One of this blog’s first posts, Indra’s Net and the IGM, described a surprising correspondence between Mahayana Buddhist myth and actual findings in cutting-edge cosmology‐the branch of physics exploring the creation of our universe. The post ended with this question: What happens when metaphors become measurables?
Subsequent posts have also explored the implications of modern science seeming to agree with ancient spirituality. Are these simply poetic interconnections, or might creative intuition deserve the same practical respect we give objective observation in decoding our world?
Today I found a particularly enchanting example of this question:
In Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, God is described as having 10 characteristics. These characteristics are called sefirot—Hebrew for “jewels.” The sefirot are arranged in three vertical pillars, as illustrated in this diagram:
As indicated in the diagram, the three pillars have names: Mercy, Judgment, and Harmony. In creation, these become stations through which God’s generative energy travels as it descends from heaven to Earth. Helping along the miraculous transformation from pure spirit to physical matter, each pillar contributes the quality for which it’s named. The resulting creation is thus balanced and complete: mercy and judgment, harmonized.
The pillars can be thought of as factories, using divine light as their raw material, producing and refining everything we see and touch.
Contemporary cosmology also offers an explanation for how creation occurs, and it also involves factories of sorts—in this case, stars.
Stars are made of highly pressurized clouds of hydrogen gas and galactic dust. As a star forms, its hydrogen atoms collide, fusing into helium. The helium atoms then collide, fusing into carbon and oxygen. A cascade of collisions and fusions continues, as elements combine to form heavier elements, and heavier elements, etc. Eventually the weight and energy of all these chemical elements cause a star to become so pressurized it explodes, blasting the elements it’s created deep into space, where they eventually coalesce into new stars, planets, and people.
In 1745 a Frenchman named Jean-Philippe de Cheseaux discovered a cluster of faraway stars, now called the Eagle Nebula. In 1995 the Hubble Space Telescope photographed a region of the nebula in which densely packed interstellar gas and dust has formed three vertical columns. These columns are particularly fertile star factories. They’re popularly called “Pillars of Creation.” The famous photo is this blog’s featured image.
So… Kabbalah mythologizes three columns of sefirot that process divine light into physical matter, and cosmology discovers three “Pillars of Creation” that birth stars and all the chemical elements they engender.
The question again: What happens when metaphors become measurables?