Sunday, October 2, 2011

#96. Science's Best: Cosmic Energy


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In the previous post I shared my thoughts about Science's Best in terms of how our consciousness of matter, time and space allows us to see that our Earth and the whole universe grows and develops just as we ourselves and all living things do.



I used a mandala-- the four functions of consciousness-- to describe how Thinking and Feeling gives us our awareness of the temporal and spatial arrangements of cosmic matter perceived by our Sensing ability.


Though it may seem unfamiliar, I hope the wording helps make clear that an understanding of the developmental cosmic process via the Thinking function is fairly easy, and that-- with a bit of effort-- so, too, is our understanding of its spatial aspects using our Feeling function.

The mechanics by which the sequential nesting process happens, however, aren't so easy to understand. To make sense of these energy dynamics-- the fourth part of my matter, time, space and energy mandala-- we need to use the fourth of our consciousness functions, Intuition.

It's Intuition that puts it all together. And there is a lot to put together! That's what this post is about, and why it's as long as the previous post which dealt with all three of the other parts of the cosmic mandala. I'll start with a quick review of post #95. (If you haven't read it, you might want to read it before going on.)

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My Quick Review: Our Sensing-function awareness of matter lets us see the many diverse aspects of the physical universe-- from people, animals and plants to rocks, stars and galaxies; our Thinking function gives us our awareness that these many diverse aspects of the world have emerged in a orderly sequence; and our Feeling function gives us our awareness that that orderly sequence also has a relational aspect: it's a "nesting" sequence.

But it's when we ask how it all works-- "What are the mechanisms, the dynamics, by which the material things of the universe emerge in an orderly nesting sequence?"--that we need to use the Intuition function of our conscious minds.

And as I've noted many times in these posts, in Western culture Intuition is the least understood or valued of the four ways our minds operate. That's why this second post on Science's Best-- focused only on energy and Intuition-- is as long as the previous post; I need to describe both energy and Intuition in much more detail than was needed for all three other parts of the mandala.

Most of us are fairly comfortable with the idea of energy, even if we don't give it much conscious thought, so I'll share my thoughts about energy first. Then I'll describe how our Intuition ability helps us to understand this fourth aspect of the cosmic mandala.

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We know by personal experience what "energy" means. It's our name for what makes things happen. The most elementary scientific definition of energy is "the ability to do work."

Common synonyms for energy are "power" and "force." In Latin, it's spiritus; in Greek, dynamis. And while energy may be invisible, like air, no one doubts its existence; energy is the dynamic force which makes things move. And just like the air we breathe, energy keeps things moving. Without breath, we die; without energy, absolutely nothing happens.

So when we say "How does it all work?" we're asking about the dynamic forces and powers which bring about galaxies and stars, atoms and molecules, living things and ourselves. To see Science's Best in our day, we need an understanding of those dynamic energy processes.

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For me, this is where the mandala image is especially helpful. What allows us to understand the creative energy processes by which the components of the universe emerge is not our Sensing awareness of matter, nor our Thinking awareness of the temporal flow of time, nor even our Feeling awareness of spatial relationships. As I've said, it's our fourth consciousness function, Intuition, which "puts it all together."

But our culture's patriarchal disdain for relationships and its consequent refusal to look at the over-all picture of the world make it difficult to see this aspect of Science's Best. So even though I've mentioned the four functions of consciousness in many previous posts, I need to say a few words here specifically about how C. G. Jung's descriptions of the operations of our conscious minds can help us to better understand energy and Intuition.

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Jung pairs the mind's four conscious functions into two groups: perceptions and judgments. He says Thinking and Feeling are judgment operations-- evaluations of what we perceive-- while Sensing and Intuition are the mental operations by which we perceive what we do.

And while no one doubts that we perceive the world through our Sensing ability, many of us have a problem in our still-patriarchal culture with the idea that we also can see the world via our Intuition function.

In recognizing that Intuition is no less a perception function than is Sensing, it helps to recall that, when we talk about the cosmos, we tend to automatically combine the words "matter and energy." It's not accidental that we do it in exactly the same way that Jung, in talking about consciousness, paired Sensing and Intuition, the perception functions.

We also usually join "time and space" in the same way that Jung paired Thinking and Feeling, the evaluative functions.

Long-time readers will remember that, as I've mentioned many times, the difference between these two perception functions is that through Sensing we see details ("the trees"), while by Intuition we see the over-all picture ("the forest"). Just as we can focus our attention on the smallest detail by Sensing, we can "take it all in at once" via Intuition.

Another way to say it is that Intuition lets us see from higher up on the Great Ladder than Sensing does in its position down on the bottom rung of the ladder. We can also say that while Sensing focuses on surface details, Intuition lets us look deeper-- below the surface, at the underlying processes.

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Besides our cultural prejudice against Intuition, there's a second reason why many of us are uncomfortable with the big picture which Science's Best offers us today.

This second reason is that science and technology have come a very long way in a very short time. Only within the last few decades have scientists been able to look more deeply into the over-all picture of the cosmos specifically with regard to the complex dynamic energy processes by which the nesting components of the universe have emerged.

What has made the difference is the development of high-speed computers. Some of them can do millions of calculations in one second, allowing scientists a far deeper look at the dynamic processes of the cosmos than earlier generations could ever have imagined.

For example, a recent computer simulation of the formation of a spiral galaxy was completed in "only" eight months by a super-computer system in Switzerland; that sounds like a lot but on a personal computer the same simulation would take 570 years. 

A video of the simulation can be viewed in less than three minutes.
So it's not only our patriarchal culture's disdain for Intuition that makes it difficult for us to take into account all the details and put them into an over-all picture. It's that modern technology is "putting it all together" so fast that the resulting big picture doesn't filter down to the rest of us quickly enough. Most of us just can't keep up!

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There are three big ideas to which we need to give our attention in order to understand Science's Best in terms of Intuition and energy. One is familiar and easy to understand: the interaction of opposites.

The second is also familiar but not so easy to understand: creativity. The third is much less familiar because science has only recently given its attention to it and real effort on our part is required to make sense of it: self-organization.

I'm going to do my best to spell out these three ideas for readers willing to stay with me for the rest of this post. It's a lot of work, so this is a good place to take a break.

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Opposites. I'm starting with opposites since everyone knows what "opposite" means. There are two basic ideas involved here. The first is that, in nature, many things come in pairs-- our body parts are a good example. And even the four ways our conscious minds work come in pairs-- a pair of pairs, actually. So it's not surprising that energy also operates in pairs of forces.

The second idea is that the energy comes in pairs of opposite forces. Our whole world is, in fact, made up of such pairs of opposites. The ancient Chinese symbol for the dynamic interaction of opposites has been around for centuries: yin and yang, night and day, summer and winter, hot and cold, light and dark, big and small, male and female-- it's an unending list.

This same idea of interacting opposites is true of the various forms of cosmic energy. They, too, come in pairs. And these powerful energy forces don't just "make things happen" or "cause things to move." They cause things to move in opposite directions.

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The most cosmic of all powers is the expansion of the universe itself. From the first moment of the existence of cosmic matter at the Big Bang, every bit of it has been moving away from every other bit in an expansion process which is still going on today.

But at the same time, the opposite power-- one we're quite familiar with: the force of gravity-- is also pulling those bits of the universe's matter back into a single mass again.

It was the interaction of these opposites-- the "push" of the expansion of the universe outward and the "pull" of the gravitational attraction inward-- which caused the primordial bits of matter (leptons, quarks and hydrogen nuclei) to spread unevenly throughout the early universe. And it's that unevenness which resulted in those "clumps" of matter which eventually became what we call today "galaxies."

It was within the galaxies that stars began to form, and it was within the stars that atoms and molecules were first made-- and they're still being made in stars today.

And just as with the galaxies themselves, those chemical elements and compounds are also formed by opposite forces, but in this case the energy is electrical, rather than gravitational.

Even if we have little sense of just what "electricity" means, all of us are familiar with the basic idea that "opposite charges attract and like charges repel."

Those opposite electrical forces also allow large molecules to combine to form the even-larger macro-molecules, which-- on at least one planet we know of-- have formed into living cells. On Earth, some of those early cells eventually joined together, also because of electrical forces. The result, over millions of years, was the plants, animals and humans we know on our Earth today.

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Every new thing in the universe-- the first stars, the first atoms, the first cells, the first mammals, the first primates, the first human beings-- is the result of the interaction of opposites.
The point of this very brief description of the cosmic flow of energy is that it always happens by way of the interaction of opposite forces. And it's this interaction-- this push and pull-- which causes the cosmic process to be creative. Creativity, too, is a primary characteristic of our world.

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Creativity. Although everyone understands what "creativity" means, many still have a problem with it today because of Western culture's earlier static religious picture of the world-- that it was created all at once. The thought of an on-going creative process-- that new forms of cosmic matter are continually emerging via the temporal and nesting developmental process-- is an idea with which many in our culture are not yet comfortable.

I said earlier that while we're more or less familiar with the word "creative," it's not so easy to understand creativity as a concept. It's worth our best effort, however, because creativity is an especially important aspect of contemporary Science's Best. We need to understand and trust our creative ability in order to deal, for example, with our present social, cultural political, economic and environmental crises.

We need to move past Western culture's older but-still-lingering understanding of creation as a static event in the distant past. To do this, we can start where Asian cultures often begin: with the recognition that nothing in our world is permanent. There are two important thoughts here: first, that on-going change is a fundamental aspect of the way our world works; and second, that not all change is negative.

But just as the idea of evolutionary development wasn't part of Western culture's understanding until the 19th century, and just as the nesting characteristic of the evolutionary process wasn't understood until the 20th century, creativity has yet to become part of the 21st century understanding of the cosmos process.

It's been slow to catch on because the older patriarchal perspectives shy away from change. Religious fundamentalists even deny the very possibility of change when it comes to plant and animal species. If we don't understand on-going change as creative, we miss a fundamental understanding of the very nature of the world and our place in it.

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To me, this is a basic issue of our time. Without our awareness of creativity as a major characteristic of the dynamic cosmos, we're simply unable to understand how we fit in with the rest of the created world. (That's why fundamentalists want to escape from it.)

So it's especially important for us to recognize that the creative process is, in fact, a normal part of everyday life and personal experience. A few examples can help:

Who doesn't delight in a baby's first words and first steps? And what pre-teen doesn't delight in the prospect of his/her newly emerging sexual characteristics? And what's more delightful to each of us as adults than those new insights into ourselves and our world which come to us-- and often transform us-- all throughout our lives?

My point is that we do know what "creativity" means. It's just that we're only gradually coming to realize the fact-- thanks to Intuition-- that it's an aspect of our personal experience because it's an aspect of the way the whole universe works.

This conceptual understanding of creativity-- that the universe is creative and that new realities emerge in the cosmic process precisely due to the interaction of opposite energy forces-- greatly enriches Western culture's understanding of the nature of the world. It's a prime aspect of Science's Best precisely because it lets us see that, rather than escaping from a world to which we don't belong, we have in fact a major role in creating a better world.

Our contemporary social, cultural, political, economic and environmental crises are due to our slow pace in becoming aware of global humanity's creative place in the cosmic process. But we need to use our Intuition ability to see this big picture. And we miss it if we get lost in the details. For the perception of reality, Intuition is no less important than is Sensing.

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Self-organization. The concept of self-organization is a fairly new understanding of how matter works; it isn't so easy to understand because it simply wasn't available until recently.

But it too is a characteristic of cosmic matter which we do, in fact, know by personal experience. Because self-organization is so intimately personal to each of us, however, we have even more trouble thinking of it as a characteristic of the matter and energy of the cosmos than we do in attributing creativity to the universe as a whole.

To put it as simply as possible, when matter forms into clumps due to gravity acting in the opposite direction from the cosmic expansion force, those clumps are not static.

They have a dynamic internal energy by which they are able to organize themselves into something more. The clumps of matter take a shape, they form internal "structures," all by themselves. The word "communities" is even used to describe the new realities which emerge. 

The fact that clumps of matter can give themselves both external shapes and internal organization is what's meant by the term "self-organizing."

The self-organizational aspect of cosmic matter was first recognized by biologists as a characteristic of living things, but with the availability of computers and high technology we now know that that it extends to every aspect of the physical universe. (If you didn't, earlier, you might want to watch that less-than-three-minute video of the formation of a galaxy I mentioned above. It's a wonderful example of elemental matter's ability to organize itself.)

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From the spiral structure of galaxies to the arrangement of petals on a flower and our own personal body-build, self-organization characterizes every bit of cosmic matter.

What I called its "intimate" nature is clear in some examples from our own personal experience. Whenever we say to ourselves, "I need to get in shape" or, with regard to some issue we may be dealing with in our life, "I need to pull myself together," it is precisely this self-organizational aspect of cosmic matter that we are acknowledging as operative within our own personal self-awareness.

But it's operating not only in human consciousness and in other living things; it's also operating in atoms, stars and galaxies.

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We can find the simplest example of self-organization in our own kitchen sink: in the whirlpool that forms when water swirls around as it drains out. That whirlpool is a real, if elementary, example of cosmic matter's self-organizing ability.

The shape of the whirlpool is the point here. The individual water molecules are constantly changing, but the spiral shape holds even as gravity pulls the molecules down the drain.

It's not a coincidence that galaxies have a similar shape. Spirals are, in fact, everywhere. And they come in many sizes.

I learned recently that it's a tiny whirlpool of air that lets hummingbirds fly and hover the way they do. (There's a brief description of it in the September, 2011 issue of Discover magazine. Look for "Hummingbird Flight Secrets Revealed.") And the spiral shape of Hurricane Irene, roughly 300 miles across, became familiar to millions as they watched its progress up the East Coast of the United States in late August of this year.

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This ability to organize itself pervades all cosmic matter-- galaxies, stars and planets, air and water, and especially the life-forms on the Earth. From single-celled bacteria and multi-cellular plants and animals to the nervous systems of mammals and primates-- including our own brain-- all forms of matter have this internal self-organizing ability.

Even the Earth itself, our planet as a whole, has it. There's an especially clear example of Earth as a living self-organized system in Brian Swimme's and Mary Evelyn Tucker's recent book Journey of the Universe (Yale University Press, 2011).

The book is part of a major New Cosmology project which includes an extensive study guide and an hour-long video documentary. (The documentary has already been shown on several PBS stations.) The book is beautifully written and easy to read; its authors were long-time friends and collaborators with Thomas Berry.

Here's their example of the self-organization of the Earth:
We know that the temperature of the Earth can't vary too far in either direction, or life will disappear. It was once thought that our planet's average temperature was simply a fortunate consequence of its being just the right distance from the sun. "But," say Swimme and Tucker, "thanks to the 20th century discovery of nuclear fusion and the structure of stars, we now know that over the past four billion years our Sun has increased its temperature by nearly 25 percent."

Their point is that the Earth has adapted itself so as to remain in the narrow band that enables life to flourish: "By drawing carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere by photosynthesis, Earth altered the composition of its atmosphere to keep itself cool as the Sun grew hotter."

So, as Swimme and Tucker say, "our planet isn't just a big ball of rock and metal on which living things exist. The Earth is a creative community of beings that reorganizes itself age after age so that it can perpetuate and even deepen its vibrant existence."

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This example is obviously of great relevance to our global environmental crisis, but here I want to emphasize that this same energy "dynamic"-- this creative "orchestration," as Swimme and Tucker call it, of our planet's self-organizational ability-- appears over and over again in the universe's billions of years of development.

Along with creativity and the interaction of opposites, the cosmos' self-organization power is a primary characteristic of the whole universe. And (as I think I may have mentioned once or twice earlier!), it is Intuition that lets "put it all together."

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A final thought about Intuition. Its role isn't limited to putting together our understanding of the universe's underlying energy processes. It also integrates our Sensing function's awareness of matter, our Thinking function's awareness of time, and our Feeling function's awareness of space. Intuition integrates all three into one big picture of the world we live in.

And it's that big picture which is Science's Best in our day. When we look at the big picture, what we see at the center of the cosmic mandala of time, space, matter and energy is ourselves.

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You may feel that that's too much of an exaggeration. So to round out these two "home stretch" posts on Science's Best, I want to offer one example of how using Intuition along with Sensing, Thinking and Feeling helps us to see the unique, central place in the universe of personal consciousness.

Scientists are able to measure the speed of the expansion of the universe that began at the Big Bang. And they have learned that if that rate of expansion was slightly higher, the gravitational force would not be strong enough to cause those clumps of the initial particles which eventually resulted in galaxies, stars, atoms, planets, life-forms and ourselves.

The same thing, in reverse, would have happened if the speed of expansion was slightly slower: there would be no elementary particles to clump in the first place.

So while it's via our Sensing function we know that if the expansion speed wasn't "just right"-- that if it was even a fraction of one percent higher or lower, there would not have been a temporal emergence process for us to understand via our Thinking function, and there would not have been a nesting characteristic for us to understand via our Feeling function--it's via our Intuition function that we see that, in fact, we wouldn't even be here.

The main point of this example may not be as obvious as I like to think it is, so I'll say it a different way. It's only when we use our Intuition ability to put together the details into a big picture that we become aware of the fact that our very awareness of the cosmic process is itself an aspect of the cosmic process.

The personal awareness-- which you, I, and every person on Earth embody-- is at the center of the dynamic energy process we call "the universe."

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With this big picture of the world, science in our day has moved well beyond Western culture's patriarchal disdain for relationships and its refusal to look at the big picture.

With its willingness to perceive the world via Intuition-- and especially with its willingness to include in that big picture our Feeling-function awareness of the inter-relatedness of all things in the cosmos-- science has indeed come a long way since its 19th-century emphasis on "facts and logic." It's that willingness which is, for me, 
Science's Best.


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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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4 comments:

K.A. said...

Thank you. I need to grow.

A.P. said...

Thanks for your latest blog, which amazingly did not disappoint my expectations, even after following its revelatory predecessor. I look forward to your culmination and summary.

M.H. said...

I have had a rough time lately with my own "self-organizing" function.... I've just re-read your latest blogs... I really liked them, more than most. Besides a wonderful review and expanding meaning of the four functions, it propelled me into my version of going into "space". My year of astronomy classes often did that: allowed me my own personal visual travel into the galaxies while having a growing interior sense of my relatedness to it all.

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.