Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Merely a Flourish

What stairway to heaven?

What heaven?

We're all stardust and we need no up or down -- every thing, and I mean thing everywhere we're all one.

I've written about this before, and I've written about it just as poorly before, but Carlo Rovelli has given beautiful form to inchoate thoughts I've never been able (or capable of expressing). At the end of his wonderful little book, 7 Brief Lessons on Physics, he turns  to "Ourselves."

From his book, I highlighted this passage because I found it moving, and I believe it to be true:

"Within the immense ocean of galaxies and stars we are in a remote corner; amid the infinite arabesques of forms that constitute reality, we are merely a flourish among innumerably many such flourishes. The images that we construct of the universe live within us, in the space of our thoughts. Between these images— between what we can reconstruct and understand with our limited means— and the reality of which we are part, there exist countless filters: our ignorance, the limitations of our senses and of our intelligence. The very same conditions that our nature as subjects, and particular subjects, imposes upon experience.

"These conditions, nevertheless, are not, as Kant imagined, universal— deducing from this (with obvious error) that the nature of Euclidian space and even of Newtonian mechanics must therefore be true a priori. They are a posteriori to the mental evolution of our species and are in continuous evolution. We not only learn, but we also learn to gradually change our conceptual framework and to adapt it to what we learn. And what we are learning to recognize, albeit slowly and hesitantly, is the nature of the real world of which we are part. The images that we construct of the universe may live inside us, in conceptual space, but they also describe more or less well the real world to which we belong. We follow leads in order to better describe this world.

"When we talk about the big bang or the fabric of space, what we are doing is not a continuation of the free and fantastic stories that humans have told nightly around campfires for hundreds of thousands of years. It is the continuation of something else: of the gaze of those same men in the first light of day looking at tracks left by antelope in the dust of the savannah— scrutinizing and deducting from the details of reality in order to pursue something that we can’t see directly but can follow the traces of. In the awareness that we can always be wrong, and therefore ready at any moment to change direction if a new track appears; but knowing also that if we are good enough we will get it right and will find what we are seeking. This is the nature of science. 

"The confusion between these two diverse human activities— inventing stories and following traces in order to find something— is the origin of the incomprehension and distrust of science shown by a significant part of our contemporary culture. The separation is a subtle one: the antelope hunted at dawn is not far removed from the antelope deity in that night’s storytelling.

"The border is porous. Myths nourish science, and science nourishes myth. But the value of knowledge remains. If we find the antelope, we can eat.

"Our knowledge consequently reflects the world. It does this more or less well, but it reflects the world we inhabit. This communication between ourselves and the world is not what distinguishes us from the rest of nature. All things are continually interacting with one another, and in doing so each bears the traces of that with which it has interacted: and in this sense all things continuously exchange information about one another."

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