Membranes, Boundaries, and Which Side Are You On Anyway?

One of my favorite things to think about and exchange ideas about with other people is the search for a narrative that makes sense of the fundamental nature of reality, one that accounts for the full range of observable behaviors from the physical to the emotive and spiritual. A lot of people have their own take on these questions and I learn a great deal from the rich diversity of opinions about these matters.

So I thought I would share some of my own thoughts, drawing upon ideas that I’ve encountered in my journey and finding a narrative that includes them all in a meaningful harmony.

First, let me say that this is not some kind of statement of truth on my part. I don’t believe in an ultimate, objective truth. I believe in personal narrative. And in the end, everything we consider and discuss whether it’s the so-called laws of nature that science tries to describe or the various takes on human consciousness and spirituality are all just narratives. Stories we imagine and tell one another to provide insight, meaning, predictability, and beauty to our human experiences.

Narratives vary from person to person. And they vary over time. Yes, even the “truths” of science are merely working narratives we embrace in this moment. What was once the story of an invisible gravitational field given to us by Newton was later rewritten by Einstein into the story of curved spacetime. Very often, yesterday’s pseudoscience becomes today’s conventional wisdom.

So this is about the stories I have heard, what I have gleaned from them, and how I’ve seen connections and parallels between them that suggest to me a coherent narrative that makes the universe and my existence within it a thing that is comprehensible and beautiful.

One thing I have noticed is how important the boundaries between what look like distinct and separate things often become. Not long ago, i read Bruce Lipton’s “The Biology of Belief” in which he revealed a revolutionary approach to genetics called epigenetics in which the expression of our physical traits has more to do with the operation of the cellular boundaries as the working computer of the cell than it does with any kind of DNA-centric determinism.

My experience as a technical writer for Microsoft was largely focused on Application Programming Interfaces, or the ways in which the services of the operating system were exposed to programmers. Digital buttons and levers that a programmer could touch through the boundaries of application and operating system that produced the behavior of software.

All the forms of human communication, whether spoken, written, or visual are about passing information between each other through the boundaries that seem to separate one individual consciousness from another.

Boundaries. Interfaces. Membranes. All points of contact. Surfaces that touch one another and across which layers of reality reach, shape, and influence one another.

From human psychology to the leading edge of physics, we are understanding how reality exists in interconnected and interwoven layers that affect and influence the operation of layers adjacent, above, and below.

The behavior within atoms as described by quantum mechanics helps shape and is in turn shaped by the operation of energy flows in the world of our everyday experience. And at levels higher still, the workings of General and Special Relativity guide the motions of stars, orbits of planets, and the way light bends as it weaves its way across the mass-pocked skin of spacetime itself.

Jung spoke of the layers of consciousness from the seemingly isolated and lonely experience of individual consciousness down to a deeper level of the subconscious mind. He wrote of it in terms of a person walking down stairs from the ground floor of a house into a basement only to find stairs that go deeper still. From the individual subconscious mind to the collective unconscious mind from which all apparent individuals arise in an illusion of separation. A groundwater of being that joins each of us together in a way that cannot be broken.

And for some of us of a spiritual bent, like myself, a deeper level still that connects to a more foundational state of consciousness that some call cosmic consciousness, others divine source, and others still (myself among them) God. You see, I am a panentheist. Which means that not only do I believe in God, and not only do I believe that God fills the whole of the physical universe, but that God transcends and extends well beyond the confines of the physical universe. God is the universe because the universe dwells within God. But it is not the whole of God.

Where you stand on the great questions of human existence depends a lot on where you choose to sit. Where you park your beliefs determines a lot of what you see when you look at the universe and your place in it. How things look to you depends on where you see the boundaries, the membranes, and the interfaces that give the texture, nuance, and color to existence.

I also believe in the power of reason and science to observe and predict the behavior of the physical world. As strange as quantum physics may sound to you when you read about “spooky action at a distance” (entanglement) or electrons that cross from one side of an atom to the other instantly without crossing the space between or other forms of virtual particles that wink in and out of reality or that borrow energy from the past or the future or whether light is a particle or a wave depending on how you observe it….the face is that this strange body of science has made a lot of how we live our lives possible. If not for these peculiar descriptions of reality, there would be no lasers (and therefore no CDs or DVDs), no cell phones, no microwave ovens, no microprocessors. Weird as the narrative gets, there is no denying the commonplace realities upon which all we know has been solidly built.

But I also believe in the spirit world. I have felt the touch of the divine in my own life. Have known the trance state and spiritual possession the fundamentalists describe as “speaking in tongues” and watched synchronicity at work. Have had the gifts of extraordinary perception, intuition, and psychic vision operate in my experiences. These are things I cannot deny the validity of any more than I can the way a computer boots or frozen dinner gets heated in 3 minutes by my microwave.

And yet, somehow, these realities that seem to be at odds with one another are all part of my singular human experience. They have common ground even if only through my own simultaneous awareness of them. And so there has to be a narrative to be written into which all these experiences can coexist and even interoperate.

That has been the great philosophical quest of my own life. To find that narrative. Just as science seeks a Grand Unified Theory of Everything into which the seemingly contradictory takes of quantum mechanics and relativity blend as special edge cases, so do I look for a narrative that takes all we know of physical reality and combines it with the workings of human consciousness and makes a complete picture of it all.

Where is the common ground? Increasingly, it looks to me like one way to find it is to trace the boundaries, the membranes, the interfaces that make illusions of separation out of underlying singularity.

Some people believe that human consciousness is nothing more than a trick of biochemistry. That physical reality is the whole of what is and that all we think and believe and emote are just tricks of molecules and energy interacting to look like something magical. That consciousness is just an epiphenomenon of the working of the human brain.

I would not be one of those people.

The world of consciousness is not a trick that comes out of physical reality. Physical reality is the trick, the illusion, woven out of the deepest and most essential material from which all of space, time, matter, and energy are but novel forms. Physical reality arises from consciousness and not the other way around. All we can see and taste and touch and measure owes its nature to that which is unseen, untouchable, and only accessible through the exploration of our innermost selves.

As Wayne Dyer likes to say, science has been able to pinpoint the command centers of the brain but is unable to find the commander.

For that, you need a leap of imagination. Of faith. Some things have to be believed to be seen.

So you know what side I’m on now. Just sayin’. And whether you craft your spiritual narrative as a Christian, a Buddhist, a Hindu, and Muslim, or any of a myriad of recent, so-called New Age systems of belief, there are pathways to explore that can take each of us deeper in understanding what we are as well as this theater of experience we inhabit and cross in the long walk from birth to death.

Seems to me the key is movement. As Gary Zukav says in the amazing book The Dancing Wu Li Masters, we are not the dancer but the dance. We are not collections of particles, which are swapped out like football players put on and off the playing field. We are the unfolding pattern in which those particles are arranged and move. And even those particles are themselves oscillating packets of energy. Remember E equals MC squared. The going exchange rate between matter and energy, neither of which are really distinct from one another.

The Buddhists like to point out that the only thing of permanence in the universe is change. Which is just another way of saying that the only thing you can count on is that everything is moving. Dancing. Oscillating. Vibrating.

Which brings me to one of the latest narratives science is crafting on the way to unifying our explanations of the subatomic and the astronomical. String Theory.

From Wikipedia: “String theory is a developing theory in particle physics which attempts to reconcile quantum mechanics and general relativity. String theory posits that the [parts] within an atom are not … objects, but rather … oscillating lines (‘strings’)… The theory poses that these strings can vibrate, thus giving the observed particles their flavor, charge, mass and spin. String theories also require the existence of several extra, unobservable, dimensions to the universe, in addition to the usual three spatial dimensions (height, width, and length) and the fourth dimension of time. M theory, for example, requires that spacetime have eleven dimensions.”

Wow. So all the building blocks of physical reality are vibrating strings that get their properties from the way that particular string vibrates. And all this vibrating not only goes on in the four dimensions of spacetime we can observe but in many more nearby dimensions that we cannot observe (yet). So perhaps dark matter and dark energy, which we cannot perceive but which are needed to account for both the attraction that holds the universe together but also the force that drives it into expansion, might just be a different vibration of these strings than the ones we know.

The thing I like about the narrative of vibrating strings is that strings get woven together into a fabric. These vibrating strings and their additional dimensions could be the boundary, the interface between the world we know and something far deeper, far more pervasive, and far more interconnected and singular than we may have previously supposed. Perhaps these strings are the keys to understanding the behavior of consciousness. Perhaps consciousness is what makes these strings vibrate in the first place, plucked by the undulation of a richly patterned divine fabric that is seen in whole cloth from dimensions we cannot find today.

Perhaps tunneling deeper into the physical world and diving deeper into the exploration of consciousness will take us to the same location. A boundary. A membrane. A point of contact between layers of existence that influence and shape each other. The world of the divine source that sets its fibers quivering to make bosons and quarks and flows of light and electromagnetism and the collective unconsciousness from which the tendrils of our own seemingly individual selves are made manifest.

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