What Would Our Sons and Daughters Want for a World?

I mentioned yesterday that it is the genius of science that it separates the components of a scene  in order to be able to say what it does know and what it does not. The construction of a new conception of the earth, based on this certainty, is the goal of the pursuit.

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So, from the unity above we get water, wasp, snow buckwheat, air, sun, and so forth, and a long chain of evolutionary moments that led to what you see above. The technique is built out of the ancient practice of monks who, wishing to describe God under a prohibition against representing God by either name or image (which would surely deny God’s infinite majesty), chose  to describe what God was not; what was left over, and which needed no description, would have to be God. What made the technique so powerful was that God was conceived of as thought itself; as this technique never left the realm of thought, its conclusions (thoughts) could be considered to be right on target. Scientific thought works on the same principle: since you cannot describe infinite unity …

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… you set infinity and unity aside and consider its components, then reconstruct them in a non-sensory pattern. Along the way, sensory information is shown to be limited and based in the “illusion” of biological senses (on the premise that real information is derived from thought, or mathematics). It’s not that sensory information is limited in that way, mind you; just that the method selects for that observation. All in all, it’s really little different than the sacred techniques it evolved from. I don’t mean to dismiss science. That would be as silly as dismissing sacred traditions, but I’d like to leave room for an observation.

p1250424 The traditions of defining God by what God is not are not the only ones that we have inherited from our ancestors. There’s another tradition which works in a completely opposite way: the tradition of unity. Its goal is not to give a name to God or to prove God, but to be present in moments of infinite connection. Every gardener knows this connection when digging with the fingers under a potato plant in July and finding the first potatoes of a new crop by feel. That’s just one example. There are an infinite number. A science based on excluding what God is not, would look for principles outside of the individual that create measurable patterns, but that’s kind of missing the point of unity, which is where the exploration began.

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The poet T.S. Eliot noted that such moments come only seldomly, yet change your life utterly. That might not be a universal human atttribute. It sure appears to be a Western idea, at any rate. Christian traditions might name these moments as Grace, the granting of mercy and release (to put it roughly) by infinite authority. Even in non-Christian tradition, this principle holds: an ultimate ruler, such as the Governor of Texas (for example), can grant a stay of execution, despite any earlier judgement of the courts. For Grace to occur, however, there must be an infinitely powerful ruler, or someone acting in that ruler’s place.

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Now, this ruler doesn’t have to be embodied in human form. It could be something as simple as the Second Law of Thermodynamics, gravity, evolution, Justice or whatever you choose, and … well, did you see what happened there? You had to choose one particular component of infinity and make the argument that that component was the infinitely powerful ruler in this case. That presumes a great deal of individual power — power set aside from the unity it passes judgement on. That’s a high degree of specialness. It’s built on the idea that to receive Grace from the judgement of this ruler you might be best advised to sidestep its power and trust in yourself as a pure image of it…on the principle that as you are in the world you are the world. Well, yes, perhaps… if you and your conceptions remain in the world.

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Any conception that approaches unity by first removing itself from unity is missing the point, and is going to find it terrifically hard to get back to it. For that, Western culture has traditionally relied on poetry, especially romantic poetry, which has the ability to weigh moments of doubt, to present a series of possible solutions, to try them out with experience, and to come to a sonorous, unified image, which is both the process of exploration and the sought for unity with world and body at once. The end of John Keats’ Ode to Autumn is only one such example. Here it is:

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And we rise up with the swallows. That’s very fine. The thing is, however, that swallow-rich unity was where we started, although at that point it was veiled from us. This is the old monkish game all over again. I’m curious. What would a poem look like that started with that unity, rather than ended with it, as if the elaborate game finding what was already there was the only way to do this stuff? Well, it wouldn’t be a “Western” poem, at any rate, because they all do it, even though it’s unlikely that brokenness is the structure of the universe, punctuated by moments of revelation. I’s a very Christian conception, though, and is likely even a good way of describing unity as humans experience it. Still, the whole conception of a universe is, well, meant to be universal, Right? And humans might just be the wrong creatures to describe that universality as what they experience? It might also not be the best of all possible foundations for creating a science which has the twin goals of understanding and practical application. If you’re going to be applying brokenness here, there and everywhere, you’re going to be inserting devices built with it into unified environments. You’re likely to have missed some steps and to have created a form of unpredictability. You might not even notice, because it’s the principle of unity to absorb whatever gets thrown at it and to present it again as unity.

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We’re better at living on earth than that, but isn’t that the problem of a top predator? We have the smarts to read the world very finely and to follow fine gradations of probability. We draw pleasure from tracking things, and then, in the end, these things we have bonded with and which are the deepest expressions of who we are, we kill, and mourn, at the same time we’re devouring them. Christian tradition would likely present an image of original sin at this point, and of the brokenness and limitation of human understanding. That’s fair enough, under the circumstances, but is it really broken when we can actually be present in that unity? In the scrape of a boat keel on a pebbled shore that we know as shingle from the sound the keel makes as we draw it up together? In the sound of feet walking on finely ground stone washed up along the shore or blown there by wind, which we call by that sound, sand? All things have context. Language, and brains, that skip across the surface, cutting through categories to derive use from them, are powerful, but let’s not forget that they have context, whether it’s water on an Atlantic or Baltic shore, as my ancestors knew it, or snow buckwheat, which I live in now.

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We are the context. The self, that sets itself apart at the centre, is the self that sets itself apart at the centre. No more, no less. We who live in unity are not bound to stand at that centre (if that’s what it is). Here’s another way to put this idea:

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This is dawn, at Big Bar Lake. Note the light. That’s the sun, reflecting off the water, among the Douglas firs at the lake’s northwest corner. The self would say, ah, look, the rays of the sun strike the water, reflect off of it, and strike my eye. That’s possessive, isn’t it: “my” eye. The eye, however, has already sorted this information based on past experience, as does the mind, long before it passes it on to the self, as does the self too, once it receives this information. This sorting behaviour is not an aberration, and not a distortion of the world. It’s human. Even so, we were present in that world to start with, and we never left it. It is our selves, and our language, that we wrestle with, because up to this point we’ve understood that if there are an infinite number of paths all are equal, and maybe they are, but there might be something to eat down one and something that will eat you down another and it might be a good idea to know the difference. For a long time, poetry has played the role of smoothing over the gap between unity and choice, but what now, now that poetry has become a series of conversations between selves and language? I mean, not dealing with the issue at all, because it exists within constructed contexts: literatures, cities, societies, and so on. Well, for a possible answer look again at the light.

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Again, it’s dawn, ten minutes before the previous image. A self-based language would say the light thrusts here, that it is an active force, moving into empty space, but is that space empty? Is it not complete? Is the light not only light moving into completeness, and not changing the completeness in any way except by adding a form of energy to it? Is it not, in other words, filling the potential for light, in the way the robins I showed you yesterday …

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… are expressions of “robin” spoken by the saskatoon, which is an expression of “robin” spoken by robins? Unity is not a threat. Individuality is not separate from it. So, why is our science still there? Because the president of Hungary has just suggested locking up a million refugees in concentration camps, so they can be evicted from Europe one by one, under rule of law? If we looked for unity instead, what would we find? How would it change us? How would it change our daughters? How would it change our sons?  What would they look for? What would they find? Maybe what we’ve all been looking for and which has been as close to us as the world.

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