamental physics: regrettably, people like to think these questions have some grit because they allow one to disbelieve in a God. But that’s not a good excuse for intellectual laziness. You have to have some sort of logical foundation for any argument. This often begins with an unproven assumption about reality. It does not matter where you start, so much, but you have to start somewhere and then be consistent, otherwise as elementary logic shows you would end up being able to prove (and disprove) anything at all. If you start with a world of pure information, then posit that spacetime grows out of it, then (a) you need to supply the mechanism of this “growth”, and (b) you also need some explanation for the existence of the world of pure information in the first place.

Then if you are going to argue for a theory that “all arises from a vacuum quantum fluctuation”, you have a similar scenario, where you have not actually explained the universe at all, you have just pushed back the existence question to something more elemental, the vacuum state. But a quantum vacuum is not a literal “Nothingness”, in fact is is quite a complicated sort of thing, and has to involve a pre-existing spacetime or some other substrate that supports the existence of quantum fields.

Further debate along these lines is for another forum. Today I wanted to get back to Nima Arkani-Hamed’s notions of morality in fundamental physics and then take issue with some private beliefs people like Arkani-Hamed seem to profess, which I think betray a kind of inconsistent (I might even dare say “immoral”) thinking.

Yes, there is a Morality in Science

Arkani-Hamed talks mostly about fundamental physics. But he veers off topic in places and even brings in analogies with morality in music, specifically in lectures by the great composer Leonard Bernstein, there are concepts in the way Bernstein describes the beauty and “inevitability” of passages in great music like Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Bernstein even gets close to saying that after the first four notes of the symphony almost the entire composition could be thought of as following as an inevitable consequence of logic and musical harmony and aesthetics. I do not think this is flippant hyperbole either, though it is somewhat exaggerated. The cartoon idea of Beethoven’s music following inevitable laws of aesthetics has an awful lot in common with the equally cartoon notion of the laws of physics having, in some sense, their own beauty and harmony such that it is hard to imagine any other set of laws and principles, once you start from the basic foundations.

I should also mention that some linguists would take umbrage at Arkani-Hamed’s use of the word “moral”.  Really, most of what he lectures about is aesthetics, not morality.  But I am happy to warp the meaning of the word “moral” just to go along with the style of Nima’s lecture.  Still, you do get a sense from his lecture, that the pursuit of scientific truth does have a very close analogy to moral behaviour in other domains of society.  So I think he is not totally talking about aesthetics, even though I think the analogy with Beethoven’s music is almost pure aesthetics and has little to do with morality.   OK, those niggles aside, let’s review some of Arkani’Hamed’s lecture highlights.

The way Arkani-Hamed tells the story, there are ways of thinking about science that are not just “correct”, but more than correct, the best ways of thinking seem somehow “right”, whereby he means “right” in the moral sense. He gives some examples of how one can explain a phenomenon (e.g., the apparent forwards pivoting of a helium balloon suspended inside a boxed car) where there are many good explanations that are all correct (air pressure effects, etc) but where often there is a better deeper more morally correct way of reasoning (Einstein’s principle of equivalence — gravity is indistinguishable from acceleration, so the balloon has to “fall down”).

philsci_immoral_helim_balloon

It really is entertaining, so please try watching the video. And I think Arkani-Hamed makes a good point. There are “right” ways of thinking in science, and “correct but wrong ways”. I guess, unlike human behaviour the scientifically “wrong” ways are not actually spiritually morally “bad”, as in “sinful”. But there is a case to be made that intellectually the “wrong” ways of thinking (read, “lazy thinking ways”) are in a sense kind of “sinful”. Not that we in science always sin in this sense of using correct but not awesomely deep explanations.  I bet most scientists which they always could think in the morally good (deep) ways! Life would be so much better if we could. And no one would probably wish to think otherwise. It is part of the cultural heritage of science that people like Einstein (and at times Feynman, and others) knew of the morally good ways of thinking about physics, and were experts at finding such ways of thinking.

Usually, in brief moments of delight, most scientists will experience fleeting moments of being able to see the morally good ways of scientific thinking and explanation. But the default way of doing science is immoral, by in large, because it takes a tremendous amount of patience and almost mystical insight, to be able to always see the world of physics in the morally correct light — that is, in the deepest most meaningful ways — and it takes great courage too, because, as Arkani-Hamed points out, it takes a lot more time and contemplation to find the deeper morally “better” ways of thinking, and in the rush to advance one’s career and publish research, these morally superior ways of thinking often get by-passed and short-circuited. Einstein was one of the few physicists of the last century who actually managed, a lot of his time, to be patient and courageous enough to at least try to find the morally good explanations.

This leads to two wonderful quotations Arkani-Hamed offers, one from Einstein, and the other from a lesser known figure of twentieth century science, the mathematician Alexander Gröthendieck — who was probably an even deeper thinker than Einstein.

The years of anxious searching in the dark, with their intense longing, their intense alternations of confidence and exhaustion and the final emergence into the light—only those who have experienced it can understand it.
— Albert Einstein, describing some of the intellectual struggle and patience needed to discover the General Theory of Relativity.

“The … analogy that came to my mind is of immersing the nut in some softening liquid, and why not simply water? From time to time you rub so the liquid penetrates better, and otherwise you let time pass. The shell becomes more flexible through weeks and months—when the time is ripe, hand pressure is enough, the shell opens like a perfectly ripened avocado!

“A different image came to me a few weeks ago. The unknown thing to be known appeared to me as some stretch of earth or hard marl, resisting penetration … the sea advances insensibly in silence, nothing seems to happen, nothing moves, the water is so far off you hardly hear it … yet it finally surrounds the resistant substance.”
— Alexander Gröthendieck, describing the process of grasping for mathematical truths.

Beautiful and foreboding — I have never heard of the mathematical unknown likened to a “hard marl” (sandstone) before!

So far all is good. There are many other little highlights in Arkani-Hamed’s lecture, and I should not write about them all, it is much better to hear them explained by the master.

So what is there to disagree with?

The Morally Correct Thinking in Science is Open-Minded

There are a number of characteristics of “morally correct” reasoning in science, or an “intellectually right way of doing things”. Arkani-Hamed seems to list most of the important things:

  • Trust: trust that there is a universal, invariant, human-independent and impersonal (objective) truth to natural laws.
  • Honesty: with others (no fraud) but also more importantly you need to be honest with yourself if you want to do good science.
  • Humility: who you are is irrelevant, only the content of your ideas is important.
  • Wisdom: we never pretend we have the whole truth, there is always uncertainty.
  • Perseverance: lack of certainty is not an excuse for laziness, we have to try our hardest to get to the truth, no matter how difficult the path.
  • Tolerance: it is extremely important to entertain alternative and dissenting ideas and to keep an open mind.
  • Justice: you cannot afford to be tolerant of dishonest or ill-formed ideas. It is indeed vitally important to be harshly judgemental of dishonest and intellectually lazy ideas. Moreover, one of the hallmarks of a great physicist is often said to be the ability to quickly check and to prove one’s own ideas to be wrong as soon as possible.

In this list I have inserted in bold the corresponding spiritual attributes that Professor Nima does not identify. But I think they are important to explicitly state. Because they provide a Rosetta Stone of sorts for translating the narrow scientific modes of behaviour into border domains of human life.

I think that’s a good list. There is, however, one hugely important morally correct way of doing science that Arkani-Hamed misses, and even fails to gloss over or hint at. Can you guess what it is?

Maybe it is telling of the impoverishment in science education, the cold objective dispassionate retelling of facts, in our society that I think not many scientists will even think of his one, but I do not excuse Arkani-Hamed for leaving it off his list, since in many ways it is the most important moral stance in all of science!

It is,

  • Love: the most important driver and motive for doing science, especially in the face of adversity or criticism, is a passion and desire for truth, a true love of science, a love of ideas, an aesthetic appreciation of the beauty and power of morally good ideas and explanations.

Well ok, I will concede this is perhaps implicit in Arkani-Hamed’s lecture, but I still cannot give him 10 out of 10 on his assignment because he should have made it most explicit, and highlighted it in bold colours.

One could point out many instances of scientists failing at these minimal scientific moral imperatives. Most scientists go through periods of denial, believing vainly in a pet theory and failing to be honest to themselves about the weaknesses of their ideas. There is also a vast cult of personality in science that determines a lot of funding allocation, academic appointments, favouritism, and general low level research corruption.

The point of Arkani-Hamed’s remarks is not that the morally good behaviours are how science is actually conducted in the everyday world, but rather it is how good science should be conducted and that from historical experience the “good behaviours” do seem to be rewarded with the best and brightest break-throughs in deep understanding. And I think Arkani-Hamed is right about this. It is amazing (or perhaps, to the point, not so amazing!) how many Nobel Laureates are “humble” in the above sense of putting greater stock in their ideas and not in their personal authority. Ideas win Nobel Prizes, not personalities.

So what’s the problem?

The problem is that while expounding on these simplistic and no-doubt elegant philosophical and aesthetic themes, he manages to intersperse his commentary with the claim, “… by the way, I am an atheist”.

OK, I know what you are probably thinking, “what’s the problem?” Normally I would not care what someone thinks regarding theism, atheism, polytheism, or any other “-ism”. People are entitled to their opinions, and all power to them. But as a scientist I have to believe there are fundamental truths about reality, and about a possible reality beyond what we perceive. There must even be truths about a potential reality beyond what we know, and maybe even beyond what we can possibly ever know.

Now some of these putative “truths” may turn out to be negative results. There may not be anything beyond physical reality. But if so, that’s a truth we should not hereby now and forever commit to believing. We should at least be open-minded to the possibility this outcome is false, and that the truth is rather that there is a reality beyond physical universe.  Remember, open-mindedness was one of Arkani-Hamed’s prime “good behaviours” for doing science.

The discipline of Physics, by the way, has very little to teach us about such truths. Physics deals with physical reality, by definition, and it is an extraordinary disappointment to hear competent, and even “great”, physicists expound their “learned” opinions on theism or atheism and non-existence of anything beyond physical universes. These otherwise great thinkers are guilty of over-reaching hubris, in my humble opinion, and it depresses me somewhat. Even Feynman had such hubris, yet he managed expertly to cloak it in the garment of humility, “who am I to speculate on metaphysics,” is something he might have said (I paraphrase the great man). Yet by clearly and incontrovertibly stating “I do not believe in God” one is in fact making an extremely bold metaphysical statement. It is almost as if these great scientists had never heard of the concept of agnosticism, and somehow seem to be using the word “atheism” as a synonym. But no educated person would make such a gross etymological mistake. So it just leaves me perplexed and dispirited to hear so many claims of “I am atheist” coming from the scientific establishment.

Part of me wants to just dismiss such assertions or pretend that these people are not true scientists. But that’s not my call to make.  Nevertheless, for me, a true scientist almost has to be agnostic. There seems very little other defensible position.

How on earth would any physicist ever know such things (as non-existence of other realms) are true as articles of belief? They cannot! Yet it is astounding how many physicists will commit quite strongly to atheism, and even belittle and laugh at scientists who believe otherwise. It is a strong form of intellectual dishonesty and corruption of moral thinking to have such closed-minded views about the nature of reality.

So I would dare to suggest that people like Nima Arkani-Hamed, who show such remarkable gifts and talents in scientific thinking and such awesome skill in analytical problem solving, can have the intellectual weakness to profess any version of atheism whatsoever. I find it very sad and disheartening to hear such strident claims of atheism among people I would otherwise admire as intellectual giants.

Yet I would never want to overtly act to “convert” anyone to my views. I think the process of independent search for truth is an important principle. People need to learn to find things out on their own, read widely, listen to alternatives, and weigh the evidence and logical arguments in the balance of reason and enlightened belief, and even then, once arriving at a believed truth, one should still question and consider that one’s beliefs can be over-turned in the light of new evidence or new arguments.  Nima’s principle of humility, “we should never pretend we have the certain truth”.

Is Atheism Just Banal Closed-Mindedness?

The scientifically open-mind is really no different to the spiritually open-mind other than in orientation of topics of thought. Having an open-mind does not mean one has to be non-committal about everything. You cannot truly function well in science or in society without some grounded beliefs, even if you regard them all as provisional. Indeed, contrary to the cold-hearted objectivist view of science, I think most real people, whether they admit it or not (or lie to themselves perhaps) they surely practise their science with an idea of a “truth” in mind that they wish to confirm. The fact that they must conduct their science publicly with the Popperrian stances of “we only postulate things that can be falsified” is beside the point. It is perfectly acceptable to conduct publicly Popperian science while privately having a rich metaphysical view of the cosmos that includes all sorts of crazy, and sometimes true, beliefs about the way things are in deep reality.

Here’s the thing I think needs some emphasis: even if you regard your atheism as “merely provisional” this is still an unscientific attitude! Why? Well, because questions of higher reality beyond the physical are not in the province of science, not by any philosophical imperative, but just by plain definition. So science is by definition agnostic as regards the transcendent and metaphysical. Whatever exists beyond physics is neither here nor there for science. Now many self-proclaimed scientists regard this fact about definitions as good enough reason for believing firmly in atheism. My point is that this is nonsense and is a betrayal of scientific morals (morals, that is, in the sense of Arkani-Hamed — the good ways of thinking that lead to deeper insights). The only defensible logical and morally good way of reasoning from a purely scientific world view is that one should be at the basest level of philosophy positive in ontology and minimalist in negativity, and agnostic about God and spiritual reality. It is closed-minded and therefore, I would argue, counter to Arkani-Hamed’s principles of morals in physics, to be a committed atheist.

This is in contrast to being negative about ontology and positively minimalist, which I think is the most mistaken form of philosophy or metaphysics adopted by a majority of scientists, or sceptics, or atheists.  The stance of positive minimalism, or  ontological negativity, adopts, as unproven assumption, a position that whatever is not currently needed, or not currently observed, doe snot in fact exist.  Or to use a crude sound-bite, such philosophy is just plain closed-mindedness.  A harsh cartoon version of which is, “what I cannot understand or comprehend I will assume cannot exist”.   This may be unfair in some instances, but I think it is a fairly reasonable caricature of general atheistic thought.   I think is a lot fairer than the often given argument against religion which points to corruptions in religious practice as a good reason to not believe in God.  There is of course absolutely no causal or logical connection to be made between human corruptions and the existence or non-existence of a putative God.

In my final analysis of Arkani-Hamed’s lecture, I have ended up not worrying too much about the fact he considers himself an atheist. I have to conclude he is a wee bit self-deluded, (like most of his similarly minded colleagues no doubt, yet, of course, they might ultimately be correct, and I might be wrong, my contention is that the way they are thinking is morally wrong, in precisely the sense Arkani-Hamed outlines, even if their conclusions are closer to the truth than mine).

Admittedly, I cannot watch the segments in his lecture where he expresses the beautiful ideas of universality and “correct ways of explaining things” without a profound sense of the divine beyond our reach and understanding. Sure, it is sad that folks like Arkani-Hamed cannot infer from such beauty that there is maybe (even if only possibly) some truth to some small part of the teachings of the great religions. But to me, the ideas expressed in his lecture are so wonderful and awe-inspiring, and yet so simple and obvious, they give me hope that many people, like Professor Nima himself, will someday appreciate the view that maybe there is some Cause behind all things, even if we can hardly ever hope to fully understand it.

My belief has always been that science is our path to such understanding, because through the laws of nature that we, as a civilization, uncover, we can see the wisdom and beauty of creation, and no longer need to think that it was all some gigantic accident or experiment in some mad scientists super-computer. Some think such wishy-washy metaphysics has no place in the modern world. After all, we’ve grown accustomed to the prevalence of evil in our world, and tragedy, and suffering, and surely if any divine Being was responsible then this would be a complete and utter moral paradox. To me though, this is a a profound misunderstanding of the nature of physical reality. The laws of physics give us freedom to grow and evolve. Without the suffering and death there would be no growth, no exercise of moral aesthetics, and arguably no beauty. Beauty only stands out when contrasted with ugliness and tragedy. There is a Yin and Yang to these aspects of aesthetics and misery and bliss. But the other side of this is a moral imperative to do our utmost to relieve suffering, to reduce poverty to nothing, to develop an ever more perfect world. For then greater beauty will stand out against the backdrop of something we create that is quite beautiful in itself.

Besides, it is just as equally wishy-washy to think the universe is basically accidental and has no creative impulse.  People would complain either way.  My positive outlook is that as long as there is suffering and pain in this world, it makes sense to at least imagine there is purpose in it all.  How miserable to adopt Steven Wienberg’s outlook that the noble pursuit of science merely “lifts up above farce to at least the grace of tragedy”.  That’s a terribly pessimistic negative sort of world view.  Again, he might be right that there is no grand purpose or cosmic design, but the way he reasons to that conclusion seems, to me, to be morally poor (again, strictly, if you like, in the Arkani-Hamed morality of physics conception).

There seems, to me, to be no end to the pursuit of perfections. And given that, there will always be relative ugliness and suffering. The suffering of people in the distant future might seem like luxurious paradise to us in the present. That’s how I view things.

The Fine Tuning that Would “Turn You Religious”

Arkani-Hamed mentions another thing that I respectfully take a slight exception to — this is in a separate lecture at a Philosophy of Cosmology conference —  in a talk, “Spacetime, Quantum Mechanics and the Multiverse”.  Referring to the amazing coincidence that our universe has just the right cosmological constant to avoid space being empty and devoid of matter, and just the right Higgs boson mass to allow atoms heavier than hydrogen to form stably, is often, Arkani-Hamed points out, given as a kind of anthropic argument (or quasi-explanation) for our universe.  The idea is that we see (measure) such parameters for our universe precisely, and really only, because if the parameters were not this way then we would not be around to measure them!  Everyone can understand this reasoning.  But it stinks!   And off course it is not an explanation, such anthropic reasoning reduces to mere observation.  Such reasonings are simple banal brute facts about our existence.  But there is a setting in metaphysics where such reasoning might be the only explanation, as awful as it smells.  That is, if our meta-verse is governed by something like Eternal Inflation, (or even by something more ontologically radical like Max Tegmark’s “Mathematical Multiverse”) whereby every possible universe is at some place or some meta-time, actually realised by inflationary big-bangs (or mathematical consequences in Tegmark’s picture) then it is really boring that we exist in this universe, since no matter how infinitesimally unlikely the vacuum state of our universe is, within the combinatorial possibilities of all possible inflationary universe bubbles (or all possible consistent mathematical abstract realities) there is, in these super-cosmic world views, absolutely nothing to prevent our infinitesimally (“zero probability measure”) universe from eventually coming into being from some amazingly unlikely big-bang bubble.

In a true multiverse scenario we thus get no really deep explanations, just observations.  “The universe is this way because if it were not we would not be around to observe it.”  The observation becomes the explanation.  A profoundly unsatisfying end to physics!   Moreover, such infinite possibilities and infinitesimal probabilities make standard probability theory almost impossible to use to compute anything remotely plausible about multiverse scenarios with any confidence (although this has not stopped some from publishing computations about such probabilities).

After discussing these issues, which Arkani-Hamed thinks are the two most glaring fine-tuning or “naturalness” problems facing modern physics, he then says something which at first seems reasonable and straight-forward, yet which to my ears also seemed a little enigmatic.  To avoid getting it wrong let me transcribe what he says verbatim:

We know enough about physics now to be able to figure out what universes would look like if we changed the constants.  … It’s just an interesting fact that the observed value of the cosmological constant and the observed value of the Higgs mass are close to these dangerous places. These are these two fine-tuning problems, and if I make the cosmological constant more natural the universe is empty, if I make the Higgs more natural the universe is devoid of atoms. If there was a unique underlying vacuum, if there was no anthropic explanation at all, these numbers came out of some underlying formula with pi’s and e’s, and golden ratios, and zeta functions and stuff like that in them, then [all this fine tuning] would be just a remarkably curious fact.… just a very interesting  coincidence that the numbers came out this way.  If this happened, by the way, I would start becoming religious.  Because this would be our existence hard-wired into the DNA of the universe, at the level of the mathematical ultimate formulas.

So that’s the thing that clanged in my ears.  Why do people need something “miraculous” in order to justify a sense of religiosity?  I think this is a silly and profound misunderstanding about the true nature of religion.  Unfortunately I cannot allow myself the space to write about this at length, so I will try to condense a little of what I mean in what will follow.  First though, let’s complete the airing,  for in the next breath Arkani-Hamed says,

On the other hand from the point of view of thinking about the multiverse, and thinking that perhaps a component of these things have an anthropic explanation, then of course it is not a coincidence, that’s were you’d expect it to be, and we are vastly less hard-wired into the laws of nature.

So I want to say a couple of things about all this fine-tuning and anthropomorphic explanation stuff.  The first is that it does not really matter, for a sense of religiosity, if we are occupying a tiny infinitesimal region of the multiverse, or a vast space of mathematically determined inevitable universes.  In fact, the Multiverse, in itself, can be considered miraculous.  Just as miraculous as a putative formulaically inevitable cosmos.   Not because we exist to observe it all, since that after-all is the chief banality of anthropic explanations, they are boring!  But miraculous because a multiverse exists in the first place that harbours all of us, including the infinitely many possible doppelgängers of our universe and subtle and wilder variations thereupon.  I think many scientists are careless in such attitudes when they appear to dismiss reality as “inevitable”.  Nothing really, ultimately, is inevitable.  Even a formulaic universe has an origin in the deep underlying mathematical structure that somehow makes it irresistible for the unseen motive forces of metaphysics to have given birth to It’s reality.

No scientific “explanation” can ever push back further than the principles of mathematical inevitability.  Yet, there is always something further to say about origins of reality .  There is always something proto-mathematical beyond.  And probably something even more primeval beyond that, and so on, ad infinitum, or if you prefer a non-infinite causal regression then something un-caused must, in some atemporal sense, pre-exist everything.  Yet scientists routinely dismiss or ignore such metaphysics.  Which is why, I suspect, they fail to see the ever-present miracles about our known state of reality.  Almost any kind of reality where there is a consciousness that can think and imagine the mysteries of it’s own existence, is a reality that has astounding miraculousness to it.  The fact science seeks to slowly pull back the veils that shroud these mysteries does not diminish the beauty and profundity of it all, and in fact, as we have seen science unfold with it’s explanations for phenomena, it almost always seems elegant and simple, yet amazingly complex in consequences, such that if one truly appreciates it all, then there is no need whatsoever to look for fine-tuning coincidences or formulaic inevitabilities to cultivate a natural and deep sense of religiosity.

I should pause and define loosely what I mean by “religiosity”.  I mean nothing too much more than what Einstein often articulated: a sense of our existence, our universe, being only a small part of something beyond our present understanding, a sense that maybe there is something more transcendent than our corner of the cosmos.  No grand design is in mind here, no grand picture or theory of creation, just a sense of wonder and enlightenment at the beauty inherent in the natural world and in our expanding conscious sphere which interprets the great book of nature. (OK, so this is rather more poetic than what you might hope for, but I will not apologise for that.   I think something gets lost if you remove the poetry from definitions of things like spirituality or religion.  I think this is because if there really is meaning in such notions, they must have aspects that do ultimately lie beyond the reach of science, and so poetry is one of the few vehicles of communication that can point to the intended meanings, because differential equations or numerics will not suffice.)

OK, so maybe Arkani-Hamed is not completely nuts in thinking there is this scenario whereby he would contemplate becoming “religious” in the Einsteinian sense.  And really, no where in this essay am I seriously disagreeing with the Professor.  I just think that perhaps if scientists like Arkani-Hamed thought a little deeper about things, and did not have such materialistic lenses shading their inner vision, perhaps they would be able to see that miracles are not necessary for a deep and profound sense of religiosity or spiritual understanding or appreciation of our cosmos.

*      *       *

Just to be clear and “on the record”, my own personal view is that there must surely be something beyond physical reality. I am, for instance, a believer in the platonic view of mathematics: which is that humans, and mathematicians from other sentient civilizations which may exist throughout the cosmos, gain their mathematical understanding through a kind of discovery of eternal truths about realms of axiomatics and principles of numbers and geometry and deeper abstractions, none of which exist in any temporal pre-existing sense within our physical world. Mathematical theorems are thus not brought into being by human minds. They are ideas that exist independently of any physical universe. Furthermore, I happen to believe in something I would call “The Absolute Infinite”. I do not know what this is precisely, I just have an aesthetic sense of It, and It is something that might also be thought of as the source of all things, some kind of universal uncaused cause of all things. But to me, these are not scientific beliefs. They are personal beliefs about a greater reality that I have gleaned from many sources over the years. Yet, amazingly perhaps, physics and mathematics have been one of my prime sources for such beliefs.

The fact I cannot understand such a concept (as the Absolute Infinite) should not give me any pause to wonder if it truly exists or not. And I feel no less mature or more infantile for having such beliefs. If anything I pity the intellectually impoverished souls who cannot be open to such beliefs and speculations. I might point out that speculation is not a bad thing either, without speculative ideas where would science be? Stuck with pre-Copernican Ptolemy cosmology or pre-Eratosthenes physics I imagine, for speculation was needed to invent gizmos like telescopes and to wonder about how to measure the diameter of the Earth using just the shadow of a tall tower in Alexandria.

To imagine something greater than ourselves is always going to be difficult, and to truly understand such a greater reality is perhaps canonically impossible. So we aught not let such smallness of our minds debar us from truth. It is thus a struggle to keep an open-mind about metaphysics, but I think it is morally correct to do so and to resist the weak temptation to give in to philosophical negativism and minimalism about the worlds that potentially exist beyond ours.

Strangely, many self-professing atheists think they can imagine we live in a super Multiverse. I would ask them how they can believe in such a prolific cosmos and yet not also accept the potential existences beyond the physical? And not even “actual existence” just simply “potential existence”. I would then point out that as long as there is admitted potential reality and plausible truth to things beyond the physical, you cannot honestly commit to any brand of atheism. To my mind, even my most open-mind, this form of atheism would seem terribly dishonest and self-deceiving.

Exactly how physics and mathematics could inform my spiritual beliefs is hard to explain in a few words. Maybe sometime later there is an essay to be written on this topic. For now, all I will say is that like Nima Arkani-Hamed, I have a deep sense of the “correctness” of certain ways of thinking about physics, and sometimes mathematics too (although mathematics is less constrained). And similar senses of aesthetics draw me in like the unveiling of a Beethoven symphony to an almost inevitable realisation of some version of truth to the reality of worlds beyond the physical, worlds where infinite numbers reside, where the mind can explore unrestrained by bones and flesh and need for food or water.  In such worlds greater beauty than on Earth resides.


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Spiritual Structure from Analogy

This is another in a series of posts about spiritual forces.  In this one I’m going to attempt to find out more about spiritual forces and dynamics using physical analogy.  But WARNING: this is a very direct physical use of analogy, from physical forces and associated concepts to spiritual ideas.   So I’m not certain this is the best way to approach the subject (of spiritual forces). But just indulge me ok, consider this a playful composition of ideas.

It is not a final draft. I’ve written it as a train of thought, showing you how my thinking works in something like real time.  Think of it as a delayed live action feed into my mind, with most of my daily cares deleted.   The purpose is not to show you how my brain works, but rather to motivate you to think of further ideas along these lines, or contrary creative ideas.

The Spiritual — A Reminder

For these letters, “spiritual” refers to abstract ideas like love, beauty, truth, justice, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, kindness, and the list goes on.  These are things that have an objective reality, but not a physical reality in their essence.  We can know of these spiritual attributes through our physical senses because all created things manifest something of these abstract eternal spiritual qualities.  A humble rock or speck of dust, for example, manifests the entirely abstract and atemporal quality of “beauty” in the form of it’s crystalline structure. It also manifest a tiny degree of “love” in the cohesion of it’s atomic bonding.

To be perfectly clear, “love” is not an inter-atomic force between charged particles.  The relationship between love and cohesive forces is really the other way around. Gravitational masses and opposite electric charges manifest a particular instantiation of love, which is a purely physical form, that being the attraction between oppositely charged particles, or between gravitational masses.  And of these two physical manifestations of the most basic an elementary aspect of love, it is gravity which is rather beautiful because it is universal and always attractive.   Of course, this can have grave and horrific consequences, such as getting too close to a black hole.

There are perhaps spiritual analogies to the gravitationally completely collapsed objects known as black holes. Can you think of one?

Force and Field — Energy and Potential (the spiritual)

Love can be compared to the universal force of gravity.  What is binded by gravity is mass.  What is bound by love are sentient souls. T he carrier of the force of gravity is the graviton. The stuff which feels the force of gravity is mass (which means gravitational charge).

In the classical picture the graviton acts via geometry, curving spacetime and thus veering two masses towards each other.   Or in the quantum mechanical picture the graviton mediates the force of gravity by an exchange of a quantity called “spin”, which we can describe roughly as an irreducible element of rotational symmetry.   Spin is conserved.   But gravity acts by locally violating conservation of spin.   So the quantum gravity interaction is sort of like: “one mass gives up rotating one way, and the other mass takes up that rotation” and thus globally the symmetry is preserved. This is more of a poetic description of quantum gravity than an exact account, but it suffices for our purposes.

The search for structure in spiritual forces leads me to wonder about what the spiritual analogues are for spin or spacetime curvature, and is there something akin to a conserved quantity?   Or is this taking the metaphor too literally?

Recall Hopper Dunbar’s advice the physical world is a tangible expression and reflection of spiritual truths.   What is seen and understood in the relations between physical entities is mirrored in similar patterns and relations among spiritual realities, and vice versa.   This is presumably not a perfect correspondence, nor is it even entirely logical, but it is my only current guiding principle, so I will take it as far as I can.

At first I thought my understanding is also far too dim to figure out any spiritual correspondence with the physical vectors of forces & fields and the scalars of energy & potential.   But then after a bit of contemplation on a wet humid summer day in Raglan, I thought there might be something worth writing about this. So I had a go.

If there is a correspondence it would be something like having two or more ways of viewing the spiritual force of love.   Two equivalent yet entirely different approaches to describing the force of love. But there is a correspondence with the force & field pairing.

In the spiritual realm the force of love is an intermediary between two souls.   The souls are the spiritually charged particles.

     Spiritual    :    Physical
             love ↔  graviton
             soul ↔ mass
spiritual impulse ↔ force

You could suppose a “spiritual impulse” is a type of wilful volition.   It moves a soul in a certain direction, an inner spiritual direction, not a physical direction. So volition is the spiritual equivalent of a vector force. So I’d prefer to use a correspondence of terms,

Spiritual    :   Physical
       love  ↔ graviton
        soul ↔  mass
    volition ↔  force

A field in physics is the pervasive presence of the force carrying particle (graviton).   So the spiritual correspondence to a field is the pervasiveness of love.   So we might suppose love is everywhere.

What about energy and potential?  Here I thought of the concept of the “power of love” which certainly gets mentioned a lot in literature.  Power is a measure of the use of energy over a given time.  The more energy used over a shorter time the greater the power.   The power of love is thus a measure of the strength of one’s love for something or someone, and whatever influence the force of love has (attracting souls) then greater power of love is a quicker attraction of hearts and souls over a shorter time.

Here’s a problem.  You see, I could not quite abstract away the concept of time, which is a very physical notion.  It seems to infect our sense of spirituality because we (as physical beings) cannot easily project ideas outside the world of time.  Time is a funky thing.  But you can have concepts of time without necessarily thinking of pure physics. Anything that changes implies some kind of time.  Time is a way of measuring rate of change.  Time is what you need to observe any change.  So if the state of a soul can change, then this implies a notion of spiritual time.  But I do not currently have the intellectual resources to talk deeply about a separate sense of spiritual time to physical time, so for now I’ll just merge the two.

Taking power of love as the measure of the rate of attraction (in spiritual space, not physical space) of two souls, we obtain a clearer grasp of the energy of love.  The energy of love is the capacity for love that a soul possesses, which may or may not be employed as an attractive force.  But when there is a greater energy of love from one soul compared to another, then a third soul will naturally feel more strongly connected or attracted (spiritually) to the stronger source of love’s energy.

What is the “energy of love” then? I’d like to abstract away the physics terminology as much as possible.  And what is the potential corresponding to this energy?

Recall, the potential (physics) is the pervasiveness of the energy all over space.  So in the spiritual realm this must correspond to the latent capacity for expressing the energies of love which exist all around our heart and mind.  It pervades every possible thought we have, every idea, every sensation and qualia that our consciousness can convey to our soul. It’s a beautiful correspondence is it not? E very thought is permeated by a capacity for love.  Negative thoughts merely have an absence of full capacity of spirit.

So what is the energy, if love is the force? I’m not sure if I can make any distinction.  If love is a spiritual vector-like force, giving a wilful inner-direction of spiritual motive for a soul, then love’s energy gradient must yield the equivalent spiritual dynamics.  And it is an equivalent way of thinking about love.  The force way of thinking is about motive direction.  The energy way of thinking must yield the same spiritual dynamics but via a gradient of energy.  The direction of maximum increase in energy gives the same motive as the vector of the force of love.

I know I am mixing the physical and spiritual terminology here, but I must for now, in order to try to find the hidden structure.

At this point I can only think of asking the reader for suggestions. What is the spiritual idea corresponding to an energy of love?  We cannot just be lazy and call it energy.  Energy is a raw physics concept.  I am after a proper spiritual concept which plays the role of energy.

My bet current opinion is that the spiritual reality most closely corresponding to an energy, for love, is the human (or other sentient being) sense of excitement in their thoughts and feelings for others.  This is a spiritual energy.  The more inner-excitement one soul generates compared to others, the stronger the force of love which they emanate and with which they can draw others to them, in a spiritual sense.  Closer in heart, so to speak, closer in mind.

This excitement I will term “soulful radiance”.  Although radiance is also a physic concept, it is often used in literature to mean the inner state of joy of someone.  So that’s my meaning.  I’ll adopt radiance as meaning one’s inner state of joy and rapture.  Maybe “rapture” is the word I should use, but I like the imagery of radiance, so I’ll stick with it.

Notice how impossible it is to discuss any of this completely void of physical terms.  It just cannot be done.  Maybe we could draw some abstract symbols and coin new names for them. That’d be fun, but would be a diversion for now. I just have to trust readers will be able to figure out what words here represent inner unseen spiritual realities and which are the physical correspondences.

So now the correspondences read,

Physical   :    Spiritual
  graviton ↔ love
      mass ↔ soul
     force ↔ volition
     field ↔ the volition latent in all possible thoughts
    energy ↔  soulful radiance (rapture/joy/bliss)
 potential ↔ the latent radiance (rapture/joy/bliss) pervading all possible thoughts

Remember, a force can be any type of motive impulse, not just gravity.

So for the particular spiritual force of love we get volitional states of a soul of a particular kind.  These are the kinds of wilful volitions that attract and bind hearts.  For example, the thought that you will send someone flowers today because you love them, or write a meaningful poem for them, or simply smile and comfort them.  These are all thoughts you might entertain as a consequence of the force of love acting upon your inner heart (the aspect of your soul which feels the qualia of emotions).

You maybe then actually carry out the physical actions correlated with putting such will and volition into practise, but that’s all physics.   The primary motive came from the spirit.  Do you see that? It’s important I think.  Too many of our actions are not informed by spiritual impulses, and they tend to be the bad ones!

Now I ask you, for convenience is there a single word which translates as “volition latent in all possible actions”? And is there also one for “the latent rapture pervading all possible thoughts”.  It’d be nice to have such words for elegant simplicity. Maybe you’d care to suggest a few?

What is “latent will or volition”?   It’s something like the (abstract) space of all possible thoughts.  We could call this the thoughtscape, the realm of ideas. Or maybe it is a bit more subtle?   Anyway, the truly beautiful idea I am led to is that within every possible thought there is a potential, a spiritual energy, a radiance or rapture. It’s degree must depend upon other factors, but to think of an inner potential radiance in all thoughts, even humble thoughts, is a wonderful thing.

To think we can also inwardly, in our mind, experience the fullness of such inner radiance by thinking good thoughts is another wonderful thing.  And to think that the spiritual equivalent of “power”, which is the rate of progress or change in such inner radiance, is free for us to tap into if we only relax our busy mind and think such thoughts, is, well, it is an empowering thing to think.  And that such thoughts can inform our day to day physical actions, impressing their spiritual potency and potential upon our physical potential, that again is a wonderfully empowering realisation.

Why then spend your time thinking non-radiant thoughts, thoughts of low spiritual radiance?  They are not going to produce sparkling wilful volition, and will not likely be spiritually attractive, since their love (a spiritual force) will be weak.

These are just the initial ideas I get when applying the physical–spiritual metaphors and analogies.

It’s a bit crazy to think of taking these metaphors and correspondences further, but I’ll do it!   Even if it is crazy, I think it is beautiful.

An Answer to the Analogy Question

A spiritual analogy for the gravitationally completely collapsed objects known as black holes?

Well, it might be a love so strong that it engulfs your mind, a love so potent you will sacrifice yourself for your beloved.   A love so strong it might tear you up and leave you completely dead to your self.  Wouldn’t the greatest be that you end up living as one with your beloved?  Yes, but how many people can claim to have reached that state of perfection?

Maybe, sadly, many who try to reach that state will expire from the effort, give up their physical existence and hasten their physical existence along to become more swiftly at one with the dust. I used to pity such people.  But now I pity ourselves for failing to provide a world that can sustain such love.  This is what life is largely all about.   Ever been stumped by the question, “what’s the meaning of life?”   (Not the definition of life, that’s easy, but the meaning, the purpose, do we actually have any purpose?)

Mainly from reading the thoughts of wiser people, I’ve grown to realise there are many good answers.  One is that we exist to love.  And a large portion of our lives are wasted if we are not constantly actively pursuing living in a way that makes the world around us a happier and more peaceful place for all people to live within.  If you or I could just help one person to give the world their full potential and not expire from the effort of wanting to love too much, but to instead become brilliant from the effort, to become magnificent and radiant from the pain and fire and bliss and ecstasy of their love, well then, wouldn’t that make life worth living?

structure_fire_of_love

Flames of love. The pain can hurt and seem unfair or burn away unhealthy desire and attachment.

There is a lot more to write on this topic, but that’s enough for today from me.

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Spiritual Forces In and Out of Time

What were spiritual forces again?  They are abstractions of human emotions, they are the positive impulses that remain even when all biology and physics is ignored.  Remember, in structuralism one does not imagine the rest of the non-essential stuff of a system is non-existent, rather, we just conveniently ignore it to focus on the essential components and their relationships.  This is a process of thinking called abstraction and generalization.  The concepts involved with spiritual forces are things like love, kindness, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, justice, honesty, and so forth.  Everyone is familiar with what I mean then, but try to define how humans arrive at an understanding of these spiritual abstractions and you might get stuck.

Often I get stuck, and when I do I turn to inspirational writers and thinkers for help.  Some turn out to be a bit intellectually bankrupt, having some hobby horse to whip, but others are genuine searches for truth and meaning within beauty.  One author I’ve recently been reading was Hoper Dunbar, whom I quoted in the previous post.  He gave the structural analogy between Love and Gravity.  One a spiritual force, the other a physical force, connected in the realm of abstraction by the fact both are universally attractive.   And there was a deep insight that negative emotions and negative “spiritual forces” are merely the absence of a positive spiritual forces.  That’s a very helpful and liberating insight.  At least to me it was, because it suggests one can overcome laziness, anxiety, depression, worry, hatred, bitterness, and so forth, by focusing on things that are good and which lead to a mental strengthening of the positive spiritual forces like love.

It’s also not a bad motive for indulging in a healthy variety of hedonism.  You can think and worry about the great environmental problems of your generation, such as deforestation and global warming, but once the negativity rises to boiling point you can help yourself by switching to something positive, like writing or campaigning against environmentally harmful practises in your community or country, and by doing little things everyday to heal the world, such as recycling or using less electricity or creating sustainable energy systems around your home, or helping out at local charities and so forth, or even simply by donating some of your earnings to benevolent trusts, or maybe Wikipedia.  Free education is a massive foundation for healing and positive progress.   It makes one feel really good to do such things.  Do not try to save the world single-handedly either.  Avoid doing activities that weigh you down with emotional frustration and excessive burdens of care.  Practise healthy hedonism.

Search for ways to be at peace with the world around you.  Be creative, not destructive, and this means primarily in the spiritual realm, not only the physical.   As a physical being you cannot survive unless you raise entropy (disorder) around you, so don’t worry too much about that, the Sun provides plenty energy to keep a balance if used wisely.  But as a spiritual being you can do plenty to raise the intellectual and ethical climate around you, and in this climate, our spiritual weather, there is so much freezing cold around that a lot of warming, infinite warming, is what is needed.

Created from the Same Dust

There is a beautiful; passage in The Hidden Words of Bahá’u’lláh which Dunbar uses to illustrate the analogies between physical reality and spiritual reality. It is another good example to study for the project of better understanding spiritual forces.

“O CHILDREN OF MEN! Know ye not why We created you all
from the same dust? That no one should exalt himself over the
other. Ponder at all times in your hearts how ye were created.
Since We have created you all from one same substance it is
incumbent on you to be even as one soul, to walk with the same
feet, eat with the same mouth and dwell in the same land, that
from your inmost being, by your deeds and actions, the signs of
oneness and the essence of detachment may be made manifest.
Such is My counsel to you, O concourse of light! Heed ye this
counsel that ye may obtain the fruit of holiness from the tree of
wondrous glory.”

I could drop that last sentence and still find this passage strewn with layers of inner meaning. But for the sake of brevity I can only concentrate on a few interpretations. The important one I want to draw out is the sense of humility we should feel. We are indeed all created from similar atoms. Atoms of carbon are all identical. Same with nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen and the rest, each type of atom is identical with it’s same kind. And yet they way they compose our bodies differs across all individuals, none of us are alike. And this difference gives rise to the divergence in the appearance and limitations and comparative abilities of human beings. And eventually, these differences exert an effect on our spiritual character — which is to say, the state of our mind and soul, how we behave inwardly, emotionally and ethically.

You do not have to know or define what a “soul” is to understand what I’m getting at. If you are a strict materialist philosopher and think mind and consciousness arise from neurophysiology, then fine, just use those chunked concepts and stay with this discussion at this higher level of abstraction. Personally, I think the abstractions can have real meaning and can be supposed as deriving an existence of their own independently of the physical world. Like the number π has an existence independent of any practising mathematical beings. But that’s just my opinion. At the present it does not matter too much what sort of metaphysics you believe in, since right now I am in a physical form. So I can abstract out the pure intellectual and spiritual concepts and talk about them and not worry excessively about how they arise from neurological dynamics or quantum effects in the brain or whatever.

The spiritual force here is the idea of humility. Although we are all different and have different skills and abilities, we can still feel humble before someone. There is always someone superior in some way. No one in history has ever been the champion of all things. But Bahá’u’lláh is saying something more profound. That we can always look to our origins and our ultimate fate (physically at least, which is to return to dust). It takes about nine months for a non-embalmed body to decay completely to a pile of unrecognisable dust, and fifteen years for a coffin of untreated wood to similarly completely lose it’s form. An embalmed body takes considerably longer, and I’m not sure if anyone knows exactly how long it takes for the process of returning to dust to complete. The Egyptian mummies allow statisticians to place a high upper limit on the process, maybe tens of thousands of years? I’m rather fond now of choosing not to be embalmed. I like the idea of getting back to dust as quickly as possible. It seems more humble and somehow more dignified. Each to their own.

But that’s all about the physical. The real message in the above passage is the spiritual state of the soul. To be humble is partly to remember our origins, but is much more than this. It requires recognition of the similarity of our spiritual natures, the non-physical aspects of our existence, the characteristics that we all have which can only be shown at a high level of abstraction, such as in our daily interactions with other people, and in the way we think and care about ourselves, about each other and about our planet. And if the Sun and stars were also in crisis we’d want to care about them as well. (Check out the Scifi movie Sunshine (2007) if you haven’t seen it, and extract away from it the slightly silly horror story aspects, and you’ll be left with a pretty cool sort of movie experience about our relationship with the amazing star which is our Sun. The sacrifice of the Japanese captain of the voyage is pretty emotional.) I digress.

Bahá’u’lláh says that because we were created from the same elements as each other, we should live more in harmony and unity. Why? The physical is being used here as symbolism for humility and unity, and yet within this analogy there is variety and difference. So the spiritual force of humility is as colourful and as wonderful as the variety of composition of elements that make up every person. You can be humble in so many ways. It’s wonderful, it really is.

Now what is this about walking with the same feet?

“… to walk with the same feet, eat with the same mouth and dwell in the same land, …”

It is impossible to interpret this literally, and that’s a great thing about Bahá’u’lláh’s poetry. It is so colourful and metaphorical that it leaves no question about how to interpret it. There is no ambiguity. One has to interpret this symbolically and metaphorically. And what are the structural features being referred to here in the physical symbolism? You can think about that for yourself.

My take on it is that walking with the same feet refers to

Understanding Spiritual Forces Better

Spiritual forces are very interesting. To use them effectively one needs to understand them. To use gravity usefully is mostly a matter of intuition, but when you are a NASA engineer in charge of computing trajectories you also need to understand the physical force in fine detail, mathematically. The type of understanding required for using spiritual forces is a little different though. But there is some structure in them I think.  Spiritual forces require a self-understanding, because using them is a matter of using your spiritual reserves, your mind and intellect and (for want of a better word) your “heart”.

You can use your mind in many ways, for good purposes or for bad. The “heart” of your soul is where you summon the ability to use your mind for good. It is also where you know to recognise good from bad, which is sometimes a subjective opinion, but one which has enough universal facets that we all can basically agree upon what is generally “good” and generally “bad”. Honesty is generally good, and lying or concealing the truth is generally bad, unless you withhold the truth perhaps to save a life. People often relate the scenario of a physician who fears a patient is terminally ill, maybe with a 96% mortality estimate, but if they do not tell the patient they are likely to die, but give them some hope by concealing to true probability, then perhaps the patient may recover through sheer force of will and psychosomatic conditioning. It can happen. It’s not likely, mostly competent physicians are accurate about their estimates of presumed fatal conditions, but it can happen.

Now, I write “the heart of your soul is where you know good form bad …” but I do not mean it is a physical place situated in any spacetime point in your brain. This inner spiritual heart is an abstraction, it exists in no “place” other than in a realm of ideas.  But the ideas it is associated with (love, compassion, tenderness, mercy, hope) are all connected logically and yet mysteriously. And moreover, they have meaning in our lives, because humans, and other sentient creatures, behave according (in part) to the dictates of our spiritual natures, our ability to comprehend abstractions and hence to understand how the effects of love and sincerity and honesty and humility will exert influence on other people.  And I think we behave at our best when we listen more to our heart than to the promptings of our brain’s amygdala (and other primitive pleasure centres, which tend to steer us towards selfishness and cruelty).  Our primitive brain structures are not always bad drivers, they are merely spiritually neutral. I think we can all easily learn to redirect our primitive instincts towards higher and more noble goals. e do not have to allow ourselves to be slaves to our primitive instinctual appetites.

And, this is a key thing, we can uncover some of this mystery, and use our soul-heart better and more efficiently, by exploring the structure of these ideas, and for this, I’ve realised, after reading Dunbar and similar author’s, can be achieved in part by reasoning with analogy from physical metaphors.

Love and Instinct and Higher Emotions

How many people associate romantic love with sex? I sure do! I cannot separate the two. But there are other types of love. Love for nature (which you cannot have sex with), love for ideas, love for art, love for family and friends, love for yourself (which you can have a sort of sex with if you like), love for your work, and so on.

I wish to focus here on romantic love.

The sexual impulses are driven largely my our primitive neurologically wired instincts. But, you see, there is something far more beautiful in romantic love when you get your amygdala and cerebellum working in concert with your higher intellect.  Sex is terrific, wonderful, fulfilling, but only maximally so when it involves the heart.  If you engage in purely physical sensual sex it can be pleasurable I guess, but is it not also a bit empty?  (I cannot comment from experience here, but I guess this is what it’s like to have sex with someone purely for physical gratification.)

To my mind it seems a bit cold and clinical to say this, but I’ll write it anyway.  The thing is, there is a powerful spiritual force of attraction in true romantic love. It binds the inner hearts together more strongly than any physical attraction.  But when combined with raw physical attraction, a spiritual love can be utter hedonistic dynamite. I mean real intellectual sparks and explosions and vanishing of self and ego and immersion in one another on all levels, all physical levels and all emotional levels and all intellectual levels and all spiritual levels.  This is an ideal, but I think two people in love can achieve it’s realisation.

And this ideal, and the hope for it in my own life, is why I’m writing these words.  But for now, I want to get back to the more abstract concept of spiritual force and try to understand it at a more intellectual level, because, for me, greater intellectual understanding is sexy.

structure_carrier_of_love

Force and Field — Energy and Potential (the physical)

I’ll start from what I can understand, which are physical forces. the two I will sue for examples are electromagnetism and gravity.  The two spiritual forces I will try to discover structure for are love and humility.  You can probably complete a similar exercise yourself using any other sort of spiritual force.

Force and Field

For every physical force in nature there is a corresponding quantum field, which results from the statistical dispersion of force-carrying particles throughout spacetime. The simplest examples are the electrical force and the gravitational force.  The force-carrier for electromagnetism is the humble photon (a particle of light). The force carrier for gravity is the even humbler graviton (because it is extremely weak in interaction compared with the photon).  So the quantum fields are due to the statistics of photons and gravitons for these two forces.

The thing to realise is that even when there is no particle about in space to feel a force, there is still a quantum field.  There are still photons popping up and vanishing all over the place and time.  So fields exist everywhere, whereas forces only exist when there is a particle which can be influenced by the field. In physics, such particles are called elementary charges.  Electrons and protons are examples of electrically charged particles which respond to the influence of the electromagnetic field of the photons.  Any particle with mass is a gravitational charge (mass is just another name for “gravitational charge”).  Pretty much everything has positive mass, and with gravitons as the force carrier all positive mass exerts an attractive force, which is why gravity is universal in attraction, and in the spiritual realm corresponds most closely with the force of love.

Even massless photons feel the influence of gravity because they carry pure energy, which Einstein worked out is a special form of mass.  Basically, energy is mass without inertia, that is to say, energy responds to gravitational fields but the resulting acceleration is not hindered by inertia, so photons zip along at the maximal possible speed, which is by (circular?) definition the speed of light, what else!  There are thus two kinds of mass: (a\i) gravitational mass, which includes energy, which responds to the force of gravity, and (ii) inertial mass, which causes matter to feel a time delay and appear sluggish in response to an acceleration (by any force, gravity or another).  Because photons have zero inertial mass they respond instantly to forces, and thus experience no passage of time, they live and die at once.  You cannot make a clock out of a photon, at least not easily, not without some external inertial reference frame.

There are other forces in nature and other types of charge.  The “chromodynamic (QCD) force” and “QCD-charges” like quarks and gluons for example.  But I will not describe them here. But later on (in another essay) they will serve a purpose in further understanding spiritual forces.

They (charged particles) respond in one and only one simple way, by accelerating in the direction in which the field is strongest.  A major job of a physicist is therefore to calculate the strength and direction of electromagnetic fields, because then they can predict to the future motion of charged particles.

Fields are cool.  They exist all over space and time because there is a finite probability for a photon (or graviton) to instantaneously appear at any given place or time. So a field pervades all of space and all of time for each fundamental force of nature.  What is the spiritual analogy for the forces of love and humility?

Forces and fields are just one way of looking at physical interactions.  There is another way, equivalent and complementary, which uses the concepts of energy and potential.

Energy and Potential

Isaac Newton discovered the concept of force. Michael Faraday, James Clerk Maxwell, and others used it to describe electricity and magnetism.  But while physicists were discovering how to analyse the way machines do useful work, and how heat always seemed to mess things up, limiting the efficiency of all possible engines, physicists gradually realised there was an amazing abstract concept associated with temperature, which turned out to be the kinetic energy of motion.  Furthermore, this new concept of “energy” seemed to crop up everywhere in physics. Eventually Joseph Louis Lagrange and William Rowan Hamilton worked out a way to convert from Newton’s equations for forces to equivalent equations that used only the concept of energy.

And precisely analogous to the way every force has an associate field which pervades all of spacetime, the concept of energy has an associated quantity called a potential which pervades space and time.  And just as only substantial particles (charges) can experience a force, so only substantial matter can be endowed with energy.  And just as a field pervades all of space even when there are no charged particles around, so too does a potential exist everywhere in space and time even when there is no substantial energy.

This was remarkable, amazing, fantastical even.  Forces are vector quantities you see, they have magnitude and direction.  Their direction tells you how a charged particle will respond (by accelerating in the direction of the force and in proportion to the magnitude).  But energy is a scalar quantity, meaning it is just a number, it has no direction. So how could physics via forces be equivalent to physics via energy?

The equations derived by Lagrange and Hamilton show that a force is equivalent to a gradient in energy, i.e., a change in energy from one place to another.  And a field is equivalent to a gradient in potential.  So there are the following two-way correspondences.

Gradient in EnergyForce

Gradient in Potential ↔ Field

Force carrying particles ↔ Fields

Energy carrying particles ↔ Potentials

And those four correspondences summarize a huge amount of the structure of modern physics, without (sorry) the beautiful mathematical details.

The important thing for physics was that there were now two different but entirely equivalent ways of doing calculations.  Scientists could choose which method was easiest in a given context, the Force+Field methods of Newton, or the Energy+Potential methods of Hamilton and Lagrange.  And they could even switch between these two points of view without too much trouble.  This duality in the possible explanations of nature has had tremendous technological impact.  And our understanding of quantum mechanics (and hence semiconductor electronics, all modern computers, lasers, telecommunications, the internet, nuclear power, discovery of DNA, and most advanced medical imaging methods, and there is a lot more to come, including quantum computing) would have all been impossible using only Newtonian physics.

Force and Field — Energy and Potential (the spiritual)

Hey, don’t expect too much in one day!  This is the topic for my next post.

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What’s a Spiritual Force Then?

Reading “The Artist and the Mathematician” by Amir Aczel, is one of those frustrating experiences, like trying to get a decent suntan on a patchy cloudy day in Wellington. It’s the only day you’ll have free for months, and the clouds keep blocking the way, but you know the UV rays are tanning you anyway, it’s just too cold when the clouds are blocking the heat for it to be pleasant.

(BTW: it’s about the Bourbaki phenomenon in mathematics and how it influenced structuralist philosophy. But the really interesting stuff is the mathematics, and Alexandre Gröthendieck, and sadly that is not much of what the book is about. I’d like to find a good read about Gröthendieck’ s mathematics, not the guy himself, although his life is fascinating )

Actually, truth be told, I’ve read a couple of books on the topic of structuralism, and every one of them was as annoyingly vague about defining exactly what structuralism is! They beat around the topic, mentioning it’s importance in displacing existentialism as the new philosophy for the 20th century, and how structuralism eventually gave way to post-modernism, but they never actually define what it is exactly. And they talk about the influences on structuralism, which as the anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss, the linguist Roman Jakobson and the mathematicians Bourbaki. And you just have to either give up and look up Wikipedia, or imagine they’ve defined structuralism implicitly through bulk force of examples. I guess that’s ok, but it is still frustrating, especially for someone who likes to sprint to the mint of a goal of understanding rather than jog and slog.

So in this post I’m going to tell you what structuralism is in essence in sprint fashion, and then link it to something less boring than foundational mathematics and philosophy. And to do this I am not going to consult Wikipedia. You can do that yourself. My version is a subjective impression. (So I may have left out some essential features, but too bad. I apologise in advance if I tread upon any academic toes.)

Structuralism

Structuralism is merely a guiding philosophy. So it can be applied to almost any intellectual endeavours. The core essence of structuralism are the principles:

(P1) Everything (objects, thoughts, ideas, … can be studied as a system comprised of component parts. Structuralism first says, “identify the system of interest and isolate it’s parts”.

(P2) To understand any phenomena (physical or intellectual), you should [1] find the relationships between the irreducible component parts. [2] Abstract away (i.e., ignore entirely) any non-essential features, such as properties that are not inherently part of the most basic structure of your system, i.e., those properties which are not connected by any relationship to the principle components your wish to study. Then, [3] analyse (if this is your intent) the whole system by using any and whatsoever tools you have available or can find or invent that reveal the interactions between these parts and the effect the state of the whole system has on these relationships.

(P3) To understand a system it is not necessary to break it up into the absolute minimalist parts possible, but rather to analyse it at some level of abstraction: this could be a complete reduction to atomistic parts (physicists do this), or a near reduction but only down to molecular level (chemists do this), or it could be any manner of chunking of components from chemical up to biological, or (as cosmologists prefer) stellar or galactic chunks. But structuralism applies not just to nature, the same levels of chunking can be performed on ideas, such as language, art, economic systems, religions, you name it, any system. And what isn’t a system?

To elaborate upon these core principles of structuralism I’d just add a few comments:

(1) Even a single subatomic particle is a “system”, albeit the simplest kind, one with only one component part. Having only one part merely makes structuralist study of an elementary particle pretty boring. (Only it’s not really. But that’s because quantum mechanics makes a grand ‘vacuum field’ out of all elementary particles, so it’s never just a single entity. But that’s another essay.)

(2) Examples are plenty: In Anthropology: The mathematician Andrei Weil helped Claude Levi-Strauss organise the study of kinship relations in human societies using the mathematical apparatus of Group Theory. Their data was the patterns of allowed marriages amongst Australian Aboriginal families. They ignored (abstracted away) all things like wealth and material possessions, geography, etc. In Linguistics: Jakobson and then later Chomsky and successors, have had tremendous success understanding language (origins, acquisition, learning, evolution, the whole gamut …) by abstracting away spelling and meanings and analysing using logic just the grammar or deep structure. How did they do this? Well, taking away spelling and meaning leaves you with no workable communicative language for sure, but it does leave behind a skeleton of all languages. That’s the power of structuralism. It gets rid of stuff you do not need, and leaves just the essentials, which makes analysis much easier and less clouded.

The linguists were not interested in communication you have to understand. Their goal was to understand how language is acquired and developed across human life times, and how it evolves across civilisation time frames. Since you do not need to know about the poetry and literature of a society for such studies, you can abstract out the word meanings, and just leave very abstract relations between types of words (nouns, adjectives, verbs, etc.). Worrying about lyrics and poetry is just a distraction for linguists who want to study language universals, sine anything requiring translation is not a universal. But relationships between the way a language links nouns and adjectives and verbs is something universal, or if it’s not, then there should be some deeper structure which is universal (one hopes). And indeed, that was what Chomsky discovered.

In fact, so universal were Chomsky’s discoveries about structure of languages that they even apply to computer languages! They apply to fictional languages like Klingon. And they will probably apply to extraterrestrial species languages, if we ever contact extraterrestrials.

In Economics every economist who develops a mathematical model for features of a subsystem within an economy is applying structuralism. They may not call it structuralism, but that’s what it is. It’s the same in most other sciences. In Mathematics, well, I mean mathematics itself is almost entirely structure, perhaps the purest form of structuralism known. Although pure structure does not quite define mathematics, it is a large part of what mathematics is — the particular structures of numbers and geometry and sets and categories.

Why Structuralism is Not In Vogue

The laughable thing is that structuralism is put into practise all the time, every day, by most people in most professions. This still includes artists, but most prominently it means scientists in any discipline, mathematicians (of course), politicians, business managers, sometimes lawyers (although that particular profession is a bit dark for me). There is no field of human intellectual endeavour these days that does not have professional tools that in some form or another embody the above principles of structuralism. And, of course and naturally and obviously and all those cliché’s, structuralism was practised for millennia before it ever had the label “structuralist”. The ancient Greek philosophers were structuralists, as were the ancient Egyptian linguists, as were the Stone Age artists and inventors and speakers.

So when we say structuralism is “not in vogue”, this just means it is not considered trendy in circles of philosophy where it is discussed (or used to be discussed) as a guiding principle. It’s been supplanted by post-modernism, which is less well-defined and entirely useless for doing anything actual practical and helpful in this world. So if you consider yourself a “structuralist” and feel that post-modernism is a rabbit-warren of confusing and contradictory ideas with no logical basis, then you are not alone. Maybe post-modernism has some importance to the world, but other than generating a lot of dry academic papers (and pretty much limited only to literature and philosophy journals) over the last fifty years or so, I cannot find it.

OK, I know I’m not being fair to post-modernists. But come on! What are the real fruits of post-modernist ideas? I am open to opinons, and will admit I might be wrong about post-modernisms (lack of useful impact) impact on society. If there is a good idea within it’s scope I guess the idea that human beings and our ideologies are not fixed and static, and that people with different world views do not necessarily have wrong world views, and that ambiguity and paradox are possible and signify a coexistence of differences that may have a deep hidden resolution which we are just too dumb to figure out. These are useful ideas because they give one a reason for believing in the possibility of peace.

The peace which comes from realising there are always more than two ways of seeing things, and none of them might be perfect. That’s my positive gloss on post-modernism, and if it is halfway correct and valid then let’s celebrate post-modernism. But I think the literary criticism and philosophical movements associated with post-modernism have not really contributed such positve ideas on a global reach. They should have, by my humble reading, and I’m a bit mystified why they have not been so forceful. But maybe that’s just a demonstration of my own ignorance. I’ll leave readers to comment on that (typically one doesn’t appreciate their own ignorance until informed of it by others).

Structuralism on the other hand has immediate and clear practical use and is really quite a helpful sort of way of thinking about the world, or about the part of life you are interested in. It has transcended philosophy because it is hardly discussed in philosophy any more, and yet is used by practical people every day.

My pet theory on this is that when ordinary people start to take up a branch of philosophy it starts to become boring for philosophers. Philosophers (most of them I suspect, at least those who call themselves philosophers) have some kind of built-in ego drive which forbids them from thinking of themselves as ordinary. (But, I also suspect, the very best philosophers go against this grain, and are truly humble and consider themselves as the most ordinary of people.)

But be warned. Structuralism is not everything. Plenty of stuff falls outside it’s scope. Nevertheless, it is a vastly useful philosophical method, because it is so general and has proven practical worth.

Spiritual Structure

One question I am currently interested in is whether structuralism has anything to offer our understanding of spirituality. You know what I mean by spirituality? No? Well, it’s not ghosts and stuff.

Spirituality is a very natural and easily understood aspect of human existence. It means things like love, justice, honesty, compassion, kindness, wisdom (and knowledge), forgiveness, mercy, friendliness, and all such similar virtues and attributes of divinity. That’s all.

Whatever concerns these things is precisely what I refer to as spiritual reality. It’s a separate reality to physics because none of it can be reduced to physics. But it is connected to physics through the existence of sentient intelligence, like human beings. Human beings have an ability to comprehend and innately feel spiritual reality, but you cannot isolate it from human interaction and existence. Without sentient intelligence to comprehend these abstract things, there is no spirituality.

So is there structure and pattern and relation between spiritual realities?

Here’s a visual puzzle: what does the following diagram represent?

structure_love_gravity

(Hint: the bite out of the apple is a misdirection. It’s nothing to do with a computer technology/company.)

I’ll leave that question hanging here for a while I think. It’s good to ponder. For a start you need to have a clear idea in your mind of what is meant by a spiritual reality, and what systems it might imply and what structure there is within those systems.

It’s a difficult area of analysis because spiritual reality is already highly abstracted. It ignores physical stuff, and concentrates our attention on the high level interactions between spiritual entities. So human beings are a physical form of spirituality. But to study spirituality we want to drop as much of our biology and physics as possible, retaining only what is minimally necessary for understanding the abstractions of love and mercy and justice et cetera.

Spiritual Minimalism

One of the great things about this way of thinking is that “negative abstract concepts” like hate, oppression, injustice, do not have the same status as the associated positive concepts. The negatives are merely the absence of the positive. So, to take a physical analogy as illustration, darkness is the absence of light. Light (photons or electromagnetic waves) are a reality, it is stuff (structure in spacetime if you wish to know) which exists. Darkness and shadow do not have such an independent existence, they are the absence of light photons, they exist only as secondary reality, their existence depends upon the prior existence of light and an object which blocks the light and another object which receives the light and shows up the shadow.

You might disagree or find flaw in this idea, the idea that spiritual negatives are merely absences. But it does seem to pan out when you think deeply about it. Take hatred, often seen as a highly active emotion. You really hate someone (let’s say). How can this ever be interpreted as merely the absence of love for this person? Perhaps they’ve done something so horribly evil that there is simply no way you can ever find anything about them to love. So you hate them. Thinking deeply about this, really it is this persons actions or speech or other outward behaviour or appearances which you are hating. These are not the person themselves. You have no idea what is or has been going on in their head. They could be a totured psychopath. Or a deeply misunderstood person. And when you really think about it hard, you do not really hate them, but you feel incredibly sorry and sad for their condition. They become pitiful, in a very literal sense, you feel absolute pity for them. You think that their death might be the happiest thing that could happen for them (in the extreme case — I do not advocate death penalties — just the idea of their death seems like the best release for everyone, them, you, society). In any case, you find little love for this person, and in the end you pity them. Hatred was an emotion you felt along the way, but it has dissolved in the end (some people never get through to this stage and will hate for the rest of thier lives, and ironically this is in turn slightly pitiable, but I guess we can’t be judging how people feel, feelings are what they are, and I only know they can change over time). If it does dissolve, that is good I think, but it still leaves no love.

So there you have it, an absence of love, revealed, eventually, as a source of prior hatred. Because when you’ve finally reached the stage of feeling utter sorrow and sadness for someone who just cannot in any way be loved, you can only be happy and let go of your hatred if you leave the loving of this tragic person up to some higher power, some entity more capable than yourself for dispensing a measure of love. At the very least, you might be able to say that, “if this person had had more love earlier in their life then maybe I would not have ended up hating them so much.” Maybe you can’t say this, but you might be able to accept it as a possibility? You move on. Or at least, I hope you would.

The (hate)=(absence of love) example is the most extreme I could think of, so it suffices to make the point. I won’t elabrate further.

The late William Hatcher wrote about spiritual minimalism and paved the way for us. Sadly he is not with us to help continue. But I think there are some good things that can emerge from spiritual minimalism. Not the least of which is a deeper understanding of how differing human approaches to happiness and well-being are related, and how the divergent religious beliefs that co-exist in the world are distractions which hide deeper and more peaceful and enduring universals of peace and societal cohesion and unity within a greater diversity.

Spiritual Forces

It is the dark/light analogy which interests me after reading Hooper Dunbar’s lectures, printed in “Forces of Our Time” (Hooper C. Dunbar, George Ronald, Oxford, 2010). The subtitle of his lectures is, “The Dynamics of Light and Darkness“, but it’s not a physics book on optics!

It is a book about the forces which shape individuals and society. By “individuals” we mean any sentient being living within a complex society. And so, when you think about it for a while, you realise these “forces” he is talking about must be abstractions of the notion of “force” borrowed form physics. So Dunbar must be using an analogy or metaphor here. And I would very much like to understand it better because I think it will add to the question (or to the answer) of how structuralism can be applied to understanding human spirituality, and thus help me to escape from the vague stuff about spirituality that comes under the heading of “New Age” or “Mystical”.

I try to avoid mysticism, since it is literally a mystery to me. But I know such things (human spirituality) is not approachable with hard sciences either, because nothing subjective can be made completely scientific. But, with some help, and with some creative analogies and metaphors, I think some structure can be found. (A very new-agey Bahá’í once suggested this was possible to me! — that was after a lecture I had given on quantum mechanics and it’s implications for the harmony of science and religion — for which I concluded there was no current analytical connection between this physics and religion, but there were a few philosophical bridges only, such as the possibility for free will in a universe with non-deterministic laws.)

The launching point I had for this essay was the following brief excerpt from Forces of Our Time (page 6.):

“Another profound and important tool for investigating spiritual reality is the awareness that spiritual truths are expressed at every level of creation. There is a crossover between truths at one level of being and those at another level of being, so that if we understand a relationship or pattern of physical reality, we will find that the same relationship exists not only in varying instances within the physical world itself but also, in a higher set of circumstances, in the spiritual realm.”

That’s pretty exciting to me. If it all pans out. But who’s to say it does? Is this guy Dunbar on to something or is this just philosophical hot air? He continues,

“Knowledge of nature and spiritual knowledge are essentially the same thing because the physical world that scientists study can be seen as an expression of spirit — as tangible reflections of spiritual truths.”

It gets a bit vague though, since the connections are tenuous. One fairly concrete analogical connection is with Love and Gravity. Gravity is the universal attractive force in the celestial sphere (the physical cosmos in other words). Love is likewise (the universal attractive force) in the spiritual sphere.

I guess my problem is that this really is only a metaphorical connection, and it can only ever be such between physical and spiritual. But let’s play with this and see where it goes. If there is anything to Dunbar’s philosophy (and as I understand it he is speaking primarily of the ideas he has borrowed from Bahá’í philosophy) then there should be a lot more structure which can be related by this primary analogy from Gravity to Love.

(That’s the puzzle solution BTW ‐ the apple was my symbol for gravity, you know … Newton and all …)

My next post, Forces In and Out of Time picks up this topic and takes it further.

Parting Thoughts of Structuralism

The irony about trying to understand the definition of structuralism is that the very idea it encapsulates is so incredibly general that it is hard to pin it down without examples, and the essence of structuralism is so simple that it hardly merits a definition. It is simply what one has to do in order to understand any system comprised of many parts. You have to break apart it’s structure (and there is often more than one way of doing so, which adds to the apparent ambiguity of the idea of structuralism) and extract the essential relationships between the parts, and forget about the non-essentials.

There is an art to this of course, since if you fail to ignore some non-essential relationship or parts, then you will have too complicated a structure which will perhaps defy or at least hinder a useful analysis.

And what is “a useful analysis”? Well, this too is frustratingly vague or too general. But I would define it as anything which helps to achieve your purposes. So first you need a purpose. If it to discover and label the underlying similarities across a vast family of languages then a useful structural analysis will consist in an abstract of language which can be shown to be an umbrella structure covering all the languages in the family. But it will be a description at a high level of types of word (a deep level correspondence), not at the word-words correspondence level itself (that’d be a machine translators purpose, and would be described as a surface level structural correspondence).

Another example: if you wished to understand how market crashes arise in economics you would not bother with the structure of prices of commodities in economics, but would instead study (probably) the interactions between agents using the pricing systems, since that is where the euphoria and panics in market bubbles and crashes happens.

OK, that’s all for now. Later I hope to write more on structure of spiritual reality, if it’s possible. It’s all unknown territory to me, so please send in any comments if you are still reading!

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Myth of the Ultimate Anti Page Turner (Part 3)

My cousin had passed from the Valley of Search through the valley’s of Love and Knowledge, probably by-passed the Valley of Unity, and had proceeded, with some kind of spiritual pass ticket, on to the Valley of Wonderment.  Or so it seemed to me.  After reading her last email

From:     "Kari Fairbairn" <flaming.sweetcheeks@gmail.com>
Sent:     Thursday, July 14, 2011 3:22 PM
To:       "Bijou Smith" <one.over.epsilon@gmail.com>
Subject:  RE: ghost drive in Palm Springs

Bijou my fav cuz! It's gonna blow-your-mind.  I just know it will.  :-) I can't help myself though, so here goes: Man!  I'd forgotten all about why I had found GHost Drive.  Haha!  Guess the library wasn't full of page-clonkers after all.  But Bij... I don't want to finish this one!  It's too beautiful.  If I finish it I'll die.  I'm not bleedin' kidding cuz! LOL! Started scannigna few pages, but it was taking forever, the hotel made me pay per page, etc.  grrrr!   PLenty of time to finish the scanning when I get home tho'.  No worries.  Just too excited, so hav to tell you a few things.  Promise no spoilers, ok.  Be patient (i know u will.)  :-))) First of all, there's no doubt this manuscript is inspired.  Don't ask me how or why, it just IS ok?  A wouldn't say a genius wrote it - you told me once that your beloved Dick Feynman was called "No Ordinary Genius"?   You can say something similar about whoever wrote this.  But I gathered Feynman was not too humble either... this Ghost Drive author is truly humble, everything is written so that YOU feel like the genius.  THere are questions.  Soul-searing, soul-searching, uplifting and wonderful and bemusing questions.  It's like the words in the page come to life every time I read it.  I guess a deep thinker can always find good questions to ask.  But it's the answers Bij.  They aren't ordinary.  THe answers are personal, deeply subjective, and the style it's written in Bij....is astounding, just astounding.  Every page (almost, not exactly exaggerating... well maybe a little) has hidden questions that probe your own existence and concpet of self and identity and the whole phreakin' meaning of life.  I bullshit you not!!!  BUt I think this is very subjective. Here's the thing: I suppose someone could read this and not take away much from it.  You have to (I say "you" but I mean "me", but I'm sure it'd be the same for you) be prepared to question yourself.  SO it's like an ACTIVE book.  I got this very soon after absorbing the introduction.  (And yeah, I mean "absorb" almost literally. It feels like an absorption....of ideas, u know?) THe incredible thing is that when you read it this way, actively, then the next paragrpahs or sections will begin to answer the questions you've just asked of yourself, or of life, of the universe, of whatever is beyond.  THat's the freaky thing too.  There is no obvious didactic purpse.  Everything is implied and you have to be a proactive reader, or it'll seem like too much encoded information to grok all at once.  Sigh... not that I can get it all at once.  I have to keep going back and re-reading large portions.  :-)  It's like the ultimate banquet of delights:  a buffet banquet you can eat as much as you want, but there is alwys more left, and when you've finished a plate you feel energized and you crave more, and like magic all the weight of that first course disappears, and so you feel starved again almost immediately, and you have to go back for more, and it never adds fat, it's a paradoxical meal that strengthens and invigorates and makes your mind lean.  (Again, apologies for using "you"... i just want to share this with someone Bij!  haha, I don't like eating alone LOL!) That's the thing!  It's making me lean and fit in mind.  I feel that so much rubbish I've read or learned in the past is just so much candyfloss that can be forgotten.  It's sooo beautiful because the Ghost Drive allows the reader to discover so much for themselves.  Not like those awful "self-help" genre books.  THis is not about help or care or recovery or inspiration.  It's way more than that.  It reveals the hidden stitches in the universe, your whole "fabric of reality" you always go on about, and then, at a turn, the minute stitches and fabric involute, everything inverts, turns inside-out, and the small becomes large, the large becomes small, and so you can see everything, the entire cosmos seems to come into view and then recede away into nothingness.  It's the most exhilarating thing I could possibly read or experience internally without collapsing from mental exhaustion.  Do u know what I'm getting at?  Like the whole universe is revealed to your eyes, but you cannot comprehend it all, you'd expire in smallness and ignorance if it was held before your gaze for too long, the astonishment would shock you into perpetual bewilderment and you'd never recover your senses, and you'd explode like a billion supernovae if an infinitesimal fraction of it all tried to fit itself into your brain, and so, mercifully, it recedes, like a beneficent beautiful Siren who knows she is drawing you into the rocks of your own ignorance and stupidity, and so, from the kindness in her heart, she retreats and leaves you with only the echo of her song to remind you of what you could not bear to fully hear, and you are left with a peaceful void, a place that allows my mind rest and which seems alive with raw potential, unseen untouched potential, like I'd imagine the pre-eternal Big Bang, before time, before space, before the flickering of the first quantum fields. Honestly Bij, I feel a bit fraudulent writing to you like this, because I cannot do it justice.  It's too surreal as well.  I'm getting a bit (in a good way) anxious about it.  I'm serious now about never wanting to finish this ... this epic, humble, fantastical book.  There's too much in it and I worry I am not capable of using it wisely.  It's alreayd changed my life, but I haven't taken any meaningful action yet. Still reading.  Still thinking.  I wnat you to share this with me, and promise me you will stop me from going all looney and evangelical with it all, since tht's not the spirit it was written in I think.  It is deeply subjective, a personal quality to it, so intimate and lonely at times, but so captivating and enlarging and all-encompassing at other times.  ANd the same paragraphs can leave me with a completely different feel each time I return to them. Sometimes I'm right down in the quantum foam level seeing things in their barest essence and then at other times I'm taking in many worlds at once, totally expanded in consciousness for a moment, and then blissed out in dreams.  It's very scientifically flavoured too... you'll love that.  But it was written to a lover I am sure, so it is heart-wrenching and tearfully beautiful in expanse and questioning. The curiosity of all-souls came to manifest life and wrote this manuscript before a lost lover tossed their ego into the flames and burned up their attachment to material things and stopped them from writing forever for fear the pages would cause the reader to want to give up this life for an escape into the greater consciousness that can only be attained by physical death.  I know that sounds melodramatic, but it resonates with something similar I have read before.  DO you remember the one?  The letters we came across which read like a divine revelation of some sort, how'd it go?  "We have revealed only a dewdrop out of this fathomless ocean as a mercy unto the people."  THere's something like this, like if I could comprehend every layer of meaning I would go mad from the sheer over-load, I would not be free of ego enough to cope with it all. THhe need to be humble and detached would send me insane.  But you see, I think one can hope to slowly reach such a  point of all-comprehension. And then realsie there is no all-comprehension, and what we just thought was everything is only a fragment of a dream of some eternal infinite mind.   I really would like to write so much more but I think you'll appreciate it more if i just hurry back to NZ and let you see for yourself.  We can do so much with this.  Not a question of letting it take over my life.  THere is too much action I think I need to get involved with.  Not be so introverted anymore, or at least not in the bad way.  You know even if I never find out who wrote it, I'm going to track down the librarian who likely shelved it and thank them for not withdrawing it or something worse! (Can guess what u r thinking -- Kuz has gone off the deep end and bought into a self-help guru thing... but u r soooo wrong.  It's not so didactic and shallow as that, it's so deep, so seep, u wouldn't believe no matter how much I describe in my own words.  So that's why i've gotta just fly back home quick.)  actually, I trust you weren't thinking that at all... you trust me right? Conference is over tomorrow.  Flying back on ANZ Saturday, long trip, but, hehe, I have the best entertainment possible! Take care cuz, dont do anything dopey till I get home, CuzKari.

Is this yet mythic in proportions?  You cannot tell right?  You haven’t seen the manuscript.

This particular myth is fated to be private.  I don’t know if this automatically disqualifies it as a myth.  Myths are supposed to be communal right?  But I think this one will be semi-communal, a myth revered only between myself and my readers.  Some myths never make it through the mists of time.  But the wider arc of the idea of an ultimate anti page turning book can be kept alive in each one of you.  Because, after-all, what inspires you to keep flipping the pages of a great book is central to your personality, and when you find a book so wonderful that you never finish reading it because each page is so rich it lasts for a small eternity, and the thought of finishing the book frightens your nerves, because you do not know if you will ever find such a love again, and you do not wish to ever relinquish this lover, then the myth of the ultimate anti page turner can live through you.

*        *        *

At 3PM NZT on Saturday July 16 2011, I picked up the phone and heard the news from my uncle Daniel, Kari’s dad.  It had happened on a country road a few minutes out from Palm Springs.  Kari had been driving back from an end-of-conference conference trip to a publishing magnate’s private residence.  I’m sure she would have thought it quite amusing, to be mingling with obscenely wealth while her mind was utterly focused on more spiritual ideas and swimming in seas of the infinite.  She could do that — spend an entire party just day-dreaming and making polite conversation, while all the time  being in a completely different realm, and yet never making anyone feel like she was being aloof or impolite.

The shock was nothing like what I would have expected upon hearing such news.  It was deep and biting, sharp like diamond blades slicing every tender nerve, it cut me into emotional ribbons, and I wasn’t sure how I’d sew myself back together.   I could not walk straight after the brief tearful phone call.  I went to my room and cried into my bed sheets.

After my self-pity had subsided I knew what I had to do.  Sparing no expense (and costing a small fortune, at least for me) I booked tickets to California and made my way to Palm Springs, and did what Kari might have wanted me to do.  Find her book, and return it to the library so anyone could loan it and read it.  But not before I’d finished scanning every last page.

There was no trace of a manuscript at the crash site, the power pylon the drunk had smashed my cousin into as she swerved to avoid the head-on high speed impact was  still standing.  Had the wind swept away the Ghost Drive Manual?  The coroner’s office had similarly bleak nothing.  No one at the hotel knew.  The acquaintances she had befriended at the conference were still recovering from the tragedy, no one who had known Kari, even if only momentarily over a conference tea and coffee break, would be immune from the sadness, but they knew nothing of a thick innocuous technical looking manuscript called The Ghost Drive Manual.  I looked everywhere I could.  All I have are my cousins emails.

My cousin had found her way to peace.  I believe that.  She did not have time in this life to turn her inspirations into lasting actions.  But I know that a truly great idea cannot be bought and sold, cannot be suppressed, and will eventually always find light.  It is not for everyone at the same time.  How can it be?

And what her emails had told me was that true peace, the kind that never fades, the wonderment that never ceases to amaze, and the delight that comes from asking the right questions and finding within oneself the greatest answers.  You have to be prepared and ready though, it’s a condition on finding happiness.  What you find in the valley of contentment that precedes ultimate wonder is for you and not for others, and to visit that place you cannot take with you any possessions, and you leave the ones you love behind, at least in this world of time.

Do I wish Kari had survived and showed me her final literary lover?  Am I trying to over-magnify the importance of her discovery?  Am I injecting more meaning into her loss than is warranted?  Yes, all of this perhaps.  I need to.  I need to magnify the truth because my vision is so dim.

Maybe the last thing I have learned from her, since that weekend in July, is that the ghosts are not the departed spirits of our ancestors.  We are the ghosts compared to the rest of infinite existence.  There are just too many ways that beauty can be known to be able to hold within your mind for long the conceit that we are substance and truth and beauty are insubstantial abstractions.  It all exists somewhere, and always has, and always will, and we cannot grasp it because our hands, our brains, our minds, are just ghostly quantities compared to the Absolute Infinite.

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A Corollary to the Most Beautiful Woman Theorem

At first I thought of not writing anything here.  Leaving things unsaid can sometimes be less painful.   But I had to swallow my fear because I’m writing these stories for Kezia and Sylvie.  The only really pertinent comment is the corollary that, of course, I love her.

I love her!

Then I thought there were a few others.   One is an important specialization.   What happens when you love someone but you hardly know them?   You could doubt your affection right?   Well, you would if you had any sense, since real love cannot be a superficial emotional state.   It really, I think, requires quite a lot of time to develop and patience and maybe tests, and for sure, how can you claim to love someone without knowing really who they are and how they live and what they enjoy and what makes them laugh and cry?

The second corollary then, is that I love this wonderful librarian because I can intuit a lot of things about her which are clouded facts to me, things I feel I know but am unsure about, things that I can only estimate with a degree of belief, but no certainty.   And one set of such unknowns is her inner happiness and beauty.   She is, without doubt, a beautiful person inside as well as on the outside.   Little clues about this are easy to spot: in the way she goes about her work, in the way she was happy to help me with a  few requests, and they way she enjoyed receiving a couple of little hand-written messages from me, and many other small nearly inconsequential things.   The mind picks up on these, and with it comes a small degree of faith in the character of a person, even though you cannot claim to know them as a friend.

You should know I am not being weird or silly here.   I think everyone, from time to time, has such feelings about others.   Relative strangers, but who you have a gut feeling about, sometimes positive sometimes negative, and you feel sure your instincts are correct, even though you may not bet our life on them.   So you are, say, 75% or 80% sure of your instincts in such cases.   And your past experiences in life will confirm this.

I’ve had this feeling once before in my life, (the feeling of knowing, with high assurance, that I was in love) but it was for a married woman.   She was perfect.   But unattainable.   It broke my heart.  She was not happy with her marriage.   “Co-parenting” is how she described it.  So I thought I had fallen in love with her.   And truthfully, I still think I was in love, but only the one-way variety of “in love”  I had my heart in the fire, but she had her heart closer to her family.  But, for me, it was the real thing.   Love.   Unrequited.   I knew her better than my beautiful librarian acquaintance.  But it was not meant to be.  Still, I know the feelings.

How did I know I was in love?   It was the time span it took me to gain some peace and release from the emotions and heart-break.  That’s how I know.   It took so long.    Can you guess how long it took?

It’s still going on!   There has been no permanent peace.   Years after having never spoken or contacting her since, I still feel like there is a void in my heart which I’m waiting for her to fill.   But then I met the beautiful librarian, and instantly I knew that even if she turns out also to be in love with someone else, I just know my longing and desire will be displaced towards her, and I will go through the possible agony again, but first the nervousness of finding out more about her.   And I just know the more I learn about her the more I will fall in love.   And I just hope this will not be the same private pain as before, and that it will instead be wonderful and life-changing.

“You’re mad,” you might counsel.   And you might have good reason to suppose so.   So let me add a few caveats.

First: I have not loved many woman.   I can name two.   One was the married bundle of perfection who loved listening to my physics ramblings.   So perfect.   So out of my reach.  So I know that I do not fall in love very easily.   When I do, I know it’s more than an infatuation.

Second: people have widely varying propensity for love.   For me it obviously can happen quite quickly, and yet so rarely.  Incredibly rarely.   It’s a curse, because all the hormones rage out of control and it takes a while to settle down and become deep and abiding love.   But it happens faster for me than for most.   And there’s nothing I can do to speed up the emotions in the woman I desire.  So maybe it’s lucky it happens rarely, twice in my life so far, maybe a third time now.   This rarity is not so much of a curse, but it is frustrating, because I do not want to wait forever to find someone brilliant and intelligent and beautiful who can also love me.  I don’t want it to take so long to happen!

Third: I am well aware that to “be in love” is not a one-way relation.  It requires two people to form a lasting bond of friendship that can be called love.  So I am not claiming I am in love with her.  (It’s so hard not to write her name, but I cannot, out of respect.)

So at present I am not “in love” with her.   And maybe she will never allow me this pleasure?   But I do know that I love her.   It’s only one-way.  As far as I know.  And most people would think I must be stretching the definition of love beyond measure.  But I’m not.

It has to do with intuition and temperament and prediction and inference and probability.   Ever heard of Risk Intelligence”?   It’s not about how to gamble successfully!   (Far from it.)   It’s about estimating probabilities accurately.   An inexact science, but one which can be tested well.   Well, I’ve scored highly on such tests.   So I can estimate probabilities quite well.  Partly it is a matter of knowing the basic mathematics, Bayes theorem and independent trials, and correlations, and so forth.   Partly it is about being able to make detached objective judgments, and think things over more than twice, use some basic sanity checks and logic filters.   And so I am confident the probability I will still love the beautiful librarian, once I know a little more about her background, is high, above 70%.   The probability I will love her more than I even now suspect is also above 50%, which is a very strange sort of subjective statement to be making a probability assessment about!   But there you have it.  I will, however, not be so crass as to add this particular assessment into my risk intelligence journal.

The intuitive reasoning is also something I can write about.  People often make snap judgments.   And sometimes they are right on the mark, and sometimes they are not.   But our brains and minds are influenced by many things we cannot articulate.  So the whole body sometimes reacts viscerally to stimulus.  And I can tell you that my whole body ignites when I see her.  It’s not a foolproof method of divination.   But it is good evidence I feel.  How can I tell you, how can I convince you, without pointing her out and saying, “See her!   Watch her move, listen to her speak, see the way she interacts with her colleagues and customers. There walks one of the best of people. A true representative of the best in humanity.”

And I could tell you why I know I am not entirely exaggerating.   And I could tell you the hazards of such estimation and inference.  But I would do so in a million parallel multiverses, and in 80% of them I would be correct in my appraisal.  If you listen to your heart (not the big pink blood-pumping muscle in your chest, but the inner heart, the one your mind is attuned to, the one which speaks for your soul) then you will know what I mean.   In some things in life your heart misleads you, and it is a tragedy, but when you know you have pure motives then your heart is a good guide.   Not perfect.   But pretty good.

I will admit I could be wrong about all of this.   I’m just expressing my informed opinion.   I am a romantic, but I am not entirely naïve and witless.

Fourth thing:  do I want her to love me too much, so much that I am suppressing clues which would otherwise tell me she is not the right type of person for me to fall in love with?   Duh!   Of course!   This is always a danger in matters of heart and soul.  So what?   I’m counting it as a small danger.   I’ll cope with it anyway.   If she does not even like me and never grows fond of me, what can I do?  Nothing.  You cannot force being in love.  But I know I will still love her.  The tragic one-sided unrequited love.   It’s not such a bad thing.  It is better to love someone than remain indifferent to your emotions and feelings.  You just have to have courage.  Sure, you may cry a bit, or even a  lot.  Unrequited love can be a seriously crushing obstacle to happiness, but it can also be mind-expanding and honey-blossomed, like a memory of a yearning and desire that was so strong you can taste it still, but which you can no longer recall whether it was real or is merely a remnant of a powerful dream.

You have choices.  It is not impossible to bury feelings.  People do it unconsciously all the time.  People can also do it consciously by, for example, throwing themselves into their work, or jumping too fast into some other relationship, to blanket the misery of their unrequited love.   Maybe I am mad.  It’s a very sweet insanity if it is madness.   I do prefer to live relatively exposed to my feelings and the feelings of others.  You can do this if you either have a great big capaciously fond heart, or if you have a few good friends, but not too many.   Since then your energy can go into your friendships, and you can truly empathize with your friends, and go through some of the joy and pleasure and pain and heart-break which they go through.  That’s what being a really good friend is partly about.  Sharing life’s ups and downs, laughing and crying together, playing and working, parting now and rejoining later.

Now I’m getting a bit exhausted writing this entry.  So I need to wrap up a few final thoughts. There is too much I want to say.  Mostly for myself, to remind me that I can love and not necessarily expect love in return.   It’s not so bad.  You can be a perfectionist without going nuts expecting life to be perfect.   Being a sane perfectionist is not a contradiction in terms.  You can aim to do everything to the very best of your ability, and allow that many, many things will be beyond your control, and so circumstances many not always turn out as you would like, but this is not an imperfection.  It is life.   It should be celebrated.   And in some way you can consider it to be a form of perfection, since everything unexpected or non-triumphant is an opportunity for you as well as a chastening set-back.   (A sentiment which must have been expressed a million times in a thousand different ways.  But true all the same.)   When you look back on things, aren’t these times always more full of opportunity than regret?   Are they not more often sign-posts along life’s journey where you can say you were rightly guided rather than led astray?   You do not have to wear rose-tinted glasses to perceive life in this way.   It’s ok to feel remorse and sadness for things that were left undone or for love unfulfilled.

*      *      *

I’d like to record the conversation we had, but I’m fairly hopeless at remembering conversations.  However, since I won’t get a chance to talk to her for a few weeks (I’m traveling) I had to have a go.

So after I told her, in my round-about way, that she is the most beautiful woman I know,  she said, “Beauty is subjective.”  I said, “Yes it is.”

She graciously said (something like), “What a beautiful thing to be told on a gloomy Monday!”    I think I just smiled.   I did not know what else to say immediately.   I could not profess deep and abiding love, because I hardly know her, and to me love is such a huge concept, surrounded by so much more than lust and desire.   It connotes a deep caring and happiness and intimacy, and these things take time to foster.

I said, “It’s going to be awkward for me to come down to the library from now on.”   She laughed and pawed her hand in jovial dismissiveness and said, “Oh no, it’ll be easy.”

She located a second volume of Euler’s Lettres a une Princesse d’Allemagne (the only version in New Zealand).  This was only a few minutes after I had told her my theorem.   I said, “How did you do that?”   She just smiled.   I guess she knew that I knew it is her skill and profession to be lightning fast at locating books.

*      *      *

Now I must travel south to Wellington.  I will at least get a chance then to visit the only library in New Zealand with the second Euler volume.   But the whole project of typesetting it in \text{\LaTeX}   has somehow been totally eclipsed by the thought of despair for the next two weeks at not being able to see her.  Is this crazy?   (You may ask.)   The only crazy thing is that if you have just met the most beautiful woman in the world why would you first tell her this fact and then disappear for two entire weeks?

There is one good thing about being forced to remove myself from Langar, which is that at least I will not be intruding upon her time anymore.  It would be stifling to have some guy hanging around where you work with the knowledge that he is quite possibly madly in love with you.

Of course, I have no way of knowing what she will be thinking.  And to give you a little more information — if you are interested — you might like to know that I printed out a hard copy of Sunday’s post at oneoverepislon.   This was not intended, but she had no time to talk to me over lunch or coffee, so I had only a few minutes to tell her she is most beautiful.   I could not elaborate in spoken words.

Can you imagine the angst I felt handing over such heartfelt passages to her?   It was not my best writing.   It was not all that carefully edited.   It left out so much that I felt in my heart.   And, if I presume correctly that she is an avid reader, then, what was I thinking giving her this to read?   I did write a quick note telling her she did not have to read it, since it was all a self-evident proposal.   Maybe it was a bad idea?   It’s done anyway.   And I will have to wait two weeks at least to have any hope of gauging her response.

Just hoping she is gracious and does not hold it all against me as evidence of some sort of neurosis, is about the mildest outcome I can think of — it is not the best or worst. I did run in to the library Thursday morning before I drove down to Wellington. I had to apologise to one of the other librarians whom I had handed the printout of “The Theorem” to, for her to pass it on to the beautiful librarian. (I had been a bit short when I handed it over, saying something like, “It’s not for you.” I was just nervous she’d sneak a glance at it, and I was already worried if it was appropriate to reveal those passages torn from a piece of my heart.)

This other librarian is a lovely person too. I had eaves-dropped on her describing a few movie synopses to a young boy the previous week. The boy was trying to decide what DVD to loan. It was cute. So I asked her if I could use that little episode as the basis of a short story. I’m not sure she realised I was asking her for permission. Taking out a loan on a minute’s slice of her life.

Anyway. At the issues desk the beuatiful librarian was atteneding to customers, and she looked up and smiled at me, “Hello Bijou.” Which is not quite the final corollary I suspect. I hope. This one being the corollary that the act of telling a gorgeous librarian she is the most beautiful person in the world is a sufficient condition for being returned a beautiful smile. It’s an act worth doing, in other words.

I smiled back and waved goodbye. Hopefully she knows I will not be gone forever. I have to return to retrieve a personal belonging. I left my heart in Langar. But I don’t think the funky little sea-side town with the most beautifully graced library in the world will let me take it away.

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To Tell Her She is the Most Beautiful Woman in the World

Représentation tridimensionnelle d'une variété quadridimensionnelle de Calabi-Yausuchsuch

When you know she is the most beautiful woman you have ever seen, but you worry she will not believe you are sincere.  This is my problem.  Today.  To be solved for Monday (two nights and one day hence).

There is a secondary problem too: I do not know if she has a family, is single, divorced or living with a de facto partner, maybe lesbian, maybe celibate, who knows?  All I know is that I love her beauty.  But those are minor issues.  Why?  One reason is that if you wish to consider yourself courageous, then you cannot go through life wondering, “what if?”   More imperative is the answer that beauty deserves to be known.

So what does that mean?   Many things.  It can mean that when someone does not see or appreciate beauty, then you can perhaps help them see it, and it could be considered a pleasant duty to do so.  It can mean that if someone does not appear to know they are beautiful then you can gladden their heart by letting them know they are wonderful.  It can also mean that you might feel you simply have a disposition in life to let beautiful things be known and not hidden — not hidden from sight nor sound nor touch nor anyone’s inner senses.

This is how I felt.  I needed to tell her how beautiful she is, and how beautiful she might always remain in my heart and mind.  So when I see her this Monday I will tell her.   How though?   The problem is not resolved.  Telling her should be an act of love.  It should be artful.  It should be clear and precise.  It should be poetic.  It should be something no one can deny.  It should be sincere and motivated only be the desire to have beauty known, and known to itself, to herself!

This is how it must be. Yet do I have the time to make the art worthy?  Or will I falter?  These questions arise, but my will-power must suppress them.  Only the art must be of concern.  Only the art must motivate my actions for the remainder of today and tomorrow.

Embarrassment is of small consequence in this enterprise.  I must simply try.  If I fail then who can judge me harshly?  What is failure in this context anyway? I cannot care for it.  Time and circumstances limit my preparation, but I can still be as prepared as possible within the constraints.  This will be the art within the art.

Is it possible to become too clinical about art?  Too obsessed by an ideal?  Of course, but in the extreme limit there is no art.  Obsession kills.  We need to constrain it, bend it, warp it into something concrete and yet beautiful.  So not concrete.  Something organic perhaps?

Thinking now, … what shall I do?  I know she is a librarian, so she enjoys books.  What librarian wouldn’t?  I am a writer, of sorts, and I have plenty of projects I could talk to her about.  These will fill in some time.  Not that I want to fill in time.  When I am with her I know the time will pass by far to rapidly.  Before I know it she will have gone.  So I wish to make all things possible within this small fraction of a day I will spend with her.  No pretexts necessary then, just establish a comfort level that enables courage.  She offered to help me with some of my work, so this is how I will approach her on Monday.

Then what?   Too many things spring to mind, and I am overwhelmed with ideas.  The art is now to choose wisely.  Try not to appear too crazy and maniacal.  That’s hardly a fear, just something I’m musing on because my brain is bursting.  It will not burst when I am with her, because she has a peaceful radiance, a completely charming quality.  She is relaxing to watch, serene to behold, a joy to talk with.  So I needn’t be too worried.  There is just the effort now, the art to develop and perfect, so I can say to myself on Tuesday that I tried my best.  My Dad would always say such things are important — to try your best is the real glory.

A fictional conversation enters my mind.  She takes me to her favourite café.  We exchange pleasantries, “How was your weekend? What do you generally do on weekends?”  Even this is a risk.  I do not want to hear whether she has family, or not, not just yet, so I’m holding my breath.

“So you remember this project I asked you about New Zealand law copyright law?  Well, I discovered Google project Gutenberg only scanned the first volume.  So there is a second volume you might be able to help me locate — if an English translation exists.”

She might nod, might ask a question.  (In a fictional conversation it always seems difficult to imagine what the other person will say.  The dialogue in my head is fuzzy.  I hear her voice, but not her words.)  Then I continue, “So I thought, if i cannot find a similar scan of Euler’s second volume, in English, then maybe you could help me find a library copy to loan.  However, I should warn you, this could be a challenge!”

I’ll pause, and she might say a few words, intrigued perhaps.  “Yes, you see, when I tried finding a used edition to purchase, the only one I found was priced at fifteen hundred dollars.  A bit beyond my yearly budget for books.  And normally I like to collect a few books each year, so this would limit me for a few years!  If I indulged.”

“So there is your challenge.  Do you think we can inter-loan a copy (there might not even be one in all of New Zealand?) and then scan it ourselves?  I guess the inter-loan expense alone could eat up my book budget.”  Chuckling — like this is a bit of an adventure, a crazy playful enterprise.

Having no idea what will happen next.  My mind contemplates a turn in the conversation.  I suppose the inter-loan idea is not very realistic.  I’ll search online further and see.

Hopefully she will remember that I mentioned I had two things to ask her about.  If not, I’ll do it.

“There is one other thing I wanted to ask you.”  Then I ramble on a bit too much, but cannot help myself.

“When a mathematician discovers a proof of an original theorem, or even a new elegant proof of an established theorem, there is a very human need to show the world.  Did you know that most computer software is basically a long drawn-out mathematical algorithm?  Only significant difference is that computer scientists ask people to pay money to use them, whereas mathematicians give away all their intellectual work for free.  There is an ethos, completely unwritten, yet adhered to universally (and I’d suspect also on any other planet in the universe where mathematicians have evolved) that all mathematics is for all people.  There are no rights to ownership.  This is a bedrock pillar of the world-wide community of mathematicians, and I do not know of any culture which violates this ethos.  To most experienced mathematicians, doing mathematics is like creating art, or even higher in calling.  I’m not sure exactly.  It’s a different skill set, but the result is very much like art.  I guess artists have fewer constraints on what they produce.  It’s kind of circular logic, but it is true to say, that incorrect mathematics is not mathematics.  One flaw in a proof makes the whole thing invalid, whereas a tiny brush-stroke awry in a majestic painting is of no great consequence.  I guess.  Maybe it would be for a Michelangelo?

“Anyway, it’s a beautiful ethos — the mathematical spirit — and it draws me more towards mathematics than physics or other sciences, where commercial interests are becoming far too rife.” (I doubt I’d use the word `rife’ in conversation, but … whatever …)

“OK, so I wanted to ask you one other thing …”  I am finally getting to the main point.

She invites me.

I probably start dripping invisible beads of sweat, but I feel them running down my spine and ribs.  The desperation is more about hoping I can constrain my awkward humility and self-consciousness.   I’m beyond worrying what she will end up thinking about me.   But if there is ever a time when you wish your unattractive features could just go away and hide for a few seconds, this is it.  There is no need to want to feel enhanced in handsomeness, just let the ugly bits vamoose for a minute or two.   Courage and confidence are needed here.   Is this an art or a science?   Can it (confidence) be willed, or is the brain just too dumb to know when to suppress anxiety?   This element to the conversation is going to happen, so there is no point in worrying about it.

“It’s a little harder to tell you this one.   I’m normally too shy.   But it is like the desire to show the world an elegant proof.  Only this one is fairly personal and hard for me to tell you.

“I suppose in some dim dark recess in my mind I worry you might take it the wrong way.  So I have to tell you this before you prejudice your assumptions, or maybe before I become too presumptuous.  I have to tell you this very soon, so that it is pure and untainted.”

By now she might be agitated, concerned, starting to doubt my sanity?   But I have to persist.  There is no turning back.

“Right. So this is a theorem not a conjecture.  There is a proof which I will try to show to you.  The idea is fairly simple, and yet quite amazing, it is this: firstly, you are the most beautiful person that I have ever met.  Secondly, I’ve tried to shrug off the feeling I need to tell you this, since it seems obvious, but since first seeing you a month ago I have only become more determined to tell you.  Thirdly, I will tell you the proof if you are interested, but honestly I think it might be better if I stay quiet for a while.”   Pause.

“Those last two clauses were not part of the theorem.  Just the first bit, that you are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.”

“And that about says it all, but it is so short and succinct right?   It needs elaboration?   What’s the definition of beauty for starters?   It’s amazing because I never thought I would be honestly able to say this to anyone.  It’s a huge concept, `most beautiful person’ isn’t it?   No matter which definition is used.    It invites disbelief.  Maybe seems insincere.  But I have proof. ”

Undoubtedly all these words will not flow, but something of their nature, I hope, will be expressed.

Will she agree to let me continue?  Will she start to apologise and leave?   There is no foretelling.  So my mind continues to fantasize the conversation.  Her body language is subdued, but hopefully she allows me to continue.

The proofs I have are some subtle and some explicit.  Her face is bright and beautiful.  Her body is perfect in form and desirable.  Her eyes are alive with the spark of intelligence. Her hair is luscious, neat and fiery.  Her voice is golden and bold, confident, and yet somehow humble.  Her movements are the epitome of grace, elegance, self-confidence and style.  The way she walks is alluring, her figure is compelling, her form is perfection.

And I might try to tell her, “I do not really know about things like human aura’s.  But I do know that most people are electrically charged, having either an excess or a depletion of electrons.  A lot of things cause this, but overall it is a result of many different biochemical reactions, which, if not quite balanced, result in the body becoming like a very weak battery.  I’m not kidding.  Electrons either flow from the Earth into us, or the reverse, and the small charge gradient is maintained by our biochemistry.  Diet can alter it, as can other things.

“Anyway, I’m not sure of many other details, but the result — which is certain — is that people carry electric field lines with them.   Or rather, to be precise, these are virtual photons, dancing around us like near invisible fireflies.  They are invisible too, since they are not all in the visual spectrum.   That’s why we cannot see magnetic and electric fields.   But they are real.   ‘Virtual photon’ is just a word coined by physicists for fluctuations in the vacuum electromagnetic field.  They are real entities.

“So this is a kind of very real aura, which all people have.

“And I really don’t know, but maybe you also have some kind of aura which surrounds you?   In any case, it is beautiful and I’m drawn to it.  So much so that it might make you blush if I told you how much!”

And if given the chance, I would elaborate.  I would tell her about the day I first saw her: carrying two large paint buckets across the road towards the library.   I’d tell her how curious I was to find myself compelled to offer to help her paint the footpath.  How I enjoyed the quiet serenity of the work.  How already I felt somehow like, right then, I knew someday soon I would need to tell her how beautiful she was, because beauty needs to become known.  Even if it has been demonstrated a thousand times before.   The great prince of mathematics, Karl Gauss, would often re-visit theorems and create new original proofs.    Isn’t that wonderful?   That a piece of mathematics can be returned to and re-created with new elegant ornamentation and tapestry.

And the saddest thing is when, in this world, beauty goes unacknowledged and unappreciated.   I suppose, for someone truly beautiful mere existence is fine, it is self-sustaining, but every now and then it is good to be told.

Also, I have this (possibly eccentric) notion in my mind motivating me, which is that I suspect the most beautiful people in the world are not often told this truth, because it is so obvious, because other people will not indulge them, because they are so attractive they may appear aloof and unapproachable.  Not her though, not the librarian of Langar.  This also adds to my proof — a truly beautiful person is not aloof, at least not consciously, because they are kind and warm to the affection of others, because they attract good things.  So I can guess she does not need me to tell her these things, and she might be thinking I am a bit loopy.  This doesn’t grieve me in contemplation, but I’m sure it will sting me later as she leaves.  It’ll be worth the pain I think.  I’m not launching on this little private micro-crusade for my own benefit.  Not really.  It has become a simple plain obligation.  I see beauty.   I must acknowledge it to someone.  Who better than the one who radiates the very attributes.

So this is my lightest of burdens.   It is easy to unload, although very difficult still — for someone so shy.

Hoping to calm my nerves I could say, “So there. I’ve said it.”

I might say to her, “If this were the only reason I came to the township of Langar this summer then it would be sufficient.”

I might say to her, “This all may sound outlandish and seem surreal to you, but please don’t doubt me.   I feel I am, right now, at this very moment, in the position of a mathematician with a wonderful proof that must be shared, but who is so shy and sensitive they wish to share the proof only with the one person who needs to hear it.”

I might say to her, “A really good proof can often seem self-evident and so irresistible that you know it must be correct, but others may not see it so clearly.   I can tell you that I am one hundred percent sure that I know you are beautiful, deep down, inside and outside, all around.   You radiate peace and a self-assurance that is so attractive that I cannot be wrong. ”

Should I also say to her, “If no one else has the courage to tell you these evident facts — that you are incredibly beautiful — then it is my absolute privilege to be able to tell you.   I am so happy I have had the opportunity to tell you.   And that’s true even if you already know the proof.”   Maybe?   Should I say all that?   I’d be smiling something stupid here.   But no, that all sounds too trite, but something artful like this probably needs to be said, or is it pre-axiomatic and obvious?   I no longer know.   My mind has been contorted into that peculiar tangle one gets knotted within when trying to over-analyse the obvious, or complexify the singular truths of the world.

I have only a few hours left in the day now to perfect this artwork, this imagined conversation, and then let it be real.   I wonder if words alone are enough?   Is there not some more tangible way to tell her these things?   I doubt it.  Anything else would seem other than direct from the heart.  Anything else more potent can also surely wait.  Some of this art must be impromptu, because to imagine a complete conversation and try to make it real is lunacy.

Gentleness is required.  Patience.  The heart must speak, and if it is clouded by the logical faculty’s over-ride then a lot of the magic can be lost.   Is this true?   I’m not so sure.  Diligence and preparation betoken love and honesty and desire too.

Time is short, and tomorrow has become pregnant with some kind of existential need.  Something delicate and sweet that I feel will endure in memory for ages.  A woman like her does not enter a man’s life more than once or twice.  So the day must be seized, the chance taken, the proof evinced, the corollary accepted.

Now I laugh.  What have I done!  This afternoon I was squeezing plums fallen from my mother’s prodigious plum tree, and my fingernails and the skin lines on my fingers are deep purple, almost black, from plum juice stains.  An inauspicious omen?  Hardly!   This is Aotearoa, the land of the All Blacks.   I’ll meet her tomorrow with joy in my heart and black stained fingernails.  No worries mate.  The plum juice and puree are delicious too.

*       *       *

The next few days and weeks will be utterly painful.  Whether she agrees to see me again or not.  The uncertainty of not knowing how my message will be received, it is excruciating.   Every bit as agonising as waiting for critical feedback for a submitted manuscript proof.

This will all happen and I cannot inoculate myself against any of it.  It is quite the neurotic day-dream to be even thinking that far ahead.   None of the repercussions are things I will plan for, and whatever my state afterwards I hardly care, at least not now as I write and think the final thoughts before sleeping.  I’m merely trying to steel my mind to accept them.   These are not the purpose of telling her she is beautiful.

All worthy art must suffer critical appraisal.  The artist may not invite it, but cannot refuse it.  They might ignore it, but cannot stop it.  And so it must be with the extraordinary art of telling her she is the most beautiful woman in the world.  A subjective notion for sure, but one that can be true.   If not true and sincere then the expression of the art will be blackened void.   If true it will lead to a realm of colour and delight like no mind can fathom without firsthand experience.   The incredible thing is that to experience it one only needs the courage to craft the artwork and reveal it.

That is what I will do on Monday.   Will it be fateful?   I hardly know, I am not sure what “fate” means in this life.  It will happen.  It will have consequences, big or small.  I will pray they are of the good kind.

It’s 23hr:58min Sunday now.  Time to give in to the mercies of sleep.

*       *       *

For Kezia and Sylvie

This is my art lesson for today.   Let your art be expressed and reveal it’s beauty.   Be courageous and suffer any consequences from its reception.  Be true to your vision, even if the dire clockwork of space and time have conspired to limit your efforts and constrained your artistic talents.   Do not sell your art cheaply, but make it free for all.  Beauty can only be perfected when shared and revealed.

(You’ll be adapting something like this, probably your original thoughts, for the boys you fall in love with.   So just remember they might be even more turned on by the mathematics theme, it’s hard to tell from my viewpoint in time, but I hope you will fall in love with an intelligent guy.   So if you end up doing something in the sciences remember this.  Otherwise read a lot of literature, you will find inspiration is not always from within.   The wisdom of others is a treasure, and it should be used.  And do boys like to be called “beautiful”?   I think the nice kind will not mind.  The kind you will later wish you had fallen in love with.  My only counsel is to choose your adjectives with care, because there is art in this, and there is love in care, to do things with patience and consideration is a way of expressing love.)

And, remember, there is a special art to telling her she is the most beautiful.  It is like a concept that can be rendered into either cartoon form or lavish ornamental form.  The former is insincere and cruel, the latter can be obsessive and garish, like an unwanted nightmare.  The best art in this is to render your true feelings into a form that you know, inwardly, can be given away with the sole intent of making the recipient feel loved and desired, beautiful and serene, happy and blushed only with the sweetness of sincerity.

The essence of the art is elegant in its simplicity.  To tell her she is the most beautiful woman in the world, and to do so such that she will believe it is true, I must only believe it is true and have the courage to bare my soul.  And because I did believe it to be true, and because I am not afraid to reveal my naked soul, I told her.

Credit

The image at the top of this post is a Calabi-Yau four-manifold in a 3D representation (www.lactamme.polytechnique.fr) courtesy of Jean-François Colonna.  Such geometries are considered beautiful for more than aesthetic reasons, because they could be structures within our own spacetime, endowing our universe with symmetries that enable the characteristics of elementary particles, like the electrons and photons responsible for our auras, to appear.

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Love has to be the discriminant here

What separates a merely great artist from a genius?

The question is oft asked and answered.  My own impulsive muse on it today was stirred by the usual frustrations of doing art alongside science. (See the previous post The Lost Paragraphs Mystery.)

So here’s my penny thought: The great artists among us have no true love, or are missing a wonderful wise lover from their life.   They have a void which begs to be filled, aches for enrichment, and they can find no succour, save in their art.

Yes, apologies, I’m going to be both didactic and a tad polemic on this.

The genius artists among us have a devoted desired lover who in turn desires the artist.  They are the sort of completed personality who is so happy they are boring to study for most ambitious psychologists.

Why would such love be the discriminator between greatness and genius then?

The great artist has endless time to devote to their art, this is obvious.  They have no great lover in their life.  So their art is their love.  It occupies their attention.  It even tortures them since it is a mute lover, a difficult affair, an obsession they cannot give up and yet cannot find human comfort from within, not in the way a really wise and friendly human soul can promise.

I used to think it was a cliché that great artists had to “suffer in order to become great”. But now I see a wider, healthier, stauncher grain of truth to this, almost raising it to the level of truism.

Firstly, you have to know (for a fact?) that most Nobel Prize winners are not lucky.  They work damn hard, diligently, selflessly, in pursuit of … what? … noble goals?  hahaha.

Seriously now.  There might be one Nobel Prize awarded in the entire history of the ceremony that was gained by being struck by almighty luck. Pasteur’s accident which led to the discovery of penicillin was not even an instance of luck.  Pasteur had to work his guts out to study the germ cultures, and he made the mistake of contaminating the petri dish (apocryphal?  I’m not sure, just saying what I’ve heard) only because he was doing enough experiments to make the mistake.  You see, we can tell this part is high in truth-value because Pasteur noticed the mistake and was assiduous and curious enough to worry about it and to notice the killing off of the germ culture.  So dude!  He was the archetypal prepared mind dans l’extrême.

Although I’m biased by the thoughts of romantic love, and it’s claim on the human soul, it’s power when vainly sought, it’s riveting impulse and transcendence when found, it’s hurly roar of wind-sweeping affection and desire when in full living force,  that’s all I admit for now.  The rest of me concurs with the speculations in this blog entry.

The final speculation is that if an artist manages to stay true to their art, and produce works of greatness (in whatever field, and I include science and mathematics as art, as much as music, fine arts, poetry, writing, diplomacy, teaching, gardening, or what ever you consider your art to be) and simultaneously fall in deep romantic love with an incredible, other, real life, wickedly gorgeous, and sublime life-long partner, then this artist is a genius.

Why?  For the simple reason they have found an exquisite human lover, a soul-touching endearing partner in sensual communion, their conscious sweetness of the higher heavens, and yet still find time to produce great art!  Such a person, whether young or old, whether crippled or in their prime, whether rich or poor, is a genius in my view.

Happy the soul who’s lover is their art.  Make your soul mate your art. Let them be your authentic desire, your reality, your crimson passion. There is my pennies worth of advice for today my darling Kezia and Sylvie.

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Of All the Pop Songs

Unseen beauty is vast, a higher order of infinite than visible beauty.  Yet visible beauty is still infinite.  I do not mean just what eyes can see.  I mean all the senses.  Whatever can be sensed is, in this interpretation, classed as visible.  Also, if you want to interpret the unseen and the visible in a deeper way, then visible beauty can also be subjective qualia, like your inner impressions of a sweet poem, or your knowledge of some ancient ruins long since destroyed by entropy and human conflict, or your intuition that someone you have just met, a relative stranger, is some kind of saint.

With this more general sense of visible beauty now explained, what then is unseen beauty?  Well, is it not all the infinite beauty your mind is currently closed towards?  All the riches in the world of imagination that your petty or sorrowful soul will not allow you to perceive.  And all the mysteries of life that are veiled from your inner vision because you lack courage or faith to even admit they might be more real than all your flesh and blood.  Just the possibility.

So what is going on with my tortured soul that a dumb pop song can make me cry like a junkie who has just lost a cache of wonder drugs because he was too busy trying to get high from a batch of expired volatile organic hallucinogens that had decomposed ultravioletly into harmless water and aldehydes and light chain oils?  I say:  what is it?

OK, of all the dumb pop songs in all the freeview stations in all the frequencies in this city, why did that old Rolling Stones tune sink into my aural neuron slots, and then proceed to hum and buzz in wild feedback with my rusted emotional circuits that are in dire need of gentle feminine arousal? (Ruby Tuesday it was, sung in some surreal sounding young Latino(?) crooner voice in the movie Children of Men.)  Ain’t denying it got to me something acute-like, ’tis cool, can handle it.  Have been reasonably sensitively in-tune with my emotions lately.  “Lately” like for ten years of loveless marriage.  It hurts dude!  Remember it hurt if you read this back to yourself a few years from now Bij. I know, I know, you don’t want to hurt anyone else any more than they hurt you.  Heck though, we’re not all perfect.  Sometimes pain is unavoidable if justice is to be served. The better thing is that you work to ensure friends and former lovers are at least maximally unhurt.  The calculus of least affliction must be studied.   Law of minimum hurtfulness needs be applied.

Ah well.  Somewhere out there my true love waits… or not.   I am looking for you babe.  Like a delirious bee sensing the pollen all around yet who cannot yet taste the honey.  Don’t worry about this, I am searching with zeal.  When I find you you’ll know I’m the one, the way I will be yours, the way I will give, the ways I will tease and delight your senses, the manifold expressions of passion and rapture, the bliss of release and the fullness of anticipation will all be yours.

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