The Eternal Possesses Time

As in the poem ‘All the Time in the World
the nature of an eternal ‘Other’
that pervades space and time,
cannot be defined in spacetime words,
though they are all we have.

Something other than time and dimension,
pervading space and time
but independent of them,
needs words outside our range.

So how can we talk or think about it?

We do not use language as much as we think.
Multilingual people are sometimes asked,
‘What language do you think in?’

Their answer is often delayed;
rolling language thoughts around,
they usually give an answer
set in the terms of the question.

But many thoughts do not use language
though we may not notice it:
sunlight through leaves, the flight of birds,
fatigue, frustration, longing,
the body language of a friend,
and expressions on a face,
do not need words.

When we communicate with others
our words have personal qualities,
‘qualia’, arising from our past life.
A mountain, a falling leaf, a knife,
each have qualities which differ
from one person to another.
No two people have the same past,
the same experience of any thing.
Your words, my words, have different qualia,
different emotional tones.
You hear my words,
spoken out of my past
and interpret them out of yours.

I heard of an itinerent priest
who preached in town and village churches
when local vicars were away.
It could be several churches on one day.
He joked about breaking the speed limit.
Those listening –  drivers, non-drivers,
who had known or not known past accidents –
would have different thoughts about speeding cars,
different qualia,
different reactions.

But we can understand in some degree
the qualia of those different groups
by extension of our own.
Our own qualia can be enlarged
by poetry, story, music,
by the emotions of others,
or our ideas of what they might be.

Physics, mathematics or words of spacetime
cannot define or describe the Other,
but emotions give a feel for it.
Physics, mathematics and words
do this when they stir emotions.
Some find beauty in a formula that others find in music.

That feeling of beauty,
rather than formula,
rather than musical notes,
is close,
perhaps as close as we can come,
to the language of the eternal.

The word eternal, ae-ternus,
simply means lasting an age,
an infinite extension of time,
but emotions tell us it is more than this,
something more than the word,
more than mere length of time.

The Eternal possesses time.


Why is there Something rather than Nothing?

This is for those who like trying to imagine travelling to infinity and beyond! It is a sort of sequel to ‘Eddies in the Stream‘.

Why is there something rather than nothing?
Something is something we can understand –
things are all round us, but why are they there?
Why is there sunshine and birds in the air?
nothing is no-thing, and this seems absurd,
nothing is something for which there’s no word.
Nothing is absence, and that is something;
no song for no singer that no-one can sing.
What are those things that just cannot be?
Just between you and just between me,
nothing is something, and that cannot be.

Why is there something rather than nothing?
Is there a Maker that calls us to be?
an infinite-finite source of all being?
or multiverses to infinity?
Religion nor Science have answered the question,
‘Why is there something where nothing could be?’

Nothing is no-thing, and that is a problem,
it describes both a void and things that are not.
I search for a word that speaks not of things,
that does not suggest an absence of what?
for a void is a something, and an absence is too,
and nothing is something that just will not do.
I search for a word and zilch is no answer;
I search for a word and get diddly-squat.

Why is there something rather than nothing?
Why is there something where nothing could be?

There is no word for nothing
that does not mention things,
or speak about the void
the absence of them brings,
then nothing must be something
and so we talk in rings.

So surely it is possible,
and some may well say probable,
that something so intangible
can simply not exist.
Then nothing is a no-thing,
an impossible-to-go thing,
so surely there is something
rising from this mist.

Space and time and energy
are something we can feel:
eddies whirled in spacetime,
an expanding, whirling reel;
a dark, flowing energy
with eddies of its own,
spinning, ever spinning,
in this turning cosmic wheel

And those we see and know
as fundamental particles,
atoms, light and molecules,
flying to and fro,
may be eddies within eddies,
that draw the flow around them;
eddies in those eddies.
that make this cosmos grow.

Eddies bend the space-time flow around them.
Spacetime tells the eddies how to move.
Something more than nothing is no problem;
but something we can wonder at and love.

I have a sort of feeling that your mind like mine is reeling.

– – –

Scientists often say the language of the universe is mathematics, so is number an essential thing? an irreducible something, the reason for ‘something rather than nothing’? Perhaps, perhaps not.

We cannot explain numbers to children without words; sometimes lots of words. As children learn numbers in words, so students learn mathematics – plus, minus, times, divide, integrals, calculus, matrices, in many, many words. The most complex mathematical concepts, cosmic infinities, sub-atomic minutiae, could probably not be said in the words of a mathematician’s lifetime. A neighbour in Sue’s Birthday Bunnies called numbers the collapsed waveforms of words, a shorthand for the infinite words that might define this universe.

They take out all the hassle.

But in the beginning was the word.

There is another word for which we have no word. See you in two weeks.


Back with a charged computer and taking up where I left off, I imagine many of you spotted the theme of my last post ‘Elpee!’ was Planck’s Length, L­­­p­­­ and the strange forces that seem to bind the universe together at the same time as preventing it from collapsing in on itself.

You did? Wow!

Anyway for those who might not have done:

The concealed theme in the poem is the four fundamental interactions or forces of Quantum Mechanics (QM): electromagnetic, gravitational, strong, and weak, which make up our universe. They can be hard to understand, as is QM generally, so I pictured them as a flock of starlings.

Electromagnetic radiation is the colours thrown between the sky and starlings wings (by which they know one another and their world).

Gravity is the distant longing, drawing the flock as one (Newton’s apple to the earth).

The strong interaction draws mate to mate, binding families and roosting birds into groups (atoms, molecules, compounds, you).

The weak interaction is the short range interaction between birds, stopping them crashing together but not strong enough to break up the flock (stabilising those groups drawn by the strong interaction).

LP is Planck Length. A starling’s wing-flutter and flight swirls make its position, size and velocity uncertain. If there were no limit to this, if their size could be infinitely small, the flock could collapse or evaporate to nothing. Max Planck, faced with a  problem involving radiation, found there was a limit to the smallness of things; a fundamental length or grain size, even to space, below which the laws of physics will not take us. This length is known as Planck’s Length, or LP, the smallest distance that can be measured.

Because length is effectively granular in this way, so are all those things that depend on it. Speed of travel is length (distance travelled) divided by the time taken, so time is granular in the same way; it literally ticks on in tiny portions of Planck Time (Tp), the time light, the fastest thing in the universe, takes to travel one Planck length. Mass, temperature, and electric charge also share this granular nature.

I hope you find this difficult to follow because physicists do. There is something very strange going on – a conflict between the laws governing the very small and the very large. The sums do not work. When particles, which are seen as the focus or points of action of waves of energy, come together en masse, the Earth and Moon, or an apple falling from a tree, their gravity bends and contracts the space between them and brings them together. Physicists can calculate the mathematics of this and define its laws, but these same particles on their own, in their own tiny inner space do not follow these laws. The laws we find governing the very small and the very big do not agree. Somewhere we have got it wrong.

No poem this time, but I am working on it. A murmuration of starlings is one way of looking at the cosmos with the starlings representing particles of matter in fields of energy. Each starling or particle is a focus or point of action of its field of energy.

There may be another way, a quite different, far more relaxed view, in which starlings are replaced by ‘Eddies in the Stream’ which I shall post in a couple of weeks. If you want to get ahead of me there are two fun and interesting ‘You Tube’ illustrations by ‘Physics Girl’ Dianna Cowern here and James Dann here. If you watch James Dann’s setup closely there is something to be seen that he does not mention.

See you in two weeks.

Highland Hills

So many hills I trod the miles, each steady grassy climb,
where each horizon seemed to be eternity in time.
Somewhere the unseen peak beyond each skyline drew me on,
on grassy tussocks, turf or scree,
on steady rise, on tired knee,
in cloud-mist, faded sun.

Each heavy, crossed horizon shows another up ahead:
another lessened slope that grows more stonily instead,
and weary limbs and counted steps attack the boulder field
which levels to the cairn at last
where, triumph gained and labour past,
the whole world lies revealed.

And is there fairer yet than this that our world has to show?
when trial and beauty seem as one,
and clouds that used to veil the sun
drift slowly, down below?

God’s Daydream

Last September I posted a scientific parallel of Genesis. Here it is again as a children’s story:

Some of God’s days are longer than others and some much shorter. Some are made up of lots and lots of our days. Peter, a very good friend of Jesus, said one of our days could be like a thousand years for God, and a thousand of our years could be like just one day for Him. He really doesn’t mind.

This story is about God’s days, his first special ones.

God’s First Day – Let there be light.

It is a story before all stories, the story of a daydream. It wasn’t a dream in the night because there was no night yet, and it wasn’t a dream in the day because there was no day yet. It was a daydream about a day that hadn’t happened. There was nothing, an emptiness with no people, no animals and no places for them to be. But the emptiness shimmered with little almost-waves like the surface of a calm sea just before the wind comes, but these were not almost-waves of water, they were almost-waves of light.

God knew His day needed light so he blew on the almost-waves and said ‘Let’s have light.’ They shimmered and shimmered until suddenly there it was, beautiful and dazzling and a little bit frightening. Well, actually, much more than a little bit – it was very frightening.  That is it would have been if we had been there to be frightened but luckily for us we weren’t and God liked it and there was no longer nothing. There were great, glorious waves of light.

It was the first day and it went by in a flash, which was quite long enough for God.

God’s Second Day – space.

The dancing light waves pushed and pressed at each other like children fighting for sweets. ‘All that light with nothing to do and nowhere to go.’ thought God. ‘I think there should be some order here.’

So he made a rule: some waves could not be in the same place at the same time but other than that they could do what they liked (actually he made some other rules we call the initial conditions but I don’t want to bore you with that).

The waves did as they were told. They flew here and there (which was of course the first ‘here and there’ – before that there was nowhere). As they flew they changed. They became red and green and blue, and strong and weak, and big and small – all the colours of the rainbow and many more things you and I could hardly understand and the space between them became bigger and bigger. It was the second day.

God’s Third Day – the Earth forms with land, seas and early life.

God said, ‘If they carry on like this they will fly away and disappear again. Let’s have a little bit of gravity here.’

And the waves came together in space and, wherever they did, they behaved as though they were tiny specks, smaller than the smallest piece of dust, but so many that they made galaxies and stars and planets and moons and all sorts of places – and one of them was our own home, Earth.

In the Earth, and other places too for all I know, some of them got together and made tiny almost-plants like the first almost-waves and these made more and more until they got together and began to build real plants. Each new plant could make more, bigger and bigger and bigger ones.

It was the third day, a very long one. For us it would have been millions of millions of years but to God it was just another day.

God’s Fourth Day – the seasons of the sun and moon, life in seas and land.

God said ‘Let’s have a few changes here.’

Now, if you remember, everything was made of waves of light, so the plants needed light to grow and change and they got most of it from the Sun and the Moon and the stars. The Moon is big like a small planet although it is not as big as our Earth. We are like two planets turning round and round each other as we go round the Sun together. This makes summer when it is brighter and hotter, and winter when it is colder and dimmer, and the in-between times, spring and autumn. It makes the sea tides rise and fall, and gives us bright days and dark nights.

All these changes caused changes in the plants. After millions of our years some of them changed a lot but to God it was just another day. The fourth one.

God’s Fifth Day – the spread of mammals.

God’s fifth day was even longer. Slowly the changing seasons and tides, and days and nights, and all the changes that the plants had to make to keep up, made the seas swarm with plant life and some of them became almost-animals. God liked that.

‘Let’s have more.’ He said.

So just as the almost-waves had become light, and the almost-plants became real plants, so the almost-animals became real animals. It took a very long time, fifty million of our years, until the seas became the home of millions of tiny creatures. Fifty million years is a very long time but it took a hundred million years before a very different animal grew called Trigonotarbids. It was different because it lived out of the water. It was the first land animal.

Have you been counting? I have. So far God’s fifth day has been a hundred and fifty million of our years but it wasn’t over yet! It was another two hundred million years before much larger animals grew. You will have heard of these, they were Dinosaurs.

And still God’s fifth day was not over!

The Dinosaurs roamed the Earth for another hundred and seventy million years. There were lots of them: small ones, large ones, very, very large ones, even some that could fly, but eventually they came to an end and the only ones left were some of the ones that could fly. They became birds. I expect you guessed that. And that was the end of God’s fifth day.

If you have been counting it took five hundred and twenty million of our years, and if you weren’t counting it still took five hundred and twenty million.

God’s Sixth Day – the coming of Mankind.

Once the big dinosaurs were gone the world was safer for smaller animals. God’s dream was getting better and better.

‘I like them.’ Said God, ‘Let’s have some more.’

So monkeys and pigs and songbirds and horses and camels and little shrews and all sorts of creatures spread far and wide but God’s daydream was still not finished.

God said, ‘There’s no-one else here quite like me. I want someone to share it with.’

He didn’t mind what they looked like because he had made many different creatures, but he wanted someone who would be pleased with this world and love it like he did – friends who could look after it all. Once the animals had spread all over the Earth, which took nearly sixty million of our years, God breathed his spirit into one of the creatures and it loved the world he had made. After many more millions of our years it became us. That was the end of God’s sixth day.

God’s Seventh Day – He rests.

So the heavens and the earth were finished and everything in them, and on the seventh day of God’s daydream he blessed it because it was the day that he rested from all the work that he had done. The seventh day went by in a flash just like the first.

Then the serious work began.

Small Deaths and Life.

When the leaf or the sparrow falls,
or the bough breaks or bends,
the curtain falls and the encore calls no more;
when sunset fades from castle walls,
there, writ small in a thousand daily ends,
the quiet message of the Word
blending time with eternity :
past, present, future,
in one, continuing, I AM.

And did He share in all our common ills?
scratch at an itch, or sneeze?
ache with weariness, suffer with the miles?
Did He feel the weight of troubles borne alone?
or dash His foot on many a wayside stone?

Did He disdain the tempting devil words?
Nor use the eternal power that sent Him here?
Did He die our thousand daily deaths
until that greater death we forced on Him,
that He so freely died for us,
the glad gift of the Lover to His beloved?

And was His death a gift?
or mark the value of the gift,
of the giver,
and the receiver?

For God so loved the world
that He gave His only begotten Son,
that all who believe in Him shall not die
but have eternal life.

The Son of God, the Son of Man,
did not come into the world to die,
but to bring the gift of eternal life
to all who believe in Him.

But what are we to believe?
The world displayed the Word from the beginning.
What new thing was this?
He came. That is mere history.
His teaching was not new –.
He taught the unchanged Law,
the truth we should already know,
leaving no excuse.

The unity of Father, Son and Spirit
binding the Eternal into time,
the Son of Man, the Son of God,
the Lover that so loved the world
that He who came to bring us life
died at the hands of His beloved.

That was His gift,
a new law:
‘Love one another
as I have loved you.’

Rivers of Memory (3)

(1) Pishon                    (2) Pishon and Havilah

Havilah, Gihon and Beyond

Havilah extended beyond the fabled garden, beyond ‘Eden’. If it was the whole land mass that encompassed them then Havilah is Africa; a land of great stretches of deserts, savannah and rainforest, crossed and fed by rivers such as the Congo, the Nile and the Zambesi. The fertility of this region is steeped, as is all fertility, in water. Hunter-gatherer families followed it through the rich waterlands of the Great Rift Valley. This richly rivered region in the east of Africa led west to the Congo and east to the sea. Southward lay savannah, woodland and the Zambezi from which they had come. To their west, between them and the Congo, lay the far ridge of the Great Rift Valley rising to over two thousand feet, above the tree line, keeping them to the east. Through the Rift Valley itself ran the chain of rivers which fed Lake Kalahari. Lake Victoria however flowed out to the river that would become the Nile. And the Nile led them north.

‘The name of the second river is Gihon, it is the one that flows around the whole land of Cush.’
Genesis 2: 13

 The land of Cush is what we now call Ethiopia, where even older remains have been found, and Gihon the Nile or perhaps the narrow split which opened in the northeast of Havilah and has opened further since then to become the Red Sea which is growing even now. It drew our ancestors on, eventually to Mesopotamia: the land of the Hittites, Tubal, and the Sumerians; the gateway to the eastern arc of the fertile crescent and the country of Ararat. The naming of Assyria shows it was established by the time Genesis passed into written form.

Tigris and Euphrates

‘The name of the third river is Tigris which flows east of Assyria. And the name of the fourth river is the Euphrates.’                                                                                                                                         Genesis 2: 14

And so to the last of the great rivers associated with the genesis of humankind whose names we still know today: Tigris and Euphrates. Here the sequence of the rivers is broken. To get to the Tigris from Africa you must cross the Euphrates first, yet the Euphrates is placed fourth. The Tigris was the more important waterway. Ninevah, capital of Assyria, was built on its banks, as was Asshur, the city of the Assyrian god. The placing of the more important river first may be explained by the oral history having been written into this later historical setting.

The names of the earliest rivers are lost in prehistory, somewhere, long after the Taung child who was given the name Lucy,  between the time that language developed enough for us to tell stories and share memories and histories, and the development of writing, perhaps around the time long before writing, when we recorded our daily lives in cave paintings. Nowadays the name Pishon means a bouncing or jumping waterflow, conjuring pictures of falls and white water, whereas Gihon us a river that gushes on. The earlier root sounds may have had other meanings.

We will never know how much of the prehistoric oral record survives and how much is later addition, but we do know the history of our ancestors is rooted in these stories of ours as much as in our genes.

(1) Pishon                    (2) Pishon and Havilah