The Spirituality of String Theory
String Theory or its close cousin M Theory, with their ten or eleven dimensions, is a universe beyond our comprehension. Cosmologists are still struggling with its workings and what it means for our existence. The origin of String Theory was in trying to describe what happened before the Big Bang. Cosmology and theology are drawing ever closer together as both sides seek to answer such basic theological-cosmological questions as:
- Where did we come from?
- Where are we going?
- Are there other worlds like ours?
- Why is there something rather than nothing?
Perhaps the most theological question raised by cosmology today is:
Is there a design for the universe, or is it simply the result of random chances raised to the billion-billion-billion-billionth power in some cosmic roll of the dice?
There are scientists of all stripes on both sides of this divide. Both sides can make elegant and impassioned arguments to support their positions.
The old paradigm of science vs. religion basically required that you had to choose one side or the other. Either you could check the weather forecast or pray for rain. Either you could believe that everything happens by the uncaring forces of random chance. O, you could believe in divine providence.
In the old “normal-space” view of the universe, we were bound by the three dimensions of space plus one of time. We lived in a series of boxes divided by walls, floors and ceilings representing height, width and depth. Anything that did not fit into such three-dimensional boxes was simply not part of the normal-space universe and could be ignored.
But the three dimensions of normal-space could never capture all that was happening. For example, Chinese acupuncture seems to have no medical connection to our physiology. Perhaps a better way of stating that is that western medicine cannot make that connection. And yet acupuncture seems to be providing health, strength and vitality to its adherents. The skeptic could say that any benefit derived from acupuncture could be purely delusional, caused by wishful thinking or caused by the placebo effect. But let’s not be hasty.
Acupuncture involves the flow of a special energy called “qi “, which travels along meridians of the body. But these supposed meridians appear on any western anatomy charts. The literal translation of qi is wind, breath or gas but is often translated as life force. The equivalent word in New Testament Greek is pneuma, which means air or breath but is usually translated as spirit.
Visualizing String Theory requires the ability to think in paradox, where two seemingly contradictory ideas can be held together with a sense of deeper harmony. Paradoxical thinking requires a more expansive view of the universe than does our ordinary normal-space existence with its notion of certainty. Perhaps there is some efficacy to acupuncture, even if western medicine cannot understand it. This is neither to support nor deny acupuncture, but only to suggest that there is more going on in the universe than we can comprehend with our limited, normal-space thinking.
Perhaps the extra dimensions in String Theory give us the space to allow for dimensions of existence that we have previously thought of as magical, mystical, spiritual or religious. And, here is a radical thought. Perhaps String Theory not only allows for the mystical, but perhaps even requires it.
Energy conduits enter our homes to provide radio signals, electricity, clean water, natural gas, telephone service, Internet access, and a host of other connections to the outside world. These special conduits or channels enormously affect the normal-space boxes in which we live, and provide a host of special powers that would have been seen as miraculous even a few hundred years ago. This analogy may help us to explore the extra dimensions of String Theory. Perhaps one of the String Theory extra dimensions is a channel for qi, a force that we cannot access until we understand it.
As a Christian, and more specifically a Calvinist, I have always found the universe to be a sacred place filled with divine logos. “Logo” is Greek for “word” in standard New Testament usage. But it means more than just the spoken word. It also means order, pattern, or design. When we speak of divine logos, we are speaking about the divine order that pervades all things. It covers the birth of the universe, the mating habits of tsetse flies, the DNA molecule, the Van Allen radiation belts, the formation of the planets, and the life cycles of stars.
To perceive the divine logos in all things is to live in a spiritual dimension. And now, String Theory may allow such a metaphysical statement to be incorporated into an expanded view of the universe. Perhaps there is actually in the physical universe a place beyond normal-space where spirit dwells.
The Preamble to the Constitution of the United States decrees that one role of government is to insure domestic tranquility. That stated purpose demands a well-regulated society. For it is only in a well-regulated society that we can secure a state of domestic tranquility.
Libertarian and Tea-Publicans stress absolute freedom or the ability to act without government intervention. But when you look closer at what they are demanding it seems more like anarchy. If everyone is totally free to carry on as they choose there can be no domestic tranquility, no civil order, no peace or security for any of our citizens.
Deregulation of commerce is tantamount to giving the zoo keys to the predators. Corporations would be free to pillage plunder, loot, and pollute. The face of deregulation can be best seen in West, Texas, where an explosion in a fertilizer factory took the lives of fifteen people and destroyed fifty homes. Regulations are necessary to insure public safety, worker safety, environmental protection, and a host of other protections required by a well-regulated society.
Because of inadequate regulation in West, Texas, people died needlessly. There will be an increase in human suffering and misery beyond all accounting. Under deregulation the rich get richer and more unrestrained while the rest of us are forced to suffer the consequence.
Over regulation can stifle business enterprises, personal freedoms and initiative. But under regulation can cause endless human misery. The question is not whether to regulate or not. The question is how to achieve an optimal level of regulations that will provide security for all without stifling personal initiative.
There have been three economic collapses in the U.S. in the past few decades, each costing trillions of dollars to the 99% while increasing the wealth of the financial elite. The first was the collapse of the savings and loan industry under President Reagan. This was due directly to the Reagan doctrine of deregulation. The second was the collapse of the financial markets in 2001 caused by the virtual abandonment of financial regulatory efforts by the Security and Exchange Commission. The third was the collapse of the mortgage industry in 2008 caused by deregulation of the mortgage industry. Many in Wall Street made hundreds of millions from shady deals and outrageous greed while trillions of dollars of our wealth were destroyed.
We need a semblance of order. We need a level playing field where the rights of all are treated with dignity and respect. Does anyone really want to see a society where tobacco companies could pass out free cigarettes to school children, or where grocery stores are allowed to sell tainted food? Does anyone want to return to the “snake oil” medicines of the frontier days? Does anyone want to live in a nation where consumer fraud is rampant, or where unsafe products abound? Does anyone want to live in filthy air caused by unregulated emissions or to drink water full of carcinogens discharged from chemical plants?
True freedom is not the ability to act without restraint. Rather, true freedom is protection from the potential damage caused by other people acting without restraint. I would not want my neighbors to drive drunk or stoned, to operate an auto salvage operation in their driveway, or to hold wild, noisy, out-of-control parties in the wee hours of the morning.
True freedom is the ability to live in a well-regulated society where there is safety, security, justice and domestic tranquility for all.
Try to envision a universe with nine spatial dimensions and one dimension of time. Such is the emerging view of our universe according to String Theory. Or, if you prefer the closely related M Theory, you will have to live with a universe of ten spatial dimensions and one of time.
I used to lie awake nights pondering where the extra dimensions were to be found. I would concentrate on a corner of the room, where two walls and the ceiling met, and try to envision a fourth spatial dimension. Our whole world view of normal space is constricted to three spatial dimensions, length, width and height. Trying to envision anything beyond those is very difficult.
But the extra spatial dimensions are not like the familiar width, length and height. Rather, they seem to be curled up inside of ordinary space as the image above suggests. They are closer to us than our own skin, and yet the open up to the very edges of our universe and perhaps beyond.
To envision String Theory, we must leave behind our normal concepts of space. Normal space that is bound by boxes demarcated by width, length and height. String Theory does not involve a fourth or fifth box dimension, but something much more exciting.
Think of the extra dimensions not as spaces but as channels or conduits. Our houses are not just boxes stacked together. What makes our houses actually work are the conduits that supply us with water, electricity, heating and cooling, and connectivity. When we flip a light switch, we expect the light to come on. We do not need to know the location of the electrical wiring, and so we do not even think about it.
Of course one could argue that these conduits are simply small boxes hidden within the big boxes of the house, and that would be technically correct. An electrical cable actually does have dimensions, and does occupy specific spaces within the walls, ceilings and floors of the house. But there are no dimensions to a Wi-Fi signal. There is no wiring schematic to show where the Wi-Fi signal runs. It seems not to exist in ordinary space. Because Wi-Fi is totally disembodied, it makes an even better analogy for extra dimensions.
For most of human history, if you wanted to send a message a long distance, you would have to entrust it to a human (or string of humans), who would bodily carry the letter to its destination. A human being, moving under her or his own power, can cover something like 32 kilometers (20 miles) per day, and that assumes the most optimal terrain an weather conditions. At the end of the War of 1812, hostilities continued for more than sixty days after the war had officially ended because of the difficulties in spreading word of the wars ending to remote frontier regions.
Radio communications were as much a part of the universe back then as they are now. The problem was that the combatant in 1812 lacked the understanding of radio as well as any technological infrastructure to exploit it.
Today is a much different world. It is now possible for a person in Nome, Alaska to play a chess game with someone from Pretoria, South Africa, and to conclude that game real-time within in five or ten minutes. In the old days it would have taken many years of postal chess, where one move at a time would have been mailed from one participant to another, with each move requiring weeks or even months to arrive at its destination. We have achieved on this planet a state of simultaneity. And what I mean by that is that whatever happens at any place on the planet is now knows instantly across the whole planet, or at least in those places that have the technological infrastructure to tap into the planetary communications grid.
But once we leave the confines of this planet, that state of simultaneity vanishes. On earth, light speed communication counts as instantaneous, as radio waves can circle our planet seven-and-one-half times in one second. As we reach out into space, even a signal to Mars can take up to forty-five minutes. There is no need for a message to Curiosity telling it to, “Look out for that rock!” because by the time the message gets there, the rock will be just a distant memory.
Captain Kirk could always call Star Fleet Headquarters on “sub-space” communications links.
Now back to String Theory. What if some of these extra dimensions could provide us with simultaneity throughout the universe? This unfamiliar concept would totally change our society, not to mention our conception of the universe.
Think of two stars that are 10,000 light years apart. Now let us assume that both have civilizations and that both of these civilizations construct radio telescopes at the same time. Can we call this a simultaneous event? I think not because these two civilizations are not aware of each other’s presence. It also works to say that they are not aware of each other’s presents. Because of the messaging time, neither could be aware of the other’s existence for at least 10,000 years. A signal followed by a response would take at least 20,000 years. After such a long time interval one or both of those civilizations could have died out, or have been pushed back into the Stone Age.
Civilization on earth has only been around for 10,000 years. Civilization refers to the creation of walled cities, the development of agriculture, and the creation of writing and mathematics. The earth has had radio telescopes for only 100 years, and really good ones for about 50 years. While radio has been around since the late 19th Century, there was not much in the way of outbound radio messaging that could be intercepted in other star systems until World War II. Thus, our messages have been streaming out for only about sixty years to star systems in a sphere with a 60 light year radius. The Milky Way Galaxy has a radius of some 60,000 light years.
Now, let us suppose that String Theory allows for one or more of the extra dimensions to function as a channel or conduit through which connectivity is possible. Imagine if these two civilizations could sit down for a friendly game of chess in real time.
Somehow logic demands that there be universal simultaneity. We have just not discovered the technology to understand and exploit that technology. String Theory gives us at least the possibility of knowing what is happening on Proxima Centauri right now, without the need to wait 4.2 years to receive the message via light waves.
Restraint of our First and Second Amendment Rights
First Amendment: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Even though we have freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment, here are some of the restrictions on our First Amendment rights. None of the rights given to American citizens under the Bill or Rights are absolute or unrestrained. Here are some of the things that we are not permitted to do.
FREEDOM OF RELIGION
- Engage in ritual human sacrifice (virgin or otherwise)
- Stone anyone to death for sinning
- Engage in any hate crimes based on the victims religious background or beliefs
- Discriminate against anyone based upon their religious background or beliefs
- Force anyone to convert to your religious preferences
- Wage any sort of holy war against those whose beliefs differ from your own.
FREEDOM OF SPEECH
- Lie under oath
- File a false police report or give false information to police
- Commit fraud or extortion
- Claim immunity from libel or slander
- Yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater
- Engage in false advertising or false labeling
- Make bomb threats
- Threaten the life or safety of any individual for any reason
FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY
- Start or Join in a riot
- Join any criminal conspiracy
- Join any organization intent upon the destruction of the government
Now, let us think about how this notion applies to the Second Amendment.
Second Amendment: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
Can anyone seriously argue that the right to bear arms does not come with similar restrictions?
Pope Francis is a wonderful change for the Roman Church and represents a sea change in Church history. He is the first Jesuit Pope. The Jesuit Order was founded by St. Ignatius Loyola as a post-Reformation reform movement within the Roman Church, the “shock troops” of the Counter Reformation.
He is the first Pope from the Southern Hemisphere and the first Pope from the Western Hemisphere. Since 40% of all Roman Catholics now live in Latin America, it is time that the Roman Church recognizes this new reality. Instead of yet another European Pope from a continent where the church is dying, we now have a pope from a land in which the Church is thriving and growing.
The Roman Church is a global communion. It must never again be just an Italian club, or even a European club.
The Roman Church can never be the “catholic” church until it comes to grips with the last six hundred years of history and admits that there are also Christians in the world who do not accept the Bishop of Rome as their Spiritual Sovereign. The word “catholic,” means “according to the whole.” The Roman Church is not the “whole” Church, but only its largest part of it. Let us pray that Pope Francis will recognize that fact even if his predecessor did not.
And while many of us non-Roman Christians do not accept the Pope as our Spiritual Sovereign, that does not mean that we will not support and pray for him in the leadership of the Roman Church. We can work with him if he is willing to work with us.
Jorge Mario Bergoglio, known to his friends and his flock as simply “Mario”, is a truly humble man. In his former life as Archbishop of Buenos Aires he gave up his palace and occupied a small apartment. He gave up his limousine and depended on the bus or subway to get around. He had a profound sense of ministry to the poor, and is known for his saintly acts such as kissing the feet of AIDS patients.
The selection of the name of “Francis” is a stunner in its own right. Let us hope and pray that St. Francis of Assisi will indeed be the guiding force of this new era in the Roman Church.
Francis of Assisi was a humble man of God. He had no use for the church hierarchy and essentially managed to ignore them. Francis was too busy loving Jesus to worry about rank or status or power. Although highborn, Francis gave up all of his worldly goods so as not to be distracted in his spiritual pursuits. He is the patron saint of the animals and of the ecosystem. What a beautiful expression of God’s love as the world is presently in the worst extinction event in 65 million years.
May God bless and guide the new Pope. May he have a long and productive reign. And may he never turn from being a reformer of the Church, a servant of the poor, a genuine man of God, and a humble servant of the Lord.
THE ROMAN CHURCH AND MARITAL INTIMACY
If the Roman Catholic Church really wanted to strengthen marriage, as it says is does, the first step would be to allow married couples to make love freely and as often as they so desire. There should be no rules constraining that joyous intimacy and no fear of unwanted pregnancies.
A celibate priesthood cannot begin to understand the bonds of love that are created by the powerful and joyous encounter of marital intimacy.
The impact of lovemaking is vastly larger than its utilitarian function of mere procreation. If a married couple makes love an average of three times per week over forty years, they will make love six thousand two hundred and forty times (assuming that the predominance of those intimate embraces will have occurred in the couple’s younger years.). And from that love-making the couple will have produced an average of 2.1 offspring. This could best be understood as one successful conception for every three thousand joyous encounters.
I think of my current marriage. My wife and I married in our late fifties. We fell in love and wanted to spend the rest of our lives together in intimate partnership. There was no chance of procreation. There was some child rearing involved as I still had a minor child from a previous marriage, but that is a different issue. I cannot understand why the same opportunity should not be available for same-sex couples as well.
If marriage is only about procreation, then couples seeking to be married should be required to prove their fertility. And then, if there are no offspring within a certain time frame, i.e. five years, the marriage should be annulled.
As the church so erroneously believes that sex is to be reserved only for procreative purposes, it also prohibits any sexual expression for the single, the GLBT community.
Sexuality is God’s gift to us all. It is given to young and old, gay and straight, married and unmarried. How strange it is that a church would make the suppression of sexuality to be seemingly its highest aim. Should not the church focus its energies and its efforts elsewhere?
Should not the Church of Rome spend its spiritual capital where it could do more good? Are there not injustices to overcome? Is there not poverty and oppression? Is the world not filled with violence, and particularly violence against women? Are children not dying of preventable diseases, most of them water-borne do to a global lack of clean water and sanitation facilities? Is there not slavery and human trafficking in the modern world? Are we not destroying the planet by plundering its resources as if there were no tomorrow?
Does not the Roman Church have any better place to focus its time, energy and spiritual capital than in its futile attempts to restrain the expression of sexual love? The Roman Church continues to make itself more and more irrelevant as it continues its backwards march into the Fifteenth Century.
Today in Europe, there are more Muslims in the mosques on Friday nights than there are Catholics in mass on Sunday mornings.
Something has to change.
Grace is a high theological word. It stands for God’s love of all humanity. It stands for our salvation through God’s often unrequited love of us, and not through our own deeds or worthiness. Grace is the epitome of everything that is divine, loving and inclusive.
The reign of Joseph Ratzinger has been a disgrace in every sense of that word. Grace is a sign of God’s love and compassion to all God’s children. Ratzinger has talked trash to Christians of other Communions. He has asserted that Protestants are merely deluding themselves into thinking that they have “churches.” He has stated that Protestants have no “Church”, no legitimate priesthood, no sacramental ministry, and no hope of salvation.
He rather likes the Anglican Communion, and nearly accepts them as equals. Anglican Priests, even married ones, are welcomed into the Roman Church, and can even bring their wives with them. Apart from that, there is only one other Christian community that Ratzinger could reluctantly accept, and that is the Orthodox Communion. But, according to Ratzinger, the Orthodox Church still has one fatal defect. And that defect could be cleared only if Orthodox Communion would submit to the Bishop of Rome and accept him as its Spiritual Sovereign.
Ratzinger is the only monarch with absolute power. The world has grown and matured since the Fifteenth Century. But Ratzinger just does not get it. Ratzinger is thoroughly grounded in Middle Ages, and has marched backwards towards that future throughout his entire reign. He claims to rule by divine right, much like King James I of England. And this divine right extends not just over the Roman Church, but as spiritual sovereign over all who would call themselves Christians.
Let us pray that the new pope is cut of a different cloth. May the next pope not try to undo all the good works done by the Second Vatican Council, but rather rebuild the whole eucumene.
Despite his pious words to the contrary, he has done little if anything to clean up the mess caused by child sexual abuse in the Church. Rather than punish the perpetrators, he instead rewards them with high-level posts in the Vatican. Bernard Cardinal Law is a good example of such an elevation.
The government of Ireland closed its embassy to the Holy See in response to this crisis, and Ratzinger’s handling of it. Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny accused the Holy See of obstructing investigations into sexual abuse by priests.
There are a few key rules about raising children around food that will vastly improve your children’s health and wellbeing for a lifetime. These rules are simple, effective and based upon common sense. But I have found in my life that common sense can be anything but common. The reason for this is that people too seldom think about what they are doing, and in this case, how it affects their children.
1. Keep your refrigerator and pantry stocked with healthy food choices. Junk food that should not be a part of your child’s daily diet should never be kept in stock at home. This includes such things as sodas and other sugary drinks, heavily sugared breakfast cereals, candy bars, potato chips, and a host of over items too numerous to mention. Snacking options should include fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grain products. A healthy after school snack might be an apple or celery with peanut butter or hummus instead of a candy bar or potato chips. This is not meant to say that you cannot have pie a la mode on Thanksgiving, but only that this should not be a daily occurrence.
2. Never force your child to clean his or her plate. I can tell you from my own childhood that this was a major source of lifelong food anxiety. Even at age sixty, I still have trouble pushing back from a plate with food remaining. Rather, instruct your child to eat until they are full, and then stop. This will teach them self-regulation which is critical to proper appetite management. Do not worry that your child ate the chicken but left the broccoli. Forcing them to eat the untouched broccoli will only force your child to overeat and cause a serious food anxiety in the process. And here you do not need to worry about your child getting a balanced diet. Studies have shown that children will eat a balanced diet over the course of a week or so without any parental intervention.
3. Avoid fast food restaurants entirely. These places are the poster children of poor nutrition. The food served there is chemically engineered to be addictive. It is dense in salt, sugar, fat, cholesterol, and calories while being essentially devoid of nutritional value. If fast food is the only option available, I will seek out a Subway for an all veggie sandwich on whole grain bread.
4. Never under any circumstances use food as a reward or punishment. This has to be the worst food related mistake that a parent can make. Food is first of all nutrition, and is essential to human life. It is also a source of pleasure, but that does not mean that it should be used as a reward. Using food as a reward creates a food anxiety that can have lifelong effects. Adults, when they are hurting, have been taught to seek relief in “comfort foods.” When they are happy or successful they have been taught to celebrate by bingeing. Both of these states are based in food anxieties and not in nutritional needs. Using food as punishment is likely to be even more destructive. I cannot imagine a parent saying to a child, “Clean your room or we will not take you to see the dentist.” So why would a parent say, “Clean your room or no supper for you tonight!” The withholding of food for disciplinary reasons is child abuse pure and simple.
The cacophony of the gun debate has been escalating since Sandy Hook. This hit an apex with Alex Jones appearance on the Piers Morgan show on CNN. Jones acted like a rabid animal, screaming abuse and rage. This is a man owns fifty guns, but on that day what he really needed was a straitjacket.
Why does anyone need a military style assault rifle?
It is hard to conceive that a civilian needs a military style assault rifle under any normal circumstances. There is no need to pump thirty or even a hundred rounds into a deer. So why are these weapons so popular? I can come up with only two reasons to own an assault rifle: to deal with extreme situations of civil unrest, and to wage war on the government.
Let’s start with civil unrest. In 1992 during the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles, there were shopkeepers on the roofs of their shops with assault rifles to protect their property from rioters and looters. This was a seemingly defensive use of these weapons during a time when the police were powerless because of the state of civil unrest.
Widespread looting, assault, arson and murder occurred during the riots, and estimates of property damage topped one billion dollars. The rioting ended after soldiers from the California Army National Guard, along with U.S. Marines from Camp Pendleton were called in to stop the rioting. In total 53 people were killed during the riots and over two thousand people were injured.
“1992 Los Angeles Riots.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 01 Sept. 2013. Web. 09 Jan. 2013.
The problem with using assault rifles to defend private property is that it could lead to an escalating arms race. Instead of defending their shops against rioters throwing rocks and bottles, the shopkeepers could have faced rioters armed with assault weapons. Do we then need rocket-propelled grenades (RPG’s) to defend against assault rifles?
There are other times of extreme civil unrest where an assault rifle would come in handy. In the event of a major disaster people may need to seek survival shelters. Such a disaster could be anything from a nuclear blast to an asteroid impact.
Anyone with a survival shelter will need weapons to defend it from encroachment. Any survival shelter will have limited supplies of food, water, energy and other necessities. An influx of outsiders would metaphorically swamp the lifeboat. This again raises the threat of an arms race. If everyone owns assault rifles, then we could expect to see roving bands of heavily armed desperadoes who would stop at nothing to find shelter and supplies.
The second use of assault weapons would seem to be the ability to wage war on the government. Scratch a gun extremist and you are likely to find an anarchist under the skin. Much of the rhetoric of the extremist gun crowd seems to be about why we need guns to keep the government at bay.
These folks would like to return to the days of the old west, where disputes were settled by six shooters. If someone wrongs you; do not take him to court; just shoot him. And, if the sheriff shows up just shoot him too.
When you listen to the rhetoric of the extremists among the gun advocates, it is clear that they want their weapons in part to prevent any tyranny by the government. So, if the government passes any law, regulation or tax that these extremists do not support, they feel that they have the right to oppose the government by means of deadly force if necessary.
While American history is full of anarchical sentiments, the Second Amendment had a much different purpose.
A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
During the Revolutionary War, General Washington did not have a standing army to command, but only a collection of local militias. It was the legal obligation of every able-bodied man to own a rifle, and to use it in the defense of the nation. The country did not want to have a standing army due to the potential for tyranny that such a standing army could represent. Militias in the Eighteenth Century were the only way to provide for the common defense of the nation.
Thus, the purpose of the Second Amendment was not to arm civilians against the government, but rather, to arm citizens for the defense of the nation.
If we believe that citizens have the right to wage war against the government then we would have no government at all. We would become a failed state such as Somalia or Columbia wherein unelected warlords usurp the functions of government and enslave and tyranize the citizenry.