Edward Osborne Wilson

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

Edward O. Wilson has passed away. He was for many years my only and true inspiration, the reason behind my own quest. I am saddened by his passing.

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James Webb Telescope

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Oumuamua

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

Portland, Maine

Portland, Maine

What is left of time passing? Ruins of castles, scrambled places in my head, old photos of stairways I climbed to the top of a mountain cutting through the thick haze. Seated on a rock overlooking streams and rivers, I wish to see things more clearly. The appearance of a sculpture changes every second like ideas and physical bodies do until they all turn to dust. A mass of stone gradually forms and then vanishes. “The world is not so much made of stones,” Carlo Rovelli writes, “as of fleeting sounds, or of waves moving through the sea”*. 

 

A wave is an imprint of all universal things traveling through spacetime. The study of the wave function involves probability graphs, their state, and their evolution. Such a mathematical description mirrors in my head the mental experience of intuition that is said to be like the sight of generic signals going up and down on graphs. On the inside, the geometric mind arranges an array of concepts and assembles a bundle of images. It reacts to the noise uttered by the flowing river of ideas, forming geometric objects with its wandering thoughts, dancing circles under one roof out of which spiraling Universals flow. On the outside, geometry points to the relevance of gravitation force. 

 

On the one hand, nothingness is a timeless presence; on the other, anything that could happen exists**, has existed, or will exist. Our fragmented Universe grows out of spacetime through the quantum realm in which probabilities exist. The geometric mind recreates intuitively the geometry of its surroundings. It assigns the number zero to nothingness and one to the wholeness of the quantum Universe. Zero and one set off the geometry of numbers unraveling basic mathematic riddles. With their two faces, numbers convey a representational theory, continuous fields of infinitely many degrees of freedom. 

 

In nothingness, there isn’t any word for distance and length. Their mere mention is absent. Silence is the rule. I wish to trace its contour. Entanglement, I feel, remains silent until the noise and the quantum system act on each other at the edge of the collapse. Emerging from the quantum realm which witnesses the birth of sounds, a sound is elicited by any motion of an individual object — of any length — even that of an intuitive spark in one’s head. 

 

Resonance inside mirrors sounds outside. Sounds cowrite a discreet symphony in the background. I wish to devise a poetic code for the theoretical house of everything, a geometric theory that would convey the essence of information spread through an infinite number of dimensions setting energy free. As I draw circles here and there, I try to extract myself from the mesmerizing pull of abstract thinking.

 

If any attribute, whatever it is, is vain and false***, then searching for answers is pointless. I touch the bottom of the rabbit hole and reach the trough of the wave. Sucked into the black hole of nothingness, I walk on eggshells. I am surrounded with darkness and silence but still hear voices telling me that interdisciplinary communication is epistemically perilous. The opportunistic approach to a theory of everything that such a dialogue entails is nevertheless the way forward.

 

We wonder about the geometry of past whereabouts and conjecture how an early encounter of a star might explain Neptune’s eccentricity or how the Sun lost his binary friend. Could an equal-mass binary companion to the Sun in the solar birth cluster explain the formation of the observed population of outer Oort cloud objects and the putative existence of Planet Nine? Every discovery is a guide to something more. Nonetheless, I remain more receptive to the story of  Oumuamua than that of Neptune, the Sun, and the comet Leonard passing by.

 

A new yet silent sound has emerged rushing through space from light years away as if it were sent for the only purpose of being received. Oumuamua did not come out of nothingness but an existing area in space unlikely to be devoid of all matter and all fields. There too, the structure of spacetime involves the same process of accretion during which preexisting matter has come into being as offspring of individuals forming its past. Space is shaped by a geometry of ontologically prior entities. It does not equate to emptiness but a set of spatiotemporal relations that do not appear to be random after the fact.

 

Points emerge and draw the spacetime manifold where the gravitational field expands and contracts like a beating heart. It is a sounding field and the field of consciousness is filled with its ringings. Whether Oumuamua is an alien craft spotted far away, unlike those Unidentified Aerial Phenomena that are reported much closer to home, invites more questions than answers: where would it come from anyway and how would it get here? If it is, it would prove that we are not alone, that a civilization was able to overcome its differences and acquire the technological know-how to launch in space a craft like a message in the bottle that some have thrown before in the ocean. Did it leave on its path echoes of its passing?

 

Astrophysical and Alien Craft explanations for 'Oumuamua and similar objects (Martin Elvis)

Astrophysical and Alien Craft explanations for 'Oumuamua and similar objects (Martin Elvis)

Free-floating objects may travel trillion miles in their lifetime. Oumuamua could have passed through a considerable subset of the Carina and Columba moving groups when those groups were forming. An individual object that happens to be Oumuamua extracted itself or was ejected from its flowing community. Moving groups are flows within flows, overdensities in the space motion. They are streams crossing the region around the Sun. Movement creates time. Those moving flows are, in a sense, time flows. Carina and Columba may be the most plausible source region if Oumuamua was ejected during planet formation or via intra-cluster interactions.

 

Carina and Columba (Johannes Hevelius)

Carina and Columba (Johannes Hevelius)

Carina represents the section at the bottom of a ship, part of what our ancestors saw in the sky as a sailing ship while Columba designates a dove. Is Oumuamua a dove feather or a piece of wood from the keel? Today, our modern interpretation suggests that if it’s not an alien spacecraft, it may be a young asteroid from Orion arm or a 30-million-year-old product of a molecular cloud drifting into the boundaries of our solar system, throwing crumbles on its path inviting us to follow her back to a region of the sky that only our ancestors could have dreamt of. As it recently joined the discreet sound of astronomical objects, radio telescopes wish to detect Oumuamua’s imperceptible swish through space. 

Portland, Maine

Portland, Maine

Portland, Maine

Portland, Maine


What is it with poets and birds? Do poets envy their view from above and their ability to spot at a great distance a tiny speck down below? Baudelaire’s albatrosses, the native garden’s sparrows, Cleveland’s eagles, and Portland’s seagulls all crowd my head. Bird live an ordinary life, sifting through trash, ripping flesh off fish on the edge of the pier. They too quiet down at the end of the day watching the sunset. It may be that Oumuamua is a metal eagle spying on us from a distance. Wary to be caught by human telescopes, it flew back out of the Solar system. 

Seafood Market (D.C.)

Seafood Market (D.C.)

*Carlo Rovelli, The Order of Time

**Robert Lanza, Beyond Biocentrism

***凡所有相,皆是虚妄 (Diamond Sutra)


 

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The extension of ourselves

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

Quantum time dilation in atomic spectra (APS 2021)

Quantum time dilation in atomic spectra (APS 2021)

There is a paradox, an impossible task, one that may be transcendentally understandable and left for others to figure out. Although what we merely know of nothingness is its absence, when matter eventually fades away to nothing, nothingness, I feel, becomes not just a concept but a timeless presence. If all that matters is that we experience, how could we experience nothingness? Nothingness is the trough between two crests of a wave. It has already passed as my train of thought keeps going. It makes oneself feel woozy as if the place of nothingness is lodged inside us. Inwardly it feels as if the heart needs to stop to experience it. In and out, it is past while still being our destination. Dizzy and lost, our soul is sucked into a black hole.

 

Each post attempts to complete an idea or redirect a statement. It becomes an addendum to a previous one like a series of fractals. But battles that we wage aren’t confined to realms of words. Shadows are threefold. They stand high in the physical world,  trail behind in our understanding of the Universe, and weaken the mere foundation of our expression. The verb can’t name hidden entities it has not experienced yet. 


This blog is a story to be told with a beginning and a plot. Like time itself, it only goes one way, picking up ideas and thoughts left off from one post to the next. Every post adds another piece to the puzzle, another angle to the problem at hand, another brick to the house of thoughts and ideas as I try over and over again to get it right until all the pieces of the plot are assembled. 

The ongoing story of white holes

Quantum time dilation in atomic spectra (APS 2021)

Quantum time dilation in atomic spectra (APS 2021)

The story of the Universe unfolds like a wave that disperses the outbound matter whose sense of isolation it battles by spatializing time and grounding locally feeling, consciousness and knowledge. The outer space has taken a divergent role while time is — I intuitively feel — the convergent one. The noise that acts on the quantum system, and that the quantum system acts back on is the voice of time. Time and the quantum Universe are in rebus. Once coupled to mass and volume, the voice becomes lost in translation. Frequencies that expand and multiply create the choir of time.

 

In all appearances, the Universe looks highly compartmentalized in the way information is stopped at the defensive lines between senders and receivers. Kitarō Nishida would say however that the self is unable to determine its own existence from within itself. It is the objective environment and the related web of multidimensional relations in which it is timelessly trapped that confers meaning and self-identities upon the individual (individual object).


 

Walking towards the sunrise leaving the full moon behind, I try to clear my mind of all the redundancies. Analyzing our thinking process is an essential part of our path. One would need to fly over the nest of mental entanglements like a bald eagle and get a bird’s-eye view of the mirroring reality that comprises our mind and the Universe.  The dilemma we face between our physicalist view of the Universe and the quest we carry inside us of a transcendental beyond brings uncertainty to our endeavors and to the choices we need to make. 

 

There is more to our story than our physicality. It is that dichotomous approach that compelled me to take the latest turn as I attempted to define non-being and nothingness. It may be that everything that we know of the Universe’s intrinsic character is derived from the metaphysical side. But the study of non-being only makes sense for science if it unveils something. We are, I feel, engaged in an undertold pursuit of absolutes when all that we feel, see and touch is relative. The technological extension of our visual and auditive reach allows us to access the unknown and fill the mental holes.

...perhaps there is no such thing as metaphysics—or at least nothing that deserves to be called a science or a study or a discipline. Perhaps, as some philosophers have proposed, no metaphysical statement or theory is either true or false. Or perhaps, as others have proposed, metaphysical theories have truth-values, but it is impossible to find out what they are.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

How can humanity building on its considerable extension in time and insignificant extension in space enter a new era of knowledge? It is by recognizing that, although we are physical beings, the extension of ourselves is likewise metaphysical. Steven French describes two types of structural realism: one epistemic (“all what we know is structure”) and the other ontic (“all that there is, is structure”). Our mind relies on a pyramid of structural terms to construct an image of the Universe. Stathis Psillos resolves the opposition between the two views as he defines metaphysical realism — in its stronger version — as the claim that there is more to the Universe than its structure, “ and this more — the X — can be known”*. There exists a higher dimensional continuum whose point of origin challenges our imagination and our reason.

 

Nothingness meets being in the quantum realm in which individuals’ names or labels are “effectively obscured by the relevant aggregate descriptions in terms of wave functions.”**. A basic reconceptualization is what is in Erik Verlinde' s mind when he describes the emergence of ‘macroscopic’ notions of spacetime and gravity from an underlying microscopic description in which they have no a priori meaning. Names, labels, notions, and meaning emphasize holes in our knowledge while spacetime and gravity are large shadows in the physical world. By the mere fact that they are said to be emergent, they presuppose temporality.

Quantum time dilation in atomic spectra (APS 2021)

Quantum time dilation in atomic spectra (APS 2021)

The circularity of a debate around fundamentals meant to explain the inner causal relations of the Universe calls for a move upward. I draw a roof over the theoretical house of everything under which circles of fundamentals perform their dance. Three intertwined swirls are circling out of the roof and a physical tree grows out from within. Time, the quantum Universe, and nothingness are the three spiraling Universals. 

 

Cutting through correlational circles, time escapes from the initial ring, slips away and upward, leaving space and gravity. Time is a vernacular expression for all that it represents: simultaneity and timelessness. The Universe is a physical tree and its boundaries are walls of fundamentals. Outside the mind and objectively, the boundaries set by the Universe, in which we exist, aren’t those of an absolute. Beyond the experiential physical frame, the mind learns its way through nothingness the way the body learns to move through space. Its knowledge remains insignificant.

The more theories are thought out, the more complex they become. I wish it were simpler. If it were, the patchworks of laws and theories would collapse like a house of cards and leave bare a renewed sense of unified consciousness. A simpler explanation is a relational description, possibly a theory of natural selection applied not just to life itself but to the Universe as a whole. Our Universe is a participant member of a multiverse in which black holes act as reproductive cells. Is there somewhere within that said multiverse remnants of an initial progenitor? 

 

It would help to catch a glimpse of the far horizon and see where all is going. A relational theory — such as universal Darwinism — would narrow down what forms to attach to supra-individuals and the relational aspects that will continue to bind them but it might lack precision partially because of our knowledge, still imperfect, of the process. The accuracy of our predictions in regard to the evolution of individuals hits a wall. 


The white-throated sparrow has come out of the shadows. Its whistle fills the spatiotemporal hole it has left behind just a few months ago. Shadows are reflections in the rear mirror of fast-moving objects. If unpredictability is the norm, the Universe may be purely utilitarian. Individual objects have an instrumental value that is time-bound and on a need-to-know basis. We still trust however that the passage of time will help shed light on individuals and on that is beyond their physicality.

Often our sailors, for an hour of fun,
Catch albatrosses on the after breeze
Through which these trail the ship from sun to sun
As it skims down the deep and briny seas.
Scarce have these birds been set upon the poop,
Than, awkward now, they, the sky's emperors,
Piteous and shamed, let their great white wings droop
Beside them like a pair of idle oars.
These wingèd voyagers, how gauche their gait!
Once noble, now how ludicrous to view!
One sailor bums them with his pipe, his mate
Limps, mimicking these cripples who once flew.
Poets are like these lords of sky and cloud,
Who ride the storm and mock the bow's taut strings,
Exiled on earth amid a jeering crowd,
Prisoned and palsied by their giant wings.

Charles Baudelaire translated by Jacques LeClercq, Flowers of Evil (Mt Vernon, NY: Peter Pauper Press, 1958)

*Stathis Psillos, Knowing the Structure of Nature

** Steven French, The Structure of the World

Quentin Meillassoux, Après la finitude

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A Tale of Matter

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

The night retreats on my way to Cleveland. The fog spreads its coat over the valleys. Trees twisting on themselves line up along the road telling stories to each other. I thought owls come out at night but I heard an owl one afternoon on the edge of the woods where spirits are carved in the tree bark as a bald eagle rested a short while on the grass.  When I returned home, from yellow in spring, the native garden had turned purple in the fall. Along the Potomac, clouds spread faster than the sun rises this morning. The house has fallen prey to the elements, overwhelmed by the surrounding nature. From the feather of a fledgling to a woolly worm, each object slowly disappears under the sea of time. 

A Tale of Matter

Battles of theories are waged on the field of our brains. An epistemic account is said to be true to the extent that it is directly or indirectly validated under our watchful eye. Its usefulness, however, is limited if it cannot provide the basis for accurate and timely predictions. As far as events and objects are concerned such as the intrusion in our reality frame of something as rare as a bald eagle —  at least in my neck of the woods — or a small asteroid, they remain in the shadows until our path collides with them. And when the observable matter shows signs of transformation or decay, it, too, will return to the timeless shadows.

 

A complete picture of the Universe requires not only identifying observable objects but their configuration. At this moment in time, we base a set of ruling proposals on current observational evidence and devise within the limits of a rational interpretation — if not abstractly — a binding theory for the evolving geometry of the Universe that sets the stage for plates-like walls and filaments, diced into land-like shapes, to slide on their own timeline through the invisible celestial Sphere. The Universe may be likened to a space-filled Earth in which we found ourselves lightyears away from reaching the shores of a New Continent. Hoping to set foot on Mars by the 2040s, could we expect to reach Andromeda within a few thousand years? 

 

But again, our invisible sphere may be flat. If indeed, weird dreams train my brain to be a better learner, an image popped up in my head, that of atoms of spacetime flowing like rainwater in the pitch-dark night on the flat surface of a quantum gravitational field, swirling around black holes as if they were drains and falling down. Is the arrow of time reaching its target once it passes the event horizon? While macroscopic amounts of mixed matter-antimatter are reported to exist at highest energy density astrophysical objects such as black holes, I caught a glimpse through the thick screen of multilayered relational events of a synchronic dance of matter and antimatter taking place,  annihilating each other during transitioning states from the physiological aging process to the slow melting of glaciers. 

by Cassandre Arkema

by Cassandre Arkema

Blended forms means that there are multiple ways to be and not to be in timelessness. Matter is a plural state of being. The Universe began with zero baryon number. Point particles preceded matter. With the emergence of baryons and their energy and momentum acting as generators of temporal and spatial displacement, the plurality of matter began as well. Although spacetime ‘exists’ apart from matter, matter cannot dissociate itself from spacetime. Time and space act as topological markers for every bit of matter. “If, when we speak of being,” Etienne Souriau wrote, “the hope is to see such a state numerically alone, the multitude of beings, that our common sense leads us to differentiate, become all of a sudden ghosts. Those pretended beings assembled by tribes unite with being and merge within, each of which follows the banner of a particular line of existence.”*

 

A binding theory aims at gathering an undetermined number of correspondence principles to describe such a linking pattern. Those correspondence principles ought to be thought of not just conceptually but in the most concrete way. They are meant to enact a process of actualization over the invisible fence between nothingness and the observable Universe. When an object with a relevant mass breaks free, it is actualized. It is in its evolved temporality, its motion-produced shape that it extracts itself from the indistinctness of blended forms. Entangled in large numbers, it acquires mass and volume and becomes localized. Relational forces dictate states of matter. There opens up the passage of information of which scientists, philosophers, and poets are decipherers.

 

What could add to the conversation poetry? I began this ongoing quest in July 2018 with, in mind, the Elizabethan poet Philip Sidney’s Defense of Poetry. In keeping with the concept of universal consideration, I imagine the inexplicable and see in nothingness the absence itself. Poetry senses that being is plural. It expresses universality with a bundle of analogies as a means to capture the ontological structure of the Universe. We are, I feel, unified by analogy.

If the Universe is a symphony of lights and sounds played on the keyboard of time, it is structured like a composer’s music around the rotation of strings. If it is a brain, matter flow supplies it with the necessary fuel. Aside from the question of attaching a form to an object, relational aspects stand out but still conceal a hidden, essential purpose. I thought I would have visited by now the question of teleology raised two years ago. But it does not mix well with the precept of a Universe that reveals itself by expressing itself.  Clueless of what it wishes to express, even of the source of its own wish, it only finds out what it wants to express by expressing it.  

 

Intuitively, I’d say, there exists an implied purpose in a concept that describes the ontological status of an object under investigation. Such a purpose suggests not a static point but a motion of the said linkage across spacetime. Some may want to write it down in a mathematical code; others prefer to spell it out in philosophical terms. In a universal landscape where the largest nesting doll is the Universe, the infinite series of increasingly smaller dolls, though entitled to their own feelings, are boxed in a box that, ultimately, holds the key to their fundamental reason to exist. The infinite game that we all play inside the box looks more like a game of double causality.

 

by Cassandre Arkema

by Cassandre Arkema

The long open monologue of a catbird outside my window echoes my own. The geometric cradle in which we exist may well be a two-fold cover of a manifold with black holes standing as space bridges between them. It is a superposition state of universes, both invisible to one another. On both sides, though, poets feel each other’s subtle absence. To them, the only question that matters is what happens to their souls after their passing. Does the star stuff that surely they are made of vanish or travel across spacetime? Do they return to the seedbed of dark energy or step out to join a twin Universe? 

 

If not an array of entangled pairs of universes within the setting of a multiverse, a twin Universe may have been formed at the same ‘time’ as ours. Since there is a small excess of matter over antimatter in our Universe, responsible for the existence of Earth, planets, stars and ourselves, would a similar imbalance occur in the twin Universe, resulting in the dominance of antileptons? Dark energy may be intrinsic to space itself. It is an entrapping net indivisible by nature. In the end, whether there is a diminishing quintessence or an increasing dark energy,  that something that feels appears to be a reflection of something else. If the Universe is a brain, the diminishing quintessence speaks for the decrease of its own ignorance.


 

*Etienne Souriau (1892-1979), Les différents modes d’existence


 

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Blended Forms

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

if the universe is a three-torus, one of the distant galaxies. we observe may be our own. The possibility would be hard to verify because the image of our galaxy would be formed from light that left its source billions of years ago and spent the intervening time crossing the universe. What could be seen, given unlimited resolution of the image, would be the Milky Way in its earliest stages of evolution, as it looked when the light was emitted. Such a universe has a finite volume but no boundary of any kind.

William P. Thurston and Jeffrey R. Weeks

What is the spatiotemporal structure of the Universe? Through the looking glass, there is an element of predestination in what is ‘relational’ and an element of free will in what is ‘intrinsic.’ As Julian Barbour conveys the feeling attached to even the most abstract idea, self-determination and predestination apply, I feel, to the story of the Universe. Those relational variables expressed in the intrinsic dynamics of the Universe are dimensionless ratios and their relative infinitesimal variations. When one of them changes, these ratios change collectively. Since the future overlaps the present and the present overlaps the past, the origin of the absence of interactions between particles is tucked deep inside the first sparkle of the Universe’s volitional state. The secret of the temporal topology precedes the reign of matter during which countless degrees of freedom have merged into a three-dimensional reality before our eyes. It is in those first, distant footprints that the Universe, I feel, expresses free will, unleashes free energy, and throws free variables into the mix. Is the ratio of the curvature of space to the curvature of spacetime linked to gravity?

In discourse more sweet,
For eloquence the soul, song charms the sense,
Others apart sat on a hill retired,
In thoughts more elevate, and reasoned high
Of providence, foreknowledge, will, and fate,
Fixed fate, free will, foreknowledge absolute;
And found no end, in wandering mazes lost.

John Milton, Paradise Lost


Sitting on the hill around a pot of fundamentals, spirits of dead poets debate at dawn to the song of a mourning dove. Skilled in the art of wishing, their voices send waves floating higher up in space than the ground level chirping of crickets. Direct visualization and abstract representation is what they know best. Edgar Poe speaks of visions of the dark night while John Ashbery calling on the others asks: How about “free will and predestination, to say nothing of self-determination? Just how do they fit together?”(1) .  Some stay silent. Others praise the beauty of freedom and wilderness. Walt Whitman speaks of the irresistible Law from which we escape, by a paradox, into true free will. 

If to some, free will and predestination apply to two opposite rules, to others, they are closely connected. In spacetime, the present in which we now found ourselves was chosen among countless paths that were otherwise available to us. George Eliot talks about the winding road we walk as if it were “made by the free will of the trees and underwood”(2). Poets for whom sensibility and intuition are the only channel to the Universe (3) see stars and concepts as one and the same. 

George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) by Samuel Lawrence

George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) by Samuel Lawrence

The fool on the hill who sits next to the ground fire pit joins the dead poets and asks: Can the self escape its predestined identity? Charles Baudelaire, who by now is fully aware of the unidirectionality of time’s arrow, answers from the grave that, for the Law of progress to exist, everyone will have to wish to create it; that is, when all individuals apply themselves to progress, then, and only then, will humanity be in progress. Not only will there be, in progress, an identity between free will and predestination (liber et fatalité), but this identity has always existed (4). 

I read, however, that free will is an illusion ”which arises from our frequent experience of wishing to do something and succeeding in doing so” (5). So where does the wish to create the Law of progress come from then? The source is unknown. Each step forward through the flow of ideas is a balancing act between non-locality and causality. Thomas, who sits in silence and diligently brushes off the continuous rumble of his thoughts, also feels the need for wishing. For him, it is an act of selflessness,  when meeting others and wishing them well, when he wishes for the reversal of climate change and for plants and creatures to not go extinct. It is one more element of consciousness that has become embedded in him, he says. His consciousness has no way of knowing what effect the wishes produced “because they spanned time and distances well beyond his physical presence”, similarly to the butterfly effect.

For a start, there is no tree of awakening
And the shiny mirror has no support
Since Buddha’s nature is always pure and immaculate
To what, then, does dust stick?

The mind is the tree of awakening
The body is the support of the shiny mirror
Since the shiny mirror is neat and clean, to begin with
Where, then, is it filthy with dust?

Huineng 惠能, Sûtra de la plate-forme

Philosophical concepts step into the physical realm through the intricate lacework of geometry and matter. On the one hand, a free-willed choice can only be a random one. On the other, if a free-willed choice can produce any pattern by mere chance, then such a self-determined pattern, I feel, is predestined. Free will and predestination mingle in a sort of fractal organization of irregularities. Matter and geometry interact usually on equal terms but not in the vicinity of the big bang and in black holes where geometry has the upper hand. Away from the big bang, an ever-changing geometry speaks of infinitely many billiard-like bounces against steep triangular potential walls. Freely falling massive particles follow time-like geodesics whose path is determined by the curvature and causal structure of spacetime around it “not only forwards and backwards in time but also in the three directions of space”. As “neighborhood geodesics can’t feel their shared spatial environment,” Julian Barbour describes, “they can no longer talk to each other”. Beyond the visible, the asymptomatic silence of geodesics echoes in my mind the silence of quantum entanglement.

The Universe appears to be the work of time while our knowledge of it lags behind as if it were on a separate track. Fractals entail scale-invariant patterns and fluctuations. I still entertain the idea, though, that, to some indefinite distance, the Universe is more inhomogeneous and anisotropic than we imagine and that irregularities in the intrinsic ratios will continue to elude our ability to predict.

Relations are multifold. That is why the extent of a relationship is so intangible. Relations are intentional or accidental, quantitative or informational, and, to a poet, they are in the physical and spiritual dimension. Looking at the 0/1 expressions in a different light, the intrinsic angular momentum of a relational Universe “is and forever remains exactly zero” while the rate of change of the curvature of space to the curvature of spacetime is close to one. From zero to one, the momentum of the Universe vanishes in a sequence of events, a chain of relational intricacies.

Dreams carve a path through which providence enters the physical realm. A poet, who struggles to realize a wish, frozen in time, dreams of a chance encounter with the spirit of an old wrinkled face appearing off the veil. She feels the ghostly presence of past, present, and future as those words are whispered in her ear: There are only blended forms, stretching temporally, bubbling spatially, popping symphonically, for the shape of time slips through transparency. Shapes, waves, matter — all point beyond themselves and engage in deep, wordless murmurings across spacetime.

Instead of thinking of expression, think of the relationships of the holistic form…With an artistic mindset, we don’t draw what we can’t see.  And because we don’t draw it, we can’t understand it.  Drawing transparently lets us see and understand the complete object or enclosure, all at once. 

Kurt Ofer, Transparent Drawing

(1) John Ashbery, Flow Chart

(2) George Eliot, Adam Bede

(3) George Kubler, The Shape of Time

(4) Charles Baudelaire, Oeuvres posthumes

(5) Julian Barbour, The Janus Point

 

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A Quantum Observer

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

Does this then mean that my observations become real when I observe an observer observing something as it happens?

Richard Feynman, Feynman Lectures On Gravitation

Thoroughwort

Thoroughwort

What sets apart the yogi from the rest of us is a sustained frequency at which occurs a vibrating intuition, the endurance of an intuitive momentum. Intuition is that something, a reflection of a dolphin in a foggy mirror. When it is consciously amplified, it is acted upon. Drawn to the edge of the mirror, we take a step back, wary of lifting our feet off the ground at the sight of a dolphin jumping off the water field of the brain. What will happen if we let ourselves go? Will the mind keep building upon the shape sphere? Will it be swallowed into a black hole? Will it be contained within four squared walls in the ancient bedrock of the flow of ideas? What matters is the sight of a tread at the top of yet another flight of stairs. A quest involves the peculiar image of an intuition whose amplitude rises above that of trains of thought moving along fixed tracks.

Oxeye

Oxeye


From sandy shores where footprints become erased memories, I have returned to the quantum realm. As I listen to the various sounds of the flow of ideas, a hummingbird rests on a redbud leaf. Unstoppable waves of knowledge pass me over. Only a handful of them collapse and feed my mind’s narrative of a theory of everything. Could the unconscious have access to stimuli of sensory nature undetected to the conscious mind? Shades of brown and red are blinding my eyes. Ideas fall like raindrops into the realm of knowing. They circulate on interconnected multiple-lane highways, superpose over each other, without revealing themselves consciously, and work intuitively in the background.

Purple-top

Purple-top


There is an enormous amount of quantum transmission in the human brain, which leads to a seemingly random and free environment where intuition roams at the quantum level. A collapse of consciousness,  David Chalmers and Kelvin McQueen write in their paper on Consciousness and the wave function, may collapse an associated brain state which will be entangled with action states or cause a corresponding action state. Experts debate how quantum information transmission happens in the brain and proposed that tubulin quantum coherent superpositions and computations may combine to augment their superposed mass energy. Once the energy meets the critical threshold of quantum gravity, self-collapse occurs.

Spicebush

Spicebush


How consciousness relates to the wave function has put in mathematical terms the relationship between Consciousness and the Universe. The observable quantum world that defines our frog’s perspective, Dieter Zeh writes, is no more than a tiny component of the global wave function. The latter, representing the bird’s view, may be regarded as the true hidden reality behind the phenomena. Images simmer in my head, spilling over stories I once told. It reminds me of the poet frog who meditates on the nature of the Universe, quenching her thirst at the fountains of the past, at those that are believed to have dried up because they have become underground, entrenched in the unconscious of the human mind. The bird’s view brings me back also to the observer who is convinced that the real significance of the Universe must lie beyond. She crawls outside and comes back with the tale of the zygote constrained within the walls of a transparent membrane.

Buttonbush

Buttonbush

The wave function gives a physical meaning to a physical event which is the random discontinuous motion of particles. At what stage consciousness starts to play a role is anyone’s guess. The guessing game only hints at the possibility that the physical event and consciousness both reflect a time-directional causality. It leads to a deeper issue related to whether consciousness is fundamental or emergent and touches upon the principle of supervenience. Outwardly, the Universe appears to express itself by revealing itself through events of spontaneous localization. If the quantum collapse is simply a self-acting process of a random kind defined under the heading of agency, it may have nothing to do with consciousness.

A Quantum Observer

The collapse is a time stamp on particles of matter as they move in space. It is about the outcome of measurements. The wave function is a wave crossing time. When left alone, the particle-jelly spreads out in space, giving a picture of a linear time continuum while the time evolution of the observable Universe lays out sequence after sequence of collapse time, each establishing new correlations with the Universe and bringing them into the functional frame of reference.

Bee on swamp milkweed

Bee on swamp milkweed


Raising the possibility of superposed states of consciousness even before entering the macroscopic Universe invites the following question about what it would be like to be a quantum observer. The mind of a quantum observer may be an entangled superposition of brain states with different perceptions. The quantum observer who swims in the entangled flows of the quantum system might have visions, feelings and be sensitive to the background noise of a swirling system that could alert her of an imminent collapse.

 

In my mind’s eye, what it is like to be a quantum observer would be akin to a dissociative state of the kind experienced while in trance. In the spirit world, there are horses flying off the veil, oxen guarding the gate, and angels watching over the pond. All are dispersed, though, by a passing breeze. Would entanglement refer to entanglement of multiple conscious states in one mind — these, though, may be only fragments of a single conscious state that subsumes and unifies them — or one conscious state shared even briefly by multiple observers?

Lobelia

Lobelia


Is entanglement silent until it reaches the edge of the collapse? Between the visible and the invisible, there is a mirror where sounds of silence meet sounds of the Universe. Vibrations within respond to sounds without. Echoes fill the field of consciousness. In the case where the collapse generates consciousness, the noise becomes its signature. It must be considered, Angelo Bassi notes, that the noise acts on the quantum system, and the quantum system acts back on the noise. The fact that the noise couples to the mass density and that the larger the system, the stronger it is, suggests, he concludes, that it might be linked to gravity.

Milkweed bugs (lygaeus) on common milkweed

Milkweed bugs (lygaeus) on common milkweed

 

David Chalmers and Kelvin McQueen suggest that small superpositions of consciousness which are brief, or low-amplitude, or between closely related states may be ubiquitous. But as those small superpositions become larger, it yields higher probabilities of collapse of consciousness onto a more definite state. Whether consciousness can be in a superposed state raises a fundamental question about its evolution and its presence at the macroscopic level. Crossing the threshold of the macroscopic Universe may not necessarily mean ending superposition as it appears that branching continues right under our eyes. From the frequency of the microcosm to that of the macrocosm, large superposed states of consciousness may represent what I would call cosmic consciousness, defined as a total state of consciousness that combines the entire integrated information of a physical correlate. David Chalmers and Kelvin McQueen comment that, perhaps, the existence of macroscopic superpositions is counterintuitive, but many cosmological theories already allow macroscopic objects to be in superposition in the early universe where there are no observers.

 


Visits of the intuitional mind occur at night when a conversation unfolds with the dreamer who struggles with radical acceptance. Nothingness, the dreamer dreams, is neither space, time, nor matter but an empty set, a circle diving into eternity and one speaks for the wholeness of quantum reality. Stepping forward on tiptoe, glancing left and right, beyond statistical correlations and calculational tools, can 0/1 expressions be those of something in a quantum superposition state attempting to communicate about the nature of the Universe before it becomes specific? Waking up to the whooshing sound of raindrops, the dreamer realizes that there are still things to learn, subjects to study, fundamentals to meditate upon.

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The Intuitive Self

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

I always thought graveyards
Were the most despicable things.

Per se:
The fallen trees do not claim the ground.
When their years are counted down.
Falling down does not weight their care.

The earth with gravity brings back down.
What once was one with it.
What joy Mother Earth must feel.

The trees only know birth and rebirth.
Not an hommage to the dead.
Too busy to bear the weight of time.
From the old ones the new ones climb.
What joy Mother Earth must feel.

Consider a fate.
Circular and sound.
The richness of one’s life turned back around.
It is my only want, to grow from the ground.

Cassandre Arkema

Sometimes it isn’t about reason. Sometimes it is about sharing each other’s personal experiences and carefully listening and assessing what is being said. William James wrote that no account of the Universe in its totality can be final if it discards other forms of consciousness entirely different from the so-called rational consciousness. “How to regard them is the question, for they are so discontinuous with ordinary consciousness”. One may wonder where consciousness lies. Adding to our pairs of feet, nostrils, ears, and eyes, is our brain too made of half-fields? Does the right hemifield feel closer to heaven when the body turns its head up gazing at clouds?  Words have planted seeds in my head. The individual consciousness appears multidimensional, structured into a self, a being, a living soul, and a person, as might have said Edward Conze. It divides itself into the perceptual mind, the receptual mind, the conceptual mind, and the intuitional mind, the latter being that of the living soul whose ethereal body swings on a string hung from the Moon. 


 

Cloudy morning at Pointe des Châteaux

Cloudy morning at Pointe des Châteaux


Some posts serve as mile markers on a roadmap of the infinite game between the Universe and Consciousness. Others stand like an inn on the side of the road where one rests body and soul. The suggestive dialogue arising from senses are lifelines thrown to the mind lost at sea, wading in the water in the hope that it reaches the other shore. A spark of intuition has come out of the blue. Hints turn loud, then silent inside one’s head. There is, Lois Isenman writes, a subliminal physical sense of the experience of intuition as a rapid closing and opening somewhere in the chest that accompanies the mental experience of seeing a generic signal go down and then up on a graph. “Intuition occurs when a number of different strands of information coalesce below awareness into a novel and significant piece of understanding”. Such a form of consciousness, the elements of which instead of being concepts are intuitions, Maurice Burke writes in 1901, is called cosmic Consciousness. At the root of all altered states of consciousness, of all flow states is an intuition.

My intuition, I must quickly add, deserves the credit to the extent that some of these ideas were initially before their time. Likewise, my confidence in them, in addition to their holding up thus far, rests on my intuition having taken the lead in my investigation, and in an unusual way.

Lois Isenman, Understanding Intuition

I was privileged enough to have Thomas updated me on the continuation of his spiritual experience. What I see in his experiential approach to consciousness is the manifestation of a strengthened and sustained intuition. Intuition shows a direction of a journey whose ultimate destination we do not yet know. It is an exploratory probe going here and there. I recall what Barbour writes about positions and momenta and momentum, I feel, is the intuition. It defines the direction of the object and may trigger “whole classes of phenomena that have not yet come to light” as Lois Isenman writes. Intuition is born at the quantum level. 

 

A higher state of consciousness is achieved when the conscious mind meets the unconscious. Outwardly, yoga and meditation act as soothing agents on muscles and nerves. Inwardly, Thomas bears witness of his own experience and reports a shift — which others have talked about —  from the ego-bound mode of ordinary consciousness toward a right experiential mode prevalent in altered states. He may be the witness of the path taken by his own consciousness to the far-reaching boundaries of unconscious cognition. In the tuck-of-war between consciousness and thought, that he previously reported on, yoga and meditation bring unity to body and mind and allow the leveling and synchronizing of a conscious wave that washes over them. 

The voice of consciousness to which Thomas refers appears to uproot egotistical thoughts and be broadcast louder and louder in his head. According to the Global Neuronal Workspace Theory, there is a central ‘workspace’, primarily residing in frontal regions of the brain. I asked Thomas whether he could use the word ‘resonance’ in the context of the right/left brain as I can’t quite figure out the direction of the arrow: is it an intrusion of the right hemispheric content into waking awareness or is it from the frontal regions of the brain that an exploratory probe is sent — through yoga, meditation or trance — into the right side of the brain? It may also be that the “reporting of when a conscious thought occurred” is being silenced or delayed, making it difficult to pinpoint its whereabouts. In the end, we may be talking about the inability of consciousness to report as it lies unconscious below the radar. 

 

The central question of whether each hemisphere supports an independent conscious agent capable of making its own decisions was raised in a 2020 study. Could the resonance felt in the right hemifield not be identified and spoken of by the left hemifield? The study echoes Thomas’s own questioning about the right half being occupied by consciousness and the left half by thought of which ego has taken possession. Although I sense a difference between trance on the one hand and yoga and meditation on the other, the “trance self” mode appears also to operate within the right-posterior experiential/sensorimotor network domain. A trance may be a higher-order emotional state characterized by an alteration of time and space, an increased relation with what is unconscious and intangible, an access to alternate ways of experiencing internal and external reality, and a dissociative state that the rest of us may otherwise experience only in dreams. How does it feel like to be a bee on a leaf? Will I know if I enter trance? 


 

The Intuitive Self

Conscious awareness represents a fluid equilibrium between anterior/posterior and right/left modes of experience that constantly shift depending on the individual psychobiology, external information input, and cultural paradigms.

Pierre Flor-Henry, Yakov Shapiro, Corine Sombrun, Peter Walla (Reviewing Editor)

While consciousness is the product of the two hemispheres, many unconscious processes run independently, and in parallel across both of them. Even if there is a separation of our subconscious and conscious minds, they appear to both exist simultaneously and interactively in the brain. Thomas describes streams of information split into two halves that yoga and meditation strive to unify. Taken into account the brain laterality and how the two sides of the brain tend to process information differently, the right hemisphere where intuition is largely grounded draws from a collective source. 

 

Thomas observes that consciousness is present in his mind but is “yet detached from the mind and body”. When he designates the ‘I’ as the ego-bound state of consciousness, and the small ‘i’ as the act of conscious selflessness, selflessness and consciousness become one. He describes how consciousness evolves into higher sensitivity of thought. While most spin reality in both directions, he immerses himself in selfless consciousness which allows him to create a sense of continuity. His distinction between the high-order state of consciousness and the ordinary thought has led him to uncover selflessness as an aspect of consciousness and its fundamental bond to the collective consciousness. Meditation during which he reaches the far corners of the unconscious may allow for richer connectivity of the human brain and bring up to the surface what is below awareness. What occurs in an act of deep meditation is a symbiosis of physical and mental feelings and responses.

 

Thomas’ experiential approach towards consciousness is the result of 50 years of yoga practice. He has observed that the right half of the head and face stays composed even when the left half is reactive or agitated because consciousness is detached whereas thought is attached to ego. His experience is reminiscent of the first neurophysiological study of an experimental subject Corine Sombrun whose shamanic state of consciousness has shown to involve a shift from the normally dominant left analytical to the right experiential mode of self-experience as well as from the normally dominant anterior prefrontal to the posterior somatosensory mode. It may be that reality is perceived at different levels depending on the individual being and the extent to which we strive to improve our perception skills. Perhaps these are not discontinuous forms of consciousness but a continuum between more or less conscious brain activities. Unity of consciousness may be the ultimate goal that one is inspired to achieve through any means. Beyond the clouds hampering our inner sight, unity of consciousness exists within the whole Universe.

 

There is a multitude of beings, I feel, coexisting inside our heads. We have the potential to sort them out and be more authentically in sync with our higher self. Lost at sea paddling to reach the other shore, some may succeed better than others at letting go of their earthly feathers.

 

Morning Sun shining through clouds at Pointe des Châteaux

Morning Sun shining through clouds at Pointe des Châteaux

Lois Isenman, Understanding Intuition

William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience

W.R. Klemm, Making a Scientific Case for Conscious Agency and Free Will

Stephen T. Asma, The Evolution of Imagination

 

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Quantum Ontology

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

Bottlebrush grass

Bottlebrush grass

Two theoretical physicists are on death row and have been in the same cell for ten years. One night, the warden comes and says, ‘You’re going to be executed tomorrow. Any last wishes?’ The first theoretical physicist says, ‘Well, I’ve been in this cell working on a new theory for the last ten years, and I would like to present it to all of the populace of the prison, so my final last good idea doesn’t die with me.’ And the warden says, ‘Sure, we’ll set up a PowerPoint for you, you can make some slides, and present your results.’ He turns to the second theoretical physicist and says, ‘What is your last dying wish?’ The second theoretical physicist says, ‘I would like to be taken out and shot before the other guy’s talk!

Jonathan P. Dowling, Schrödinger’s Web: Race to Build the Quantum Internet

Every now and then, I look back and assess the twists and turns of the path I’ve taken. It feels like all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle are spread everywhere. On the one hand, studying the subject at hand from every angle is a learning process that allows the emergence of ideas. On the other, the wider the scope of the investigation is, the more difficult it becomes to stretch those ‘mental’ arms reaching for pieces and reassemble them together. Along the way, I hold on to an invisible thread of words and concepts. As a visual learner, I see in pictographs a succession of shapes integrated long ago in human communication and upon which the Universe is based. 

Somehow the unhelpful pronoun ‘something’  has come up again and again. That something from which ‘being’ arises describes a formless existence of an accidental nature, an undetermined and vacuous state of uncertainty. The telling image of a battle over a domain represents time asserting its sovereignty over space and alludes to a hidden process of appropriation of what is merely potential. What does it feel like when time asserts its sovereignty? Although physicists dismiss accidental similarities on the ground that elements of the physical reality cannot be determined by a priori philosophical considerations, but must be found by an appeal to results of experiments and measurements, I somehow relate ‘something’ to the quantum state of the Universe.

…it is only in a highly technical sense that the particle “is there” while there is allegedly “nothing there” where it produces its effect.

Matthias Egg

Cicada on witch-hazel

Cicada on witch-hazel

Quantum Ontology

The purpose of modern physics ultimately isn’t to explain everything. Its objective is more practical: to replicate the physical world and harness the quantum-mechanical properties of physical systems. Quantum fluctuations at the deepest level of movement lead to ‘being’. From bits to qubits, computers open a passage between abstraction and reality, but as we move from light waves to photons, phonons and ions, are we closer to answer those deep philosophical questions? The Universe as the setting of an infinite number of superposed states emerging in a seemingly random manner holds such a depth of meaning to which we may not have access, but we surely can reproduce the processes that we observe, measure, and experiment. 

 

A quantum-based computing system may provide for securely encrypted communication, much faster data transfer, and ‘leaner’ physical storage capabilities. CERN whose computer requirements are rapidly growing is using IBM Quantum’s cloud-enabled quantum computing to analyze 1 petabyte of data per second in the Large Hadron Collider, something that would require 1 million classical CPU cores to do. Quantum entanglement is key to transmit information over long distances, prior to the establishment of a large-scale quantum internet network. To limit interference, turbulence, and background noise, satellite quantum communications benefit from orbiting in the emptiness of space to generate symmetric keys and simultaneously transmit them to establish a direct link between remote users separated by long distances. Bypassing the need for quantum repeaters, two strings of entangled photon pairs were distributed from the satellite Mozi 墨子 — one of the five scientific experimental satellites established by the Chinese Academy of Sciences —  to two ground observatories more than 1,120 kilometers apart. Intercontinental secure key exchanges and the launch of satellites at higher orbit are in preparation. The quantum space race is on with the National Space Quantum Laboratory program, a partnership between NASA and MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory.

 

Early initiatives show pathways and create a sense of urgency for new priorities in the hope to move humanity forward. Not to mention strategic implications in the intelligence, security and defence sectors, those initial successes have fueled a technological race in the field of quantum optics and quantum information. After the Honeywell quantum computer with a quantum volume of 64 was reported just a year ago to be the world’s highest performing quantum computer, a team of Chinese scientists announced in December that they too successfully developed the most powerful quantum computer in the world Jiuzhang 九章, performing in 200 seconds a calculation that on an ordinary supercomputer would take 2.5 billion years to complete.


 

The number 64 comes from 2 raised to the power of 6. A big reason quantum computers can do more is the q-bits can have two values at the same time. Six bits can have, essentially, 64 states at once.

Al Root

Quantum Ontology


The transition period from classical to quantum computing has an indefinite timeline. The goal isn't the replacement of the internet as we know it but a hybrid solution. Researchers at Duke are currently developing what they hope to be the first practical, scalable quantum computer based on ion-trapping technology. But for most of us, the Cloud provides the only feasible way to tap into a quantum computer. Despite the sensitivity of the first generation of quantum computers to interference, noise, and environmental effects, a coordinated approach to tame and manipulate those irregular, complex, and dynamic flows of particles — carriers of quantum information — is underway. Industries, banking institutions, policymakers, academic institutes, and space agencies support their own research, taking advantage of the new technological possibilities to perform, to name a few, financial predictions and chemical simulations, develop quantum sensing technology as part of multi-messenger astronomy, and engineer ways to remove carbon dioxide from the air as green-house gas emissions reach historic levels.

Aspiring towards clarity is also inexorably iterative. Whenever you set out to clarify your thinking, you’re not aiming to articulate an ultimate truth. Rather, you’re aiming at a process, the result of which will always be an act of communication, complete with all the imperfections and contingencies this implies.

Tom Chatfield

Quantum Ontology

The concept of quantum ontology defines in modern times what was merely known 2,000 years ago as ‘something’ deemed to self-organize and localize itself in relation to time and space. I hope future quantum-based computing systems will contribute to lay out a more faithful representation of the Universe. The most profound implication of what is happening today is the convergence of bits, neurons and qubits. A research team reportedly demonstrated that algorithms based on deep neural networks can be applied to better understand the world of quantum physics. Have algorithms become an ordinary mode of communication? David Chalmers and Kelvin McQueen's paper on Consciousness and the collapse of the wave function is out. It may be that a shared resonance from micro-conscious to macro-conscious entities can only happen intermittently during the collapse of particles’ wave functions, which signals the transfer of information and/or consciousness.

Quantum Ontology
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CrossOver

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

Like a cast listed in the order of appearance, we wonder whether time or space comes first. Or do the two main actors appear in tandem in the first scene? An ancient philosophical debate mirrors the current scientific discussion. If indeed, the Universe is conceptual in nature,  early Taoist philosophy is a good place to start looking for clues. This post stands at the crossroads and invites to a D-tour. The last paragraph of the previous post leads to a digression, an attempt to reconnect with Chinese studies. Barbour’s interesting choice of words, that is “invariant variational’, somehow sticks with me and guides my steps back in time to some primary concepts.

Among all variational problems some are special in being invariant. 'Invariant variational' sounds like an oxymoron, but it isn't: the resolution of the apparent paradox is that the quantity which is being varied has the property of remaining unchanged when expressed in different ways.

Julian Barbour, The Janus Point, p.174

The significance of the more than 2,300-year-old Chinese manuscript Heng Xian 亙先 acquired by the Shanghai Museum in the mid-nineties is the subject of an academic debate, not to mention the circumstances that surrounded its discovery and the sequence of the bamboo slips. How one single character is read and how different the meaning of a lineup of words is depends on the reader’s take. Scholars walk a fine line in an effort to cross-reference various texts. When it comes to the transmission of ideas, their interpretation depends on the faithfulness to the source text and whether we hold the earliest text or one that may have been amended. Changes introduced in later manuscripts still provide insights on which scholars rely. Over time, the choice of words may differ, but ideas remain.

 

What came first is as much the subject of a debate today as it was in the past. Heng Xian says: “Being came out of something, nature came out of Being, sounds came out of nature, words came out of sounds, names came out of words, and things came out of names”. And so from ‘things’ to that which is ‘something’, we ought to retrace our steps and find our way back. But if Heng Xian is such a milestone in the evolution of ideas, why is it that the text as it was reconstructed and made public early 2000s does not explicitly speak of Dao 道? While Dao in chapter 25 of Laozi from the Mawangdui Silk Texts 馬王堆帛書 (also known as Daode Jing 道德經 ) is believed to be the Mother of the Universe, some scholars see it differently and translate the expression 天下母 as the mother of all under heaven. The emphasis on concepts such as 亙 and 或 may be interpreted as a further breakdown of the primordial chain of events. According to Sixin Ding丁四新 from the Department of Philosophy of Tsinghua University in Beijing, who studied the two intricate concepts 亙 and 或, even though the authors of the bamboo manuscript  Heng Xian contemplated cosmology more profoundly, their knowledge about the structure of cosmogony was not yet “fully developed”.  He concludes that Heng Xian uses an indefinite pronoun 或 to refer to a stage in the genesis of the cosmos. 

 

Waxing Crescent (NASA Goddard)

Waxing Crescent (NASA Goddard)

While the first recorded character for the Moon was a waxing crescent, the earliest representational drawing for resembles a crescent between the Earth and the Sky. Such a cosmology-related graph appears to take precedence over the character dao 道 that shows a walking head — the path of humanity. 亙 means to extend over,  to cross over from one area to another, physical or abstract. The inferred meaning may be ‘constancy’ (). Not only the expression hengdao 恆道 appears in the first chapter of Laozi, but the replacement of the character by chang 常 in later texts implies ‘constancy’ in the flow of things. It confirms the existence of a permanent and dynamic principle whose flexibility is rendered by the word ‘flow’. Volition and detachment are attributes of the flow. The two qualities seem to contradict even to neutralize or negate each other. They regulate, however, the flow of the Universe.

 

Waning Crescent ( NASA Goddard)

Waning Crescent ( NASA Goddard)

A wide-ranging research on the complex relationship between the Universe and Consciousness involves accessing the memories of our ancestors, merging thoughts over time and space to prompt further reflection. Such research unfolds in the now as past and future become irrelevant. Chapter 40 of Laozi acknowledges a flow reversal or cyclical aspect in the movement of Dao. It reminds me of Noether’s universal system of transformations and that, for each transformation, there exists an inverse contained in the flow of the Universe. The two corresponding concepts 亙  and 或 were in the back of my mind as I dreamt the other night about a white sphere. The next day in the moonlight at dawn I walked through the garden on the path between native roses, listened to sounds of cicadas, and gazed at flowers of the catalpa tree falling. I wondered why a pictograph of the Moon caught between the Earth and the Sky would convey the idea of eternity. For over 4.5 billion years, the Earth-Moon system has been co-evolving. The Moon remains a constant in human life and her waxing and waning provide evidence of what Barbour calls ‘invariant variational’. 

 

CrossOverCrossOver
CrossOver
CrossOverCrossOverCrossOver

The introducing sentence 亙先無有 of the bamboo manuscript sets the stage for events prior to the formation of the Earth-Moon system and before the Sun came out of a nebula cloud of dust and gas. Some scholars chose to translate it two ways: “In the Constancy, there is first no existence” or constancy “preceded the absence of Being”. Others believe that the two characters 亙先 have to do with the ‘origin of origins’, the ‘absolute primordiality’, the ‘ultimate commencement’ as a reference to the Great Ultimate 大極. Perhaps both interpretations —constancy and an ultimate beginning — do not contradict each other and point to an ultimate state of invariance. Sarah Allan argues that the idea of the Great Ultimate as an abstract point of origin, before there was anything else, seems to be a later theoretical development. I would concur with the idea of an abstract point beyond time and space. Before crossing over into the observable Universe, there was the absence of Being. 

 

Do absence of Being and nothingness differ? While chapter 40 of Laozi states, “All beings come from Being; Being comes from Non-Being,”* the graph 或 adds a new stage in the genesis of the cosmos. It conveys a sense of uncertainty over a state of becoming that is neither being nor nothingness. Zhuangzi states: “Sometimes there is Being, sometimes there is nothingness. Do we ever know if Being and nothing really exist or do not really exist?”** 或 showed originally a circle and a spear or lance on the right (radical halberd) with one or more borders sometimes drawn around the circle. It implicitly refers to a battle over a domain. Neither the outcome nor the protagonists are known. It is a suspended bridge between nothingness and being, the one “without material form”** and may be understood as  ’field’, ’space’ or even ‘sphere’. 

Whether or not we can credit the Heng Xian with the introduction of the abstract concept of space into the early Chinese cosmogonic discourse, its place in the chain of transformations, preceding the appearance of Being, is peculiar enough.

Andrei Gomouline

 I read the other day that the theory of shape dynamics does not assume the existence of a spacetime but a collection of 3-geometries that may fit together to act as a four-dimensional spacetime. 或 conveys Zhuangzi’s concept of a formless existence of an accidental nature, an undetermined and vacuous form that appears as shape space at the start of time. Vacuity is what Tristan Garcia would call “the opposite of something added to the absence of something”. In the primordial chain of events, space or sphere precedes the flow 道 of things and the breath 氣 of nothingness, that is the Universe’s absolute, impersonal consciousness. All primary concepts are connected through it. Erica Brindley, with the spacetime continuum in mind, gives a modern explanation of the text with space emerging before the onset of temporality... While science and philosophy run in circles, poetry offers an escape:

Like the moon advancing to the full,
Like the sun ascending the heavens,
Like the age of the southern hills,
Never waning, never falling,
Like the luxuriance of the fir and the cypress; – May such be thy succeeding line!

The Book of Odes

* Liou Kia-hway, Lao-tseu tao to king, p.115

** Liou Kia-hway, L’oeuvre complète de Tchouang-tseu, p.104, p.40


 

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