Alone to Alone – The Introduction

The following is the Introduction to a remarkable book by the late Syed Hasan Askari  entitled “Alone to Alone – From Awareness to Vision”, published 1991. It is a journey of self-discovery, inner path, a spiritual quest within & through an inter-religious dimension inspired by a vision to revive the classical discourse on Soul. This blog is dedicated to the universal, spiritual humanist vision of Prof. Syed Hasan Askari & contains various reflections from this book which is presented in seven chapters.  Each chapter is known as a “Mirror”, there are Seven Mirrors.

Introduction narrated by Musa Askari

20150531_172039“You are now entering upon a path. As you continue your journey, you will come face to face with one mirror after another. The path and the mirrors are all inside you.

The images you see in each mirror are at times images of a discourse, at other times of one or another symbol. Sometimes a vision will open up before you. Sometimes a voice will be heard. All of it is an initiation into your own reality.

There are several straight discourses. Then there are stories. Both the discourses and the stories constitute one fabric. They intersect and interpret one another.

At times you may find certain things partly or even completely unintelligible, or vague and abstract. When you will return to them, they will gradually become transparent. You will experience an unbroken sense of inner perception even where you notice that the mirrors are veiled. You are a guest. There is an air of hospitality as you move from vision to vision.

It is now both your and my journey into the realm of the Soul. I request you to be cautious for the territory we now enter is totally different from our ordinary world. We shall be changing the habits of our thought and putting on new garments. You will notice the change in atmosphere as soon as you stand before the first mirror.

The journey begins in the name of Plotinus. We were invited by him a long time ago to make this ascent. The words, Alone to Alone, are his, and they sum up his entire call.

Prof. Syed Hasan AskariIt was a couple of years ago one night while going through The Enneads that I had the experience of seeing in a flash all the implications of the Discourse on Soul for human thought and civilization for centuries to come. I felt within myself a convergence of the thought of Plotinus and that of my theistic faith nurtured by a consistent inter-religious perspective. The present work grew quite spontaneously out of that intuition over the last two years (1989  – 1991), and after much thought I place it into your hands both in trembling and trust, and in hope that it may ignite in your soul the same longing and in your mind a fresh zeal to rethink your conceptions about humanity, world, and God.” Syed Hasan Askari

For stories & reflections from the book Alone to Alone please search  this blog for the following titles :

The Lord of the Humming Bird, I am that Tree, The Limit is the Threshold, The Seven Steps, Self Remembering,

God is on Both the side, The Are Only Four Communities, The Feet of our Lady, Four Breaths, If You Find Me, Towards Unity,

Rebirth Through My Son, Baba Nizamuddin, The Grand Canyon, The Snow The Cloud & The River, Prayer For My Parents, Seven Mirrors.

 

HUMANITY

Syed Hasan Askari’s thoughts from “Towards A Spiritual Humanism”  (published 1991)

“Let us reflect further on this shared value of humanity because there is so much in it. I feel that both the humanist and religious traditions sound almost simplistic or monolithic when discussing this category, namely, the human.

Syed Hasan Askari
Syed Hasan Askari

Let me share a few perspectives to deepen this value because this holds the key for our progress in dialogue. Firstly, the humanistic view, namely, that we are first of all human, appears to me primarily an extension of one’s identity in space – from one’s own house to the entire planet, or to use the popular expression for the planet in our times – the global village. This is not enough for me, because it is an aspiration only in a spatial-physical mode of a greater aggregate,  whereas it may also be viewed as a metaphor for a sympathy across distances, between people, between all humanity. That sympathy cannot be a material bond, or even a bond which is merely psychological. It should be a spiritual bond.

This makes me bring in another dimension of the aggregate of humanity, namely time. Holding on to the same value of humanity, I should say that across time – across all time both past and unborn time, there should be the unity of the human self. As soon as we invoke time as a dimension of unity, the collapse of the material expression of unity is self-evident.  It is this which is celebrated in the religious, or to be very specific, in the Christian Catholic notion of communion, particularly the communion of saints.

Setting aside the religious connotations, on a purely pragmatic level, the unity of the humans both in space and time, presupposes an internal unity. So, I request my humanist friends to take their value of humanity more deeply and have the courage to draw all the conclusions possible, neither hampered nor tempted by any ideological options. Therefore, our criterion in this discourse is that no ideological criterion should come in the way of our celebration of human unity as a whole.

I have another perspective. I don’t see humanity, even when we take the dimensions of both space and time together, as one monolithic whole. We have many humanities within one humanity, and we have to be extremely careful in differentiating, deep within our own personalities, four humanities!

The first humanity is co-terminus with our physical status as material beings dependent upon water, air and food; the extension of this principle is our dependence upon urban water supplies and refrigeration; upon the technology we have created and all the comforts that principle involves and the culture which it creates. There are vast numbers of people who do not progress beyond this level.

The second humanity is also widespread, and it includes those who have fallen in love with the images they have created in their philosophies, in their religions, and in their doctrines. They are clever and self-conscious people. However, they are in a state of hypnosis. They cannot move from the outward profiles of their doctrines and religions  – yet they too are human.

The third humanity is free from the physical, free from outward profiles and forms; it is inward looking and holds onto its own essential being. It is this humanity which, in my view, holds the key to the sympathy, the resonance of feeling across space and time. It is this which creates philosophy universally, which creates science universally, which creates an intelligible discourse across races and cultures and nationalities, and which is to me the goal of humanity.

The fourth humanity is almost celestial, almost super-human, almost trans-human. It is one with the entire cosmos which is the ultimate principle of unity. It is like a spark of light in each one of us, even in those who are lost in the physical world, even in those who are wrapped up in the traditional profiles of identity, dogma and doctrine.

So, when I hear the word “humanity” I respond to it emotively because I hold that perspective, but at the same time I am disturbed, because we may lose sight of the hierarchy and differentiation, on account of our obsession with uniformity of the physical image of man. I am not subscribing to any elitist notion of an inner or hidden group of mystics. I am saying that both ontologically and psychologically humanity is a highly differentiated principle and it is because of this differentiation that it is human. If it is not differentiated it becomes a technological, mechanistic principle. It is in this sense I consider humanism as pointing to this differentiation, not submerging it. Otherwise, we become unfair or unjust to our own inner hierarchies.

Let us take this opportunity to point out that most so-called religious people also have a very simplistic view of humanity which is in one sense more dangerous that the simplistic view of popular humanism because they equate their humanity with their collectivity. For them, humanity is co-terminus with their particular religious congregation. For example if you are a Christian you will consider yourself human; if you are Muslim you will consider yourself human; but those who do not fall within the collectivity to which you personally belong are not fully human, they are sub-human or only potentially human. So, there is a greater danger in the ideological, doctrinal, religious or secularist understanding of humanity because such an understanding doesn’t allow for the idea of a spiritual differentiation between different levels of consciousness……Therefore, our quest is how to increase the life of humanity, not the vegetative life, not animal life, but the life of reason, the life of the spirit, the life of intuition.

This life has many sources outer and inner, both known and unknown. It is perhaps towards that humanity we are all moving.”

Syed Hasan Askari (1932-2008) 

 * See also on this blog:

“There are only Four Communities” , “When the Atheist Met the Mystic”

PRAYER FOR MY PARENTS

By Hasan Askari (Alone to Alone)

The moon and the stars were all there reflected in that still emerald lake that night as our boat slowly and respectfully floated across the lake. We were all silent. I felt for a moment or two a sense of complete union with the lake, its reflections, their originals.

The following morning as we sat under a tree beside the lake, we were amazed that we could hardly recognize that it was the very lake we had crossed last night. We hardly recognized ourselves to be those very persons who saw the moon and the stars reflected in the lake.

IIdentityn the afternoon of that day we had a session with our teacher on Plato’s idea of Eternal Forms. The idea that There in the Ideal world are “forms” of everything we see here is hardly believed, our teacher started to reflect. One of the modes in which doubt is cast upon Plato’s Ideal Forms is rather amusing. Enchanted by the apparent solidity of things here and trusting our sense perception, we reverse the relationship. We regard Forms there as reflections of things here on the model of comparing the images in our mind with the things outside.

The idea of Plato’s Forms cannot be demonstrated as true on the exclusive testimony of senses and of reasoning based on sense-perception. We require another principle. Plato saw the reality of the forms not by his physical eye nor by his reason bound with his body and with the world. He saw them by the soul’s sight.  He could see his own Form before and after embodiment, and when he looked at himself here, then he could recognise which form was real, and which a copy, feeble and ephemeral.

It was during one of the sessions of Zikr we used to hold every Thursday evening that I had a strange and over-whelming experience of having lived the entire cycle of life of diverse races and civilizations, of life-forms here on our planet and in other galaxies, and still reciting the Zikr.

While invoking the Zikr on another occassion for the benefit of the souls of my parent, I was taken aback by a sudden realization of unity between their post-death soul-status and my pre-birth soul status, a state which remained unchanged even now while I was in body.

As I prayed for them and as I recalled them, my eyes were full of tears. My heart was drowned in that sorrow, in my longing and love for them. Many things became clear.

Some say why should one really pray for anybody in particular because all things are interconnected and under the direct and unfailing providence of God. I agree. But while one prays for some loved one, the heart melts; its hardness disappears; its doors open; a gentle wind coming from nowhere envelops the heart bathed and purified by sorrow. Then the universal truths enter and find their true home there; otherwise those truths come, find the door of the heart closed, and they leave.

MUTUAL RECOGNITION & SELF RECOGNITION

By Hasan Askari (Towards A Spiritual Humanism).

By joining both the hands in greeting the other, we greet in all our totality. In our wholeness of being, with our conscious and unconscious minds having become one mind, with our outer and inner realities having risen into one reality. When we greet the universe or a child, we say that our Soul is One Soul, that our God is One. Then we have abolished otherness we have abolished fear, we have all come home in each other. Then we know who we are, who is in us and in whom we are.

 

SPIRITUAL HUMAN INTERVIEW WITH JEFF WIDENER

Jeff Widener Angola 2013 “Jeff Widener is best known for his now famous image of a lone man confronting a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square during the 1989 Beijing riots which made him a nominated finalist for the 1990 Pulitzer. The “Tank Picture,” repeatedly circulated around the globe, (except in China where it is banned) is now widely held to be one of the most recognized photos ever taken. America On Line selected it as one of the top ten most famous images of all time.”

http://www.jeffwidener.com/h/ 

1989 Tank man

 

Sincere thanks to Jeff Widener for agreeing to this interview.

SPIRITUAL HUMAN INTERVIEW WITH JEFF WIDENER

Musa Askari: STILL IMAGE: I would like to begin by enquiring generally on the idea of the “still image”. From the earliest cave paintings of hand stencils to Narcissus’s reflection in a pool of water. From Emily Davison bravery in 1913 to conflicts and war zones. From the freedom marches of India, United States and South Africa to “The Tank Man” of Tiananmen Square. Humanity appears to have a fixation with the “still image” and images of the image. With dramatic changes in technology from the earliest cameras to digital cameras on mobile phones the ability to capture and share instantaneously flashes of meaning and context, for better or worse, from propaganda to oppress to solidarity movements to liberate, one of the first instincts is to record the event via a photograph. 

Why in your view has the idea of the “still image” remained so strong, intact and unchanged as an idea, while all about it the means to capture images has changed through developments in technology? Is our technological quest for picture/image clarity disguising something deeper within the psyche of humanity, the search for “clarity” itself, of our place in the world? I wonder is this the invisible and intangible still centre to which we gravitate in those iconic images which seem to not only draw but hold our attention? Some may even refer to this tug upon our senses as the work of artistry itself, that something becomes clear to us about ourselves.

Jeff Widener: What matters the most with a still image is how the visual experience can trigger an emotional response from the viewer. No matter how far technology advances photography, it is still the final image that speaks. When a photograph can make you cry, laugh or take your thoughts back to a past lover or a song from an earlier time then the photograph has succeeded. A photograph should be felt and not viewed. When the picture still resonates in your mind for weeks onward then something magical has been happened. Far too many photographers concern themselves with the technical side of photography rather then feeling the pulse around them. To capture the soul of your subject you must be able to bond with your subject.

Musa Askari: TIME: Today it takes less than a second to capture a photograph. I compare this with the time of extended reflection one may take when later pondering its meaning. In order to avoid losing touch with the depth of meaning and resonance from being lost it seems we desire the “still image”. Is this what may be referred to as time having stood still in a photograph? What have you found to be the power of the “still image” and how does it convey what more than a thousand words may never do? 

Jeff Widener: The brain seems to have an easier time storing a single image than a video for example. Why this is so is best left to the scientific community however in my many years as a photographer has shown me that people just recall still images much better than motion cameras.

Musa Askari: PHOTO-JOURNALISM: Would you agree the important work of a photo-journalist involves “bearing witness”? Being the “eyes” for a  world that may choose to look the other way. That through them we are also able to “bear witness”. Is it the case on some level a photo-journalist brings through them the most fragile of things, namely conscience, placing it right within the heart of a conflict zone for example? Bearing witness through the physical eye having first borne witness through the inner discerning eye of conscience. With the aid of modern revolutions in information technology is photo-journalism the harbinger of a time when it will be no longer credible to say we do not know about one crisis or another and thus critically faced with a central issue about ourselves, why we did not ask or enquire?

Jeff Widener: Technology has had a profound impact on our daily lives. So much news bombards us every day that I believe it is sensory overload. That said, we as the human race have no choice but to keep up with what is happening in the world. The problem is not that there is so much news reported but the increasing censorship by governments which seems to be ever increasing in all parts of the world including Europe and the United States. One of my biggest concerns is the tightening laws involving street photography. There is a real risk that future generations will have very little idea how their ancestors lived. There may be virtually no candid images of children. Society has become overly paranoid with the internet which makes documenting humanity a serious challenge.

1989 Tank manMusa Askari: TANK MAN: It seems to me highly unlikely the brave soul we have come to know through your image of him would hardly have been aware of anyone recording his defiance through a still image or video, let alone aware of the name he would come to be known by to the world at large beyond the boulevard upon which he stood. In that sense his singular protest takes on much greater significance. An embodiment of the principle of having witnessed himself injustice and suffering all about him one is called to “act”. To not act in that instant in some form had perhaps become unthinkable for him. His actions speak for themselves – they speak beyond themselves.

Having taken the most widely circulated photograph of the “Tank Man” how do you feel the importance of that image/event has fluctuated over the last two decades or so? Does an image have to remain forever popular, in the collective consciousness, for it to retain its iconic status? Or is an “icon” something transcending history – in other words would you agree it has a “timeless” quality, a spiritual quality even in the sense of transcending cultural and national boundaries making the powerful example of “The Tank Man” identifiable with struggles universally?

From my interview with acclaimed documentary film-maker Antony Thomas I ask about his film on “The Tank Man”. Did he agree there were perhaps two “Tank Men” that day. He responds as follows https://spiritualhuman.wordpress.com/antony-thomas/ “Yes. I certainly remember the powerful emotions I felt when I first saw that image of a young man, standing in front of that column of tanks, and I completely agree with the point you make.  There were two heroes that day – one unseen inside the lead tank, and one standing in the road with his back to us.  I’m afraid it’s likely that both of them shared the same fate.” 

In conclusion I would like to return to the earlier reference of “bearing witness”. As one who stood on that balcony that fateful day, as an eye witness to the “Event” of a powerful expression of individual resistance, I would be deeply grateful if you could share your thoughts on what emotions you were going through at that moment? Would you also agree we need to recognise there were perhaps two “Tank Men” at that moment of encounter? 

Jeff Widener: The Tank Man event was quite shocking however at the time I was suffering from a sever concussion from a stray protestor rock that had smashed into my face. My Nikon F3 titanium camera absorbed the blow sparing my life. So for this reason, the Tank Man moment just seemed like a continuation of the previous night’s events. It was only after several months that the importance of the image settled in. Sometimes being a journalist numbs you to the world. My job as the Associated Press Photo Editor for Southeast Asia was extremely demanding with almost non stop action and danger. I witnessed horrific events in Cambodia, Philippines, Sri Lanka. It now seems that years later, many of these things that I have documented are just now being fully realized. At the time of my photographing Tank Man, I was extremely scared for my life. I was suffering from a sever case of the flu as well as the concussion but even with that, I was aware that something extraordinary was happening through my camera viewfinder. The lead tank driver must have known the consequences for stopping –so yes, there were two heroes that day. 

*Photographs provided and published above with the generous permission of Jeff Widener. Please visit Jeff’s website for more information about his important work. http://www.jeffwidener.com/h/bio.shtml

 Spiritual Humanism

Spiritual Human Interview with Linda Woodhead

Prof Linda WoodheadProfessor Linda Woodhead MBE  DD teaches sociology of religion in the Department of Politics, Philosophy and Religion at Lancaster University. Her work delves in to the relationship between religion and society. Co-founded the Westminster Faith Debates which fosters debate and discussion aided by the latest research.

www.lancaster.ac.uk/fass/ppr/profiles/linda-woodhead 

http://faithdebates.org.uk/research/

Sincere thanks to Professor Linda Woodhead MBE DD for agreeing to this interview.

SPIRITUAL HUMAN INTERVIEW WITH LINDA WOODHEAD

Musa Askari: “It was Wilfred Cantwell Smith, whom I first met in 1965 and then again in 1968 at a seminar in Bangalore, who gave me the insight and direction I was seeking. When I attended that seminar….I had no idea that it would open a new path for me and bring me into the very heart of the interfaith dialogue across continents. Smith’s distinction between faith and belief provided me with a foundation to relate positively to “the other”. While belief is a part of the cumulative tradition, faith is the personal immediate possession of each individual by which one relates to one’s life, to all those whom one encounters, faith being a vast world in which all can participate. Faith is thus an inner ability to relate and communicate without fear. I now had the spiritual basis to respect and listen to others.” (Prof. Syed Hasan Askari – Solomon’s Ring)

In your opinion what do people mean by the words “faith” and “belief”? From surveys commissioned of public opinion is a distinction between “faith” and “belief” recognised and how is this distinction expressed within the field of sociology of religion?

Linda Woodhead: I think the general perception would be that ‘faith’ means something personal, existential and ‘inner’, whilst ‘belief’ has more to do with external religious formulations. To that extent, there is an overlap between the faith/belief distinction and the spirituality/religion one. Moreover, where ‘beliefs’ seem to define particular religions and distinguish them from one another ‘faith’ is a more inclusive term (despite Christian associations). I was speaking to a university chaplain the other day who told me that when they renamed the ‘Chaplaincy’ ‘Centre for Faith and Spirituality’ the number of people coming through the doors almost tripled!

Another way of looking at it is that there are two dimensions of religious identity – the collective identity which I inhabit, and the inner dimension of that identity which, to some extent, is private to me alone. People may be able to pigeonhole me in terms of the collective identity, but my personal identity is part of my inner life, and – a religious person might say – ‘known to God alone’.

Musa Askari: Professor Askari in his 2004 article, http://www.interreligiousinsight.org/January2004/Jan04Askari.html “From InterReligious Dialogue to Spiritual Humanism” discusses the threefold need to revive the classical discourse on soul: theological, philosophical and psychological.

As well as understanding the number and various sub-set distribution of those who identify themselves as “religious” or “spiritual but not religious” does reference to “soul” feature in the studies and opinion polls you have conducted? What is meant by the word “soul” and are the various definitions people offer contextualized depending on which faith or spiritual attitude the person belongs or ascribes to?

Linda Woodhead: There are plenty of surveys which show that belief in the soul has been growing in the UK – despite the fact that other elements of religious belief, including belief in God, have been declining. It is hard to pin down exactly what people mean by ‘soul’, and my interviews and talks with people suggest that different people mean different things. But the word seems to help people express their intuition that there is ‘more’ to me – and other humans, and possibly animals as well – than mere flesh and blood. This ‘something’ may be hard to pin down, but it can include the belief that people have a unique, irreplaceable value, and that that value is never completely destroyed – even by death. So the ‘soul’ names something of great value, something which transcends the mundane and utilitarian aspects of existence.

But people don’t always mean something eternal when they say soul – and often they make no reference to God at all (atheists can believe in a soul). Here soul may simply mean the essence of a person, their deep identity. It’s also interesting to note that souls are not necessarily good! We may say ‘poor soul’ of someone we pity. And ‘she has a beautiful soul’ of someone we admire. But we also say ‘he has no poetry in his soul’, or ‘his soul is in danger’ and ‘he is an unhappy soul’.

Musa Askari: If religion is a particular “faith body” then “spirituality” is its temperature reading varying in intensity from the individual to the collective. It is an impossible task perhaps to capture a spiritual reading through social attitude survey-opinion polls. We are perhaps using the wrong tools to grapple with that question. Would you agree to ask about spirituality, before we arrive at any expression of say religious faith, is to ask also more fundamental questions? Namely, “who are we” or “who am I”.

Can these be considered the cornerstones not of doubt but a deeply felt sense of spirituality? This couplet of questions, over and above all cultural-social-ethnic-national and religious identities is, would you agree, “The Identity Question”? It is from here we start our journey, consciously or otherwise. Some may even refer to it as the beginning of a spiritual quest. (for reference please see interview with Dr. Rowan Williams https://spiritualhuman.wordpress.com/2013/12/25/spiritual-human-interview-with-dr-rowan-williams/ )

Linda Woodhead: The question of identity can certainly be the starting point for a spiritual or moral question. ‘Who am I?’, ‘what am I really like’ are questions which we all have to answer at some point in our lives, and which crises can precipitate. We can get stuck in a particular identity, including one which others want us to inhabit, but the construction of identity can also be an ongoing process. This is not to make it all sound like an individual or individualistic matter: we construct identity in relation to given social identities (‘a good daughter’, ‘a good Muslim’, ‘a respected professional’, ‘a tough man’) which are often conveyed by images and stories and real people we know. And we constantly negotiate our identities in relation to one another: how you feel and speak about me may shape who I am. For religious people, god, goddess, goods and holy places are important elements in this whole process.

Musa Askari: The question on knowing our place in the world, some would argue, is more than to ask about our physical existence as a planetary form of life. Is it not also, together with the physical, a spiritual non-material question which goes beyond our empirical existence? If “spirituality” is also that which expresses our longing for “transcendence” then humanity’s quest to know its place in the world, in the cosmos, the whole endeavour of human thought, has been and remains perhaps a super-trans-historical spiritual pursuit.

I would be grateful for your thoughts on if the hidden debate between all of us as communities, as one “Human Self” (sacred – secular, religion-humanists, spiritual-atheist, physical-metaphysical) is a spiritual one also and that such a term of reference requires admission into the continuing debate/dialogue between religion and humanism, towards a spiritual humanism? (for reference please see section on Human Nature by Prof. Syed Hasan Askari https://spiritualhuman.wordpress.com/human-nature-modern-psychology/ )

Linda Woodhead: To ‘Know my place in the world’ is a very good starting point – and perhaps ending point – for a humanist or a spiritual quest. How many of us really know our place? We can take up too much space, or too little space. To know one’s place is a very difficult and demanding task, and it means making proper allowance for the space that other people, creatures, plants, and other elements of the natural world occupy. We have to give space as well as take it, and in doing so we find out who we really are. I think this may be a point on which humanists, atheists, environmentalists and many religious people would agree. There are also powerful traditions within many theistic religions which speak of God having to withdraw Godself to make space for the created order.

Musa Askari: From his reflection, “There are only Four Communities” (Alone to Alone: From Awareness to Vision), Hasan Askari writes, “There are those who do not look beyond this world and its appearances, who are attached to its fortunes, however fleeting, and who insist, either on account of their personal conviction or under the influence of some dominant ideology, on a materialistic outlook. They are to be found in every age, country and culture….There are those who call themselves religious but are strongly attached to the outward forms of their beliefs and practices….There are those who look beyond the outer forms of this world and of their religion and culture. They look at their inner meanings and correspondences. They are the individuals….And there are those who have gone beyond both the outward and the inward. They have gone beyond themselves. Though they appear as present, they are in reality absent. ” https://spiritualhuman.wordpress.com/2011/02/14/there-are-only-four-communities/

I am interested to understand if it is possible not only to enquire if a person identifies themselves as religious or otherwise, but if there is any work undertaken to capture an understanding of the outer and inner aspects of one’s religious, spiritual life and mystical life? Is the question asked on a recognition of inner and outer? For example take Islam where we have the outer enactments of faith, “salat”- canonical prayer, “Haj”-pilgrimage and so on all pointing to something beyond the outer act itself, a way to transcend as it were. On the other hand we notice a calling in the Quran to remember God, to contemplate and reflect in silence even outside of the prescribed rites of faith.

Linda Woodhead: I think we live in an age which is very focused on the external life – on how I act into the world, what material success I have, my relations with people and things. The price of this emphasis is often a neglect of the inner life. Mystical traditions saw nothing odd in a person dedicating the whole of life to exploring ‘inner space’ – a world which is invisible. Today many people would regard that as a wasted life, and think that such a person was being escapist, and retreating into an illusory world. At the same time, however, we all know that we have an ‘inside’ which we often find it hard to understand and articulate. We may need help – a friend or a therapist – to explore it. It is wonderful when we meet someone who can understand us, who can ‘see inside’. When this happens, the fundamental loneliness we al live with can be lifted in a miraculous way. Some people may experience this in prayer, some in nature, some with people they love, some watching movies or reading poems. You can call this ‘transcendence’, but it is a transcendence which at the same time roots us more deeply in who we really are.

Spiritual Humanism

 

Spiritual Human Interview with Don Page

Prof Don PageProfessor Don Page has taught since 1990 at the University of Alberta, in the Department of Physics. Professor Page is an expert in the field of “black holes”. He has studied at leading institutions, Caltech, USA; University of Cambridge, UK where he was research assistant 1976-1979. He has worked & collaborated with Prof Stephen Hawking co-authoring with him “Thermodynamics of Black Holes in Anti-de Sitter Space” in 1983. (photo by Anna Page)

 http://www.physics.ualberta.ca/Faculty/DonPage 

The following interview questions are taken from the brief reflection by Prof. Syed Hasan Askari (1932-2008) entitled “Fireworks” where he enquires on the nature of the “Big Bang” & what if anything preceded it. https://spiritualhuman.wordpress.com/fireworks/

Sincere thanks to Professor Don Page for agreeing to this interview.

SPIRITUAL HUMAN INTERVIEW WITH PROFESSOR DON PAGE

Musa Askari: If one talks of the original Big Bang, what sort of bang was it? An explosion where each piece that flies out becomes an occasion of further explosion (multiple Big Bangs)?

Don Page: We have very strong evidence that our universe was very much smaller, denser, and hotter about 13.8 billion years ago.  The explosion out from that hot dense state is call the Big Bang.  We are not certain whether this was the absolute beginning of the universe, or whether it was a bounce from a previous phase of contraction, or whether it was just the latest in a series of big bangs, or whether perhaps it does not make sense to say that there was any absolute beginning to the universe.

Musa Askari: The behaviour of the original particles and forces issuing from the Big Bang. Was this behaviour haphazard? Was it arrived at through trial and error? Was it pre-given?

UniverseDon Page: So far as we can reliably trace back the behavior of our universe back toward the Big Bang that was nearly 14 billion years to our past, it seems to have been very smooth, nearly homogeneous and isotropic. However, there are strong suggestions, based upon indirect evidence from the form of the small departures from homogeneity and isotropy, that before the time for which we have reliable fairly direct evidence, there was a time of very rapid exponential expansion, called inflation, that could have smoothed the universe out even if it had been more lumpy before (though there do seem to be limits on how lumpy and disordered it could have been before inflation started for it to occur and be able to smooth out the universe).

Some scientists speculate that there might have been many different big bangs, most of which did not lead to much life like ours, so that we are seeing one of a relatively small sample that occurred with a form suitable for life.  However, the type of big bang that we observe seems to be even much more special than what would be required simply for life like ours.  So one cannot fully explain all its properties as being due to the selection effect that observers can only observe conditions that permit observers to exist.

Musa Askari: What about “Laws” which seemed to immediately come into operation soon after the said explosion. Did laws also “explode” into existence along with the energy and matter they were supposed to govern and regulate? What about other laws which govern the properties of those elements which came into being much later, say carbon dioxide? And laws governing organic matter, life, consciousness, reasoning. Did they all explode with the Big Bang? Were they lying in suspense until those substances and forms arose which required them? Where were they lying in abeyance?

Don Page: If the universe did indeed have a beginning at some point in the past, using some measure of time within the universe, the laws for the
universe would not have applied before that beginning, using the time within the universe to define “before.”  But one might say that the laws have some Platonic existence beyond the existence of the universe itself, in a sense somewhat similar to the sense in which 1+1=2 can be considered to be a true theorem of arithmetic (a logical consequence of the axioms of arithmetic) even if there are no individual objects such that one could count one of them and another of them to get two of them.  However, there is the difference that theorems like the logical following of 1+1=2 from suitable axioms are logically necessary truths, whereas the laws of physics are just descriptions of a contingent concrete entity, the universe, so there is no logical necessity to laws of the universe as there are for theorems of arithmetic.

Musa Askari: In contemplating the Big Bang are we also reaching for the smallest possible unit of condensed matter?

planetDon Page: In classical general relativity (ignoring the Heisenberg principle that is believed to apply to gravity that we think is actually
quantized and so does not obey the classical equations of Einstein’s
theory of general relativity), there would be no limit larger than zero to how small the universe could be, so in principle it could have  expanded out from zero size (or at least it could have had any size greater than zero, though one might say that the limit at which the size goes to zero, as one goes backward in time, is not itself part of the spacetime of the universe).  In quantum gravity we do not yet know whether or not there is a positive limit on how small the universe might be.

Musa Askari: What held it in that state of intense density not allowing it to explode or expand?

Don Page: The point of infinite density would not really be part of the universe in the classical model in general relativity, so whenever the universe existed, it would be expanding, in this classical big bang model.  But even for a classical model, the universe could have had a bounce at large but finite density rather than an expansion from an arbitrarily small size and arbitrarily large density.  And in a quantum picture, it might not make sense to say how large the universe is as a function of time to be able to say whether or not the universe started expanding from an arbitrarily small size.

Musa Askari: What force of gravity within itself pulled it to itself that it retained its intense density?

Don Page: In the classical big bang model with an initial singularity (the limiting t = 0 time that is not really part of the universe), the
universe has always been expanding during its entire lifetime, for all  t > 0.  If we measure the time t that has existed within the universe,
that can be finite (perhaps roughly 14 billion years now), but the
idea is that time t cannot be zero.  t = 0 is only a hypothetical
limit, what is called a singularity, not a time within the universe,
since in the classical big bang model, time is only defined for t > 0.

Musa Askari: If it exploded at “x” time, why not before, why not later?

Don Page: We can measure what is the time interval that the universe has existed up to now, but it does not make sense to try to assign a definite time other than zero for the limiting “point” or initial singularity at which there has been no previous time.  In a classical model, time differences make sense (though even these may not be definite in a quantum model), but even in a classical model, only time differences after the initial singularity make sense, not any supposedly absolute time at which the singularity happened.  (Well, we can say that if the big bang about 14 billion years ago really did have a singularity, a limit beyond which one cannot go back in time and at which densities would go to infinity, then the singularity was 14 billion years in the past relative to us now, but there is no meaning to its time other than relative to events within the universe.)

Musa Askari: What suspended its internal gravity for an instant that the great bang was triggered?

Don Page: There is no instant at which the big bang was triggered.  There is only a limit at which one can say that t = 0, but this limit is not part of the existing spacetime.  Going back toward that limit, the density would diverge, meaning that it would get greater than any pre-assigned finite value, but one cannot say that it actually reached infinity as one goes back in time, since the universe only exists for t > 0, and not at t = 0.  Well, this is within a classical model of general relativity. Probably quantum gravity so alters the properties of time that the whole question of the time evolution of the universe becomes a meaningless concept.

Musa Askari: If the Big Bang is a result of an instant’s suspension or weakening of the force of gravity is in itself a hopeless question perhaps. Or, was it so that a force involving a greater force of gravity pulled out of the contents within that mythical mass with such force that an explosion occurred? What was that force? Could it be what we refer to now as “dark energy”?

Don Page: The “dark energy” is the name for whatever it is that is now causing the linear size of the universe to be accelerating with time, so that the rate of increase of the linear size with time is itself increasing with time rather than decreasing.  So the gravitational effects of the dark energy are a form of what might be called anti-gravity,
gravitational repulsion rather than attraction that would cause the
expansion rate of the universe to decelerate (slow down).  But it
doesn’t seem to make sense to say that the big bang explosion itself was caused by this dark energy.

Musa Askari: If there was any, does it then make the Big Bang a secondary phenomenon?

Don Page: In a quantum description, our Big Bang (the very hot dense phase nearly 14 billion years ago) might have been a secondary phenomenon, not the first big bang of our universe.  It might have been only the latest in a long sequence of successive big bangs.  Scientists speculate that quantum tunnelling in a pre-existing universe might have led to new big bangs.  Perhaps the new big bangs would wipe out the evidence for the previous ones, or perhaps they would not, so that one might be able to find evidence of earlier big bangs. However, so far no one has found any convincing evidence for big bangs further in the past than our Big Bang that occurred about 14 billion years ago.

Further interviews in the “Spiritual Human” series can be found at: https://spiritualhuman.wordpress.com/interviews/

Spiritual Humanism

 

 

TOWARDS A SPIRITUAL HUMANISM

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