Tuesday, May 30, 2006

C. S. Lewis

I remember reading this quote and not being able to find it again almost ten years ago. I was very surprised to find it so easily, on the second page of 'A Grief Observed'. The image here is one I continually think about, especially on those 'rare' cold nights in belfast!
"They say an unhappy man wants distractions - something to take him out of himself. Only as a dog-tired man wants an extra blanket on a cold night; he'd rather lie there shivering than get up and find one. It's easy to see why the lonely become untidy; finally dirty and disgusting."
Another life changing quote from CS Lewis is that 'anyone can speak in jargon, it takes an expert to speak in the vernacular'. Everytime I start to write I remember that quote. This is a CS Lewis quote that I read once on the bus to Hatfield and I have never found again.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Dentistry, doubt and an interesting B&B

In a few spare moments I had the chance to read an incredible short story by Updike of a vicar going to the dentist in Oxford, UK. I must have reached the point in his short story collection that he has started to talk about his experience in England and the 'twittering English'. The story is so real that it must have happened. He visits a dentist and the dentist just out of the blue asks him if he can quote anything that Richard Hooker has written (because the character is doing a PhD on Hooker), to his shock, the whole experience of getting a filling and talking to this quite pleasant dentist makes him re-evaluate all that he is studying. The most intelligent thing that comes to his mind is 'More than ninety percent of the world's anthracite used to come from Pennsylvania'.

It isn't until he is about to leave that he remembers a quote by Richard Hooker. The doubts aren't there explicitly but I think that in the last few lines he is trying to express the idea that when it came to theology, the dentist put his experience in perspective and he found it far more enjoyable to watch the birds outside the window:

"'I just thought of a quotation from Hooker. It's very short.'
'I grant we are apt, prone, and ready, to forsake God; but is God as ready to forsake us? Our minds are changeable; is His so likewise?'
Dr Merritt smiled. The two men stood in the same position they had hesitated in when Burton entered the room. Burton smiled. Outside the window, the wrens and the starlings, mixed indistinguishably, engaged in maneuvers that seemed essentially playful."

I then went on to the next story which is entitled 'The Madman' which is about a young couple who travel to Oxford, UK and have nowhere to stay. They end up at a B&B, and I just feel I have to quote all of this because it is one of the most enjoyable Updike paragraphs I have read in a very long time:

"Early in the evening as it was, Mr Pott wore a muttering, fuddled air of having been roused. The BED AND BREAKFAST sign in his window seemed to commit him to no hospitality. Only after impressing us with the dark difficulty of it, with the unprecedenting strain we were imposing upon the arrangements he had made with a disobliging and obtusely technical world, did he lead us upstairs and into a room. The room was large, chill, and amptly stocked with whatever demigods it is that supervise sleep. I remember that the deliciously cool sheets and coarse blankets were topped by a purple puff smelling faintly of lavender, and that in the morning, dressing, my wife and I skipped in and out of the radiant influence of the electric heater like a nymph and satyr competing at a shrine. The heater's plug was a ponderous and dangerous-looking affair of three prongs; plugging it in was my first real work of acclimatization. We appeared for breakfast a bit late. Of all the other boarders, only Mr Robinson (I have forgotten his real name) had yet to come down. Our places were laid at the dining table, and my place - I couldn't believe my eyes - was set an insanity, a half of a cooked tomato on a slice of fried bread."

You get a real sense of the outrage of the American about the English man who is so shocked to have to do work early in the evening and that he hadn't booked his room two weeks in advance which would have been 'proper'.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

The collective, the hyper-personal

As I said last week I find it rather confusing that when we converge and unite it is what comes from without rather than from within that could make the difference between a totalitarian regime and Omega point.

I think what Teilhard is trying to say is that our true selves are not wholly inside us and it is only when we harmonise from above that we converge and the negating influence of our own internal desires is diminished. When we converge there is a new emergent energy that is created and released.

One aspect of this external self is love. In collectivisation love is lost and anonymity removes personification. It is this aspect that has led attempts of collectivisation to fail. Think about it, when you become a number you feel less than a whole person, you maybe think less and this is why large organisations and groups go bad.

Teilhard describes this process on p.190 of ‘The human phenomenon’:

“Insofar as it absorbs or seems to absorb the person, collectivity kills the love trying to be born. Collectivity as such is fundamentally unlovable. And this is where philanthropy fails. Common sense is right. It is impossible to give oneself an anonymous number. Let the universe take on ahead of us a face and a heart, become personified so to speak, and then in the atmosphere created by this focal point, the elementary particles will unfold …

Under the forced pressure of an earth folding back on itself, the tremendous energies of attraction still dormant between human molecules will burst out.”

What I see in work is that in a large organisation responsibility is something that is lost. In a hierarchical situation the blame is placed on another level or just ‘someone else’. Errors and faults easily become the fault of the next level up or down and this creates a situation where there is no one to blame and this situation can easily escalate into the sort of serious problems that we have seen over history with the abuse of power.

In the same way when an organisation is restructured and it is not planned properly functions get left out or forgotten for reasons as trivial as the renaming of an office.

Teilhard goes on to describe the uniting force of love as something that is only capable of succeeding when it is convergent. The uniting force of love dissipates if particles are distant. It is only possible to build a structure upwards when the lines of a force close together, like building a pyramid, the strength depends on the support from the layer below. This is why Teilhard describes union as being directed from above:

“In its radial nucleus, the world finds its shape and natural consistency by gravitating against the probable, toward a divine focal point of spirit that draws it forward. . .

Something in the cosmos, therefore, escapes entropy – and does so more and more.”

And further:

“With love, as with every kind of energy, the lines of force must close together at each moment in a given existence. No ideal or virtual centre can ever be enough. For the noosphere to be actual and real, the centre must be actual and real. To be supremely attractive, Omega must be already supremely present.”

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Puzzling evening

The title for this is rather deliberate. I am puzzled but only in the sense that the three things have been reading have no immediate relation to each other but I feel obliged to identify and reveal some startling and amazing connection.

I finished the 'Oxford Murders' by Guillermo Martinez, a rather clever whodunnit by an Argentine mathematician. The idea is that a serial killer reveals a code to two friends who are forced into a bizarre game to try to predict the next murder. The book plays with the idea of how can mathematics understand chance, coincidence and meaning in life. It may not be a spectacular read but I can't help feeling that there is an underlying message - a sort of 'Da Vinci Code' conspiracy. On the front cover there is quite clearly a geometrical symbol which has no absolute bearing in the book. I assume the cover is the first murder and I was reading the book thinking when was the symbol going to be mentioned but it never was - puzzling.

I then picked up 'Human Phenomenon'. I am making my way through fairly slowly, making notes. He spends almost half the book giving a detailed history of life on earth which is a fairly slow introduction to what I feel is the real purpose of the book - the origin of man and the start of reflection ie human thought. With the human being the species has not needed to specialise, it is adapted to the whole world and the uniting force has been thought.

I have just reached the stage where he describes thought as the unifying force that brings life together. I don't like the term 'superhuman' but that is the term chosen to describe the phase where in the future human beings are able to unite in thought and to advance towards unity and a spiritual renewal. In the notes the translator gives a different translation which I find fascinating - 'the fundamental law of convergence is not only within ourselves but above ourselves'. I don't completely understand the significance of this but I think Teilhard is suggesting that when we unite, it will appear not only within our consciousness but outside or above ourselves. I still find this - puzzling.

As chance would have it, I bought a new Borges book today. I started to read the preface of the other Borges book I have - which I thought in my ignorance that I didn't need to read (!). Andre Maurois is talking about the ideas that fascinate Borges and spark his imagination. Pascal wrote 'Nature is an infinite sphere whose centre is everywhere, whose circumference is nowhere', this is also reflected upon by Alain de Lille a 12th centure theologian who wrote 'God is an intelligent sphere whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere'. It seems to me that in some way this is also hinted upon by Teilhard, that we have an omega point but the alpha point is difficult to identify, that God is all in all. I can't give an explanation just at the moment but it is puzzling.

Of course, perhaps the most interesting thing about tonight is that it is almost the first chance I have had to use my new desk. I now have converted the attic into a fairly good study area - and thanks to Isabel, it has been tidied and looks excellent!

Monday, May 15, 2006

What is life?

Last week I attended the British Teilhard Association conference in London Colney and I am pleased to say that I have been appointed to the Executive Committee of the British Teilhard Association!

The last few weeks have been so busy that I never really got the chance to update my blog. I found the following quotation written in one of my Peru notebooks:

"Life, in fact, is not a partial, limited property of matter, analogous to some vibratory or molecular effect: it is rather a sort of inverse of everything that habitually serves us as a definition of matter." Human Energy p. 21

Reading this it comes as no surprise that Teilhard has been a great source of inspiration for me.