The man I married, physicist Daryl Reagan, was a skeptic. It gave him an endearing humility. He loved explaining physics to me. When he used his brakes, which produced heat by friction, he explained entropy. He told how eventually all energy would be dull heat energy, a heat death of the universe.
Physics at its base was a reductionist enterprise, breaking things into smaller and smaller pieces to examine and understand. Daryl’s work was at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, which was taking atoms apart by force to reveal subatomic particles.
He was enthusiastic about discussing the limits of knowledge. He wondered whether the mathematics that works so well for physics in the tangible world reveals an underlying order in the cosmos, or whether instead it merely fits well with certain aspects of the cosmos. I was both intrigued and bewildered.
Using my talent as an artist, I turned to visual metaphors to think about these questions. I was searching for a perspective that reached beyond scientific explanations, beyond dogmas. I formed the belief that patterns, perhaps mathematical, underlie all that we see. What really convinced me was seeing the first pictures ever taken of tiny viruses, back when electron microscopes were new. Lo and behold, some were perfect Platonic solids!
I’m glad that the academic tide today is turning toward seeing the world as a complex of interacting systems, not simply a collection of things to be broken apart and examined. There is another mode of knowing, wordless, innocent, direct. It may strike suddenly. Treasure it.
A flash of beauty . . . a moment of deeply felt love . . . a gathered meeting . . . an incredible insight . . . We are stricken to the core. A prosaic explanation is that something has triggered our autonomic nervous system. But let us also perceive ourselves as receptors of grace, available for flashes of the Inner Light, glimpses of the Great Unknown. ~~~
Trudy Reagan is a member of Palo Alto Friends Meeting (PacYM)
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