"And then the Spirit . . . breathed . . . and out they came: earth and sun, moon and stars. Hills and creeks and fields. Thunder, lightning, meteors. All in a single breath. The Spirit gave a name to what its breath had made. The name was Matter."
It was a word that Grandfather hadn't used before, at least not like that. (from The Story of Everything, Chapter 2)
You can see it, touch it, stand on it, count on it. It's concrete, a reality no one can deny. You can build a philosophy on it, or a way of life. Solid stuff, Matter. So unlike the ethereal things we call Spirit.
Or is it?
In the Old Story of Everything (first Spirit, then Matter, then Life), Matter was indeed clear-cut. But in the New Story, where Matter comes first, that solid stuff gets real slippery and even downright spooky.
Problem number one: now you see it, now--mostly--you don't. Astronomers tell us that most matter is "dark." Look out into the universe and you can't see dark matter. You can't detect it with any instrument. You know it's there only because it pulls at visible matter--bending light, for example, or affecting the rotational speed of galaxies, or creating rings (you gotta see this). According to one estimate, dark matter comprises 22% of the mass of the universe versus only 4% of visible matter. The remaining 74% is dark energy.
Go to the microscopic scale and there's more trouble. Matter becomes atoms; then protons and neutrons and electrons; then particles like gluons, leptons, mesons, and muons; and then (finally?) quarks. But what are these fundamental particles? Forces? Geometric points? Chunks of space-time? Strings of energy? Membranes? In this strange world, one can only guess.
And what about "anti-matter"? It seems that every particle has an anti-particle with an opposite charge. An anti-quark to go with a quark, for example. Particle-antiparticle pairs can annihilate each other, a principle used in today's particle accelerators. That's why anti-matter is not found on earth, except very briefly. When some comes into existence, it is immediately annihilated by ordinary matter.
So what's a materialist to do? Not to mention a material girl? I can't speak for Madonna, but if I were a philosopher I'd say this. Realize that your understanding of matter is a function of the scale at which you perceive it. Realize that there are other scales. And then go on with the scale you've got, seeing matter, touching it, bumping into it.
But while you're rubbing your head, consider this. In the New Story, the stuff turns into music! Into love and hate, truth and lies, vengeance and compassion! All on its own. It needs a lot of time to do it, and only a little of it makes the grade. But if there's a you, you can be sure that some of it did.
Maybe the trouble isn't with Matter, but that we think too little of it. In the New Story, it's fertile in surprising ways. It's even a bit ethereal. It took nearly 14 billion years, but hydrogen turned into compassion. I'm rubbing my head. How did it happen?
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COPYRIGHT © 2007 JOHN N. KOTRE