For those of you who took the non- stop flight from Part 2, I welcome you back to the main thread. I hope the transition will go as smoothly for you as my drive today up the Hudson Valley, which, trust me, required absolutely no knowledge of the inner workings of a diesel engine. If you change your mind and decide that kind of nuts-n-bolts info might enhance this drive through the field of metatheology, here is a conveniently placed link back to it.
We covered a lot of ground in Part 2A, so I think a short summary is in order (with a dash of elaboration to move the discussion forward):
~ The binary codes utilized in digital technology (the elaborate series of 1’s and 0’s that determine exactly what an output device will display) only appear binary or dualistic because we limit their context to what is locally significant to our interest –for instance, the program for a song we want our MP3 player to reproduce. The ability to choose a specific context and focus on it to the exclusion of its surroundings is called selective attention, and it is a defining characteristic of sentient beings.
~ A digital device is programmed to mimic a very precise selective attention that gives local significance to the silence between notes in a song it plays (represented by 0, or “not-1”) while paying no attention to input from outside this chosen context, including the silence before and after the song (which is also non-1). Expanding the context of the digital program to include any portion of that external silence shows that it is one and the same as the internal.
~ The relationship between digital technology and analog is similar to that of the physical universe and verbal language. Words are analogs that carry units of meaning (ie “truck” is an analog for the class of vehicle I drove today), while sentences are sequential stacks of these units in the way that analog recordings are stacks of sounds produced by patterns imprinted on media. Our ability to recreate analog sounds and images is very limited by the media we must use, just as language is constrained by a finite ability to make connections between a limited pool of words and subjectively variable vocabularies. But digital technology faces no such limits. The only limits here are the selective attention capacity of the storage or playback device (the expansiveness of the potential range of context, measured in things like bytes and pixels) and the imagination of the programmer; similarly, the only limits on what is possible in the knowable universe are the elasticity of selective attention capacity and imagination of the knower. My hypothesis is that digital technology has ridden the crest of the wave of human progress for exactly that reason: it mimics the unlimited creative power of the universe itself, whereas analog mimics the limited creative power of language.
None of this so far, I should mention, seems to me a revolutionary idea. I suspect each one of these concepts has been brought up and discussed in philosophical circles many times.
Where it gets supremely interesting to me, and somewhat novel as a metatheological application, is in taking these ideas to their logical conclusion. If the 0’s in a computer program are identical in substance to the null set of information surrounding that program, it is accurate to depict the 1’s as being kind of nestled in a singular field of non-1. In the same way, any context that can be chosen by selective attention, be it a digital program, a physical object or a defined set of objects, is nestled within a background of non-that-thing. Pan back to get a larger context; this context too is surrounded by background on all sides. Take it as far out as you can imagine, and all you’ll get is contexts containing contexts containing contexts like Russian nesting dolls.
Except here’s the big difference: there is no outermost doll. The ultimate background has no boundaries.
If you insist that it does, because some cultural truth teaches that creation/the universe is finite, all this really does is pose the question, “what is the background of creation/the universe?” Difficult as it may be to conceptualize, we must conclude that the ultimate background of any existent finite thing is infinite. There is no container we can name that isn’t itself contained by the uncontainable.
And if we apply what we already know about the infinite, we must also conclude that it transcends any container we can name –that is, the infinite is immanent and transcendent. It exists within all objects as well as beyond them, which means it does not merely surround them. There are no boundaries the infinite doesn’t cross. It is an illogical fallacy to suggest that anything extends infinitely outward from a defined point in space or time (or, as we’ll explore later as we tackle theology, that an infinite god retracts itself or removes it presence), so the only sound conclusion to make is that the infinite background of creation/the universe is present within all things –equally, without favor or preference– as well as beyond all things.
Essentially then (to go back to the digital program), 0 is not the opposite of 1. It is not the “No” to 1’s “Yes” –it is a locally significant space-holder that represents the infinite background which includes 1, a limitless tabula rasa on which the whole program is imprinted.
Likewise we have learned through studying the structure of subatomic particles that within every atom in the universe, there is “0 space” that is equivalent to the infinite background that includes all objects made up of those atoms. We too, then, are locations in time-space where 1 and 0 mingle and combine in a particular way within a limitless field of potential being. In a very real sense, we, and everything else that exists, though finite in our chosen contexts and our selective attentions that define ourselves as what we’ve chosen to be, are inseparable from the infinity that permeates every part of our being. There is no contradiction in this, because –here is the nice neat take-home theme of this chapter– the infinite does not exclude the finite. To assume it does so reduces the infinite to merely the “really big” (to use the technical term). The inherent duality of language leads us to the assumption that finite and infinite are opposites. But they cannot be opposites without invalidating the definition of infinite. And to do so would negate the potential for anything finite to exist, as any finite context can only exist within a “ground” of infinity (now we can see that the term “background” is inadequate as it implies something “behind” creation, so I’ll start cross-referencing with Aldous Huxley a bit and borrow his term “Divine Ground”).
The purpose of these words –infinite, eternal, omnipresent– whose very definition makes them absolutes –concepts without opposites, beyond any conceivable context– is to loosen the grip of duality on our minds, and make possible an emergent awareness of Divine Ground. As it emerges, it becomes self-evident –far from speculative or superstitious belief– that all phenomena in the universe are unique manifestations of the Divine Ground. Not merely products of the whole, but expressions of the whole itself. Inseparable, not only from the whole, but from each other as well, in defiance of what any selective attention has to say about it. In digital language, we are jumbles of 1’s and 0’s in a program with no beginning nor end, in motion relative to each other through the selective attention filter of time-space, cresting and falling like temporal waves in an eternal ocean.
Or, in the words of the renowned physicist Erwin Schrödinger:
“It is not possible that this unity of knowledge, feeling and choice which you call your own should have sprung into being from nothingness at a given moment not so long ago; rather this knowledge, feeling, and choice are essentially eternal and unchangeable and numerically one in all men, nay in all sensitive beings. But not in this sense — that you are a part, a piece, of an eternal, infinite being, an aspect or modification of it… For we should then have the same baffling question: which part, which aspect are you? what, objectively, differentiates it from the others? No, but, inconceiveable as it seems to ordinary reason, you — and all other conscious beings as such — are all in all. Hence, this life of yours… is, in a certain sense, the whole.”
In an upcoming chapter, I’ll go back into one of my old composition notebooks for another illustration of the mutual coexistence of the finite and the infinite, one that will begin to challenge our limited concepts of the latter –what makes our gods into cartoon characters, in other words. But first, one of Schrödinger’s colleagues said something very interesting about their branch of knowledge and common theology, and I think it deserves some selective attention here….
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