Dancing Hawk, thank you (Buteo buteo)

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Buteo buteo, the Eurasian Buzzard, is a bird of the edge lands, of magic. She launches from her thick twig-nest in high, forked branches to glide on a trajectory to rabbit-grazed meadow. She is a perfect shadow in the wood, yet casts her own deep shadow on grass. Beware the unwary. On sunny days, I see her circling high above the apple orchards, and I call to her in meows like a kitten. She will call back.

She can be solitary. She can be social. Her dual life and her love of warm, thermal updrafts, are not unlike my own. Occasionally, I see exploding pigeons above the steep croft, and I know she will feed her chicks this day. Thank goodness for generalists.

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Buzzards are of Least Concern across their massive range, according to the IUCN. I am, none-the-less, concerned.

British mainland birds are resident, often persecuted and vulnerable to the selfish wants of some humans, as all animals are. Their trees are brutally stolen, their hunting grounds siezed and built upon. They eat lead shot, especially around game shoots, attracted by fresh blood and slaughtered carrion. And they themselves are shot. This hate weighs heavy on the hearts of those who care.

But these remarkable birds, undisturbed, know their deep, broad volumes of place as intimately as I know my kitchen cupboards. They understand a daily rhythm and I have found them to be wise. When the new, red kites come, they simply soar their sky, and all is somehow calm. I have always watched them with childish wonder. They are raptors of majesty, keen foragers and navigators. They are birds of pride.

Buzzards of the northern, colder parallels migrate vast distances to Africa and India, mustering in huge flocks at isthmuses and upon ridges. I have never seen these gatherings. They must be glorious and intelligent. One day I would like to find them, and watch them.

Meanwhile, here in Wales, with each local journey I make, I count them on the telegraph poles. I look high in the sky for rounded wing tips and fan tails. I admire their underwings as one would admire paintings, the blackish edge forming frames around their flight. They are an array of browny, alabaster and cream. If you are lucky to be close, they are sometimes red. When our star falls of an evening, a buzzard underwing can glow like an amethyst.

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On open walks, I love how she looks at me, sharp, with sparkling eyes as she soars overhead. In the woods, on a branch, she defecates in disgust at my intrusion ~ tail up. Projectile and white! Then dives and glides to escape my gaze.

All the while, I love her families ~ the tense love-making, fluff-babes, the fledglings hopping about the tree tops, the juveniles, round-shouldered and elbowed on the hawthorn tops. But it is on the farmers’ ploughed and worked ground where she truly entertains me. I need this laughter. She transforms into a “dancing hawk”, along with others in rows, asserting her personal space with metre-wingspans of mud. I imagine the tune, as she hunts the small things, soft worms and shiny beetles.

I am smiling. That she makes me smile is invaluable to me. Thank you, buzzard, for all you are and all you do.

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Biking Buzzard ~ my poem about a special encounter, at Mesmerising Moments, a site hosted by the wonderful Karen Wilde.

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Guest Blog – The Hunt, by Ros Farrell

Ros is a horse and wildlife artist, and also my older sister. She spoke to me recently of her first and only experience of attending The Hunt as a young girl, and I asked her to write the story down. She kindly obliged.

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I must have been eight or nine years old when my parents organised for me to go another step on my little horse journey.  Up until this point, it had all been very informal and simply involved me connecting with them, loving them and riding our ponies.  I had entered a gymkhana too, I think, but nothing serious at all.  I’m not entirely sure how it came about, but it was decided amongst us that a Hunt would be the next step.  Mum took me along to the ‘Horse Boutique,’ to buy clothes especially for the event. I was fitted with the most lovely tweed jacket, new jodhpurs, brand new riding boots and a riding hat.  It was quite a day out. I had been used to wearing a shirt/blouse and jeans! I remember there being gasps about the price of things, and how smart I looked in the get-up.  I remember the smell of the shop ~ new leather saddles, riding boots, and brand new clothes.

My pony wasn’t going to be able to attend the Hunt.  Did you know that you can rent ponies and horses? We rented a pony for one day’s Hunt, one that was experienced in hunting from a local trekking centre. I had never met this pony before, so… here we are on the day meeting at the ‘Meet’ outside an Old English Pub on the Heritage Trail, a beautiful black and white timber village, for the very first time.  He was just right for my height but seemed very revved and overly excited.   There were lots of adults about on horseback, dressed formally in Red and Navy Jackets, all sitting very correctly and gathering outside the pub. Many cars drew up, as well as the substantial group of horse riders; the atmosphere was more serious than I had anticipated.

This was the beginning of what turned out to be a very poignant experience for me, one which has stayed vividly in my memory for all this time. I am now in my late fifties.  These were different times, of course. Few even questioned this type of country pursuit – it was also legal then.  It is actually illegal in the UK now, though you would never think so.

The Hounds were present, the Horses and Riders in plenty, it was Winter and we set off.  We walked-on out of the village and then entered the fields. I lost sight of my parents, who were following The Hunt in the car, along with others. My little rented pony was so excited and I found him difficult to ride. He was very strong indeed – he only seemed content in canter or gallop and, in his keenness, he refused to walk or trot.  My initial enthusiasm began to wane slightly because of it. Things were much more difficult than I had thought.  Then came the gates to negotiate and the hedges, – over which he flew. I had only ever jumped over small barrels with planks in between, never anything like this, so I held on and rode as best as I could. I do remember feeling nervous, not least because I realised at this point, my pony was taking me, and not me taking him. My cousin – a teenager by this time, was on the Hunt too.  She called over for me not to get ahead of the Masters of the Hunt, as it was considered to be bad form.   I had no idea who was ahead or who was behind. By this time, I was holding on for dear life!

I struggled to bring my reins in, but tried my very best.  We rode for miles along ploughed fields, heavy, wet, cold and claggy soils, and jumped the hedges and fences to eventually reach a small country aerodrome. I remember feeling what I now recognise as exhaustion. This was not a fun day! It was a trial. No-one was smiling. No-one looked happy. This was a serious ‘Hunt’. I watched, heard and felt the men as to be formal, dour and authoritative. But I suddenly became aware that the mood and atmosphere had changed again.  The speed quickened as all of us began galloping down the runway, chasing a fox just ahead of us.  That sudden change in atmosphere was the ‘blood lust’. I looked at the scene ahead, the sight of a beautiful fox running for its life, the horses and hounds now flat out. The atmosphere of this blood lust was sickening.

I have never forgotten it. I didn’t like it. My awareness had come home to me.  A light bulb had switched on within me; an epiphany.  I realised what we were actually doing. A fox was about to be killed, ripped apart by the hounds.

I truly cannot tell you how, but I must have slowed my pony down as they all continued. My father appeared from nowhere. I could not speak to express my feelings and burst into tears. He quietly took the reins, looked deep into my eyes, with assurances all was fine. He told me we would walk back to the pub along the country lanes, just the two of us and the pony. Dad held my hand as I sobbed with a broken heart, his other hand holding my ‘wild’ pony walking gently beside us until, eventually, we found our way back to the horse trailers and the cars beside the pub. We had left The Hunt and silently walked for miles. I had cried myself out. Dad never questioned me and it was never brought up again. He just assured me all would be well, and I was never asked to go again.

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Emily Dickinson ~ After great pain, a formal feeling comes

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Bruno Walpoth (click photo for website)

After great pain, a formal feeling comes –
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs –
The stiff Heart questions ‘was it He, that bore,’
And ‘Yesterday, or Centuries before’?

The Feet, mechanical, go round –
A Wooden way
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought –
Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, like a stone –

This is the Hour of Lead –
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow –
First – Chill – then Stupor – then the letting go –

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The Potency of Hope

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I shared an article via social media recently, one of many I read on the tangible impacts of climate change borne witness by earth scientists. In a sense, it does not matter which article, but here it is, for those interested. It isn’t good news… brutal, in fact. So I felt the necessity to counter any despair and anger generated, at least to those who comprehend the full gravity and consequence, especially if little action to adapt and mitigate is immediately apparent.

Hope.

My father showed me the ultimate value of hope in the Hospice, a place of sanctuary where he spent his last five weeks before succumbing to the maleficence of lung cancer. Even the smallest hopes of achieving the small things drove him on, despite all the pain and anxiety he was experiencing ~ hopes of a visit home or even just to the day room, hopes of enjoying another bowl of jelly and ice-cream or simply of having his pillow adjusted to settle more comfortably ~ he believed in himself, despite his incapacities, to work on achieving these goals. And he did.

He recognised that hope needs effort, action and, sometimes, help in order to nurture goals to fruition. And he showed gratitude to everyone along the way. I learned much from my father, right up until the end.

I know we can’t eat hope for breakfast, but it is within us for a very good evolutionary reason. We have the capacity to imagine better things, and then to aim for them, despite uncertainties (of which there are many). It’s a kind of built-in optimism and we’d be fools to deny its potency. But we need to be more articulate in defining our hopes, to take ownership of them. Then we can begin to work towards them, despite any risks of failure, rather than just waiting for a lucky strike.

Those who shun hope lock themselves into oblivion. Human hopelessness cannot be cardinal, given all we are now being told by the scientific community on the rapidly changing state of the planet.

My hope is that more people truly understand what these observations mean, not just for themselves, but for all life. I hope that more will realise the incredible beauty of the complexity of all life, and then take steps to reduce their impacts. And outcomes may even be beautiful. Hope Springs.

Above all, I hope that people love this Earth enough to want to make those changes.

The next one hundred years will see many Earth-shocks, some of which we cannot even predict. Our hopes of today could mean better outcomes for all. We are mirrors shining into the future. The next one hundred years are the reflections in our ‘hope’ mirrors ~ and we might pause to imagine, our grandchildren (and indeed their children), will be looking at them very closely.

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Mental distress, emotional pain.

GINNY BATTSON·MONDAY, 16 MAY 2016 ~ Note for Friends on FB. I thought I’d now share to the blog…

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Emotional pain. It can be so searingly deep, real, visceral. I sometimes feel as if I have no skin whatsoever, it’s that raw. I have friends going through some really difficult times right now and I can’t help but feel some of that pain too. What happened in my own life in 2008 caused me changes, both in the mind and in the body. The two are inseparable. And I know I’ll change again, because that is the nature of our uniqueness through time. The scientists are only just realising what the ancients in the East, especially, were already confident about – plasticity of the mind and the impacts on body and spirit (and vice versa). Hard earned through experience, and now we modern humans find it too in MRI scans and electrodes.

How we think can effect the body and our bodies can effect our mind. We are impacted by events around us. We can be injured, mentally and physically. And we can heal (at least enough to function), given the right help for us as individuals. We can also be stuck in patterns and our minds can become overactive or underactive. Again, the Eastern philosophers had an advanced notion of this and psychologists (and some enlightened psychiatrists), are now re-discovering very similar things through empirical trials.

What I do believe is that if we all really understood the interconnectedness of events, environment, each other (relationships with human and non-human life), then we wouldn’t be so prejudiced to perceived ‘weaknesses’ or ‘strengths’. We wouldn’t be so reluctant to ‘grade’ each other as weak or strong, sick or well. We come in all shapes and sizes, both mentally and physically, biologically and in our consciousnesses.

If we learned to talk to each other more, reveal our inner worries and difficulties, seek help, offer help, then perhaps the burden of pain would lessen for each of us. A burden shared is a burden halved… and we each can be equipped with emotional first aid, for self-protection and for helping others. Just living, life, being alive, here in this world of living beings, supporting one another. It won’t save everyone, everything, but it might help. I guess some might call it love. I do. Others might call it community. Some, God.

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Need, grief and love.

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Much is written about love and the needlessness of need ~ Osho says if one loves another, then the state of love itself should suffice, as if anything more will never fulfil that need. To be content as self will breath air into the contentment of us. Two are one, even though we may be 10000 miles apart, or even in death.

Grief is like a gaping hole in one’s chest. In just continuing to breath, cold air stings at fleshy, frayed nerve endings. For some time, it feels like there’s no escape, no matter which direction one turns. There’s an overwhelming urge to fill the hole and stop the pain. I know this feeling very well, this painful void…the thought of love on hold, loved ones lost. I know it when I think of nature lost to human indifference, ignorance and greed. I want to stop the pain.

But one foot in front of another, a direction I must find. By meaningfully doing, by giving myself to the problem and to the solutions, I can live with the difficulty. There’s much to do. And one day, I’ll notice the air will be warmer and the sting will dwindle. Time will have poured in to the void, at a pace and a rhythm unique to me.

Perhaps, I’ll never fully heal. But with love, the pain does not matter so much. When one truly loves, it is a compulsion to give, no matter how much pain one suffers. It is a wish to give to the other by encouraging a full and deserving life through time, in purposeful direction and at a unique pace. Their aloneness is the unity of us.

If I find love, pure, and recognise it as so, I am compelled to stand guard, protecting the other’s aloneness ~ the other being the one I love, the nature I love. We now flow together, like two rivers at a perpetual confluence. Alone yet in unity.

The need to be needed is a powerful force. And it is a force for good, if channeled well. Nature is in desperate need of all of us. If a generous heart is put in a little box and the lid closed, then the risk runs real that this heart may begin to die. There are many hearts boxed in, and by many means.

Love, no matter what state of interplay is, first and foremost, a doing word. There’s much to do. Box it in and hearts will wither. If I am boxed in, I know I will need to fight my way out. 10000 miles apart, or even in death, this is a need I will not surrender.

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Trump, my Daughter and the Biosphere.

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How do you explain to a young, vivacious teenager, a bright child with her whole life ahead of her, that the American political system, revered and celebrated as the epitome of progressive modern Western culture, has just conjured a liar, a sexist, racist, impetuous, gluttonous, climate-change and nature-loss denying Narcissus as a President-Elect? And more, that a similar British character, Farage, is politically ingratiating himself with such a person, and gaining traction. It is shameful.

And how might you also explain to her that a country led, essentially, by a brutal dictator, China (1), is now making more progress towards an environmentally sustainable future than even our own Nation?

My daughter, it seems, realised early on there was something deeply wrong with the US election, and prior, with reports of mass shootings, abject poverty, police killings and first-nationer protests over oil pipes and sacred lands.

She read Trump’s infamous “Climate Change is a Chinese Hoax” tweet, copied to Instagram, I suspect. It could have been posted anywhere.

The answer to my question is that I didn’t need to tell her any of it. She has a smart phone. She’s connected, interested. And she’s unafraid to ask questions, at home or at school. But her understanding is a leaden weight. I don’t want it to drag her under, but she has admitted, it is all too depressing. It would be easier for her to turn away and abandon any thought of responsibility. She is not responsible for what is already done. She bears no guilt. Though she will be culpable for her actions in future.

This weight now presses down on me, as her mother, guardian and mentor. I cannot protect her from much of the stream of information flowing across the internet. In any case, I firmly believe I should not. Take back her phone? A first class way to disempower her. My role is to guide her to be discerning in all she reads, sees and hears. I need her to question, to reason. And she needs to know she is not alone. Above all, she needs my love.

Life on Earth, withering on the biospheric vine, silently calls for us to help. We all need to feel empowered, motivated and optimistic. Our children also need to feel loved. Love is a doing word, generous, deep and profound. Some of us have enough knowledge, perception and understanding of Earth’s distresses to realise change is upon us. The evidence helps to define a clear moral cause to show and tell these children what we understand, what we do not, and what we think we ourselves can do to help. Importantly, that this is applied with a sensitivity to various stages of mental maturity and stresses in life at home and at school.

British schools already place far too much weight on qualifications for job markets and not enough on education, creativity and ideas for their own sake. I’m candid with my daughter on the importance of ecoliteracy, in helping to form values and spurring creativity and solidarity. I would fear much less if all were exposed to the trans-disciplinary, culturally aware breadth of an ecoliterate education, because I have great faith in the human mind. I have great faith in children too.

It is time overdue for my generation to lay the foundations of the Symbiocene for all, because, in the best sense, it is an expression of love in almost perfect form. For now, I leave this thought with you.

(1)  Brutal in particular respect to Human Rights, particularly in occupied Tibet, and to the sum of the nation bearing down over the individual.

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Cosmologists’ Dreams ~ Part Two

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“The true alchemists do not change lead into gold; they change the world into words,” said William H. Gass in A Temple of Texts. I think it is good to summarise into words the discoveries of the cosmos in order for us to reassess our own place within universal reality ~ so far as we understand it, at least. Not only have we primates discovered that Earth is not the centre of the universe, neither is the Sun, nor the Solar System, nor even the Milky Way. The universe itself may not be a singular event.

Life on Earth, humans, even President-Elect Trump, are removed again and again from the centre of everything. In this sense, we are infinitesimal in meaning, and our anthropogenic impacts simply a glitch in the matrix. On the other hand, so far in all cosmic discoveries, along with all life forms on Planet Earth, we are rare as hens’ teeth. Life is Earth’s own alchemists’ gold.

Since the Medieval revival of alchemy-promise, science has moved on of course. A plethora of hypotheses and theories feed cosmologists’ pschye with plenty to dream about. In 1609, Kepler cited the dark night sky to propose a finite universe. He worked out that the solar system’s planets moved in ellipses, not in perfect circles, around the Sun (heliocentrism) – and this he called the ‘Laws of planetary motion’. Galileo Galilei observed that moons similarly moved around Jupiter’s orbit. In 1687, Newton and Hooke emerged with important theories of dynamics and gravity, still used today as an estimation for determining gravitational forces here on Earth. And in 1791, Erasmus Darwin outlined the first hypothesis of a cyclical, expanding and contracting universe, which of course would go on to inspire some incredible cosmological dreamers, not least Albert Einstein.

In 1869, Dmitri Mendeleev published the first periodic table to illustrate physical atomic properties of the then-known elements. More since has been discovered on the nature of light, (electromagnetic radiation of any wavelength), whether visible or not. Gamma rays, X-rays, microwaves and radio waves are also light. Since 1983, we now have a fixed speed of light (in a vacuum, recorded as exactly 299792458 m/s), which now defines what a precise ‘metre’ actually is and, so far, nothing is recorded as travelling any faster.

As Einstein worked on his Theory of Relativity before the First World War, he came to the conclusion that our perceptions of ‘gravity’ arise from the curvature of space-time continuum. Massive objects, he found, cause a distortion within this continuum, like a heavy object on a trampoline. If a marble were to be rolled about the edge of the trampoline, it would gradually spiral inwards toward the object, a bit like Earth attracting rocks from space (meteors). The universe may, therefore, be full of stretch marks, puckers and warps, vortices (worm holes), valleys and mountains ~ matter and energy combine in deformed space-time to deflect anything that tries to move through it in a straight line.

In 1922, the Russian mathematician, Friedmann, realised that Einstein’s equations could describe an expanding universe. Seven years later, the American astronomer Hubble discovered that some nebulae were distant galaxies comparable in size to our Milky Way. He then measured the waves of light emitted from these galaxies, and found a shift in the spectra towards longer wavelengths (the red end of the spectrum), indicating the universe is expanding (redshift). What could all this matter be expanding from? The British astronomer Fred Hoyle, and deeply skeptical about an expanding universe, was interviewed on BBC Radio’s Third Programme about Hubble’s discoveries in 1949. In a throw away remark, he coined the expression “The Big Bang.’’ Little did he realise at the time, but it was popularly adopted, representing the idea that the Universe had been born at one single instant, about ten thousand million years ago, and that galaxies are still expanding away to this day.

Cosmic microwave background (CMB), it appears, is the thermal radiation also emanating from the Big Bang. Although predicted by another cosmologist called Robert Dicke, scientists Penzias and Wilson proved it by accident in 1964 whilst searching for radio waves after checking the results were not residual from nesting pigeons. They subsequently won a Nobel Prize for their discovery. It is the anomalies or fluctuations in the measured flow of CMB that have given further weight to what is known as the ‘Dark Matter’ hypothesis. Albert Einstein was the first person to seriously contemplate that space is not nothing. Space has amazing properties, our understanding of which is still in the early stages. So much has not yet been proved. By fitting a theoretical model of the composition of the universe to the combined set of cosmological observations, however, scientists have come up with the composition as follows: 68% dark energy, 27% dark matter, and 5% normal matter. Not only are the sum of all humans, and all life’s mass on Planet Earth, a tiny speck of matter in the scale of all things, but everything we can actually see in the universe is also very small. We don’t know for sure what dark matter or dark energy is, but we know it is there. The fascinating thing is that some leading cosmologists speculate it is a quintessence or aether, with echoes of those ancient ideas of a classical fifth element I mentioned in Part One. Its structure may be an exotic kind of energy field that pulls particles away from one another, stronger than gravity and the other fundamental forces known to the science of physics.

Back in 1803, British scientist, John Dalton, hypothesised “atomic theory” as spherical solid atoms based upon measurable properties of mass. Although atoms were later proved (and more), in the 20th Century by Thomson, Rutherford, Bohr and Einstein, Dalton believed these were the smallest particles of matter. But he was wrong. Subatomic particles also exist ~ neutrons, protons and electrons. An example of a proton is a hadron, but now we know that there are even smaller phenomenon that make up hadrons. Hadrons are composite particles made of quarks and anti-quarks, which bind together when they come close, with phenomena called gluons (a force like glue). It seems we humans have been exploring deep space both up in the physical chain of things, and down.

What follows is where cosmologists’ dreams really begin to resonate. In 1986, the American mathematical physicist, Dr Milo Wolff, proposed that ‘particle waves’ mix and contribute to each other, defining all matter as intimately interconnected within the universe. Natural laws, he asserted, are as a direct consequence of this Wave Structure of Matter. Geoff Haselhurst, in 1997, independently came to the same conclusion, and has since written about a deeper philosophical comprehension of what this could mean to us all. Everything and everyone may well be truly interconnected across space-time. Therein lies a responsibility, for our individual actions here on Earth have material consequences for the organic and inorganic within our one biosphere, and perhaps beyond.

The quirky study of quantum physics focuses on the behaviours of these tiny particles, and some are quite bizarre. Many 20th and 21st Century scientists have contributed to the cause, theories including wave particle duality, entanglement, teleportation and Schrodinger’s Cat (superposition) ~ I will leave them all for you to look up because I would need a Part Three to even attempt to describe their meaning. Einstein again, however, was key in early studies, proposing the existence of photons which collide with electrons in waves resulting in the transport of light as energy. This was later proved by Compton with his scattering effect, but who went on to work in nuclear metallurgy (uranium/plutonium production) for the Manhattan Project, perhaps the anthropocentric story of all time.

In 1916, Einstein also predicted waves transporting energy in the form of gravitational radiation, vibrating through the very fabric of space-time from various cosmic events. He maintained that nothing travels faster than the speed of light, including the positions of mass in space. Mass is communicated through the gravitational field, and any changes or oscillations, therefore, send shock waves through the universe at the speed of light. These gravitational waves have now been proven, 100 years later, by the LIGO Scientific Collaboration. Their work is simply fascinating. Electromagnetic waves allow us to ‘see’ as far back as 400,000 years after the Big Bang Singularity because from that point only there was light. Before that, it was in complete and utter darkness. But gravitational waves are transparent in a sense, so dark matter can be ‘read.’ We’ll have to see what the next few years bring in terms of the developing science of gravitational waves, but the main interest seems to be on exploring time itself to the Big Bang Singularity, and even beyond. Gravitational waves just may be our way of ‘seeing’ all time.

Cosmologists’ dreams, it seems, are now entirely centred on quantum elementary particles and the interconnectedness of all things. The huge universal questions are now beginning to be answered by the smallest of phenomena and deep time explorations might give clues to the deep future.

Quantum woo, be warned, is a new-age pseudoscience of mind over matter, and easily dismissed. But what we seem to be discovering, in hard science, is that mind may well be matter and vice versa, and that all flows in waves. Nothing in the universe is completely still and nothing in the universe is disconnected. Look back through time, now via gravitational waves, one hopes, and all comes to one. Perhaps the Eastern philosophers were right all along. The all-seeing eye, the Singularity, stands as a universal spiritual deity, healing and creative. Love. All is interconnected with nothing existing separately. Further, there is no nothing ~ a vivid and compelling Cosmologist’s dream, if ever there was.

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Cosmologists’ Dreams ~ Part One

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(Photo: ESA/Hubble and NASA)

What do cosmologists dream about?

The study of particle physics seems light years away from me here at my writing desk, Autumnal sunshine streaming through the window. Yet the discipline examines both what surrounds me and what is within. I can’t see it, but it is all here. I am made of the things these scientists seek under powerful electron microscopes, as is my desk and my dog Ben, who is now staring at me for his next walk through space-time. I’d better be quick with this blog.

Empedocles of Sicily (c. 500BC), generally accepted as one of the early founders of science, asserted that the base constituents of all of the universe are earth, water, air and fire; the four classical elements. These may, at first, seem miles away from cutting edge science of today, but they really aren’t, considering the great thinkers of the time only had their biology and imaginations, and zero technological wizardry. Peter Kingsley in his book, Ancient Philosophy, Mystery and Magic, presents evidence that Empedocles be better described as Divine Man and Shaman, and that he belonged to the tradition of Root Cutters (Rhizotomoi) or herbal magicians. For Empedocles referred to these base units of matter not as “elements” (stoikheia), but as roots (rhizai) or root-clumps (rhizômata). Empedocles was a gardener, the best of all philosophers, of course.

Next, Aristotle endorsed minima naturalia. This concept is more complicated, meaning the smallest components of homogeneous substances in nature that are divisible, yet crucially retain the essential character of the overall form. Any divisibility below minima naturalia would no longer be that substance because the form of the substance cannot be preserved in smaller amounts. One might say, this was the beginning of modern chemistry.

Then Leucippus, Democritus, Epicurus and Lucretius proposed and developed the idea of atoms (indivisibles, or the smallest possible matter). Democritus proposed matter sits within some kind of void. Now, this void…what does it contain in its entirety? Whatever the medium is, in which all things exist, is this the mysterious fifth element?

Traditional, philosophical religions of the East had already considered this question. Aether is the fifth classical element in ancient Greek philosophy and science, similar to the Hindu akasha. In Greek thought it seems that the aether was the celestial fire, the pure essence of where the gods lived and that which they breathed. In this connection, it seems that aether is radiative heat like that of the sun, able to travel through empty space, or alternatively rooted in the idea of what physicists refer to now as Dark Matter.

Quintessence is the Latinate name of the fifth element used by medieval alchemists for a medium similar or identical to that thought to make up the heavenly bodies. Sulphur, mercury combined with quintessence (more likely, multiple distilled alcohol), was thought to be the elixir for an enduring life. Of course, no-one achieved such a miracle. What a pity! In ordinary language, quintessence and the corresponding adjective quintessential are also used in the figurative sense of “(a thing) that is the perfect example of its kind.”

“The beauty of the world, the paragon of animals and yet to me what is this quintessence of dust?”
(William Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark)

Alchemy is now perceived as simply magic, at best, an early proto-scientific inquiry combining chemistry, physics, astrology, art, semiotics, metallurgy, medicine, and mysticism. Practitioners weren’t confined to using the scientific method. Some Christian alchemists claimed the practice was the inner teaching; the aim of conjuring the philosopher’s stone (lapis) was equitable to Christ-experience, a new birth. The Vatican issued encyclicals against alchemy, but many church leaders, as well as scientists and philosophers, defended the tradition. There were significant discoveries made by alchemists, none-the-less, and helped to provide a foundation for science today as we know it.

On that note, Ben is now a very discontented dog (no matter how much star dust circulates in his system). I must now take him out for a wander, and we shall look out for lapis along the river… you never know. Stranger things have happened (aka President Trump). I will return to cosmologists’ dreams with more discoveries, not least gravitational waves. Later.

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Fluminophilia, fluminophiliac

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The River Wye, towards the Black Mountains. Ginny Battson © 2014

 

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