Part 3: FROM COSMOS, TO CHAOS, TO CONSCIOUSNESS
Linear Versus Non-linear Time
Quantum theory also influences one’s view of time. Previously understood as linear by the old view, time is now viewed as nonlinear. As Emerging Church leader Leonard Sweet states: “We do not live in linear time and space, but in curved time and space and nonlinear iterative processes.” Sweet then adds:
Rather than stasis and order, the dynamics of life-systems are non-linear, where the rules of the game keep changing because the game keeps changing. One plays on the run and while everything is moving.
Such a view of time explains why in The Seeker, Will became a time traveler, journeyed back in history, and found the fractal-marked signs by which the universe could be rescued from the encroaching chaos of darkness. This view of time may explain how Mack could visit a garden, “A Long Time Ago . . . Far, Far Away.” (The Shack, Chapter 9, 128).
The Old Physics
The Newtonian worldview—that God the clockmaker made the universe to run like a clock—calculated time to be linear. One writer calls this view of time “straight arrow,” and explains:
Time marches in a straight line at a uniform pace from past to present to future, without variation. Time can only move in one direction—always forward, never backward, certainly not to the left or right, and never in circles.
So tick tock . . . we’re on the clock! According to the Newtonian understanding, the reality of life is sequential, chronological, and temporal. We were born. We live. We will die. This understanding accords with the Bible. The Psalmist wrote: “The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away” (Psalm 90:10, KJV). Jesus spoke of “this age [and] . . . the age to come” (Matthew 12:32). At the time of His ascension, the disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” to which He answered them, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power” (Acts 1:6-7). In light these biblical citations—more could be offered—it is concluded that the biblical “view of time may be called ‘linear’ . . . God’s purpose moves to a consummation; things do not just go on or return to the point whence they began. Everything about life is sequential and therefore temporal. Time marches on . . . or, does it?
The Time Changers
Quantum physics introduces an alternative, though ancient, way of looking at time; that time is non-linear. This cyclic understanding of time opposes the biblical and Newtonian conceptualization of time.
Einstein’s theory of relativity—that energy equals matter (E = m)—not only changed the understanding of the universe’s material dimension, but also its temporal dimension. The quantum physical worldview theorizes that time is non-linear, or cyclic. Theologian Lucas explains:
According to the theory of relativity time can no longer be regarded as an independent entity separate from the three spatial dimensions of length, depth, and height. Instead we have to think in terms of a unified, four-dimensional space time.
Because outer space is measured by the distance that light travels in a solar year (i.e., light years), and because light may in fact be particles, quantum theory integrates light with space (because light is matter, and matter occupies space). Thus, a New Age spiritualist opines:
According to relativity theory, space is not three-dimensional and time is not a separate entity. Both are intimately connected and form a four-dimensional continuum, ‘space-time’.
By combining time and space, and the energy-matter which occupies space, some scientists project there to have been no temporal “beginning” of the universe. There is no ex nihilo (out of nothing) origin of the universe. Everything just “Is.” There is no God who, “In the beginning [time] . . . created the heavens [space] and the earth [matter]” (Genesis 1:1). The universe is just a gargantuan holistic and monistic “Oneness”—as above, so below. Stephen Hawking states:
One could say: “The boundary condition of the universe is that it has no boundary.” The universe would be completely self-contained and not affected by anything outside itself. It would neither be created nor destroyed. It would just BE.
In this view of reality, time becomes cyclical and repeatable. This ancient religious and philosophical worldview, common to eastern religions, believes in an
endless return of golden ages alternating with dark ages. All that had happened yesterday and yesterday and yesterday would happen tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.
Rewinding their reality to the past (as in The Seeker and The Shack), or fast forwarding it to the future, become real possibilities for the human experience. Backward or forward, we can become conscious time travelers. We can control our reality providing we develop via prescribed mystical-meditative techniques, a new consciousness through which we can manipulate our reality from chaos to order (i.e., fractal). The science of the Mind can triumph over matter. As the cyclical complements the spiritual and the mystical, physics becomes the handmaid of metaphysics. Having looked at chaos theory, we turn now to the transformational aspect of chaotic mechanics—fractals.
Polkinghorne notes that, “chaos theory is an odd mixture of order and disorder, of randomness contained within a patterned structure.” With his mathematically generated computer patterns, Benoît Mandelbrot (1924- ) discovered what has become the other side of chaos theory. The self-similar images reflect, it is believed, the self-forming capability inherent to the universe. These cloned, repetitive, and patterned images are called “fractals,” the original Mandelbrot set being the most famous. They are described as, “unique patterns left behind by the unpredictable movement—the chaos—of the world at work.” Though appearing chaotic (a mess), the system, from the minutest to the grandest levels, exhibits design (fractal-ness) everywhere—in cells, arteries-veins, nerves, body organs, snowflakes, mountain ranges, shorelines, ferns, roses, fruits, broccoli, leaves, and so on. Fractals allow the observer to sense the process of nature’s self-organizing character and inherent infinity. Controlled by the numbers set into the equation, computer generated images can be observed replicating themselves ad infinitum. The clones mimic infinity. So it is theorized, from the chaos of the “Big Bang” [As terrorists know, explosions cause chaos], fractal emergence suggests that design, however random, can happen. The universe appears to possess an awesome power to replicate itself. Life is not doomed to end in chaos. There’s hope! Out of the chaos (confusion), design (transformation) may haphazardly emerge. A source describes:
Scientists have discovered that systems in transitional states between order and chaos possess certain patterns with unique, predictable qualities. These patterns are called “fractals.” In essence, they are visual images or pictures of chaos at work.
In their relationship to the whole, both chaos and fractals seem partnered in the cosmic process. As Sweet states:
[We] live in a world that is ill-defined, out of control, and in constant flow and flux. We live in a world that is more weird than we ever imagined—a world that is fractal, self-replicating, inflationary, unpredictable, and filled with strange attractors.
According to Jean Huston, a New Age advocate of human potential, “Fractals show a holistic hidden order behind things, a harmony in which everything affects everything else, and, above all, an endless variety of interwoven patterns.”
So according to this aspect of quantum theory, the world is not as hopeless as at times it might seem. As interrupted by chaos, fractals are observed to be coming and going. Chaos is a necessary prelude out of which fractal design will emerge. Our system is in a perpetual process of transformational change from disorder to order, disintegration to design, and confusion to creation. Fractals become the clues, the images, suggesting that life’s reality is spirally evolving from a “mess” (chaos) into a “garden” (a fractal). Chaos is only believed to be a temporary phase of disorder that the self-transforming system, of which we are the conscious part, must pass through. Perhaps this explains why some evangelicals label their church emergent. The disorder that now seemingly besets Christendom only indicates the emerging of a new form of Christianity.
The whole process bears similarity to the Yin and the Yang of Chinese philosophy where, “the concept of yin yang . . . is used to describe how seemingly opposing forces are interdependent in the natural world, giving rise to each other in turn.” Amidst the chaos engulfing this planet, there resides the hope of fractal transformation. Hope happens. So where physicists observe the system disintegrating and assuming fractals to be more science than art, they also see design (a “garden”) emerging out of chaos (a “mess”) everywhere. It’s like looking into the patterns coming and going in a kaleidoscope. As an aside, it might be noted that the geometric architectural constructions of Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983) also suggest his belief that design may emerge out of chaos.
This brief description, from a layman’s point of view, is an understanding of quantum physics and its attendant aspects of chaos and fractal theory. Yet quantum physics has also given rise to a philosophy of life, a worldview.
To be continued. . . .
34. Leonard Sweet, SoulTsunami, Sink or Swim in New Millennium Culture (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999) 80.
36. J.M. Berger, “Flashbacks, Memory and Non-Linear Time,” Lost Online Studies (http://www.loststudies.com/1.2/memory-and-time.html).
37. M.H. Cressey, “Time,” The New Bible Dictionary, J.D. Douglas, Editor (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1962) 1277.
38. Lucas, “God, GUTs and Gurus.”
39. Fritjof Capra, The Tao of Physics, An Exploration of the Parallels between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism, 4th Edition Updated (Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1999) 62.
40. Hawking, A Brief History of Time, 136
41. Edward Harrison, Masks of the Universe, Changing Ideas on the Nature of the Cosmos, Second Edition (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003) 104-105.
42. Emphasis Mine, John Polkinghorne, Quarks, Chaos & Christianity, Questions to Science and Religion (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1996) 67.
43. “Benoît Mandelbrot,” Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beno%C3%AEt_Mandelbrot). See too “Mandelbrot set” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mandelbrot_set).
44. Generated by computers, variations of the Mandelbrot set may be observed at the website Fractal Geometry. (http://mail.colonial.net/~abeckwith/fractals.html). Computer generated fractals are truly beautiful works of art that tantalize both the eye and the soul.
45. Borders Books’ definition of “fractals” in the locater-monitor’s description of John Briggs’ book, Fractals: The Patterns of Chaos (New York: Touchstone, Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1992).
46. As Lisle explains, “A fractal contains an infinite number of copies of itself . . . The Mandelbrot set is infinitely detailed . . . on the ‘tail’ of the Mandelbrot set . . . we find but another (smaller) version of the original. This new, smaller Mandelbrot set also has a tail containing a miniature version of itself, which has a miniature version of itself, etc.—all the way to infinity. The Mandelbrot set is called a ‘fractal’ since it has an infinite number of its own shape built into itself.” See Jason Lisle, “Fractals.” Fractals do not though, it seems to me, account for the variation within creation.
47. Ibid. In his analysis of the Mandelbrot set and asserting there exists in numbers a “secret code,” Lisle employs the words, “infinitely . . . infinity.”
48. Borders Books.
49. Sweet, SoulTsunami, 80.
50. Jean Houston, A Mythic Life (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, Inc., 1996) 7. As another defines them, “In the most basic sense, fractals are defined as small parts that represent the whole while displaying the same level of complexity at any scale. One other definition of fractals is that they are mathematical models that mimic nature.” See Dr. Horace Campbell, “Think Piece, Barack Obama, Fractals, and Momentum in Politics,” The Black Commentator (http://www.blackcommentator.com/265/265_obama_fractals_momentum_campbell_think.html).
51. “Yin and yang,” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yin_yang.
52. In his book, Everything Must Change, Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007), Brian D. McLaren titles the first chapter “Hope Happens.” He frequently employs the statement in the book.
53. One can also observe kaleidoscopic and fractal-like designs in both Indian and African art. See (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/8/8b/Buddhabrot-deep.jpg) and (https://maigida.com/).
54. The Unitarian R. Buckminster Fuller preoccupied himself with the question, “Does humanity have a chance to survive lastingly and successfully on planet Earth, and if so, how?” See Bill McKibben, Editor, Environmental Earth, Environmental Writing Since Thoreau (U.S.A.: Penguin Group, 2008) 464. Evidently, he found hope through his calculated geodesic and tetrahedral designs. In his 1968 book, I Seem to Be a Verb, he wrote: “I live on Earth at present, and I don’t know what I am. I know that I am not a category. I am not a thing—a noun. I seem to be a verb, an evolutionary process –an integral function of the universe.” In Fuller’s worldview, human survival depends upon design emerging from chaos. It should be noted that William Young approvingly quotes Fuller. (The Shack, 194) Scripture does teach that God will create the new heavens and the new earth out of the chaos of a fallen creation (Isaiah 65:17; 2 Peter 3:11-13; Revelation 21:1; Romans 8:21).
[Ed. Note: The title for posting this segment (Part 3) was derived from the text. Links were added to this text.]
Reprinted with permission. This article series is from a chapter in Pastor Larry DeBruyn's book, UNSHACKLED: Breaking Away From Seductive Spirituality, which is available from Discernment Ministries for a gift of $10.00 plus $2.50 for shipping. Orders can be placed by phoning: 903-567-6423. Bulk discounts are available. Book sales directly benefit "Eastern European Ministries," a very special mission project that is close to Pastor DeBruyn's heart.