It was as if Mozart could move his body through his notes, and you could walk out on the porch, look up, and see him in periwig and breeches, flying around in the sky. You could hear the music as he dove through it; it streamed after him like a contrail.
In one of the Upanishads it says, when the glow of a sunset holds you and you say ‘Aha,’ that is the recognition of the divinity. And when you say ‘Aha’ to an art object, that is a recognition of divinity. And what divinity is it? It is your divinity, which is the only divinity there is. We are all phenomenal manifestations of a divine will to live, and that will and the consciousness of life is one in all of us, and that is what artwork expresses.
“If the multiverse idea is correct, then the historic mission of physics to explain all the properties of our universe in terms of fundamental principles–to explain why the properties of our universe must necessarily be what they are–is futile, a beautiful philosophical dream that simply isn’t true. Our universe is what it is because we are here. ”
Alan Lightman, “The Accidental Universe”
Astronomy week, when the class and I read two essays, one about the relationships of the sun, moon and Earth–and one human to another, and one about the aim of science to figure out who we are, why we came to be, is an exciting week for me.
I wax on about the mysteries of the universe, the idea of the multiverse, Big Bang, Intelligent Design, Newton and the Theory of Gravity, Darwin and the Theory of Evolution, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, ten or more dimensions of space, quantum theory, quarks, string theory, Inflation theory, dark energy and matter, the complete absence of a theory on how the human brain creates consciousness, and the overall pursuit of a fully coherent cosmos that adds up to us–what scientists had hoped to achieve through speculation, calculation and logic, beginning with observing natural laws, up til recent history when the Hubble deep field experiment revealed the probability of a multiverse.
The project to discover the cause and effect chain to everything had to be abandoned with thrown up arms, seemingly also abandoning the aims of the preceding thousands of years’ work. Alan Lightman writes about this interrupter known as the multiverse in “The Accidental Universe.” And when I ask students, who look at me as if I am on a 70’s psychedelic trip, what this all has to do with them, their reality right now, no one can answer–not even the ones who desperately want to answer something, anything.
Like history, the cosmos is just too far away. They cannot feel it, not even as a dream they may have had and can recall in that hazy sense of remembering a distorted reality deeply imprinted in another realm of consciousness.
“Not only must we accept that basic properties of our universe are accidental and uncalculable. In addition, we must believe in the existence of many other universes. But we have no conceivable way of observing these other universes and cannot prove their existence. Thus, to explain what we see in the world and in our mental deductions, we must believe in what we cannot prove.” Lightman
And so students interpret that faith in the unknown not as the spurs to discover what is out there but as the sigh of futility. It has so little to do with their immediate aims–surviving school, work and social media.
But it is human arrogance to require relevance to the human condition. Or that the multiverse is created in our own image, running round ourselves like the orbiting moon to Earth, Earth to the sun.
“The disposition of the universe–that crazy wheelwright–designates that we live on a wheel, with wheels for associates and wheels for luminaries, with days like wheels and years like wheels and shadows that wheel around us night and day; as if by turning and turning, things could come round right.” Amy Leach, “You Be the Moon”
I miss the eloquence, enthusiasm, sincerity and passion of this scientist to make the real imaginable and the imaginable real:
I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think interior decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves – Anna Quindlen
Over jack fruit tacos, fresh chips and salsa and pumpkin bisque, she repeats the urgency to me. “At my age, I feel I should be on some path. I thought I had one, but now I don’t know what to do.”
She is 20. Her eyes glimmer the sea’s green under the sun.
“Maybe you’re already on your path,” I offer. “Searching and yearning is a path you return to periodically throughout your life, I suspect, judging from my own. I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.”
She dips a chip, swivels and scoops the salsa to her mouth, chewing and thinking.
“No one gets how interesting it is that the same Aussie passes by the same spot outside the store each time I work.”
She’s off on a new topic, obviously.
“Or that the old dude with the baggy pants and dead cigar, who sits on the bench watching people go by is not creepy, just lonely. No one finds interesting the same things I do. No one even notices the same things I do. They just look at me blankly, like ‘I don’t get it.'”
Maybe she is not onto another topic after all, I think, and say to her, “You have the eyes and notice of a writer. Perhaps you should write.”
I smile inside at the thought–of her writing, of her at 20, and of her as my daughter. Her terrible beauty in striving splashes coolly recollected imagery over me of the shadow passion of a younger woman, far less stunning but more deeply driven. I too wanted to know my path back then, a college student looking for purpose and love and hating both, the need for either. I too was unable to see the road under my feet for my eyes focused farther down the way.
I mindlessly bring a chip to my lips and the crunching disrupts my musing. Watching her animated face, her lively expression full of open mouth laughter and wide eyed indignity at the passing observations, wishes and gripes she tosses out over half eaten tacos, I marvel at this bundle of gesticulations and well-spun tales of friends becoming strangers and strangers turned friends, this woman of my making with well-chosen words to help me see.
I see me and not me in her at 20. I only hope I was as engaging and fascinating a lunch date as she.
I really have no idea what that means, but after reading this wonderfully packaged quotation by someone I know not, I considered that my day actually did struggle with me for control.
I awoke at 4 a.m. with a total of four hours sleep, after which I suffered in bed awaiting daylight. When I finally surrendered to the day, I went off to teach my 7:20 a.m. class only to discover I left the pile of essays I corrected til midnight the night before, on my dresser. The absurdity of that condition annoyed me but did not throw me into despair as it might have on any other day. Notable.
After my husband graciously agreed to deliver the papers to me, all seemed to be righted again, like tipping the corner of a crooked picture. My two cups of coffee were sustaining my teaching mind, and class went fairly well considering it was an unusual day of mostly grammar lessons. That is not what occurs on any other day of the semester. I preside over a writing class full of students assumed to be competent writers (assumed, anyhow).
But then I went home to write an article with a three hour deadline that was already on extension. My tired brain could not muster up the 1500 words in three hours, and I was about to miss the deadline or ask for yet another extension when I realized I had already missed the deadline 12 hours before. Oh shit! But wait, the missed deadline was somehow overlooked as my project was not automatically terminated as it would be on this site. Oh shit! okay.
So I asked for another extension, not actually caring whether I got it or not, pretty zen about it, and made my way to the DMV appointment to replace my lost license, expecting at least a couple hour wait. No sweat, since I had yet another batch of essays to correct for the next morning’s class with me. Amazingly, however, I filled out my application for my license, handed it to the gentleman behind the government issue desk, who promptly handed me a number I glanced at just as I heard that same number called to window 21. Wtf? Could it be? I completed my entire transaction in less than 9 minutes, a first in my five and a half decades.
Then I worked my third job of the day, dreading the drudgery of holding up on my feet on four hours’ sleep until 11 p.m., ending a 19 hour day. But a surprise impromptu training session arose, and time swallowed up my shift with me none the wiser, even as I glanced at my phone every half hour waiting for it to be over.
Days are like that occasionally, pushing and pulling me along with fortunate and unfortunate events, or good turns from bad ones back into bad, then good again. Kind of like today. And all the while, I took it all pretty well, rather evenly, notable in itself.
I think the above quote by the person about whom I am not curious enough to Google, should read, “Sometimes the day runs you and you run the day too.”
“I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth.”
― Umberto Eco, Foucault’s Pendulum
I first learned of Eco after reading The Name of the Rose in graduate school, though I cannot remember whether it was the first round in 89 or the second in 2003. I saw the movie of the same name and cannot remember whether I saw it before reading the book or vice versa. I do know I enjoyed both immensely, so much so that I read a second book, the one from which the above quote comes, which I also enjoyed, though I believed that the text was far more about the title namesake than it was before reading it. I had read Michel Foucault, who I found as intriguing as mystifying, so naturally was drawn to the title.
The text, like all Eco works, is complex and dense with plot and erudite history, lore and textual references–not your read on the beach in paradise. Eco demands you grapple. And while many details of both books I read are long forgotten, the words and specific scenes remain etched in the beautiful keepsakes section of my brain.
Like many faithful readers, I seek treasure–that unique turn of phrase or universal truth that hangs with me, bubbled to the surface when I need a lift, a reason or insight. Countless times the belief in mystery became and becomes my mantra. Some people often sigh, “It’s God’s will” when at a loss to explain the inexplicable and I just as often say, “Bow to the mystery.” Though both signal surrender, one does far less resignedly.
That the “world is an enigma” satisfies, becalms and relieves humans of the burden of making sense of chaos and that which we cannot understand due to the size of our brains, undiscovered truths or components necessary to solving riddles, or both–or neither. That we madly “attempt to interpret” the world smacks of vanity or fruitlessness but not necessarily. Human’s drive to know, to understand and control is itself an enigma, one with benign origins though sometimes malignant intent or results.
This quote counters another oft-pronounced snippet pulled out of pocket at the cause-effect chain’s logical end with no solution: “Everything happens for a reason.” Eco obviously disagreed and wrote legions against that idea, wracking ordered plots with disordered interferences from magic, evil intent, human contaminants and other messy interlocutors, all in historically altered (small and large) and imagined context.
One thinker, writer and human I mourn, Umberto Eco died yesterday, a significant loss or gain for the mystery.
My readings have brought me these impressive quotations this week that emphasize keen observable presence in the art of creation, whether in relationships, literature, science or art:
“You need to get a long ways away from people before you can learn to listen properly.” Patrick Rothfuss, The Wise Man’s Fear.
“People want to weep. Pathos in the form of a narrative does not wear out.” Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others.
“Metaphor is a property of language that gives boundaries to worlds and helps scientists using real languages to push against these bounds.” Donna Jeanne Haraway, Crystal, Fabrics, and Field: Metaphors that Shape Embryos.
“Monet, a simple man with a child’s outlook on life, and no formal academic training, had seized upon a great truth about time before anyone else: An object must have duration besides three extensions in space. Monet did not write down any theories or express one as an equation; rather he illuminated this truth in the limpid colors of his silent images.” Leonard Shlain, Art & Physics: Parallel Visions in Space, Time, and Light.