Posts Tagged With: the universe

The square root of love

The universe is expanding but are we getting any wiser?

The universe is expanding…but are we getting any wiser?

In class this week we looked at some big, existential questions: What happens when I die? Is there a God and if so, what is she/he/it like? Einstein said that if there is a God, he must be a mathematician. I suppose God would have to be quite a lot of things, besides being good at maths, in order to comprehend fully what goes on down here on planet earth. When I was a child I imagined God as a big bloke in a boiler suit, but I suppose that was just a childish fantasy. Now my imagination goes a bit further.

I Sing the Body Electric! Poetic prophet Walt Whitman

I Sing the Body Electric! Poetic prophet Walt Whitman

I still think God must be pretty massive whatever it is. I don’t think he’s overweight because I doubt he actually eats anything. I suppose he isn’t male or female, though he might be both at the same time. One day I would really like to thank him/her/it for inventing all kinds of stuff, not just maths. The sky and the ocean, for a start. Stereo and vinyl, of course. But also real ale and romantic love and avocados and poetry and jazz. I suppose if he is even slightly human he must love children and Bradford City FC and battered haddock and papaya. I expect he adores Walt Whitman and Jeanette Winterson, Thelonius Monk and Sandy Denny. His favourite subjects are probably music, philosophy and nature studies, though I’m not sure about PE.

Of course, thinking about it, there must be quite a few things that get on his nerves. I expect he hates bullies and money and drivers who push in the queue. Anybody who gets above themselves in general, really – the vain and conceited and corrupt. I expect he invented the phrase, ‘You can’t take it with you when you go!’ Exactly, I say. He is brilliant at languages, obviously, as he understands everybody who tries to send him a message. He’s probably mates with Father Christmas, too, though I guess he doesn’t like hospitals because they make him sad.

Dinner to die for - stout and battered haddock

Dinner to die for – stout and battered haddock

I sometimes wonder if he’s Swedish or Alaskan, English or Brazilian. I suppose it’s possible that he comes from Yorkshire originally, though I doubt he’s been back there for a while. In fact, he must be way too big to have any nationality; that would explain why he hates our petty earth squabbles. When I think about it, he must be sad most of the time: sad about needless violence and killing, the way so many people die tragically, though death may be beautiful after the fact, for all we know.

If I’m honest, I see God as a huge, powerful force. If you imagine the expanding universe and infinity and eternity all powered by LOVE, you may get the sense of what I mean. Neither intolerant nor judgemental, God is kindness personified – a giant, transcendental loving hug.

Mars bars and Frank Zappa? Somebody's idea of heaven...

Mars bars and Frank Zappa? Somebody’s idea of heaven…

A colleague of mine once told me about a mate of his who had found a kind of heaven here on earth. This guy’s paradise could be reached by sitting on his comfy sofa listening to a Frank Zappa LP played loud, with a novel on his lap, a cup of strong tea at hand and a Mars bar to dunk into it. I instantly identified with this image, though it wouldn’t quite work for me.

Give us a kiss! Whoever invented Romantic Love was a genius

Give us a kiss! Whoever invented Romantic Love was a genius

No, heaven for me would involve some time travel. I would wake up in my flat in Bradford in 1977 looking exactly like I did then (well, maybe a bit taller and with a few more muscles). The big difference is that I would have my 2015 brain inside my head: I would be wiser. Then everything would happen just as it used to, except that I would be kinder, more patient, more appreciative of everything around me, more alive. All those dumb decisions and stupid mistakes would be avoided. Most importantly, I suppose, I would try so much harder to give a little bit of love to those around me…in the way that I suppose God must do in his wisdom.

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Dreaming with your eyes open

“No man is an island”, wrote the 17th century English poet, John Donne, “each is a piece of the continent, a part of the main”. We are all one. It is a seductive idea that needs a leap of the imagination. Bodies and souls, heaven and earth, plants and planets all linked together in a universal whole that is travelling through time. One world.

One young man who had the courage to think in this way while everybody around him frowned and cursed was Benedict de Spinoza. In 1653, at the age of 20, he was thrown out of the church and vilified for his radical beliefs. But a true genius isn’t afraid of the establishment. He feels sorry for people who are trapped by their narrow doctrines and follow each other like sheep.

Spinoza had a profound vision of the universe as an abundant life-force that must be seen as a whole. He referred to this universal reality as Nature or God, but in essence it was the same thing. The young scholar upset his family and his elders by not becoming a Rabbi and instead made a living as a humble lens grinder in Amsterdam. But his passion was to contemplate the mysteries of the universe and make sense of it through his writings.

What most shocked people at the time was the idea that humans were not individuals with free will and therefore shouldn’t be judged for their actions. Spinoza described people who believed they were free as “dreaming with their eyes open”. It follows that notions of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ had no place in the Dutchman’s conception of the universe.

But Spinoza’s grand ethical system doesn’t necessarily mean we have no control over our destiny. The joy of being alive comes to us when we are able to rise above our day-to-day doubts and anxieties and see ourselves as a tiny part of an infinite, expanding, beneficent universe.

Spinoza’s books were burned in public during his lifetime and his most radical ideas were deemed too dangerous to publish until after his death. His story is one of bravery and enlightenment, of someone bold enough to open his mind to the vastness of space and time. He is said to have died calmly; I imagine he had a smile on his face.

Here’s another English poet – the Romantic visionary William Blake: “To see the world in a grain of sand, And heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, And eternity in an hour”.

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