A hawk alighted upon my shoulder

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

Red-tailed hawk (allaboutbirds.org)

Red-tailed hawk (allaboutbirds.org)

There is poetry of this immediate present, instant poetry, as well as poetry of the infinite past and infinite future.

D. H. Lawrence


I watched a red-tailed hawk flying off the edge of the pond one morning. Reality is on full display when I hear sparrows singing, flickers calling, when I see squirrels nesting, raccoons standing on their two feet and rabbits titling their ears. But my mind still wanders off: Can they too gaze at the night sky? A poet’s mind might go on dreaming that they could feel the reach of powerful outbursts like the one recorded in the Ophiuchus galaxy cluster 390 million light-years away and sense the temporary capture in Earth ‘s orbit of a tiny object called 2020 CD3.


A poet would go on dreaming of weasels intrigued by the discovery of the Higgs boson at the Large Hadron Collider and instinctively aware that gluons are the reason why the atomic nucleus holds together. A poet would go on dreaming of ravens feeling the gravitational waves observed by LIGO from a collision of two neutron stars. A study divided exoplanets around sun-like stars into four main categories: rocky worlds, water worlds, gas giants and transitional planets. A poet would go on dreaming of dolphins leaping left and right in the oceans of the water worlds in the far reaches of the Universe.


It is fascinating to me that we have been chasing the edge of the Solar system. Orbital discrepancies and gravitational perturbations exerted by celestial bodies upon one another have been keys in astronomical discoveries. We are still searching for the elusive Planet X -- today known as Planet Nine -- among the tiny icy bodies in the outermost solar system.  Even more significant to me is our abilities to envision the where, why and how. Faced with the unknown, the mind conceives a myriad of possibilities. A lot has been written about this hypothetical planet in the hope to explain the orbital irregularities of Uranus and Neptune as well as the anomalous orbits of 12 Trans-Neptunian Objects selected in a 2019 study even while it is also suggested that a black hole may be the source of those anomalies. Indeed, without observational confirmation, it is hard to assess whether Planet Nine exists in reality. A paper last year reviewed the prospects for detection in the coming years.  


The nature of reality has become a leitmotiv in my writings. Hoping to shed light on the subject, I’ll be reading in the coming days Lee Smolin’s 2019 book titled Einstein’s Unfinished Revolution. He is a virulent critic of anti-realists.  He mentioned in his preface the three kinds of anti-realists. There are those who believe that it is only our observation that gives existence to such things as atoms and elementary particles. There are those who believe that it is only through our knowledge that we know reality and there are those who can’t make their mind on whether or not there is a reality beyond ourselves. Smolin goes on saying that realists, on the other hand, fight over whether what they see and know is the whole reality. And so there are the “naive realists” and those he calls “magical realists”. 


Words matter. A common expression comes to mind when I think of the debate over the nature of reality. Objectively and rhetorically, I feel that reality is a glass half full, half empty.  And I would not know really which category I fall into because my definition of reality is multifold. Given that the self rests upon our own individual feelings and emotions, we may conclude that the nature of physical reality involves the reality of the self. But at the same time, I believe there is a reality that exists no matter whether we know it or not. Unfortunately, only our gained knowledge over time tells us what it is. I wish to know the capture duration of the tiny moon 2020 CD3, where it comes from and where it goes. I wish to know whether the inexplicably loud explosion came from an active galactic nucleus or a source that is yet to be identified. And that part of unknown is a reality that I can’t yet see.



This gives me a chance to retrace my steps and rewind the thread of my thoughts. I have raised the subject more than once before. In our search for truth, we hope to match our theoretical expectations to reality. The nature of physical reality, I wrote, depends on its observation and, consequently, on the ontology of consciousness, and that it also involves time. I have yet to go through Chapters 14 and 15 of Smolin’s book and hope that it will give me more clarity on the theory of double causality which I described as a passage in which time and the reversal of time produce the observation of an “element of reality”. 


There are ways to better define the nature of reality. Expressions such as “actual reality”, “objective reality”, “structured reality”, “existential reality” and what I ended up calling “singular reality” are meant to pinpoint more precisely how we ought to disentangle those degrees and layers. I realize that the discussion on Consciousness and the Universe is a discussion on the nature of reality, on what ultimately remains a theoretical approach to reality. There is indeed an intangible line between truth and reality. A truth that is proved and demonstrated through empirical experimentation becomes reality in a long and unsteady process that leads to new actualities. And I would once again state what Martin J. Rees says, that “maybe some aspects of reality are intrinsically beyond us in that their comprehension would require some post-human intellect”(The smallest insect is more complex than a star or a galaxy, Grand Challenges For Science In The 21st Century, World Scientific, Sep 18, 2018)


In my mind, the increasingly complicated reality of the future is somehow compactified in the simpler reality of the past and that, in the future lies an attractor that pulls the essence of reality within the expanding Universe.

On the future of humanity


Oumuamua, I also wrote, is a perfect example of an element of reality that seemed to come right out of the realm of infinite possibilities. But while we need observational detections to provide proof of the existence of Planet Nine, phenomenology should not be taken as reality but as the unreliable appearance of the Universe. Science means constantly wiping the mirror of reality because causation drives the seen and unseen physical motion of all things in the Universe, creating a universal balance between agents and patients, subjects and objects. Smolin says that Einstein was driven by the hope of “discovering a true mirror of nature that exhibits the essence of reality in a few timeless mathematical laws” (p.9)



 The red-tailed hawk alighted on a tree stump. I wish to have its visual and hearing senses. Do we need to lift the ghosts of the past off our shoulders in order to find truth?

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