Thursday, September 1, 2011

#95. Science's Best: Matter, Time and Space



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In this home stretch of my blog efforts it seems like a good idea to share some thoughts about Science's Best to parallel the thoughts in my previous post, #94, about Religion "At Its Best."


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Just as the Western religious tradition has come a long way in the 20th century, so has science.

When I started working as a science teacher back in 1959, the popular image of a scientist, for example, was still very much that of the "mad scientist" from the movies of the 50's. (If you're too young to remember, he was seeking to take over the world-- with the help of his hunchback assistant, Igor.) Even at its best in those days, what "science" meant for most people was kids launching rockets in back of the high school.

I have a more personal example, from a decade earlier. When I was in my last month of eighth grade and signing up for high school courses, I was given the choice of one elective: either Latin or science. It wasn't much of a choice for me; it felt like choosing between the past or the future, the old or the new. I think I was the only one in the class who elected to take science instead of Latin; my eighth grade teacher did not approve.

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But science itself-- not just the popular view of it-- has come a long way in the last sixty or seventy years. While religion was working its way out of its old Medieval worldview during the 20th century, science was working its way up from its position on the bottom rung of the Great Ladder of Beings.

I've used the Great Ladder image frequently in these posts; I first became aware of it in Ken Wilbur's book, The Marriage of Sense and Soul: Integrating Science and Religion (Random House, 1998).

I know that "ladder" isn't a helpful image for everyone. Another image, which works better for many, is to say that science is learning to "look more deeply into things." John Haught's book, Deeper Than Darwin (Westview Press, 2003), is an excellent example of that imagery.

But while "higher" and "deeper" are good images, what works best for me is the mandala. With its simultaneous attention to all four directions-- considering them all to be of equal importance-- it is an image of our own four-fold "looking" process itself.

I don't need to remind long-time readers that I've referred repeatedly in these posts to this quaternary understanding of consciousness. The main idea is that our minds have a four-fold way of operating and that if we use only one or two of those ways, our experience and awareness of the world is severely limited.

We miss a lot, for example, if we focus only on facts and logic-- as Western culture has done in recent centuries.

We owe the modern expression of the quaternary understanding of human awareness to the depth psychologist C. G. Jung, but older expressions of it are found in many non-patriarchal traditions. The rituals of Wicca and the animal images on the Native American Medicine Wheel are good examples; so are the sacred sand paintings of Tibet and the numerous mandalas found on the walls of temples and homes in India.

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These are all expressions of the four-fold view of the human mind. Using Jungian words, I can summarize it briefly. I wouldn't repeat these ideas again here-- except for the fact that I think the quaternary understanding of our conscious awareness is an especially helpful tool to use for appreciating "Science's Best."

My brief sum: We experience the details of the world via Sensing, the relationships between parts of the world via Feeling, the cause-and-effect sequence of things via Thinking, and we see the whole picture-- without getting lost in the details-- via Intuition.

Western culture, unfortunately, got lost in the details. Patriarchy ignores the big picture of how all thing are inter-related and focuses only on the cause-and-effect connections between the details. So if we understand the world exclusively by our functions of Sensing and Thinking we have only a materialistic view. And from that perspective the world looks like a machine; for a while it was even called the "clockwork universe."

Science wasn't always mechanistic and materialistic, however. When early scientists such as Galileo, Copernicus and Newton began their work, their intention was not only to give us a more accurate picture of the world, but also to improve human life. And at that, science has been extremely successful.

But, as patriarchal attitudes took over in science-- just as they did in religion-- the Earth became seriously damaged and its peoples horribly exploited. The result was today's political, economic and environmental crisis.

This global crisis is only gradually dawning on the people of the Earth as we slowly come to have a bigger picture. But as we better understand how our minds work-- as we learn to look more deeply into things or to see our world from higher up than the bottom rung of the Great Ladder-- we are in fact moving away from the patriarchal attitudes of the past.

And just as religion has been working its way out of its dualistic and static perspectives, so contemporary science has moved far beyond its materialistic and mechanistic views.

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In my previous post I offered three Greek words which, in addition to evolution, help us to see the Western religious tradition at its best: eschaton, eucharist and ecclesia.

I don't need Greek words to describe Science's Best. We have four English words, familiar to everyone, which work fine: time, space, matter and energy.

You may be thinking that those terms seem a bit too basic to be helpful. 

But I can say from my experience that once we see how well they serve as tags for the ways our minds work, they become as enriching for our understanding of the modern scientific worldview as are evolution, eschaton, eucharist and ecclesia for a contemporary understanding of religion.

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The connections between those four words-- time, space, matter and energy-- and the four functions of our conscious minds-- Thinking, Feeling, Sensing and Intuition-- are not obvious, to be sure. In everyday life we hardly ever associate time with the Thinking function or space with our Feeling function, but some examples can help to make those connections clearer.

We use space-related terms like "near" and "next to" or "far" and "distant" when we want to express our Feeling-function awareness of the connections between ourselves and others. Saying "I feel close to you," for example, expresses a strong positive relationship just as "Keep away from me!" unambiguously expresses a negative one.

The correspondence between time and our Thinking-function awareness is even clearer. We always express cause-and-effect reasoning, for example, in words that presume a temporal sequence: there's an assumed "before" and "after" whenever we say "if this, then that" and especially when we say that something "follows from" something else. Thinking is an awareness of the sequential flow of time.

A good example of both time-awareness and space-awareness together is a comment we might make about a past relationship when we say something like, "He and I used to be close, but we've drifted apart." When we say that, we're combining "then and now" Thinking with "near and far" Feeling.

The idea that Sensing is our awareness of matter (that we are conscious of the world outside ourselves via sight, taste, touch, smell, hearing) isn't a problem for anyone. But many feel uncomfortable with the association of Feeling and space; and the idea that there's a correspondence between energy and Intuition (our big-picture consciousness) is a problem for almost everyone.

It's a problem because of the still-lingering effects on our patriarchy culture's disdain for relationships and the consequent refusal to look at the over-all picture of the world. We just can't see too much if we refuse to look more deeply into things; or, to say it the other way: our worldview is limited if we remain at the bottom rung of the Great Ladder.

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I'll be sharing my thoughts about Science's Best in terms of matter, time and space in this post, and my thoughts about the energy-Intuition correspondence in the next. Both posts will be called "Science's Best," but #96 will have "Cosmic Energy" added to it, just as this post's title includes the words "Matter, Time and Space."

My point in having such similar names is to emphasize that that just as Sensing, Thinking, Feeling and Intuition form a mandala of our conscious understanding, so matter, time, space and energy also form a mandala-- in this case, of tags for our understanding Science's Best.

The two posts go together, but because of our patriarchal culture's disdain for relationships and its consequent refusal to look at the over-all picture of the world, the connections between energy and Intuition are far less familiar and need to be spelled out in more detail. So I'm making it a separate post.

I'd really like to publish #95 and #96 together, as I've said, but if I did, the one big post would just be too long. No one would want to read it. Even separately, each of these posts is longer than usual, so you will probably want to take an occasional break while reading them. And once again, my thanks for your patience!

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TIME. I said above that the idea of Sensing as our awareness of matter isn't a problem for anyone; the correspondence, once we see it, between time and our Thinking-function awareness is just as acceptable to almost everyone.

As I also said above, we always express cause-and-effect reasoning, for example, in words that presume a temporal sequence: there's an assumed "first" ("if this") and "second" ("then that") whenever we say that something "follows from" something else. The Thinking function is our awareness of time's sequential flow.

Science's Best in terms of our Thinking function and time is the understanding that the world is dynamic. It had been presumed to be static for many thousands of years, but from the work of geologists, biologists and astronomers in the last two centuries, we know today that the material world came into existence gradually over a very long period of time.

We are aware now that the various physical parts of the world-- galaxies, stars, planets, rocks, plants, animals, human beings-- emerged in a series of events, very much like the way any living thing grows and develops.

When we plant a seed, for example, it first puts out roots and then a pair of special leaves. Only later do a stem and the ordinary leaves develop, and only later still are they followed by buds, flowers and fruit. 

In the same way, all the material parts of the universe-- from galaxies and stars to primates and persons-- also appeared sequentially.

It's such an ordinary thing-- when we see the sprouting of seeds or watch a baby developing-- that we take it for granted. "That's the way things work," we say.

But the idea here is that that's the way the whole universe works.
Not just plants, not just babies, but everything-- the entire cosmos-- acts like one big living organism. And this understanding of the sequential growth and development of the universe is new for all of us.

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A few examples can help us appreciate just how all-inclusive this understanding is of the world which we have via our Thinking function's awareness of the flow of time.

Galaxies. We've known about galaxies for less than a century. And we know now that there was a time when there were no galaxies at all-- and that once they came into existence, that was the end of their phase of the cosmos' growth and development. No new galaxies have appeared since. It's something like those first special leaves that appear when seeds spout. Once they emerge, that's it. That stage in the plant's development is done.

Stars. While humans have known about stars since there first were humans, the understanding that even stars get born and go through a developmental cycle is only about fifty or sixty years old. And the fact that at one time in the world's history there weren't any stars, and that many that once existed now no longer exist... well, it's very difficult for many of us to be comfortable with such thoughts.

Atoms. The earliest elementary kinds of matter were sub-atomic particles: leptons and quarks. Some of them bonded to form the simplest atoms, hydrogen and helium, and some of those atoms were gradually pulled together by gravity to form clumps of matter which eventually became the galaxies and stars.

Elements. Chemical elements are formed in the hearts of stars, where the increasing density from gravitational attraction results in the fusion of the simpler atoms of hydrogen and helium into atoms of the more complex elements such as carbon and nitrogen. The heaviest and most complex elements-- radon and uranium, for example-- are formed when a star reaches the end of its life-cycle and explodes as a super-nova-- scattering its remains into space. Some of that stardust eventually forms into planets.

Molecules. At the lower temperatures on the surface of planets, the chemical elements can bond into small molecules such as water, ammonia and carbon dioxide, and these simple molecules can bond further to become the more complex compounds like proteins, carbohydrates and nucleic acids found in all living things.

Cells. Some of the larger and more complex biochemical molecules can bond to form living cells, and some cells can eventually unite to form many-celled plants and animals.

Brains. Out of this long temporal sequence, some animals develop a nervous system and brain. And some of the most complex brains allow for reflective self-awareness. (That's us!)

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Yes, each of us results from the process of growth and development of the universe over 14 billion years. But it's the sequential nature of the process that I want to emphasize here.

The universe isn't just a place but an event. Or better, it's an on-going series of events, a developmental sequence of continuous transformations.

This isn't easy for our minds to take in. Some people still refuse to believe that there really was a time when there were no human beings on Earth. But, in fact, there was once a time when there wasn't any Earth at all. Even harder to imagine is that there once was a time when the stars had not yet come into existence.

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To appreciate Science's Best in terms of time and the Thinking function, it's important for us to understand this over-all developmental sequence. When we look at it, we see that the pattern is very clear:

There were no human beings on Earth before there were earlier primates.

There were no primates before there were earlier mammals with brains.

There were no animals of any kind without earlier living cells.

There were no single-celled life-forms without earlier macro-molecules.

There were no large molecules without earlier simple atoms.

There were no atoms of the more complex elements without earlier stars.

There were no stars without the elementary atoms of hydrogen and helium.

There were no elementary atoms without the earlier leptons and quarks.

And there were no sub-atomic quarks and leptons before the initial flaring forth of matter at the Big Bang.

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It's only in the 20th century that this pattern of cosmic growth and development has become clear to us. The fact that we live in a dynamic, evolutionary world is Science's Best understanding in terms of the Sensing function's awareness of matter and our Thinking function's consciousness of time.

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SPACE. In the same way that the Thinking function gives us our awareness of the temporal sequence of events which make up our universe, so the Feeling function makes us conscious of the relationships between those things which have emerged.

As we are aware that events can happen "before" or "after" other events happen, so we also are aware that things can found be "here" or "there," and "near by" or "far away." Space is the context for our realization of how things relate to other things.

But because patriarchal attitudes dismiss relationships as unimportant, Western people tend to feel much less comfortable with the spatial relationships between the various parts of the cosmos than with the temporal sequence of those parts' emergence.

However, just as we know today that things emerge sequentially, scientists have discovered that the temporal sequence also has a space-linked characteristic. They call it "nesting."

Everyone knows what a nest is, so "a nesting sequence" is a good image. And even though this is a feature of the universe which earlier generations experienced but which they weren't explicitly aware of, its meaning is obvious when we give our attention on it.

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The main idea here is that the more complex forms of matter always appear spatially within the "nest" of less complex material forms.

We don't expect, for example, that a baby bird will hatch from an egg in a nest before there is an egg-- or even before there is a nest. It sounds silly just to say it. My point is that we so take for granted this nesting aspect of the universe's development that at first we can hardly see why it even needs to be mentioned.

But it's a major aspect of the cosmic process. Although it wasn't clearly understood for most of humanity's existence, we know today that it holds true for everything which has ever emerged in the long history of the universe.

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I've learned from my teaching experience that it's far easier to say the words "nesting sequence" than to express well what they mean. It's important to me that I try, however. So while what follows may seem at first to be just a string of sentences, it's an attempt to describe just what's meant by "nesting sequence" when we're talking about the development of cosmic matter over 14 billion years:

When the first quarks and leptons appeared after the Big Bang, not all of them became hydrogen and helium atoms. (Leptons and quarks still exist today.)

Once there were the elementary atoms of hydrogen and helium, not all of them were pulled together by gravity to form galaxies. (The universe is still filled with clouds of hydrogen atoms.)

Once galaxies came into existence, not all of them produced stars. (Stars are formed only in those galaxies which have the familiar spiral shape.)

Once stars are formed in galaxies, not all of them generate atoms of the complex elements like sulfur and oxygen.

Once stars reach the end of their life-cycle, not all of them explode; that is, not all of them create the more complex heavy elements like uranium which gets splattered into space.

Once the stardust from exploded stars is scattered into space, not all of it gets pulled together by gravity into clumps which eventually form planets.

Once there are planets, not all of them have conditions favorable for the emergence of single-celled life-forms.

Once there were living cells on the Earth, not all of them joined to form multi-cellular plants and animals.

Once there were animals, not all animal species developed a nervous system and brain.

And once there were animals with a nervous system and brain, not all them had brains complex enough to allow them to become, as we humans are, reflectively self-aware.

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The point of it all is that you and I-- as the universe become conscious of itself-- exist within a nest within a nest within a nest... within a nest within a nest within a nest... of cosmic matter. The flow of time results in a nesting sequence of galaxies, stars, planets, living things and human persons. Every new thing emerges out of previously existing things.

This understanding of the spatial relationships between things and the nesting sequence in which they emerge is a major aspect of Science's Best in our day.

A significant consequence of understanding the concepts of "nesting sequence" and "spatial relationships" is the realization that the idea of human beings as isolated solitary individuals is an obvious mistake. A more accurate evaluation of our consciousness of space in terms of our Feeling-function awareness is the familiar Native American expression, "All things are my relations!"

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For many, a question which immediately comes to mind when we use our Sensing, Thinking and Feeling functions to understand the matter, time and space of the cosmos is one which you have probably often asked yourself: "How does all that work?"

We want to know why it is that matter emerges through space and time in a nesting sequence. We want to know why the flow of time results in the temporal sequence of galaxies, stars, planets, living things and ourselves. And why do we find ourselves existing spatially-- "in a nest within a nest within a nest..."?

To round out the fourth corner of this mandala of Science's Best we need the understanding of energy which our Intuitive awareness offers us. It's Intuition that puts it all together.

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Your feedback is welcome!

Special note: In dealing with numerous spam comments, I inadvertently deleted all comments at the end of the posts up until #90, but they are still preserved in the collections of comments found in posts #32, #67 and #83.

Special request: I've completely lost the comments for posts #84 to #89. If you happen to have copied any of them, please send them to me. Thanks.

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3 comments:

Allen Pluth said...

Sam-- Your latest blog is a truly brilliant and original intuitive synthesis of the four functions and the four forces. At least I've not come across this comparison anywhere else yet. And "nesting" is a very useful metaphor. The implications of your insight are staggering, and very timely because we humans are choosing to foul our own nest for immediate profits, totally and deliberately ignoring the long-term consequences to the environment and therefore to our very existence.

Are you familiar with the influential classic science fiction film from
1956, "Forbidden Planet?" It becomes more and more relevant, even as a prophetic warning of the corruption and self-destruction of a race that
valued scientific capabilities and technology to the exclusion of relational values. These relational values were repressed by the ancient, advanced, but extinct race of Krell on the planet Altair IV, and relegated to their unconscious collective id, where they became distorted and then erupted in literally monstrous form, amplified by their own technology.

We are clearly witnessing the results of centuries of distortion of values
by the West--now being adopted universally, it seems, by almost every major culture. The thinking and sensation functions have been inflated, while the intuitive and feeling (relational) functions have been disparaged, if not eliminated. Intuition has long been derisively attributed to women alone, and public figures are considered weak and effeminate for showing caring emotions. Losing self-control of their emotions is conveniently, habitually, and unaccountably overlooked, however, whenever men plan and conduct warfare.

I think we ought to consider true intelligence, as one definition puts it,
simply as "the ability to learn," which encompasses information gained from using [w]holistically, or comprehensively, all four operations of the human psyche. This definition allows us to perceive true "intelligence" as really resembling what we identify as "wisdom." This is probably what the historic preacher Harry Emerson Fosdick had in mind when he boldly titled a collection of his philosophic essays, "The Moral Obligation To Be
Intelligent." May we collectively come to our "senses" soon by honoring and thoroughly utilizing all four ways to "sense" the direction we must go, in order to preserve the this planet as a suitable nest for future generations.

I look forward to the insights to be shared in your next revelatory blog!

Gratefully, Allen

Kathleen said...

Sam, this is truly one of your best blogs. It draws together a vast panorama and gives, quite literally, the whole picture. It also explains why extinction is forever. Each development depended on certain conditions which were only there at that one point in time.

I also appreciate the added input of Allen Pluth's enriching comments. Kathleen

Sam said...

While trying to eliminate numerous spam comments, I inadvertently deleted all comments at the END of the posts up until #90. BUT... they are still preserved in the collections of comments found in posts #32, #67 and #83.

One set of comments, however-- for posts #84 to #89-- has been completely lost. If you happen to have copied any of them, I'd much appreciate your sending a copy to me so I can restore them. Thanks.