For what does elemental matter--the microscopic stuff of stars, planets and DNA molecules--look like in a post-Einsteinian universe? The first thing to say, I suppose, is that matter is bound or condensed energy, captured from the torrential, buzzing flow set loose by the big bang. Just as water moves through a whirlpool and simultaneously creates it, so are we and the stars disturbances (or warps) in the free flow of ballooning, random energy sounded with the opening chord of our cosmic symphony (whether it was the first or just one of many). Democritus and the classical atomists (or the Hindus) had it about right: the atoms that compose all the object-like entities in the universe are vortices, eddies or fluctuations within a vast cosmic river. . . [which began its flow with the Big Bang]
Hence it is an anachronism (and a sign of cultural lag) that the word atom should any longer serve as a metaphor of our insularity and shut-in-ness. It is precisely the opposite. Due to its field properties, atomic structure means that the whole universe is woven into us and we into it. It may be true, as Aristotle had it, that the soul is potentially all things. The point is that at an invisible (because microscopic) physical level, everything is actually implicated in everything else--the one in the many, the many in the one. Or to put it in a medieval frame, the macrocosm is in the microcosm.
From David S. Toolan, S.J., "At Home in the Cosmos," America Magazine, 2/24/1996
I want to introduce another theme for this blog, to which I've adverted indirectly over the years, which is that our social imaginary hasn't yet caught up with what physicists are telling us about how the universe works. We (me included) have (mostly) a rather nineteenth-century materialist imagination of the world, and it's precisely the limitations, the rather crude limitations, of that imagination that allow for all the kind of silliness now that passes for the new atheism that sees itself pitted agains the pre-Darwinian imagination of religious fundamentalists. It's silly because it's locked into a way of thinking about the Real, both its spiritual and material dimensions, that has been made obsolete, and if anything, science is moving toward a retrieval of older understandings of the sacramental nature of the Real.
Elsewhere in the article Toolan says, "
these areas of a post-Einsteinian world begin to show striking affinities to the chancy, interconnected and semiotic universe presupposed by Catholic sacramental theology. Moreover, as Northrop Frye once observed, to begin to think of God in the way scientists now do of atoms and electrons--as forces, fields and energies rather than 'things'--may prove a way of recovering our biblical ancestors' sense that God is linguistically a "word of power," not a noun but essentially a verb."
In the beginning was the Word, the Logos, ... and through him all things were made." There is chaos and then there is the Logos which manifests in various forms of linguistic codes at the deep heart of the universe. This is an idea that has been a part of modern and postmodern thinking at least since the time of Charles Peirce whose semiotics laid the foundations for Heisenberg and Bohr, Crick and Watson. Everything is code, signs, working with other signs. Eeveryting is Word. More on Charles Peirce's semiotics in the future, but for now let's hear what Toolan has to say:
We no longer need to carry the physicist's energy and the humanist's signs and symbols in separate accounts. One balance sheet will do. Information physics has given us back a semiotic universe, a nature that--like the medieval sacramental universe--gives gives signs. University divisions of the natural sciences and divisions of humanities while working at different parts of the spectrum, need not figure themselves as concerned with utterly disparate matters. The natural sciences, we may now say, deal with primitive sign systems and their protolanguages and protogrammars, whereas the humanities deal with the more developed sign systems and meanings of the animate star dust we call human cultures.
There is a telos, an Omega point, toward which all creation groans, and this telos is the slow process of a largely alienated, unconscious, inarticulate Natura becoming aware of itself. The human being is the 'warp' in the cosmic flow where this 'becoming conscious' occurs and through whom this awareness is given a voice. And humans speak what they learn most truly and deeply when it is the Word, the deep Real, the Logos, the substrate for all that exists, that speaks in and through humans. For since the beginning the Logos has sung the cosmic song of creation, a song which seeks gradually we humans are learning to sing with greater depth and greater complexity and greater beauty. In the end it is the song sung in full throated joy by the communion of saints.