Tag Archives: Albert Einstein

‘you can enter, there are no ghosts here’

higgsheraclitusHeraclitus said this to some young men who came to see him in his remote hermitage. He had acquired a reputation for being irascible and distant, really because nobody understood his ideas which were far ahead of their time.   A theory of constant change: A form of monism based on energy, and he often used as an example the energy of fire.  Of necessity he spoke in elliptic fashion using allegory, for example “You cannot step into the same river twice, for all is constant change!”  In a sense it was not until Spinoza that there was another philosopher expressing these ideas!

He only ever wrote his ideas down once, on a scroll deposited in the library in Ephesus which is now lost.  So we know of his doctrines from quotations and references in the writings of others.

These young men were charmed by him however as he patiently explained his philosophy the long day through; and they remembered that day for the rest of their lives.  What they experienced was far from the ideas they had of him when they approached his abode.   The only way people could rationalize Heraclitus’ independent thinking was that he had some kind of miraculous contact with the gods that were the basis of the Greek religion of the time.  His greeting was aimed at putting these fears to rest and welcoming them as fellow-enquirers and equals.  People rarely  visited him so fearsome was his reputation!   He had a child-like quality about him and had often played with the children in the  town square.  He had  great sympathy with the freshness of spirit of the children and their openness to new ideas.

In a real sense the approach used by Heraclitus is the same as that used by modern physics to explain how our universe works. The link between matter and energy and the development of the concept of spacetime having been postulated by Einstein at the beginning of the last century.  The developments in our understanding continue to the present day.  Most recently with the confirmation of the existence of the Higgs boson.  Modern science uses the same openness and patient enquiry based oh the evidence to hand that Heraclitus used.

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science and magic

One could say that science describes what we understand and magic what we do not. The inexplicable always fascinates; like children at a party asking the conjuror to repeat the trick.
Since 95% of the universe is dark energy or dark matter, which we do not understand, there is still plenty of magic. It was Isaac Newton who said ‘the bigger the island of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of uncertainty.’
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Pressure to conformity; valuing difference,

Often what is specialist knowledge may seem like magic to the uninitiated. Most people do not understand quantum physics because it needs an understanding of advanced mathematics. The very language we use implies secrecy and sects, though this may not be by intention. However the simple fact is that specialist knowledge, whether of shamanism or nuclear physics, leads to exclusivity. Indeed in a sense it is not specialist knowledge, but specialist experience that differentiates the exceptional individual from the crowd. We are not all the same and some differences lead to an individual having a different view of the world. For example autistic children are different, experience the world differently and some are very talented and creative. It has been proposed that Newton had Aspergers syndrome. His development of the concept of ‘gravity’ a universal force acting at a distance, which was accepted as real, though unexplained and so in essence ‘magical’.


Einstein took the understanding further developing the concept of ‘spacetime’. Interestingly, since nothing can travel faster than light this automatically gives each individual a unique viewpoint on the universe and gives the sensation (illusion?) of time.

Difference is always liable to give rise to suspicion and fear and it was only recently that people were being burnt at the stake for their religious convictions or because they were considered to be witches. Clearly there was a disincentive to anyone talking about having spiritual experiences!

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Our society needs exceptional individuals whether explorers, scientists engineers or philosophers. Until recently there was dependence on shamans for making rain, now science has taken over this role- to an extent.

We need to be able to think the unthinkable (in a safe environment, a University ) if we are to develop an increasing understanding of the universe and the way it works. Science allows this, a well defined situation is explored and reproducible results obtained. It is an approach which has proved to be successful. Yet it has limitations.

One-off unique events can be observed but not repeated.

Subjective experience cannot be objectively studied, though modern imaging technology of the brain in action is getting close.

There is still room for the magic of the individual and spirituality. Indeed some feel that individual experience is ultimately all there is.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22105898

http://clementsgeoff.com/2012/11/08/speakable-and-unspeakable-in-quantum-mechanics-5/

http://clementsgeoff.com/2013/03/25/rain-clouds/