God (but not as we used to thnk of h(i)r)
Yet I Still Want to be a Catholic – post 15. God (but not as we used to think of h(i)r) )
In the view of science inherited from the scientific revolution that began in the seventeenth century the world is ultimately composed of atoms, hard little building blocks that are at the foundation of matter. But in 1911 this view was shattered when Ernest Rutherford discovered that atoms are mostly empty spaces, each with a tiny nucleus at its centre surrounded by clouds of electrons. But even these, it was found, could be dissolved into yet more elementary particles, the quarks and bosons and leptons of contemporary science. But when scientists penetrated into these remote depths, they found no tiny hard and stable little bits of what you might call stuff, but seething and whirling masses of subatomic entities that are constantly dissolving and forming new and different particles in ever changing creations of extraordinary beauty. Over a hundred of such families of particles have now been discovered.
patterns made by particles dissolving as they crash into each other. Could the Higgs Boson be hiding somewhere in here?
Such a strange reality could no longer be measured by Euclidean geometry with its stable shapes, straight lines and angles, but only understood in terms of the sets and mathematical algorithms of the fractal geometry first discovered by Benoit Menadelbrot. Fractals are able to describe and measure the irregularities and apparent chaoses of the world we inhabit, jagged coastlines, for example, or weather patterns or constantly moving and changing murmurations of starlings. These mathematical algorithms can be turned into geometric shapes on a computer and their component parts magnified into ever greater magnifications, and when this is done they are found to be holograms, repeating in miniature in their shapes the shape of the overall entity to which they belong. A fractal is the same pattern repeated at every level of magnification and is found all over nature – the repetition of the overall shape of a fern in each of its fronds, the branching of trees into twigs. What are we to make of that? By using fractal geometry, we can also describe the ever moving, constantly dissolving patterns of the subatomic world. When the component parts of a fractal are magnified yet more, under a microscope, into components of components of components, they are ultimately found to be stable abstract shapes of the most extraordinary beauty. The best-known example is the Mandelbrot set. A not unpleasing shape at one relatively superficial level reveals greater and greater abstract beauties as it is magnified smaller and smaller. How is it that the seething and whirling and apparently chaotic subatomic elements that compose these tiny fragments of the fractals form such stable and exquisitely beautiful abstract shapes? What is the relation between the pattern and the movement?
The Mandelbrot set is a mathematical formula that can be visualized on a computer. An image at small level of magnification’
In a dance, the movements the dancers make are inseparable from the pattern of the dance. You could draw an abstract diagram of the movements the dancers make on a piece if paper but it would not be the dance. The same is true of the subatomic world. The patterns of the fractal geometries are only stills, as it were, of the seething, dynamic movements of the particles that compose them. Yet, inseparable as they are, there is a distinction between the patterns and the movements. This is even clearer in the music to which the dance is danced. The pattern of the music is evident in the crotchets and quavers of the printed score. But the score is not the music nor even the pattern of the music but an artificial and entirely external reference to it, much as the word window is meaningful but in no way enters into the reality of the pane of glass to which it refers. Yet there is an internal pattern in the music which is part of, indeed is its reality. A single note is not music. It is only the flow, the direction of travel, the dynamic pattern of the music that turns the sequence of separate notes into music. Which comes first, the notes or the pattern? It is an unanswerable question. The notes constitute the pattern and the pattern composes the sequence of notes into the music that without it would not exist.
At even smaller levels of magnification exquisitely beautiful abstract patterns begin to emerge.
The same is true of nature. A butterfly is composed of subatomic particles and could not exist without them. But without this particular example of natural organization of its whirring and dissolving particles, the butterfly in all its beauty and complex behaviour would not exist either. The butterfly is a single and complete creature. It is because of the pattern that the parts are transformed into a single holistic thing, the whole transcends the parts. In his experiments with light, Thomas Young found that when he fired photons of light not through one but two slits, he did not get a random scatter, as when he fired them through one slit, but strips of white light regularly interspersed with strips of dark, because now they were going through the slits as waves (see post 2). What he saw was a single image in which the parts belonged to each other. There could have been no light strips without the dark ones, and no dark without the light. As particles, they were separate. But in so far as they were waves they combined with each other to form a single whole in an indissoluble union. They entered into each other and, as it were, became each other in a higher unity. This deepest mystery of nature scientists call interference. Parts interfere with each other to form indissoluble wholes. Take away either the dark slits or the light there is no pattern but only a random scattering of particles. Parts form wholes and wholes transcend parts.
What is the relation between the exquisitely beautiful form of the butterfly and the seething mass of interacting particles of which at its deepest level it is composed?
Theologically speaking, it seems to me that the implications of all this are that, in so far as they are particulated, all the things in the world are separate, but in so far as they are waves can we say that they form one single pattern, for is there any limit to interference? A butterfly is a single thing, but in its subatomic depths it is not cut off from all the things around it and its reality cannot be separated from them. In nonlocality photons identify and communicate with each other across the whole universe. Could we say there are many separate things in the world but only one overall pattern? The word God no more enters into the reality of this singularity than the word window enters into the reality of the glass. But if we are to talk about it we have to have a name for the unnameable, this higher unity of all higher unities. To my mind, the implications of contemporary science are that there could be no God without all the things in the world and no things in the world without God. God is inseparably united with the world. Everything in the world composes God and God makes the world the world. The world and God are indissolubly one. The pattern and the parts are inseparable (‘…in him all things hold together… through him to reconcile to himself all things whether in earth or in heaven’ says a hymn Paul quotes in the Epistle to the Colossians, possible the earliest Christian document that we have). The fractals discompose into smaller and smaller versions of themselves that in turn discompose into the exquisitely beautiful patterns that underly them, and finally into the nothing from which, science now assures us, everything comes. You could call the universe an explosion of God. The church of the universe.
Photograph of particle scattering by Evgeny-Bret. Dreamstime collection.
The madelbrot set at a relatively large magnification by Andreas Nillson courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons
At an even smaller magnification photo by Josh Rockman courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons
Butterfly (of what species?) photo by Ecotravois courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.