Prologue to all the possibles

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

The house was quiet and the world was calm.
The reader became the book, and summer night
Was like the conscious being of the book.
The house was quiet and the world was calm.
The words were spoken as if there was no book,
Except that the reader leaned above the page,
Wanted to lean, wanted much most to be
The scholar to whom his book is true, to whom
The summer night is like a perfection of thought.
The house was quiet because it had to be.
The quiet was part of the meaning, part of the mind:
The access of perfection to the page.
And the world was calm. The truth in a calm world,
In which there is no other meaning, itself
Is calm, itself is summer and night, itself
Is the reader leaning late and reading there.

The House Was Quiet and The World Was Calm, Wallace Stevens

Georges Lemaître describes a point of origin that challenges our imagination and our reason by raising a barrier that they cannot cross. Our thoughts cannot conceive a preexistence, he writes, since it is space itself which begins and that we cannot conceive anything without space. The generation of space from 'zero time' takes the form of an extremely rapid inflation process. It is with the expansion of space that the principle of locality is born. And so a point of origin becomes a sort of singularity whose whereabouts are linked to the propagation of space itself.

 

Stars Spring up Out of the Darkness, Artist Concept (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Stars Spring up Out of the Darkness, Artist Concept (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

 

We know we are on unsteady ground when artists come to the rescue and attempt to represent the unseen. It may be that the first stars sprung up out of the Dark Ages the way the earliest single light in the evening sky, in spring, creates a fresh universe out of nothingness by adding itself. Alfred North Whitehead writes about the four creative stages in which the Universe accomplishes its actuality. Thinking of the very first moments of the Universe, I wonder how his philosophical view could apply. Two points stand out from what I read: the notions of “conceptual origination” and “antecedent universe”.

 

The question of whether there is an antecedent Universe highlights an old debate over opposing views. If some argue that the Universe is a creation ex-nihilo as if a flash appeared from nothing, others favor diverse scenarios of cyclic Universe models. It seems that those different views are there to ease our puzzlement as to whether time preceded space or was conceived with it.  The mere possibility that the Universe came out from nothingness goes against our natural inclination for “something” and so that “something” may be defined as a primordial vacuum, whose information has made the universe by condensing and igniting

One is seeking something that is impossible to find or about which nothing is known. In such moments all well-meant, sensible advice is completely useless – advice that urges one to try to be responsible, to take a holiday, not to work so hard (or to work harder), to have more (or less) human contact, or to take up a hobby. None of that helps, or at best only rarely. There is only one thing that seems to work; and that is to turn directly toward the approaching darkness without prejudice and totally naïvely, and to try to find out what its secret aim is and what it wants from you… All the contents are blurred and merge into one another, and one never knows exactly what or where anything is, or where one thing begins and ends.

Man and his symbols: The process of individuation, Marie-Louise von Franz

 

Regardless of whether our fine-tuned universe is among others swimming in the bubbly realm of a multiverse,  it may have started with a single quantum state. The existence of pre-Big Bang quantum fluctuations.that have tunneled into our Universe may explain how “the antecedent universe” entered into the constitution of our own, “so as to constitute the basis of its nascent individuality”.  What was that initial quantum state then? Somehow I linked the notion of “antecedent Universe” with that of  “conceptual origination”. 

If possibles are outside of space but inside of time, res potentia can have existed before the Big Bang, opening new ways to think about the origin of the universe.

Stuart Kauffman, Humanity in a Creative Universe

 

At the precise beginning of our Universe, the question “what sort of a thing the world is in its ultimate and simplest nature?” pertains to quantum ontology. We struggle with the question of what makes real “what was antecedently merely potential” and whether or not it involved, in its very first mode of origination, some form of consciousness. Philosophy steps in where doubts linger.  

 

Science answers questions about the physical origination of the Universe with a timeframe of how the rapid cosmic inflation occurs as if we were there to witness every second, every minute of it. A tiny fraction of a second after the Big Bang, all the particles in the Standard Model were present, When the Universe expanded and the temperature dropped, the heaviest particle we know about, the top quark and its antiparticle, started to disappear just one picosecond after the Big Bang. During the next minutes, essentially all the particle species except for photons and neutrinos vanished one by one. Only a very tiny fraction of protons, neutrons, and electrons, what makes up all the matter in the Universe today, survived. While science tells and builds on the story of how the “atomization of the extensive continuum” takes place, we are left to wonder what the simplest representational repertoire of our Universe is. Its conceptual origination -- what is merely potential -- is the ultimate unknowable. 

...every time you point out as first cause something as vague as information, the question will not still silence: but what caused it?

Cláudio Nassif Cruz and Fernando Antônio da Silva

 

What lies in the middle between the idea and its physicality between possibility and reality?  Information appears to be a prerequisite for a conceptual origination to happen. It may take the form of a conceptual Universe that precedes the physical Universe and may even overlap it. It may involve a  process in which information is converted into energy. The collapse of wave-function has captured my mind. I picture quantum fluctuations piloting virtual particles in a nascent and ever-growing quantum field leading to the superposition of both, the virtual and real universes. There is but a single (quantum) world, with its universal wave function.  

... is it real? Is it only in our mind? Does it have a reality only temporary or transitory? Is it, for lack of a better, a provisional representation? Nobody knows, and the theory of universal wave function, contrary to what one might think if we follow the popular presentation of DeWitt, does not clarify much.

Daniel Parrochia

 

Information as a fundamental of reality appears to be a partial answer since it brushes off the related issue of where the information comes from. Faced with the ontological abyss that is the prospect of nothingness, Jean-Paul Sartre wrote about the slippery slope of an “infinite regression” as if we had opened a Pandora’s box from which a neverending series of related questions spill one after the other. Nevertheless, our reason doesn’t satisfy itself with the concept of nothingness. While some have conceived the possibility that we are caught in a virtual or a holographic Universe,  others may speculate that we are moving thoughts inside a cosmic ‘mind’ out of which we've never escaped since the conceptual origination of the Universe. Could our physical death occur when those wavelike thoughts vanish? 

 

 

A fool on the hill, drawing on what Alexander wrote, would rather shy away from determinism in any shape or form and imagine a scenario in which information reveals itself by expressing itself and, in so doing, it gives rise to consciousness. As for the poet, she only sees the Universe as a symphony of lights and sounds played on the keyboard of time.

A Journey of Light Through Space and Time (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

A Journey of Light Through Space and Time (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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Feelings

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

Silver linings (Ollie Taylor, ESA)

Silver linings (Ollie Taylor, ESA)

 

The pursuit of writing begs the question “why?”. I feel a constant need to better grasp all the ramifications within the framework of my own intent. No meaningful voice, I believe, can transpire without facing the question of why. I found myself going through posts written in the past ten years. Consciousness, I feel, runs through a multilayered spacetime. We are left to wonder where exactly it resides from atom to stratum. On an individual level, it is the ability to reflect on one's own thoughts. A pause involves the act of metacognition. It means to ​​step aside, as it were, from oneself and analyze and judge the operations of one’s mind. The same image appears again and again in my head of my own self drifting away. Each step forward initiates a necessary halt and so begins another round of reflective bits. 


I have followed the wise advice to read Whitehead’s writings. For him, consciousness “enlightens experience which precedes it” (1). There can not be any consciousness without past -- individual or collective -- experience. The “residual trace” spoken of by Utpaladeva sends an echo when I read Whitehead on the question of memory.  There are some elements of recollection in consciousness, sparks from the “dim recesses of the Unconscious”. But the Unconscious is a labyrinth. Lost in the maze of a dream-like reality we follow breadcrumbs that guide us to sprinkles of light and fragments of memory. Oblivion motivates our quest.

 

We are who we are in large part because of what we have learned and what we remember...The human memory system forms abstract internal representations that arise from previous exposure to similar images or experiences.

The Age of insight, Eric R. Kandel, 2012

 From William James to Alfred North Whitehead, drops of perception to drops of experience, mechanisms that we observe from smaller to larger scales are the ultimate notion embodied in the term 'concrescence’ that is a never-ending process of becoming in a seamless flow. Whitehead talked about the Universe's creative action that is “always becoming one in a particular unity of self-experience and thereby adding to the multiplicity” which is the Universe as many. The primary stage in the concrescence of an actual entity is the way in which the antecedent Universe “enters into the constitution of the entity in question, so as to constitute the basis of its nascent individuality”.

 

To be is only to be an avatar allowing the transmission of information, an archive of the past concealed within. From the first cell, a clock hides in the Unconscious. Memory is in the cloud. As we wonder how matter came into being the first hundreds of million years, how particles clustered to give rise to the first stars, some find an analogy between artistic creation and cosmic creation. One thing led to another, from Whitehead’s essay in cosmology, I stumbled upon Samuel Alexander’s works. The question raised in my previous post by John Archibald Wheeler,  “How did the Universe come into being?” may not be properly asked, he argued. It should be“what sort of a thing the world is in its ultimate and simplest nature?”. He explained that “just as the object known is revealed through the ordinary reaction to it; so the work of art is revealed to the artist himself through the productive act wrung from him in his excitement over the subject-matter” (2).

 

In a conceptual reality filled with the emotion of time, I find it telling that Whitehead uses repeatedly such a subjective and evocative word as “feeling”  while David Bohm talks about small, ‘quantized’ wavelike excitations on top of an immense background of spatial energy. Although common words like emotion, feeling, and excitation may be borrowed, I would agree that it is because we feel more than we can know.  A feeling, Whitehead writes, is “the appropriation of some elements in the Universe to be components in the real internal constitution of its subject”. For him, all actual entities, including electrons, atoms, and molecules enjoy a little bit of feeling “at least in rudimentary forms” (3).

 

 

It may be that my perspective on cosmic consciousness is not only a choice but a conceptual feeling that has “found integration with other feelings” (1) which poets are fond of, thrive on, and are nurtured by. The question that emerged from Whitehead’s reading is whether consciousness can be without its subjective form. Can there be objectively something beyond ourselves, a consciousness beyond individuality? For him, feelings “taken in their original purity devoid of accretions from later integrations” do not involve consciousness because consciousness is a “subjective form arising in the higher phases of concrescence”, It “primarily illuminates the higher phase in which it arises”, and only “illuminates earlier phases derivatively”. 

 

Whitehead’s take on feelings is to be examined in the light of other contemporary statements pertaining to the psychology of emotions. To the question “Is there pure states of feeling?”, if we reply in the affirmative, writes Ribot, “then the state of feeling is considered as having at least sometimes an independent existence of its own and not as condemned to play forever the part of acolyte or parasite” (4). And if we pursue the analogy between the mind and the Universe, we could think of the emotion of time as an “organized manifestation of the life of” feelings as defined by Whitehead.

 

Poets feel with their intuitional mind. I imagine cosmic consciousness to be the gathering of a higher order in which “floating” parts of ourselves meet “floating” parts of others. It is by feeling that poets understand as they engage in a dialogue with the Universe. It may be that cosmic consciousness is but a shadow for the growth of feelings is to be “distinguished from the objects to which those feelings relate”(5). In both instances -- cosmic creation and artistic creation -- we may say that creativity is a state of feeling that feeds on itself and its environment. Poets who wander in reverie are sensitive souls whose doubts time will answer. Will intuition triumph over the anguish that uncertainty has thrown us in? For we may conclude that there are feeling-like “phenomena” (6) in organic and inorganic matter alike.

And when we wonder about the accidental nature of the Universe, whether it has risen from free will or in a superdeterministic way,  we may dwell upon Alexander’s description of an artist or a poet who may not, systematically,  first form an image. To paraphrase Alexander, they may be clueless of what they want to express, but find out what they wanted to express by expressing it for they have, in general, no precedent image of their work and don’t know what they will say till they have said it, and it comes as a revelation even to themselves. Writing and direct carving are, I feel, an irrepressible and fragmented journey, the purpose of which is still a mystery. Its key, I hope, will help me escape the labyrinth of my own twists and turns. But some mysteries may be beyond the reach of imagination.

 

In progress

In progress

When the instinct of constructiveness seeks not practical gratification but is satisfied for its own sake; when the maker beholds his work and sees that it is good, the constructive instinct has become aesthetic and the work which satisfies it is beautiful.

Artistic Creation and Cosmic Creation, Samuel Alexander

  1. Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality
  2. Samuel Alexander, Artistic Creation and Cosmic Creation
  3. John Burdon Sanderson Haldane, The inequality of man
  4. Theodule Armand Ribot, The psychology of emotions
  5. Samuel Alexander, Space, Time and Deity
  6. John Burdon Sanderson Haldane, The philosophy of a biologist
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Out of the Dark Ages

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

Out of the Dark Ages

 

“How did the Universe come into being?” asked John Archibald Wheeler, “ Is that some strange, far-off process, beyond hope of analysis? Or is the mechanism that came into play one which all the time shows itself?” We understand, though, that first star-forming clumps were much warmer than the molecular gas clouds in which most stars currently form and that the stars that arise from molecular gas clouds are born in complex environments that have been altered by the effects of previous star formation, And so, one wonders how, out of the Dark Ages, density fluctuations drew upward on the fabric of spacetime like “tent cloths” or “anthills”* to evolve into the first stars and what the reign of particles looked like then. 

After the Cosmic Microwave Background photons decoupled from baryons, the Dark Ages epoch began: density fluctuations grew under the influence of gravity, eventually collapsing into the first stars and galaxies during the subsequent Cosmic Dawn.

Dark Cosmology: Investigating Dark Matter & Exotic Physics in the Dark Ages using the Redshifted 21-cm Global Spectrum

Out of the Dark Ages

Zooming out, feet off the ground, sharing thoughts and ideas, mixing a melting pot of sources in a simmering soup with one underlying theme: The quest for a cosmic sense. From a statistical perspective, trying to figure out whether there are intelligent life forms out there is one of the most challenging undertakings since all we can do is attempt to learn from a single known data point (ourselves). Not only the search for alien life forms in the multidimensional cosmic haystack has been so far insufficient and incomplete, but it still would take, in the best-case scenario, a minimum of 1030 years for us to communicate with an equally intelligent life form and the same amount of time for them to answer. 

 

Out of the Dark Ages

 

Regardless, let’s imagine, for the sake of this post, the chance encounter with one of the Communicating Extra-Terrestrial Intelligent (CETI) civilizations in our Galaxy --meaning those with the capabilities to use radio frequencies to communicate over large distances. My first question to them would be whether they figured out how it all started and whether they were able to probe the feeble glow of the Dark Ages. While likely beyond the capabilities of instruments available in the next decade, we, humans, plan in the future to place a low radio frequency interferometric array on the far side of the Moon to measure the redshifted Dark Ages global 21-cm signal. Did they beat us to it and catch the faint signals of the neutral hydrogen's footprints, their “spin-flip” transition

Can the humans cure racism, end poverty, and stop climate change in time? Tune in next week to find out. (New Yorker)

Can the humans cure racism, end poverty, and stop climate change in time? Tune in next week to find out. (New Yorker)

Another discussion that might come up in my encounter with an extraterrestrial intelligent life form is the state of humanity. I would want to know whether they were able to move away from their Stone Age emotions. Would I complain to them in self-pity or simply highlight the beauty of our world?  I'd rather tell them about the wakening of bee balms, how I wait every year with excitement for those intrinsically complicated flowers to unfold methodically as the buds swell and appear to burst out purple powder over the leaves. Although our flowers on Earth are immovable, for they are stuck to the ground,  artists in the past drew celestial bodies like flowers of the sky. And I would want to know whether artists on their planet do the same. I would want also to tell them about poets and albatrosses and how they are very much the same.

 

Often, to amuse themselves, the men of a crew
Catch albatrosses, those vast sea birds
That indolently follow a ship
As it glides over the deep, briny sea.

Scarcely have they placed them on the deck
Than these kings of the sky, clumsy, ashamed,
Pathetically let their great white wings
Drag beside them like oars.

That winged voyager, how weak and gauche he is,
So beautiful before, now comic and ugly!
One man worries his beak with a stubby clay pipe;
Another limps, mimics the cripple who once flew!

The poet resembles this prince of cloud and sky
Who frequents the tempest and laughs at the bowman;
When exiled on the earth, the butt of hoots and jeers,
His giant wings prevent him from walking.

The Albatross, Baudelaire

With an optimistic outlook on human life, I would tell them that we are the synthesis of past and present undercurrents reaching another stage on a multidimensional continuum that appears to flow in one direction. Endowed with free will, universalization becomes a promising principle. It refers to our increasing awareness of our close relationship with each other and with the Universe as a whole, a relationship that, in my mind, has been there all along. Ground and sea roads crisscrossing Earth east to west, south to north have spread treasures of civilization, vessels of knowledge, receptacles of wisdom. There is no doubt that a deep connection binds us to all the places I visited from Lascaux Cave to the mortuary chambers in Gansu province for I realized along the Silk Road in the middle of Gaochang ruins and the painted grottoes and relics of Dunhuang that human nature is not much different wherever we go. Universalization means that, by an odd chance of meeting them, I would talk about what binds us and our common origins.

 

Out of the Dark Ages

 

Every culture, every human being, has been struggling with hows and whys. If it were not for nothing and every word spoken and written were not in vain, why are oral histories forgotten? I would tell them about rock art paintings of heavenly bodies and lost reports of long stars and celestial objects fastened to invisible ropes. I would tell them that it is not in space that I wish to travel but in time to dig out the buried memories of our past and learn more about our previously mentioned fragmentary comet known by the lost name of Matsya Avatara which was small, to begin with, but grew as it neared the Sun and at the end crashed into the Indian Ocean resulting in floods and tsunamis five thousand years ago.

Out of the Dark Ages

The Sun and the Moon, solar and lunar eclipses, planets, and passing comets have been observed from the ground throughout history, with the possibly earliest written recording of a comet by the Chinese in 1059 BCE. In our neck of the woods, some comets approached Earth as close as within 40 lunar distances. The closest recorded was Lexell in 1770 less than 6 lunar distances away. Except when they elude man’s predictions like the Great Comet of 1264, the regularity with which fiery apparitions such as that of Haley’s Comet occur has made it possible to retrace their previous passages in our skies and place their visits backward in time. With computer models that helped to retrodict comets’ visits, Halley’s Comet appearances were extended back as far as into the third century BC and possibly associated with the meteor of Aegospotami in Greece in 467/6 BC. Based on two apparitions of three periodic comets, including the Comet of 1500 that came back around in 1861, Ichiro Hasagewa and Syuichi Nakano were able to identify them. The Comet of 1499 is possibly identical to Comet Levy of 1991 which has an orbital period of just over 50 years, and when that object returns in 2042 it should be possible to confirm (or disprove) that identity.  One of the largest comets, Swift-Tuttle, that appeared in 1992 also was seen in 1862 and 1737. Others like the Great Comets of 1843, 1901, 1910, and 1927 have yet to come back around. I wish they would tell me the names and the stories of their comets and whether they'd happen to know if one of the visiting exocomets trespassing our shores belongs to them. 

 

Out of the Dark Ages

I would tell them about the co-emergence of fundamentals of reality as I understand it. Whether they be time, space, gravity, and energy,  they are intertwined concepts as crucial as the four major features of a human face - nose, ears, eyes, mouth. The exchange between the Universe and human consciousness takes place between those two sets of quadruple elements. I would confess to them that our limited window into the Universe is somewhat similar to an ethnographic account. Although it is with minimum manipulation by scientists, they still rely heavily on observer-participancy. I would want them to tell me whether they agree that the fundamentals of reality only adds another screen of naive realism in front of the screen filter that is our human perception. They are not the whole story. 

 

Out of the Dark Ages

*Laird Scranton, China’s Cosmological Prehistory: The Sophisticated Science Encoded in Civilization’s Earliest Symbols 
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A fundamental fear

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

Universum

 

Outside the one coherent and public spacetime, there is an element of darkness, a field that sets the limits of our reach. Human consciousness stands on the edge staring into oblivion before crossing over the four corners of reality. As it pushes the frontiers of human knowledge, fundamentals of reality dependently co-arise. One may wonder what is left to believe in. After all, what is fundamental? If that which knows, moves and exists in the Universe is part of a resonance chains, everything -- from Titan drifting away to atoms, nematic liquid crystals to sundrops and Phobos to Proxima Centauri -- is fundamentally necessary to create the reality we know.  As we consider the possibility of a theory of everything, won’t it be incomplete if any part of the package is missing?  That which is indispensable to a theory is fundamental to it, writes Aditya Dwarkesh. In an interconnected Universe, how do we know which part is expendable? Aren’t all things, past and present, necessary to create the future?  

 

Sundrops

Sundrops

 

 

We attach different meanings to the word “fundamental”. On the one hand, it means what is necessary. On the other hand, it refers to whatever everything else derives from. Yet, what everything derives from is beyond our understanding. In a discussion written by Mozibur Rahman Ullah, Socrates asks whether the whole is not prior to the part. It remains to be seen how many players take part in the circle of concepts and whether or not some, if not all of them, are co-emergent. 

 

 

Serpiente alquimica

 

The Universe seems to have grown and in time has given rise to observer-participancy which in turn imparts tangible reality to even the earliest day of the Universe. It brings to mind the image of a snake eating its tail. What’s fundamental? The observer or the Universe that is observed? As physicists travel to the deepest level, our framework of reality evolves. One wonders whether ideas and, to a larger extent, theories, are more fundamental than substances and whether abstract notions, such as change, freedom, fear or causality are less or more fundamental than concrete entities?

 

 

Wheeler's Universe

Wheeler's Universe

 

If all starts in the mental realm, nonlocality becomes fundamental too. Time and consciousness are drawing upon a derivative concept of “location” in a relational space. They are intangibles by means of which we interact with the Universe and the source of our true identity. They too are fundamental. And what about change? If change is fundamental, why are we so afraid of it? Caught in the unrelenting movement of life, fears originate from our own intolerance of uncertainty, that is our dispositional incapacity to endure the aversive response triggered by the perceived absence of salient, key, or sufficient information

One fear to rule them all, one fear to find them, one fear to bring them all and in the black box bind them.

Nicholas Carleton

 

Some fears are based on known facts, others on the unknown. Because of its non-derivative aspect, the fear of the unknown is considered to be a fundamental fear and describes an individual’s propensity to experience fear caused by the perceived absence of information at any level of consciousness or point of processing. Between imagination and reality, we ought to discriminate those fearful and angry voices from the actual danger that a threat may pose.  As we doubt the positive course of events and the gradual decline of passions, we hang on to the past. What probability should we attach to the object of our fears? 

Certain types of probabilities are clearly ‘subjective’, meaning that they can be understood as a description of our own ignorance about the true facts.

Emily Adlam

 

 

A Buddhist monk, however, may say that there are three kinds of fears. The first is based on hatred. The second is a reaction to a moral crisis such as the fear we feel when our values are under attack and when we fail to handle self-doubt. The third stems from our human condition, of which old age, sickness, and death are only the manifestations. Of those three fears, it is the first one -- the ego-driven fear -- that we need to overcome. Hatred manifests itself through anger, fear, and discontent when we are afraid to lose our own identity and at the thought of being deprived of our material possessions. It feeds the internal dread inside us. 

 

 Fear,  directly and indirectly learned, is an emotional state of consciousness. It may be the legacy of the individual or collective odyssey,  an inherited behavior passed on by our ancestors. Against ourselves,  our fears grow and become at times echoes of an atrocious and despotic anguish as the muddy waters of the Unconscious bring to the surface oppressive visions. They trigger a defensive response, giving rise to divisions between individuals or groups of people. 

 

On the day of the full moon, I dreamt that I entered a room and read a sentence on a card stuck on a wall. I did not like what I read, so I walked away. Reading actual words in a dream is uncommon. Only a small class of people overwhelmingly made up of writers -- especially poets -- use language in a meaningful way when they sleep. Are the words I read in my dream the projection of my own insecurities? Between existential anxiety and our struggle for freedom, we can't dissociate what we do from who we are as the story of the butterfly and the mole  goes:

 

One day, a butterfly, perplexed, asks a mole: "How do you manage to live underground?" "I don't know anything else," replies the mole, "I'm happy to be who I am. Is living above ground and living underground that much different?" "The difference is the light. In the heat of the sun, the wind carries my wings," says the butterfly. "Darkness," says the mole, "helps me face my fears. My blind eyes give my paws the freedom to explore on their own journey to the center of the Earth."

 

A fundamental fear

 

 Memories paint the present with the colors of the past. While we are trapped within the bounds of a spatiotemporal location, History displaces itself in time and space. Thirty-one years ago, I was in Beijing. In me lingers the memory of the turmoil I witnessed. Seeing the military trucks and humvees in the streets of D.C. brought back images from that time. As I watched political figures marching with protesters, I remembered Zhao Ziyang walking through the crowd of students in 1989. As the corner of 16th Street & H was renamed and three words of protest were painted in yellow on the roadway, I remembered the Goddess of democracy standing in the middle of Tiananmen Square. What I see unfolding in the streets of the Capital reminds me of the early days of the student protest that led to the Tiananmen crackdown. Uncertainty plays right into the hands of my own fear of the unknown. 

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

William Ernest Henley, Invictus

 

There is light in the dark, blue skies in the clouds, rays of sunshine peeking through above the dead branches of the oak tree.

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Causation

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

Causation

 

The playful chipmunk with a mind of its own has come out of its burrow. Does a cicada know when it’s time to break out of its shell? Does a star know when it’s time to burst out of its collapsing cloud?  In the Garden of Forking Paths, a game forbids the use of the word ‘time’. In the game played in real life, time stays hidden in plain sight. And the wrenching part of it is that our individual consciousness does not exist during most of it.  

 

Cicada and its empty shell

Cicada and its empty shell

 

Writing could become an infinite game too. One day I see time as having no independent reality. The next I feel its tangibility in the way it divides itself in both ways, past and future, when catalpa flowers still rain on the garden but oaks dropping acorns becomes a memory. More than just an abstract concept, it becomes a finite extension of ourselves intertwined with the Universe.  As my own consciousness has reached the last frontier of the solar system to gaze at the horizon, it feels the need to step back on the edge of the intergalactic medium as if it has reached its own limit and is too afraid to jump into a no man's land. 

 

A crow flew over the dead oak, and then another. Was the tree a marker for birds’ flight path in much the same way as words spoken to me years ago took me to the pathway I am walking on today?  The words I heard, the people I met I know they had an influence on me.  The idea that time can, in a sense, still live on regardless of our own existence resonates with me and may through me have an impact on someone else, like a chain of seed sowers. 

 

Poets, too, have a mind of their own, always playing with words and ideas. They see connections between almost everything and give a soul to whatever they please. They see actions at a temporal distance. Concepts build upon each other. In a ripple through time, words leave an indelible mark. Whether it be about life and death, being and nothingness, the occurrence and the nonoccurrence of events, fundamental questions haunt the human mind. 

I remember words by Zhuangzi, that the flow of the Universe is“so deep and clear that metals and precious stones resonate through it. Although they have the ability to make a sound, they cannot resonate without being struck”. How essential the causal role of the one who strikes them is! By measuring how far metals and precious stones spread, we, observers, could map out the evolution of the Universe. 

 

But for most, Aristotle and the story of the sea battle would instead come to mind.

Everything must either be or not be, whether in the present or in the future, but it is not always possible to distinguish and state determinately which of these alternatives must necessarily come about. Let me illustrate. A sea-fight must either take place tomorrow or not, but it is not necessary that it should take place tomorrow, neither is it necessary that it should not take place, yet it is necessary that it either should or should not take place tomorrow. Since propositions correspond with facts, it is evident that when in future events there is a real alternative and a potentiality in contrary directions, the corresponding affirmation and denial have the same character. This is the case with regard to that which is not always existent or not always nonexistent. One of the two propositions in such instances must be true and the other false, but we cannot say determinately that this or that is false but must leave the alternative undecided. One may indeed be more likely to be true than the other, but it cannot be either actually true or actually false. It is therefore plain that it is not necessary that of an affirmation and a denial one should be true and the other false. For in the case of that which exists potentially, but not actually, the rule which applies to that which exists actually does not hold good. The case is rather as we have indicated. (Aristotle, On Interpretation, Part 9)

 

Indigo bush

Indigo bush

 

 Causation is in the eye of the beholder. If I single out a particular event in time, highlight an idea to the detriment of another, give the preference to one writer rather than another,  I know that subjectivity colors my train of thought. Limiting ourselves to a single spatiotemporal location runs the risk of failing to notice that “there is always the chance of some ‘interference’ from outside the local area”. Our urge to find a theory of everything stems from the fact that we want to ensure that the cause guarantees the occurrence of the effect and every new piece of information becomes part of the whole past cone of potential causal influence on the effect

 

Locality should remain an essential ingredient of a theory of everything, says Gerard ‘t Hooft and if we don’t assume such a thing, then it gets a lot harder to understand how laws of nature are working. But if there is no theory capable of predicting each single choice, argues Antoine Suarez, then there is no theory of everything. In our search for spatiotemporal connectability, we have become constrained by causality. Our requirement for a coarse graining, namely a “choice” of macroscopic observables, has introduced a curious element of subjectivity.   

 

As we struggle with the evolutive interpretation of a theory of everything, what we have found so far are theories allowing us to predict statistical distribution of outcomes.  But the concept of probability is a philosophical one. What is metaphysically primary is the multiplicity of causal connections, rather than some uniform notion of causation that is supposed to apply to all cases. Antoine Suarez concludes that if such a theory includes the quantum world, a mathematical quantum reality can only exist in a mental realm we cannot access with our senses

What of the types of event? The most helpful way to view them is as coarsegraining the space of possible events. They are the union of a lot of different ways of some description of an event being satisfied. There is another sense of type here, that may also have a role: this is that any particular event may be an instance of a lot of different coarse-grained events.

Antony Eagle

 

Nonlocality refers to events outside spacetime. As such, those events are probabilities of outcome, the same way, I feel, comets are outside the framework of our observable Universe before they materialize.  In the seemingly reciprocal causation of the nonlocal action at a distance, the “before-after” relationship is a quality inaccessible to real measurement. If nonlocality is necessary to preserve such a fundamental principle as energy conservation, does that mean that there is a conservation law that we don’t know yet about? 

 

From the smallest to the largest scales, locally to globally, the Universe stretches and curls its tentacles covered with quantized wavelike excitations. In our observable Universe, the passing of a comet could unwrap a chain of events in time and space. I think of the story of comet ATLAS. Five thousand years ago, a split happened to its parent comet from which ATLAS and the Great Comet of 1844 Y1 were born.  It occurred around the previous perihelion passage of the progenitor. The event suggested by a study in April sheds light on the evolutionary causation of our newly discovered comet. While the Great Comet was spotted with a naked eye at the Cape of Good Hope (South Africa) in December 1844  and was reported to be as bright as Comet Halley, its sibling was still out of the picture, not even the object of a thought. 

 

Our long-period comet seems to have entered our consciousness at the end of last year although it may have been a tale lost between the lines of a myth or kept between members of an aboriginal community. While we may expect interstellar Comet 2I/Borisov to disintegrate in the future, ATLAS fragmented into multiple pieces in front of our eyes, reflecting on and off sunlight. Splits are remarkable because they bear a historical value and mark the spot in our collective memory of a spatiotemporal event with long-term repercussions. I found it compelling that the two comets --  176 years apart --  could share a common progenitor the same way we are able to retrace the genetic relationship between us and our ancestors. 

 

There are periodically reports of possible evidence for giant impacts on planets. One cosmic event of dramatic proportions has reportedly made Uranus rotate sideways. Another, 12,900 years ago may have contributed to the megafaunal extinctions and the Younger Dryas cooling. Yet another, some 5,000 years ago, may have occurred in the Indian Ocean. Could the latter have been part of our original fragmentary comet? Comets with a tale of their own offer an account of events that constitutes the foundation of their historicity as they fragment into the pieces they become.

beardtongue

beardtongue

 My words offer no certainty, for my mind still wanders. If it all starts in the mental realm,  how can the human mind fathom the possibility that local events could make an impact regardless of time and space as if a hidden butterfly had made the flapping of its wings felt across spacetime or the effect of an invisible ripple of energy was felt throughout the Universe?  Our mind can’t stop asking questions, for causation is nowhere to be found. 

False solomon's-seal

False solomon's-seal

 

One thing that is rather uneasy for us to achieve is to not let our internal demons shape our intellectual ideas and to guard ourselves against the color of time. I would fall short, anyway, have I not said a word about social causation. We wonder why events happen on a global scale and we wonder when the death of a black man will matter. “The cause of a demonstration,” Martin Luther King* writes, “is the existence of some form of exploitation or oppression that has made it necessary for men of courage and goodwill to protest the evil”. “Through the skills and discipline of direct action,” he adds, “we reveal that there is a dangerous cancer of hatred and racism in our society. We did not cause the cancer; we merely exposed it”. 

 

Those who start behind in the pursuit of the American Dream “must forever remain behind or run faster than those in front. It is a call to do the impossible”. It is enough to cause people to give up in despair. When patience is no longer an option to win, when will we rally the cause of justice? When will we question the fairness and justice of our policies?

Yarrow

Yarrow

*Martin Luther King, Where do we go from here: Chaos or Community?

 

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On the terrible doubt of appearances

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

 

Of the terrible doubt of appearances,

Of the uncertainty after all, that we may be deluded,

That may-be reliance and hope are but speculations after all,

That may-be identity beyond the grave is a beautiful fable only,

May-be the things I perceive, the animals, plants, men, hills, shining and flowing waters,

The skies of day and night, colors, densities, forms, may-be these are (as doubtless they are) only apparitions, and the real something has yet to be known,

(How often they dart out of themselves as if to confound me and mock me! How often I think neither I know, nor any man knows, aught of them,)

May-be seeming to me what they are (as doubtless they indeed but seem) as from my present point of view, and might prove (as of course they would) nought of what they appear, or nought anyhow, from entirely changed points of view;

 

(Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass)

 

How many take part in a circle of concepts? My mind feels dizzy circling around with them. Doubts sometimes are stronger than beliefs and cast a shadow on the resolve to carry on, for the mind can’t discriminate fundamentals of reality. When building a model of the Universe, I wonder what input should be prioritized? There never seems to be one particular thing that can synthesize it all.  If information were the “most fundamental aspect of reality” (1), I can’t help but think that it would involve a relationship between an informer and an informed, a sender and a receiver, an agent and a patient, which, in my mind, would bring some sort of consciousness to the forefront before the stirring of energy and the emergence of matter. I somehow see something oddly similar between neuroscience and cosmology, for I am unsure that there would ultimately be a difference between a mathematical model of the Universe and a mathematical model of Consciousness. I still intuitively believe that a dream of a final theory can only include a theory of consciousness.

 

 

 

Information could take the form of a language of geometry and numbers ingrained in the fabric of spacetime, a code to explain the “hidden order”(2)  that stems from the fact that nearly 96% of the total energy density is coming from the dark sector with an hypothetical dark energy -- of which we have very little evidence -- counteracting gravity and hiding in a phantom field. Such information would need to use a shared frequency. In so doing, it would create echo effects and resonance structures. But, to the best of our knowledge, the Universe as a whole doesn’t act that way. If such information were sent, resonance patterns would depend upon the ability to receive it.  Cosmic consciousness could be understood as a web of resonance chains if it were to exist. 

 

How does energy -- that which moves (3) -- fit in the infinite game of time, space, and gravity? Energy is the brisk airflow that enters all the rooms when I open the windows early in the morning. It is the sound of the rain falling. It is the vibrational energy that artists convey in their medium, chased by poets who lose themselves in the moment.  In the flow of spacetime, curls and ripples of energy compete with each other. Energy creates waves, resonance, electrical activity, gamma oscillations, and magnetic signals. There seems to be a continuous transfer of energy and momentum from one event to the next that time carries through space. 

 

About 14 billion years ago, matter, energy, time, and space came into play. “300,000 years after their appearance,” (4) matter and energy started to combine in the canvas of spacetime, making time and energy an interdependent pair within the flow of things and the things that make up the flow. On the matter of energy, frequency, and vibration, Anirban Bandyopadhyay said that the Universe and human minds are frequency fractals that generate frequency wheels and that inside the giant frequency wheel of the universe, our human minds are a simple subset. Twelve different kinds of frequency resonances were identified to create a model of the human mind.

  

The discussion about energy naturally leads to the question of what life is and how life came to be. Living cells are “the outcome of growth and replication, natural selection and evolution, none of which is possible in the absence of a continuous energy”(5). Eukaryotes have up to 200,000 times more energy per gene than prokaryotes, which would explain their leap in evolution. Cells spend as much as 80% of their total energy budget on protein synthesis.  All cells derive their energy from “just one particular type of chemical reaction known as redox reaction in which electrons are transferred from one molecule to another”. Energy is no less present in a leaf of grass than in the journey work of the stars

 

Blue Flag Iris

Blue Flag Iris

The drive to become more conscious is the primary drive in the universe, and this drive to become more conscious thus drives evolution. To be more conscious or more profoundly resonating with the universe is the objective of a living system. This drive results in structural modifications and we call this process evolution.

Anirban Bandyopadhyay

 

The empty space contains an immense background of energy whose density fluctuations contribute to the emergence of gravity. Waves of charged particles battle the Earth’s magnetic field which is currently observed to be weakening in the South Atlantic region. We witness bursts of energy when photons are released in the shape of an aurora borealis and when storms are endlessly raging in the geometrical figure of a six-sided jet stream at Saturn's north pole. They may be stacked haze layers formed by condensation of hydrocarbon ices. Even the ice worlds of Uranus and Neptune, where bands of cool and warmer temperatures are difficult to assess, display deeper mechanisms of energy. The study of weather patterns and energy conversion shows how seemingly alive planets are and how similar they are to Earth. 

 

Saturn's hexagon (photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov)

Saturn's hexagon (photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov)

 

Although pressure varies substantially depending on location, researchers attempt to explain, based on observational data gathered, the complex circulation and distribution patterns of the gas-enriched air, what their source is, and what sustains them. Energy manifests itself in wind speeds, in Rossby waves, in an active plume eruption on Europa, in Hadley-like cells, in optical flashes that illuminate the clouds from below and cyclonic features on giant gas planets associated with upwelling over great depth and a “charge-recharge” cycle for water over multiple years. Lightning, too, is detected in the form of radio emissions and microwave sferics

 

In a March 2020 paper entitled How Well Do We Understand the Belt/Zone Circulation of Giant Planet Atmospheres?, it is said that the transfer of energy takes place from the smallest (eddies) to the largest (zonal) scales. Could it be what is defined as a shared resonance by Tam Hunt and Jonathan W. Schooler? In their paper entitled  The Easy Part of the Hard Problem: A Resonance Theory of Consciousness, they write that, in many circumstances, things resonating in proximity will start resonating together at the same frequency, achieving a shared resonance that is what leads micro-conscious entities to combine into macro-conscious entities

 

Doubt fuels the quest. It gives a boost of energy to the wandering mind.

 

 

(1)Vlatko Vedral, Decoding Reality: The Universe as Quantum Information

(2) Stephen Skinner, Sacred Geometry

(3) Werner Heisenberg, Physics and philosophy

(4)Yuval Noah Harari,  Sapiens

(5) Nick Lane, The Vital Question: Energy, Evolution, and the Origins of Complex Life

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Cosmic Sense

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

 

 

Poetry whispers sounds of freedom, transcends rules, turns ideas upside down, builds connections in the dark holes of one’s mind, and waits for the emergence of new ideas on the horizon. The full moon shined so brightly last week as if she was trying to bring clarity into my mind. But I just kept dreaming. “What does it feel like to be an octopus? To be a jellyfish? Does it feel like anything at all? Which were the first animals whose lives felt like something to them?” * Those questions were asked by Peter Godfrey-Smith. What does it feel like to be a chipmunk in a woodland edge garden? I would add. It has just come out of its burrow under the tree stump after it had hibernated the entire winter to climb up the serviceberry. Is it conscious? As a matter of fact, are an octopus and a dolphin conscious? And what does it feel like to be a butterfly or a bat? An invisible frontier separates them from us.  On the branch of the serviceberry rests the playful chipmunk.

 

 

Chipmunk in serviceberry

Chipmunk in serviceberry

 

 

I wish to be as authentic as I can be in the way I proceed. My thoughts seem to run at different levels of a network of highways. Beyond immediate concerns, pragmatic assessments, it’s almost like unconscious thoughts occupy the back of my mind. They do not reveal themselves and work in the background as if they know what they are searching for while, consciously, I am still struggling to arrive at an endgame. In my personal journey, I find it necessary to read and rethink what I wrote in order to pick up where I left and reattach a few broken thoughts. I feel it is important to go back to the original purpose since I clearly stated for myself the goal to reimagine what cosmic consciousness could be.  So let’s put aside the discussion about the nature of reality that touches the science side of the equation and think of this post as a recap on my quest for cosmic consciousness. 

 

Spiderwort

Spiderwort

 

 

By all appearances, the individual consciousness shrouded by emotions and reason projects its own subjectivity on the circumstances, conditions, and objects by which it is surrounded. I can’t help but think that there is something more to the individual consciousness constrained within the confines of a human body. I rather believe that individuality is an illusion. If indeed it is, how can it be dispelled? How can one see beyond the appearance of disunity? Those questions still linger in my head. 

Green-and-gold

Green-and-gold

 

 If consciousness were coextensive with human life and dependent upon the amount of information that circulates within the species, when there is a breakdown in the way that information spreads, it could result in uneven levels of consciousness. That may be the reason why Stefan Wurm alleges that we “just do not have a species consciousness” **and that only a few of us -- comparatively speaking -- consciously picture ourselves as members of the human species. “We have not learned yet to plan as a species,” he adds. 

 

Ninebark

Ninebark

It could be that what really existed in oneself would be found to exist either consciously or in a latent form in other people. For example, when calling others to show care and compassion towards every being and the Earth, if such a call goes unheeded, it may be that a shared connection is lost, buried in the depth of the Unconscious.  If “Consciousness is fundamentally that which reveals or makes manifest”***, it is not that few have a consciousness or even that there are different levels of consciousness but that there are various degrees of receptivity or sensitivity among the species. 

 

Geranium

Geranium

 

 

Reality is full of shadowy objects caught by the individual eye, which may or may not entail the imprint of an original thought.  Human consciousness evolves through the education of senses and the ability to receive and store information.   Our intent to respond to external and internal stimuli drives its evolutionary nature. As time goes by, human consciousness adds more pieces to the puzzle, one encounter at a time. It lifts the veil of the unknown, expands its horizons, moves to a higher vantage point, away from Earth, beyond physical reach, leaps forward away from the Moon, and escapes from the confinement of the solar system to flee from itself. Distances are everything. They provide clear evidence of the Earth-bound nature of human existence

 

Trillium

Trillium

 

In our eagerness to look beyond,  the instruments we use helped to increase exponentially our insignificant extension in space. To the edge of the solar system, Pluto is now closer to its aphelion point about 1.8 billion miles away from its perihelion. With Triton, Neptune’s Moon, it is thought to have originated in the outer protoplanetary nebula. Many objects beyond the dwarf planet, and Pluto itself, share an orbital resonance with Neptune.  I wonder what, if any, alien life forms would swim and leap in ammonia-rich waters under the cold and rigid ice shell. The existence of a subsurface ocean may explain the large and apparently young normal faults and the putative “cryovolcanic” features observed on Pluto’s surface. 

Pluto Majestic Mountains, Frozen Plains and Foggy Hazes (NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)

Pluto Majestic Mountains, Frozen Plains and Foggy Hazes (NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)

 

If cosmic consciousness were the overstory that stands above the canopy of the Universe, it would be coextensive with the Universe. Although hindered in its free flow by an army of armors, shells, and layers,  it would fill the Universe. Caught in the canvas of spacetime, it would communicate in an incoherent language, slipping by unnoticed from the first galaxies to black holes, passing through everywhere. The nagging question here is whether human consciousness is just one of the forms that it has taken over time or whether they constantly come upon each other.  

 

Cosmic consciousness is what binds us with the rest of the Universe. It represents the awareness of this interconnectedness of all people and matter existing in the past, present, and future. In a sense, it is a relational concept fed over time by all the different tracks that every object and every being leaves through the Universe, a collective manifestation of an absolute, impersonal consciousness that may well be transcendentally understandable. For a cognitive revolution to happen, there needs to be a collective awareness that there is something transcendental about the human species.

 

After all, it may be that cosmic consciousness is a conscious choice which casual or fateful encounters in one’s life lead us to make, such as the kindred spirits referred to by Elihu Vedder or the flower seed written about by Zen masters. The study of Walt Whitman’s poetry collection Leaves of Grass was the trigger for Edward Carpenter’s awakening. Cosmic consciousness defines a sense of belonging, a sense of responsibility that we share towards the lands we live on, the Earth, and the Universe. That sense of responsibility and the attachment to Earth and the Universe may be hampered by the extent of our own ignorance.

 

 

Initially, if I came to China,  it was to pass on the teaching and save sentient beings like a flower opening its five petals, whose fruit would ripen naturally. (Bodhidharma)

Because initially there was the soil, from the seed of this Earth was born a flower. If, in the beginning, there was no Earth, where would the flower come from? (Huike)

Although the seed of the flower depends on the soil, it was above ground that the flower was born from the seed. If this flower seed was devoid of its productive nature, there would not be birth on this Earth. (Sengcan)

The seed of the flower was endowed with a productive nature. Thanks to the Earth, the flower was born from the seed. If the previous causes had not been harmoniously combined, of all things, none would have been born. (Daoxin)

A sentient being came to sow a seed, then was born an insensitive flower. If the being had been insensitive and devoid of seed, the spiritual land would not have produced anything either. (Hongren)

White Oak

White Oak

 

 *Peter Godfrey-Smith, Other Minds 

**Stefan Wurm, The Human Condition  

***Evan Thompson, Waking, Dreaming, Being

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Poetry and solitude

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

I am not solitary whilst I read and write, though nobody is with me.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

 

Solitude is sometimes sought after to find peace of mind after becoming disillusioned or to forget our pain. Whether they be Chinese poets Tao Qian 陶潜 and Wang Wei 王维, Japanese artist-monk Fūgai Ekun, German biologist Haeckel and writers Goethe and Thoreau, “forced” or willful solitude resembles more of a nature retreat than a secluded niche in a city dwelling.  To those who may feel the burden of loneliness and regard it as “deadly banishment”, Thoreau’s words may help to alleviate it. As only poets do, he reminds us that the Sun, the Moon, and the starry night are lonely souls too. 

I am no more lonely than the loon in the pond that laughs so loud, or than Walden Pond itself. What company has that lonely lake, I pray? And yet it has not the blue devils, but the blue angels in it, in the azure tint of its waters. The sun is alone, except in thick weather, when there sometimes appear to be two, but one is a mock sun... I am no more lonely than a single mullein or dandelion in a pasture, or a bean leaf, or sorrel, or a horse-fly, or a bumble-bee. I am no more lonely than the Mill Brook, or a weathercock, or the north star, or the south wind, or an April shower, or a January thaw, or the first spider in a new house

Henry David Thoreau

It may well be that we do not submit to being alone and wish to identify ourselves with our surroundings. So let’s remember that we are no more lonely than survivor trees in a city made with concrete and cement. No more lonely than a nautilus swimming in the Pacific Ocean, whose lineage has been able to survive throughout millions of years of environmental changes. No more lonely than an island surrounded by an empty body of water.  No more lonely than our tiny blue planet watched over by the Moon. No more lonely than the rings of Saturn made of orbiting particles of ice and dust and currently tilted towards Earth.  No more lonely than the Sun stripped of its siblings. No more lonely than galaxies separated by the intergalactic medium. No more lonely than the flickering black hole GSN 069 swallowing mass from a star captured into its orbit. No more lonely than the asteroid named Ka‘epaoka‘awela, one of the high-inclination Centaurs whose origin is foreign. Based on simulations of its evolution, the retrograde co-orbital asteroid was probably an early capture from the interstellar medium. We are no more lonely than free-floating objects in interstellar space like Oumuamua and the interstellar comet 21/Borisov which had crossed over to our side of the galaxy.

 

NASA, ESA, A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center), and M.H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley); CC BY 4.0

NASA, ESA, A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center), and M.H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley); CC BY 4.0

The eternal silence of these infinite spaces frightens me

Blaise Pascal

 

We wonder whether the Universe, too, is alone the same way mankind is, and reflect on the uniqueness of life in the emptiness of the Universe. It is not being alone in the Universe that makes us feel uneasy but what comes with it: silence, distances, darkness, and voids, including the largest supervoid -- 1.8 billion light-years wide -- in the Eridanus Constellation. Our limited physical abilities make it so that we can’t hear the sound of gravitational waves with a naked ear and we can’t see beyond the brightest stars with a naked eye. We can’t cross either cosmic distances that separate us from the closest star. Those circumstances emphasize the significance of the Earth-bound nature of human existence

 

As humans are drawn together, so too is matter. It tends to coalesce into nebulae, galaxies, clusters, and filaments as if particles of matter could not bear to have anything to do with the expanding emptiness around. Would we be alone if we lived on one of the seven planets of the Trappist-1 system,  free to hop from one planet to the next?  Could there be poets living on one of them who would describe a lake like a planet’s eye with fluviatile trees for slender eyelashes and wooded hills and cliffs for overhanging brows?  Is there such a lake or a crater left by one of them? Is there somewhere else in the Universe a poet seating next to a pond sending echoes to the Universe? Would we be alone if Everett’s many-worlds image would mean that the splitting “worlds” must be regarded as distinct objects? When tackling the whys and hows of the tragic sense of loneliness, the feeling of isolation from each other and from the rest of the Universe, are our emotions in the way or is our level of reasoning insufficient to dispel that illusion as much as it is with the illusion of time?  

 

But the intergalactic medium is not empty. It is just different, filled with dust, gas, low-density plasma, and floating debris from cataclysmic battles. Waters surrounding an island are not empty either. They are just different, filled with aquatic animals and plants.  There is no solitude when billions of raindrops wash over us, when winds blow through billions of leaves, when birds are chirping in symphony and when memories are flowing through our head.  What matters is not whether we are alone but what function each one of us has and our relationship with the rest of the Universe. Solitary comets are carriers of organic material and prebiotic chemicals. 21/Borisov reportedly contains significantly more CO than H2O gas, with abundances of at least 173%, more than three times higher than previously measured for any comet in the inner solar system.

 

 Loneliness is sometimes a burden for the one who hears a different drummer, who, even if in vain, wishes to see beyond illusions, find the meaning of life, and define the art of being. And it may be that I would rather be a passing comet than a grain in tightly packed sand dunes on Titan or a particle in the Orion Molecular Cloud. Solitude is a necessary time that allows me to attend to my inner child who once was captivated by an illustrated book on Copernicus and a French translation of Daode Jing 道德经. 

 

 

... a fool sees a familiar face in the eccentricity of a comet not bound by the normalcy of life on a planet orbiting the Sun.

Catherine Toulsaly

To go into solitude”, Emerson writes, “a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society”. “But if a man would be alone,” he adds, “let him look at the stars”.  So let’s touch the stars for a moment even if it is with our eyes closed. Let's not become Lamartine for whom nature beauties became vain objects devoid of all charm and grace to the point that he didn't feel anything in common with the Earth. Let’s not carry in our heart a soul so indifferent that it can not be moved. Let’s not lament the past with a “reverted eye” or “stand on tiptoe to foresee the future”. 

 

The white-throated sparrow left a week ago, signaling the coming of warmer days. Its captivating tone is replaced by the beautiful call of the song sparrow. Dozens of white oak sprouts have grown over time where century-old oak trees used to spread their arms before they became casualties of ozone pollution. The ruby-throated hummingbird will return soon as I, too, will go back to Glenstone at the foot of the three stone houses to hear the stream burbling and listen to the Universe breathe.

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Poetry and Emotion

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

Michael Heizer, Collapse

Michael Heizer, Collapse

In bed asleep, while they do dream things true

Shakespeare

 

April here in the US is National Poetry Month. It is also in the same month that Shakespeare was born and died. There are writers and artists, poets and philosophers, civil rights activists, and scientists whose words inspire me. I am blown away by the depth of insight they demonstrate and can’t help but want to bring my own perspective.  Through time and space, they are the kindred spirits who haunt my memory. My words are neither to the level of Baudelaire's nor to those by Shakespeare. They are neither poetry nor literature. They are pieces, fragments of thought, breadcrumbs on a trail, sparks of faint light guiding my steps, voices in my head. “Poetry,” Carlo Rovelli writes, “is another science’s deepest roots: the capacity to see beyond the visible” (1). I dreamt a dream in which there were more things in the Universe than seen in reality and conceived mentally

 

 

As some were inclined to do, I think of the Universe in a more abstract sense as if it were a product of our collective consciousness, as if it were only a dream on which the others are grafted. On a stage where dreams and reality mix, in a landscape made in the likeness of the Universe, I once imagined that black holes are memory loss, white holes are sources of bursting ideas, and nebulae are state of mental confusion that precedes clarity.  Heaping dream on dream, I wonder today where I can find the heart of the Universe,  the seat of its emotions, the depository of its soul. If I could uncover it, it sure would take me to the source of consciousness. 

 

Can one truly fathom the underpinning of the Universe, find the key to its workings, and solve the mystery of its evolution without emotion? Can Reason be the only one to explain its riddles? The flow of consciousness made of image and narrative is said to be embodied in poetry. A poet who ventures to say that reality is another kind of dream which we are utterly unaware of will not hesitate to go on this quest. Poets hear a different drummer. They are the channel through which the voice of the Universe can be heard. Following the path laid before me, from stuff dreams are made on to “star stuff” we are made of, stars are dreams and the heart of the Universe is an abstract concept with feeling attached. 

 

Indeed, if, as C.K. Williams writes, even the most abstract idea has a sort of feeling attached to it, and without that feeling, an idea has no resonance for us, no meaning, there can not be a universe without emotion. Our mind does not fully differentiate between emotion and reason. An observer looking over the Universe would experience an emotional reaction that may trigger an internal dialogue ruled by feelings and cognitive processes.  These emotions carry with them a steady stream of information that our brain dissects, digests, and renders analytically.

 

A scientist might understand the poet’s wish to find the heart of the Universe more literally as to locate a particular place and would respond without a doubt that there is no center in the Universe despite what some may have claimed until not too long ago that the Earth was the center. Yet, the abstract concept that I am talking about here isn’t located in any physical place. The heart of the Universe is what, I feel, Carlo Rovelli alluded to as the emotion of time in relation to us.

 

The emotion of time stirs the soul of the Universe, driving it forward. It grows, expands, becomes heavy,  goes up and down the spatial and gravitational scales. For us, emotions are patterns of instinctive behavior with a biological basis. For the Universe, they are basic mechanisms that give tints of light and hues of color to nebulae clouds, planetary soils, skies and oceans, feathers of birds. Fibers that make the fabric of the Universe become torn,  rushed through by the emotion of time, caught in the grip of existential anguish, the kind that I can’t help but think leaves a diffuse sense of “nobodyness” (2).

Double Negative Artwork

There is no object so foul,” Ralph Waldo Emerson writes,” that intense light will not make beautiful. And the stimulus it affords to the sense, and a sort of infinitude which it hath, like space and time, make all matter gay”. The emotion of time incites the Universe the will to persevere. It is a stimulus that brings to being its own physical sensations.  It may not manifest the way human emotions do when we hunch our back, cross our arms,  arch our brows, raise our cheeks, wrinkle our nose bridge, press our lips, bulge our eyes. Its effects may be widespread and vary locally over the Universe.  

 

The emotion of time generates a surface agitation when a cosmic ray particle collides with a dust grain. Molecular chemistry occurs when cosmic rays interact with Earth’s atmosphere and planetary surface, consequently producing a cascade of secondary particles. It pops up to the surface of the Sun, where magnetic fields create dark-colored will-o'-the-wisps in plasma and energy flows. It generates cells’ growth on a planet’s surface. It stirs up upheavals from the depths of the Universe when powerful jets of ionized matter are spewed out by a supermassive black hole as if the original soul of the Universe were making a comeback. It produces multifaceted and widespread ripple effects through a network of invisible conduits that make its reappearance sudden in the fabric of the Universe as if it were dropped right there in the shape of events.

 

Concepts, words, and emotions blend together in my head. Henri Bergson talked about two kinds of emotion: one that generates and the other that is generated. The emotion of time, I believe, is both, one and the same. Although I am still uncertain what exactly generates it, I wonder whether primordial feelings motivated the Universe to act as a resonance chamber for the emotion of time. Who knows what reality would be like without the shadow of time cluttering our consciousness. The emotion of time, clumsy, awkward, is stuck in between, in the interactions we have with the Universe, at the helm of our fate.

 

 

Michael Heizer, Compression Line

Michael Heizer, Compression Line

It is not a speaking soul that the poet prides herself to possess but a listening soul that wishes to invite those who desire to listen to the turbulent emotions of the Universe, the pulsation of its heart, the murmur of its soul. Whether they be young Pascal, Thoreau, Shakespeare, Heizer, King, I wish they get it now and follow in the footsteps of the artist in the city of Kouroo.

 

There was an artist in the city of Kouroo who was disposed to strive after perfection. One day it came into his mind to make a staff. Having considered that in an imperfect work time is an ingredient, but into a perfect work time does not enter, he said to himself, It shall be perfect in all respects, though I should do nothing else in my life. He proceeded instantly to the forest for wood, being resolved that it should not be made of unsuitable material; and as he searched for and rejected stick after stick, his friends gradually deserted him, for they grew old in their works and died, but he grew not older by a moment. His singleness of purpose and resolution, and his elevated piety, endowed him, without his knowledge, with perennial youth. As he made no compromise with Time, Time kept out of his way, and only sighed at a distance because he could not overcome him. Before he had found a stock in all respects suitable the city of Kouroo was a hoary ruin, and he sat on one of its mounds to peel the stick. Before he had given it the proper shape the dynasty of the Candahars was at an end, and with the point of the stick he wrote the name of the last of that race in the sand, and then resumed his work. By the time he had smoothed and polished the staff Kalpa was no longer the pole-star; and ere he had put on the ferrule and the head adorned with precious stones, Brahma had awoke and slumbered many times. But why do I stay to mention these things? When the finishing stroke was put to his work, it suddenly expanded before the eyes of the astonished artist into the fairest of all the creations of Brahma. He had made a new system in making a staff, a world with full and fair proportions; in which, though the old cities and dynasties had passed away, fairer and more glorious ones had taken their places. And now he saw by the heap of shavings still fresh at his feet, that, for him and his work, the former lapse of time had been an illusion, and that no more time had elapsed than is required for a single scintillation from the brain of Brahma to fall on and inflame the tinder of a mortal brain. The material was pure, and his art was pure; how could the result be other than wonderful?

(Henry David Thoreau, Walden)

 

 

(1) Carlo Rovelli, The Order of Time

(2) Martin Luther King, Where do we go from here: Chaos or Community?

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A model of the Universe

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

The naturalist can never be its concept. Once it has become so, it is most likely an idealist. Sentiment, backward looking, attempting to collect what a constant collision has distributed to history; the natural idealist is what it means to be living-torn-apart.

Adam Staley Groves

 

Writing is for me an irrepressible and fragmented journey, the purpose of which is still a mystery. The process may involve picking up bread crumbs dropped along the way in the form of ideas or images. The trail won’t bring me back to where I started but where I can’t yet tell, places I don’t expect. The intertwined, curvy branches of the dead oak tree are whispering a pareidolic message in my ear. I see seeds of truth in a passing cloud, in mirroring rays of sunshine,  in petals of a blossoming redbud. Could a computational model of the Universe recreate the language spoken by nature, a massive siphonophore deep in the blue waters off the coast of Australia, bottlenose dolphins swimming downstream in the Chesapeake Bay, and the rainbows blown by whales? 

Cygnus Loop Nebula ( NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Cygnus Loop Nebula ( NASA/JPL-Caltech)

 

Visual encounters nurture my mind. From the blue Cygnus Loop Nebula to Wolfram’s spatial hypergraph, I see web-like monster structures drawn with three strokes crisscrossing each other endlessly as they create a causal chain of mazes and labyrinths in a seamless information flow through which causation drives the seen and unseen physical motion of an architectonic structure built on the principles of space, time and gravity. 

 

Structures in the Universe are entangled and organized from large scales to small ones.  The distribution of matter in space includes super-clusters, round-shaped galaxy clusters, long-shaped structures of matter named filaments, planar structures dubbed walls which are more extended than filaments, and have overall lower densities -- with some shorter filaments denser and brighter than longer ones -- and voids in between.

 

Computational representations of the Universe could, in theory, decipher the language used by the Universe. The spatial hypergraph may be described as “lines” connecting any number of points, not just one to another. In the constant flow of image and narrative running through my head, it reminds me of the structure of a symmetry group that repeats itself. The points of intersection are sequences of the film of events in spacetime. They embody the primary ontology of the Universe the same way those images and narratives embody the stream of my consciousness.

Spatial Hypergraph

Spatial Hypergraph

 

The Wolfram Physics Project is meant to add a new substrate in an attempt to fit all together existing knowledge about physics. It is intended to be an underlying theory of the whole universe, in perfect detail. The issue is precisely how challenging it would be to mirror every detail of the cosmos. A plethora of theories have spread seeds of truth in the past that computer scientists, mathematicians, and theoretical physicists are attempting to collect. Truth is a participative goal, a collaborative journey. Such an undertaking would benefit from inputs of previous and current simulations and computer models. 

 

Given the fact that most of the Universe is invisible and  95% of its contents consist of dark matter and dark energy, which we do not yet understand, I imagine that other projects such as the EDECS (Exploring Dark Energy through Cosmic Structures) could be of interest. 3-D models for sections of the Universe, such as the model for the Huygens Region of the Orion Nebula, could be combined to create a puzzle-like computational outline of the Universe. Other inputs to this collaboration could also be what we learned from simulations of early planetary migration in regard to our own solar system or models of the magnetic field of the Earth and the Sun.

 

We are learning that metal-enriched material ejected through galaxy formation roughly 10 billion years ago with a decrease toward present-day from supernovae and stellar feedback is deposited into the circumgalactic medium. In a paper last year entitled Voyage through the Hidden Physics of the Cosmic Web, Aurora Simionescu presented a new mission concept for a Cosmic Web Explorer expected to reach unprecedented X-ray sensitivity limits in order to gather data on the variabilities of gas and plasma conditions between, around and within galaxies, on specific measurements of metallicity and on the traceability of light and heavy elements. By measuring how far metals are spread, how many metals escape the halo of their host galaxy, and when this process occurs, and by determining the relative chemical composition between various light and heavy elements, we could in theory map out the chemical evolution of the Universe as a whole

Cosmic microwave background (JPL/ESA and the Planck Collaboration)

Cosmic microwave background (JPL/ESA and the Planck Collaboration)

 

Computational simulations bring me back to Franco Vazza and how he used comparisons to describe the evolution of gas in the cosmic web and estimated the total statistical complexity within the observable Universe. As I mentioned before, he stated that the combination of Information Theory and modern cosmological simulations makes it possible to tackle a challenging question such as the complexity of the Universe we live in. But the Universe, wrote Carlo Rovelli in his book The Order of Time,  is like a superposition of strata that influence and overlap each other. It is not just the flow of things -- gas and plasmas -- but the things that make those flows, their intrinsic complexity and wide range of densities, their granularity which allows them to manifest in the form of elementary particles or quanta. 

 

Those multiple flows within the flow -- streams of electrons, baryons, photons, and neutrinos -- make for the irregular, complex and dynamically evolving structure of spacetime. Deep into the interaction between gravitational and electromagnetic fields, within the texture of time and space and the web of a complex geometry are the things that all those superposed layers are made of.  A complete picture could only be achieved if all the variables are fed bit by bit into such a project.

 

A 2017 paper highlighted as well the need for magneto-hydrodynamical cosmological simulations and ultra-high energy cosmic rays simulations  in order to better understand turbulence, magnetic fields, and cosmic-ray evolution. Future radio observations will offer the chance to measure the magnetization at the outskirts of clusters and in filaments that connect them. Another paper on the current status of astrophysical and cosmological simulations of magnetic field amplification in structure formation addressed in 2018 the successes and limitations of numerical models for predictions of extragalactic magnetic fields.

Randomness has different antipodal relationships to determinism, computability, and compressibility. Factoring it into computational data remains extremely complex.  Nevertheless some give support to the idea that randomness comes as a result of our own ignorance and the limitations of our human condition. Based on a principle of computational equivalence and a deterministic approach to the theory of everything, a model of the Universe could in theory predict layers and layers of seemingly random events.  If one could run the model long enough, then it is intended to reproduce everything about the universe, Computer power, including quantum computing in the future, could crack a code that has been eluding us all along only if there is the necessary amount of computation required to do so. Indeterminacy is where the mystery still lies.

 

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