My companion and I have recently completed a three week trip through southern Europe. One might call what we did a vacation, I suppose, but traveling the way we do it involves coordinating train schedules, locating pre-arranged housing, meeting voucher deadlines, acquiring foodstuffs that are compatible with cooking facilities, all requiring miles traveled on foot, all of which is hard work resulting in thorough and complete exhaustion at the end of most days. The rewards, though, are rich in personal encounters and experiences, and, in our opinion, well worth the effort.
Upon completion of such an adventure we are ultimately required by friends, relatives and acquaintances to offer a narrative. The shared experiences, however, don’t translate to a common story, which, I suppose, one could attribute to differing focuses of attention and/or memory lapse, but, it seems to me, the remembered experiences are so varied that one can only assume the unique worlds in which we each exist defy a common reality. We must, I guess, all get along day to day unaware, most of the time that the person next to us is a truly alien presence.
So, I was reading that the most hardened atheist more than likely has some sort of sense of the sacred. It may be in the remembrance and contemplation of a personal past experience or as an instance in time and space when an acute awareness of the efficacious natural world transcends the mere physical. I suppose there are all sorts of possibilities.
Anyway, after reading a very convincing tome suggesting the likelihood our universe came into existence from nothing: that’s no space and no matter for that matter and certainly no creative overseer, I’ve nevertheless come to realize a sense of the sacred is and always has been a part of my reality. As exciting as the new theories and discoveries in particle physics are I still, and suspect I always will, relish the enrichments I experience from a cool breeze on a warm summer’s day that often mean more, have a greater personal significance than can be explained by science.
As I sit here surrounded by nature, despite the potential distress the wood tick crawling up my pants leg may cause and the lack of potable water to quench my thirst and the ache in my back due to an unseen mud hole, the sacred, nevertheless is present.
So, particle physicists and cosmologists are theorizing that there are infinitesimal universes popping into and out of existence all the time and that these universes are occurring from nothing: no space, no particles, no gravitational fields, no electro-magnetism, no laws of nature: nada, zero. These universes, they theorize, are the result of quantum fluctuations of ‘virtual particles’ (here one nano-second, gone the next). And, the thinking goes, there is a very strong likelihood that the universe within which we live may very well be an inflated version of such a universe from nothing.
I must admit this is all pretty hard for me to grasp, has me wondering about what nothing is and isn’t, among other things. Does this mean, our universe having popped into existence, that it could suddenly pop out of existence as well? If it did would the resulting vacuum suck all and everything into a very large black hole only to reconfigure as a new universe: a mirror image of its former self?
I find these ideas pretty exciting and they have me wondering about what the quantum world will show us next. I imagine, though, theologians might not like the ideas very much.
I’ve been working hard lately to subdue my natural inclination to make blanket judgments, but intersecting ,regularly, heavily touristed areas has brought me into contact with, among others, large contingents of camera and selfie-stick wielding Japanese who seem much more interested in capturing their likeness in front of the canons of western art than in viewing and contemplating said art. In addition they’re loud and seemingly oblivious to those around them. I find them quite annoying. To be honest it all just reinforces my cynical nature of mankind in general.
Deep breaths; deep breaths; let it pass; focus on Here and Now.
I’m wondering what they’re thinking, you know, the Japanese. Are they recording their travels in order to bore they’re friends, relatives and neighbors once they arrive home: ‘Here we are in front of a painting by Monet, what a wonderful time we had.’
Let it go; let it pass; I see blossoming trees; beautiful in the sunlight; breeze lightly moving; petals raining; sweet delicate aroma; deep breaths.
I hate those annoying Japanese tourists.
I really need to work on my meditative practices.
I was speaking with a very insightful young Florentine during my recent travels. He commented that the state of American politics (of which I must admit to being a bit embarrassed) isn’t surprising to most Europeans given the populist anti-immigrant goings-on in Italy and throughout Europe. “What we don’t understand about the Americans,” he said, “is the guns.”
This got me thinking about a Goethe quote I ran across recently that goes: ‘There are times when all consolation is base and it’s our duty to despair’, which resonates, no doubt, but I have to wonder how much value there is in despairing, you know, all by itself.
I’ve recently visited a place, an arena where, around two millennia ago, Christians, who apparently didn’t fit in well at the time, provided great spectacle as prey for very angry and very hungry lions. I must admit this particular place has lost a lot of its potentially grizzly impact since becoming a tourist magnet, you know, cleaned up, no blood anywhere. Nowadays the pushing and shoving amongst the hordes of Christian visitors themselves suggests a sort of sadistic propensity for pain.
Anyway, the culture in charge at the time, a couple millennia ago, found the minority sect to be disrespectful of the established gods so lion fodder they became. Of course a few centuries later the Christians were torturing and burning those they found to be heretical to their faith.
Considering the religious maneuverings in politics these days one can only be dismayed at how slowly the wheels of evolution turn.
I was noticing during my recent travels that Rome has a Giordano Bruno Avenue just a block down from one named after Savanarola. It got me wondering, being so close to the Vatican, if there’s a sense of atonement here given the fact the church saw fit to burn the two men for heretical behaviors.
There’s little question Bruno was inclined toward the occult, Hermes Trismegistus and Fra Savanarola was one of the original reactionary fundamentalists, burning books as he did. Still, burning and dismembering the two seems a bit harsh coming from a religion that espouses Christian charity.
The church fathers would seem to present a bit more enlightened front these days but if push came to shove one wonders if there wouldn’t be job openings for inquisitors.
I have this friend who, fairly out of the blue, received a shocking medical diagnosis that put to question the likelihood he would be unable to carry on his chosen life-style not to mention the possibility of an all-too-sudden permanent demise. Well, upon re-evaluation the dire prognosis was over-turned and things suddenly reverted to how things had been, you know, business as usual, except, the scare of imminent demise led my friend to a re-evaluation of priorities, what, essentially does matter after all and a sudden acute awareness of Here and Now.
I guess what the shock of a good scare can do is bring Here and Now into sharper focus. And, of course, Here and Now is where we live and should be where we always want to be but often aren’t, completely, distracted as we tend to be by thoughts of what occurred last week or what will happen after dinner tonight, perceived occupational successes and failures, personal relationships, the rising cost of satisfying our material desires, our minds constantly flitting from one thing to another. We live so much of the time, it seems, in a fog through which Here and Now is only occasionally glimpsed.
The whole episode has me thinking I need to spend more time focusing on Here and Now.
Kierkegaard’s dilemma was that despite his love for Regine he believed himself to be incapable of becoming a good husband, so to spare her he breaks off the engagement, telling her he was never truly serious about their relationship in the first place.
He wrote a lot about anxiety. He stated that, when we become anxious, we are overtaken with fear and trembling, as if we were on the edge of a precipice and afraid of falling. Then he said we should jump; take the leap into faith, embrace God for whom all things are possible.
He also tells us that either we shelter ourselves in the illusory belief that the individuals, doctrines and institutions we rely on for self-fulfillment are sufficient (bad) or we dismiss our worldly distractions, realize our declining physical body and face the existential horrors of life (good).
I think he thought about things too much. He should have just gone out and had a good time once in a while.
I’ve been wondering about this most incredible idea, that, quantum mechanically speaking, there may exist any number of universes. As hard as I try to visualize such an idea in my limited three-dimensional capacity to imagine spatially it all seems pretty much beyond comprehension. When I add time to the mix I can sort of get an idea of it all. After all, the world as it is right now is not quite the same as the world as it is right now. A micro-second in the past or the future might define an entirely separate reality, a parallel existence.
I wonder if these separate realities float around, bump into each other and maybe intersect for brief periods. Is it possible the remarkable sparkling landscape you saw last week was of another world never to be seen in your reality again? Maybe realities are nested within each other. Do the places you glimpse through the trees and bushes on that familiar winding trail through the woods have a certain other-worldly feel?
I find such thoughts intriguing. I revel in the possibilities, and, as long as I don’t think too hard about trying to define the multiverse in three-dimensional terms, I remain content in the limitations of my understanding.