Sunday, June 05, 2005

My Reality

"Any path is only a path, and there is no affront, to oneself or to others, in dropping it if that is what your heart tells you……Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try is as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself, and yourself alone, one question……Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn't it is of no use." - Carlos Casteneda, The Teachings of Don Juan.

This has resided in my mind, in my heart, for most of my adult life. Not only to guide me in my personal life, but also in life in general. To help resolve the factual with the unsolvable, the real with the abstract, the pragmatic with the ideal. It was my early exploration into the duality of reality, the physical and the metaphysical that allowed me to accept that a balance between the two is possible. And indeed does exist. In each of us, in our 'own' Reality. How could I harmoniously position the physical and submicroscopic world with its hard realities of chemical interactions, mindless particles of matter which we all share, animate and inanimate, in relation with the world of thought processes that transcends time, lacking substance, intuition married with future projection, love of a mate or a baby, sadness that feels like we will break apart inside, overwhelming joy at the sight of colored canyons, hate that buries our reason, even the stealth of a wolf as it stalks it prey?

My exploration began with a dear friend: Albert Einstein. Here was a social misfit, who did not like to wear socks or comb his hair, failed miserably in school, yet presented humankind with the Theory of Relativity. Even he never fully understood or appreciated what he gave us. In fact, he renounced his Theory later in life. Too late, my friend. You penciled in the abstract, condensed the confusion into a simple yet vastly complex formula, representing not only the hard material and abstract world but also the balance between those of the material and immaterial. It was with he that my journey began and forced me, all of us, to see the world with a very different perspective.

I realized in my journey that the parallels between physics and mysticism are too striking to lightly dismiss. The most obvious are recounted in two books written by a German physicist, Fritjof Capra. The preface of his book The Tao of Physics recounts the moment of enlightenment when he discovered that the world is more, and less, than vibrating molecules and atoms. What struck me was that my own enlightenment was similar, except mine was aided by the hand of a hallucinogen, mescaline.

My journey took many paths. Along the way I was guided by Taoism, Zen, the great philosophers, the poets, the composers, and even the neuroscientists, and discussions with others lasting long into the night. Reading and discussing Casteneda, Einstein, Whitman, Whitehead, Ramachandran, and even the Bible. Humans by their nature are an inquisitive species, searching and probing. Many of us may be on a never-ending quest for the elusive 'truth', or the meaning of life, a purpose for our being. I suspect this is the function of religion and why it has persisted down through our civilization; it fulfills that quest for many.

But there is no 'truth', no 'meaning', no 'purpose'. We just 'are.' Just as there is no purpose in the ordered and random collision of atoms, the pulses of chemical reactions that we see and that are us, the ordered creation and destruction of particles of energy, there is no purpose in our existence. We are who we are, existing and occupying a small segment in space and time, interacting with other segments occupied by other humans and creatures and substances, segments that overlap and intertwine, fade in and fade out.

Although we as reasoning creatures tend to egocentrically place our selves as the focal point in the Great Chain of Being, we are but sand in the expanse of time, itself a human construct which enables us to comprehend our existence. We are multidimensional, overlapping, dynamic, constantly moving and interacting with other boxes of being. We are Venn ‘boxes’.

Thus the analytical and critical part of me made peace with the spiritual and mystical part of me to become one. It was this peace and marriage between the two that enhanced my perspective as a scientist and an interactive human being. The parallel paths of science, both physics and biology, and many of our philosophies provide us with a framework to understand our world, our existence and each other. This is especially apparent in Eastern religions, which Fritjof beautifully describes in his books. However, even the Indians of North America realized this in their own religion and lives. This is illustrated in the writings of Casteneda, Peter Matthiason (The Snow Leopard) and John Gneisenau Niehardt (Black Elk Speaks).

Unlike many partaking this quest throughout their lifetime only to be tormented by no resolution, such as Nietzsche, I embraced the harmonious complexity many years ago and continue to travel that path. Nor is that path stable; it is dynamic, constantly shifting, challenging my beliefs with new questions and dangling explanations. It is my 'awakening from a dogmatic slumber' (Kant).

This theme of realities is present in the posts on this blog. This is but one reality among many.

"A relativistic view of time is adopted so that an instantaneous moment of time is nothing else than an instantaneous and simultaneous spread of the events of the universe. But in the concept of instantaneousness, the concept of the passage of time has been lost. Events essentially involved this passage." (Alfred North Whitehead, Principle of Relativity)

This is my path of science and metaphysics, this is my Reality. Welcome to it.