HomeUncategorizedThe Gravity of the Situation: The Ends of Science; Fact and Fiction

The Gravity of the Situation: The Ends of Science; Fact and Fiction

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The more we study gravitation, the more there grows upon us the feeling that there is something peculiarly fundamental about this phenomenon to a degree that is unequaled among other natural phenomena. Its independence of the factors that affect other phenomena and its dependence only upon mass and distance suggest that its roots avoid things superficial and go down deep into the unseen, to the very essence of matter and space.

Paul R. Heyl

Scientific Monthly

May, 1954[1]


Scientific practice has been the major source for the concepts that define modern existence, but those concepts are seldom explored in all their ramifications, and increasingly, even in their basic meaning.  Philosophy has followed suit in a retreat from what seems to many the futile task of forming any concrete understanding of even the basic entities conceived of by contemporary physics and cosmology. Science fiction has often stepped into the cosmological vacancy.  

The ideas and inventions of science have disrupted the symbols and rhythms of traditional culture to such a degree that most traditional art forms have been capable of little more than a reflection of the loss of context and meaning.  Consequently, whereas much of art today has become about personal expression, science fiction has become our species’ primary means of pondering the meaning and purpose of our place in what is increasingly framed by science as an impersonal universe.  While both high art and popular fiction have echoed the fragmented and disorienting view of the world science has created, it is mainly science fiction that has attempted the difficult task of finding new myths and spiritual meaning in scientific concepts with any degree of success.

Much like post-classical physics, science fiction has often had a difficult time finding a coherent perspective on space and time, even if it has relished the chaos of infinite realities that certain interpretations of quantum physics has made possible.  But unlike contemporary physics, a narrative cannot fall back on mathematics, and when some thematic unity or closure is called for, a story must find the thread that ties the many probabilities and realities together—the cosmological continuity we reach for in our most general theories and most central concepts.  

Quantum physics has certainly opened up a space for some kind of metaphysical grounding in consciousness, but there is only so much meaning one can glean from the now cliched lessons of how we create our reality.  It is nice to know the possibilities are endless and we are ultimately at the helm, but without more context this New Age subjectivism devolves into ambiguity. The larger questions concerning not just our personal responsibility, but our place in a larger universe have had little help from mainstream cosmology and the theory of general relativity that undergirds it.

At best films like Star Wars have had to fill in the semiotic vacancy with some “force”, which clearly alludes to the language of physics, where it is hoped that a fundamental force will be found to tie the others together in some meaningful way.  Star Wars owes much of its popularity to its role in the formation of our contemporary spiritual sensibility, a kind of integration of the scientific cosmology of cosmic forces with New Age dreams of harnessing these forces—of fulfilling the possibilities of metaphysical power hinted at in the fringe edges of quantum theory.  But in the end, “The Force” remains mere fantasy. We know something like it exists and is needed to fill the void in our theories, but we long for something more concrete, something to make sense out of this world, not just project our hopes into melodramatic fantasy. In our world, that is to say our mainstream culture and its concepts, gravity is the closest thing to a unifying force since despite its supposed weakness in magnitude, it dominates the landscape of our cosmology and seems to determine much of what happens in our universe at the grandest scale.

Though amid the many ideas physics has supplied to imaginative literature and film, gravity has hardly been a common trope and for a simple reason.  There are many things that are not known for certain concerning much of what modern cosmology explores and reports to us, but with gravity there is not even a clear idea to go on.  Einstein added content to what was a mystical and unexplained force to Newton, but this merely muddled the metaphorical waters. The brilliant equating of inertia and gravity certainly has much metaphorical power; it gets us thinking along the right direction—that is, thinking about the grounding, fate-defining force of inertia, but with general relativity and its theory of four-dimensional curving of space and time, we get such an odd and non-visualizable entity in our heads that there is little room for extrapolation.

To many scientists, even esteemed physicists like Freeman Dyson, general relativity has turned out to be a “totally sterile” dead end.  It has shed little light on other phenomenon, nor even connects with them logically, and on top of that it has caused a great deal of wasted effort on the part of many scientists struggling to find the elusive entities that would make the theory work.  Very little has actually changed or progressed in the mainstream understanding of gravity since the quote with which we began from 1954. Convoluted claims about finding the mysterious gravity waves are hardly even the issue, as the very idea of gravity as another force among others, either of a particle (the gravitron), of a wave, or some curving of space, seem to a philosophical mind to be missing something fundamental—something that makes what we call gravity stand out as an observable trace of something beyond the mere properties of material entities, since it seems to be the physical sign of whatever holds the universe together and sets the stage for all higher order structures, like life and intelligence.  

Indeed for Newton, gravity was a spiritual “force” very much like “The Force” that Star Wars has made a more meaningful and popular concept than any that science or philosophy has produced in recent memory.  As materialist philosophy reduced Newton’s general concept of spiritual “force” down to a generic action of mechanical agencies, gravity remained somewhat of an exception in the sense that it could never quite be reduced that way, since there was no imaginable mechanism.  Surely one existed, our materialist priests assumed, and when Einstein provided a way of talking about, and more importantly, quantifying some of the mysteries, they were often considered explained—nevermind that it actually made the whole phenomenon even more esoteric and enigmatic.

In two recent films however, gravity has been given central place, and the results are quite telling of the issues that are becoming more pressing in our world and the possible transformations to come.  In the film simply called Gravity, we are given a story that is rather simple, but which mostly served as a means by which those that saw it in theaters could be brought into a very concrete feeling of the “gravity”of our planet.  Indeed the metaphor cut right past all the theory to the meanings of the word, to the weighty feeling we get around something important which ties us to our purpose on this planet, and to this planet’s importance as the very ground of our experience.

While the trend in visual media has been more about the migration to small and personalized viewing, with the more personal, less visionary, writer-driven media of serialized character dramas, the movie theater has become something of a relic, with its visionary aesthetic and grand scope being used more and more for a rehashing of stale comic book myths, updated to reflect the dark gritty tastes of contemporary audiences looking for another rehearsal for the end of the world.  I usually cannot stand 3-D films, but I am glad I saw Gravity in its full glory as another kind of rehearsal, a sign of another migration in media towards total immersive environment—something we will probably see in both small and large, collective and private manifestations in the coming decades. The overwhelming feeling coming out of the experience of the film is the contrast between the vapid chaos and catastrophe that is outer space, and the powerful pressure of Earth’s grounding and saturating sense of order, purpose and place.  This feeling is a clue to what gravity really is.

Part of the problem with current science is its ad hoc conjuring of disconnected concepts and forces for every new set of data, in every field.  Without a sense of how each thing is related to other things, to things we know and can experience, the capability of real understanding and real critique, becomes impossible.  With gravity we experience it continually as a constant pressure, though this experience doesn’t tell us much without some poetic extrapolation, and it quickly becomes something very abstract and unimportant.

However, when one lets the concrete felt meaning of an experience guide one into knowledge, even into the abstractions of science and philosophy, one can begin to critique and understand with a mind for the whole structure of relationships that goes into the experience.  Something like this was the scientific method of Goethe, the poet who dared to challenge Newton on his theory of light, and who has inspired and influenced many in the history of science, and continues to be an important figure to the scientific underground of today. While much of mainstream physics proceeds through piling layers of mathematical abstraction upon abstraction, alternative physics has been practiced mostly by engineers more interested in understanding something on a concrete level than the culture of P.H.D.s who seem to be more interested in making a name for themselves than actual discovering truth.  

The result in academic physics has been a confusing mess of so many different forces and effects, often named after or measured in arbitrary units named after scientists.  There are many eccentric theories and niche discoveries in the alternative science field as well, but the dominant theme is a desire and willingness to reexamine foundational assumptions to achieve some kind of thematic or conceptual unity.  Such an examination has lead to a rich and fascinating culture of underground science— particularly the works of Dewey Larson and those that have followed him, which have developed a coherent and meaningful understanding of gravity and the universe by teasing out and connecting what is hidden and implicit in the empirical data of fundamental science and its concepts.  What we find buried beneath the disconnected forces and unexplainable constants of physics, can be seen as a thoroughly connected tapestry of ratios and relations without the need for constants, and where all forces can be understood in the context of changes in these relations.

For instance, we identify the specific force in physics as “gravity” as an abstraction from the relationship of other concepts such as mass and space, but with a feel for the larger patterns in science we can see this is one particular context for looking at some kind of fundamental motion that is not just downward as our bare observation would suggest, but inward, towards an organizing center in opposition to the outwards motion with which it forms some kind of equilibrium.  Science has come up with many other concepts for different manifestations of these essential motions—the inward, organizing and the outward, dispersing—names like dark matter and dark energy come to mind at the large scale as the most recent inventions conjured up to save the theory of gravity, while at the atomic scale we have a confusing mess of forces that are admitted to be incoherent.

This way of conjuring up and naming forces leads us away from any clear feeling for what a force or an energy actually is—that they are not things in themselves, but an emergence, an activity, a transformation.  While electromagnetism has come to be considered the most important force because of certain assumptions that were made about the atom, and now “energy” has come to designate the substance that both scientists and The New Age religion both tend to boil everything down to, the situation has made it difficult to unearth the more fundamental motions from which both force and energy are particular manifestations of.

In reality, the idea that there are forces out there, each with their own laws ruling over their domain, is incoherent and little more than an echo of religious belief.  There are just motions—changes in movement brought into formative activity through a reference frame that relates them to other motions; which in the simplest sense are just a reciprocal relation between a message and its medium, between a symbol and its context, between something we judge to be measurably changing against something we take to be a static background.  In physics, whose concepts become encoded and integrated into the whole edifice of cultural world building, it is most important that the fundamental entities involved in this reciprocal relation do not become covered over in abstraction. Indeed they are still there, at bottom, after all the posturing gets swept away, since motion, the object of physics, is quantified as a clear basic relation between space and time (e.g. meter per second).  

Beneath all the confusing theoretical games, a clear picture can be seen of the deeper cosmic game being played between reciprocal motions that allows through their dynamic tension some field of higher order and meaning to manifest.  While electromagnetism is indeed an important phenomenon, it cannot be understood until energy is seen as a more specific and complex modulation of deeper movements of space and time, of which it is but ripples on the surface of a great ocean.

The effective artist always takes this intuitive approach of analogical extrapolation and for this reason often gets closer to the truth of analogical unity than the logician with his often blinding categorical divisions.  Even when intuition muddles and conflates, it tends to illuminate something in the process, (even if it is not the object or process it or its logic had identified). One can see this result with the other recent film I want to consider: Interstellar.  Director Christopher Nolan is notorious for convoluting his themes and characters with a heavy handed logical maze of concepts, but he also tends to show that artistic flare for finding the intuitive weight of an idea within whatever matrix of metaphors he is working with.  He has used another of the heroes of the scientific underground in his movies before—Tesla played by David Bowie in “The Prestige”—so one can sense his affinity with that section of our culture that champions the intuitive scientist (and perhaps the scientific artist).

In Interstellar, we see gravity make its debut as the central force that sets the whole plot in motion and ends up being framed as a kind of transcendental power somehow coextensive with love and purpose, though in what way they are related, Nolan is a bit vague.  But he must sense their relationship and so builds a beautiful movie out of the intuition (thanks in no small part to a profound soundtrack by Hans Zimmer). Interstellar artfully confronts the prevailing ideology that has hijacked science and threatens to ruin our planet.  I know some critics have suggested the film perpetuates the scientific hubris that suggests our answer is in the stars instead of in taking care of our own planet. And it is true that it portrays those concerned with and tied to the earth, nature, and existing conditions as narrow and short-sighted (the school teachers arrogantly dissing science and NASA, the stubborn farmer son), but this movie is quite far from being an advertisement for NASA, as other contemporaneous space movies like The Martian have been.

What this movie critiques is not just narrow mindedness or short-sightedness, nor is it simply promoting science and the human pluck and ingenuity that gets featured in so many humanist narratives.  No matter which direction you or the characters are looking or the scope of the vision in view, we get a refutation of life dictated solely by the ego, by the life-driven mind which no matter how far it looks or how deep it thinks, sees only its reflection, sees only its ends, and ultimately is imprisoned in space and lost in time.  It can fly to the furthest reaches of distant galaxies but finds only barren waste lands. It may survive for a while but ultimately it is a slave to that which transcends the sensible spatial world, to that which everything visible depends on but which must be approached through a coherent inner resonance with the fabric of time.

So what does this mean?  What is time? What is there beyond what we can see?  Previous cultures had plenty of ways of symbolizing and contacting the invisible.  As science progressed these realms became matters of religious dogma and an awkward faith in symbols long fractured from meaning. It is still common for people, even the most sophisticated scientists to retain some lingering faith that parrots these now decontextualized religious symbols, but when it comes down to it, we have no real picture or believable faith in what lies beyond, and so instinctively we cling to our survival—we cease to dream.  Or when we dream, we dream of other worlds just like this one, more planets we can continue this life on (or another life like it), perhaps a little different, perhaps an oddity to be fascinated with for a time, a new creature or subject for the mind to play with, but utterly lacking in meaning. Meaning in our times necessitates a concrete understanding of the structure of the invisible, and an understanding of time itself. Without that context, whether we just tend to the crops or design the next spacecraft, we do so to survive, to live, for our self and our small circle of concern.  Whether we stay on our little plot of land or grow into the vastness of space, we do so in vain. The NASA cosmology doesn’t just give us disaster as in the film Gravity, but pointless journeys into a vast ocean of emptiness.

I admit when I saw the Interstellar trailer I cringed.  I heard the often quoted Dylan Thomas poem and I figured it would be about human determination, about our fighting against all odds, about our will to stand up and have faith when we had no reason to (yawn).  Thankfully, the film delves into a deeper determination, not a stubborn will without reason. The protagonist Cooper does display the familiar film trope of attempting some impossible maneuver when all hope should be lost, but he does so, he says calmly, because it is necessary.  Necessary for what? To survive? Yes. But more importantly necessary for the plot. Does he know he is in a movie? No, he knows he is in a meaningful universe. He knows there is real meaning to time, that the future pulls on him and speaks to him as it did from the beginning of the film.  He cannot die now. Contrast that with the scientists of the film, (and the robots of course) who tell him several times the limits of the possible.

Though the same conflict is in him as well.  At one point Hathaway’s character makes a case for love, for their being a thematic weight to our connections that affect the world of physics that Cooper, also giving the materialist perspective, dismisses.  She describes love as an artifact of dimensions transcending time and space. Which about sums up the New Age version of modern faith. Science admittedly has given us a barren cosmology but many people of course still find meaning in the personal and emotional.  This often takes the form of romanticism, whether it be couched in spiritual terms or not. Dissatisfied with the deterministic world of classical physics and its mechanistic cosmology, the romantic traditionally turned to the emotions as representing something beyond, something metaphysical.  This has become the dominant pattern for our age since seeing God in the world science describes for us has become increasingly difficult. Transcendence…escape, has become the most viable conceptual option; love, the most tangible spiritual reality.

Only those tragically blind believers in a materialist cosmology would act as the two misguided scientists do in the film.  Michael Caine and Matt Damon’s characters both justify their immorality through appeals to the importance of survival. The Dylan Thomas poem underscores the rage at the bottom of these motivations.  In the poem it is a rage not just against death, but against a life that could have been more. Even the wise man in the poem rages because his words had forked no lightning. He knows that dark is right, but still he cannot help but rage against the dying of the light.But is the dark right?  Is this the wise man—the man who “knows” there is no point in life, at least no point in fighting death but cannot help but feel he could have been more if only he had more time? Matt Damon’s character certainly is no wise man, even in the poem’s sense (we are told he was a good man, “the best”, and faithful to the poem we see how frail his deeds are).  He is clearly motivated out of a fear of death and loneliness.

Michael Caine’s character however has lived a long life.  He is an old physicist, and so characteristically, as he admits, he is not afraid of death (physicists are enamored with the dead world of mechanical law), he is afraid of time.  Without confronting this fear, without changing his assumptions about time, Cooper’s daughter Murph discovers, he is essentially creating a recursive nonsensical diversion. In all his theories, we eventually learn he was doing no more than “buying time”.  This is our mainstream theoretical physics in a nutshell. They cannot change their underlying assumptions. So they keep buying time so they can go on with their lives, confirming their own assumptions which come to define the frame of the world for the rest of us, which can do little but hint at something beyond.   They, like most people in our age, have long given up hope in understanding what lies behind the veil, though most I imagine, assume there is something. Even Stephen Hawking in his disembodied calculations, seems to wonder what lies behind those singularities, where all space converges towards something radically other.  

I think Interstellar gestures towards a different science and a different cosmology, where the fabric of time and destiny that frame our lives and give it meaning are no longer a sad dream we clutch for in the dark abyss of space, but a knowledge capable of saving the earth and bringing life and spirit to the material void.  Granted there is much in film these days that embraces time travel tropes, but the best they can usually do is overlay ancient myths into science fiction fantasies, where the Jedi Knight or some New Age superhero fights to conquer time or hold back the monster death and restore peace to the people. Even to the secular person not given to fantasy, the same structure can be seen lurking in every act: a hope that death can be, if not vanquished, then at least postponed, or the pain of life lessened in some way, that there is value in life itself, even though according to our materialist wise man, we are all just dust in the wind.

Such is the example laid out in Thomas’ poem: the wise man knows that dark is right, that all is impermanent, but he struggles on because something is unfulfilled, because he still has hope in a light that we cannot see; he knows the struggle is pointless, that dark and light are involved in an eternal reciprocal dance, that light can never win, and yet…he stays in the struggle.  In Buddhism, the Bodhisattva does so out of compassion, but to many critics of this Eastern mirror of our fractured materialist cosmology, this has always seemed strange since if emptiness is the truth and the world an illusion, why would a wise man labor on? We are given many equivocations but our culture seems to be at an impasse where we cannot understand the point of anything but neither can we just lay down and die.  We fight on, knowing dark is right, that is, that we live in a vast dark empty abyss where light and time merely pass us by, but we rage on with the stubborn hope that our words might fork some goddamn lightening, that our force might make a difference, if only for a moment. But perhaps that stubborn passion knows more than the wise man. Perhaps there is something to the passing of time that is more than a constant motion with no inherent direction.  

Interstellar seems to be a trace in the dying medium of film of a development that is more fully fleshed out in that apogee of human media evolution we call the internet.  In conspiracy culture and the New Age version of what has been a long development in esoteric and occult literature, we can see the contours of a new cosmology. In all cases, our species is struggling to formulate a concrete and scientific understanding of a reality that, without a confrontation with our basic physical principles, tend to end up being framed as some radical transcendence of what we can understand or connect to the fabric of our daily existence.  This metaphysical meaning easily becomes disconnected and vague as in the movie when Hathaway’s character gives its romantic version: an emotion outside of space and time—again the belief in something that contradicts the harsh truth of what we “know”.

But as Cooper comes to see, this isn’t some abstract force outside of space and time, the mysterious metaphysical God behind Newton’s Force which still haunts our science to this day. He comes to see the meaning that is time, manifested through the perfectly crafted stage of space.  In the film’s climax, he must use Newton’s laws of motion in space to launch himself into the heart of a gravity well. He doesn’t transcend the laws of physics. He uses them to reach the point of transformation, where those lines of Newton’s divine force we call gravity converge in space and flip the reciprocal relation so that time can be viewed in the foreground in three dimensions with normal space now being reduced to a single position: his daughter’s room. This three dimensional temporal reference system is a natural consequence of a reciprocal systems approach to physics that confirms and formalizes what the occultists have been saying for ages.

It is here in this inside-out reality imaged as a tesseract that Cooper comes to see the meaning of his life, indeed of all life, and the ultimate end of science and exploration: not to simply survive and make life a little more tolerable for our fellows, however important those things are (though it is pretty hard to not do so at the expense of other fellows), and it certainly isn’t to help them all reach extinction in the timeless and spaceless naught (surely only a solution to the most nihilistic mystic unable to confront the inherent violence of life).  He first tries to use time to change the past but he finds his actions are already inscribed into the fabric.

In contrast to the predictable science fiction time travel melodrama that projects our fantasies unchanged into a new dimension of freedom and power, (another force wielded by our superhero, now finely capable of defeating time and change, proving shallow New Age quantum cliches were right all along, that we do create our own reality!), in Interstellar we see illustrated what these cliches are naively trying to express: that the connections we make are the very substance of time, which does create our reality because time is itself the invisible structure of space.  “Time is the mind of space”, said Samuel Alexander. We may not be able to create reality according to our whims, but the more we understand of the deeper context of our lives, the more we are able to change that context—where time and space are no barrier to transformation. When we are confronted with the truth of the inner planes, either in meditation, or in fully materialized form as Cooper is in the film, the purpose of life comes increasingly into focus. While the purpose and meaning of life may seem obvious and self-evident, however poorly expressed, to those most in touch with that inner reality, the time is coming in our culture where this needs to be more than a feeling, more than personal.

But it all starts with that feeling, with the experience of embodiment, with its undeniable gravity and sense of meaning, and it is through gravity that we surrender to that feeling.  It takes us inward—into our own inner world at first, but in time, through time into knowledge; that is, into the structure of relations that creates existence. It is through knowledge that we have evolved a new collective consciousness and, however incoherent it may be, it is straining towards a higher purpose for humanity as a whole.

Our technology has made this possible yet now it threatens to engulf us. So much science fiction has dwelt on the dangers and possibilities of this machine we have woven ourselves into. Few films have been able to break out of the usual reactions to such an important change that we have discussed here.  When they do start to grasp the true meaning of our ascent into a new consciousness, the results are vague, as in the star child of Kubrick’s 2001 or the rapturous transcendence in Aronofsky’s the Fountain. Both these wonderful films capture the feeling and texture of time and the evolution of consciousness through their beautiful blend of music and images that hint at the possible meaning of a transformation of death and an existence of mankind on a higher level than our limited view of linear time.  The metaphors in these films resonate strongly with the truth, but most filmmakers are artists and few have the desire to follow their intuition into too heavy a play with scientific concepts.

On the other hand Christopher Nolan and his co–writer and brother Jonathan, are thinkers.  So consequently their films often fall heavily towards the ground of tradition, wheres as a more intuitive artist like Kubrick seemed to have found it easier to experiment more boldly with truths and futures not yet formed.  Nolan comes off quite conservative in some films, but it seems clear that though he is interested in order and structure, he is not interested in defending a static spatial order. Rather he seems to dwell on the possibilities of a rational order informed by a flirtation with chaos, magic, reversals of time, and inversions of space, etc.  

There was an analogous aesthetic in modern art, before it collapsed into the fractured personal cosmologies and flattened commercialism of contemporary art[2].  Modernism failed to form a new consciousness for the same reasons that General Relativity failed, and the fallout is isomorphic across the cultural landscape.  Both the science and art of the early 20th century attempted to incorporate time and different perspectives into space, into a unified context. This was a sacrifice of essential reciprocity between context and content—a sacrifice which lead to artists shedding all context and returning to the roots of form and meaning in the abstract image, the personal narrative, the private cosmology, or the simple reflection of popular mass appeal.  It led to physics breaking up into an instrumental complementarity to affirm that different perspectives could not be forced into a Procrustean bed of perspectival space, or even an “aperspectival” space (Gebser’s term for an integral consciousness that integrates multiple perspectives into a unified consciousness).

Of course Relativity was included as one of the perspectives of a now fractured system of theory in physics.  And of course it did incorporate non-euclidean geometry which in its own way refuted the limits of a single spatial order.  But like modern art, which also moved beyond simple perspectival space by using spatial terms to represent a higher transcendent or temporal dimension, Relativity failed to understand the full three dimensional reciprocal reality of time.  Non-euclidean geometry, like certain developments in Modernist music, recognized the limits of reducing time to spatial measure, but instead of exploring the shifting contexts for time’s multidimensional effect on space, perspectival modulations on an absolute reality of pure ratios, Modernist music and Relativity both became sterile artifacts by simply dispensing with the grounding and meaningful frameworks of tonality and spatiality respectively.  After the dust of the world wars settled, early 20th century culture became part of the background of the new post-war culture—which still inspires new grand narratives and theories of everything, but which ultimately does not get questioned in its domain, as all has became relativised and frozen forever in its time period. Now we are free to pick up any cultural artifact and use it like a tool, but the fabric of time is lost as it has merely become a principle of essential difference preventing any change.   Time is seen as a single linear dimension where all of the past is frozen forever, and where the tapestry of connection between different times is hardly examined let alone seen as a dynamic space of activity as we are discussing in this essay.

With the rise of pop culture however, art was released from its own entrenchment in tradition.  Now it was free to hybridize and improvise, to embrace new media and technology and to examine those media with a new stockpile of symbolism digested and broken down from the world’s cultures in the Modernist era into readymade archetypes that have become the tropes and cliches of our global village.  In the science fiction film in particular we have seen some of the era’s best attempts at forging a new coherence in the popular psyche. The Matrix films were a laudable attempt at forging a mythic level narrative to make sense out of the virtual world of media in which we swim like fish unaware of the water, to paraphrase McLuhan.  The Matrix sequels, despite the problems and usual trappings of the genre, came close to transcending the usual melodrama of good vs. evil, and establish some feeling of a reciprocal relation between space and time, between the matrix of the mind—the virtual, temporal aspect—and the space of bodily existence. Nonetheless it leaves us with little more than a feeling of cyclical time as a single holistic system.

This idea of holistic systems that has become so popular in the New Age has its roots in the life sciences but has evolved over the decades into forms of theory that transcend both the single-system narrative of modernism and the fractured spaces so often associated with postmodernism, and into sophisticated models of reciprocal systems in feedback loops with irreducible complexity and nonlinearity.  These models transcend disciplinary boundaries and are giving hope for a new consciousness and a new society. Even scientists and technicians unaware of these developments are recognizing the need for a more complexity-sensitive approach and are independently shifting their methods and theory. But so much science rests on the concepts of physics and consequently, without a deeper change in its theoretical structure, the other fields are being held back.  

This is of particular importance to where biology and physics come together.  There has been a long struggle between reductionism and holism in biology, with holism and vitalism losing prestige after the Nazis and becoming mostly a trend in alternative health and spiritual culture. Systems theory has brought some of that holism back into serious science, but without grounding the systems in an understanding of basic reciprocal motions, they are easily reduced to a mere relation of parts by scientists, or the parts themselves get reduced to some single whole by those enamored by reductive holism.  This is particularly true in biophysics, where the emerging field of quantum biology is exploring how the organism is actually organizing its own space and time. But the potential in this formulation is diluted without a deeper grounding of the concept of energy since most theories of biophysics rely on quantum electrodynamics and its uneasy dependence on notions of fundamental substance that has merely had to expand traditional physics theories into concepts like “virtual particles”.

With a reciprocal system of theories that goes down to the basic motions of physics, and is coherent through to the most complex experiences of human social systems, society is free to improvise and interpret the metaphors however it wants and it only adds to the structure, like a fractal.  The possibilities are endless but the basic ratios are fundamental; they can be given any direction and yet they are preserved through all transformations. With gravity we can see the fundamental movement that defines our three dimensional spatial reference frame. Its movement inward in space allows for a fixed frame of reference from which we can interpret all other motions both in time and space as they get translated into our familiar Euclidean space.  Its path—which defines our directions—is also the thread we can follow back up to the absolute symmetry of unity or down through the gravity well and past the threshold into the sector of the universe where time is three dimensional and space is scalar(it progresses with no measurable direction as time does in our sector). These reciprocal sectors are not separate; their relationship is implied in all life and complex systems, relying as they do on connections made and maintained by organisms, as we have been discussing.

The impulse of life to evolving past our three dimensional reference system into an understanding and mastering of the structure of time, is sensed and sometimes approached by our science fiction, but only recently have these attempts started to sense the conceptual structure of the knowledge that will get us there.  Star Trek often played with time travel but it was always with a conservative mindset—protect the timeline! Advanced beings called the Q continuum in Star Trek hinted we would one day evolve into masters of time and space like them, but we see little of our great future beyond policing the timeline in time ships. Many shows like Quantum Leap or Doctor Who, also feature great heroes fixing timelines, but what is needed is not another hero with some special ability lording over time for the rest of us.  Those that have mapped the inner planes with metaphors in past ages have given us a good idea of what kind of universe we live in beneath all the cultural distortions and creative embellishments. Anyone with a decent intuition should be able to confirm the mystic truth that I would contrast with Campbell’s hero with a thousand faces: though a hero may be a good metaphor for the personal journey, at the larger scale we are all in this together. And we can see the progress our culture makes when we do work together.

Film as a collaborative medium has been able to go further and touch a deeper chord than the lone geniuses of Modern art.  Music and popular culture have evolved and the internet awakened so much collective creative force that is quickly turning traditional art and knowledge academies into petrified museums of abstraction and elitism. Independent researchers are using the internet to integrate information and form the new paradigms that are solving the problems and facing the complexity that the specialist is barred from even exploring.   As that complexity is integrated into a more coherent system of interlocking systems of embodied knowledge and power, we can sense a shift in our experience of time from the meaningless passing of a flavorless quantity to a deep feel for the connections between forms separate in time and space. As our experience of time gets increasingly more dense with added and overlapping contexts and flows of information, what fractal time researchers call “temporal depth” increases; we cease to live in time and space and live more and more through them as a direct medium.  

The developments in our cultural media are setting the stage for our evolution into direct contact with the primary media which up till recently we have had very little direct knowledge or control of, like characters on a stage set by beings already evolved to that level.  The true masters of time are not heroic time travellers, not medlers nor protectors of any timeline, but those beings that have weaved together so many lines of time and spiritual force, beings with so much gravity that both time and space are merely the eternal play of the harmonies and colors of their light.  They are our self waiting for us to find and make ourselves anew.


[1] As quoted in Dewey Larson’s Beyond Newton

[2] see John David Ebert’s Art After Metaphysics