Creativity

Watching a fantastic nature show on PBS about the Pacific Ocean I was reminded how creative life is. Now, I know to some that sounds like I am slipping into intelligent design. Think what you will, but how can you look at the awesome variety of life and not be just overwhelmed? Why, though, use the word creative? Especially since it sounds like intelligent design, that dastardly back door creationists and other religious zealots use to seek religion into schools? Fair question.

Because for me, the word ‘creative’ fits as well for the canvas of life and being, as it does for a painting or a poem.

Creativity could be defined just as some human activity, or a brain activity at most (extending the attribute to a few other animals); fine, I wont argue. I’m just not so taken with the primacy of brain activity.

I like a bigger definition of creativity because it works for me, it captures something relevant, I think. Expanding the word creativity beyond clever brain burps that re-arrange the deck chairs of our perceptions captures the amazing, unrelenting tendency of the universe to come up with an expanding array of form and function.

There is a continuity of life, a center that is manifest in our genes, and in our bodies, but there has been a tinkering on tinkering still seen clearly in our genome and in the fossils, in the earth itself, that records how we changed, then changed the environment, then we changed again; a dance of four billion or so years.

            Creative because life is always something old that becomes something new. It reaches into and changes around every possible nook and cranny. It never stops, it isn’t reaching a goal, it is always creating new forms most wondrous.

            So still, is that really creative, just because there are never seen before variations? Don’t we have a special clever input into our creativity?

Yes and no.

Yes, regarding a special attribute that is creativity, that is our conceit. We make art. We have creative impulses. We project that out. We want meaning in our creativity, meaning that gives us meaning.

Again, fair enough f you define it that way.

But maybe the answer is no, there’s more.

Where do our creative impulses come from that act on the materials, the media, we fashion in our creativity? Are they really that different from the spark of a virtual particle arising at the vast, if not infinite, unperceivable (except indirectly) quantum foam, or the quantum fields of energy that can not be measured directly, but only as they change and morph, become manifest to us as particles? How creative is it to go from a unified source of all energy, a single force, an infinitely small whatever, a singularity in the jargon, to a universe, as science teaches us happened?

Or is it an infinite universe where all things that can happen will? That may be the most creative of all, the essential creativity of being!

I this creativity really different using, being, the simple substrate of a few types of atoms arranged in patterns that will encode information and interact and produce such a pageant of pulsating, squirming, burrowing, swimming, soaring complexity of life as we see around us, as we are in it and it in us?

            I was talking about my fiction writing with someone a couple of days ago. I do work with a general outline, but what is most fun for me, whether good or bad form the literary viewpoint is irrelevant, is when the story, the characters just come out. They surprise me. They come from a quiet place. It isn’t a question of uniqueness (Buddhism 101: all things, all composite entities,express karma uniquely as the result of contingencies upon contingencies, no beginning, no end) or talent (the skill of achieving the result you are after and the aesthetics of pleasing others. That is not the essence of creativity, though it may be a factor in whether you spend time or money on a work of art as a consumer).

 

The quiet place is the source.

A straight line is an infinite set of waves that can form incredible patterns, but as long as they cancel out over all, if the same amount of up equals the same amount down at the point of the line, there is no array of of the vast potential of intricate patterns, only the line. Of course the line itself, made up of points that are mere constructs, and for that matter the point on the line we are looking at, doesn’t exist. It’s the nothing left over that the waves would have been above or below if they weren’t perfectly balanced, perfectly symmetrical, above and below (or in 3 dimensions, they also balance front and back, and in four, five dimensions…).

Just perhaps, it is all creativity all the time, this vast arising and falling in the quiet place, the dream we tell stories our about.

Does it mean an outside creator intelligently designing?

No, I reject that dualistic notion.

Some call it Mind, or consciousness, or Buddha.

            Mind dancing.

 You don’t have to give it a name or conceptualize it. That’s the point of the  tetralemma in buddhist logic; whatever you can say, you’ll be wrong. After all it’s not: true, false, both or neither.

      It’s Zazen, the quiet place.

 

 

 

 

 

Circle Triangle Square and Symmetry redux

 

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This is a combination of two earlier posts that seem to have been popular. I combined them and tweaked them a bit and posted it on the Hazy Moon website some months ago. This is a further tweaking, with only some minimal changes. But since those earlier posts still get a fair number of views, I thought I would make this improved version more available.

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            It is said that “Let no one who is ignorant of geometry enter” was inscribed over the entrance to Plato’s Academy (which lasted for centuries after his death). The Pythagoreans (of Pythagorean theorem fame) made a religion of mathematics; it is rumored that they killed someone who pointed out that the square root of two was what we now call an irrational number (that is, after the decimal point the numbers never end) because the idea didn’t fit in with their model of an ordered, clean, rational mathematical universe!

Now, while the Greeks had some philosophical tendencies that overlapped with Buddhism (the skeptic founder Pyrrho went to India with Alexander the Great and studied Buddhism and the Stoics were into non-dualism and had many teachings and attitudes compatible with Buddhism), that is not why I bring up how far back the Western appreciation of mathematics reaches. I do so because it is so foundational to modern scientific thinking. Scientists consider mathematics the language of science. In fact, there are modern scientific “Platonists” like Hawking, Tegmark, and Penrose, who have written popular books and are top theoreticians in physics, who believe that we don’t need experimental evidence for their claims about reality. Rather, they believe that mathematics IS reality in its purist form! Mathematics is itself scientific evidence.

So where are they coming from and why do I think you might find it interesting if you are a Buddhist with little or no interest in Math or science? Because scientists and mathematicians argue about whether mathematics is something we invented or discovered. Because scientists are blown away by what has been called the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in predicting and describing scientific discoveries. Often the math was developed just for the sake of the intellectual challenge of it with no immediate practical application in mind, but then later turned out to be just the thing to use for modern science. But mostly because I see a lot of interesting overlap between what blew the minds of the Ancients both East and West and modern math and science.

Lets look at a Chinese Chan poem and then a Japanese Zen painting to see what I mean. Don’t worry if you hate math. Math is not about numbers. It is about relationships and ideals. I’ll draw you pictures.

Anything that we can experience as existing in time and space (that is, the realm of the senses) is in the realm of the “relative,” and whatever is true regardless of time and space is in the realm of the “absolute.” There is a tension between the relative, the relational, the contingent, the deep and abiding interconnectedness and interaction of what is in time and space, and the absolute. Zen practitioners know I didn’t come up with this terminology. There is an ancient Chinese Chan poem that we chant in some of our services. In Mandarin it is called Cantongqi, in Japanese Sandokai. The poem was written by Shitou Xiqian (Japanese: Sekito Kisen). Shitou lived in 8th century China. The title of the poem is apparently very difficult to translate: “The Identity of Relative and Absolute” is the version we use at the Hazy Moon Zen Center, and I like the kind of mathematical sound and unapologetic nature of  “identity.”

Books have been written and series of talks given about this poem. This poem, this relationship between the finite and infinite, the relative and absolute, change and the symmetry of changelessness, a unified force and all the various pushes and pulls that we experience in the contingencies of our lives, is one of those places where both science and Zen converge in wonder and profundity. Sages, philosophers and scientists have grappled with this throughout the ages. How do we get something from the ultimate oneness to the many things, how is there the illusion of duality if at the heart of the matter non-duality must be how it is. For certainly even scientists have some idea of non-duality. Think of the quest to unify the forces of nature. How can there be nature and something else?

The identity, or some say the harmony, of the world of the relative and the realm of the absolute is not very amenable to the intellect, to concepts and language, which evolved in the dualistic world of the senses, or even to mathematics, which gets lost in infinities. We can use some ideas from mathematics, at least as metaphors, even if just to get us started. We’ll do this by looking at the universe embodied in the circle, and to do that, lets look at symmetry and the breaking of symmetry.

There are many types of symmetry.  You can see mirror symmetry in the fluke of a whale. The right half of the fluke is the mirror image of the left, and visa versa. That is why the water is so evenly dispersed in the photograph of the fluke. Such symmetry is very functional for the diving whale. An asymmetric fluke would not work as well to stabilize the whale when she dives.

 

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One definition of symmetry is that you have a symmetry when something is done to a system but you can’t detect a change.

 

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If you moved this “wallpaper” over a bit to the right or left by the distance of one of the partly hidden circles, it would still look the same as long as you don’t see a tell tale edge. Pretend the square is a window with a much larger wall with the wall paper pattern on it behind the window. Move the wall, or the window, the distance of one circle to the left or right and your view through this square window is unchanged; you see the same pattern. That is a kind of translational symmetry; you translated its position without a directly detectable change; you might see other changes if you measured them, like the heat in the room from the movement and your muscles burning fuel when you shifted the pattern, or the flow of electrons in the computer if you used one and did this as a “virtual” experiment.

 The conservation laws of physics are also defined by symmetry. When we say the total energy of a system is constant, that is, that energy is “conserved,” we are saying the total energy is the same before and after you do something to the system (an experiment, say).

Look at the energy of the system before the experiment, and then close your eyes while somebody else does the experiment. When you look at the total energy of the system (including any added or subtracted, say by heating or cooling during the experiment) when you open your eyes after the experiment is done, you can’t tell there was any change in the total energy (even if the form of energy has changed, say form electrical energy to heat or the potential energy of the position of some object relative to another); it passes the “can’t tell” test that defines symmetry.

Actually we can’t measure total energy directly (the slippery nature of energy is another discussion, but even defining, let alone measuring, the total energy is clearly beyond our grasp). We can measure changes in energy. And that will be zero. If you added energy here, some was lost somewhere there. If not, you have some explaining to do. From a scientific viewpoint that can be where the real action is! A discrepancy in energy accounting could be evidence of a new particle that carried away some of the energy you couldn’t account for (this has happened), or even a new law of physics, although it is more likely you just missed something or didn’t take accurate measurements. So you try again, and if the difference remains, and it isn’t carelessness or the lack of sufficiently sensitive instruments, then you really may be on to something new! Why is energy conserved? That’s a bit far afield from this discussion, but I think it has to do with being beginningless, bottomless, endless, and uncreated.

The point is, energy is conserved and any discrepancies need to be addressed. The conservation of energy is a form of symmetry, and it is very useful.

Let’s look more closely at just what symmetry is by looking at rotational symmetry as an example. If you close your eyes and I rotate an unmarked circle, when you open your eyes and look at the circle you can’t tell that I did anything; you still see a circle, just like before. Nothing about the circle looks different. This “can’t tell” test is a hallmark of symmetry.

The entity we call a circle is an idea. It is empty of “thingness.” A circle is defined as that object that is equally distant at every point from a central point. This distance is the radius of the circle (think about it; it works!). So all it takes is a distance from a point to define a circle. We call that distance the radius. Yet in fact, no ideal circle actually exists. Even the most close to perfect circle you can create in the world of the relative is marred minimally by quantum fluctuations even of you were to design a circle to the precision of the atomic or subatomic scale.

In Japanese Zen calligraphy there are circles called enso. Of course enso are not perfect circles. They are the product of a brain, a hand, paper, ink and a brush. They are in time and space. This is the identity of relative and absolute at play, the absolutely ideal circle without beginning or end and the relative circle existing in time and space.

A perfect circle doesn’t lend itself to creating the universe of the senses, the realm of the relative. The symmetry is too good. But inherent in that circle is everything that ever was and ever could be. We just need to break the symmetry. When the rotational symmetry is broken, we can produce waves, and these waves define particles, the basis of form.

Open up a circle and you break that rotational symmetry and get a different symmetry that is limited as to rotation, but can be repeated as infinite cycles in all directions in space and time. You get the wave. We can derive that mathematically, but let me just show you a picture:

           Circle and Wave

We take a perfect circle and divide it in half. Now there is direction, duality, up and down. Now move the left tip of that lower half meets the right tip of the upper half of the circle and  we get a wave!

            You can repeat that wave (essentially rotating the circle or in this example by adding other circles in a line) without ever needing to stop (mathematically). The circle and the wave both have no beginning and no end.

The wave does have symmetry. You can flip it around the point where the two halves of the circle touch and you get the same wave (passes the can’t tell test). But it isn’t the rotational symmetry of the circle it was derived from, the unbroken circle. We broke the never ending, “absolute” rotational symmetry and found a new, more limited symmetry, the wave, which now brings us to the “relative.”

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           Mathematically we can sculpt waves. Just like additive sculpting (say in clay) or subtractive sculpting  (say in marble), we add and subtract waves to get new waves, even crafting a sharp localized spike. That spike is the particle. The really, really relative, the really, really NOT symmetric!

And hidden in a spike, that particle, there can be countless waves adding and subtracting, creating the spike mathematically.

This is Fourier mathematics, looking at the different waves that make up a given wave, and it is the basis of quantum field theory.

In the circle there is the wave, in the wave the particle, in the particle the wave, in the wave the circle.

We have the identity of the relative and absolute, asymmetry and symmetry, and the particle and wave.

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[The Tingari by Nanuma Napangardi, of Kintore, language Pintubi.]

 

The ancients knew about symmetry and symmetry breaking, circle and waves, the identity relative and absolute. Just look at the Yin Yang symbol! You see circle, and broken circle, wave and particle.

 

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 They experienced it in their beings, in their lives. That is what it is really all about.

Now lets expand our look at circles and waves by looking at a Japanese Zen painting.

 

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             Sengai Gibon (1750-1838) was a Japanese Zen master who was an artist. There are many stories about Sengai. One I particularly like shows his courage and compassion. The Daimyo, the high-ranking Samurai who was the local ruler, loved chrysanthemums. The gardener’s dog destroyed some of his prized blooms and so naturally the gardener needed to die. Sengai leveled the rest of the flowers with is trusty scythe, presenting himself to the Daimyo the next day. Sengai asked to be killed. After all, farmers, who were dying of hunger, were ignored by the Daimyo while pretty plants were valued above a human life.

           The Daimyo got the message.

One of Sengai’s most famous works is “Circle Triangle Square.”

 

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There are many interpretations of what this painting is about.

The inscription at the left of the painting alludes to Sengai’s temple, an ancient temple already at that time about 700 years old. It was the first Zen temple in Japan. So maybe the shapes refer to the temple and the pagoda at the temple and some nearby mountain.

Or maybe the inscription is not about the subject of the painting and it is just in effect his signature. Zen masters in Japan and before that China were often identified with and named after their monasteries or the mountains they lived on.

Or maybe the circle is the cushion (zafu) the meditator sits on, the triangle is the mediator with the top point as the head, the solid base of the triangle being the butt and crossed legs. The triangle could be meditator as mountain. The square might be the zabuton, the square pad the zafu sits on (the triangle/meditator/mountain idea was suggested in conversations with sensei Maezen at Hazy Moon).

Lets get Platonic. I would like to interpret the painting geometrically. I have no idea how much geometry Sengai knew. Clearly basic geometric shapes interested him enough to paint them.

So circles are amazing but where do squares and triangles come in? Lets start with how a square and triangle relate. A square is two triangles.

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            Next, how do circles and squares relate? Well, they could be symmetric as to area. That is, they can both have the same area despite having different shapes. That is a very useful equivalence in math and physics. Using the tools of integral calculus, which helps us deal with the areas of complex shapes, we can find “hidden” symmetries and so hidden relationships. Here is another way squares and circles can relate to each other that I like: every circle precisely defines two squares, each of which intersects with the circle at four points. One square is inside, the other outside the circle. Every square likewise defines exactly two circles, each circle intersecting with the square at four points:

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 Those then define two larger and smaller squares and circles ad infinitum.

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          Now, how do circles and triangles relate and how do they make waves?

We can think of the circle as a clock face. This time we will think of the radius that defined the circle (that distance that all points were from the center point) as a minute hand, here pictured as arrows. For this illustration the minute hand will go counter-clockwise, starting at the 3 o’clock position (hey, why not?). As we rotate this minute hand radius counterclockwise we will note how high the tip of the arrow is above or below the horizontal line bisecting the circle.

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 Next lets put each vertical line (the distance of the radius above or below the horizontal bisecting line) along a new horizontal line, with each clock hour marked, starting at 3 o’clock and going counterclockwise (3 o’clock, 2 o’clock, etc.) around the circle/clock. Even with just a few straight lines we see a wave emerging if we connect the tips of the arrows:

 

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            In this figure we placed the vertical lines derived from the tip of the radius above and below the horizontal line at their clock positions in the circle, as marked on the horizontal line, and connected the tips of the arrows with lines and got a rough wave. More lines would get a smoother curve, a smoother wave.

 If we were to add so many arrows (each a radius of the clock/circle, that is, the distance from the center point that defined the circle) and the resulting vertical lines from the tip of the arrow to the horizontal bisecting line so that the circle is filled with lines and arrows we would get a perfectly smooth wave. In the ideal, mathematically pure case, a perfect wave, unlike the complicated messy waves of contingency we see at the beach.

What is this wave?

Each arrow is a radius of that circle. It also is the hypotenuse (the longest side) of a right triangle (and why not? Any line can be turned into a hypotenuse by adding two other lines!).

Here is one radius arrow and the horizontal line isolated (with a line connecting the tip of the arrow to the horizontal) to show that each arrow indeed defines a specific right triangle:

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This figure shows one of the triangles defined by the arrow (radius) and the line from the tip of the arrow to the horizontal bisecting line and the segment of the horizontal line that goes form the center of the circle to the line dropped form the tip of the arrow, making a unique right triangle. The circle can have as many of these triangles as you wish as the radius, the arrow, now the hypotenuse of a triangle, points to different parts of the circle.

            Now, lets say the arrow/radius/hypotenuse is one unit long. It doesn’t matter one unit of what. A unit could be one inch, one mile, one light year, one unit of 6.753 millimeters or 5.071 kilometers, or even one diameter of an oxygen molecule (although that may be subject to quantum fluctuations). It doesn’t matter a single unit of what; are all kosher as long as all other measurements that relate to that unit length, say of the other sides of the triangle, are measured in a way that is related to that basic unit (in multiples of inches, of miles, of light years, of 6.753 mm, 5.071kilometers, of diameters of oxygen molecules, etc.).

Then we can define a specific relationship between the lines of the triangle and give it a name: the sine of a right triangle is defined as the length of the side opposite an angle (other than the right angle) over (that is, divided by) the hypotenuse. It is a ratio, so there no need to worry about units of measurement as any units are on the top and bottom of the ratio, so they just cancel. This ratio is just a relationship that always holds because we defined it that way. Since the arrow/hypotenuse/radius here is 1, the denominator of the ratio of the ”line across from the angle”/”arrow” relationship (the sine), so the line across from the angle IS the sine for that triangle. After all anything divided by 1 is just that thing.

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Here we see a right triangle. The thick line is the side across from the angle indicated by the curved line at the lower left. The diagonal line is the hypotenuse (the arrow, or radius, in our circle), the longest line in our triangle. To the right of the triangle we have the thick line divided by the diagonal hypotenuse (which we defined as being 1 unit long). So in this ratio, this division, the thick line divided by 1 = the thick line. The length of that thick line then is the sine of that angle (defined as the side opposite of an angle over the hypotenuse which is 1 unit)

 

We collected these sides of the triangles, which were the length of the tip of the arrow above or below the horizontal bisecting line, and we created a sine wave! So the triangle sine and the sine wave of the circle are one thing.

Circle, square.  Every square defines two circles; every circle defines two squares, without beginning or end.

Square triangle. Two triangles make a square.

Circle triangle. Every circle is made up of the hypotenuse of triangle after triangle, and these have relationships that define waves (we just looked at one such wave, the sine wave).

Waves have no beginning or end. We arbitrarily started and stopped at 3 o’clock on the circle. We could have kept going around and around the circle without end, and we could have started anywhere on the circle. We can go around fast, so we would have a high frequency and that would require more energy per time period. We can go around slow and that would take less energy per time period. Of course fast and slow are relative here unless you define a standard i.e. fast or slow relative to the speed of a massless particle in a vacuum, which would be the speed of light.

We could have gone in the opposite direction as well. These changes would have defined waves, just not sine waves (it would be cosine waves which are since waves out of phase, that is, shifted).

And waves, as we have seen, can add and subtract to form localized concentrations, that is, particles. Particles in this formulation are localized concentrations of the quantum field, which is the collection, or set, of potential waves based on the energy and state of a system. Wave and particle, the quantum conundrum, is then found in Sengai’s art, in the yin yang symbol.

So do you think Sengai had any of this in mind? Did he know trigonometry? Did he intuit that these basic forms could describe all form, even potential form that hasn’t formed? That these objects that have no physical existence but are abstractions, the product of mind, empty of substance, are the basis of all we consider substance in our quotidian lives embedded in the senses, the basis of all math and science, all time and space, the absolute inherent in the relative, the relative emerging from the absolute? Emerging in Mind?

Is this the dreams stuff is made of? Are these the parameters of the phantoms we chase?

Dogen:

“Nevertheless this great ocean is neither a circle nor has directions. The wondrous features of this ocean that remain beyond our vision are inexhaustible…. It is just that as far as my vision reaches for the time being, it appears to be a circle.”

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Photos courtesy of Susan Levinson

 

 

 

 

 

Myths

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The Seven Sisters by an Australian Aboriginal artist based on her people’s  mythology

 

Yesterday I visited a friend of 40 years. I hadn’t seen him in years, but my GPS, depending on satellites and the math of relativity theory (that same set of equations that tell us a photon in a vacuum is in a universe of no time or space, well, forgetting about gravitational fields perhaps) got me right to his front door.

My friend, who is my age, has a kind of cancer that should have killed him and indeed was killing him. Chemotherapy failed, although it likely extended his life a bit. That was important because it enabled him to survive to try a new medication, one of the molecules scientists designed to fight cancer through sophisticated cellular targets. So far it is working; his tumors dissolved rapidly and as far as they can tell dramatically.

Science works. It is important not to subscribe to myths that will not allow for that. That is just crazy talk.

So my friend and I were talking about science and spirituality. He is very insightful, but he seemed to be stuck just a tiny bit on whether dark energy or dark matter was what one “sees” with the third eye in meditation.

Well, that’s why in Zen we tend to keep our eyes partly open when we meditate, so we don’t wade in the darkness and try to imbue it was some meaning that isn’t there!

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Certainly to a scientist that third eye and dark energy/matter connection doesn’t sound right. “Dark” in dark matter and energy just means they don’t give off any light to show us what and where this matter and energy is. We don’t have instruments that can measure them directly. So they are dark to our senses. We “see” dark matter and energy by their effects on the cosmos, like the apparent expansion of space and the ways galaxies turn. Specific, measurable effects, that is.

As I wrote before, for example in the recent post about not being seduced by the cool in quantum, using science this way can just add noise and be distracting.

On the other hand, someone recently suggested a book to me “More Than Allegory: On Religious Myth Truth and Belief” by Bernardo Kastrup. I am only about a third into it. I don’t agree with all I have read, but there is some insight there, and it helped me in talking to my friend.

After all, what is a myth but how the intellect deals with ineffable, what is beyond words? Are myths literally true? Of course they are not. But do they express Truth? Many times, yes, myths can reflect our conditioning, desires and delusions and show us an intuitive view of a road out of our grasping, fearful, limited brains. Not all myths do that, perhaps most, simply codify cultural norms or personal biases. The best myths are how we talk about what we can’t talk about. Myths aren’t only what we tell ourselves in the absence of fact, they are a place we go recognizing that language and intellect are limited by the scale they evolved at.

As written in the foundational Song Dynasty Zen poem “The Identity of the Relative and Absolute” in the translation we chant at Hazy Moon Zen Center (I believe by Maezumi Roshi via ZCLA) “reading words you should grasp the great reality.”

When I started writing non-fiction about science and Buddhism I called my work “Chasing Phantoms.” The title was based on the story of Laplace’s last words. Laplace was one of the top, if not the top, mathematician and scientist at the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century; the “Enlightenment” in Europe. He was sometimes a theist, sometimes an atheist, always brilliant. On his deathbed somebody said to Laplace, “wow you must feel good about having been such a smart guy, accomplishing so much in math and science.”

Laplace replied, “Well, we do chase phantoms, don’t we.” Then he died.

The word he used for phantoms in French was “chimeras.” Stuff we cobble together. Stories we put together from different things in our experience, things we perceive, to make a new thing, a story. A myth.

So while I started suggested to my friend that he might not want to waste his time meditating by looking for dark energy in his third eye, I backed off a bit. Why not go there? Not a bad myth, though I am leery about mixing myth and specific scientific observations and terminology. Like a mixed metaphor, it doesn’t sound quite right to me. Also as a scientist, the situation is not symmetrical. Maybe I can mix science into myth, but it is not acceptable to mix myth into science, if you want your GPS to work, and if you don’t want to do stupid stuff like deny climate change, over population, pollution, thereby threatening civilization. Be careful you don’t lay your delusional myths born of greed anger and ignorance on science.

Yet I relish myth and I love science. Many of the sutras contain myths, stories that are not necessarily literally true but aren’t merely or solely allegories. The Avatamsaka sutra (and others, but I happen to be looking at that one) is full of elaborate images. There is’t a literal Mount Sumeru on earth.  I love referring to Guan Yin, the bodhisattva of compassion, and stories of her going down to hell hearing the cries of the suffering. I dig the story of Buddha putting up with his murderous cousin and trying to stop a war and failing. I act as if true, though I understand they are not “verified” by archaeology or written contemporaneous sources. They aren’t academic history or scientific experiments or even mathematical models. As Nyogen Roshi says, they are about you. Like myths.

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Did Shakespeare write Shakespeare? I think so, but then again, really, who cares? Whatever myth you believe about who wrote the plays isn’t critical to me. If some new facts come to life, I’ll change the myth in my head. Until then Shakespeare is a myth that works for me. It doesn’t for others. Above all, the play’s the thing… (paraphrasing Shakespeare), and all these are just such as dreams are made of (oops did it again).

At its furthest reaches science is myth. That is, we take observations and cobble together a story that supplies a deeper understanding beyond the limits of data retrieval. That is just what myth does.

While I do not always realize I am myth making in my head, being a scientist and all, I very consciously wrote a myth when I wrote my novel for kids with the express purpose of creating chimeras full of heart and meaning (“Aidan and the Dragon Girl Save the World”). The novel I chose to write isn’t a work of science fiction (the obvious choice one might think given my background in medicine and science), it is a fantasy, a dream; it is a myth. And like myth, the story works best, as does all fiction, if you take it as true when you are reading it.

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Hakuin Zenji understood the value of myth

The tetralemma, basic to Buddhist logic says of such Truths, the chimeras, all belief systems the human mind cobbles together, including dogmatic Buddhism, not true, not not true, not both true and not true, not neither true nor not true.

That is Myth.

Now, in Zen, in the original, earliest Chan writings that we have, we are to cease notions. I get that. We are easily misled, easily seduced by stories and usually they are there to serve our egos. Dualistic distractions. So fine, maybe I am a bit off base here. On the other hand, as Nyogen says, much of practice consists of gimmicks designed  to shake up our parochial views, our day-to-day delusions, to push us beyond our conditioning. Maybe used right myth is upaya, skillful teaching. A piece of the raft we cling to to get to the other shore, in Buddhist jargon.

So if my friend likes shutting his eyes and picturing dark matter in the depth and silence of his third eye, maybe it’s not so bad. I mean, it could be worse, he could have decided string theory is the multidimensional Buddha.

 

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You Think You Can Find Here and Now?

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A building in the former East Berlin

It is easy to see that our idea of the future is simply probabilities and assumptions. It is also easy to see the past is stories we tell ourselves and can’t be found except in effects in the present for which we assume causes in the past. Neither has firm, concrete, reproducible reality, even if they seem fair enough approximations for day-to-day activities and decisions. For “practical” purposes, you might say.

But we are aiming to be living in the here and now, right?

There is a now we experience of course, isn’t there?

Are you so sure?

No matter how brief, there is a finite time, a gap, between event and experience, stimulus and response, energy change and sensation and perception. One study says the brain can integrate a simple visual scene in as short a time as 13 milliseconds, though most studies have suggested it is closer to 100 milliseconds. I suppose there are many factors at play for a given scene and brain. It certainly feels instantaneous, but that’s what our brain does, of course. It fills in the gaps.

The same goes for any sense. Impulses from sense receptors release chemicals that then change the physiology of a nerve creating electoral impulses and ions race in and out of the nerve. That nerve then signals others, which end up in some brain center ,which then sends signals to multiple brains centers. Some time after that, you put words on it and tell yourself a story about what is going on. That takes longer than 13 milliseconds of course; words are slow cumbersome things even when you think them.

So by time you see, hear, smell, taste, feel, think something, it is already past and you are anticipating the future.

Can we know the now? Sure for practical purposes. We don’t want to get lost in futures that may never happen or obsess about a better past we wish we had, so paying attention to something that seems ongoing and most proximate seems a good idea.

But lets not fool ourselves. Most of what we call the present is really the past, and we are already dressing it up in words and stories and anticipating the future when we think we are in the now.

And related to perception and time, is space. We speak of space-time. The here and now. No now, does here get a bit slippery too? Of course it does. Here relative to what? We know space seems to bend, expand and contract given relative motion. That’s Einstein’s relativity and the details aren’t important for this discussion. But I think it is instructive to look at one of the most basic of all entities in science, the massless energy quanta of light, the source of all we see, the embodiment of what we think of as color, the force carrying transmitter of electromagnetic energy, the photon.

There are many ways to look at the phrase “name the color, blind the eye.” The most obvious is that when we dress up an experience in labels we loose the immediacy of the experience. We pigeon hole it for future reference, falling into a dualistic trap. It may be useful if you are trying to paint a picture and want to be efficient in choosing what tubes of paint to open, but that’s about it.

There’s another way that color is a dicey concept that I like, and I think it is very telling about how things work regarding our dream of time and space. You probably know about the Doppler effect; most up us have experienced a sound becoming high pitched as it races towards us (a siren, for example, or a car), then becoming a lower pitch as it races away from us. The waves of air that make up a sound are in effect compressed as that sound comes toward us, then stretch as it goes away form us.

So what is the sound “really”? Is the high pitch sound or the low pitch sound more real? Of course neither, they both are predictable effects of motion. But it does make it hard to talk about THE sound the car or siren makes (even not taking into account all the modifying features of the environment, the atmosphere, other sounds, your ears and most importantly, your brain that turns the energy pulses in the air into sound then tires to make snense of it and relate it to your prejudices and conditioning).

A similar thing happens with light. You may have heard of the “red shift” in the light from stars as galaxies race away from us. Well, this happens all the time. You can only speak of a photon of a given energy being a certain “color” if the object creating that photon and your eye are perfectly still relative to each other. If that object is moving toward you (or you to the object, or both to each other, doesn’t matter, the photon doesn’t care. Relativity and all that), it shifts to blue. If it is moving away from you, it shifts to red. Same photon, full spectrum. Sure, this effect is too small to percieve at most speeds, but it is real and universal. The photon is no one color, no independent color. It all depends on the relationship of the observer to the photon.

And of course we are always in motion. Breathing, heart beating, land masses moving, earth moving, solar system moving, galaxies moving all relative to each other, Indra’s net of interconnections.

No past or future, and even now is a dicey concept. No there, no here, no in between.

Are you sure about here and now? Sure we want, as the Zen saying goes, to occupy the ground we stand on. And we don’t want to miss what is in front of us worrying about the past or future. But do we really grasp the present? How many ‘presents’ make up the thought of a now? How many instants combine to make up a perception? Is ‘Be Here Now’ just another cockamamie concept we strive after using our dualistic notions? Can we hold on to the fleeting moment, trying to encompass it with our thoughts and feelings, our fears and hopes, without missing the next one? Are we impressionists, who see the ever shifting play of light but then try and nail it to a canvas to contemplate at a later time? The later time of our idea of now?

400px-Claude_Monet,_Impression,_soleil_levant

On the other hand, outside of our dualistic concepts, our sense of self and other, is there anything except now?

Two Sutras, a Poem, the Brain and Everything

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I like that Buddhism says that mind, as in brain process, not Mind as in Buddha-Mind, is a sense perception, that the brain is a sense organ, like the eye and ear in seeing and hearing.

The brain is indeed a sense organ in that it evolved to organize energy inputs and channel them to other parts of the brain, just like sense organs do. Only the brain’s output is a context, that is, a story. It is a “meta” sense organ in that it organizes the other senses. And just like the eye can generate it’s own output without “external” inputs (close your eyes and you will see things, colors and lights, generated by random firing of retinal cells) the brain can generate it’s own outputs without inputs; we call them thoughts.

In fact, some would say this is the nature of all of our experience of the dualistic world. We project the universe we experience our brain processes, like the Lankavatara Sutra says.

Too abstract? Try this. Each eye sees only 2 dimensionally. It has to; the retina is a flat sheet in the back of your eye. We project a 3 dimensional world. Our brain compares inputs from both eyes to make that story up. We can do it with one eye, even though there can be no 3 dimensional perception with just one eye. We do it by what we have been conditioned to expect, based on evaluating relative size, shadows, etc. That’s why pictures can look 3 dimensional to us, whether paintings, movies, photographs, TV, etc. It’s why optical illusions work and why one-eyed people don’t walk into walls (at least not a lot more than two-eyed people) and can drive.

How about this? You can’t see a “yellow” photon (that is, a photon at the energy we describe as yellow as shorthand). You have no yellow perceiving photoreceptors. Your brain puts yellow together from various inputs from the retina and projects it back out

Those inputs from one part of the brain (the visual cortex) to other parts of the brain (the visual association centers that put together the world into a coherent visual story) are no different on a brain level than the input of a photon on the retina of the eye that causes changes of energy that are then transmitted to the brain in the first place. Energy in, energy out.

So yes, the brain is indeed a sense organ. Well done, ancient Buddhists!

Lets go wide and deep on this.

first, go small, very deep, to strings, if they exist, we get to just energy patterns. At that level, there are no things, things disappear.

Go wide and big and in the vastness any thing, any fluctuation in the energy, you, the galaxy whatever, even our universe, is so negligible as to be essentially if not actually zero. Like a tiny + and – adding to zero. All change in the realm of what we (our scale of energy fluctuation) can perceive even extended by instruments, is no change at that scale, in the face of infinity, or 10^500 multiverses, or even in our known visible universe, or especially, as I understand it, if there is indeed no beginning no end. At that level, there are no things, things disappear.

So we are back to Shitou and the Tang dynasty Zen poem “The identity of Relative and Absolute” wondering what this vast UNI-verse, this undivided non-dualistic state, and awareness. What is that identity? How do we get to the reductionist stuff from the unified forces or to the unified forces form reductionist stuff? That is true science, the real theory of everything; only it isn’t a theory.

This brings to mind The Diamond Sutra, which says we should not attach to a person, a soul, a defined entity and identity of who and what we are.

To the state of being at the smallest of the small, say a “string” or the smallest quantum fluctuation of virtual particles in the void, at the smallest scale, you don’t exist. That is why a virtual particle, an expression of the vast limitless energy of the void, is “virtual;” it doesn’t feel us and we don’t feel it. Otherwise it would be a particle, not “virtual.” Yet some say that energy is where the big bang, or all existence, came from. It is fundamental. It is “the field.” Others say fields are just concepts that tell us how things act, to do the math (that is, quantum fields can be described by how they work, not what they are). In any case, there is nothing you can do to touch that string or virtual particle, you are too large, too coarse. That smallest world exists in a cosmos that isn’t yours, yet it is you. Yet you only exist as an individual entity (to the degree that you seem to do so) by virtue of the rules of the smallest of the small.

To the Universe/cosmos or multiverse or whatever, at the largest scale you don’t exist. You are too small a blip to register in the unending beginninglessness. Heck, even at the level of the galaxy, our solar system is too small to truly be said to exist as more than a small statistical fluctuation. At larger levels we aren’t even statistically present. Yet you only exist as an individual entity (to the degree that you seem to do so) by virtue of the rules of the biggest of the big.

And in fact, science tells us that there is no privileged time and space, that every point is the center of the universe

That cosmos, the smaller and smaller, or the bigger and bigger, that we can’t seem to touch, is us, because, well, here we are, right dab in the middle of it all.

The ancients would ask a new student “where did you come from?”

Meaning where are you? When are you? Who, what are you?

Good questions. And in some way, science and Buddhism start to converge in the answer.

You are the universe unfolding, without beginning or end, neither here nor there, neither existing or not existing, at least not in the way you think with your sense organs, your day to day relative existence, yet always at the center.

Please, lets take good care of that center!

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Entropy, Ego, What’s the Point?

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Rather than launch into a technical description of entropy and the relationship of energy and entropy lets try this first.

More entropy means more disorganization and more ignorance. Low signal to noise. Less information. Like static preventing the faithful transmission of data. Think of loud static on a radio when you are trying to listen to music on your car radio.

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If I tell you I mixed up the numbers one through ten and put them in a bag, then I picked out two, say a 3 and a 7, all you know about the next one I will pick is that it is not a 3 or 7. So they are mixed up, disorganized, and we have a bit of ignorance about some aspect of that system. Relatively high entropy. If I throw in some letters or blanks into the bag along with the numbers, i.e. static, you are even less able to predict the next thing to come out of the bag!

Now I tell you I ordered the numbers from ten down to one. There are no blanks or letters. I picked out a ten. Next picked will be… nine! Very good. You had little to no ignorance. But I had to put extra energy into ordering the numbers compared to throwing them in the bag. I had to have some way to assure they stayed in order as well. Low entropy, but it took more energy.

Meditation can be seen as aiming for high energy, low entropy. But I am not sure that’s quite true for zazen. You’d have to ask a Zen teacher. Certainly “mindfulness” is like that.

A circle is low entropy. You know everything about it and it took energy to create it (minimally mental energy, in addition perhaps energy to move the pencil or program and run the computer).

Symmetry is not ignorance. True, by definition symmetry is present when you can’t tell something has changed, like someone else spinning a circle while your eyes are closed, so that seems like ignorance. But to do that experiment, you need to know that the experiment was planned and then do it! That’s a lot of knowing, organization and energy!

Information is low entropy. It takes energy to put 0’s and 1’s in some order and that is one aspect of what information is. Ordered dualism.

Meaning is how we interpret and experience information. It is our perspective on it. It is contingent to the max. It is easily colored by our wishes and desires, by our egos.

I just read that the Nobel Prize winning physicist Steven Weinberg, who unified the electromagnetic and weak nuclear forces (along with others, of course; anyway major physics achievement) wrote: “The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.”

That seems very nihilistic and depressing. Perhaps that’s how he meant it. If so, somehow he had dealt with it because some four decades after writing that he is still writing books!

On the contrary, that seems very Zen to me. And liberating. It relieves us of arbitrary values and goals. The kind the ego sets up to measure ourselves by, so we can achieve them and reassure ourselves. Except when we don’t.

What ultimate, objective, cosmic, universal, non-dualistic “point” could there be? Any point we could articulate would be a human construct, limited and contingent, a dualistic notion of use in only a very small corner of time and space.

Matthieu Ricard writes in his book “Altruism” that the ego is the crystallization of our identity. He writes that we try to protect it. That’s pretty good, but I am not sure that it is quite right. There is no single anatomic brain space that houses the ego. I think the ego is the process by which we protect our identity. The identity is our sense of who we are based on our conditioning (biologic and psychological, contingent on where and when we are). It is how we organize our sense perceptions and react to them. It is our karma, if you will. It is how we try to make the world comprehensible, to find a point. The ego is the process of having and wanting there to be a point. A point is like a location, a beacon, a polar star that the ego can refer to on the horizon to measure itself and its position by so it can better protect us as we cruise through the world of time and space, the world of the six senses.

So as the universe becomes comprehensible, what we comprehend may not be to our ego’s liking. It may not put our bodies (brains included) at the top of the heap. It may remind us that our limited sensory experience is a pretty pale reflection of the vastness of the universe. Of course comprehensible in this context means the forces of nature. The things physics studies. That which can be measured. It does not mean the whole shebang.

To be clear: I am not suggesting a lack of values. I hope you value compassion. I hope you don’t value your suffering and especially not the suffering of others. I am only suggesting not being seduced into thinking that is the “point.”

Or is it? We can chose to embody compassion, we can aspire to the low entropy high energy state. Is that the “point” of our lives, our minds, the dream, the whole show? Some think so. I admit to liking that view. But maybe that’s the point! It is a goal to like, admirable to be sure, but do I like it because it makes me feel better about myself? Is that my ego protecting me?

No “point”? Perhaps that’s kind of like “ordinary mind is the way.” Or the miracle is chopping wood and carrying water. You don’t need a “point” writ large to the universe to eat when hungry, or to be compassionate. That is the functioning of the universe. What needs to be added? What would be the point?

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Not knowing is most intimate: Neil deGrasse Tyson and Grace Slick and Nagarjuna

I recently watched the awesome Neil deGrasse Tyson’s show “Star Talk” where he interviewed Richard Dawkins and had a Jesuit priest on to discuss religion and science. Despite being an atheist and agreeing with much of what Dawkins has to say I found myself rooting for the Jesuit. Dawkins was so arrogant and sure he had the real story, despite some murmurings to indicate humility in the face of our awe inspiring ignorance about the universe (I assure you that while it is amazing how much we do know, or perhaps one could say, despite that we know anything about the universe at all, we know much less than some seem to think we do), his lack of compassion and insight was astounding. Sure I am an atheist and can’t get behind Catholic dogma, so finding myself trying hard to agree with a Jesuit was a strange intellectual sensation!

At one point Neil spoke about a kind of spiritual experience he had in nature. He just objected to dogma. Well, Nyogen is often paraphrasing the great Chan master Huang Po: we have no dogma in Chan/Zen (only realization and practice).

Dawkin’s smugness reminded me of Hawking’s pronouncement that philosophy is dead because science has supplanted it. Was he being purposely ironic in making a philosophical metaphysical comment about the death of metaphysics? You know, like saying “this sentence is a lie”? Perhaps.

Granted some metaphysical speculations have been laid to rest by modern science, but even within the realm of science others have arisen. At what point is math science? How do you define science, is it still falsifiability or reproducibility (if so there goes Hawking’s M theory)?  Certainly Hawking must get that such a statement is a metaphysical stance, hard to justify in terms of these basic questions about the definition and scope of science, that a statement on the limits (absolute  or otherwise) of metaphysics and philosophy is an evaluation and judgment about the nature of reality that is not established deductively but inductively. It is a speculation about philosophy, an opinion; it can’t be measured or proven. It can be disproven (as per the previous discussion, a less than formal proof admittedly but really..!). Whatever it is, it isn’t science.

But closer to home than M theory, we will never be able to step out of consciousness to prove the nature of consciousness. We do find neurologic correlates of states of consciousness, but it is not clear that is the same as grasping the experience or understanding the nature of consciousness.

The nature of consciousness is awareness, and awareness is a subjective experience. We may, and I suspect will, prove the physical correlates of thought. Will that be enough to comprehend the nature of mind, of consciousness?

Is it science? Is consciousness even at its most basic a scientific question? It is the one thing that is at the end of the day the quintessence of subjective experience. It is subjective experience.

Well, think about what we do know. E=MC^2

Energy is mass. What IS energy? We only know what it does, how we experience changes in energy. What could it mean to really know what it is? Certainly scientifically it is sufficient to know what energy, or consciousness, does but we experience what consciousness IS, by definition, because consciousness is exactly what we DO experience, at some level.

Same with mass. We define it by what it does. We understand it confers inertia, that the Higgs field plays a role. What is a field? IT is something that is measurable at all points. What is this something? That thing which, when disturbed, gives us a Higgs boson and confers mass. This is wonderfully sophisticated and true. This is a vision of reality that should take you out of your day-to-day limited experience and open up the universe; yet kind of circular.

For that matter define a flavor without simply comparing it to other flavors. You can get to the chemistry, see how it lights up a functional MRI, but what about that first lick of your favorite ice cream on a hot day? Can math and an MRI capture that? Except perhaps for some specific biomedical research, do we need it to?

We can only kind of say what awareness, consciousness, experience at its most basic, is, what it isn’t, what it may be and not be, what it seems to neither be nor not be, but not quite. Can’t pin it down intellectually. We can come close, we can dance around it, use mathematical metaphors and measure certain aspects of certain behaviors, certain relationships in the world of the senses, but we are limited intellectually by our evolution, our inability to “get our heads around it” as the saying goes. How do you get your head around your head? Like the old Zen saying: adding an extra head to your head?

So yes Neil, savor experience, don’t worry about dogma.

And how about this: Neil deGrasse Tyson at the end of that show said he could even give up cause and effect, that is has worked well so far, but maybe, just maybe….

Certainly in the world of this and that, the senses cause and effect is the best rule of thumb…..

This is not without Western precedence (the philosopher Hume). Not getting caught up in inductive reasoning. Or Sekito Kisen “cause and effect must return to the great reality.”

And while in Buddhism the twelve links of existence are cause and effect, the great exposition of this by Nagarjuna in the Madhyamaka text “the Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way” beings with:

Neither from itself nor from another.

Nor from both,

Nor without a cause,

Does anything whatever, anywhere arise.

So cause and effect and yet not form itself or anything else, so implying not caused, no beginning no end, no arising. Nagarjuna says logic comes to the tetralemma: is, isn’t, is and isn’t neither is or isn’t, that is the point where logic and proportion fall sloppy dead (Grace Slick, White rabbit, Jefferson Airplane 1967).

Sounds like bare awareness, emptiness, to me. Wow Neil! And he’s an astrophysicist!

Not knowing is most intimate!

 

Overlapping Science and Buddhism with Cameo by William Shakespeare

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Science and Buddhism at their best address reality without dogma and so they do overlap; summing it up (and throwing in W.S. for fun):

Form is emptiness, emptiness is form
The Heart Sutra

The subjective and objective spheres are related
And at the same time independent
Related yet working differently.

Cause and effect must return to the great reality

Each thing has its own intrinsic value and is
Related to everything else in function and position
Ordinary life fits the absolute as a box and its lid
Identity of Relative and Absolute

Every particle and every wave in the Universe is simply an excitation of a quantum field that is defined over all space and time
Quantum Field Theory for the Gifted Amateur. Lancaster and Blundell

Quantum field theory arouse out of our need to describe the ephemeral nature of life.
Quantum field Theory in a Nutshell. Zee

What is it that breathes fire into the equations and make a universe for them to describe?
Stephen Hawking

We are such stuff as dreams are made on
The Tempest William Shakespeare

 

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Viral Brains

In my last post Charles Darwin and I put us on a footing with worms as sentient beings with intelligence. And I encouraged feelings of deep love for mud. But lets note our very very intimate relationship with and debt to entities that are not even quite living by any definition: viruses.  Part of our genome, our collection of genes, including DNA that doesn’t code for proteins and used to be considered “junk” but is now known to include critically important stretches of DNA that determine which genes will be expressed (that regulate the genes), is actually derived from viruses. Such viruses result in DNA that has been incorporated into our genome, and it turns out that we may in part owe our mammalian intelligence to these viruses!

And going the other way to now extinct cousins, if your ancestors left Africa before some 50,000 to 75,000 years ago then  1-2% of your genes are variations from your ancestors having sex with Neanderthals and 30-80% of the Neanderthal genome are variants can be found to be in the modern human genome, shared by those of us early out of Africa types.

Why do I bring this up? To remind us that what we are is the same thing as viruses and Neanderthals. Or if you are a later out-of-African, not Neanderthal, but still viruses!

And sure, we share genes with bacteria, and plants. And we are made of elements brewed in stars actually, we are like complex planets. But that sounds more acceptable somehow, I think, for most of us. Sure we are star stuff, sounds awesome, but viruses, and Neanderthals?

When the old masters said “Buddha is shit” or Buddha is a worm” or “Buddha is a virus or Neanderthal” or “we are mud” (ok, they probably didn’t say that) they weren’t speaking in riddles, metaphors or trying to shock. They were simply being accurate.

Year of Mud and Worm Intelligence

There is a wonderful editorial in the scientific journal Nature this week entitled “Down to earth” (Nature News and Comment, Nature volume 517 issue 7535, Jan 20, 2015) about dirt, about mud about soil. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has declared this the International Year of Soils.

Soil, dirt, IS life, at least here on earth.

What is the difference between dirt and soil as positive or negative words? Just where it is relative to where we WANT it to be. When a baby “soils” her diapers, it is because we don’t LIKE to deal with shit that we use the word soil. We wish it would just be somewhere else. When we track dirt into the house, it is dirt, not soil, because we wont use it to grow stuff. Well, those of us who lived for a time with dirt floors know that is kind of arbitrary. It is about aversion and attraction based on… what to you think?

But soil, dirt is life, as basic to our embodied existence here on this planet as the sun and water. And bees. And the only thing of that bunch we are not messing up is the sun; that we are merely wasting but not using more solar energy.

Which brings me to Charles Darwin and worms. One of the first scientists to really appreciate the role of living organisms in shaping the earth, and not just the other way around, his last book written in 1882 was “Vegetable Mould and Earthworms.” Yes, he not only was at the forefront as I have detailed before in animal minds and emotions, but he was also a visionary in ecology and the very thin (one might say essentially non-existent) veil between our earth and life.

Vegetable mould is the part of the soil that is composed of organic matter derived from, or processed by, living organisms. And worms play a central role. As I mentioned in a previous post, one of the world’s longest experiments is the settling of a round stone in Charles Darwin’s backyard as earthworms eat the soil form under it and shit it out elsewhere. He even documented this process at Stonehenge!

Darwin worm stone

Darwin’s worm experiment

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Effect of earthworms on stones at Stonehenge from the book Vegetable Mould and Earthworms (1888 edition)

But while recognizing the ecologic value of worms and dirt is all well and good, here’s a challenge I suspect most of you will be able to rise to: do you think Charles Darwin thought earthworms are intelligent? Or do you put him in a box of “scientist” who can’t possibly see that they could be sentient beings, who sees all life forms as mechanical automatons.

Well, you know from how I asked it (you did go to school, right?) what the answer is. I quote:

“Judging by their eagerness for certain kinds of food, they must enjoy the pleasure of eating. Their sexual passion is strong enough to overcome for a tie their dread of light. They perhaps have a trace of social feeling, for they are not disturbed by crawling over each other’s bodies, and they sometime lie in contact… they pass the winter either singly or rolled p with others into a ball at the bottom of their burrows Although worms are so remarkably deficient in the several sense-organs, this does not proceed intelligence… we have seen that when their attention is engaged they neglect impressions to which they otherwise attended and attention indicates the presence of a mind of some kind. [comment: some level of free will as Thomas Campbell might suggest?] They are also much more easily excited at certain times than others.” [p 35]

Later in the book Darwin has 32 pages in chapter 2 on “Their Intelligence” where, as a good 19th century naturalist, he collected data on how worms chose what material they used to plug their burrows.

So while many scientists might indeed question whether worms are sentient, WE (you, me and Darwin) won’t, will we? Like Darwin, we recognize sentience when we see it, don’t we? And we are certainly big fans of dirt and worms. Our lives depend on it!