Zero, Eternity, Genetics and You

Take a look at these brown-eyed susans after the flower petals have been shed …
It looks like hundreds, but it’s only one. There only ever has been one. Take a look again …

P1130872 Yes, there are millions of individual plants that go by this name, but they all pass themselves on through the seeds in these black cones. They all have to go through the seed to come back out again as the plant. And what is the seed but a cloud spread across time and space? What is it but an opening out, a blooming, a plant becoming itself in time?

P1130875 From one, millions, but all those millions together are still the one. It’s not that there are millions of individuals out there, but that the time of the universe is opening. This is what it looks like when it opens.

P1130868 If you could fold it back up into an equation, into a form of mathematics, even a physical mathematics, it would all be one plant, one genetic string, one folded and refolded hydrocarbon molecule. And all of this is repeated in the millions of other species of plants that have all descended from the same single folded and refolded carbon molecule.

P1130869 You don’t need the Hubble telescope to look up and see time become space and space become time, in a universe in which the farthest distance the Hubble can see is the furthest distance back in time. Most of the stars that Hubble picks out died long ago. On earth, though, we have this:

P1130870Time and space are still expanding here. The past is alive.

P1130871 We call this moment of unfolding the present.

P1130861 What we call beauty is our ability to see it.

P1130862 We see it because we are of it, both now and in the past. Not as individuals, though, but as long chains of folded and prefolded and infolded and refolded and unfolded presence.

P1130863We call that memory. When memory is physical, we call it a genetic code…


… but that is to see with a very specific technology called the individual self. It was invented to create a reference point for scientific inquiry, because without a portable, flexible reference point that could instantly be used by any observer, science would collapse. Its precepts would just not make sense. With it, however, this becomes a romantic scene, flowers dead in the fall, waiting for rebirth in the spring.


Mathematically, “I” is the zero that turns arithmetic into the geometry of the universe. Before that transformation, there was still a geometry of the universe. It looked like this:

P1130860It is an image of the observer, not of the world. That it does not appear that way today is what the invention of a zero and an “I” will do to you. Goethe said there is no rainbow of colours within white light, that that is a bias given by Newton’s experiments with prisms. What he meant was, everything is one, everything is alive, everything is individuating out of one thing, everything is present, everything is, now. In such calculations, zero is a way of cheating at cards.

9 replies »

    • Why, thank you, Simonne!

      I’m going to keep at this for a couple more days to see what else I can pull into the idea to simplify it still further.

      It’s always an adventure.




      • I agree with Simonne, it is incredible what you’ve done here. I think only a scientist can have such a grasp of the nature of our universe. And great minds like Goethe.


      • Thanks, Irina.

        The first physicists were called “natural philosophers”. It is a long and honourable tradition. I keep trying to make my posts worthy of it.

        It took me two long trips through eastern Germany to begin to understand Goethe. It’s always a deep pleasure when some part of his riddle comes clear for me in the world.

        I’m glad to have you along on the journey!




    • Oh, Harold, I didn’t see that my comment was showing up so I tried to repeat it — think little old lady pressing the key over and over…! Anyway, yes, this is interesting territory. Last year I saw Mendel’s garden in Brno which led to a series of questions. His pruning tools so carefully maintained and oiled. His notes. It was on a train heading out of the Beskydy Mountains that I turned to John and said, wonderingly, I’ve just realized that I’m truly a quarter Czech. And therein lies not only a conjecture but a metaphor.


  1. Well, now, that’s cool, the quarter Czech thing. My family comes from just over the Czech border in what is now Poland. Bohemians all. What’s also cool is that I was set on the path to ideas of this kind by Goethe and his work in Jena, much of a parallel enlightenment to Mendel’s. It’s great to be walking on this road along with you.


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