City on a Hill

We must delight in each other, make other’s conditions our own, rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, our community as members of the same body. For we shall be a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us.

— John Winthrop (1608)

A Brief History of Science…

…and a glimpse into its future.

From the time of Aristotle through the Middle Ages, science was natural philosophy. It was a discipline that collected diverse ways of understanding diverse observations about the world, trying to make sense of phenomena with whatever stories seem most appropriate to each situation. 

Beginning with the enlightenment, the idea of “laws of nature” came into currency. There was a culmination in the 19th century of the view that

  • There is an objective world and the nature of that world is physical material — atoms.
  • There are universal laws, no exceptions, that are the same everywhere and have been true for all time. Fixed laws govern the behavior of matter, and matter is all there is.
  • The nature of these laws is microscopic, and our understanding is therefore reductionistic. In other words, everything is made of atoms, atoms behave predictably, and everything from chemistry to sociology is potentially understandable as the collective behavior of atoms. 
  • Science explains everything. There is no room for religious or mythical understandings. “God is dead” said Nietzsche.

Then, in the 20th century, a funny thing happened. Atomic physics, which was supposed to be the foundation of all science, was led by experiment to four fundamental contradictions of what had been the “scientific worldview”.

  1. Determinism was falsified. There are only probabilities at the microscopic level, and you can’t predict the future from what you know of the present, except as a set of probabilities for each outcome.
  2. Reductionism didn’t work. In quantum mechanics, separate particles don’t have separate wave functions (probability functions). It’s all one big wave function, tying together all particles everywhere. (This is entanglement.)
  3. As soon as you get past two particles, the equations become so complicated that we can’t solve them, not even on the biggest computers or the biggest conceivable computers.* We can compute a hydrogen molecule with good precision, because it has only two elections. But something as basic as a single molecule of water can only be understood in an approximate, heuristic way, making assumptions that are validated after the fact by observations of actual water molecules.
  4. The biggest hole in science was carved by the discovery that the world is not an objective material thing, but reality is co-created by the existing probability functions and the observer who measures them. Reality is essentially subjective. 

This last radical idea — that reality is inescapably subjective — was understood early by Max Planck and Niels Bohr, the grandfathers of quantum mechanics; but it was the subject of vigorous debate until 1964, when John S Bell proved that it is a consequence of accepted quantum mechanical theory, now validated by experiment and honored with the 2022 Nobel Prize.

Science today is in a fragile state, a transitional state. On the one hand, there is no disputing these four consequences of quantum mechanics. On the other hand, the 19th century reductionist paradigm is so entrenched in our thinking that we find it too baffling, too disorienting to think in the new way. We are like Wile E. Coyote who has run off cliff but doesn’t doesn’t yet realize that there is no land underneath him.

There is a fifth discovery in the twentieth century, independent of quantum mechanics. Experiments in parapsychology advanced to a level of rigor and an accumulation of statistical data that prove conclusively: living things are able to know things that defy present day science. There is telepathy — information transmitted between minds with no known sensory path that can explain how it is received. And there is precognition, in which our physiology (animals, too) respond to events that have not yet happened. These abilities challenge the notion that science is a hierarchy with physics at the foundation, and that biology can be understood as applied physics and chemistry.

All of experimental science is designed and interpreted on the assumptions 

  • that there is an objective reality, 
  • that the whole universe obeys fixed laws (the Zeroth Law of Science), 
  • that it’s possible to isolate the experimental apparatus from outside influence,
  • and that the future can’t affect the past.

To be fair, these assumptions have taken us a long way. They have been useful, so we can assume that in some circumstances they have been a good approximation.

But they are not strictly true.  

There are only a handful of people in the world thinking about how to do science without making these assumptions, assumptions that our best science has falsified decades ago. 

The world is subjective and connected. Science will have to redefine itself and its methods. Scientific culture and institutions will have to change in response. A new and ancient universe will unfold before us when we look upon it with new eyes. 


* Quantum computers may be an exception

Expect miracles, but no miracle in particular

Miracles are instantaneous, they cannot be summoned, but come of themselves, usually at unlikely moments and to those who least expect them.

Katherine Anne Porter, born this day in 1890

It is my firm belief that all our lives we are preparing to be somebody or something, even if we don’t do it consciously. And the time comes one morning when you wake up and find that you have become irrevocably what you were preparing all this time to be.

On being a mother

  As a new parent this ever-shifting certainty is terrifying, and then soothing. Eventually you must learn to trust yourself. Eventually the research will follow. First science told us they were insensate blobs. But we thought they were looking, and watching, and learning, even when they spent so much time hitting themselves in the face. And eventually science said that we were right, that important cognitive function began in early babyhood. First science said they should be put on a feeding schedule. But sometimes they seemed hungry in two hours, sometimes three, sometimes all the time, so that we never even bothered to button up. And eventually science said that that was right, and that they would be best fed on demand. First science said environment was the great shaper of human nature. But it certainly seemed as though those babies had distinct personalities, some contemplative, some gregarious, some crabby. And eventually science said that was right, too, and that they were hardwired exactly as we had suspected.   

  Even today I’m not sure what worked and what didn’t, what was me and what was simply life. How much influence did I really have over the personality of the former baby who cried only when we gave parties and who today, as a teenager, still dislikes socializing and crowds? When they were very small I suppose I thought someday they would become who they were because of what I’d done. Now I suspect they simply grew into their true selves because they demanded in a thousand ways that I back off and let them be.   

  And look how it all turned out. I wound up with the three people I like best in the world, who have done more than anyone to excavate my essential humanity. That’s what the books never told me. I was bound and determined to learn from the experts. It just took me a while to figure out who the experts were.   

read the rest of this essay by Anna Quindlen

What can I say?

What can I say that I have not said before?
So I’ll say it again.
The leaf has a song in it.
Stone is the face of patience.
Inside the river there is an unfinishable story
and you are somewhere in it
and it will never end until all ends.

Take your busy heart to the art museum and the
chamber of commerce
but take it also to the forest.
The song you heard singing in the leaf when you
were a child
is singing still.
I am of years lived, so far, seventy-four,
and the leaf is singing still.

~ Mary Oliver ~

Teach me to laugh

You’ve heard stories, I’m sure, about the guru who lives in a cave in the mountains, treacherous miles from the nearest road. Or, there are others who create artificial hardships for their disciples as prerequisite to being admitted to the esoterica. “Sure, I’ll teach you to meditate. But first, would you chop wood and carry it from the forest for me — just for a few years.”

This wasn’t like that at all. M found a number of candidate gurus through his careful online research, and he screened them, not just by reading their web pages, but also by contacting other disciples and interviewing them about their experiences. By the end of this process, it was clear: Baba was his first choice, head and shoulders above the rest.

So there were no real barriers to approaching Baba, except those that M created for himself. He was able to get a private interview with just a few weeks’ notice, and of course there was no fee for this service. 

What a smile! That’s how M knew he had made the right choice. He approached the Master and knelt on the ground, as a show of humility and to demonstrate his readiness to learn.

“Your Holiness — can you teach me to laugh?”

Immediately, the smile faded. 

“I have taught many things. Simple skills, intricate concepts, frames of mind that require deep surrender of the patterned way in which people are accustomed to seeing the world. But learning to laugh — this is something else again. I would like very much to help you, but it would not be honest if I were to assure you that I think our chance of success is strong.” 

Strangely, M lit up. He always rose to a challenge. All his life, he had succeeded where others had failed. He had aced tests that left his classmates stymied. He had excelled in the technical training that laid the foundation for his musical expression. He had sprinted until his lungs burned and fasted until his friends were afraid there was no life left in him. Surely, he would rise to this new challenge! The formidable nature of the task before him was all the assurance he needed that he would do whatever it takes to achieve his goal. 

The road to excellence is always a lonely one, but M was thoroughly familiar with loneliness, and he was no stranger to hard work. He knew in this moment that he would succeed!

Where are the mountains I was supposed to move with my faith?

The moments fall from eternity
like the steady drip of raindrops from a gutter
I listen and my soul tells me:

I have been nourished on the world’s mystery
fate takes me by the hands
kisses my forehead
swells my trusting heart
my strong faith suckled by the sun

The moments fall from eternity
like the steady drip of raindrops from a gutter
I listen and my soul wonders:

where are the mountains — the mountains
I have to move with my faith?
I cannot see them
I want them, call out to them —
they are nowhere to be found

Lucian Blaga was born this day in 1895

meditation pointer

It is far less fruitful to pose as duality looking for nonduality than to take a stand in nonduality looking for duality. In other words, when I ask, “Who is the I having this experience,” I fail to find that “I”. But if I can be myself, looking for the illusion, then I find it. The nonduality is always there, and from that vantage, I can see what I’m not.

Use what I am to see what I’m not. Don’t try to see what I am from the vantage of what I’m not.

— An anonymous participant who grabbed the pulpit from Stephan Bodian in this video