Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Sitting with chaos: on new science, belief and change

In 2000 I wrote,

Once I had a dream
            a dream of Nirvana
                        of Eden before the Fall
                                    of a time when...

            And I believed as I believed others believed
            that if I searched I would find the truth
                        of this perfect beginning of all things
                                    culmination of all things
                                                fulfilment of all things
            But the truth that was revealed did not match the dream
            and nomatter how close I came to the dream
            it remained just
                        out of reach
                                    out of touch
            with the reality of the truth revealed.

            So we have made a pact the dream and I
            She had shed her half bloomed petals
            revealing her centre
                        her heart
                                    her potential
                                                her seed.
            And I have taken this seed and hidden her
            in the deepest recesses of my womb.

            For we have made a pact the dream and I
            and we will love, nurture and protect each other
            until the time is right
            and then,
                        and only then
            will she risk to birth again.

In 2016, for the first time, I began to dare to believe that the dream[1] might once again see the light of day.  It was election time and there seemed to be a feeling of hope that change, and change for the better, would occur:  that human impact on the environment and climate might be taken seriously.  The results of the election spoke, my hope was not realised, and in response I wrote TheHidden: Illusions, Crossroads and Winter, which concluded with the above poem.

Then, this year another election was held with at least two parties seeming to stand on platforms that addressed climate change, sustainability and other issues of concern, especially regarding recognition of our First Peoples 60,000 to 120,000 years of existence in this land, so hope raised its head once more.  Once again I, and many others, was disappointed.  The voters had spoken, and they spoke of favouring profit-making, financial security and trade in fossil fuels over the health of our planet and its people.

From the perspective of what is emerging in new science theory this is understandable.  Believing in something solid with perceived predictable outcomes is linear thinking: the type of thinking that underlies much early physics and economic prediction, and preferred by many humans as it promises a more stable outcome, even if the promise is illusory. [2] 

In this context it is interesting to read Nola Turner-Jenkins research and writing on the differences between, and implications of, the individualistic and linear mindset of Anglo-Saxon, Germanic, Roman, Celtic cultures of many Colonial Heritage Australians compared to a group-oriented mindset of Indigenous people in Australia and around the world.[3]

So, in disbelief, mourning, and a need to clear my head after the results of the election, I began to read a couple of books on new physics that had come my way.  Inspired, I then revisited notes and books which I had read years ago, with topics which include cellular biology, quantum mechanics, chaos theory, theories of multiple or parallel universes, and theories of the universe as one infinite information processing system.[4]

Words and phrases that jumped from the page and reverberated include,

Initial conditions
non linearity
chaos has no solution or it would not be chaos
critical point


Brian Greene's writing reminded me how unique our world is and how amazing it is that we are just the right distance from the sun to support life.  ‘We find ourselves on one such planet situated 93 million miles from our sun because that’s a planet on which our form of life could evolve.’ (2011:170)

I also enjoyed rereading that everything in the cosmos is made from the same basic ingredients, that humans share elements of the same DNA as our ancestral bacteria, the first living entity, and that at the micro-level we are all connected.  So, we are definitely not alone.  We are in this together. 

This engendered the thought that, assuming humans have evolved from ancestral bacteria, and that humans are the most complex living system so far, what if the whole of the sentient world (plants, animals, bacteria) was relying on us to ensure maximum survival of all?  What if this was our main purpose and function?  How then would that affect how we act and make decisions?  We humans do rely on the support of our natural ecosystems to continue our own life, and if the reverse is also true?  However viewing how science is theorising the way systems are working, I doubt that there is such a linear plan in place.  But you never know.

It was also comforting to remember that everything in the cosmos, at every level, actually just does what it thinks it should do, intuitively, and somewhere, somehow, things get worked out.  It may not be to my or your liking in the short term, but that does not matter in the micro-, macro-, and lived worlds.  It’s not about being programmed in a certain way either, because there are always glitches in the program or system which will sooner or later change where things end up anyway.  It was quite freeing to realise this and that the choices we make and options we take are not given a value of ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.  They just are and the ‘whole’ will readjust to accommodate them.

I cannot say that the books and articles, fascinating as they are, have given me hope that anything will change in the way that I and many others want.  What they have given is the realisation that ‘all is as it should be’;  that  nothing in this world is in neat packages and as well controlled as those of us with a linear Western mindframe would like to believe. 

The ‘norm’ in all things, from ecological systems to weather patterns, to economics, to cellular and human behaviour seems to be an ‘ordered chaos’ and open ended.  In other words, the longterm results can never really be predicted.[5]  Even if change is on the horizon we may not even know or recognise it as the system will swing backwards and forwards until a critical point is reached.  Only then will a new way of functioning become, momentarily, the new ‘norm’.

The poem heading this article was written at the end of the performed series that comprised part A of my thesis.  Part B was the written analysis and exposition titled, Centre of the Storm.  The title was a spiritual concept: the still point at the centre of chaos[6].  The poem ended the performance series and was a time to let go on many levels, including the desire for, and dream of, Nirvana.  I now realise it was an unrealistic and unrealisable dream which assumed universal like-mindedness.  I had not at that time come to the point of understanding what the concept of chaos really represented, or how it is an integral part of the functioning of the cosmos.

Now I consider chaos as something to sit alongside, like a friend, and have a conversation: actively involved, having input, letting go of expectations and the need for control, withdrawing, and being happy and content with whatever the outcome may be, even if ‘I’ don’t like it.  The outcome is likely to be continually changing anyway.  This seems to be a much more open, flexible, give and take position, and more realistic. [7]

All of this has strengthened my conviction that what we do and think individually can matter.  Even if on one level it may not matter at all, at another level it does.  And, for me, that has reinforced my determination to continue with what ‘I’ believe in and to be true to myself, because my actions and thoughts will continue to input into the whole, and the working out of the whole.  And that is important.  You never know, maybe the ‘like-mes’ will reach critical mass and the outcome will be extraordinary…or maybe not.

And ‘hope’?  I am so in awe and proud of the 21st century youth who are no longer waiting for our beleaguered leadership to wake up to what is occurring in the world and put some workable solutions in place.  These young people are just going for it, from climate change to Indigenous recognition and respect.  They are standing as examples for the rest of us.

There are also many other individuals, groups, businesses, cities and local councils who are not waiting for larger political parties to make a commitment.  They are forging ahead and putting programs in place and acting in ways that they believe will make a difference.  It is chaos at work – everyone doing what they instinctively believe should be done, whether they believe it will make a difference or not. This is what gives me hope. [8]

c. Annette Maie, 2019

ADDENDUM 2020: regarding interconnectedness.  I recently read research which suggests that some galaxies in the universe may be in some way connected, align and move together in a way which is different to the effects of gravitation pull.  It may be that at the macro as well as the micro level we are connected, can 'dance together', and perhaps influence each other (Reference, There’s Growing Evidence That the Universe Is Connected by Giant Structures).  There are also the similarities researchers are finding in brain-nature and cosmos networks and networking. Does the Human Brain Resemblethe Universe and Never Underestimate the Intelligence of Trees.  I so like Jeremy Lent's idea of viewing nature as an improvising jazz band, although in my case it would be a group of us improvising in dance, drama or text.

Of course these concepts seem to underlie Indigenous Australian culture and spirituality, as explored and explained in Vicki Greives Williams, Aboriginal Spirituality: Aboriginal Philosophy The Basis ofAboriginal Social and Emotional Wellbeing, and Tyson Yunkaporta’s sand talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World

[1] I identified the ‘dream’ as a quest for Nirvana: a perfect world of peace, plenty, contentment and ‘goodwill to all’.
[2] Hence the rejection by the establishment of theoreticians who were questioning the earlier work.
and in which 'literal', 'linear' and 'individualist' behaviour is compared to 'instinctive', 'interdependent' and 'collective-first'.
[4] Books and articles include, 1976   Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene; 1985 Evelyn Shaw & Joan Darling, Strategies of Being Female; 1987 James Gleick, Chaos; 1989 Michael Archer, Gods, Gaia & the Wound of Heaven (article in Australian Natural History); 1990 Paul Davies, Chaos frees the Universe (article in New Scientist); 1991 Andrew Wilson, Gaia (article in New Scientist); 1991 Deirdre Machen, Science Friction (article on transdisciplinarity in SMH Good Weekend); 1992 Paul Davies and John Gibbon, The Matter Myth; 1993 Leon Lederman, The God Particle; 1998 Paul Davies, The Fifth Miracle; 2002 Basarab Nicolescu, Manifesto of Transdisciplinarity; 2005 Bruce H. Lipton, The Biology of Belief; 2011 Brian Green, The Hidden Reality; 2019 Stuart Wolpert, Einsten’s general relativitytheory (article on the work of Andrea Ghez and black holes from newsroom of UCLA), ; 2019 Elise Crull, If You Thought Quantum Mechanics Was Weird, You Need to Check OutEntangled Time; 2019 Ed Yong, A New Clue to How Life Originated (on the work of Caitlin Cornell and Sarah Keller  on cellular cooperation).
[6] ‘Chaos can exist without losing ‘the still centre’’, Centre of the Storm, p.280
[7]excited to read of the work of Dr. Claire Weekes, whose treatment process for anxiety was to face, accept, float and let time pass.

1 comment:

  1. So much food for thought & reflection here, Annette! Thank you, as always, for your generous sharing.

    I’d be interested to know how you define ‘Nirvana’. Apparently, it originally meant ‘blown out’, as in extinguished. My understanding of it has long been as a state of transcendence most typically attainable through a dedicated spiritual practice, a state beyond anger & pain about the atrocities happening around us, beyond precarious joy at the prospect of rainfall dampening runaway fires. The religion(s) that gave us the concept of nirvana would also counsel against hope because, like fear, it only perpetuates attachment &, therefore, suffering.

    It seems to me that the concepts of heaven & hell as presented by various religions refer to states we experience while living, but our linear programming confuses the issue, making us easier to manipulate through hopes & fears.

    The idea that the whole sentient world might be relying on humanity for anything strikes me as inherently anthropocentric. Interdependence at all levels makes more sense to me. Because it seems that other life forms were doing just fine before our species became quite so complex.

    So maybe complexity isn’t such a great thing. But hey, we’re working on solving it. Notice how much simpler social interactions have gotten w/ the help of technology (like/unlike, thumbs up/thumbs down etc.…)?