Complexity, Confusion and Connection – Part Il

Riverdance on a Trampoline


Stuart Fickler, Ph.D.


The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious.  It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science... It was the experience of mystery … that engendered religion.  A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate …

-- Einstein


Science can only ascertain what is, but not what should be, and outside of its domain value judgments of all kinds remain necessary. --  Einstein


Have you ever seen a performance of the Riverdance Company?  With feet stamping in harmony and precision, the dancers provide one beautiful performance after another.  A very important element for their success is the hardwood stage on which they perform.  Can you imagine what their performance would look like if it were performed on a trampoline?  Utter confusion!


What is the difference between these two scenarios?  Connection!  On the hardwood stage each dancer is isolated from the other.  Their stamping on the stage has no effect on the other dancers.  This situation is like the “simple, reducible” problems discussed in Part l.  On the trampoline, everything is connected.  The action of any one dancer ripples through the trampoline and affects every dancer.  The effect reverberates through the entire company, including the stage.


Over the past hundred years science has come to recognize that the universe is more like “Riverdance on a Trampoline”.  The General Theory of Relativity has demonstrated that, on a cosmological scale, matter and the underlying space-time that contains it are inextricably connected.  In the atomic and sub-atomic domain, Quantum Theory reveals that the measuring device and the thing being measured impact on each other in an inseparable manner.  Only in very limited domains can we approximate the special conditions of “Riverdance on a Hardwood Stage”.


But wait a minute, when I look out into the cosmos or into the world of the atom I don’t see utter confusion.  Don’t I see order?


“The Almighty has created one thing opposite the other.”  --  Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi


Actually, what I see is an exquisite orchestration of chaos and harmony.  I see the chaotic fury of internal stellar combustion and colliding and exploding galaxies in the midst of the serene, harmony of planetary and galactic motion.  I see the decay of elements and the enduring crystalline beauty of a diamond.  And, all of this is in a delicate balance that is necessary for a continuing, dynamic creation.


How is this achieved?  How can chaos and order exist in the same universe in a state of harmony?  In the language of science, it is due to the existence of constraints.  There are certain universal principles which limit and direct the processes of the universe.  The principles determine the relationship between actions and consequences that sustain the harmony.  In physics examples of these principles are the laws of conservation of energy and entropy.  When applied to specific situations, they provide the limitations and direction needed to preserve the harmony.


Speaking metaphorically, our universe is a universe of laws that sustain a “living” (dynamic) universe.  These laws are “contained” within the universe.  They are not the creation of scientists.  The role of the scientist is to unveil these laws and to identify their application to a multitude of specific cases.  As the cases become increasingly complex, the applications become vastly more difficult.  That is, the theoretical descriptions become more difficult to achieve.  As our vision of the universe expands and more of its processes are revealed, we are challenged to continuously reexamine our methods of description.  The universe itself and its underlying principles continue to be as it always has been.


Thus far, we have discussed the universe without reference to one of its most unique features, humankind.  The human being is, to a considerable degree, a microcosm of the physical universe in complexity.  But humanity adds an entirely new dimension of complexity, internal choice.  Choice makes the human being infinitely more complex than any other known element of creation.


The question then becomes, does the realization of choice separate humanity from the rest of creation?  Or, does it unveil an even grander vision of the universe?


Relatively new disciplines such as neurophysiology and genetic research have added exponentially to the scientific exploration of the nature of the human being.  However, these, like the physical sciences, have foundations that go into the past.  We often forget that the march that took us to Newton and Einstein started before the Egyptian pyramids were built.  Then, it might be worthwhile to examine the past In order to seek guidance for identifying the universal principles which determine the relationship between actions and consequences that sustain the harmony of a universe that includes the presence of humankind.  As in the case of the physical universe, these principles should be “contained” within creation and be applicable to a multitude of specific cases.


A good place to start our search is the Torah.  In A History of the Jews, the historian Paul Johnson asserts “Judaism created the Jews”.  The Torah is the heart, mind and soul of Judaism. And the almost four thousand years of Jewish history is a microcosm of humanity’s struggle to find its role in creation. It is an excellent place to seek a model that can meet the requirements needed to deal with the complexity of the relationship of humanity with creation.  From the very outset, Torah (Genesis 3) introduces choice into the relationship between humanity and creation.  The history of the Jewish people, as found in Tanakh, Talmud, Zohar and the various writings of its sages, provides an abundance of specific cases that illuminate the relationship between actions and consequences that sustain the harmony of a creation that includes the presence of humankind.



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