Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Learning From Particle Physics

Included in Einstein's God:  Conversations About Science and the Human Spirit is the transcript of Krista Tippett's discourse with John Polkinghorne, former Cambridge University physicist and Anglican priest, on "Quarks and Creation."  Polkinghorne, himself a significant contributor in the field of particle physics, is a renowned writer and thinker on the topic of science and religion.  Much of what he had to say, though fascinating, was pretty hard to for this nonscientist to grasp.  But in addition to a hazy understanding of the physics he referenced, I did take away a thought that pertains to my personal project of change.  Polkinghorne said: 
There’s a very interesting scientific insight which says that regions where real novelty occurs, where really new things happen that you haven’t seen before, are always regions which are at the edge of chaos.  They are regions where cloudiness and clearness, order and disorder, interlace each other.  If you’re too much on the orderly side of that borderline, everything is so rigid that nothing really new happens.  You just get rearrangements.  If you’re too far on the haphazard side, nothing persists, everything just falls apart.  It’s in these ambiguous areas where order and disorder interlace, where really new things happen, where the action is, if you like.  And I think that reflects itself both in the development of life and in many, many human decisions.
Though certainly this eminent speaker had other things in mind than my struggle to find a new and more fruitful way of living my life, these words spoke to me.  If I take them down from their stratospheric context and apply them to the messy mud here on my little piece of earth, in my little point in the space-time continuum, I hear again a message that keeps coming to me in many ways, from disparate sources.  

I have spent so long living in what others see as chaos that the disordered state feels like home.  Not a happy home, I'll grant, but nevertheless a known and somewhat comfortable abode.  Even I can see, though, that I've spent most of my energy just woman-ing the dikes.

In seeking to reorient myself, to change course, I am tempted to over order things--to establish firm rules, and plenty of them; to set goals and objectives galore; to schedule insights and inspiration; even to mandate fun and relaxation.  Polkinghorne's description of the nexus of discovery reminds me of the need for balance.  

I recall that I flunked the balance beam routine in college P.E.  It's time, it seems, to get back on and try again.  To get it together--but not completely.  

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