Be a Lamp (Nirvana Sutra)
World Honored One Flicks Dirt with His Toe (Vimalakirti Sutra)
Order of Enlightenment (Maka Shikan)
Calming and Contemplation of Anger (Maka Shikan)
Effect of Thunderbolts on Ivory (Maka Shikan)
Blind Heir of a Wealthy Merchant (Maka Shikan)
Mongolian Wisdom (ancient sayings)
Mighty Bodhisattva Warriors (13th Dalai Lama)
Seeing Ourselves as Suchness (Shinnyo kan)
Wu-lung and I-lung (Writings of Nichiren Daishonin)
Connections: Scientists See Connections Everywhere in the Universe
By K. C. Cole
It's a phenomenon well known to gardeners: Dig a hole almost anywhere, in the most seemingly barren ground, and instantly you find yourself enmeshed in a tangled network of interlocking roots.
On the surface, each flower and shrub may seem to inhabit its own patch of soil, but underneath, their long fingers secretly intertwine, weaving the world together. Scientists and others who dig for the secrets of nature find much the same thing. "When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it connected to the rest of the universe," wrote the naturalist John Muir.
The fall of the apple is connected to the orbit of the moon; the electric glow of lightning is linked to the attraction of magnets; space and time—like matter and energy—are aspects of each other, interchangeable as currencies; the atoms we're made of were conceived in stars. During the past several decades, science has pushed its ability to connect to nearly unfathomable extremes. The tiny quantum mechanical fluctuations that tweaked the newborn universe, cosmologists tell us, grew up to be the large-scale geometry of filaments and galaxy clusters that drape the sky today.
The genetic recipes for apes and even insects and plants, biologists tell us, are written on the same spiral molecule as the genes of people — proving, if there was ever a doubt, the tightly knit nature of life's family tree.
The flapping of a butterfly's wing, mathematicians tell us, can stir up the air over Africa enough to set off an exponentially growing chain of global weather changes that causes a hurricane the next month in Miami. Similarly, light a candle in Hancock Park and send clouds over Kosovo. Pollute the skies in one state and rain acid on the neighbors next door. "All things — linked are," wrote the English poet Francis Thompson. "That thou canst not stir a flower, Without troubling of a star." Recently, physicists have even proved that subatomic particles can stay connected over vast expanses of space and time. In effect, once two particles interact, they become so entangled that they cease having separate identities. The part cannot be disentangled from the whole. If "Star Trek"-type teleporters ever beam us down on other planets, the technology will probably be based on this concept.
Not even subatomic events are merely "local" anymore. "A monumental shift has taken place in our conception of things," writes Amherst physicist Arthur Zajonc in his book Catching the Light: The Intertwined History of Light and Mind. "It goes by the humble name of 'nonlocality,' but within it is concealed a revolution in our thinking." Scientists often follow these connections to deep truths about nature. Newton followed a similar pattern between the fall of the apple and the orbit of the moon to an understanding of gravity. Einstein connected falling with inertia and dug up his general theory of relativity — the idea that gravity results from the curvature of the fabric of space-time.
In the same way, Dmitri Mendeleev followed connections between the behavior of various elements to the periodic table. Beneath all their apparent diversity, atoms, like species, were grouped into families. Everywhere scientists look in the universe, they see telling connections. If we look next door to our neighbor, Venus, we see a planetary hell hot enough to melt any spacecraft unlucky enough to descend near its surface. If we look toward our other neighbor, Mars, we see a dry-as-a-bone desert, shrouded in storms of pink dust.
And yet radar images of Venus reveal mountains and canyons eerily similar to those on Earth; Mars is marked with unmistakable evidence of ancient rivers and dry lake beds. What can we learn from these differences and similarities? Some geophysicists believe they see both past and future in these two alternate sister worlds: Mars was once very similar to Earth; will Earth one day be similar to Venus? Mathematics is the language of science in part because it helps reveal these hidden connections. The same equations describe the undulations of light, water, sound, tremors in the earth; the same mathematical pattern underlies the branching of trees, of blood vessels, of rivers.
The mathematical notion of symmetry is really the mathematics of similarities. It reveals that the subatomic building blocks of nature may be linked in previously unsuspected ways. Until recently, particles fell into two distinct families: roughly, those similar to light and those similar to what we more commonly know as "matter." Now, however, physicists believe that every particle has a secret "super" partner lurking under the surface. Each member of each family finds its mirror image in the other world. If these hidden supersymmetric partners are found, it would mean that everything in nature — forces and matter alike — come out of the same master equation.
The more things look different, the more they turn out to be the same. Muriel Rukeyser reminds us in her poem "Islands" that swimmers sometimes see islands as "separate, like them." But no. "O for God's sake, they are connected, underneath."
Copyright 1999 Los Angeles Times.
All Rights Reserved