the universe in a nutshell Feb 3, 2021
in order to understand the universe,
we must first understand the mind.
the mind understands things through abstraction.
abstraction is a way of seeing a complex system in a simpler way. it allows the mass of details to be subsumed by the larger gist. it is intimately related to the idea of emergence. emergence is the process as it occurs in the world; abstraction is the way a mind captures that process. abstraction is how our minds turn experience into understanding. it is the pattern detection which produces wisdom from knowledge. it is the mechanism of thingness.
why is abstraction necessary? we cannot directly perceive the world. we gain information about the world through our senses. this raw information, such as the intensity of light upon the cells of the retina, the pressure and temperature felt by the skin, the vibrations of the air heard by the ears, the molecules detected by the nose and tongue, the gravity felt by our inner ear---this granular information must be reconstructed by our minds into the various objects of the world. but the world is so complex that instincts, pre-programmed knowledge, are not enough. evolution has found that it is also necessary, and efficient, to learn from experience. lucky for us, the world is consistent enough that we can learn how things work. but looking deeply, we find that most consistency ultimately falls apart.
things do not have well-defined beginnings and ends. did you begin when you were born? when you were conceived? when half of your genetic code was decided in your mother, and the other half in your father? choose any event from the course of your life so far, and trace back its causes. how much of you is in these threads? in the people you have known? in the places you have been, and the people who lived and worked there before? in the stories you have been told, whether in words or text or film or game, whether historical or fantastic? what real separation is there between anything? this is the web of causality in which everything sits. all is one, one is all. this is dependent origination, interbeing, karma.
things do not have permanence. fashions change. ideas come and go. happiness gives way to sadness. sadness gives way to happiness. life dies. new life is born. everything decays, everything changes. time moves on. this too shall pass. this is the wheel of life, the cycle of existence, impermanence.
energy is not created or destroyed. things may come and go, but their underlying components only undergo transformation. some transformations work deeper than others. when water freezes into ice, it is transformed, yet still a collection of water molecules. but when water falls into the sun, such as on an icy comet, the molecules themselves are transformed. the energy is still conserved. energy is information, but not in a sense we are familiar with in our daily lives. it need not be comprehensible to anyone but the universe itself, so to speak.
so abstraction allows us to understand and predict quite well, by thinking of parts of the world as things. but we must not confuse this with reality. we must not be fooled into believing that things are more well-defined or permanent than they are. this is emptiness, suchness, the falsity of abstractions. but there is a balance to be found here. on the one side, you believe that nothing is real. and on the other, you believe too strongly in the reality of things.
dualistic thinking is a symptom of believing too strongly in the reality of things. it is the holding up of conflicting abstractions and declaring that one of them must be wrong. but abstractions necessarily leave out details---and it is in these details where the solutions to paradoxes can be found. put another way, nondualism comes from the realization of the emptiness of abstractions, of the ultimate nonreality of things.
what does abstraction look like in practice? the loop of our interaction with the world looks like this: we understand things, we think about things, we perform actions, we experience, we understand things. our abstractions live in our understanding and thoughts. if we are careful about the steps in this loop, we call it science. we make hypotheses about things, we perform experiments, we collect data, we update our hypotheses. this loop is also the buddhist eightfold path. several of its steps are about being careful with the loop. it is: understanding, thinking, speaking, acting, lifestyle, effort, self-awareness, focus, understanding. this overlap hints at the deep connection between science and religion; both are quests for truth.
in the shell of the nut, you can see the nut
for the shell would not exist if the nut didn't.
and in the nut can be seen the trees
the one which grew the nut, and those into which the nut may grow.
in the trees can be seen the sun, rain, air, and soil
without which the trees cannot survive.
in the rain, air, and soil can be seen the planet
as a whole system of weather and ecology.
in the sun can be seen the formation and dispersal of atoms.
in the atoms can be seen molecules and quantum mechanics.
then there's some really small stuff we don't understand yet.
in everything we see the echoes of mathematics and computation.
the universe in a nutshell
all writing, chronological
next: we are here. we are here. we are here. we are here. we are here. we are here. we are here.
previous: the fundamental principle of design