A Vision Of Two Worlds

I missed last week’s post.  I’m in danger of missing this week’s as well.  There’s so much to do…

When I was laid-off in February, I didn’t anticipate how busy I would be in unemployment.  In the last two weeks, I spent a day’s time applying for food stamps and almost two days reapplying for financial aid for our two college-aged children.  And then there’s the job search, which has settled into a frustrating daily effort.

I’m working harder now than I have in years, but with very little to show for my efforts so far.  In fact, this is the answer to the question I posed in the last post:

I’m not unemployed, I’m under-compensated.

Compensation can be corrected – that’s the good news.

Unfortunately, I can’t correct it all by myself.  That’s the crux of my challenge; my problem, my opportunity to grow.

I’ve enjoyed the extra time I’ve had at home with my family over the past two months.  Our relationships are growing stronger, and the flexibility in my schedule is a real benefit.  It’s exciting to envision all the new career paths available to me with my friends and family.  These have been mountain-top experiences.

But I still find it daunting to reach out to “weak” network connections.  When exploring potential leads not perfectly in alignment with my previous career tract, I drag my feelings of lack and self-doubt with me into the conversations.  I stack the deck against myself before I even pick up the phone.  The truth be told, sometimes I lose faith in myself and don’t even make the call, unwilling to risk possible rejection.  A valley like that can feel very deep indeed.

I’m trapped between two visions of competing worlds.  In one, we’re all connected at a deep level, sharing one spirit, brothers and sisters working together in peace and strength.  Success comes through our connections, providing an abundance that is mutually shared and beneficial.

The other world is a far darker place, dog-eat-dog, where our success comes at the expense of others.  Those others I see as my competitors at best, my enemies in my weaker moments.  I fear they hold a power over me that keeps me from fulfilling my purpose on this earth.

These two worlds are mutually exclusive.  They cannot both exist.  One is true, the other is false.  Yet I’ve experienced both over my lifetime.  And I continue to vacillate between the two, with more and more frequency.

A loving person lives in a loving world.  A hostile person lives in a hostile world.  Everyone you meet is your mirror.  — Ken Keyes Jr.

The time has now come to choose.  I made a plan in share group today with my friend Jim.  Starting today, I plan to reach out each day to at least one person that challenges my comfort.  In this way, I will test whether I can perceive the Savior that faith tells me is in each one of us. I share this plan with you so that you can hold me accountable.

May we all behold the light that others hold out for us.

Stories From Unemployment 2

Image titled Grand Canyon backpack by Kevindooley.  Click on image to see more of his work.

Image titled "Grand Canyon backpack" by Kevindooley. Click on image to see more of his work.

It’s now a little over three weeks since the layoff.  The past week has been very busy and challenging, but also extremely rewarding.  One of the things this experience has taught me is that the rest of your life doesn’t end just because you lose your job.

For instance, our boy scout troop has a backpacking hike planned for tomorrow.  The boys plan to hike a few miles with full packs to prepare for a longer hike in May.  I’ll be sharing the following advice with them before we set out.  This “Scoutmaster’s Minute” obviously has broader applications to searching for a new job, or any other challenge that life may give you.

A Scoutmaster’s Minute On Hiking

As you set out on this hike, you have a choice to make: where are you going to focus your attention?

The reason why you hike is to reach a desired destination.  That’s the goal.  Having a goal is a good thing.  It gives you a direction and a purpose.  Reaching a goal, especially a challenging goal, is rewarding.  When we reach our goal this afternoon, what do you think will be our rewards?

With so many obvious rewards, it’s easy to see why so many people focus their attention on the goal.

But consider this: what is a hike?  A hike is actually a series of individual steps taken one after the other over time until the desired goal is achieved.  What many people fail to recognize is each one of those steps offers its own special reward, if you allow it.

This is something you can’t be taught from a book or from someone else telling you about it.  You have to experience it for yourself to understand.

Each step is an opportunity.  No two steps are exactly the same.  Each step is necessary to reach the goal.  And each step will reward you in its own unique way if you’re paying attention.

That’s the beauty and the challenge of hiking: you can focus on the goal and receive your reward at the end, or you can focus on each step, receiving each individual reward along the way, and also attain the extra reward of the goal as an extra benefit.  The choice is yours.

So where will you focus your attention?

Multiple Universes (Part II)

Image by Joka2000

Image by Joka2000

In the beginning, man believed that the earth was the center of the universe.  The sun, the moon, and all the stars moved across the sky each day in a dance orchestrated by God, who looked down upon us from heaven beyond the stars.  We were his chosen people, the ones He created in His image, and we were placed at the center of His creation.

 Then in the 1500’s, a man of science named Copernicus published a theory that the earth was not stationary, but actually moving.  The apparent motion of the sun rising and setting was due to the earth rotating once a day on its axis and the inconsistent movements of the planets in the night sky was caused by the earth revolving around the sun once a year.  His theory fit the data of the observed facts better than the previous, long-held belief.

Since then, science has taught us a great deal about our world and the universe we live in.  We live on a small planet orbiting an ordinary yellow star located at the edge of an average galaxy among many, many other galaxies.  Copernicus’ theory knocked us from our most-favored position at the center of the universe, but it also spawned a host of other scientific advances.   

And at every step of the journey since Copernicus’ time, organized religion has fought the advances of science like a jealous older brother putting down a talented sibling.  Running disagreements over competing beliefs like Big Bang versus Creationism or Evolution versus Intelligent Design receive regular media attention.  Opinions on both sides are sharply drawn since they touch on the core beliefs each of us hold so dearly.

In my last post, I discussed the theory of multiple universes that has recently gained favor among some leading physicists and the controversy surrounding that theory.  The possibility of multiple universes comes out of quantum mechanics, the study of the smallest particles of matter.  The M-theory is the best model physicists currently have to explain the behavior of particles, like electrons or quarks, and how they relate to the General Theory of Relativity.  But the theory works best in eleven dimensions and, among other things, gives rise to the possibility of multiple universes.

Foul!

Predictably, the possibility that our universe isn’t unique and that multiple universes containing nearly identical copies of ourselves may currently exist in dimensions we can’t perceive has generated some strong opinions on both sides of the theory.  Some scientists have invoked this theory as another example that an intelligent Creator is less likely; the issue of the anthropic nature of the universe is explained by simple, random chance.  The natural reaction of some religious believers is to discount the theory out of hand as another elaborate attempt by science to deny the existence of God.  Both sides are crying, “Foul!” and claiming the simpler, more reasonable position in this disagreement.

As a person of faith who also embraces the spirit of inquiry and improvement that best epitomizes science, I’m always uncomfortable with these partisan arguments.  Science and religion are, at their best, two of mankind’s greatest accomplishments.  At their worst, both have been used to inflict massive suffering on the world.  They are not diametrically opposed, as is often portrayed in today’s media soundbites, but share common goals and objectives.  Science without religion is cold and soulless, religion without science is blind and dumb.  I believe that they need each other.  Together religion and science can inform, correct, and support each other.

For instance, on the theory of multiple universes, is it possible for there to be an infinite number of parallel universes while still having an intimate, personal Intelligence in control of it all?  Copernicus showed that the earth isn’t at the center of creation, proving the religious leaders’ widely held beliefs to be wrong.  However, he didn’t disprove the existence of God, he merely showed the limits of mankind’s imagination at the time.  It can be argued that Copernicus, who was a devout Catholic, helped to demonstrate how much larger God must be if He exists and He created all that is apparent in the universe today.

So the possible existence of other parallel universes can be seen as another extension of the same Copernican revolution.  Multiple universes don’t diminish, but rather enhance the province of a benevolent Creator, and they force another expansion of the mind of man.  Religion has been guilty of repeatedly overstating the importance of man in the universe, but science is equally guilty of the same human-centered bias by repeatedly underestimating the potential abilities an infinite God could wield.

But assuming parallel universes do exist, and are currently popping into existence due to small quantum differences such as the roll of the dice or your turning left instead of right at the cross road, the question most reasonable people would ask is, “Why?”  Why would God make it so complicated?  What possible purpose could He have for creating a multiverse of infinite life choices and diverging histories?  That doesn’t seem reasonable at all.

Here’s my theory: parallel universes allow us to live with free will and simultaneously abide by God’s intimate will for each of us. 

It works like this: in any dynamic system, the distribution of potential future outcomes is described by the Schrodinger Equation.  It “predicts analytically and precisely the probability of events or outcomes.”  That means in any situation, there is the most probable, or preferred, outcome plus a range of other, lower probability possibilities.  I take this to mean that the Universe has a preference in every situation.

But there’s also another law of physics known as the “Uncertainty Principle” which gives rise the “observer effect.”  It’s impossible to know precisely both the location and the momentum of a particle.  The act of observing something changes the thing itself.  In other words, we affect the universe simply by being in it.

This means that we’re in a continual dance with the universe.  The Universe’s preferred paths can be described through the math of probabilities, but we have our own preferences too; we have our free will.

From the Universe’s (God’s) perspective, we make things a lot more interesting because we’re unknown entities.  We’re the X-factor that gives rise to many more potential universes and their possibilities. 

But how does this benefit us?

I believe God enlivens every particle of our universe, existing within us and throughout the infinite stretches of the cosmos.  He has carefully planned each second of His preferred life for each of us.  Since He has given us free will, He will not impose that life on us.  Consequently, if we choose differently than He prefers, we could diverge into a parallel universe, exact in every detail to His preferred universe except for our choice.  Within that universe, the same laws apply (both physically and spiritually), therefore there are new preferred paths and new choices for us to make.

It’s a win – win for both parties.  We get to choose however we would like, and our loving God will still see each of us safely to the end of his preferred path for us.

This is a theory in development, with many more questions than answers.  If we make too many poor choices and stray too far from the original, preferred path, can this explain the loss of inner peace, purpose, and enthusiasm that many people feel in the world today?  Is it possible to consciously decide to move back towards God’s preferred path?  Is it possible that universes can converge through our conscious choices? 

And how would someone know if they were on their preferred path?  Our great religions may have already answered that question.  There are two possible ways to be on the right path, to be in harmony with the probabilities / preferences of the Universe:

  1. Chance: not choosing means the probability is highest that you’ll be on the preferred path at each divergence.  Examples: children, sages, and savants (think Forest Gump).
  2. Consciously choosing: living in the present moment, avoiding the experience and old peridynes of the ego and being open to the “still, quiet voice” within that speaks only when you invite it to and believe it will answer.  Remaining still, alert, open to what is.  Right action then naturally happen through you.

There are many implications to this theory, but this post is already over-long, so we’ll hold them for now.  Please share your thoughts, questions, concerns, and objections below.

Beliefs And Multiple Universes

The History Channel aired a fascinating program last week in its The Universe series on parallel universes.

The Universe: Parallel Universes

Some of the world’s leading physicists believe they have found startling new evidence showing the existence of universes other than our own. One possibility is that the universe is so vast that an exact replica of our Solar System, our planet and ourselves exists many times over. These Doppelganger Universes exist within our own Universe; in what scientist now call “The Multiverse.” Today, trailblazing experiments by state of the art particle colliders are looking for evidence of higher dimensions and Parallel Universes. If proof is found, it will change our lives, our minds, our planet, our science and our universe.

I’ve always been intrigued by theoretical physics.  Some of my favorite childhood memories revolved around watching films in science class or on public television that explained Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity or the Big Bang Theory.  I enjoy learning about how the universe works, and challenging myself to understand the theories that modern science is working from.

Yes, I know, I’m a geek.  And at the risk of losing what little bit of readership this blog enjoys, let me delve into some of the geeky details of parallel universes, or the Multiverse.

How Many Universes… Let Me Count The Ways

Theoretical physicists have actually postulated as many as four different ways that multiple universes might come into existence:

  • Level I: is described in the History Channel excerpt above.  Our universe may be infinite, therefore the laws of probability dictate that exact replicas of our solar system, our world, and even us can exist at this moment “in a galaxy far, far away.”  They’d have different histories, but share the same physics and extended space with us.
  • Level II: arises from the math of  “string theory” being used to develop the Theory of Everything, a mathematical equation that physicists believe will combine the cosmic-level forces described in the General Theory of Relativity with the microscopic-level forces of quantum physics.  Our universe may be one of many bubble-shaped universes adrift in the vast expanse of hyperspace scientists call “The Bulk.”  New bubbles may be popping into existence or budding off of old universes all the time.  What’s more, Level I universes could exist inside of Level II’s.  Here’s a link to a site devoted to explaining string theory.  Check out the Basics section; I was humbled at how little of the Mathematics list I’ve been exposed to.
  • Level III: the universes in this set are the type that science fiction writers love to play with.  At the quantum level, matter can exist as particles or waves.  The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle tells us we can’t know both the position and momentum of a specific particle – the act of observing it changes it.  This gives rise to quantum differences, multiple ways that the universe could go.  It’s possible that a new universe arises to follow each possibility.  It’s like flipping a coin and the universe splits into two nearly identical universes, one to follow heads and the other to follow tails.  These universes share the same history and physics, existing in parallel dimensions, but they diverge from the difference point on, which could lead to huge differences over time. 
  • Level IV: these universes are like Levels II and III, but they don’t share the same laws of physics with ours.  Turns out, we live in an “anthropic” universe, one that seems fine-tuned to allow life, as we know it, to exist.  There may be other universes where these physical constants aren’t so hospitable.

There’s a vast amount of information on the internet regarding multiple universes.  Even a superficial study of this information can lead to multiple, branching links on other subjects of interest in cosmology, physics, and philosophy.  Fascinating stuff!

Beliefs And Biases

But I was surprised early on in my search by an on-line article from Tim Folger for Discovery Magazine called Science’s Alternative to an Intelligent Creator: the Multiverse Theory .  In the article, cosmologist Bernard Carr states, “If there is only one universe, you might have to have a fine-tuner. If you don’t want God, you’d better have a multiverse.” 

Naturally, a few lines further down in my Google search was a blog entry titled ‘Multiverse’ Theory Fails to Explain Away God.  Institute for Creation Research science writer Brian Thomas takes on the Discovery article directly stating, “When atheistic bias is removed, the old teleological argument still holds: Precise specification of fundamental parameters implies a precisely-minded ‘specifier.’ ”

The atheistic bias is evident in the first article, but so is the creationist bias in the second.  The scientists quoted in the first article have devoted their lives to the persuit of the scientific explanations for how the universe works, and they believe the work supporting their theories is compelling.  Since multiple universes at this point are unprovable, their belief in their science sounds an awful lot like the faith in a Creator that Thomas defends in his article.

Both articles have faith, what they lack is imagination.  Why would the possible existence of multiple universes make it less likely that God exists?  Christian theology (the one I understand best) holds that our God is both infinite and intimate.  We once believed the earth to be at the center of the universe; now we know we live on a very small planet that orbits a relatively small star at the edge of one average-sized galaxy among millions or even billions of other galaxies.  My little human mind struggles with really big numbers, but I’ve begun to get comfortable with the concept of a seven-hundred-billion-dollar bail out plan for the US economy.  If I can handle that, isn’t it possible that an infinite God can handle an infinite number of universes?

Science is focused on understanding how this universe works; that’s why I find it so interesting.  But equally important is trying to understand the “why’s” of this universe that only faith can provide.

In next week’s post, we’ll explore how the theory of parallel universes and an intimate God might work together.

More Questions Than Answers (A Good Place To Be)

Image by Erika Mugglin, Heath, OH

November was a great month for reading.  I knew from past experience that I needed to bring several books with me to China to fill up the many hours of downtime during our travels.  Just as I’d done on all previous trips, I visited the local library the day before departure to pick up some books for the trip.

 This time however, I had some initial trouble with the books on my list.  The first five or six selections either weren’t carried in the library’s collection or were already signed out.  Normally, I would’ve been upset that my first choices weren’t available; this time, I simply continued the search with books further down my list.  I had a sense that the books I was meant to read would be revealed.
 
I wasn’t disappointed.
 
I signed out four books, none of them light reading:
  • Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu (The Cloud Hands Edition)
  • Walden by Henry David Thoreau
  • The Vision of Emersonby Richard Geldard (a collection of some of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s most famous essays)
  • Good Poems selected and introduced by Garrison Keillor

Philosophy, with a side order of religion.  More than a few times, the lyrics from “What I Am” by Edie Bricknell & The New Bohemians crept into my mind:

Philosophy is the talk on a cereal box
Religion is the smile on a dog…
Shove me in the shallow water before I get too deep…

What was most amazing was how well these works all complimented each other, and how they spoke to what was happening in my life.  They immediately shook things up, set me back on my heels, and pushed me out of my comfort zone.

Excess food!
Excess baggage!
Contentment?
Ah no.
Thus the Sage rejects them.
         — Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

Read that as, Too much food.” 

Children, who play life, discern its true law and relations more clearly than men, who fail to live it worthily, but who think that they are wiser by experience, that is, by failure.
          — Henry David Thoreau, Walden
So many quotes hit my prayer journal, too many for a blog post.
The one thing we seek with insatiable desire is to forget ourselves, to be surprised out of our propriety, to lose our sempiternal memory, and to do something without knowing who or why; in short, to draw a new circle.  Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.  The way of life is wonderful: it is abandonment.  The great moments of history are the facilities of performance through the strength of ideas, as the works of genius and religion.  “A man,” said Oliver Cromwell, “never rises so high as when he knows not whither he is going.”
         — Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Circles”
In summary, now that I’m feeling better, I’m happy to report I’m embracing the questions and consciously “venturing into uncharted territory”.  David Wagoner captures this feeling powerfully in his poem “Lost”:
Stand still.  The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost.  Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes.  Listen.  It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may not come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost.  Stand still.  The forest knows
Where you are.  You must let it find you.