Margaret Wertheim —
The Grandeur and Limits of Science

A passionate translator of the beauty and relevance of scientific questions, Margaret Wertheim is also wise about the limits of science to tell the whole story of the human self. Her Institute for Figuring in Los Angeles reveals evocative, visceral connections between high mathematics, crochet and other folk arts, and our love of the planet.

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is the co-creator and curator of the Institute for Figuring in Los Angeles. She is the author of Pythagoras’ Trousers, The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace: A History of Space from Dante to the Internet, Physics on the Fringe: Smoke Rings, Circlons and Alternative Theories of Everything, and Crochet Coral Reef.

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A shooting star over The Wave, a sandstone rock formation in Northern Arizona.

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The bit about res cogitans being sentient is muddled thinking. All that is constrained by the universe of space-time-causation is insentient, including the mind.

An infant starts by learning to do Turing tests that enable it to separate a stuffed animal from a puppy. More complex wind-up toys also soon fall short of sentiency. Yet it remains a presumption that some of the items (mostly biological) are sentient.

The "awareness" that is common to all the "awarenesses of" is common to all awareness. The metaphor from the Taitteriya upanishad is that of buckets filled with a water. The bucket is a body, the water is the brain, and the surface of the water is the mind: the reflection of the sun off the surface of the water in each bucket is a "conscious being". How well it reflects the sun depends on the water and the stillness of the surface. Emftying the bucket eliminates the reflection, the "conscious being", but the sun continues to shine just as brightly.

A rose is not red, nor is a leaf green: of their own they are both black in a pitch-dark night. Nor does sunlight manifest green or red, nor the shape of a flower or a leaf, yet has all of these and more potentially within it. Likewise the Void (Sunyata), the Boundless Void (Ain Sof) is also the Plenitude, the sine qua non of all existence and all sentience, even that defined by embodiment. The sunshine outside each bucket is not different from the sunshine into it.

Those unacquainted with the non-theistic religions (Non-dual Vedanta, Buddhism and Jainism) have three options to choose from, theism, atheism and agnosticism: acceptance, rejection and indecision. The non-theists, to borrow from Laplace, can assert the superfluity of that hypothesis.

And for those who still think that climate change is soluble:


Math and crochet!

I know!

That was one of the most ARROGANT introductions of the 21st century AND I LOVED IT!

I completely loved this particular interview. The only reflection I have is a sincere thank you in thinking about the history of space-time. I will read Margaret's books. As for the study of neurophysiology I was completely perplexed by clinical neuroscientist Raymond Tallis' seeming turn from arguing what neuroscience cannot tell us about ourselves to what it can.

What a beautiful interview by two beautiful minds. Again, thank you to both Krista and Margaret.

I don't like this show anymore. I listened to it today and wanted to read it to see what the person featured had to say again. I can't do that. Now I read she specializes in crocheting. This show used to be good. Now it is creepy.

The thinking being discussed in this interview are preceded to the philosophy of the Pre-Socratics and Parmenides in particular - the law of excluded middle and the law of contradiction. Catholicism wasn't born in a vacuum.

What a wonderful interview. One of my favorite SoF/On Being interviews ever.

Thank you for this program. I have found it a more common program in recent times, In the vein of the Buddhist conversations with scientists. I smile quite often as I listen to scientists or mathematicians talk about symbols allowing us the ability to see life for the first time as it truly exists. Funny how we struggle so to see life "as it truly is". The sciences often break life down to it's parts, assign a number or symbol to the parts and then recreate it as a formula and now this represents something people can understand, where as before, as it existed, we find no understandable relationships between it and ourselves. Every time experts come to a place of choice and/or relationship and are able to attach a provable perspective for it within our universe, people react as if it is now ours to do with as serves us to our liking. The more we can separate and observe from a point of "ourselves," using science, math and any other tools of our making, the easier it is to create distinctions. Is it any wonder that the whole of the universe is complete in it's makeup and function? Is it then any wonder when people attach symbols to the universe that these symbols should fall in line as a representation of the the makeup and function of the universe? We are so proud of ourselves for breaking up what is whole and putting it back together in our minds, (Our minds which are the same as the whole). Instead of this magnifying our feeling of connection to the whole that is all, it has done the opposite. This is, sort of an undoing of ourselves, first in the mind and then in the world as we live.

I found the "new dualism" a bit simplistic. Brains can *learn*, and be *guided*, and as a result of the learning *may* exhibit new/different behaviors. The fatuous dismissal of Neuro-science not having within it "moral freedom" is simply not true, (in light of the fact that behaviors can be/are *learned). That is no threat to "free will". The old trope that "well if the universe is just random or deterministic" as the ONLY alternative to "free will" is rather childish.

It's a shame, but commercially predicable, that such pop-science denialism is supported by NPR. These are really childish sentimental ideas with an aggressive refusal to engage with the best new human knowledge from biology, genetics and neurobiology.

But silly ideas always sell best. Good job team! Ideas worthy of Oprah and a fortune cookie.

Wonderful show, very understandable expression of concepts!
Too bad her mother, wonderful woman! - misunderstood Catholic teaching - one can put off pregnancies with NFP for important reasons.

Wonderful about Platonism and mathematical ideas as being the only real ones, or the more real ones - Jesus answered this when he said 'Do not build on the things of this world since even the forms of this world are quickly passing away' (paraphrase).' The forms would apply to the mathematical underpinning of the natural sciences, among other things. So math might or might not be the definitive reality of the physical world, the most real (I don't think so, of the physical world perhaps) but this world is not the definitive world.

The Existentialists argued that feelings (like dread) can't be described by science and are as absolute as scientific data. But I don't think they fully succeed, it is the reality of God (soul, angels) that are a realm outside physical reality.

The dualism of body/soul isn't replaced by the dualism body/cyberspace person not only because the latter doesn't possess a concept of morality but because it doesn't involve the soul, God, free will, etc. It seems to me that the only way to establish a non-material world isn't Descartes concept of thoughts as another sphere (well-described!), or cyberspace, but God, as is seen in Dante.

The loss of the awareness of the soul historically can be traced in Brad Gregory's book 'The Unexpected Revolution' Harvard, 2013, in which he describes the path from the Reformation to the current atheism.

I just read 'Paradise' and the 'Comedia' is the greatest thing I've ever read. I don't think Dante 'pierced the universe' to finally see God since the whole Comedia takes place in the realm of the spirit (just a detail). But your description of the medieval person seeing two realms of being, and Dante describing one, was good, helped me understand that his story isn't an imagination or flight of fancy but the exploration of a real place, and it is, of course, real.

Your description of the emphasis from Redeemer then Creator to Creator then Redeemer in our view of God is very nice. Today we are so far from a concept of Redeemer, having lost our sense or awareness of sin. You seemed to get caught trying to describe redemption as meaning some kind of redemption in this world. Not going to happen, things are running fast in the other direction. Redemption involved God only. And we can in no way redeem ourselves.

Thanks for a delightful hour, beautiful, clear descriptions, I invite you to come back into communion with the Catholic Church, the Church of Dante, it is with God that these problems are solved, and with God alone. Your thinking is Catholic.

What are the laws of physics describing?

They are describing a skewed and biased (fallen) relationship with the divine. This universe has evolved out of an innocent but critical mistake. The creation of time as an aperture that limits the amount of energy coming in to the universe from God-Source is the mistake.

The way to heal this mistake is to make one's relationship with God-Source primary - the most important thing in one's life.

Keylontic Science describes a universe in which the longer a being is disconnected from God-Source due to the intrinsically flawed design of this universe, the more narcissistic and arrogant a being is at risk of becoming, by no fault of their own.

The true and original divine blueprint is perfect and our job is to remember that, and to bring more higher frequency and love from God-Source into THIS universe to HEAL IT.

Of course Natural Family Planning wasn't as developed in your mother's time. But about the dualism of light - wave vs. particle, acts like a wave if you ask a wave question and acts like a particle if you ask a particle question - it is a mystery. But the physical world reflects spiritual realities. Jesus said 'I am the light of the world' and Jesus is fully God and fully man - so if one asks Jesus a God-question, he answers as God; if one asks him a man question, he answers as a man. How his divine nature and his human nature interact is one of the largest mysteries in reality, of course. So the light/wave duality of light is not something that needs to be resolved.

Also, I read recently that if the earth were to move at the speed of light - impossible since it would take infinite energy - it would change shape - and become the size and shape of a 2-dimensional wafer. Hmm. Sounds like the Host at Mass. And Jesus said 'I am the light of the world'. At Communion we are receiving more than the world. Your mother would be very happy if you came home to the Church.

Whoa!!! This is stupendous! And not just because I'm an avid crocheter, I promise. Listen, about Pythagoras and experiencing and playing with science physically (I mean, with our bodies)... listen, guys - what about MUSIC! I discovered (or rediscovered - I may have learned it but ignored it - everything is much more interesting to me as a teacher than it ever was as a student, I confess...). Anyway, there's the Pythagorian comma, you know about that? Let's play music - tempered and untempered - all around the world with this stuff!! Many thanks and sorry for the exhuberance...

Very thought-provoking and inspiring. Thank you.

cc Eva Santaella Conde Evelyn Garcia-Perez Terry Flowers Tere Navarro Garcia Yolanda Torres Eduardo Arroyo The interview really hits on the thoughtful interests of philosophy-engineer-scientists like me. Evelyn Garcia-Perez this is where I learned of the Crochet Coral Reef project. TWH stardate 04292015

Timeline FB post:

Wertheim has written two books on the themes she discusses with On Being with Krista Tippett ps I bot the two books!
Margaret Wertheim

is the co-creator and curator of the Institute for Figuring in Los Angeles. She is the author of Pythagoras’ Trousers, The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace: A History of Space from Dante to the Internet, Physics on the Fringe: Smoke Rings, Circlons and Alternative Theories of Everything, and Crochet Coral Reef.

The Art Instinct

Photography uses storytelling to speak directly to our unconscious. The successful photograph has no sound track, actors or language in a spoken sense but tells a story nonetheless. The Lascaux Caves, Stonehenge monoliths, aboriginal proverbs, sagas and songs illustrate that storytelling dates from the beginning of human interaction, before written words. From these earliest landscapes, moving past Bierstadt, Moran and the West Coast photographers, our environments are portrayed as places of refuge and inspiration, with water, fauna and dynamic illumination. The appreciation we feel about a work of art is a persuasive argument for the existence of an art instinct. This is what the pre-literate fables in my own work aspire to communicate: the mystery of our origins, complexity that outstrips logic, mythological transformations and the illusion of physical death. The images invoke that pre-literate sense of place which tells the story of us all.

--Michael Miner

What I'm hoping is that someone like this will discover and measure the love that grows the trees. Discover that this web-of-life, a million species at present, over two billion years old, the only one of its kind in the Milky Way, is, itself, alive. And the energies involved have always been part of the unseen world. But now modern physics might be getting close. I've seen the love that grows the trees. Cariboo, northern British Columbia, winter midnight, forty below, full moon, standing on the porch looking at several hundred fir trees, totally frozen, sparkling white and blue, and up the middle of each frozen tree is a very thin line of bright light. This creation is alive, and it nurtures and supports each member of each species 24/7. And you can visit the heart of this world. But measuring ? perhaps the thin bright line of light (love) is a start.

The promoted idea that a lack of free-will produces either amoral beings or "determinism" demonstrates a naïve reflection in the subject arena. Lack of free-will does not eliminate, or even necessarily limit responsibility... in fact, it expands the sense of responsibility, particularly beyond the individual to the physical body and to society... and that is what seems to promote discomfort in some purportedly spiritual thinkers.

I listened to the episode in preparation for visiting the exhibit of the Leicester Manuscript at the MIA. The MIA web page on this exhibit explicitly links the two, but I was somewhat put off by the artistic license of the subject, who seems to embody new age thinking, rather than the Renaissance thought that Leonardo expressed in the notebook. She has a very liquid flow of thought, but ignores the laws of hydrodynamics that Leonardo considers in the manuscript. Her interest in Medieval dualism as a reaction to Cartesian dualism does not make a great deal of sense, and muddies the water rather than clarifying the issues raised by the relationship between art and science.

I sporadically listen to On Being, and find many of the interviews stimulating, but I did not find this one particularly enlightening, since there is so much nonsense involved. Having taught a course on ethics in the history of science and technology, I think that the subject should contextualize her remarks by the history of science rather than using cliches drawn from superficial acquaintance with it.