Thursday, December 16, 2010

Yin Yang

Imagine you can see out into deep space, so far out that the distance to the nearest galaxies is so vast that no stars are visible in any direction, in fact all that there is to see is a solitary blue ball. Consider this ball for a moment and ask yourself this simple question... is it moving, slowly drifting across the abyss or is it holding still, hanging against the backdrop of the void? The more deeply we consider this question the more we come to realize that there is no possible way of knowing the answer. Indeed, in relation to what could it be said to be moving? Things are said to move only when compared with others, that are relatively still, for movement does not exist in itself but only in relation to stillness - likewise stillness cannot exist except in correlation with motion.

So let's have two balls, and notice that they come closer to each other, or get further apart. Sure, there is motion now, but which one is moving? Ball one, ball two, or both? There is no way of deciding. All answers are equally right and wrong. Now suppose that the balls don't move at all, but that the space between them moves. After all, we speak of a distance (space) increasing or decreasing as if it were a thing that could do something. This is the problem of the expanding universe. Are the other galaxies moving away from ours, or ours from them, or all from each other? The problem comes up because we ask the question in the wrong way. We supposed that solids were one thing and space quite another, or just nothing whatever. Then it appeared that space was no mere nothing, because solids couldn't do without it. But the mistake in the beginning was to think of solids and space as two different things, instead of as two aspects of the same thing. The point is that they are different but inseparable, like the front end and the rear end of a cat.

The space, then, is as real as the solid. Yet we think, 'Well, where there is a solid, there is something, and where there is space, there is nothing.' They are actually as mutually supportive as back and front, they are inseparable. Nobody ever found a space without a solid, and nobody ever found a solid without a space. We've been trained to fix our attention on the solid and disregard the space, but what we fail to see is that it is the solid which implies the space, just as it is the space which implies the solid. It is the soft of your skin that implies the rough of the tree bark, it is the warmth of your body that implies the cold of the snow. Nothing can exist except in relation to it's opposite... it is only through the concept of dark that we can conceive of light, and it is only in relation to light that we can comprehend dark.

Press a single key on a piano and we perceive a solitary note hanging in the air, but what our ear fails to tell us is that every second this note is flowing rapidly in and out of existence. In fact, were this not the case we would fail to hear anything at all. This is because sound is generated not by a tone but by a tone, followed by silence, followed by a tone, followed by silence. Likewise when you switch on a light in the dark you senses are flooded with the perception of light, but in reality your eyes are following your ears' example and withholding the fact that what you perceive as a beam of brightness is actually a union of darkness and light; the light dying away to bring life to the dark, the darkness giving way to the light which implies the darkness in turn. How do would we classify the rich without the poor? Sorrow without joy? If everyone was exactly the same size who would we consider tall? Whom short? If all of humanity were as intelligent as Einstein would we still consider him a genius? We never find the crest of a wave without an accompanying trough, nor a particle without an interval between itself and others. In others words, there is no such thing as a half wave, or a particle all by itself without any space around it. There is no on without off, no up without down. Take away the crest of the wave, and there is no trough.

We are so absorbed in conscious attention, so convinced that this narrowed kind of perception is not only the real way of seeing the world, but also the very basic sensation of oneself as a conscious being, that we are fully hypnotized by its disjointed vision of the universe. We really feel that this world is indeed an assemblage of separate things that have somehow come together or, perhaps, fallen apart, and that we are each only one of them. We see ourselves all alone, born alone and dying alone, maybe as bits and fragments of a universal whole, or expendable parts of a big machine. Rarely do we conceive of all these so-called things and events "going together" like the head and tail of the cat, or as tones and inflections - rising and falling, coming and going - of a single singing voice.

In other words, we do not play the game of death-and-life: the universal game of up/down, on/off. solid/space, and each/all. Instead, we play the game of death-versus-life. Then, not realizing the inseparability of the positive and negative poles of the rhythm, we are afraid that death may win the game. But the game "Life must win" is no longer a game, it is a fight - a fight haunted by a sense of chronic frustration because we are doing something as crazy as trying to keep the mountains and get rid of the valleys.


Neither-Nor said...

I have often done the thought experiment of the blue ball, described in your post; and I was amazed to find someone else describe this thing that I presumed was limited to my own private imagination. I have a variation on it however. I would say that the blue ball contains all the matter and energy that exists in the universe - all planets, stars, galaxies, and so on. It is surrounded by the emptiness of space. Likewise, one may ask: Is it moving? Is it still? We cannot say whether or not the whole physical universe itself is still or in motion.
The conclusion is that motion is not absolute. This relativity of motion militates against our everyday conception of the world. This is a fascinating topic.

On another note, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog and commend you on it.