Wednesday, December 7, 2011

My group salutes your group

One of the principles of Buddhism is that there is no self, nothing that is THE SELF.  That can be helpful, I imagine, but to me, going through the routine of admitting that my leg, my face, my memory, my feelings, etc. are not any of them ME, just shows that I am a collective, a group.  Bill Bryson mentions at the beginning of his book "A Short History of Nearly Everything", which is a history of the last few centuries of science, that we are a collection of atoms that cohere until they don't, until we dissipate after arriving at death.

Western scientists, all the way back to the Greeks, sought the fundamentals, the bits of which other things were compiled. It seems logical to seek the bottom, the building blocks.  I didn't think much about the subject until one day I came across the book title: "A Different Universe: Revising Physics from the Bottom Down".  How can you go down after reaching the bottom?

I think that is just the question that the author wanted me to ponder.  Robert B. McLaughlin is a Nobel prize winner.  That credential impressed me enough to assume he knows about physics.  The book is an exploration of the concept of "emergence", the nature of some properties to "emerge" from a collective, a group, an assemblage.  The subject of emergence seems much the same as "espirit de corps", what educators usually called "atmosphere".

As animals, we may believe that what we can see is more basic than what we can't but as humans, we are quite aware of inspiration, enthusiasm or its opposite, depression.  When the team is aroused, it is different from when it isn't.  A nation can be inspired.  A classroom or a business can be a rather happy place or it have an oppressed, heavy atmosphere, analogous to air that is too humid and polluted.  We know that a productive feel to a place, in an organization, is much more powerful and productive than fear or listlessness.  American Zen writer and teacher Charlotte Beck wrote that "New Jersey does not exist", meaning that when she flew over the state's area, she saw nothing any different that marked out the location of the state.  Jonah Lehrer is quoted in Susan Greenland's book "The Mindful Child" that our brains are a collection of neurons and that there is no single brain.

It can be a shock to realize that we ourselves are a walking, talking, breathing cooperative team of atoms, molecules, cells, tissues, and organs.  We may be taken by a sudden worry that the mysterious cooperation that makes us will cease but really, we are quite used to dealing with teams and groups and organizations.

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