Neither Exists Or Doesn’t Exist

in all things the one, in the one all things

 

Neutrinos!

Neutrinos are subatomic particles that have just a hint of mass yet can move at light speed. They are created by radioactive decay in the sun, supernovae and some other radioactive processes like human made reactors.

Here’s the question that interests me: Do we exist in the same universe?

Neutrinos were first suggested by Wolfgang Pauli (whose exclusion principle is primarily why we can’t have two atoms in the same time and place i.e. why things seem solid when we know atoms are empty for the most part). It was known that in a kind of radioactive decay (beta decay) the momentum and spin of particles did not appear to be conserved, even though momentum and spin were known to be conserved in every other process. Hmmm. Conservation of something (like momentum and spin) in physics means that the total is unchanged before and after something happens, even if distributed differently (say one object looses momentum, but another gains it). As I wrote in earlier blogs, if you can’t tell if something changed after you messed with it, it is a symmetry. For example, if I close my eyes and you rotate a circle, it looks the same to me when I open my eyes. That’s rotational symmetry. If I close my eyes and you move it, the circle itself looks the same when I open my eyes. It is symmetric to translation.

Now, the symmetry of momentum and spin in beta decay seemed like something that better not be violated. Pauli did the math and suggested a new particle. People were a bit shook up by that, and it took 20 years to find the neutrino experimentally, but they did and it worked! This is the kind of thing that excites physicists who suggest we should trust the math: sometimes it works!

Anyway, this was part of the discovery of one of the main forces, the weak nuclear force, which has been unified with the electromagnetic force (the electroweak force) and so is a big deal.

Neutrinos have no charge, but like the electrons they are related to (which have charge) they have spin. Spin is weird. Point particles can’t literally spin around (there is no axis or lateral extent to spin around the axis; they’re points!), but the term spin is used because the particles behave like spinning particles would (like how they move in magnetic fields). Well, something is weird with neutrinos; they have a preference and they shouldn’t! Neutrinos are “left handed” and anti-neutrinos “right handed” (the direction of spin) and that is weird. Unlike the other situations mentioned above, we can’t just flip the terms and it is just how we say it, it doesn’t matter which you call which. It isn’t symmetric. It may not seem it, but that is really unique!

Yikes!

There’s more.

When they measured how many neutrinos/second came from the sun, it was less than expected. It turns out there are 3 flavors of neutrino that can change into each other. They “oscillate.” Other particles don’t do this, at least not in the same way. It was once thought that maybe all three types (flavors) of neutrinos don’t have mass. That was wrong. They have mass. But we don’t know the masses of the three neutrino flavors; we only know the differences in the mass between them. Anyway, neutrinos interact differently with the Higgs field (which gives mass) compared to other particles. So it seems all three have some really tiny mass, way below other particles with mass, but tiny as the mass is, they are not massless like photos and gluons.

I have seen various estimates for how many neutrinos pass through you, but it is something like 100 trillion per second, every second you are alive.

Why don’t we have any effect from them? You don’t hear about putting neutrino sun block on. In fact, if you could see neutrinos, it is said the sun would be as bright as the full moon. That is neutrinos from the sun wouldn’t be as “bright” as photons (regular light), but it would be plenty.

It’s because they interact very weakly with matter. We are invisible to them and they are invisible to us.

How weak is this neutrino interaction with stuff? According to one estimate, neutrinos interact with atoms so weakly that it would take about four lifetimes for one to interact with an atom in your body despite the trillion going through every second. Askel Hallin in Scientific America wrote that in the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory, a 1000 ton heavy water solar-neutrino detector picks up about 1012 (1 with 12 zeros after it i.e. a trillion) neutrinos each second. About 30 neutrinos per day are detected, say about one per hour). There are 3600 seconds in an hour, so about it seems that almost 3,600 trillion are “picked up” in the detector (his word, I believe that means passes through) for every one neutrino detected (that is, that interacted sufficiently with their apparatus to be detected).

The universe of the neutrinos is: be created, have a tiny bit of mass, and exist in a vast empty universe. Most will go light years without interacting with anything, cruising through planets, dust clouds, people, whatever.

If neutrinos could somehow put together all the vast neutrino “data” of the rare and random neutrino/matter (subatomic) interactions throughout space and time, some objects would have enduring patterns and become “visible”, or perceived in the sense of registering interaction/o interaction, yes/no, 0/1 information. That is, an interaction event happened that changed the information content of the universe that could be considered a “perception.” If enough events/perceptions were gathered over time, there would be entities that would be denser to neutrons than their surroundings and persist long enough to be present in the neutrino universe. Perhaps stars and planets and nebulae would be large and persistent enough to exist in the neutrino universe.

But neutrinos wont ever “perceive” you or me. The neutrino world of can’t resolve us as anything but a single data point that would be lost in the noise of other random and rare interactions, if we as individuals have such an interaction at all. Remember that most of us (3 of 4) wont ever interact with neutrino world; we are truly invisible. If there are four of us, yeah one of us was “seen” but at such low resolution (a single 0/1 for all space and time, just one data point, one interaction with one neutrino and one atom) that in neutrino universe he or she would be no different from a falling leaf, the air or water in a mountain stream or a wandering cosmic particle in empty space. Just a bit of noise, if even that.

As a small practical issue, if some genius advanced aliens did have neutrino vision, the neutrino data, the “perceived” patterns that persist through a sufficient time at neutrino interaction scale (many, many, many human lifetimes) on a planetary level that could resolve say our planet, would require supercomputers to even approach giving any real image. After all, our planet is a moving target; around the sun, then around the galaxy with the sun, then the galaxy rotates and moves and space expands. Just looking at an area in space would be useless. Any object would be gone.

We are invisible to neutrinos; we simply do not exist.

Are neutrinos invisible to us? Well, they were until a few decades ago. Certainly they are without huge and expensive detectors. They pass through us (and our planet) with impunity, the rare interactions too weak and isolated to have any abiding effect on any macroscopic entity. They are without direct effect and certainly in that sense non-existent.

Now, here is a neutrino universe we have discovered and added to (with nuclear reactors), the neutrino universe of radioactive processes, the sun, supernovae, our reactors on earth, that through science we can “perceive”, but barely, that interacts so rarely that we as individuals can never exist in that neutrino universe.

And despite having mass a neutrino travels at the speed of light (some scientists thought they saw evidence of faster than the speed of light neutrinos, but so far doesn’t seem true. Information in entangled particles can transcend time and space, for example, but it doesn’t seem neutrinos can). As I have written elsewhere, travelling at the speed of light means the ultimate n space contraction (there is no here to there, only start then place of interaction, no here to there) and time dilation (the next tick of the clock never comes, just start and time of interaction, no then to now.)

A neutrino universe is our universe, but then again, it isn’t.

All of this about neutrino world as written sounds a bit like pantheism or maybe just bad “anthropormorphizing” if you take it that I mean literally that the neutrinos are self aware and communicate these interactions. But in math and science you can talk about a space of states. Here what I mean is the space of neutrino states as encoded in 0-1, neutrino yes/no, interaction/interaction with a subatomic particle, exists independent of our experienced universe.

And here is my point:

In that neutrino space of states I do not exist. Literally. I do not, I cannot, exist. I am in a space of states  (e.g. momentum and energy) that interacts too rarely with neutrinos to register as more than noise, if it registered at all. The sum of neutrino universe interactions would not be sensitive or specific enough to detect that I exist.

Neutrinos do not exist for you and me, even if we look them up on Wikipedia. You may trust me as I trust the physicists, but there is no consequence to you of the vast number of neutrinos that pass through you undetected that they truly do not exist for you except as a rumor that you have. If you aren’t a physicist or part of a team researching neutrinos, they don’t exist but as a story.

Really, they just don’t exist.

But…they do exist, these children of the stars.

And whatever space of states neutrino world evolves through, you don’t exist.

But…you do exist, a set of various spaces of states, whether or not it “matters” to neutrino world.

In Buddhist sutras there is a category of what neither exists nor does not exist. Not Aristotelian, trying for non-dual logic.

Neutrinos: You bet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now Again?

Here’s a fun fact:

Closer to an object with mass time moves more slowly compared to further away from the mass. That’s relativity. That’s why things fall (huh?). That is gravity. Which is cause and effect? Gravity slowing time, time slowing being gravity! Scientists also talk about bending space. Time dilates, space contracts. Same issues.

More details later.

But for now, let this sink in. so assuming you are on earth, if you are standing or sitting up, even slouching, your feet are in a different time zone (or if your prefer, space-time zone) from your gut, which is in a different zone from your head. Your chin from your brain.

That time difference, that space difference, that space-time difference, can actually be measured using modern technology.

So, where is now? When is here?

You can’t hold it.

Quantum Big Time

Entanglement is certainly one of the most out there and interesting observations in quantum mechanics.

I have written here about it in more detail before, but just briefly: In the basic experiment, if two particles are born together, say a particle goes through a crystal and is “broken” into two each with half the energy of the first, they are entangled. Not because they share inherent properties, which to some degree they do (like the amount of energy that must be conserved), but because they are entangled. When you measure one of the quantum properties that measurement result can vary within those results that are allowed according to quantum laws (say magnetic spin or polarization) in that one particle, and the corresponding property the in the other, sister particle is immediately determined. Anywhere in space, instantaneously, not obeying the speed of light limit (and some experiments, called delayed choice, even suggest a time component i.e. it is determined before you did the measurement, which is even more mind boggling!!)

Many think this suggests Mind plays a role, or is evidence we are all one, non-duality. It certainly does suggest that, but it is all so inconceivable, so beyond what I can grasp with my brain (and I am not alone; the great physicist Feynman famously said, and I paraphrase, you can’t understand this),  I shy away from interpretations because it is so beyond intellectual thought for me it is like a deep koan and I keep my conclusions to:

Whatever you think, based on your 4-d (space and time) experience and scale of sense perceptions is true is wrong in some basic and ultimate way. The universe, Truth, is deeper and more omnipresent than your brain functions.

I do think the deepest view, to the degree views can approach Truth, is Mind and non-duality as the core of Truth, and sure entanglement is about non-locality in space and time and so is consistent with that (as we say in medicine and science), but I admit after all these years still I balk a bit where others I respect, those I have suggested you look into in these blogs, do not fear to tread. I just know we don’t really understand quantum mechanics so I wont bet my Mind on it, as we measure it  it in our experiments.

And it certainly doesn’t mean whatever fantasy you have about non-locality and its implications is right, of course. Good luck on jumping off a roof and trying to manifest a soft landing by thinking quantum states of the ground. As Bob Lanza said, there is cause and effect. You have karma. Don’t get arrogant and indulgent. Is your little brain in that itty-bitty boney box really that pure and powerful? Be careful about confusing your brain with Mind, non-Duality as meaning your ego, your perspective and delusions, your hopes and fears, is the universe. After all, that’s wisdom, that’s spiritual practice, not aggrandizing the ego with uber-spirituality and just adding more delusion by interpreting the truth through what you’d like to believe. (It’s also science. Ha did the science spirituality thing again!)

One scientific criticism has been that this is limited to single of a few particles or atoms. Well, now it has been none at the level you can see with a magnifying glass or certainly a $50 toy microscope, the level of small cells (i.e. life). Look up:

Einstein’s ‘spooky action’ goes massive: The elusive … – ScienceDaily

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180425131858.htm

The criticism to extrapolating to your day to day life is that is was done near –273 degrees centigrade, absolute zero where all but the most basic quantum effects determined by Heisenberg’s uncertainly principle stop (cant stop completely; that is very deep and Buddhist also; can’t stop change), about 3 degrees colder than the universe in deep space.

Well, quantum effects have been seen in warm wet living beings, they may just be harder to demonstrate.

Remember, the ancients, our spiritual and philosophical ancestors, came to this without quantum mechanics! And practice (and science!) is about authenticity I think, not proving some a priori claim however cool and whether I agree with it.

But even if it doesn’t mean you are likely to (or should feel a delusional need to) try to quantum change the ground if you challenge time and space by jumping off a roof, or that it PROOVES we are all one, Mind and non-duality and all that, at least, at a minimum, we can revel in the deep mystery, the underlying unity it suggests beyond our concepts and experience.

You Are Multitudes Unfolding

When I started writing this Zengut blog I thought I would share more of the “gee whiz” of science. I also thought I would join the ranks of popularizers of math and science and the intersection of science with Zen, spirituality, Mind and meditation. One of the blogs I enjoyed writing the most was my meditation on Circle, Triangle and Square, a Zen painting. It’s really good and deep and if you haven’t read it, check it out, especially the revised version (also on Hazymoon.com). But over the years since I have started writing and have pursued my practice and my life (same thing), I find for the most part I have less and less interest in doing so in a methodical fashion.

There are plenty of sources for science that aren’t geared to scientists: magazines such as Scientific American and Discover, websites such as sciencedaily.com, and I am sure many others.  There are great writers and thinkers who really want to make clear the implications of quantum mechanics for a Mind Only view of how it is (e.g. Lanza and Berman Biocentrism and Beyond Biocentrism) and the philosophical underpinnings of non-duality and  idealism (e.g. Bernardo Kastrup).

Robert Lanza talking at Hazy Moon Zen center; me listening for a change.

I am not a Zen teacher. I share as a student, a practitioner. Certainly there are qualified Zen teachers (e.g. many books of ancient masters, Hazymoon.com has selections of Nyogen Roshi’s dharma talks, Maezen sensei’s books and blogs and websites are also good to check out, and of course other sources of Zen and spiritual teachings by those who are spiritual leaders and teachers).

I have finished my second novel for older kids, and I think it is a more unique contribution, more reflective of my mandala. More on that later ( I will post some chapters soon; maybe even the whole thing if people want. I will also self publish for those like me who like hard copy or who don’t read this blog).

I haven’t pursued the Zengut blog as planned. Well, that’s how it goes. I still see life as the universe unfolding as I wrote in the first blog I posted. Evolution is at its core. Life is change, all is continuous change, a basic tenant of Buddhism and science (there, mission accomplished! Political irony intended). So maybe I will unfold back into so pursuing a theme of science and Zen, or more of the inspiration of math, or whatever. I have continued to write when something catches my attention, whether something I can share of my Zen practice and life (again, same thing) or, like now, in the scientific world.

I do want to share what blew me away this week. It is definitely a “gee whiz” thing. It isn’t any new information. I have seen images of that are a bit like this for 45 years, that is cells interacting with cells, and there have been movies of cells in motion for maybe 10 years, but this image just hit home like a thunderclap. It may not hit you the same way, but give it a try:

Cutting-edge microscope spies on living cells inside the body – Nature

https://www.nature.com › nature › news

You have the same types of cells, and many other similar cells. Watch this and think about how in your bone marrow you give birth thousands and thousands of times a day to these cells, these organisms, that are you yet not you. Independent, with lives you have no idea of and don’t consciously control. Can you watch this and not see sense intention? Intention, you may ask? Absolutely. They have purpose. They are sentinels, guardians, noble and selfless. They do a job, a very complex and important job.  Watch how they seek. How they feel their environment. How they have no sense of you or your world outside of their impulses and needs, their immediate mandalas, their lives unfolding. Given the right environment, they can be removed from the living body that gave rise to them and still be who they are.

Clearly mind.

I am not suggesting conscious thought. Not brain stuff.  These are not beings with concepts as we have, of course. Still, a kind of sentience independent of you and your concepts, your desires, your hopes and fears and intellect. Mind, life, at work and play.

Life in life. You are multitudes.

 

 

 

All Now, No Now

Is “now” really only an illusion?

Certainly a universal now that you can perceive as a universal now is impossible. As I mentioned in a recent blog, whatever we are responding to as occurring “right now” is a conglomeration of recent energy states that we integrated into a story based on our conditioning (physical, biological, intellectual, psychological). As the Lankavatara sutra says, we project our delusions and illusions and then we take them as out there in reality.

Quantum mechanics demands that there can’t be a zero time, there is Planck time, which is exceedingly short, way shorter than anything anyone can comprehend or any technology can even get hope to get anywhere near. This is in part related to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle: if something could be stopped in time and space, a frozen now that we could capture and measure,  we would know both its momentum and position at that time, and that isn’t allowed.

Also, a time called “now” where all things that are simultaneous to one person’s experience are simultaneous in the experience of all observers, regardless of movement and orientation, is an illusion. Relativity theory quantifies that!

A photon travelling at the speed of light is not in time. The photon’s clock slows to infinitely slow (time dilation; or if time were smooth it would, that is, but as in quantum mechanics maybe it just “approaches” infinitely slow…). The photon also gets infinitely thin, flattened out (space contraction; or it would if space were infinitely smooth, so again, it approaches infinitely flat…). That is, until it hits your eye. Then it is a point particle interacting with your photoreceptor after having travelled perhaps millions of years and trillions upon trillions of miles from a distant star, maybe even a distant galaxy far, far away).

So is there no now? Just the illusion?

Or is it ALL now? As Nyogen Roshi said in his talk today, the infinite now, no beginning no end.

 

How long is now?

A building I saw in what was formerly East Berlin a few years back

Now as no time and all time may be much the same, I think. So short it can’t be measured and so vast and universal it can’t be measured. Bigger than big, shorter than short.

 

Related is the identity of relative and absolute, as a poem we chant is called. This is on a tee shirt I got from Nara, a Buddhist Temple in Japan a bit outside Kyoto. It says, in essence, in the many, One, in One the many. They translated it as in a drop of blood the whole universe. I have also heard it as in a drop of water (or in an atom or particle, or string) the whole universe, but that’s not the pattern you see there on the tee shirt. It is in pattern and spirit I think more like the Heart Sutra (we also chant): form is exactly emptiness, emptiness exactly form. Or the identity of the relative  and absolute.

Here and Now? You Think So?

I just finished my Christmas blog and opened up Lawrence Krauss’s book “The Greatest Story Ever Told-So Far.” (Yes, I still like reading these books, seeing what scientists are selling. I enjoy it almost as much as interpreting ancient Egyptian ideas about the cosmos, as I do in my next Aidan Dream Detective novel, “Aidan and The Mummy Girl Save the Universe,” which I am finishing up).

Dr. Krauss is one of the more militant skeptic-atheist-materialists. I find him a bit arrogant, but he seems otherwise a pretty nice guy. He’s certainly very smart. Anyway, I came across this sentence, where I was, on page 56:

“So too, Einstein explicitly argued, for the first time as far as I know in the history of physics , that “here” and “now” are observer dependent concepts and not universal ones.”

Bravo! Of course Buddhists knew that for at least two millennia. Check out the Lankavatara sutra, among others.

Live in the here and now? Sounds good. The future is a guess, the past is irretrievable far as we can tell, and science assures us we are prone to false memories, dressing up our reality to make it more comprehensible, more palatable. We edit everything to fit our concepts of who we are and what is meaningful, even as we go along, and more so as we keep memories alive by telling and terelling ourselves our stories.

And that’s at best.

Or as the great mathematician and scientist, Laplace, the man who told Napoleon Bonaparte that he had no need for the hypothesis of god in his book on cosmology, said two hundred years ago on his deathbed, when someone tried to make him feel good by lauding his great accomplishments:

“Ah, but we do chase phantoms.”

The word translated into English as ‘phantoms’ was chimera in French. Chimera are mythic beasts hobbled together from different animals. We hobble together phantoms and spend our lives chasing them. Good things, bad things.

Here and now is such a chimera.

If there is any here and now it is Planck time and space, trillions of trillionths of a second or a millimeter. So  so fast a time and so tiny a distance that they are truly inconceivable, nothing our technology can even hope to come in the ballpark of approaching to measure, let alone our senses or our monkey minds. We can write these numbers down mathematically and drool slack jawed in amazement at how clever we are to have come up with such a brazen idea that might even be true, but don’t fool yourself into thinking you can grasp such a space and time.

Even on a mundane level, when you experience a sensory change, a difference in your universe of sight and sound (and smell, taste, touch, phenomena, including mental phenomena, as the sutras say), it is the past. It has been modified. It went from here to there, from an object to your sense organ then to your brain then other parts of your brain where you interpret the changes and tell yourself a story about them.

I used to think a lot about this in surgery, certain one of my more “here and now” experiences. Things move so fast in cataract microsurgery you cant be here and now in a literal way. By time the image of something zigging rather than zagging reaches your brain then you react to it, you’d be too late! You have to be prepared for zig and zag.

By time you react to it, it is gone.

Gone, gone beyond, way beyond.

Gate gate paragate, parasamgate, as the heart sutra says.

So, living in the here and now? Sure. What else do you have? But then, do you even have that? And if not, what do you have?

Merry Christmas from a Non-Materialist Atheist (really, no irony intended! )

 

Being into Zen doesn’t mean I couldn’t be a materialist in the metaphysical sense. Zen does suggest being a materialist in the sense of being greedy and wanting things, with the hope that having stuff (including just the right ideas and rituals) will assuage anxieties and delusions and make up for ignorance and fear, is a bad idea, though with enough rationalization anybody can be a materialist, even a Zen practitioner. It is modern science that makes it difficult to be a metaphysical materialist. After all, what is “material”? What is matter? What makes things “thingy”? All that seems solid dissolves into a state of energy differences that follow rules and constraints (quantum mechanics and relativity, for example). Material, matter, exists only as those energy states are put together into being “something” by our senses and colored our hopes and fears, our conditioning and our scale of biological existence, themselves just energy states determined by energy states:

turtles all the way down.

Peel the onion until there is nothing.

In this cartoon each circle defines a square, which defines a circle. It is an iteration much like how magnetic fields change, defining a changing electric field, creating a propagating magnetic field, etc. This is electromagnetism, the first unified theory, developed in the mid-19th century by Maxwell based on work by an autodidact, Faraday. But where does that first circle come from?

 

Science confirms that these energy states are not the same as the stories our senses project to create our world. Sure, those senses evolved in the context of the rules of energy transformations, and so must relate to them in some way. In Zen there is the foundational poem called (in the translation I know) “The Identity of the Relative and Absolute “(the Sandokai). Zen accepts the challenge.

 

 

Science has a hard time with this. How does my life, my mind, relate to phenomena like quantum entanglement and quantum fields? Very indirectly, it seems, and only with big leaps of faith going from one level of scientific inquiry to another.

 

We may be energy fields, but we are also information, information of a certain contingent form, congealed on one level as DNA, as other levels as chemical  metabolism, interacting, communicating cells and organs and bodies, honed by energy states (our environment), in an iterative way similar to the circle and squares.

 

Scientists tells us science won’t be able to answer some basic questions in our lifetimes, and other questions not likely ever, (is the universe infinite or only 90 billion light years across? Is there one universe or “multiverses”? What is time? Can we verify strings or supersymmetric particles or quantum loop gravity experimentally?), but scientists do tell us that the universe is not what our limited senses describe.

 

 

That is fine with me, because while I can appreciate great beauty and love I have so often in my life, my senses also reveal a pretty dim picture of lies, delusion, death and suffering a lot of the time, not a world where some omniscient creator god just adores its creation…

Cue in Buddhism.

 

One guy came up to Buddha and said I will follow you if you’ll answer my big questions, like is the universe eternal?

Buddha told him he was wasting his time. It’s like being shot by a poison arrow and asking what wood the shaft of the arrow is made of, and similar irrelevant questions, rather than taking out the arrow. In some places Buddha said he came to end suffering. Others he said hey, your heads on fire, man, stop asking dumb questions.

So peel back the stories, and, as the Tang dynasty Zen master Huang Po suggested, watch out for concepts you project on to your life. What are you left with?

 

 

Now, since this is Christmas and I am not going to leave it there. I am not going to allow the arrogance of some scientists and professional atheists make it difficult to hear and appreciate the marvelous absurdity of manifest reality at its deepest scientific description. On the other hand, I am not going to be the atheist who just dishes on a dualistic creator god outside his creation of adoring puppets, that so loves the sparrow in the field, you know, the sparrow that is going to be eaten by the hawk leaving its chicks squawking in desperation, if they are lucky attracting a predator (the same hawk?) to end their misery quickly, rather than dying slowly by dehydration and starvation, without a clue as to what happened.

I am going to get into the Christmas spirit instead! Yay!

My Christmas present is sharing that my favorite book right now is “Barking to the Choir” by Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest who walks the walk Jesus had in mind.

Father Boyle is the founder of Homeboys industries, a job program for ex-gangbangers, but so much more.

“Barking to the Choir” is a spiritual tome abput the here and now reality of suffering and redemption. As an aside, it is respectful of Buddhism, but more to the point it is real, it is spiritual in the deepest sense, in a way I can respect and admire, and brought me to tears several times. The book is challenging in its radial compassion, vision of no separation, and belief in redemption. I am glad that this priest found in his religion something of value. And there are others, intelligent, thinking, caring people I know who have found deep meaning in religion as well. But I equally love that the values in this book do not need religion to inform them. Atheists I know (and I include myself in the technical sense of not believing in a dualistic creator god with separate mind and intention from its creation) share the core values that Father Boyle expresses in his life and work as a vision of natural ethics, an expression of who we are at our best, not as a command from on high.

The Dali Lama, who Father Doyle has met and quotes in his book (among other Buddhists), said that we need more compassionate people, not more Buddhists. I agree. I don’t care if anybody goes to a Zen center or not. Father Boyle also is not trying to convert people to his religion. He does want to share his vision, and I love that vision; it is deep and sincere.

Father Gregory’s religion isn’t exactly Zen, but in buddhism all teachings are a raft to be let go of when true understanding is experienced. And Father Boyle offers one magnificent raft for so many.

So, as I sit here on call on Christmas (I volunteer to let the goyim have their day with their families; I have for a quarter of a century) I am not looking to science for ultimate truth or religion for redemption. I do not appreciate my arrogant co-scientists who belittle those who find their materialistic metaphysics and philosophic stances (some deny they indulge in metaphysics and philosophy, itself a metaphysical, philosophical stance) to be limited and caustic, unable to answer deep questions, any more than I appreciate my spiritual brethren who use their religion to shore up their delusions and create more distance and suffering.

Too bad about all the haters.

 

 

I appreciate both science and Zen for the depth of seeing and peace, however shallow and tentative, however diminished by my own limitations, that they have brought me. My dreams come true!

And to the extent that science and religion brings their practitioners, and those they reach out to, into a state of wonder and inspires them to compassion and to make the world a better place, I am thrilled.

There is, after all, Father Boyle, walking the walk. And dedicated scientists and physicians and atheists and agnostics and artists and religious people and others I know trying to heal the world and make us all a bit smarter as well.

Mazel tov. A mitzvah.

Have a merry Christmas and happy whatever.

And don’t forget to keep dancing.

 

 

A Graphic Book Conversation About Physics

If you are interested in taking a peek into what a theoretical physicist who seems to be more interested in being honest than making a splash (or name for himself as an arrogant hard core crusader) would like you to know about his views on fundamental physics and metaphysics try “The Dialogues; Conversations about the Nature of the Universe” by Clifford V. Johnson. He’s at USC  but I forgive him (UCLA joke). I use the word metaphysics in the sense of the interpretation of physics, not spiritualism or the like. It is a graphic book (novel? Kind of? In his preface Clifford seems fine with comic or any terminology). The art is good, some panels even more than needed (a lot of work went into this!), but the reason I am highlighting the book isn’t the graphic art, as much as I appreciate it. I enjoyed the frank, honest talk about the limits and joys of science, particularly math and physics.

It is hard to convey that feeling. I’m not a physicist, but I “do” medical science research, and I know the feeling of discovery and wonder. I have tried to give a taste of that in some of my earlier blogs. I may have been partially successful; my “circle triangle square” blog gets the most hits of any I have written. I spiffed it up and re-posted last year ago or so but I think it is still the original that gets looked at. The hits sometimes come in bursts so I wonder if someone uses it for a class or discussion group. You’ll have to judge for yourself whether Clifford does it for you, but I think he makes a good effort. I recognized much of what I love about basic science and math in his graphic book.

Consider spending a couple of hours with this book. That’s all it takes to read it. You’ll learn some physics and how at least one theoretical physicist thinks about what he does as a theoretical physicist.

Spoiler alert: regarding physics: it ain’t over, and for that matter the fat lady may never sing. Physics is a process with no definitive end in sight. Theories of everything are a dicey proposition and at best may be untestable conceptual frameworks with a series of equations empirically describing what we can measure regarding energy flows. It’s a jigsaw puzzle with no picture on the box (a metaphor he uses) and all the pieces may not be able to be grasped or measured by our finite brains and resources.

We knew that, didn’t we? Still, if you like the scientific conversation, read Clifford’s book.

If, on the other hand, you want to know more about science and implications of consciousness on the nature of reality, stick with the books on Biocentrism by Lanza and Berman for a more quantum based approach or Bernardo Kastrup’s works for a more philosophical approach. I haven’t run into anything new on that front. I suspect that’s not a coincidence. Those authors do a great job, physics is physics some new interesting stuff but so what, and Zen is Zen.

And samsara is samsara. Arrrrrgh. Keep the faith, don’t let them get you down as they hurt and destroy to feed their beast, their greed and anger and ignorance. Do whatever you can to do good and to stay strong.

My love and hopes for a better world to all.

 

Why I Have Been Posting Less Recently

I have been writing less on this blog of late for several reasons.

I am finishing up a second novel about Aidan Alvarado, dream detective. It’s an adventure about life death and redemption, compassion and courage, for 9-12 year olds (of all ages! This age range is just because that’s what they want even when you self publish. What is the target audience? People love classifications. I agree guidance is helpful in some ways; it sometimes saves time. I actually think of it as just fiction; however, fiction that is appropriate for kids if they want to read it.).

It is time and energy consuming to pay attention and try to understand how to make a difference given the destructive horror show that is occurring in our government. And no, contrary to what I seem to hear from some Buddhists, you don’t need Buddhist insights to grasp this. I am not too enamored with socially engaged religious activities, though of course they could have a place. Mostly it seems to me to be more like advertising and self-aggrandizement. I agree with the Dalai Lama: we need more compassionate people, not more Buddhists (or Jews, or Christians, or Moslems, or Hindus or whatever). You want to do something with your sangha, church, synagogue, mosque, etc., fine, but don’t crow about it or stamp your beliefs on it, like that makes it special. I know fine people who are atheists, materialists, agnostics, deists, theists, religious, spiritual but non-religious etc. who care and band together to help or get involved with organizations and give to those who can make a difference without branding the help they are giving, or for that matter, themselves.

As much as I love science, I am reading less of it except for some of the fun stuff, mostly nature and biology (also there are great nature shows), or for what I do at work. I do appreciate the fact that physics can and should slap you upside the head saying no matter how you see the world, this cosmos, with your senses, the deeper you look the less “understandable” and solid it is. You can describe quantum physics and conceive some picture of what is going on, but it won’t be quite right. Can’t be. Words and concepts don’t cut it, even if they can approach it. You can come up with some idea of what might be going on: it is all energy fields (at best), ever changing with no inherently clear beginning or end, as it may be multi dimensional with multi universes. Entanglement suggests time and space is an illusion, or at least the way we experience space-time clearly is (as does relativity in a less fundamental way). The world of phenomena seems smooth and continuous and yet what seem like individual particles are described by waves, but come in discreet quanta. See my previous blogs on quantum mechanics (and now there are loads of good YouTube videos; I just watched a couple on 3Blue1Brown I liked about math and science, for example). I love that math designed and conceived abstractly as an intellectual endeavor sometimes comes to be the best way to describe the most subtle natural phenomena (like quantum mechanics).

I believe science, where it runs into the utter overwhelming fact of existence, the mind-boggling manifestations of life, of the universe itself, the nature of observation in quantum mechanics, the deep mystery of consciousness (mystery, that is, from an intellectual perspective), implies Mind is primary, is not a random epiphenomenon (though consciousness in terms of specific evolved brain functions may be so considered from a certain limited perspective. I do believe in evolution). There are great books by Robert Lanza and Bob Berman (Biocentrism and Beyond biocentrism) that explore that (see Honmei’s review of the latter book on the HazyMoon.com website) and there are several by Bernardo Kastrup. Bernardo has been writing a lot of academic articles; if you want academic arguments for what in Buddhism is called Mind Only, what he calls idealism, look him up.

So I don’t feel like writing about science and spirituality as much anymore. Others are doing just fine.

In my original post on this blog I wrote what I had heard from others that I considered the best description of what is true and that is what I still see:

 

You are the universe unfolding

No separation

No beginning no end.

 

I might add:

Mind is primary

The natural working of mind is compassion when not reacting from ignorance (ignorance: the sense of separation, thinking that ego and the words that pop into our head, our brain as it has evolved for us apes to survive, is mind, that our stories are real rather than short hand for what can’t be said)

Greed and anger are manifestations of our ignorance and cause pain, both for others and ourselves.

 

The best advice I have run into:

Don’t wish for a better past (or present or future, for that matter; it doesn’t help and is guaranteed to make you crazy; this is an abbreviation of Lily Tomlin’s statement that forgiveness is not wishing for a better past)

No self-deception

Pay attention

Don’t put a head on your head

 

I do my Zen practice. I try to act in the world with responsibility and whatever compassion as I can muster. I am lucky to have some great karma, though I see pain all around me, sometimes very close, sometimes big, sometimes small. I write fiction for adults that can be read by kids that I hope will provide a fun way to pass the time while being insightful and helpful. Writing fiction is a way to tell truths that non-fiction and didactic approaches can’t. It is an expression of my Zen practice.

I may write more about math and science and spirituality in the future. I’ll let you know more about my new fiction soon. So far this is the summary I am working on for the back of the book; it’s still rough (I have information about the first book on ralphlevinson.com and will put more about this one there and maybe here in a few weeks or so):

Eleven-year-old Aidan Alvarado had enough of saving the world; all he wanted to do was play soccer. That wasn’t going to happen! Aidan embarks on his second case as a dream detective when Emperor Wu (China’s only woman emperor who lived 1300 years ago) needs his help again. There is a war going on in the realm of the water spirit dragons and the balance of the universe is upset, threatening disaster for Wu’s empire and even the universe itself. The key is a golden feather. To solve the mystery Aidan has to travel in his dreams to ancient China, India, and Egypt. Along the way Aidan meets a few monsters and ancient deities, a boy who can morph into a cobra, a girl who talks to elephants, a poet philosopher who accompanied Alexander the Great, a beekeeper in Ancient Egypt and a mummy girl’s spirit.

 

Maat with her feather. She embodies Truth, the Way, the Balance of the Cosmos, the Dharma. You heart (like in China, in Ancient Egypt heart and mind are the same) is measured against her feather in what we know as the Egyptian book of the Dead (really the Book of Coming Forth by Day)

Acorns

A Zen teacher pointed out that you don’t know what makes the acorn become an oak tree. Of course, I thought when I first heard him say that, you could describe the mechanisms, that is, the DNA/genetic programs that sequentially activate to crate a tree form an acorn. That’s developmental biology, and understanding that has lead to important insights that have fueled the attempts at using stem cells for medical purposes.

But is that what the Zen teacher meant? I can describe muscle fiber and energy interactions when a limb moves, but that doesn’t tell me in and of itself if the movement generated is that of a predator after a meal or prey trying not to be dinner, whether a slap or a caress.

And where does that all come from, that predator and prey, that caress or slap?

Going a bit deeper into that acorn, it clearly is a representation of the incredible diversity and activity of life. Where did that set of programs come from? How did it evolve? Is it really different from all else in the universe, that which we consider living and that which we don’t?

Which brings us to carbon.

Carbon is the backbone, foundational, element of what we know of as life, and once you know about carbon, it seems obvious that it should be in our particular cosmos with the laws of physics and chemistry as we experience them. Carbon atoms can bond symmetrically with four other atoms and itself making complex molecules and long chains. Carbon is the right size to combine to make pockets for other atoms we use in living processes, being the smallest of any atom that can form four bonds. Carbon can also make double and triple bonds that increase the flexibility of the atom and it’s chains in form and function. Carbon also doesn’t tend to lose electrons or gain them and so tends toward an electrochemical neutrality that can be altered when it links up with other atoms that aren’t so mellow, another way it makes for a good backbone for complex molecules with important flexibility of electrochemical energy states.

Carbon is so simple and elegant that it is likely that the first “solid” substance in our universe were microscopic diamonds, the regular crystalline form of carbon. And we too are in some ways crystalline forms of carbon (crystals being regularly repeated patterns of atoms), and certainly we can make crystalline forms of many of our essential molecules like proteins and DNA.

The first diamonds would have been small, just a few atoms

Easy to appreciate the beautiful symmetry of this diamond crystal

 

Fun fact: diamonds are super hard, but another crystalline structure of carbon, graphite, is super soft. All on how the layers link up or not.

How carbon crystals are in the world is how the carbons combine in 3 dimensions. Graphite layers slide on each other, or have cleavage areas and so aren’t as hard as diamonds where the links are in 3 dimensions

So our physical manifestation started as diamonds and we are dependent on crystalline structures of the simplest atom that can make 4 symmetric bonds as well as double bonds.

DNA is not a completely regular crystal (aperiodic). It is this lack of absolute symmetry that makes it a carrier of information. Compare to the diamond structure above. It is in the glass bubble like structures in this highly stylized image of DNA that change, asymmetry, information,occurs. Well and in the cell the associated meta structure and the added chemical groups and associated proteins…

This artistic image of DNA stresses the regularity, symmetry and elegance of the molecule.

 

How did all of that happen?

It goes back to quantum mechanics and the fundamental laws of physics. Energy transformations. That’s how all atomic and subatomic reactions are best described.

As Stephen Hawking asked (I paraphrase): what fire, what energy, do the equations (whether quantum mechanics, relativity, string theory) describe? What brings this fire, what breathes life into the equations?

Some say a god or gods. That seems to fit their experience and work for them.

The Zen answer is easy by rote: Mind.

This is similar to Lanza’s and Berman’s Biocentrism, or Kastrup’s idealism.

Not so easy to experience directly, to the core.

Some say there is no answer, it just is, and in a certain sense I agree. After all, any “answer,” in our usual sense of the word “answer”, depends on concepts in our monkey mind, derived from our monkey senses, relating to our parochial realm of limited 4-d experience, explanation and intellectual understanding. We seek answers that can be digested when there is nothing to chew on. Take a bite, it disappears, dissolves like a mouthful of cotton candy, into a haze of quantum probability of different energy levels at best.

That acorn sure does go deep. It cuts like a diamond.