Missing the clothes of reality

First a bit of practical business to share, then on to the missing clothes metaphor.  I did not mention in my last post – it was still stinging a bit – but I have been asked to not return to the Chenpo Terma for the time being.  So I won’t, or rather, can’t. I know its location on a map and have been there, but traveling to the Himalayan plateau is not a trivial matter to be attempted alone and the locals will have been warned not to help me.

I have asked Chonyi to appeal again to the Sangha-dhatu council of elders to change their minds, but I know the difficulties I face gaining their trust again.  The earthquake, and my tendency to push them to go public, have led to understandable resentment, trepidation, and the like.

Add to that the fact that the relic was in my possession when it was confiscated and me being a fugitive from the international relic police (yes Interpol)… neither has bought me points with the council.

What the relic police would do if they caught me remains a bit of a mystery, but I do not want to find out.  That is what the bad guys are betting on too.  Plus they know I would not keep my mouth shut about my suspicions, which would probably get me charged with slander (and what I’m writing here, if I weren’t using pseudonyms, would be called libel).  Whatever to build some kind of case against me.   How far Bernie Ghes would go to keep the relic from me (and any positive attention from the relic or my brother) is hard to imagine, but he is not one to do dirty-work himself.  The real question is, How far would do-gooders and career criminals hired by a self-important academician go to keep the relic out of my hands?

So why do I care if I ever hold or view these terma again?  Why not move on?  Obviously they have cultural value, but UNESCO should be able to advocate for that if provided enough information.

So here’s the thing.  I have experienced first hand the power of these terma.  Not raw physical power like a sword, but gnostic power.  Under their influence I saw with a clarity rarely achieved, even when I find myself by the remotest stream on the clearest day.  Such assertions cannot be quantified, much less believed, given modern fascination with all things testable.  I realize I may just be being sentimental too because I had insightful moments with them in mind (something my brother never seemed willing to admit about his own experiences with the relic).  I do not know for sure which interpretation is accurate, but I know I want to have the chance to find out what my experience means.  And others should have the chance to experience it.

One such insightful moment happened as follows.  The day after a friend and I literally cracked open the relic to reveal its three puzzle-like layers, I sat turning it over again and again in my hands, linking and unlinking the pieces in their various combinations.   What I saw was this:  when a holistic truth or unified physical reality is manifest through three interconnected continua, meta-theories tend to form around subsets of two continua with the third being neutralized, or made a null set, in order to analyze the other two in relation to each other. At the time I was thinking specifically of physics theories, but the wider relevance is also apparent to me.

So by way of example, let’s take Newtonian physics, special relativity, and quantum mechanics – three physics meta-theories.   Assume three continua are at work, let’s call them MODE, VEHICLE, and PARTICLE, and ascribe one continua as missing from each meta-theory’s symbolism.  For the sake of (a non-coincidental) argument, say Newtonian physics is missing MODE, special relativity is missing VEHICLE, and quantum mechanics is missing PARTICLE.  If we make a single diagram in which each of the three continua are represented not only by an interrelated symbol but by color coding, then vary the background color so that it corresponds for a time to each continuum’s color, you get an animation like the one above.  A visual representation of how the same underlying reality looks different but connects back to the whole if we define the continua as interrelated (one symbol) but distinct (variable color).  I chose the carvings on the relic to create my representation.

Overlapping meta-theories is a non-controversial observation.  When interpreted this way it can be seen as evidence that interrelated and likely hidden continua are at work behind reality (and I don’t mean hidden dimensions! you don’t want to get me started on that!).  Important conceptual hurdle to get over, but just the beginning of what would end up being an intellectual obstacle course.  Clearly, the correct complement of continua have to be identified and defined in an interrelated way.   Not a small task given that each continua falls into the hidden/missing/background role naturally when relying on known types of analysis.

It should not be surprising at all that modern science cannot get its meta-theories to mesh together.  Each is based on an assumption where one essential continuum is demoted to the role of backdrop.  Symbolic languages are adopted for the resulting meta-theories and, most importantly, links to the temporarily nullified continua are lost.

Each meta-theory is like a stage production, with its own characters, story and backdrop.  That is the science we have come to know and love, and now, after the fact, we expect to be able to build holistic models of it?   Call it the Ghost of Reductionism, or Human Longing for Predictability, or the commercial value of Paradigms-R-Us.  Consumers and the majority of professionals in science and culture long ago severed their ties with reality and associated holistic truths when they accepted the model of interpreting the scenes and stories played out in each human field of investigation as more than what they are:  non-real parallel universes of thought.

We are a society of clothes-less emperors.  All missing the clothes of reality, with no one to challenge us.  I am here to advocate for the advantages to donning colorful, real accouterments once again.

Since there is stripping going on, try to relish the thought of taking away the backdrops and removing the symbolic languages from existing theories, if just for a moment.  What we are left with is not only the potential connectedness of meta-theories but, with all these hidden continua to uncover, a likely critical role for nothingness itself.  Maybe we are getting somewhere after all.

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Good news mixed with fear

Double-slit experiment

I heard from Chonyi a few days ago.  He had good news.  The Chenpo Terma site we explored in April just one day before the earthquake is intact for now.  The entry to the underground portrait room had been blocked, but a few dedicated and brave individuals, working slowly and in secret as usual, cleared away the collapsed rock and were able to enter once again.  They even returned with the naljorpa who lives nearby to renew the blessings and protections on the site.

This development was so great, but it meant I had to soul-search all over again.  I have been paralyzed, not knowing what to do, or not do.  The location and the secrets behind it and the relic too have been hidden for over three hundred and fifty years.  Events (like the earthquake) and some people’s bad intentions keep conspiring to keep them hidden.  Am I just an overreaching American, a Scooby-Doo style meddler?  People, nice people, are telling me I should let this lie, that I am making things worse – for myself and for their efforts to protect what is precious to them.

Then I turned on Coldplay.  Listened to the song “Fix You.”  “Lights will guide you home,” he crooned.  And yes, tears did stream down my face.

I keep talking about physicists perpetuating dark, insidious theories about reality.   Keep the lights out… just question the darkness!  I preach.  But we are all susceptible to its most basic form.  Everyone experiences fear, some groups just build on it with fancy names and elaborate theories is all.  Others of us conspire with it to hide a tough reality we are reluctant to face.   My Tibetan friends have made a lifetime of commitments over generations to hide the Chenpo Terma, and they are afraid to let go.

Light is bound to reach us in the darkness.  When we wait for it rather than reflexively turning on the self-conscious light of limited understanding, perhaps more so even,  it may pain us, it may surprise us, but it will slowly warm and enliven us again.  Our first thought in this new state should be, If there is a god, it is a Cosmic God.

Personally, my second thought was, Repeat to yourself, mantra-style, The paradox of revealing nothingness. The paradox of revealing nothingness. The paradox of revealing nothingness.

Preferable to The paradox of preaching hypocrisy, which is what I was toying with these last few days.

Ours is a paradox, in which nothingness may be revealed and somethingness is certainly hidden.  I can only promise for now that the motive remains.

The Relic

Until a year ago I had NO idea there were intricate international, government and law enforcement bodies dedicated to protecting old stuff.   Registries of things-people-might-want-to-steal and valuable-stuff-that-doesn’t-look-it abound, including registries of already looted relics and art.  In principle I’m glad people care about history, prize beauty, etc.   I’m less impressed by rich people wanting to protect or even escalate the value of their abstract investments. I’m really frustrated at being forced to the wrong end of this good-intentioned scheme that has no independent system of justice.  Those in positions of power get to use it to their advantage.  Period.  Oftentimes they’re working for good and playing fair, but when it’s for bad, too bad.

When my brother John and I were given a relic in 2008 while on a trip to China and Tibet I never imagined I would be lamenting such a thing.

(Wondering about my political views on Tibet… see my Anti-political Disclaimer.)

The relic was taken from me and Brooklyn (John’s widow) at a physics conference in Turkey a year later.  Brooklyn began an invited talk on the relic and its relationship to John’s unconventional observations of physics, and ten minutes in UNESCO’s cultural property police, who were waiting in the wings, confiscated it.    I suspect Dr. Bernie Ghes orchestrated the whole thing.   He’s been wanting to get his hands on it ever since John’s death.  Death to the relic too.  I’m guessing his wish has come true and it’s been bagged and labeled into oblivion.

Our gift was stolen from us by bad guy good guys.

Here’s a stylized rendering of the carvings found on and WITHIN the relic.   Again, we never dreamed it would be stolen and have little record of it other than what we remember.  My friend Peter created this last summer from sketches and descriptions I provided.

Tibetan relic series of carvings

The relic looked basically like a dingy, lumpy brick.  It was hundreds of years old and apparently made of rock that is common but sacred in Tibet, not a man-made material like metal or ceramic.  “Positive” and “negative” carvings, in the pattern you see here in the top frame, decorated opposite faces of the brick.  The patterns of the bottom two frames were visible as carvings only when the brick was pried open at its two center seems.  So in each case there was a carving and its “negative” on opposite faces.  A three-dimensional puzzle of sorts.

Another friend Cam, a philosophy grad student, was the one who noticed the seams along the uncarved sides and proposed prying at them.   Luckily, at the moment we had butter lamps at our disposal, and that did the trick getting the old joined together pieces to release.

John never saw the relic open so he only saw 1/3 of its content.  Relic aside, he was fixated on wave-particle duality.  So the pattern he saw (the first frame) on the relic bolstered his fascination (though at least one friend has joked it looks like a snake with a tumor).  What he always described when he talked about the relic was its, how do I put it, magical properties.  He claimed that the relic changed in unpredicted ways in different types of light.   He died the same night he took it out for a moonlight ride – to see if he might discover different properties in that kind of light.

Early on I was more interested in establishing connections to the relic’s origin.   The discovery of the embedded carvings opened up a whole new question in my mind of the significance of the set of carvings though.  Recently, with the visit to the Chenpo Terma, the two perspectives finally converged.

The carvings on the relic and “portrait” in the Chenpo Terma are not connected to the existing understanding of Dolpopa’s 14th century central doctrines (on emptiness) in an obvious way.  Still, both terma, literally “wisdom treasures,” are ascribed significance by those who know his doctrines well.  Which leads me to conclude they may have significance all their own.  Could they represent cosmological extensions of Dolpopa’s doctrinal work?  It’s entirely possible that esoteric gnostics actively pursued such insights up until the middle of the 17th century.   Not coincidentally, that is was when Tibet’s civil war ended, and all but Gelukpa (the dominant “yellow hat” sect headed by the Dalai Lama) doctrine was banished.

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Description and sketch of the Chenpo Terma (pre-earthquake)

What can I say.  This doesn’t hold a candle to the real thing, though in some cases that’s what we had to do to see our way around!  Imagine Tibetan buddhas and demons in the blank areas (and you’ll just have to imagine what my unskilled drawings of those would look like).   What I’ve drawn were the unusual parts,  unusual because they are so different than designs traditionally found in Tibetan holy sites.

The wall decorations, including the parts I sketched, were well preserved, and easy to see – except that our battery-powered light sources got low and we had to rely on torch-light until we were ready for our ascent.  The actual size of what you see in the drawing was maybe as high as a two-story building.  Big.  The lines of the center “starburst” were made up of mostly of red coral and turquoise.  Our Tibetan guide Chonyi described it as the “jewel.”  Because of the stone inlay design it did bear strong resemblance to the jewelry common to Tibet.   The white “wave” segments away from the center were apparently made of carved bone, probably yak bone.   And the gold dots you see were just that – dinner-plate-sized protrusions covered with precious metals.

The room where we found it was a sort of portrait hall with one prominent wall (featuring this design).  The other walls tapered steeply in an efficient and cautious geometry.  The ceiling, walls, and floor of the cave-like room were made of earth and covered with some kind of natural plaster.  Stones were embedded in the floor but their formations seemed random.  Hard to examine because cave debris had settled on it.  Apparently the ancient Naljorpa, or wizard, who protects the site from an external cave nearby, is not also a housekeeper.

An inscription, credited to Dolpopa Sheyrab Gyalten and in Tibetan, of course, read

“The ground of emptiness is naturally noncomposite radiant light”

Another inscription, outside the entrance to the hall, was a dedication.  It read

“Erected in 1633 by Taranatha’s volunteer army with the mission that the wisdom treasure [terma] inside be protected during hostile times ahead”

We were able to make rubbings of the inscriptions, but it will take some time to render them here.  I only hope the interior hall, which has never to my knowledge been photographed or preserved in any way, was not destroyed in the earthquake.

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Recent events in Tibet that brought me to the Blogosphere

As you probably know, there was an earthquake in eastern Tibet on April 14.  I was there when it hit; north of the epicenter, at a site in Amdo (Qinghai Province).  The exact location of the site, referred to in some legends as the Chenpo Terma, had been a mystery to all but a handful of Tibetans for over 300 years.

I had been to the site only the day before with my travel partners.  The experience was transformative (more – much more – about that later).  No booby traps.  No skeletons.  Technical difficulties were all that vexed us, but that’s common in remote places like the Tibetan Plateau.  We planned to go back the next day better prepared, with our solar camera batteries fully charged, weather cooperating.

The quake hit early the next morning.  We were safe, thank goodness, having camped nearby but (for no particular reason) well away from rock formations that toppled or shifted during the quake.  From what we could tell when we returned to the site, the quake destroyed the only entrance, blocking us from going in again, and may well have destroyed its internal structure.

I have really done a lot of soul searching since then.  I already knew quite a bit about the Chenpo Terma’s history and meaning, but the time I had experiencing it first hand, and nailing down the first glimmer of a coherent physics since then, make me feel determined to not let superstition sway me.   The coincidence of the earthquake the day after our entering the Chenpo Terma was too much for many.  Those who allowed us to visit are questioning everything all over again.  Maybe I should have taken a hint.

There are those, some of whom I do not wish to upset and some I wouldn’t mind a bit upsetting, who take task with me trying to make this common knowledge.  I have come to terms with the fact that I may be betraying the “natural order of things.”  It comes down to the difference of my new view of the natural order of things since.

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