The Cell and the Soul

Part I of a series - Tales of the Very Beginning

Far to the North, off the coast of British Columbia, almost to the southern border of Alaska, are the Queen Charlotte Islands, where the Haida Indians live.

They are great, beautiful islands. The two biggest are about eighty miles long apiece. With rainy mountain peaks rising 4,000 feet out of the sea, and a climate not much more rugged than that of Vancouver. And the Haida themselves are close to the spirit of the islands, a race of great canoe builders. Famed as one of the most progressive tribes in all the Northwest back in the days before the coming of the whites.

Today there are only about a thousand Haida left.

Up there they say that Raven started it all. Don't laugh … Raven is that rarity, a Creator who is forever getting into scrapes that make His people howl with mirth, who plays the fool because He loves His human children and likes to make them laugh. It's a fine stroke of luck that we live in a universe created by a bird with a sense of humor.

You should hear the story of how Raven tried to steal the halibut from a fisherman's hook, and wound up on the hook Himself - or how He stole the sun for us. The Haida would have you in stitches.

But the story of how Raven started it all is a different sort of story - for it tells of Raven in the days before He humbled Himself out of love for us, the days when there was nobody around to watch Him, the days when He let His glory show …

Raven flew in the open sky, from end to end of the sea. In those days (not so long ago as you might think), there was nothing but open sea and sky. And Raven cried aloud in the sky, and circled from end to end of it under the slow pinwheeling heavens, for endless ages … Then one small rocky island rose from the sea, and Raven settled Himself down upon it. "Become the earth," He said in His voice of power.

And the islet spread itself, and grew, and became the continent. As it was growing, Raven took a piece of it in His beak and set it down in the water to one side. And that piece became the Queen Charlotte Islands.

Those were the earliest days; there were no people yet.

One day Raven was walking by Himself in the sand by the water's edge, all alone in an empty world with the cold waves tumbling up and hissing at His feet, and He heard a small, small sound.

He hopped with surprise; but then He stopped and listened, and sure enough He heard it again. It was coming from a half-buried clamshell at His feet.

As He watched, the clamshell slowly opened - just a crack and Raven realized that the sound was the sound of a tiny voice, coming from within. So He bent His head down to look inside, and He saw a little human face.

That, say the Haida, was how we met.

"Come out," Raven whispered gently. But the little face took one look at Him and pulled right back into the clamshell. So Raven waited patiently, and after a while the tiny voice spoke again. And again He whispered to it. "Come out."

Two little heads suddenly appeared, and then ducked back in, and there was a bubble of tiny voices.

Raven waited until the bubble had subsided, and then once again He whispered, "Come out." And five small faces appeared. Five small beings tumbled out onto the sand. They were people - the first!

Now, consider how similar this version of the Creation is to other versions from the other sides of the world:

Ancient Egypt:

In that ancient, ancient time, at the moment of the beginning, the first sound ever made was the honking of a wild goose over the vast primeval sea.

That goose was the Sun God, who flew up from an egg which lay on the primeval islet where it rose from Nun, the waters of chaos.

Thus began the Universe: in the midst of that ancient sea of chaos, the Sun God, Atom, whose name means Everything and Nothing, created Himself and sounded His cry, which echoed to the limits of that infinite sea. And with the echo of that cry, time began.

Later Atom sang to His people: Out of the abyss I came to be, but there was no place to stand. He created that islet to stand on, and began His rule, and His name became Ra.

That islet looked like the edge of the sun as it peeps over the watery horizon at dawn. It was called khay, which means: hining Forth. I Appear In Glory.

Atom shone forth. He created Himself. He became: Ra,. He ruled, creating Air and Moisture. Earth God and Sky Goddess were born of Air and Moisture, and they became the parents of all gods and men.

Japan - from their oldest chronicle, the Kojiki, written in 712 A.D.: Chaos in the beginning! and who could say its shape? Chaos has no shape, no name. Nothing moved. Yet in this place, earth and sky cracked apart, and between earth and heaven something became. And the name of that something is the one who stands forever over the world: Kuni-toko-tachi. Lord In The Center Of The Sky.

Finland -from the epic Kalevala, one of the most beautiful tales in all the world:

At first there was nothing but air and water. The blue space stretched endlessly, forever, above: the cold blue waves stretched endlessly below.

Air had a daughter. Ilmatar ("All-Mother"), who wandered lonely through the endless blue; who tired of emptiness at last and sank down to rest on the face of the waves: who lay on the waves for seven hundred years while they tossed and foamed and the wind blew around her. For seven hundred years that was all there was: the air and the water and the one lonely being - that was before creation began.

One day as Ilmatar lay floating on a quiet sea, one knee riding comfortably just above the surface of the waves, she saw something moving in upper space.

It was a beautiful teal, flying and swooping about to every point of the compass. She gazed at it in wonder. And when the teal saw Ilmatar, it swooped closer and closer in a wonder of its own, nearly alighting, shying away, until at last it lit on her knee.

She lay still; a breathless joy filled her at the presence of this beautiful bird, and she feared that the slightest movement would frighten it away.

And as she held herself still, the bird nested on her knee. It laid seven eggs and settled itself upon them.

Swiftly the eggs grew hotter and hotter. Ilmatar tried to bear the pain, but they seared her leg like fire. Her leg gave a convulsive jerk; the teal fled in a rush of wings. And the eggs tumbled slowly downward into the water fading out of sight …

She lay in the water, lost again in endless changeless time … And then, far below her, one of the eggs cracked open! In

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seconds, the lower half of the shell swelled and changed and became the ocean bottom. Soaring over the waves, the upper half became the vault of heaven, enclosing Ilmatar and all the Universe in a single breathtaking motion! The white, clinging tothe upper half, became clouds, stars, the moon. And from the yolk the sun leaped forth! there appeared jutting headlands, capes and cliffs. She dived and shaped the ocean depths. She swept her hand and made the long and level shores. She broke a passage for the rivers, and made pools for the fish with her feet.

Ilmatar gave birth to Vainamoinen, Child of the Sea. He was born in the ocean and swam for seven years before His knees scraped the beaches of a treeless land. He crawled ashore, shook the water from His hair, and gazed upwards at the moon and stars.

New Zealand - the tale of the Maoris, recorded by Hare Hongi for The Journal of the Polynesian Society in 1907.

Io dwelt within breathing space of immensity.
The Universe was in darkness, with water everywhere. There was no glimmer of light …
And Io began by saying these words - that He might cease remaining inactive -
"Darkness, become a light-possessing darkness."
At once light appeared.

The Marshall Islands of Micronesia:

In the beginning was Lowa, the Uncreated, all alone in the sea. And when it came time for the Creation. Lowa said: "Mmmm"

Such was His power that, as He spoke that primordial Word, all the islands rose up out of the sea. Then Lowa sent a man, with a basket to set all the islands in their proper places …

Where did these visions of the beginning come from - these visions which have so much in common across the face of the earth and throughout the history of humankind?

From experience? Man was not present at the beginning of time. From guesswork? From introspection? From meditation? From scientific investigation? Is the beginning recorded within us? Are we somehow instinctively well-tuned to the evidence? Or did God Himself dictate these things to some deserving secretary?

Scientists have deduced their own explanation of how the Universe began from examining the evidence all around them, using sensitive analytical tools undreamed of by primitive peoples. They have refined the primitive myths, tossing out the artistic ornamentation, but the scientific explanation does not really contradict what primitive peoples have been saying all along.

Scientists, too, say it all began in chaos, in an Egg - for they see that Egg still exploding even today, and they see that chaos still resolving into order. Creation, they say, began twelve to eighteen billion years ago - depending on how you interpret the evidence: and creation is still going on today …

Everywhere the Universe expands, falls placidly apart. With all the unbending rigor of geometric law, inexorably, the vast distances between the galaxies grow vaster. Light and electromagnetic waves, gravity, and nuclear forces - all the forces visible and invisible that link particle to particle throughout the Universe - all traveling at the speed of light - pour from their hidden wells within the billions of billions of particles, and dissipate in the widening spaces of the cosmos.

Where the forces emanating from one particle touch another, they affect that other particle according to the laws of physics. Those forces create the laws of physics, and enforce them, for the laws of physics are nothing more than mathematical statements invented by men, statements that describe the may in which the effects of those forces are predictable.

Now let us move backwards in time, back to the beginning …

Here inside the Universe, where we have always been, as time rushes backwards we can see the galaxies pouring back together, the stars tumbling down upon us from every direction. All the forces that every particle has radiated, tumble back upon it. The night sky goes pale white, returning the light that it has taken: the sun and moon and stars go black, soaking up the light that they have given.

Back to the beginning! The Universe contracts: distance vanish: all cosmos falls into a vast ball of matter. We are in that ball

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The Cell And The Soul

of matter - for we were there in the beginning.

The empty space between atoms dwindles, until finally it ceases to exist. And still the Universe contracts: The atoms collapse in turn into their component particles - electrons, protons, neutrons; the empty spaces within each atom vanish as the Universe contracts, and the electrons and protons and neutrons of all the atoms are crushed indiscriminately together …

Light and electromagnetic waves, gravity and nuclear forces return to their hidden wells. Space goes dark as it ceases to exist. Gravity vanishes.

Now we come to the point when matter and energy alike cease to exist, crushed together into such a density that they break down into their ultimate building blocks - particles so small that they are not exactly matter and not exactly energy either, but somehow both at once, and neither- Everything and Nothing, these are the very particles that the Greeks called "atoms" (atomos was their word for "indivisible") because they cannot be broken down into anything smaller - but since we mistakenly gave the name of "atom" to something much larger, we call these ultimate particles quanta.

The name quanta is meant to suggest the idea of identical lumps of indescribable essence …

And as we return to the beginning, forced by the contraction of the Universe, these identical lumps merge into one lump, an Egg of infinite size, the indescribable essence, a chaosthat includes all things. Without energy separate from matter, without particles separate from space, without light, without gravity, without anything to define the laws of physics, the laws of physics cease to exist. This is the ultimate chaos.

The Universe contracts to the ultimate: we have reached the beginning of time. All the Universe is one vast, dark, ungoverned sea.

And now we must pause, for there is a paradox here.

Something - we know this for certain - caused this Egg of infinite size to explode. Thus the Universe began.

But we also know for certain that the Egg could not possibly have exploded. Its colossal size and mass made it the greatest of all possible black holes - a black hole being the astrophysicist's name for a lump of matter and energy so large that even light cannot ever leave its surface. The escape velocity of a black hole-the speed at which you would have to leave its surface in Order to break free of its gravitational pull and get away into deep space - is greater than the speed of light. Since nothing can travel faster than light nothing can escape a black hole. And in the case of a lump of matter and energy the size of the Egg, one instant after the explosion began, when the laws of physics came into effect, the escape velocity must have been billions of times the speed of light.

So what happened?

As it turns out - fortunately for us - the Egg was able to hatch because it was a quantum entity - a chaos in which nothing but quanta existed.

Quanta, you will recall, are somehow everything and nothing all at once - bits of the indefinable essence. Because they are so absolutely undefined, the laws of the Universe cannot get a grip on them. They can perform miracles.

It is only when they cease being quanta and become light, or electrons, or something like that, that the bits of the Universe even begin to lose their miraculous powers. As they take on increasing definition, they become increasingly limited. The Golden Gate Bridge, which is very thoroughly defined, is also very thoroughly limited by the laws of physics, and the chances that it will do anything miraculous are close to zilch.

The Egg, however, was totally indefinite. And it worked a miracle of the sort called quantum tunneling …

Quantum tunneling goes on, even today, every second, in every ammonia molecule in the Universe.

A molecule of ammonia consists of a nitrogen atom bonded to three hydrogen atoms. These four atoms assume a shape like a three-sided pyramid. Complex and powerful forces hold the three hydrogen atoms rigidly in place, in the form of a triangle that cannot expand, cannot contract, and never changes shape. The space between the three hydrogen atoms is too small for the nitrogen atom to pass through.

And yet the nitrogen atom flits constantly from one side of that triangle to the other. It tunnels back and forth. It cannot go between the three hydrogen atoms, and it cannot go around them. But it vanishes on one side, and promptly appears on the other. It burrows through a space that doesn't exist - creating another Universe to tunnel through.

Certain radioactive atoms

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break down by quantum tunneling, too.

An alpha particle (two protons and two neutrons) breaks loose somehow from the rest of the protons and neutrons in the nucleus of the atom, and flies off into space.

The nuclear forces that hold the protons and neutrons of that nucleus together are too strong for the alpha particle to escape. It doesn't have enough energy to escape - but it escapes all the same. It literally vanishes from inside the nucleus and reappears a safe distance away.

It doesn't pass through the energy barrier between the two spots. It tunnels.

So this must have been the way the Egg did it, too.

There was, of course, no empty space around the Egg for the quanta to quantum-tunnel out to. The gravitational pull of the Egg was so great that space itself curved back on itself, all around the Egg. In all the Universe there was nothing, anywhere, but total chaos jam-packed with quanta.

So the quanta, having nowhere else to go in the Universe of the Egg, did the impossible. They exploded, even though exploding was impossible, by creating a new Universe - a new four-dimensional, space-time continuum - and quantum-tunneling their way into the new Universe from the old one.

They annihilated gravity in the new Universe long enough to explode by the sheer power of miracle.

And there they exploded into light, a Universe of light, solid light and nothing else besides. The everyday fact of quantum-tunneling stands as proof that things really did begin with a miraculous "Let there be light" and it proves, too, that this same miracle is happening even today. And this is probably as good a place as any to debunk a myth. The myth is that scientists don't believe in miracles - that they have proved that the world is as mechanical, ultimately, as a wind-up clock. The truth is that the miracles are everywhere. Just ask any top-grade physicist.

The indefinable was now defined: it was light, and being light, it obeyed the laws of Einstein's relativistic physics.

The rule of law began.

From the starting point of an absolutely indefinable chaos, there seems to be absolutely no reason why those laws should have prevailed, rather than some other set of laws.

Why did light and matter and the principles of relativity and the second law of thermodynamics emerge from chaos, rather than something else?

One subtle clue to the probable answer to this question lies in the fact that the forces and principles which appeared in the first mere fraction of a second after the Egg exploded were precisely those forces and principles which made the appearance of the human race more or less inevitable. Thirty years ago. Erwin Schrodinger - one of the greatest physicists of the twentieth century - observed that every move we make and every thought we think can be fully explained as the inevitable result of what came before, evolving according to the laWs of physics and nature. We know this from objective observation.

And Schrodinger then observed that our thoughts and actions can also be explained as the result of our own free will and choice. We know this from introspection - which is a scientifically-valid procedure so long as you stick to basic observations.

Schrodinger concluded that what we call our free wills are actually little bits of the force that controls the motion of all the atoms in the Universe according to the laws of physics and of nature.

By extension, the force that made the Egg explode, the force that chose which net of laws this Universe would abide by, was nothing more or less than the will of the Egg - the All, the One. It was the Uncreated, choosing to make the Universe unfold as it did. The Uncreated chose, acted, and there was light. And each of our wills is nothing more or less than a tiny part of the will of that Uncreated Power …

You might say that life chose to create itself - or, if you prefer, you might say the Universe chose to make life possible.

How did the primitive peoples of the world make such very good guesses as to how it all began? The evidence of how it all began, as we have seen, is everywhere: that indefinable essence of all things, lurking within all of matter and all of light - the miracle of quantum tunneling these are constantly taking place both within ourselves and all around us. Subtle evidence indeed - but is it too much to imagine that such evidence could have impressed itself on the minds of our ancestors?

The physical laws of the Universe speak plainly of their origins - as every quantum physicist knows. Who can say that the natural consciousness of men working as it does through brains and bodies themselves constructed out of quanta - cannot grasp these subtleties directly?

And there is also the birth cry of the Universe to consider.

The Universe, you will recall, began as solid light …

Most of that light became transformed into particles, and then went through still further transformations; but some of that first flowering of light never did change its form: it lingers on even today, the final echo of that ancient Big Bang. It has become stretched, thinned out, as the Universe has expanded: its wavelength stretches at the same speed as the fabric of space. Its unique form, which nothing else can duplicate, is final proof that the Universe hatched from an Egg. It is the Standing Wave of the Universe, shivering between the galaxies like the air in an organ pipe, sounding one unending note in the midst of endless change …

No one even suspected it existed until 1964, when this birth cry was accidentally detected by two American scientists. A. Penzias and R. Wilson. They found that it exists with equal strength everywhere in the Universe - a radio-wave-sized vibration about seven centimeters in wavelength.

Is it possible that someone could tune into that without the use of special equipment? Could he understand what that vibration means? Is that the sort of source from which we draw our inspirations?

This could be the way it works.

Ourselves the Egg, we blossomed into light, in a single instant we touched each other and fell apart, and all the laws of physics were created in that instant, twelve or eighteen billion years ago …

… falling apart, from chaos into order, from darkness into light: falling from the One into matter and energy, particles and empty space, stars and planets, living creatures: falling from the indefinable into the endless rule of law …

to be continued in next issue

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