Distractions: July 2012

Jazz and quantum physics have a lot in common. Two weeks ago I stumbled across the John Coltrane album Live at the Village Vanguard and Brian Greene’s book “The Fabric of the Cosmos” at a library used book sale. That same week PBS was scheduled to play the Nova series devoted to the Brian Greene books and I was assigned the new Ravi Coltrane album to review for PopMatters. Coltrane and Greene have proved to be more than worthy distractions in-between a significant amount of child rearing and music making. Here are some healthy summer distractions along those lines (and others).

Science, Physics, and Beyond

The Higgs Boson Explained from PHD Comics on Vimeo.



All artists experience the unbridgeable gap which lies between the work of their hands, however successful it may be, and the dazzling perfection of the beauty glimpsed in the ardour of the creative moment: what they manage to express in their painting, their sculpting, their creating is no more than a glimmer of the splendour which flared for a moment before the eyes of their spirit. Believers find nothing strange in this: they know that they have had a momentary glimpse of the abyss of light which has its original wellspring in God. Is it in any way surprising that this leaves the spirit overwhelmed as it were, so that it can only stammer in reply?”




A couple of days ago, I posted a tweet suggesting that the most basic constituents of reality may not be fixed unchanging bits of stuff but sequences of actions, events.  (It was more concise when I tweeted it.) Bryan Johnson wrote to say explicitly what I vaguely knew: “your description of fundamental reality describes elementary particles quite well. The lifetime of an elementary particle is a miniscule fraction of a second; its detection in an experiment can be viewed simply as an event, and is often referred to as that by scientists. After it has left a track in a cloud chamber, a particle simply doesn’t exist anymore. In addition, a fundamental property of elementary particles is a quantity referred to by scientists as action. The action of a particle is its energy divided by its frequency, and thus it reflects the wave (or undulatory, as some of the older quantum physicists called it) nature of matter. It’s really more accurate to think of elementary particles as oscillations, musical notes if you will, rather than billiard balls.”

My own impression is that life in the world provides many diversions which guard a person from really engaging the battle with sin, and can even render him quite insensible of its existence. Such a person is not so much engaging the complexity of the world as becoming numb to it. In the cloister, on the other hand, you engage the Adversary face to face. It is hard for me to imagine where in the world a person more directly engages “the world in all its complexity” than battling with the very source of evil in one’s own heart in the solitude and silence of the cloister.

As regards “grappling” with the world, in its present state, I will frankly confide to you two very personal vulnerabilities which would make living outside the cloister very difficult for me. First is my impression of the general formlessness of life in America today. So many people today live without a coherent language, symbol system, tradition, or rituals to give concrete expression to what they believe and so speak of seeking “happiness,” “contentment, “light,” “fulfillment”… The abstract formlessness of how Americans talk about matters of ultimate concern wearies me deeply.

The other is the loneliness that characterizes life in America today. Mother Theresa, visiting the U.S. for the first time in the 70s, said she had never seen poverty like what she saw here and she meant the loneliness of Americans. The breakdown and relinquishment of shared value systems and traditions, has left individuals adrift in a private search for God and meaning. This is a terribly lonely way to live. In America, loneliness can become like the blueness of the sky. After a while, people don’t think about it anymore.

Read the entire conversation here.

  • Finally, a quote from Flannery O’Connor:

I can never agree with you that the Incarnation, or any truth, has to satisfy emotionally to be right.… There are long periods in the lives of all of us, and of the saints, when the truth as revealed by faith is hideous, emotionally disturbing, downright repulsive…. The thought of everybody lolling about in an emotionally satisfying faith is repugnant to me. I believe that we are ultimately directed Godward but that this journey is often impeded by emotion.