Mirror's Reflection

From the very beginning, we have always been aware of celestial objects dotting the night sky. These planets and stars were traditionally associated with astrology, myth and religion. With time, we began to demystify these heavenly bodies, measure their orbits and movements and unite astronomy with physics. We spoke of distances in terms of miles and kilometers. Then within a matter of a few centuries, we have come to realize that we are living in one galaxy among countless galaxies in the Universe, and we began measuring space in light-years.

And now a few decades later, as we aim to identify the outer edges of Space, we are coming across some evidence suggesting that our Universe is but one of an infinite number of universes, and we are starting to talk not in terms of distances but of dimensions. This pattern of discovery at an increasing rate seems to point to something fundamental about our reality and, more importantly, about us. As we stare deeply into the fabric of time and space and ask questions about our origins and our environment, we find that fabric to be rapidly expanding and its borders getting further away from us. As a result, we are enlarging our perspective and redefining our world and ourselves, but we never seem to be able to stand on solid ground.

When science breaks down everything for us, it cannot grab hold of anything concrete or tangible; rather, it only raises more questions amidst paradox. Science is now telling us that all substance and phenomena are "composed" not of any hard material or particles - although it sometimes appears that way - but of waves or vibrating fields of energy, which are at the root of everything that we experience including light, colors, sounds, etc. The reason for not being able to grab hold of the seemingly concrete substance of the world has to do with the nature of reality. As we stare into it, it stares back into us. In my view, reality is a breathing, dynamic, integrated, hyper-dimensional, multi-linguistic, interactive phenomenon, dependent on each one of us as participants. In other words, the seemingly solid world around us is shaped by our projections upon it, by the interplay between our experiences and our perspectives. Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle claims that we cannot separate the observer from that which is being observed. We are not separate from the world; rather, both are interdependent just as plants and insects need each other to survive. Reality is like a living mirror of countless dimensions; any attempt to catch its reflection and identify its substance and features leads us into an endless labyrinth of regressive reflections of our own search because the function of that mirror is to cast a reflection at every possible angle. As we use more advanced tools to try and look at the mirror, we receive back a reflection of equal sophistication. For this reason, modern science can never claim any of its findings to be absolute. Science is itself one system or language among many and it deals with working theories and not absolute truths. By language I mean a coherent system of symbols that expresses ideas about the world and ourselves. As our "field of vision" expands or refocuses on different angles or dimensions, our experiences of the world and the "truths" by which we live also change and are expressed through new or different symbols. Previous truths and perspectives are not necessarily nullified but are constantly transcended or subsumed into a newer, bigger picture. These old perspectives, while incomplete, remain valid within their own time and local context. Newton's laws of motion are a classic example. They are valid in the everyday, "local" world we live in but break down when we apply them to the world of the miniscule.

Our interactive reality, as observed, has specific qualities. No single, explicit system, perspective or angle on reality is wholly complete or true. Reality expresses itself through countless forms and perspectives but none of them is the absolutely correct one. The reason is that reality is infinitely dimensional and dynamic while perspectives are relatively one-dimensional and static. Perspectives are fundamentally fixed languages through which we make sense of reality. Just as there are no right or wrong languages, there are no right or wrong perspectives in the grand scheme of things. Hence, there are as many distinct worlds as there are perspectives. Each form or each pair of eyes or each mind is a reflection of reality and a window into a world of its own, perfectly viable and real. Also, all perspectives are different derivatives at different magnifications of this singular, fundamental, inconceivable and implicit hyper-dimensional phenomenon in the same way that the spectrum of colors is derived from white light passing through a prism. Subtle parallels between certain perspectives, however diverse, support this idea.

The historical record is a good illustration of the futility in trying to grasp at an absolute, objective perspective. Most of our ancestors at the dawn of the agricultural revolution did not venture out too far from their birthplace. They grew up, worked and raised families in their local communities. Their personal experience, rounded by their limited mobility, reinforced their vision of the world in which they lived. Standing out in the fields with the horizon all around them, they could easily picture the earth as a large, flat disc as the sun rose in the east and set in the west. Based on their perception of how things operated locally, they could "rationally" deduce that there was an edge to the flat ground beneath their feet. After all, every object, leaf and mountain around them had edges to them. The spherical dimension of the ground would not have entered the mind of the average person living in those times. That would have required a much bigger perspective. To their knowledge their daily, personal lives did not hinge on the particular shape and dimensions of the planet. However, those who were endowed with curiosity, keen powers of observation, imagination and time may have suspected something strange as they noticed a subtle change in the position of the sun in different seasons during its daily journey across the sky. Also, those who may have physically ventured out to trace the edge of the earth would have also been tipped off as to the nature of the planet. In any case, the prevailing view of the earth as a flat disc survived for thousands of years and persisted even in Medieval Europe. Once geodesy was proven, the debate over a heliocentric Universe arose. It was quite natural at that time to think that the Sun and all other planets revolved around the Earth. After all, people saw the Sun move across the sky every day and sink into the sea or behind some mountains in the evening; and they certainly didn't feel the motion of the Earth beneath their feet. It took visionaries like Copernicus and Galileo to closely observe the Earth and its environment and to realize that the Earth revolved around the Sun. With time, the heliocentric view took hold and eventually we learned that the Sun was not the center of the Universe. In just a relatively short time, our perspective of the physical Universe expanded a million fold. Science started out imagining the planets and the Sun as billiard balls on a rather small pool table, relatively speaking, to contemplating multiple worlds, universes, time lines and dimensions. Our modern science is beginning to eclipse science fiction and fantasy with its strange and fantastic propositions. And as it holds true to its own integrity as a language, science admits that it is at best a system of approximation that is constantly shifting. In fact, using logic and mathematical language, Kurt Gödel in 1931 proved that any formal system, mathematical or otherwise, could never be proven within its own boundaries. In other words, the system will never be able to bear true witness to its own statements or truths. It cannot stand on its own. This suggests that the current paradigm of our lives, which is built on science and mathematics, is in some sense incomplete and illusory and that is it is only one of many possible paradigms or perspectives.

When we enlarge our perspective, step back far enough or venture out to the edge of our beliefs, we begin to make discoveries and paradoxically get a more complete image of our unimaginable reality. This is truly an expansion in consciousness. The fact that we cannot claim to have reached the ultimate edge or vista point indicates that our current perspective, no matter how grand, is incomplete. But it also implies that reality is a function of the mind, of consciousness. It is not by coincidence that discoveries about the Universe are being made in concert with those about the human mind. Moreover, we know from experience and through many optical illusions familiar even to children that our physical senses can easily deceive us. Our senses by nature exclude or are limited to certain ranges. When we look at a person, we see but a narrow range of the entire spectrum that is a human being. When we put on infrared goggles, for example, we see the heat generated by a person’s body. If we subject that person to x-rays and capture the image on film, we can see yet another dimension of that person. Likewise, our other senses operate within a certain range and exclude a vast portion of the spectrum; so clearly, perception is a matter of sensitivity. We each live within a narrow band of sensitivity, a "truth bubble" of sorts based on our values, beliefs or notions of the world and of ourselves. And of course we share many of these with our neighbors to create the environment in which we all live. Sitting in a mall surrounded by shops while sipping on a soda, we realize that this fabricated landscape was created by human imagination and perspective. The design of the mall, the shops, the products for sale, the chair we are seated in, the synthetic lights and even the taste of the soda are the result of specific human imagination and innovation. However confining or neurotic or pleasing it may be, we inherently choose to participate in and accept this environment that was probably designed and erected by someone other than us. For Australian aborigines or American Indians living on the Great Plains, the mall environment may be thought of as quite strange and perhaps even insane. It is one setting or perspective among countless possibilities. And just as we unconsciously accept physical environments built by others, we also, often without question, consent to mental or psychological landscapes that are also imagined or set up by others. Our political, educational, religious and social institutions shape our psychological makeup. From the day we are born, they automatically become our gospel truth and the very lenses through which we see the world. Without a doubt, we are programmed to propagate the beliefs of our families, our culture and our current age. While our experiences often cause us to rethink our perspectives, there are occasions when our beliefs or perspectives influence, alter or confine our experiences. Religion is a perfect example of this. Religious people often interpret their experiences through the dogma of their beliefs and don’t allow any other perspective to take hold. It is impossible then for anyone to claim an absolute or objective view, whether political, religious, philosophical, social or otherwise. While our perspective may serve us well within a specific environment at a certain time in history, it may not serve others as well or may not be applicable under different times or circumstances.

In one way, perspective is a language through which we organize or make sense of the world and reality. Perspectives, by nature, have to be formed by static, concept-driven ideas; otherwise it would be impossible to have any coherence to our world. Perhaps the most well-known, dueling languages or perspectives nowadays are that of mainstream religion (mainly theism) and the science of evolution. Science is a language made up of numbers and equations and has fashioned microscopes and telescopes as mouthpieces or tools to support its perspective. Religion on the other hand uses images and myths as its language supported by creeds and prayers and other religious tools. While the debate between religious creation and scientific evolution rages on, our observations and discussion above should tell us that neither perspective really captures the entire story of our origins or identity. We do not have the entire picture; however, both evolution and creation are equally viable if taken as symbolic languages within our limited amount of knowledge. Creation by some all-powerful intelligence or god was for a time widely accepted, and perhaps still is, to explain the origin of life. The world had been operating under the auspices of religion for millennia. Originally, religion was rooted in a language of mythology, which expressed in symbols and metaphorical images the mysteries of life; but with time, that language became literal and exploited for psychological, social, economic or political purposes. Then, only a few centuries ago, the language of science flourished to become the material religion of our times. With the microscope, the telescope, and the surgical knife, scientists have been defining our world and spelling out the operations of the physical world. They tell us that our machine-like bodies evolved over time, originally from tiny micro-organisms, and that we are made up of fluids and cells and tiny agents that go about directing traffic, filtering out toxins and processing nutrients to maintain health. All of this is a coherent linguistic system, a perspective that has shaped our environment, our way of thinking and our daily lives. But we must realize that a science-based study such as evolution is one of the angles or dimensions through which we can look at that mirror of infinite dimensions. Evolution as defined within our current paradigm is a progressive movement through natural selection from one state to another on a linear timeline. It is driven by survival and puts the accent on the species as the result of a process. But if we expand our field of vision, the borders that are defined by evolution dissolve. We can see life and the world as a continuous, harmonized and unified movement. For example, if we focus on the leaves of a tree, we see them as individual fragments that flourish and die. We can expand our vision a bit and see the branch as the main protagonist in our perspective and the leaves as extensions of the branch. Although inherent to the branch, the leaves become secondary like fingernails that grow and are eventually trimmed back or like skin cells that are shed from our bodies. If we expand our vision again, we see the tree as the focal point or individual in the picture. If the tree loses a branch, we see it as a pruning and it will grow another branch perhaps. From there we can focus on the Earth, out of which all trees grow. And of course the expansion of the field of vision can go on into solar systems, galaxies, universes and eventually into a realm where human comprehension or vision cannot penetrate. We realize then that evolution’s perspective or focus, while viable, covers only a certain range of the inconceivable and infinite spectrum and that reality is a hyper-dimensional, linguistic pattern that yields different perspectives depending on what is being accentuated.

We are at a vista point where mainstream religion and modern science can no longer express our expanding experience of ourselves and of our environment. We see their face-value interpretation as narrow bands or ranges on the vast spectrum of reality. Clearly as presented to us, they are too limiting, one-dimensional or incomplete to be taken as the ultimate vista points on life or as the only valid languages. Even though science tells us that there are billions of cells at this very moment flowing through our bodies, warding off diseases and filtering out toxins, we don’t existentially or experientially resonate with that view. Linguistically, this does not capture the totality of being human. Even though religion tells us that there is a god watching over us, listening to every prayer and accounting for every deed, we feel quite detached from that image of omnipresence. We feel this picture to be too flattened out and infantile. If we take science and religion too literally, we get caught up in their suppositions and begin to think of ourselves as static concepts; but we are vibrant beings living in a real and dynamic landscape that no single perspective or concept can fully capture or understand.

There are endless potential viewpoints in the Universe. All we have to do is look around to see the infinite ways in which life expresses itself. Within the human sphere, we live collectively on the same planet and occupy the same space as our friends and neighbors; however, we each carry out our lives in our own unique worlds, living in a mental bubble of personal truths or realties. We are each equipped with individual beliefs, an image of ourselves, insecurities, judgments, hopes, desires, fears, etc. All of these elements dynamically blend and shape our lives. This very idea of infinite worlds existing simultaneously has its counterpart in the field of physics and quantum mechanics. In the 1950’s physicist Hugh Everett proposed the Many Worlds Theory or Many Worlds Interpretation. Before Everett, most physicists such as Niels Bohr believed that when we measure anything at subatomic or quantum levels, the very act of measurement forces that which is being measured to settle into one state out of the many potential states. Everett suggested that, at the time of measurement or observation, the Universe splits into all potential outcomes. With this suggestion, he gave life to the notion of parallel worlds in different dimensions. This mind-boggling idea solves the paradox of the infamous particle-wave duality where a subatomic object, when measured, can sometimes behave like a particle and at other times like a wave. Another recent theory being considered, which also yields parallel universes of sorts, is String Theory. It suggests that all substance and phenomena in the Universe are made up of sub-quantum vibrating strings, like rubber bands. This theory supposes that our Universe came into being as a result of other universes coming into contact with each other, thereby releasing a tremendous amount of energy and resulting in the Big Bang of our Universe. Of course these theories have not been verified. We have yet to be contacted by some coherent entity from another world or universe, although some suggest that ghosts and paranormal activities are signals from such other worlds.

The most fundamental quality of reality is interconnectedness. Every element in nature is an integral part of a greater whole. In other words, nothing is truly fragmented or isolated. Likewise, every person's unique vantage point is a derivation or interpretation of that single hyper-dimensional reality. These perspectives are interrelated and intersect at a particular point. Imagine the Earth’s north pole as that single point. From there we can draw a limitless number of paths or lines that run down along the globe. Because of the curvature, none of the paths will duplicate the other. The paths that are close to each other, however, will pass through similar terrain and therefore yield comparable perspectives; but those paths that are drawn on opposite sides of the Earth will cross vastly different landscapes. But they all originate and culminate at the same point. Moreover, some seemingly unrelated perspectives or processes have certain parallel linguistic qualities that hint at a fundamental connection. For example, gazing out the window of an airplane at night over a densely-packed city such as Los Angeles with its illuminated houses, cars and freeways, one cannot help but see an instant resemblance to a living organism with cells going about their business, zipping through capillaries, veins, and arteries, or to a tightly-packed microchip or computer motherboard with switches and transistors, processing electrical impulses and delivering information to its destination. Then there's the satellite view of a hurricane moving across the ocean, which looks strangely similar to a far-away galaxy spinning in outer space. We can also talk about supernovae, large stars that die, explode with blinding light that can outshine an entire galaxy, and give birth to new planets and solar systems. We certainly know figures, real or mythological, who have had this type of impact on the world and whose light has given direction to millions. Every thing or phenomenon seems to mirror or point to another.

If we consider the marvel of harmonics and fractals, we begin to see the way in which a variety of phenomena, perspectives or expressions can parallel each other or can be derived from one original foundation. Perhaps most of us have heard of the term “harmonic” when speaking of musical instruments. A guitar string, fastened to the bridge on one end and to the frets on the other, has a fundamental frequency. This is the frequency at which the string naturally vibrates. We can segment the string at different nodes to produce harmonics, which are determined by the fundamental frequency. There are theoretically an infinite number of harmonics and each progressive harmonic is created by segmenting the string by a certain number that is a function of the fundamental frequency. As we get to higher harmonics, the spacing between them gets smaller but they never coincide.

 

Harmonics

So we can keep dividing the string into smaller and smaller segments where each segment is a derivation of the other. They may all be different in size but their segmentation is determined by the same fundamental frequency. Fractals have a similar nature. A fractal is a mathematical system of forms or shapes that reveals similarly complex and detailed patterns at different magnifications. Computer modeling shows that the expansion of a fractal can hypothetically go on to infinite depths. Fractals can be found in nature. Some examples include lightning, snowflakes, seashells, plant leaves and trees but perhaps the most striking example of a fractal is the Earth itself. If we look at it from a certain distance in space, we can make out mountain ranges, rivers, plains, deserts and other terrain. These all look strangely similar to the topology of trees and even leaves, having veins and textures that imitate mountain ranges, trails and riverbeds. As we move closer to the Earth, we see in certain areas the constant, rhythmic flow of people at certain times of the day as they go to work and return in the evening. Again, this mimics on a much smaller scale the behavior of certain insect colonies and other creatures as they build their homes and search for food. If we zoom in further still into the body of a human being, we see the same image replicated with cells in the bloodstream. Needless to say, reality clearly exhibits harmonic or fractal behavior throughout nature. As we expand our field of vision, we find patterns that seem to copy and envelope each other at greater understanding or resolution. We get the sense that reality is built on regressive, telescoping and enfolding patterns that go on indefinitely.

Contemplating these ideas, we may see that all explicit content is secondary to the implicit, emerging linguistic patterns; therefore, if reality is truly a type of ultra-sophisticated, hyper-linguistic phenomenon, then all perspectives or expressions or processes, including scientific, religious, personal or otherwise, are more symbolic than literal. They are not real in themselves. We know for example that the mythological stories of Greek gods and heroes were not literal. The point of these stories was not a particular set of characters or place or object; rather the aim was to pitch us into the realm of the human psyche, into a dynamic landscape so profound and real that it cannot be explicitly described or measured. It cannot be quantified; hence, it cannot be named or given specific and static dimensions and made into content. Therefore, through concepts, numbers and equations, through gods, demons and angels, science and religion are trying to point to something beyond their content and beyond their narrow band on the infinite spectrum. The variety of stories and perspectives reflect something back to us that is fundamental about us. What might that be? Without a doubt, it is that each one of us is a living symbol for something unimaginable and inexpressible. In other words, we are that dynamic, multi-dimensional mystery where the literal and the symbolic converge, where the explicit and implicit merge, and where outside and inside meet. As such, with our consciousness we can mold reality and reorganize our environment as we see fit. However, we haven’t understood the fact that nothing - no thing - is an end in itself. The Universe is founded on a web of relationships and not on individual fragments or substances. For this reason, every “thing” that we see is a symbol and if we observe closely, we come to realize the interconnectedness between these “things.” Universes, black holes, supernovae, the subconscious, illuminated cities, the leaves of a plant, lightning in the sky, the feathers of a peacock, gods and heroes, musical notes in a score and a myriad of other phenomena are symbols or languages that point to something more fundamental.

The first films were made of crude, static images that were sequenced fast enough to form the illusion of motion. These films were colorless and mute. With time, the dimensions of color and sound were added. Eventually the picture became clearer through higher resolution images and we could even watch them in 3-D and with surround-sound. With the advent of computers, artists can now create virtual characters and landscapes on the screen that are almost indistinguishable from real human beings and environments. Someday perhaps a film may have countless endings so that every viewing yields a different twist and result. In this way, the story will always remain fresh and yet another dimension will have been added. This rapid advancement is not limited to film and the visual arts. Almost every human endeavor has seen an explosion in change over the last one hundred years. New perspectives or dimensions are constantly being added or discovered. But is this an evolution or just the discovery of the potential that has always been there? Perhaps the answer depends on perspective. As mentioned at the outset of this essay, the rate of change with regard to events, technology, philosophies, social and climactic issues is dramatically increasing. We are witnessing a noticeable and rapid transformation in our daily lives. Long ago, changes took a long time to manifest but we have seen more advancement in the fields of medicine, science and technology in the last one hundred years than in the previous thousands of years combined. Time itself seems to be getting squeezed into smaller segments, like harmonics on a guitar string, and yet each new segment of time contains as much change and energy as the previous combined segments. This compression, and hence expansion in energy, is not aimless. Rather, it is a force that is tugging us toward it with escalating speed in the same way that a marble is pulled down by the gravity of a vortex faster and faster into its swirling center. All of the different possible perspectives point in some way to that single, unified mystery at the root of the vortex. Science puts this singularity at the beginning of our history, calls it the Big Bang and says that all of the diversity in the Universe came out of this one singular event. But if we closely observe the rate of change of all events, movements, trends, thoughts, and technologies over time, we realize that we are being catapulted with increasing energy between extremes. As our technology and medicine advance, we are coming closer to self-annihilation through wars, nuclear weapons, depletion of our resources and the destruction of our environment. Perhaps we are moving closer to crossing that hyper-dimensional equator or horizon to see the world through an entirely new perspective, one not made of individual fragments but perhaps of interconnected relationships. We are being pulled with greater speed toward the center of this vortex, this singularity and the variety that we are seeing is a result of this crescendo in change. We are like a statue of strange and sublime qualities that is being pulled out or carved out of an irregular and featureless block of marble. And if we have to ask who the sculptor is, it is no one other than us. Those who can look at that mirror of infinite dimensions and realize that the world is a web of connected symbols can not only learn to decipher this strange language but also be the author of the entire drama. Perhaps that is the message that science and religion are trying to convey. The Word is being made into flesh. The Symbol is awakening to its own meaning.

© 2009 The Forbidden Heights

Only when we have come to rest in silence can we truly speak. And only when we have made peace with death, can we truly live.