Wednesday, November 29, 2017

on science, love and not knowing.

I waited on an older couple last night in the restaurant. Early birds, they ordered tea. Used their phones to light up the menu navigating choices together: grilled cheese, a shaved brussels sprout salad with pecorino and walnuts. I polished glasses at the bar, studying their intimacy as they rattled on about where the bathroom might be and if it was occupied or vacant. The likelihood of us accepting credit cards. They ordered dessert, of course. Later he helped her on with her coat. As she buttoned it up he gently pulled her very long brown and grey ponytail carefully out from under her collar and smoothed it down her back. I fell in love again with the world yet again.

Your heart is a muscle as big as your fist. My heart, in my chest skips a beat every day or so. I had this diagnosed years ago as some sort of murmur after too many tests in dark rooms with electrodes and green lines on screens. They may as well have told me I’d always suffer from longing. I go to acupuncture now. My first session he asked me 100 questions. What is my favorite flavor. Bitter. Ah! That is the flavor of the heart, he tells me. Later that evening I rendezvous with Nicolette, who, after months of traveling has landed miraculously in Hudson to see me. We can do our own acupuncture I tell her. Lets start. What is your favorite color? What is your favorite flower? She has some boutonniere pins lying on the floor of her car somewhere and I dig in my pocket for a lighter to sterilize them. Stay still!

Upstairs from the restaurant is a beautiful apartment where I stay. I sit in the windowsill, it is a good place to watch birds fly south and the sunset. One afternoon I find a displaced ladybug and we spend some time with each other. She opened me right up and I cried because there were no other lady bugs or aphids for her to eat in this apartment, she might as well have been crawling around on mars. I coax her onto a bit of dried leaf with some effort and walk her outside. Displaced bugs always tap a wellspring of emotion in me. When I used to drive from the farm to the city - the prius packed with buckets of flowers from the field - the car would become increasingly alive with bugs as they worked up the courage to emerge. By the time I hit Manhattan the car was a cyclone, a wild party confetti-ed with a host of pollinators, a handful of anthropods…the occasional arachnid sidestepping nervously across the steering wheel. The party ends when I pull up outside the castle. I would apologize, and try to offer something amidst the dusty street - a section of sidewalk with a tree and some weeds. Go there. 

How do we put it all together? Two weeks ago I toss out my jungian-heavy reading list and go back to science. I am now reading about systems theory; which aims to describe matter and reality by observing patterns and relationships instead of particles. A systems view is qualitative as opposed to quantitative. It is nonlinear. Systems theory (and the complex math that accompanies it - think the butterfly effect or chaos theory) can be applied to water molecules brought to boil in the lab (thermodynamics) or the ways in which differing socioeconomic groups cohabitate in a section of Brooklyn. A systems view can unite science and social welfare. This reading has my heart beating faster.

When we talk about classical science - the physics say of Newtown or Descarte or Galileo - we are talking about a rigid, reductionist approach. A description of the world as a sum of it’s parts. An approach that assumes a universal truth and absolute knowledge. But quantum discoveries in the early part of the 20th century baffled us with the realization that at the subatomic level nature gets spooky. Light is both a particle and a wave, particles can be in seemingly multiple places at the same time, and - my favorite physics bit - they know when they are being observed and then behave differently. This strange science - which baffled even Einstein - is what gives you the Apple product that you are likely reading this on. But we don’t understand fully the ‘nature’ of this science despite our rush to invest billions of dollars in cracking the code. The Hadron Collider - with its 17 miles of subterranean tunnel - is the largest single machine ever constructed. After years of false starts and troublesome superconductor magnets; it finally succeeded in colliding two beams of particles at close to the speed of light. And we collected more spooky data. More strange sub-atomic particles showed up with names like ‘muons’ and ‘charm quarks.’  

We sort of already know that we won’t ever know. 
And this is impossibly complicated for us humans who seem to always need to know. 

In the 1960’s the Gaia Theory was born out of  the study of self-organizing systems and the concept that life occurs not as a collection of matter but rather as pattern. When something dies, it’s matter doesn’t become ‘dead’ but rather it’s pattern of organization evaporates. Death is an arrangement that dissolves. It’s poetic and applicable to so many cycles and changes we experience. Gaia theory considers the earth as a macro-organism which regulates itself - it’s temperature, it’s homeostasis, etc - similar to the way our own cells and bodies do. This idea was the brain child of James Lovelock, an atmospheric chemist who was invited to NASA’s jet propulsion lab in Pasadena California to help NASA - riding high from the moon landing - look for life on Mars. After studying the chemical composition of the martian atmosphere using relatively simple telescopic techniques here on earth, Lovelock advised NASA to call off the mission. His analysis showed that the chemical interactions in the Martian atmosphere had all been exhausted sometime in the planet’s distant past - the Martian air was in a state of complete equilibrium and therefor could bear no life. NASA proceeded anyway, loaded viking with various life detection instruments, only to find Lovelock was of course right. 

Men are from Mars…? It’s easy to see the masculine and feminine at work here, easy to see the space race and our attempt to know (and dominate) the natural world as infinitely masculine. Which is not to say it’s gender specific; it is not men who do this but our culture which is oriented to favor limitless expansion, domination, competition and linear problem solving.  

I like to imagine a world, perhaps not in my lifetime, in which we have softened those impulses with our more feminine desires for beauty and intuition; one in which we can trust more in the interrelatedness of nature and our place in it. So I find myself asking how can my work aim to reduce our alienation in this world and provide more opportunity for connection.

Two months off has felt like two epochs. Wildly uncomfortable at times, exhilarating at others. It is a good place for observation. Everyone should take a drift through the cosmos now and again. 
What is to say of smoothing ponytails and experiences with bugs. Of subatomic particles and being open to seeing patterns. 

I don’t know
And I'm laughing with myself at this.

Thanks for always reading. Excited to make more beautiful pictures of flowers to share with you here next month. 


Flynn said...

Thank YOU! Thank you so much for sharing. This post makes my heart ache.

Lily Blake-Shepherd said...

Come visit JPl - we've got a room for you in Pasadena.

Unknown said...

Would you consider posting a reading list?

Page said...

beautifully thoughtful. thank you

Sarah said...

I feel so empowered to change, accept, let go, wander, explore, want more, want less, learn, grow, hide out, cry, laugh, eat more, love more, get angry, read read and read more science....and so much more ... every time I read a post from you.

Your honesty and perceptions of life are such a treat to the end of each post though, I'm always left wanting more. I would really love it if you posted more often. xo

Anonymous said...

Sarah, what the hell happened to bring this on? I understand burn-out, but not a complete "stripping of identity" that encompasses 100 acres, dogs, livestock, and all else...

You are loved.


Claire said...

I am immersed and stumbling around to recreate my life following a season of change, and I enjoyed reading this very much. It resonated with me. It takes rare talent and insight to write so eloquently and poetically about philosophical questions, science, an ongoing search for meaning. Thank you for writing it. It is a privilege and a pleasure to read. It's rare to find this quality of writing on a blog.

I think you have a book in your future. I hope it has scientific illustrations and photos of flowers and small moments of daily joy. Wishing you well.

lizzy said...

this post feels so tender and made me tear up. your attentive soul and wild intellect are astonishing. thank you for all that you share.

Unknown said...

When I see a new post in the Saipua blog in my reader that is always the first thing I open. Thanks for your writing efforts and for sharing. <3

Desi McKinnon said...

I'm dying because I just paused a podcast that was saying some of the same stuff! I love this wild world we live in.

Your break sounds positively dreamy.

Wendy said...

Self time is needed to think deeply,and like you said, observe. To get off the merry go round.
Feminine energy is much needed right now in this crazy masculine time. Will read up on Gaia theory, thank you. Would love to read a book of yours!

Wendy said...

Self time is needed to think deeply,and like you said, observe. To get off the merry go round.
Feminine energy is much needed right now in this crazy masculine time. Will read up on Gaia theory, thank you. Would love to read a book of yours!

Anonymous said...

Of course it is perfectly human to see just what we want to see, even when what we are seeing feels challenging. But ideally we are eventually able to burn through our many projections and see just what is there.

Not a Jungian, but a lover of science.