Utopia

Island where all becomes clear.

Solid ground beneath your feet.

The only roads are those that offer access.

Bushes bend beneath the weight of proofs.

The Tree of Valid Supposition grows here
with branches disentangled since time immemorial.

The Tree of Understanding, dazzlingly straight and simple,
sprouts by the spring called Now I Get It.

The thicker the woods, the vaster the vista:
the Valley of Obviously.

If any doubts arise, the wind dispels them instantly.

Echoes stir unsummoned
and eagerly explain all the secrets of the worlds.

On the right a cave where Meaning lies.

On the left the Lake of Deep Conviction.
Truth breaks from the bottom and bobs to the surface.

Unshakable Confidence towers over the valley.
Its peak offers an excellent view of the Essence of Things.

For all its charms, the island is uninhabited,
and the faint footprints scattered on its beaches
turn without exception to the sea.

As if all you can do here is leave
and plunge, never to return, into the depths.

Into unfathomable life.

Wislawa Szymborska would have been 95 years old today.

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Ed Stafford

Inspiration is not the exclusive privilege of poets or artists generally. There is, has been, and will always be a certain group of people whom inspiration visits. Its made up of all those whove consciously chosen their calling and do their job with love and imagination. It may include doctors, teachers, gardeners — and I could list a hundred more professions. Their work becomes one continuous adventure as long as they manage to keep discovering new challenges in it. Difficulties and setbacks never quell their curiosity. A swarm of new questions emerges from every problem they solve. Whatever inspiration is, it’s born from a continuous “I don’t know.” —W.S.

 

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Science Bites its Tail

The central program of science is to abstract the observer from the observed.  This is Empiricism, the idea that there is an objective physical reality that we can agree upon and describe in a common language if we discipline ourselves to make observations in a specified, standard manner.

Quantum mechanics has pulled the foundation from under the scientific program.  When QM first crystallized in the minds of Bohr, Heisenberg, Dirac and Schrödinger, 1925-27, the talk was about uncertainty and questions that are meaningless because they cannot be asked with an experiment.  Heisenberg in particular grounded the Uncertainty Principle in the practical limits of how much you unavoidably disturb a particle with the very light that you need to see it.

But 40 years later, John S. Bell tightened the paradox by demonstrating with a bit of math that there can be no objective reality independent of the observer.  The stunning conclusion of Bell’s Theorem is that objectivity is illusory.  Reality is always co-created by the observer and the observed. </

John Wheeler (Feynman’s PhD adviser) analogized the situation as a game of 20 Questions where the experimenter is asking the yes/no questions and Nature is answering them, always in a self-consistent way, but without an object selected ahead of time.  The first few answers are not about any object in particular, but as more and more questions are answered, the answers gradually bring an object into focus. The final description that emerges has been created half by nature’s answers and half by the experimenter’s choice of questions.

This is a story of physics research, pursued on its own terms by luminaries in the field, pointing to the inference that the physical description of our world cannot be complete without the addition of observers.  Consciousness complements and helps to define physical reality.

Science, pursued doggedly with its own rules and methods, has produced a result that has undermined the most basic of those rules and methods.  This paradox is so far from our experience and our culture — the scientific culture most especially — that fifty years after Bell, we are still at a loss what to make of it.  For the most part, we are ignoring it. One great mystery is why science works so well, why there is so much that humans can agree on, in spite of the fact that objective reality is but half the story, and our subjective choices — presumed to be individual — are the other full half.

1516mrt012klnMy view:  At the least, we should open our minds to subjective experience, to mystical traditions in which we co-create our reality, and to experimentation in parapsychology that lends tentative support to those perspectives.  The idea that consciousness has an existence of its own, independent of brains or computation or any physical matter, is frequently denigrated by people who call themselves scientists — I can only think they have not absorbed the bracing message of quantum mechanics.

— Josh Mitteldorf

Ormesby Psalter

(East Anglican School, c. 1310)

The psalter invites us to consider
a cat and a rat in relationship
to an arched hole, which we
shall call Circumstance. Out of

Circumstance walks the splendid
rat, who is larger than he ought
to be, and who affects an expression
of dapper cheer. We shall call him

Privilege. Apparently Privilege has
not noticed the cat, who crouches
a mere six inches from Circumstance,
and who will undoubtedly pin

Privilege’s back with one swift
swipe, a torture we can all nod at.
The cat, however, has averted
its gaze upward, possibly to heaven.

Perhaps it is thanking the Almighty
for the miraculous provision of a rat
just when Privilege becomes crucial
for sustenance or sport. The cat

we shall call Myself. Is it not
too bad that the psalter artist
abandoned Myself in this attitude
of prayerful expectation? We all

would have enjoyed seeing clumps of
Privilege strewn about Circumstance,
Myself curled in sleepy ennui,
or cleaning a practical paw.

by Rhoda Janzen
from Poetry Magazine, 2007

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Just Because

We could only hide our leaf wings for so long.

One day a man sneered at an old woman on a bus in Ballarat,
and she said, “You’re not fooling anyone, Gaia.”

Suddenly great wings with leaves for feathers burst from his jacket,
and from the back of her heavy coat,
and from the backs of everyone on the bus, one by one.

It spread like wildfire, and mankind took to the air.
Financiers cried for a minute
and went on CNN to say that it was bad for the economy,
but then they realized that they could fly too
so they quit their whining.

The old ways crumbled and a new world was born.
Now art pours from our hair like rain
and words erupt from the mouths of poets
from groin to lips
into ears attached to serene minds,
where their splendor dances unobscured.

We discovered that beauty is just another word
for the experience of having truly seen something.
We sculpt its edges with chlorophyl wingtips,
and breathe incandescent vibrations into its essence,
and make sensory explosions in the sky
just to thrill each other.

Just because,
we pull apart the machines of war and industry
to make instruments of unprecedented music.

Just because,
we learn the languages of the whales
and we join them in nightly improvisations.

Just because,
we explore new depths of love and creation,
and discover we’d been barely tickling the surface.

Just because,
we stand wingspread on hilltops as the sun feeds us
and let the grass teach true history to our bare feet.

Just because,
the man from Ballarat has given the old woman
a strange violin that he made out of driftwood.

Just because,
the woman looks at him,
and says, “There. Now isn’t this easier?”

Caitlin Johnstone

Philosopher of Science and Aesthetics

Long before Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions, the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard wrote that science was about perceptions and politics as much as ever-improving models of an objective reality.   The «rupture épistémologique». anticipated the “paradigm shift”.

His dense prose is not easy reading, but thought-inspiring if we give him a chance.

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C’est parce que nous nous unifions autour de notre nom et de notre dignité – cette noblesse du pauvre – que nous pouvons transporter sur l’’avenir l’unité d’une âme. La copie que nous refaisons sans cesse doit d’ailleurs s’améliorer, ou bien le modèle inutile se ternit et l’âme, qui n’est qu’une persistance esthétique, se dissout.
— Gaston Bachelard

It is because we pull an identity together in the name of our dignity — the pauper’s peerage — that we are able to convey a unified soul, moment by moment, into the future.  The replications of self which we manufacture must also be constantly improving, lest the old model becomes tarnished, and the soul, which is but an aesthetic conceit, dissolves.
— tr JJM

another version at The Infinite Lawn

Gaston Bachelard was born this day in 1884.

Nothing about his intellectual journey had been orthodox, particularly as measured against the rigid norms of French academic life and advancement.  — Ben Allanach writing for Aeon

The REAL Left

“It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.”
— Mark Twain

The left is caught in the same hermetic universe as the corporate press, blithely denying the enormous state crimes that have undermined and perverted American democracy. These are, principally, the corruption of our voting system, the assassination of key progressive leaders, and the infiltration and neutering of the press itself.

We see very little in the press about the obscene chasm between the super-rich and all the rest of us, or the promiscuous warfare waged by an enormous rogue state that is the USA today.

The American security state has undertaken a protracted, strategic Balkanization of the left that has obviated any possibility of any common action, and turned the Left away from working class interests.

We on the authentic left have to stop thinking in terms of left and right, stop regarding ourselves as members of the Left Tribe, and make common cause with people all over the political spectrum who are willing to question state power and who entertain the possibility of working together to pull this country and the world back from the brink.

— Mark Crispin Miller