Posts Tagged ‘Alan Lightman’

Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine

April 30, 2018

This post is the second in a series on spiritual growth, which is part of the growth mindsets advocated in this blog. The title of this post is identical to the title of an interesting book by Alan Lightman. Dr. Lightman is a physicist, but a physicist with a large conceptual outlook. This book is a collection of his musings.

His musings about the physical world are both interesting and informing. Many are about matters with which HM was already familiar, but there was also much new information. And much of HM’s knowledge needed brushing up.

Scale can be very difficult to understand. For example, there are several billion stars in our galaxy alone, and a hundred billion galaxies just with the observable universe. Now this is just the observable universe. There are likely stars and galaxies so distant that their light has yet to arrive. The speed of light provides a severe constraint on how much we can learn about the universe. The notion of traveling just to other stars within our own galaxy is severely constrained. Given the large numbers involved, it seems that it is also likely that not only is there other life in the universe, but truly intelligent life. So it is unlikely that any contact will be made with intelligent life.

At the small end of the scale we have atoms. We know that everything consists of atoms. But atoms themselves consist of even smaller particles. And what is even more difficult to understand is that atoms consist largely of empty space. It is difficult to reconcile our apparently solid world with these empty atoms, but this was done and this scientific knowledge developed over several hundred years (and is still developing) due to our use of our System 2 processing and higher (enter “Tri-process Model of Cognition” into the search block of the healthy memory blog). Our minds are truly marvelous instruments provided that we use them.

Fortunately Dr. Lightman is unlike the scientists whose thinking is so constrained that they cannot believe in God. He not only believes in transcendence but picks a relevant passage from the psychologist William James’ book, “Varieties of Religious Experience:”
“I remember the night and almost the very spot on the hilltop, where my soul opened out, as it were, into the Infinite, and there was a rushing together of two worlds, the inner and the outer. It was deep calling unto deep—the deep that my own struggle had opened up within being answered by the unfathomable deep without, reaching beyond the stars. I stood alone with Him who made me, and all the beauty of the world, and love, and sorrow, and even temptation. I did not seek him, but felt the perfect union of my spirit with His…Since that time no discussion that I have heard of the proofs of God’s existence has been able to shake my faith. Having once felt the presence of God’s spirit, I have never lost it again for long, My most assuring evidence of his existence is deeply rooted in that hour of vision in the memory of that supreme experience.” Obviously this was a very vivid religious experience. Such a vivid experience is not necessary. Reassurance can be found in moments of reverie, meditation, or prayer.