All posts tagged as cosmology

17 Apr

Art, Faith, and Discovery

In Essays by poeticinterconnections / April 17, 2010 / 8 Comments

I recently found this quote by Albert Camus, author of the literary classic The Stranger: "A man’s work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened."

Camus’ sentiment is lovely, describing the creative process as a journey back to the feeling of aesthetic awakening. The idea reminds me of one of my favorite passages written by Jewish mystic Abraham Joshua Heschel, redefining faith:

In every man’s life there are moments when there is a lifting of the veil at the horizon of the known, opening a sight of the eternal… The remembrance of that experience and the loyalty to the response of that moment are the forces that sustain our faith. In this sense, faith is faithfulness, loyalty to an event, loyalty to our response.

Every world religion describes a state of original bliss from which we’ve fallen, and each promises a path to reclaim that feeling. It seems to me that Camus and Heschel are both riffing on this theme. Camus’ trek is the pursuit of art; Heschel’s path is the practice of memory.

Science offers its own variation on this theme. The Large Hadron Collider at CERN was built to crash beams of subatomic particles together at near light speeds, attempting to recreate the energy levels exhibited by our universe just after the Big Bang. At these energy levels, the four fundamental forces—gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces—may have been fused into a single, symmetric "superforce." Physicists think it was only as our universe cooled that this force’s symmetry broke, allowing the distinct forces we’ve since discovered to separate and clarify.

The symmetric state in which our universe’s forces were unified is an interesting analogue to Camus’ heart-opening images and Heschel’s "lifting of the veil". Our cosmos was newborn, energetic, and rich with potential. It’s no wonder physicists are driven to recreate the situation; the possibilities for discovery are thrilling!


Large Hadron Collider at CERN


We all have perennial experiences that shake us awake, stir us with grandeur, and change us forever. We become seekers the rest of our lives, always trying to get back to the perfection of those first revelations.

Mine was musical: "The Warmth of the Sun" by The Beach Boys. Brian Wilson’s falsetto floating above his family’s rich harmonies has influenced everything I’ve created since. I’m always trying to reproduce the lush beauty of that recording and how it made me feel, whether I’m recording music, writing prose, or designing visual art.

What was your first revelation?

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20 Mar

From Zero to Infinity

In News by poeticinterconnections / March 20, 2010 / 30 Comments

Last week I was honored and thrilled to introduce my Spirituality, Science, and the Creative Process students to two stellar visual artists from Los Angeles, CA: Victor Raphael and Clayton Spada.

Generously donating their time, Victor and Clayton came to class to show and discuss their ongoing collaborative series, "From Zero to Infinity". All these artworks juxtapose spiritual and scientific images in a beautiful, resonant way. To me, they’re poetic interconnections rendered visually.

I’m an unabashed fan.

My students were also excited by the series, encouraging me to introduce you to "From Zero to Infinity". Here are a few of the artworks:



This piece is called Genesis. The scripture is from the first chapter of the Torah, detailing God’s creation of the physical world. The lines and swirls interlaced with the Hebrew text are bubble chamber tracks: images of elementary particles being created in high-speed collisions. To me, the artwork is a meditation on creation at its most fundamental, unitive level.



This piece is called Odyssey. It layers images of ancient cave paintings with equations handwritten by Albert Einstein, commenting on the evolving ways humans have communicated their conceptions about the nature of their world throughout the ages.



Finally, this piece is called Emanations. It features the Japanese Goddess Quanwon, whose energy field is thought to bring health and happiness to her worshippers. Juxtaposed is an artistic depiction of the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation—the sea of energy pervading our universe, left over from the Big Bang.

"From Zero to Infinity" was on display at USC’s Doheny Memorial Library this past fall. To see more prints from the series, please visit Victor’s website and/or the USC Libraries webpage for the exhibit.

And if these artworks enchant you as they’ve enchanted me, please spread the word about them! Forward this blog post to anyone you know who might be equally captivated.

My sincere thanks to Victor Raphael and Clayton Spada for their time, their art, and their vision.

Comments, of course, welcome…

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25 Aug

Starlight and Sufism

In Essays by poeticinterconnections / August 25, 2009 / 2 Comments

Today’s poetic interconnection between spirituality and science begins with a deceptively simple question: Why is the sky dark at night?

Ask most people this question and their immediate answer will be this: because the sun has gone down. But what about all the other stars in the sky? Rays from our sun are not the only starlight we receive. With countless other stars in space shining at us, seemingly infinite sources of light, why isn’t our sky eternally bright even when the sun is hidden from our side of the planet?

The dilemma is known as Olbers’ Paradox, and it rests upon a centuries-old assumption held by astronomers that our universe is infinite and static. This assumption originated with Judeo-Christian religion, which teaches that at a specific point in history, God created the cosmos exactly as we experience it: endless and unchanging. In such a universe, the light of innumerable fixed stars should saturate empty space, overwhelming all darkness.

While the lyricism of this idea is charming, the reality is less so: a wholly illuminated cosmos would be too bright and hot to sustain life. We could not exist to worship a God that created an endless, unchanging world full of stars.

Fortunately, the assumption that our universe is infinite and static is incorrect. Our most current science now theorizes that our universe was born in a specific and spectacular Big Bang and has been expanding ever since. The constant stretching out of space means that distances between stars are always growing. Aeons after our origins, enough stars are now sufficiently old and far from one another that their total light cannot overwhelm the cosmos.

Becoming overwhelmed by light is, of course, a common metaphor in religious mysticisms. The surrendering of individual ego to the infinity of God is often referred to as a great burning, an annihilation in light. Buddhists call this annihilation nirvana. Sufis, Muslim mystics, call it fana. It is a condition into which monks and dervishes dissolve totally, willingly, and ecstatically.

The idea of dissolution in light also figures prominently in Sufi cosmology, the Islamic mystical explanation of the origin and nature of our universe. But here, the concept is treated in an opposite way: the divine luminescence that is so desirable spiritually is considered dangerous physically. Accordingly, outer space becomes a beneficent veil (hijab) hiding Allah from humankind so that we might live without smoldering in the intensity of His divine light.

Consider this ancient Tradition, quoted in a wonderful book by Toshihiko Izutsu called Sufism and Taoism: A Comparative Study of Key Philosophical Concepts:

God hides Himself behind seventy thousand veils of… darkness. If He took away these veils, the fulgurating lights of His face would at once destroy the sight of any creature who dared to look at it.

I read this Islamic Tradition and I wonder, whimsically… Are God’s veils in this passage equivalent to the blackness of space? Can the “fulgurating lights of His face” be likened to all the fixed stars that would overwhelm the sky with their brilliance if the universe wasn’t ever-expanding?

Once again, has science only recently discovered a truth about reality that spirituality intuited long before?

Comments, as always, welcome.

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22 Jul

Pillars of Creation

In Essays by poeticinterconnections / July 22, 2009 / 3 Comments

One of this blog’s first posts, Indra’s Net and the IGM, described a surprising correspondence between Mahayana Buddhist myth and actual findings in cutting-edge cosmology—the branch of physics exploring the creation of our universe. The post ended with this question: What happens when metaphors become measurables?

Subsequent posts have also explored the implications of modern science seeming to agree with ancient spirituality. Are these simply poetic interconnections, or might creative intuition deserve the same practical respect we give objective observation in decoding our world?

Today I found a particularly enchanting example of this question:

In Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, God is described as having 10 characteristics. These characteristics are called sefirot—Hebrew for ‘jewels’. The sefirot are arranged in three vertical pillars, as illustrated in this diagram, courtesy of Sunrise magazine:


As indicated in the diagram, the three pillars have names: Mercy, Judgment, and Harmony. In creation, these become stations through which God’s generative energy travels as it descends from heaven to Earth. Helping along the miraculous transformation from pure spirit to physical matter, each pillar contributes the quality for which it’s named. The resulting creation is thus balanced and complete: mercy and judgment, harmonized.

The pillars can be thought of as factories, using divine light as their raw material, producing and refining everything we see and touch.

Contemporary cosmology also offers an explanation for how creation occurs, and it also involves factories of sorts—in this case, stars.

Stars are made of highly pressurized clouds of hydrogen gas and galactic dust. As a star forms, its hydrogen atoms collide, fusing into helium. The helium atoms then collide, fusing into carbon and oxygen. A cascade of collisions and fusions continues, as elements combine to form heavier elements, and heavier elements, etc. Eventually the weight and energy of all these chemical elements cause a star to become so pressurized it explodes, blasting the elements it’s created deep into space, where they eventually coalesce into new stars, planets, and people.

In 1745 a Frenchman named Jean-Philippe de Cheseaux discovered a cluster of faraway stars, now called the Eagle Nebula. In 1995 the Hubble Space Telescope photographed a region of the nebula in which densely packed interstellar gas and dust has formed three vertical columns. These columns are particularly fertile star factories. They’re popularly called “Pillars of Creation”.

Here’s the famous photo, courtesy of Wikipedia:


So… Kabbalah mythologizes three columns of sefirot that process divine light into physical matter, and cosmology discovers three “Pillars of Creation” that birth stars and all the chemical elements they engender.

The question again: What happens when metaphors become measurables?

Comments welcome.

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26 Oct

Indra’s Net and the IGM

In Essays by poeticinterconnections / October 26, 2008 / 44 Comments

I love religious mythology—its poetry and its gravity.

One of my favorites is the Chinese Hua Yan Buddhist myth of Indra’s net. This tale tells of a wonderful net hung in the heavenly palace of the Vedic God Indra. In every eye of the net, everywhere its threads cross each other, a perfectly round and reflective jewel is sewn. Indra’s palace is infinite in expanse, and so the net is similarly infinite, and its jewels are therefore infinite in number. Even more remarkable, though—the net is hung in such a precise way that every jewel reflects every other jewel in the lattice! The effect of this arrangement is awesome: Each jewel reveals and, so, in a sense, contains every other. Altering or removing any individual one changes the entire system of reflections—every other jewel is affected. A natural holism is thus co-created. And the arrangement is completely egalitarian, lacking any hierarchical structure—no start or end points, causes or effects are discernable. Indra’s net simply is.

Hua Yan Buddhists believe Indra’s net is analogous to the true structure and nature of reality.

Both the image and its philosophical implications resonate: Everything is connected. We’re all interdependent. Nothing exists in isolation. And we’re all equally vital.

Recently I was browsing headlines at a cool website called Science Impossible and found a link to a National Geographic article about the IGM—the intergalactic medium. Fascinated by cutting-edge cosmology, I read eagerly. Here are the first two paragraphs of the story:

Much of the missing “normal” matter in the cosmos has been found clustered around wispy ropes of invisible matter spanning the space between galaxies.

The filaments form part of the vast weblike superstructure of the universe, within which galaxies are embedded like sparkling sequins.

The quote’s italics are mine, added to indicate the place in the article where my jaw keeps dropping—this online science story seems to be painting a similar picture of the structure of our universe to that of Indra’s net!

The parallel is beautiful to me. It’s also compelling: scientific observation according with religious intuition.

What happens when metaphors become measurables? For me, wonder increases and life becomes more mystical.

What happens for you? Comments welcome.

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