A Mighty Something

Cosmology: Part One

A Mighty Something
Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Most people believe that physicists are explaining the world. . . . They are only dancing with it. —Gary Zukav [1]

How do we know what is real? I’m sure you’ve heard the story of a group of people who are blind describing an elephant, each from a different vantage. One person, feeling the elephant’s tail, described a rope. Another, arms encircling a leg, said it was like a pillar or tree. And so on. Every viewpoint is a view from a point. The more ways of knowing we use, the closer we come to understanding, and yet the full picture will always elude us. In this way, mystery is endlessly knowable.

Dr. Barbara Holmes points to the many dimensions of reality and invites us to dance—to be in relationship—with the Real. She begins by quoting philosopher Alfred Schutz:

Our primitive impulse is to affirm immediately the reality of all that is conceived, as long as it remains uncontradicted. But there are several, probably an infinite number of various orders of realities, each with its own special and separate style of existence. [2]

From our own experiences we know that reality is not a seamless whole. Multiple realities rise, recede, and eclipse on our cognitive horizons as subuniverses that we inhabit from time to time. . . . The portals to these universes are not always cognitive. Perhaps they can be entered through dance and song and story.

The superstring theory provides useful analogies. . . . Physicist Brian Greene says, “If string theory is right, the microscopic fabric of our universe is a richly intertwined multidimensional labyrinth within which the strings of the universe endlessly twist and vibrate, rhythmically beating out the laws of the cosmos.” [3] The theory speaks of universes coiled into infinitesimal loops that may hold the secrets of all forces in the cosmos. The beauty of the theory is that it is dynamic and rhythmic. It is a resonant and dancing universe that invites us to view its mysteries. . . .

For indigenous people, the stories hint of something unspoken. Theologian Megan McKenna and storyteller Tony Cowan refer to this element as “the thing not named.”

In more theological or religious terms it is the Midrash, the underlying truth, the inspired layers that are hinted at, that invite but do not force themselves upon us. They must be searched out, struggled with and taken to heart. It is, at root, the mystery that makes the story memorable, worth telling over and over again, and staking your life on it. [4]

Hopi elders engage multiplicity by referring to the ineffable as “a mighty something [a’ni himu].” [5] Wisdom instructs the elders that one cannot stake life on limited human perspectives; there must be more. And so the elders inquire into the nature of ontology, social location, and the universe with the humble acceptance of an abiding wonder for “the thing not named.”

References:
[1] Gary Zukav, The Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics (Morrow Quill Paperback: 1979), 35.

[2] Alfred Schutz, “On Multiple Ralities,” in The Problem of Social Reality: Collected Papers 1 (Martinus Nijhoff Press: 1962), 207.

[3] Brian Greene, The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory (Vintage Books: 1999), 18.

[4] Megan McKenna and Tony Cowan, Keepers of the Story (Orbis Books: 1997), 66.

[5] See John D. Loftin, Religion and Hopi Life in the Twentieth Century (Indiana University Press: 1991), xv-xvi.

Barbara A. Holmes, Race and the Cosmos: An Invitation to View the World Differently (Trinity Press International: 2002), 81-82.

Image credit: Starry Night Over the Rhône (detail), Vincent van Gogh, 1888, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of God’s hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. —Psalm 19:1-4
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