Space and KNowledge

Quite a few follow-ups on this question about empty space, going into explorations of space and knowledge:

Question of Today – March 14, 2011 Empty space

Watch this video (only about 4 minutes):
What do you find in your empty space?

Great video.

Great experiment.

How many of us have put our attention on an area of our lives which seemed to contain nothing, to the exclusion of all else, for 4 days; and then spend months contemplating and studying the results?

I know that the times I have devoted several days at a time completely to self development, mostly through programs run by Landmark Education (The Forum, the Advanced Course, and most of their other programs) have been very interesting. I have had very interesting discussions with some of their senior program leaders, and have assisted on over 30 programs over the years.

In my own empty areas I have found amazing depth, creativity, and relationship.

In the Hubble deep images I get some sort of a feel for the vastness of this finite universe of ours.
It does seem to be finite, but it is also so vast, that even if we lived for the rest of eternity, we could never visit it all.

I suspect that intelligent life with technological capability is far less common than most models suggest; but even so, that still leaves a significant probability that there is a great deal of intelligent life “out there”.

Great question – Thanks Barbara.

[followed by]

[ Mike Dineen contributed a video on Powers of 10 which is well worth a watch. ]

A great video Mike.

Really powerful the way it shows successive scales of near emptiness, then near solidity, then near emptiness again, then near solidity again.
The patterns of different systems based on different densities of collections or associations of sorts of stuff.

As Amber and Stacy say – there is no emptiness in any sort of absolute sense.
What we seem to have is limits of resolution of our sense at particular scales. As we develop tools to allow us to see at greater or lesser scales, we see this pattern of successive layers of “clumping” followed by “emptiness” again. Modern physics has gone another layer down, with quarks, gluons and the like, but the rules around their behaviour are so weird that there is no simple graphical representation that makes any sort of intuitive sense.

Hi Barbara
The Hubble space telescope is the most powerful astronomical instrument our society has yet developed, the result of tens of years of collaboration between hundred of scientists, engineers, technicians and craftsmen (and all the politicians and bureaucrats), and it has a very limited life (just a few years). To get that deep field image it had to be pointed at one spot of apparent nothingness for 4 days. That is a massive commitment.

Meditation is very interesting.
Exactly what is doing what to what, and what is it that is being controlled by what when one meditates?
That is a question which has occupied my mind for many days.

Ludwig Wittgenstein did some very powerful work in the area (many years of it), and while he distinguished many powerful concepts, he did not have the interdisciplinary knowledge (the disciplines simply did not exist in his day), to be able to reach an understanding of just what systems were at play.

It seems to me, to put it as simply as I can, that in meditation, what we are doing is developing discipline at separating the different systems of mind, and being able to focus the attention of awareness from one domain of systems to another. The vast majority of people have no awareness at all of the systems architecture of their own minds (neither the biochemical, nor the processing and memory systems, nor the software hierarchies operating upon them), yet most can, with training, master the techniques of bringing focus to intention, and awareness of the different layers of information being presented to awareness.

Most then proceed to interpret those experiences within the paradigms available to them.
It seems that most of the stories that people have come up with over the many millenia that people have been doing such practices are very different from the sorts of stories that I have made up (based upon a modern(ish) interdisciplinary understanding of science and history).

It seems that, so long as we are in a society that requires people to spend most of their time and energy either producing or consuming (in order to keep our economic system from collapsing), then few will have the necessary incentives to do the serious exploration of these boundaries for themselves.

The journey is intensely personal.
Others can teach us practices, and it is only by applying those practices for ourselves that we get to generate the experiences for ourselves.
Others can tell us stories, in an attempt to help us form our own concepts and abstractions, and it is ultimately down to the almost unimaginably complex systems that are our individual minds, to make those concepts and abstractions ourselves.

We can learn many disciplines to help us do that – mathematics is perhaps the most powerful, particularly the theory of number and numeric systems, and also set theory and infinity theory. Then there is statistics and probability, then games theory, theory of moves, …..
Then there are the physical disciplines, physics, chemistry, astronomy, geology, biochemistry.
Then the systems disciplines, systems theory, ecology, geomorphology, software design, physiology, behaviour, cybernetics, psychology, history, evolution, ….

All of them provide necessary data, necessary abstractions, necessary integrations; if we are to start to get the germ of an idea of what we actually are, and how we actually came to be what we are.

Yes meditation is a great tool, a great discipline, and it is one of many great disciplines.

[followed by]

Hi Barbara

You said:
That’s what I want to know! Where is it expanding to? How do we know this???

To be able to get any sort of real handle on that requires a lot of work in the realm of abstract mathematics, and you can get a sort of idea about it by imagining a balloon blowing up.
If you imagine that you are constrained to observing only the two dimensional surface of the balloon, and the balloon is being blown up, then the space available to you is increasing, and everything around you seems to be getting further away.

When we look at distant galaxies, they all seem to be going away from us. The further they are away from us, the faster they seem to be going away. This is the idea of “inflation” from the balloon analogy.

If you run everything backwards, then it seems to indicate that the universe as we know it started from a point of near infinite density, around 13.7 billion years ago. The stuff in that tiny bubble of whatever seems to have had some very odd properties. As the bubble expanded, the stuff cooled, and condensed, through successive levels of stuff until it got cool enough for the stuff we know as matter to condense out, and then for stars to start to form.

Where did this tiny bubble of stuff come from?
Good question.
It seems to be that the rules of existence allow such things to happen, from time to time.
At this point we don’t have much more information than that, and I doubt that we ever will have any ultimate definite answer. I suspect that there will always be mystery at the limits of our awareness, should we live for trillions of years.

If you try and think of it just in terms of three dimensions, it cannot possibly make sense. You have to be willing to allow for there to be a potentially infinite stack of dimensions, and just get used to that our senses have evolved to deal with the three that are common in our evolutionary history.

[followed by]

Hi Barbara

You said
I am of a certain shamanic belief that all knowledge exists already, including the knowledge of our origins and that of our universe. A shaman does not believe that we learn such things, but rather we become channels for the universe to make itself known through us. We discover the knowledge through our willingness to channel this universal wisdom, but we do not own it. It is there for anyone to discover, for anyone to know. This ultimate knowledge seems to escape our limited human existence, but I believe at some level, we know.

I see no evidence for the shamanic belief that you describe.
I can see how it might seem that way.
I can see that most of what happens in my mind is not there at the behest of my will, it just sort of emerges from somewhere, and I can understand how this experience could lead to the shamanic belief you describe, and it is not a belief that aligns with my experiences.

It is clear to me, that existence is vast, and contains many patterns.
It is clear to me that the realm of the possible (that not yet in existence, and which may be bought into existence) is infinite.

It is also clear that knowing requires a knower.
A pattern may exist, and it is only when someone distinguishes the pattern that it becomes known.
Thus knowledge is an abstract experiential thing – something personal.

I don’t have any illusions about anyone “owning” any knowledge. The sources of all knowledge are the twin realms of reality and possibility (and the third realm, of the impossible – which is purely abstract – by definition – something imaginable but not possible in reality).

As individuals we get to bring those patterns to our awareness (or if not by our volition, the circumstances of our existence bring those patterns to our awareness).

When dealing with the realm of the possible, there is a creative element there, which can again be either volitional or circumstantial.

I agree that we are at best custodians of knowledge, not owners in any real sense; and in another sense, the knowledge is a personal experience – ours. We can never know what another thinks, we can only ever know our own thoughts, and by supposition and extrapolation infer that others think something similar. They may, or may not. Most often, I think the answer is they do.

[followed by]

Hi Barbara

You said “You don’t see my belief, Ted, because it is not your belief.
Which is not entirely accurate.
I think I see your belief, and in the framework of my experience, the underlying assumptions have been falsified by evidence I have observed.

You then said:
I don’t know of anyone who can produce evidence of their beliefs.
Which is interesting.
There is certainly a sense in which no one can prove anything other than very simple assertions in reality.
One can only perform specific experiments, and make specific observations, and deduce that those observations either falsify, or fail to falsify (which is not exactly the same as “prove”) some particular hypothesis.

All of my understanding is based on such methodology.
All of it contains uncertainties.
Some of it I am very confident of – it having passed thousands of tests.
Other parts are far more speculative in nature, and have far less confidence associated with them.

[followed by]

Hi Stacy

I completely agree with you that we all need to give weighting to our own experience over the common belief, in any arena, particularly in science, as that is really the heart of the scientific method (if not the dominant scientific dogma).

The scientific method is simple, find some question, immerse yourself in it, create as many alternative explanations as you can that seem possible based on your current state of knowledge, then design experiments to differentiate between the possible hypotheses (explanations) that you have, perform them, and analyse the results (looking for all possible sources of error).
Experiments distinguish between alternative explanations by demonstrating that one or more explanations are demonstrably false.

If, at the end of the process, you end up with no working hypotheses (they have all been falsified), then it is back to the drawing board, and using your intuition to come up with yet more seemingly possible hypotheses (based upon your new level of knowledge and experience).

The scientific method also requires that we report back to the group from time to time the results of our tests, and the deductions we have drawn from those tests, so that others may submit the results to their own analysis (of our methods and logic) and that others may replicate our results.

In that way, the body of accepted “knowledge” is increased.

Some of us spend way more time in the “outreaches” of the boundaries of the unknown than others, and far less time and effort “reporting back”. Thus the boundaries of “science” become very blurred.

Any given scientist can make great discoveries one day, and monumental errors of reasoning and logic the next day. Darwin is a great example. Most of his work on evolution was top class. His deductions about the “roads of Loch Ness” being due to uplift from earthquakes was a poor guess (it seems they were actually fossil beaches due to lake levels formed behind a glacial plug).

[followed by]

Hi Laurie

I like the “direction from space” aspect.

In logic, if one is to be truly creative, and not simply the effect of some prior cause, then at some point we must insert a blank space, and create from there, as a kind of personal “first cause” at some level.
So using this “space” as a sort of “compass” is useful sort of analogy.

It seems that there are several ways of doing so, and it seems to be recursively applicable at different levels of being.
Many ancient practices are very effective in this regard (in the practical aspects, if not in the theoretical understanding of what it is they are doing).

[followed by]

Hi Amber,
I have a similar story.
When we moved here to Kaikoura 13 years ago, it was from Waitakaruru, where I had lived to 34 years, and had acquired a house, and a few sheds full of stuff.
After a massive garage sale, and 9 trucks loads to the dump, we had most of what we wanted to move down sorted.
On the moving day, the moving truck hadn’t arrived, but we needed to leave to catch the ferry we had booked.
Friends and family assured us that they would take care of everything.
Out side the house was a big pile of stuff, clearly labelled as “Junk Pile”.
Guess what was the first thing to be unloaded from the moving truck, when it eventually arrived at our new house a week later – yep – the junk pile.
So much good stuff given away or sold for almost nothing, and 2 cubic meters of junk transported 300 miles, and across 30 miles of ocean.

It happens – often!

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see
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1 Response to Space and KNowledge

  1. holessence says:

    Ted – I enjoy space so for me, this is a great conversation thread to read. Thank you!


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