Sacred Fire

What if parity between the cosmos and our physical perceptions of healing already existed due to such perceptions having the capacity to be in harmony with the cosmos itself. Ancient traditions refer to a sacred fire. What is it or could it be comparable to in modern physics and metaphysical philosophy?

These are the kinds of questions I hope those who visit my newer site Healing Generation will begin to formulate.  The answers – the direction and momentum – will unfold, but not before the uncertainty of letting go of old ideas reaches a fever pitch!

I am not longer making new entries on this blog — it is a finished work of curiosity.  I hope you will glean something from it as it is a healing story, the end of which is writing itself now in my revealed life.  No longer Cherokee Paul but Michelle Kathryn McGee, cosmic muckraker!

Even more important to be patient with yourself than with others.  If each of us is in charge of our own patience, we all have all the time we need! Anyway, don’t be afraid to start at the beginning of what you think you know — and at the beginning of this blog.

 

A joke, seriously

The philosophy underlying modern theoretical physics robs most of us of our connection with a universe that is coherent.

Sometimes jokes are better than serious dialogue….

“A man tries on a made-to-order suit and says to the tailor, “I need this sleeve taken in!  It’s two inches too long!”

The tailor says, “No, just bend your elbow like this.  See, it pulls up the sleeve.”

The man says, “Well, okay, but now look at the collar!  When I bend my elbow, the collar goes halfway up  the back of my head.”

The tailor says, “So? Raise your head up and back.  Perfect.”

The man says, “But now the left shoulder is three inches lower than the right one!”

The tailor says, “No problem.  Bend at the waist way over to the left and it evens out.”

The man leaves the store wearing the suit, his right elbow crooked and sticking out, his head up and back, all the while leaning down to the left.  The only way he can walk is with a herky-jerky, spastic gait.

Just then, two passersby notice him.

Says the first: “Look at that poor crippled guy,  My heart goes out to him.”

Says the second: “Yeah, but his tailor must be a genius!  That suit fits him perfectly!”

— from Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar… (2007) by Thomas Cathcart & Daniel Klein

Yes, I am suggesting that modern theoretical physics’ is nothing if not a bunch of badly fitted suits contorting an otherwise coherent universe.

So which category are you in? Do you feel sorry for the physicists trying to understand a vexing universe or do you have awe for them for doing such a great job of making a vexing universe look good?

Truthiness and fictionality

Truth is a complex idea, and Stephen Colbert’s truthiness construct reveals just how painfully funny it is that truth must be taken so seriously.  To simply write about such an idea leaves something to be desired.  Paradoxes are nutritious but lack in flavor.  Bland, boring, cream-of-gray-matter stuff.  A room-full of PhD’s or a clever columnist surely could (and regularly do) whip the idea of truth into a fluffy meringue — enough to elevate the blood sugar but not to sustain a person.

Embody truthiness in a complex character like Colbert though, add a dash of political analysis and a smidgen of satire, and what emerges is a piquant recipe for human insight.  Add a first course of Jon Stewart, and you have a well-rounded, satisfying meal.

I am here to point out that the other side of truthiness, for those who relish (pun intended) not only its nuances but its irony, is fictionality, by which I mean:

It is possible at times for fiction to better represent reality than that which is writ large as real.

Colbert won’t talk about fictionality, but it is easy for those of us who suspect him of as much to revel in.   His duplicitous discourse challenges not only the interpretation of the pseudo-reality he creates, but the one presented by the Media he imitates — that which is writ large.  Historical fiction and conspiracy fiction like The DaVinci Code are more specialized examples of fictionality at work.

Scientists (writ large) like to think of themselves as playing by a special set of rules, guided by the special pretenses of the scientific method and rational analysis.   Once you are in the club, the rules say you can leap bias in a single bound and are capable of superhuman feats of paradigm shifting.  A lot of grandstanding with little grounds for being exempt from criticism as far as I am concerned.  In this regard, hardly different from the politicians, corporate wonks, and “real people” Colbert pokes fun at.

All people, advanced scientific degrees or not, have the ability to understand the logic, reasoning and inspiration behind insights, scientific or otherwise.  Whether they exercise the ability or not is another issue.   The nuances are part of the fun for those who do.  Those talented purists who hold the Truth-is-a-lock-and-________ (God, logic, science, FSM)-holds-the-key ideal no doubt find such ideas distasteful to think about.  Yet truthiness and fictionality must not be relegated to the empty halls of thought.  They should be elevated to food for the soul.  Truth and Fiction are just bland ideals without truthiness and fictionality to spice up the rations we get.

Bon appetite!

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Sometimes a cabal is a good thing.

Cabals are groups based on secrets. They’re usually small.  More may make merrier, but more does not make for better secret keeping.  Controlling ideas of the big brother variety or protective notions of the political or superhero variety fuel some real-life as well as fictional cabals.   Radical ideas like the Dead Poet’s Society or esoteric interpretations of existing thought such as mystical Judaism fuel others.  Thus cabals are often formed by people who find themselves in positions of power but are concerned others may misinterpret their ideals.  But they may also be formed by ordinary folk who fear or worry for the destructive or transformative power of their cabal’s ideals.  The powerless and fearless simply conglomerate and rebel, for better or worse.

But keeping secrets is slippery ethical territory.   At least when interpreted from the outside.  Obfuscation presents a sort of ethical hurricane where the weather in the eye – that is, the internal conviction of the cabal-ers – is necessarily fine.  Anyone who encounters the cabal’s lies, cover-ups, protection, and the like has to wrestle more or less knowingly with the mysterious turmoil in its wake.

Perhaps even more interesting than the ethics of cabals (if that’s possible) is the metaphysics of obfuscation.  On the most basic level, how can we expect to define a standard for reality or (worse) attribute causative powers to observation knowing that some information is hidden on purpose?  Or more subtly, there’s the question of the nature of the reality of what is possible.  Cabals are self-appointed protectors of the possible.  How can they harness it in this way if the possible does not have a metaphysical status?  Primitivism grants such a status.

Cabal-ers always believe themselves to be cabal-ing for good reason.  If it’s a selfless one at least to some degree, the ethical scales could easily tip in their favor.  The metaphysically real possibilities they protect are safe within their confines.

But what about when a cabal comes under pressure to un-cabal, to reveal.  Like a dormant seed exposed to moisture and heat, the possible moves beyond the confines of its protective husk to interact with the rest of its surroundings.   Does the plant that results enhance the surrounding ecosystem, or disrupt it harmfully?  Of course it depends.  Real or not, ethical or not, sometimes a cabal is a good thing.

I love a good myth. 

Creation myths are not unique to religions.  Physics has one too.   Big bang theory.

Jews and Christians imagine a God who takes time to rest.  A mathematically useful model of the physical universe that grants space-time a mother would seem reasonable enough.  Sure she’d be deemed violent and only grow more distant over time, but she’d be ours.

I would think physicists would want to avoid myths, creation-related or otherwise, all together.  Why bother with tall tales?  They not only encroach on religion’s main job but seem contradictory to the scientific method they hold sacred.

The thing is, for physicists (and the tiny alien mathematicians sequestered inside them – another interesting myth I’ve heard :) to reconcile all of the metaphysical matters they unearth, an origin must be defined.  It’s not their fault the universe started with a violent outburst!  The job of documenting its aftermath is a dicey one but worth the risks of MAKING SHIT UP, because that’s the only way we can have a world in which longer acting deodorants are possible and robot dogs turn accurate flips.

Science is a method, but also a promise.

My problem with the big bang theory is not the creation part or even the no-way-to-know-its-not-a-myth part.  My problem is that the agreed upon mass-energy model it spurs is in the style of Genesis rather than natural selection.   Whether a big bang did or did not happen, in all likelihood the assumptions about how it relates to the nature of mass and energy are quite wrong.  The real myth is that scientists’ assumptions are inherently correct and unchangeable.

Dumbfounded

I started out to write a review of the movie A Serious Man, released last year and directed by the Coen brothers.  Seemed relevant enough.   While reviews are not my specialty murking around in the depths is.  My feelings about this movie (and those of many others, from what I could tell looking at reviews online) were heavy in the murky department.  I am still, three days later, unclear whether it was a waste of two hours or a useful intellectual exercise.

What did the first scene mean?  Was the woman supposed to be the depiction of crazed certainty, or was she a temporarily misunderstood heroine for her village?  Why did the protagonist, an academic physicist, have an older brother who was pointlessly addicted to his own genius, among other things?

The “conclusion” they reach, in the context of retelling the biblical tale of Job, is predictably catastrophic.  The conundrums it reveals – religious, scientific and otherwise – are grossly stereotyped.  The combination on screen, and in the hands of the Coen brothers, has an uncomfortable if unsurprising effect, which is, dumbfoundedness.  Some people like that feeling (rave reviews!); others hate it (insulting reviews).  I am in the middle, preferring a bit more substance and less  in the obscure allusions department.

I lured you along with this sparkly movie talk so I could hook you with a big juicy worm of a Revealing Tangent.  (It took a tangent of this magnitude to get me to reconsider writing anything about this movie after three days of dumbfoundedness).  So hang on to your holy books, because you’re going to be wondering where the answers are hidden.

An obscure branch of philosophy known as modality concerns itself with what it means about reality that some aspects of it are possible, necessary or contingent.  For instance, it is possible that George Bush could have lost the 2000 presidential election.  It is necessary that your parents are yours.

Really important at this point that you not “turn on the lights,” but be willing to muddle about in this darkness for just a bit.  Remember, that is where mysteries about reality reside.   The non-mysterious, lights-on version of reality today, when faced with the questions I want to pose, is simple:  parallel universes explain all confusing aspects of reality.

It may be true that they unconfuse a confusing situation, but explain parallel universes?  Go ahead.  Examples would be helpful… no.  Can you see this leads to a dead-end?

So, now humbled, we can get back to the tangent at hand.

First let me answer the question, what does philosophical modality have to do with the movie A Serious Man?

The reality of movies is the perfect metaphor for modal primitivism.  (Tangent – I warned you!)  Modal primitivism  is a metaphysical interpretation of philosophical modality.  It says the universe’s underlying reality is not just about nailing down the facts, so to speak, via solving enough mathematical problems or adding enough dimensions or worlds to account for everything.  The metaphysics of primitivism creates an essential distinction.  Some kind of carrier of necessity and possibility is needed above and beyond “modal facts,” or  logical statements about cause and effect.  Modal primitivism says, for instance, that connections between objects and their origins are necessary.  A mental image of a chair is not a real chair.  Possible outcomes are part of reality if and when they are contingent on a set of quite real initial conditions.  And finally, modal primitivism suggests that existence which manifests from nothing must be possible, particularly if you wish to suggest the manufacturing of an infinite number of parallel universes (aka possible worlds) to solve every problem imaginable!

Which brings me back to movies.  Movies are the closest we have come yet to making parallel universes real – a story acted out, filmed, viewed by millions.  Their existence proves that modal primitivism has to be satisfied before any model of reality can be accepted as complete.

In the period just before John died he had left academic physics and was studying modal philosophy and Buddhism.  But not in a human potential way you might expect.  He had an agenda.  He was intent on cracking open the problems that crop up in physics so often in the form of dualities, exclusion principles, and generally irreconcilability among the scales of physics.

[See my newly minted Physics Disclaimer.]

I got hints and insight about his thinking from time to time.  I grew up hearing about physics from him and the people he studied with.  Later we shared an interest in Tibetan Buddhism, me because of my mentor-in-the-kitchen Chonyi, him because of its ancient and varied doctrines. That was easy to continue after he was gone.  But the modal philosophy proved a bit trickier.  I ended up asking for help from a friend of the family, a philosophy professor, who hooked me up with a grad student who wanted an interesting thesis project, in this case, studying an ancient relic in relation to modal primitivism.

Nothing in modern physics fills this “primitive” metaphysical requirement.  Or I should say nothing-ness.

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Metaphysical Yoga

Yesterday I heard an interview with writer and yoga teacher Matthew Sanford on NPR’s Speaking of Faith.   Amazing, gifted person whose body was disabled after a car accident at the age of 13.  Check out the following, which is an excerpt he read from his recent memoir Waking:

Imagine walking from a well-lit room into a dark one. Imagine the darkness as a visual expression of silence. My rehabilitation made a mistake with the silence by focusing on the absence of light. It too quickly accepted the loss and taught me to willfully strike out against the darkness. It told me to move faster rather than slower, push harder rather than softer. It guided me to compensate for what I could not see.

Another course of action, however, is patience. Stop moving, wait for the eyes to adjust, allow for stillness and then see what’s possible. Although full-fledged vision does not return, usually there is enough light to find one’s way across the room. After a while, the moon may come out, sounds might gain texture, the world might reveal itself once again, only darker.

The darkness of certain physical views like quantum mechanics and the uncertainty principle is dramatic.  Its experts have all had metaphysical rehab!   Media, art and literature accept their rehabilitated opinions, which morph into cultural messages full of positive spins – and, to certain ears, irony.  Quantum leap over your limitations… uncertainty makes the universe exciting, or… in an alternate universe you may be experiencing bliss!  After my brother parted ways with the physics community he regularly lamented this.

I would take it one step further now. Should theorists lose track of one basic principle – that physical theories must connect to physical reality – what would keep the problem from spiraling into a new type of darkness, one of human making?

[I am aware I keep mixing two notions of darkness / nothingness that are quite distinct.  See my Philosophy Disclaimer.]

Matthew Sanford says something similar happens to the disabled all the time.  They accept their fate as being cut off from their physical bodies rather than of needing to become more finely attuned to it and accepting of its subtleties.  First and foremost being as whole as possible should be more important that being “a fighter,” or in the case of physicists avoiding metaphysical crises, of being a pedant?  (That was John’s favorite insult to hurl at career physicists.)

Matthew Sanford, in reconnecting his mind and emotions with his disabled body, says he identified a common source of physical limitation in the world.  Without knowing it even able-bodied people disable themselves in small ways over a lifetime through closing down physical communication with the parts of themselves that hurt.  People’s focus is too often on accepting immediate relief through physical silence (a darkness of human making?).  He says instead we should focus on being patient with our existing capacity, however limited, and re-connecting with the energy and physical processes that built us in the first place.

Maybe I should rename this weblog Metaphysical Yoga.

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Necessity: The paradox of naming things… like this weblog

My posts so far have been about recent events, how they affected me, and why I decided to weblog.   The question remains, Why should anyone care?

A good place to start is with the title of the weblog.  You might be asking,what’s with “Hidden: The paradox of revealing nothingness” aside from, perhaps, a clever word play?  Maybe you get that I am in hiding, something about stealing relics and bad guy physicists, but are not clear if I am revealing nothingness or caught in a paradox where nothingness is the unfortunate consequence.  If it’s the first, then you may be unsure how you are supposed to tell when there is a revelation vs. nothingness vs. a revelation about nothingness.

Before we switch on the lights in a panic, I hope you will take a deep breath with me and consider that the dark is nothing to be afraid of.  At least not here.  You may wish I would turn on the lights and just give you a friendly tour.  You may be increasingly uncomfortable, imagining zombies, or hoards of bugs, or death each time I remind you that the lights are out.  But turning on the lights would mean deferring to our dominant sense, to “see” a problem that, while not imaginary, can only be solved by evoking our other senses.  No matter how many times someone tells you there are no such things as zombies, until you sit in the dark, awake, aware, and alone, and prove it to yourself, you will not be able to answer the more interesting question, Does nothingness have something to reveal?

When it comes to pondering nothingness (metaphorically = darkness), I would equate “using all of your senses” to letting our collective blend of scientific wisdom (wonder), faith and philosophy mingle instead of reflexively evoking a media sound byte understanding of valid debates and concepts.

I have reason to believe that these things – wonder, faith and metaphysical philosophy can be brought together only in darkness.  Not darkness in the sense of uncertainty and fear though.  Darkness in the sense of potential, of a coherence that, if it exists, is not separate, to be observed, but must be conceived.  The place it exists is in the paradox of revealing nothingness.

We are hardly the first to bravely go where I am suggesting I will go.  Any of you familiar with lay theologian C.S. Lewis’s “Wood Between the Worlds,” central to his Chronicles of Narnia prequel The Magician’s Nephew, can consider this endeavor a scientific and philosophical application of that spiritual vision.   Far, far fewer of you may be familiar yet with the radical doctrine of a 14th century Buddhist monk Dolpopa.  It energized, and divided, Tibet’s spiritual development for three centuries.  Then in the 17th century, political agendas that eventually led to the re-stabilization of Tibet and its establishment as a theocracy, squashed the rich diversity of doctrines such as Dolpopa’s that had flourished.   A potent doctrinal vacuum resulted.  I would compare it to the reality crisis sparked this century by the indoctrination of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics.  Not just nothingness but emptiness, nothingness devoid of the possibility of meaning and ruled by uncertainty.

__________

This 5 minute YouTube video “What is theoretical physics for?” is fascinating in relation to what I’m doing here.  Youth plus the perceived nothingness that surrounds us, in relation to physics theory, metaphysics and beyond.  Check out the funky lighting… he’s barely illuminated in the darkness.  Very humble.  I like that.

I know I said media perspective is bad, but I meant mainstream media…

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