By Steven E. Hodes, M.D.
Understanding the nature of reality is the goal of all metaphysical speculation. We seek knowledge, gnosis in the belief that it will confer some power or influence over the chaos that seem to be our lives. Perhaps, we secretly dream, it may offer us tools by which to understand, accept or transform our lives from suffering into a more meaningful, joyous existence.
By ‘the metaphysics of change’ I mean the notion that nothing remains the same.
The entire universe is ‘in process’. First articulated by the Greek philosopher Heraclitus around 500 BC this may or may not seem intuitively correct to any reader. It was and remains a profound metaphysical position. Many modern humans still see their daily lives as essentially stable and unchanging. We actually feel uncomfortable with any notion of an empty space in our lives, an interval, an ‘in between’ time. Of course, we have no choice but to recognize profound transitions such as birth, death, graduations etc as change. Still, we live our lives on a daily basis as if change was an unessential aspect of our lives.
Heraclitus offered the supreme analogy of the flowing river. It offers an almost mystical degree of paradox. One never steps in the same river twice, and yet the river is the same river. Change and existence are not incompatible. He pre-dated the philosophers who understood the nature of reality to be continuous process. Alfred North Whitehead was the 20th century’s major proponent of such an outlook.
When we consider ourselves as living beings we can readily understand the paradox between change and identity. That baby picture of us may not resemble the llatest reflection of our visage in the mirror. How is it possible that we are the same? Yet we recognize the paradox between our physical bodies and our self. Biologically speaking, our cells are continuously dying and regenerating. Ultimately they die and can’t perform the reparative functions quite so well. This is known as senescence. It is the medical term to explain why all of us do die. It explains why infections and cancer are more prevelant with age as well. Our intrinsic defense and reparative mechanisms sooner or later will fail.
Even more fascinating was Heraclitus’ recognition that we what appears to be continuous may contain discontinuous aspects of itself. This metaphysical position has been supported by quantum physics. What appears to be continuous flow is, in reality, a series of quantum segments. The notion of ‘quantum leaps’ occur when electron move from one energy level to another and release a photon of energy. No one knows where the electron ‘is’ in between its manifestation at another energy level. It may literally ‘not exist’ or enter the cosmic vacuum which is itself not well understood. Planck space, planck time are unfathomably miniscule yet discrete and measurable units. Planck units seem to be the smallest units of matter and time and cannot be reduced to zero. These units are ‘breaks’ in the continuity of reality. The best analogy would be a movie. What appears as continuous flow is composed of individual frames.
Like breathing out and breathing in, there is a moment of neither which contains the promise of both. Are these spaces between ‘in’ and ‘out’, between the ‘frames’ of quantum theory a place for Divine will to manifest itself?
There is a mystical concept of the ’empty vessel’ which may represent another perspective on the same concept. According to Kabbalistic thought God withdrew ‘himself’ in order for the physical universe to come into being. The empty uterus is a place for new life to blossom. A mind emptied of all thought is the goal of much Eastern [Buddhist/Hindu] meditation. Only when there is an empty place can creativity manifest.
In our own lives we seem to abhore a vacuum. We need to fill every moment with thought, activity, entertainment. We fear the empty space, the place between events and speech. Yet this may be not only a valuable place of new ideas and creative opportunity, but represent the nature of reality itself.
© Steven E. Hodes, MD., 2006
Steven E. Hodes, M.D. is a board certified gastroenterologist with over 25 years private practice based in Edison and Old Bridge New Jersey. He also has a degree in Religious Studies and teaches Contemporary Metaphysics at Brookdale College as well as lecturing and writing on Kabbalah and Healing, the Jewish View of Afterlife and on Near-Death Experience. Visit him at his Blog, Physician to Meta-Physician at www.meta-md.com