Wednesday, February 22, 2012

buddhism, physics, art

yesterday's sketches

This blog is a bit of an explanation of my note on the above sketches. Apologies if this comes across as narcissistic. My intention with this blog is to speak my thoughts honestly, so occasionally I suppose it's going to get personal and maybe not interesting to a whole lot of people. If I drew / photographed anything else, I probably would have just posted that instead, to save myself all this writing:

In the past eight months I've started to read about the Buddhist philosophy, and I like it. I got lucky with the first book I picked up - it was very academic, written by a professor of linguists and Sanskrit. So it didn't have any hokey-pokey reincarnation and strange ritual stuff in it - it was an analysis of the original teachings that Siddhartha Gotama ('The Buddha') taught. His translation doesn't use extreme words like "Nirvana" and "Suffering", or judgmental words like "Good" and "Evil" that I would immediately be skeptical of.

Anyways, I'm finding that it's an exceptionally logical and worthwhile philosophy. It's all about realizing why you feel unease, and finding ways to reduce/eliminate unease. There is no spirituality to it, and there's no aspect of blind faith that is necessary. In fact, the idea is that you should be able to experience and discover all the tenets of the philosophy yourself, and that you should be skeptical and question it.

One part of the Buddhist thing that I find interesting is the idea that one source of our unease is that we tend to fabricate stories. We're constantly imagining situations that aren't necessarily true. "I'd better get my work done today or I'll fall way behind my deadline." Who knows if you'll fall behind, really? Why let it create stress? Do the work, of course, but get rid of the story. I do this constantly. I imagine what people think of me ("people will think this post is narcissistic"), I imagine negative results to taking a risk ("if I go machete some jungle with the Dominicans, they'll make fun of my poor Spanish"), etc etc. And none of it matters, when you really think about it.

That's made me think a lot about storytelling, which is what I've done as a career for the last fifteen years. What is the point of telling a fictional story? Why do I do it?

Perhaps not coincidentally, in the last few months I've become really interested in the completely nonfiction world of physics. I studied way too much Newtonian physics in University for Civil engineering, but the stuff I'm getting into is all the more recent theories - special and general relativity, quantum physics, string theory. The stuff is mind-blowing. "Truth is stranger than fiction", as they say, and I think theoretical physics epitomizes that saying.

Some of the workings of our universe are literally unimaginable.

"In 1965, Richard Feynman, one of the greatest practitioners of quantum mechanics, wrote,

'There was a time when the newspapers said that only twelve men understood the theory of relativity. I do not believe there ever was such a time. There might have been a time when only one man did because he was the only guy who caught on, before he wrote his paper. But after people read the paper a lot of people understood the theory of relativity in one way or another. On the other hand I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.'

Although Feynman expressed this view more than three decades ago, it applies equally well today."1

We have a very good idea of how the universe works on a very small scale, but the ways that it works are pretty much impossible for our minds to comprehend. Get your head around that! It sends shivers up my spine every time I think about it!

Suffice it to say that the creative and logical sides of my brain are enthralled by the concepts of physics and buddhism. I have no idea how it will affect the art-side of my existence, but I'm interested to find out.

1The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene. It's a best-seller. Easy to read, highly recommended!

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