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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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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