The Universe Perceived

The Universe Perceived

If we perceive the universe, does it exist? And what if we fail to perceive? 

Why Does the Freemason Care?

I’m going to start off with something that people usually place at the end of one of these conversations: how does this question tie to Freemasonry? As we talk through these concepts, I’d like you to keep in mind several key notions which inform Freemasonry and the ideals of Freemasonry.

  • Freemasonry works towards the perfecting of Humanity; in doing so, it does not tell the Freemason what to think but how to be: moral, just, tolerant, seek truth and practice liberty under the law. Only the Free-Thinker can conceive of the ideal humanity and what that may achieve.
  • A Freemason’s foundation is founded on the principles of human solidarity, freedom of conscience, and the facts of Brotherhood. It places no restrictions on the search after Truth, and in order to secure that freedom, it demands the greatest tolerance from all members of the Order.
  • To a Freemason, the freedom of thought, speech, and action belongs to all Mankind – regardless of race, religion, or gender.

While we talk about the concepts contained in this discussion, allow yourself to keep coming back to these core ideas of Freemasonry. You can view an example of these principles here:

A Distant Philosopher’s Take

1024px-John_Smibert_-_Bishop_George_Berkeley_-_Google_Art_ProjectIn 17th Century England, the Age of Enlightenment was underway. New discoveries in biology, astronomy, alchemy, chemistry, and physiology gave birth to an even wider range of philosophies. Many of the things we think about today were beginning to blossom in the minds of great thinkers.

One of those great thinkers was George Berkeley. Berkeley was born in 1685 near Kilkenny, Ireland. After several years of schooling at Kilkenny College, he entered Trinity College, in Dublin, at age 15. He was made a fellow of Trinity College in 1707 (three years after graduating) and was ordained in the Anglican Church shortly thereafter. At Trinity, where the curriculum was notably modern, Berkeley encountered the new science and philosophy of the late seventeenth century, which was characterized by hostility towards Aristotelianism. (Stanford, Philosophers)

Two Competing Ideas

Materialism of this time period meant “the concept that material things exist.” Berkeley’s take on this was that if one only believed in the senses, one type of perception, that this was a false view of the nature of the universe. The core idea of materialism is this: a thing exists independently of the thinking mind. A tree is a tree, whether or not there is a mind to perceive the tree.

Berkeley charges that materialism promotes skepticism and atheism: skepticism because materialism implies that our senses mislead us as to the natures of these material things, which moreover need not exist at all, and atheism because a material world could be expected to run without the assistance of God. In other words, there is no ideal of a tree, no spirit of a tree, so therefore there does not need to be a God to have a tree.

AlchemyWhat Berkeley proposes is “idealism.” This is not the modern interpretation of idealism; Idealism to Berkeley is the fact that a) We perceive ordinary material objects and b) we perceive ideas, therefore c) Ordinary material objects are ideas. Although there is no independent material world for Berkeley, there is a physical world, a world of ordinary objects. This world is mind-dependent, for it is composed of ideas, whose existence consists in being perceived. For ideas, and so for the physical world, esse est percipi. To be is to be perceived. Berkeley believed that while physical objects exist, the concept of them does not exist unless we perceive them as collections of ideas. These ideas are the construct of the human mind, and therefore, they, as individual objects, cannot exist without the human perception of them. 

Against Idealism

There are three main arguments against “idealism.”

  1. The most obvious objection to idealism is that it makes real things no different from imaginary ones—both seem fleeting figments of our own minds, rather than the solid objects of the materialists.
  2. What is the purpose of internal mechanisms and hidden structures to a world of ideas rather than a world of material existence? In other words, what is the point of the internal workings of a watch, if we don’t need to see them for the structure to work?
  3. Science should reveal the efficient causes of natural things, processes, and events. Isn’t it a step backward to imagine that all our physical substances are really based in “spirit?” Spirit in this sense is attributable to God.

A Modern Take

jawFast forward 400 years to 2002. John Wheeler, a physicist and contemporary & colleague of Einstein and Bohr, pondered the idea of existence from another angle.

Wheeler postulated that the universe is participatory. In the final decades of his life, the question that intrigued Wheeler most was: “Are life and mind irrelevant to the structure of the universe, or are they central to it?” He suggested that the nature of reality was revealed by the bizarre laws of quantum mechanics. According to the quantum theory, before the observation is made, a subatomic particle exists in several states, called a superposition (or, as Wheeler called it, a ‘smoky dragon’). Once the particle is observed, it instantaneously collapses into a single position. 

A Grand Experiment

Wheeler’s belief was that the universe is built like an enormous feedback loop, a loop in which we contribute to the ongoing creation of not just the present and the future but the past as well.

To illustrate his idea, he devised what he called his “delayed-choice experiment,” which adds a startling, cosmic variation to a cornerstone of quantum physics: the classic two-slit experiment. The “two slit” experiment illustrates a key principle of quantum mechanics: Light has a dual nature. In the experiment, light — a stream of photons — shines through two parallel slits and hits a strip of photographic film behind the slits. We have even seen, now, a photograph of a particle in both states. This photograph seems to undermine some of the concepts presented here, but for now, we’ll continue building our overarching discussion. 

This “two slit” experiment outlines the theory of The Observer Effect: In physics, the observer effect is the theory that the mere observation of a phenomenon inevitably changes that phenomenon. This is often the result of instruments that, by necessity, alter the state of what they measure in some manner. Thus, the basic idea is that observed, photons act like particles. Unobserved, they act like waves. Observation equates to a choice; Lack of observation provides multiple options/actions.

A Grander Experiment

Wheeler came up with a cosmic-scale version of this experiment that has even weirder implications. Wheeler’s version shows that our observations in the present can affect how a photon behaved in the past. This is a fairly large and complex experiment, described here by Mary-Jane Rubenstein, in “Worlds Without End: The Many Lives of the Multiverse.”

2000px-Double-slit.svg“Imagine a quasar — a very luminous and very remote young galaxy. Now imagine that there are two other large galaxies between Earth and the quasar. The gravity from massive objects like galaxies can bend light, just as conventional glass lenses do. In Wheeler’s experiment the two huge galaxies substitute for the pair of slits; the quasar is the light source. Just as in the two-slit experiment, light — photons — from the quasar can follow two different paths, past one galaxy or the other.

Suppose that on Earth, some astronomers decide to observe the quasars. In this case a telescope plays the role of the photon detector in the two-slit experiment. If the astronomers point a telescope in the direction of one of the two intervening galaxies, they will see photons from the quasar that were deflected by that galaxy; they would get the same result by looking at the other galaxy. But the astronomers could also mimic the second part of the two-slit experiment. By carefully arranging mirrors, they could make photons arriving from the routes around both galaxies strike a piece of photographic film simultaneously. Alternating light and dark bands would appear on the film, identical to the pattern found when photons passed through the two slits.

Here’s the odd part. The quasar could be very distant from Earth, with light so faint that its photons hit the piece of film only one at a time. But the results of the experiment wouldn’t change. The striped pattern would still show up, meaning that a lone photon not observed by the telescope traveled both paths toward Earth, even if those paths were separated by many light-years. And that’s not all.

By the time the astronomers decide which measurement to make — whether to pin down the photon to one definite route or to have it follow both paths simultaneously — the photon could have already journeyed for billions of years, long before life appeared on Earth. The measurements made now, says Wheeler, determine the photon’s past. In one case the astronomers create a past in which a photon took both possible routes from the quasar to Earth. Alternatively, they retroactively force the photon onto one straight trail toward their detector, even though the photon began its jaunt long before any detectors existed.” 

1-thefirsteverAt the time that Wheeler conceived of this idea, it had already been demonstrated in a laboratory. And, as I noted above, a recent photograph of a particle behaving in both ways has been seen floating around the internet. 

In 1984 physicists at the University of Maryland set up a tabletop version of the delayed-choice scenario. Using a light source and an arrangement of mirrors to provide a number of possible photon routes, the physicists were able to show that the paths the photons took were not fixed until the physicists made their measurements, even though those measurements were made after the photons had already left the light source and begun their circuit through the course of mirrors.

Wheeler conjectures we are part of a universe that is a work in progress; we are tiny patches of the universe looking at itself — and building itself. By the choices we humans make, in observing the world around us and acting on those observations, we are creating the universe as it continues to move through time and space. 

Wheeler isn’t alone in his thinking; other notable, modern scientists have weighed in on our perceptions of the universe. Stephen Hawking noted: “The laws of science, as we know them at present, seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life.” Fred Hoyle, in his book Intelligent Universe, compares “the chance of obtaining even a single functioning protein by a chance combination of amino acids to a star system full of blind men solving Rubik’s Cube simultaneously.” Physicist Andrei Linde of Stanford University stated: “The universe and the observer exist as a pair. I cannot imagine a consistent theory of the universe that ignores consciousness.”

Participatory Anthropic Principle

The anthropic principle is a philosophical consideration that observations of the universe must be compatible with the conscious and sapient life that observes it: Sapience – to taste or to perceive, consciousness – aware of the mind and surroundings, of space and time. Wheeler speculated that reality is created by observers in the universe. “How does something arise from nothing?” he asked about the existence of space and time. He also coined the term “Participatory Anthropic Principle.” In 1990, Wheeler suggested that information is fundamental to the physics of the universe.

According to what he called the “it from bit” doctrine, all things physical are information-theoretic in origin:

It from bit. Otherwise put, every it — every particle, every field of force, even the space-time continuum itself — derives its function, its meaning, its very existence entirely — even if in some contexts indirectly — from the apparatus-elicited answers to yes-or-no questions, binary choices, bits. It from bit symbolizes the idea that every item of the physical world has at bottom — a very deep bottom, in most instances — an immaterial source and explanation; that which we call reality arises in the last analysis from the posing of yes-no questions and the registering of equipment-evoked responses; in short, all things physical are information-theoretic in origin and that this is a participatory universe. (Wheeler, Interview)

Wheeler’s theory was that, in an analogous manner, consciousness may play some role in bringing the universe into existence. This is the core of what he called The Participatory Anthropic Principle.


https___blogs-images.forbes.com_startswithabang_files_2017_01_1-5JNJ0lwn_6wGru2LU9iDTAWe may choose to believe that the universe is made up of entirely material items and its existence would be here, whether we are or not. From at least the 17th Century, and probably earlier, people have conceived of the idea that the universe is created from our own minds, our observations, our “experimentation” on the world.

What we do in our day to day life, in our spiritual life, in our interactions with others has an effect on the world around us, causing the interplay of life and the stream of consciousness of time.

Perceiving the universe as a participatory place gives us a glimpse of the answer to the question: why are we here? I personally believe we humans are meant to create – life, activity, buildings, art, ideas, new thoughts – many things. To tie this back to the beginning, with regards to Freemasonry, we are working together, in ritual and in groups, toward perfecting humanity. If we are doing this, we are perfecting the universe – past, present, and future. 

Whence Came You? Recent Scientific Challenges To The Big Bang Theory

Whence Came You? Recent Scientific Challenges To The Big Bang Theory

From time immemorial, the thinking man has pondered the origins of the Universe and his role in the cosmos. Scientists in the early 20th century brought forth The Big Bang Theory to explain the creation of the Universe. Recent scientific research, however, provides compelling evidence that the age of the Universe could be infinite. Was there a singular starting point of the Universe? What if the Universe has existed forever?

Understanding The Big Bang Theory

The Big Bang Theory postulates that our Universe did have a definite beginning. Prior to that, there was nothing. After that moment, there was something: our Universe. According to this theory, our Universe came into existence as a “singularity” approximately 13.7 billion years ago.

Singularities are thought to exist at the core of black holes, which are areas of intense gravitational pressure. The pressure inside a black hole is thought to be so intense that finite matter is actually smashed into infinite density. The Big Bang Theory argues that our known Universe began as an infinitely small, hot and dense singularity.

This is an illustration showing the cosmic epochs of the Universe.Then there was an explosion at which time the singularity inflated and then cooled. The Universe changed over millions of years from something tiny and very hot to the Universe’s current size and temperature. And the Universe has continued to expand and cool throughout history.  Thus, the Big Bang Theory provided a scientifically-based explanation of what happened at the very beginning of our universe continuing until our current time.  

Evidence for The Big Bang Theory

In the 1920s, Edwin Hubble studied distant spirals in the deep skies, measuring the individual stars within the spirals and HubbleandTelescopedetermining the brightness of each star. By combining these measurements with their movement and brightness, Hubble deduced that the Universe was expanding from a once compacted state.

If the Universe was smaller and denser in the past, The Big Bang Theory argues that the Universe expanded from a smaller state to reach its current point. In the 1940s George Gamow added to the theory by postulating that if the Universe was smaller it must also have been hotter. Defined by its wavelength, radiation’s energy and temperature stretch as the fabric of space expands. Thus, if the Universe were smaller, radiation wavelengths were condensed and created a higher temperature.

Extrapolating backwards, there is a point reached when radiation becomes too energetic to form neutral atoms. In the 1960s, Arno Penzias and Robert Woodrow Wilson experimented with the Holmdel Horn Antenna, built to detect radio waves bounced off Echo balloon satellites. When Penzias and Wilson reduced their data, they discovered a persistent low, steady and mysterious noise. Certain that the radiation they detected on a wavelength of 7.35 centimeters did not come from the Earth, the Sun, or the Milky Way Galaxy, they eventually postulated that it was the radiation left over from an explosion that filled the Universe at the beginning of its existence. They termed this remanent energy, Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation. Their work helped to cement the wide-scale acceptance of The Big Bang Theory.

Recent Scientific Challenges to The Big Bang Theory

Modern scientific research demonstrates compelling evidence against the concept of a singularity as the beginning of the Universe. Astrophysicist Ethan Siegel argues that instead of the singularity point, the Universe transitioned from a prior state, not filled with matter, antimatter, radiation, neutrinos, etc. Undergoing a period of Cosmic Inflation, this pre-Universe was filled with a form of energy inherent to space itself and expanded slowly without a change in energy or temperature. In the phase of Cosmic Inflation, there was an exponential expansion that stretched the Universe flat and wiped out any ultra-massive relic particles and topological defects. Ending approximately 13.8 billion years ago, Cosmic Inflation set up the conditions that lead to a Big Bang event, thus creating our known observable Universe. This theory adds the fascinating possibility that we may be living in a multiverse and our observable Universe is just one of many Universes.

In February of 2015, two physicists, Ahmed Farag Ali, Professor at Benha University in Egypt, and Saurya Das, Professor at University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, pub440px-CMB_Timeline300_no_WMAPlished “Cosmology from Quantum Potential.” Their work proposes a “corrected” version of Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity and demonstrates inaccuracies in the current Big Bang Theory.  In the new formulation, the Universe did not originate from an infinitely dense singularity. In fact, the “theory suggests that the age of the universe could be infinite” according to the study co-author Saurya Das.

Moreover, Das and Ali’s research utilized Bohemian Mechanics to reconcile two of the most dominant theories in physics, Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity. Using this form of quantum theory, the researchers calculated a small correction term that could be included in Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity. In the new formulation, there is no zero-point singularity, and the Universe is infinitely old.

Destroying Ignorance

The Masonic Philosophical Society was established with the primary ambition to destroy ignorance. Which begs the question, “What is ignorance?” Perhaps ignorance is accepting what others tell you or what you have been taught without qucosmologyestioning. Instead of blindly accepting a concept like The Big Bang Theory as fact, Masonry teaches an individual to question why we believe something, to do our own research, and to consider other points of view. By questioning our preconceived notions, we open new doors of insight into how our world works and our role in the cosmos.

The Quadrivium

The Quadrivium

What scholars call the “foundation of Liberal Arts” – the Trivium – is taught in order that one may expand to other subjects, building upon the skills learned. These subjects have been varied over time, based on the philosopher teaching them but they are now generally accepted as mathematics, geometry, music, and astronomy – the Quadrivium. While these subjects were taught by ancient philosophers (Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, etc.), they became “the Quadrivium” in the Middle Ages in Western Europe, after Boethius or Cassiodorus had a go at translation.

(Encyclopedia Britannica has an excellent article on Mathematics in the Middle Ages, which discusses the Quadrivium briefly.)

Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius (usually known simply as Boethius) (c. 480 – 525) was a 6th Century Roman Christian philosopher of the late Roman period. Flavius Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus Senator (c. 485 – c. 585), commonly known as Cassiodorus, was a Roman statesman and writer, serving in the administration of Theoderic the Great, king of the Ostrogoths.  The former, Boethius, did a great deal to translate most of the ancient philosophers from Greek to Latin. Many of his works on Aristotle were foundational learning in the Middle Ages. Cassiodorus made education his life’s passion, particularly the liberal arts, and worked diligently to ensure classical literature was at the heart of Medieval learning. Both men have been credited with coining the term “Quadrivium,” or “where four roads meet.” Adding to the mix of Medieval education “influencers” is Proclus Lycaeus, one of the last classical philosophers and an ardent translator of Plato. He is considered one of the founding “fathers” of neoplatonism and had a great influence on Medieval education as well. His translations of Plato are peppered with his own ideas of education and philosophy. One of his most interesting books, considered a major work, is “The Platonic Theology.”

sevenLA1For the serious student of the classics, all of these philosophers, in their original Greek or Latin (with English translations alongside the original) can be found in the Loeb Classical Library series. Many used book stores, especially near universities, carry these books and they can be had for about 10$ each. There are hundreds of books but all are quite good as original references (See NOTE below) Back to the Quadrivium…

While many see the Trivium and Quadrivium as “separate,” I think this is a manufacture of our modern educational system. The Trivium are the basics for communicating thought, generating ideas, and conveying those thoughts clearly; yet, like Freemasonry, I don’t know that you would have jumped completely away from your foundations. Plato, in The Republic, does note that the quadrivium subjects, as identified above, should be taught separately. The Pythagorean School divided the subjects up between quantity (mathematics and harmonics, or otherwise known as music) and magnitude (geometry, cosmology or astronomy.) Personally, I find it difficult to talk about music without first having at least fundamental mathematics and exploring both together makes sense. I have not delved into the curriculum of the universities of the Middle Ages in Europe but if someone else has, it would be interesting to hear about it. sevenliberalarts

What I find most fascinating about the art surrounding the Quadrivium (and the Trivium, for that matter) is that nearly all of the plates, pictures, or engravings represent the subject matter as female or feminine. Perhaps it has to do with the receptive qualities of studiousness, or the idea of fecundity or maybe gentleness; whatever the reason, many of the Medieval and Renaissance European depictions show all subjects with a feminine demeanor. Since nearly all scholars in the middle ages in Europe were men, perhaps it was simply a bleed-over of the Medieval ideal of women. I am sure this is another subject for another time.

On an additional side note, I searched for representations of the Quadrivium and Trivium in Islamic art, also knowing full well that Islam is aniconistic. Islam really had begun to gain ground at the last part of the classical period in North Africa & Europe and as such did not really experience the same type of “downfall” or Dark Ages, that Europe did. The schools of Islam continued to develop the subjects of the quadrivium and trivium uninterrupted until Europe “caught up.” In fact, many of the mathematics, geometry, and astronomy texts of the latter Middle Ages were translated from Greek to Syriac Aramaic or from Arabic to Latin, and later taught in Latin universities in Europe.  Suffice to say that Islam did have an impact of the learning of the West, probably much more than most people today are aware.

So, why would the Freemason study the Quadrivium? The answer, to me, is obvious. If the one of the primary studies we must take on is Geometry, we need to understand how number fits into this process. We need Mathematics to understand Geometry, and Music to understand relationship of numbers, working in harmony. Astronomy teaches us our place in universe, and allows us to expand our knowledge of our own earth toward the heavens. Geometry, or the study of the measurement of the earth, is far more than the squares and triangle theorems we all know…and love. It’s about how to apply these numbers to the world around us. As we will see in each of the subjects, they can be taken for their base modern “ideas” or we can expand and overlap them, apply them to the natural world, and thereby become better caretakers of not only the earth we live on but the beings who live on it with us. The idea of a Renaissance Man is one who is well-versed in these foundations and has ideas that expand the world around us. They make the world a better place to live in, now and for the future. The Freemason, to me, embodies this idea completely.

Next stop, the subjects of the Quadrivium. Thank you for joining me!

NOTE For those interested in more of the Loeb Classical Library, but limited access to purchase these books, Harvard University Press has been working to put them online. The link is here:

Individuals can subscribe for a yearly cost, with subsequent years being cheaper, and non-profits can also subscribe for a reduced cost. If you are a serious researcher and you would like primary sources, this library is an excellent resource.

The Seven Liberal Arts – The Trivium

The Seven Liberal Arts – The Trivium

There is a real affinity for the goals of Freemasonry and the Seven Liberal Arts. From earliest teachings, we see that they are the foundation of many degree rites, the first of which is the FellowCraft Degree. To understand why this is, I think we must first understand the structure of the Seven Liberal Arts and what their history is.

The Liberal Arts have been, from antiquity, been the foundation stone upon which knowledge of the natural world rests. The seven liberal arts have been utilized since ancient Greece. Plato and Pythagoras were first in codifying their importance; the flowering of our western understanding of the liberal arts took place in medieval education systems, where they were categorized into the Trivium and the Quadrivium. Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric are the Trivium, and Arithmetic, Geometry, Music, and Astronomy are the Quadrivium. The Trivium combines the use of the senses with knowledge to lay the foundation for further study. The Quadrivium was considered to be the higher level education for the philosopher, and employed the use of the Trivium to be able to compose higher ideas and thereby, expand the knowledge of the human condition.

Freemasons the world over have expounded on the Seven Liberal Arts ad infinitum. All you need to do is search Freemasonry and Seven Liberal Arts, and you get a great deal of regurgitated drivel. That is not what I am striving to do in this next series. Here, my goal is to simply explain why the Seven Liberal Arts seem to have a kinship with Freemasonry, and perhaps provide small examples of each – withsevenliberalarts and without a Freemasonic connection. It’s up to you, the reader, to decide what you’d like to do with the information.

Plato’s Dialogues explain the curriculum outlined in detail and for any serious student of liberal arts, Plato is required reading. I, therefore, will not relate these concepts here. Suffice to say that the study of the Liberal Arts is more of a study of knowledge than it is of any specific actual data and information. As we may have learned by now, knowledge without application is dead and useless. Knowledge in the pursuit of higher ideals and higher ideas is more valuable than… than… well, you get the idea. Remember, one of the goals of Freemasonry is to better the human condition while standing up in defiance of falsehood, ignorance, and hatred. How do we do that if we are not searching to better our communication and knowledge, and the ways to bring both to life?

The Trivium is, as I said above, the foundation stone of the Seven Liberal Arts and really provides us the method and ability to communicate. It is composed of Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric.

  • Grammar: Knowledge and Learning of Language
  • Logic: Reasoning, Questioning, and Thinking with Language
  • Rhetoric: Directing, moving, and Persuading using Language

While these all seem to be in relation to language, they are much more than language. They are the skills involved in achieving these ends. Therefore, the study of Grammar is also the study of history, geography, reading, and writing. It is basic, absolutely, but more encompassing than simply learning one’s ABCs and how to put pen on paper and write. Logic is about how we learn – we use our senses to experience, put our minds to thought, question, and experiment. We learn to ask the correct questions to achieve the answers we seek. They are not provided to us – we must seek them out and test for ourselves. Finally, rhetoric is the ability to take what we have learned with grammar and dialectic and put them firmly into the hands of an audience we are attempting to persuade. Rhetoric uses emotional discourse, thoughtfully created and properly applied, to communicate new ideas.

If it is not clear to the Freemason now why at least the Trivium is not important, one might want to question what they have actually learned while being a Freemason. Many may think that Freemasonry is all about enlightenment, walking in squares, or religious meanings. It might be those things to some but I think the true goals of Freemasonry are to provide a framework of how to be in the world, to make that world better for those that follow us but more importantly, for our own betterment. We cannot communicate lofty ideals via ritual alone – we need to be able to express what we have learned to a wider audience, to bring new thoughts to a wider world. To me, when we talk about service to the world, there is no greater service than being a hand-up to the betterment of the human condition and we do that by “teaching a man how to fish.” Study of the Liberal Arts is by one means to catch that “fish.”