Thursday, 22 February 2018

Of Consciousness and Will within the Universe

Lent 2018: Day Nine

Stuart A. Kauffman throws us a philosophical challenge. "Are We Zombies with, at Best, Witnessing Minds?" This is what the deterministic physics of reductive materialism would boil us down to.

Kauffman's answer is that we are not. We have the will, the consciousness, to turn the Possible into the Actual. His reasoning is new - this is not Aristotelian, nor Newtonian nor Darwinian - this is post-quantum thinking. Here goes...

"I will propose a new Triad: Actuals, Possibles, and Mind, where mind acausally observes mediating quantum measurement, transforming Possibles to new Actuals, which then acausally enable new Possibles for mind to observe again, hence in a continuous status nascendi. This Triad, I will propose, includes quantum variables, such as electrons exchanging protons, consciously observing and measuring one another, and acting with free will, and human conscious, free-willed mind. This will lead to a radical panpsychism; wherever measurement occurs so do consciousness and free will... [T]he proposal that mind acausally 'mediates' measurement is in principle testable. One way would be to show that human conscious attention nonlocally, hence acausally, can alter the outcome of measurement."

Wow. Strong stuff... many scientists might indeed argue - flaky stuff, bordering on paranormal studies. Especially in that Dean Radin, who Kauffman quotes several times in this book, is not someone that conventional science takes all that seriously (from Wikipedia: "Radin's ideas and work have been criticized by scientists and philosophers skeptical of paranormal claims.") But let's move on. Kauffman also quotes Sir Roger Penrose and Stuart Hameroff who associate quantum measurement with flashes of consciousness and choice. "If this is testable... and confirmed... we will have to consider that consciousness and free will did not emerge with life, but as part of the universe, like pressure and temperature, was used as life evolved, possibly sentient and acting from the start, and that consciousness became ever more integrated and refined and diversified, as we ourselves experience."

Let that sink in for a while. Consciousness - not something that came as a result of an evolving biosphere, but predating any form of life, out there from the very beginnings of the universe.

Panpsychism. The notion that consciousness pervades the entire universe. Panpsychists see themselves as minds in a world of mind.

I kind of came to this conclusion myself, last September, my copy of Stuart A. Kauffman's Humanity in a Creative Universe by my bedside, unread beyond the prologue. I wrote (here) in an entirely unscientific manner, that I see "consciousness as a part of the universe, along with matter and energy".

That was just my instinct, something I felt, not a hypothesis observed, measured, tested repeatedly and peer-reviewed. Gut feeling. But here's another scientific voice... Adam Frank puts it thus: "Consciousness might, for example, be an example of the emergence of a new entity in the universe not contained in the laws of particles. There is also the more radical possibility that some rudimentary form of consciousness must be added to the list of things, such as mass or electric charge, that the world is built of. "

This suggests that science is moving into areas hitherto considered flaky because conventional Newtonian explanations fail to hold water at either the subatomic level nor at the cosmological level. What is this Dark Energy that makes up nearly 68.3% of the energy in the known universe? How many more subatomic particles are there for us to discover? It is this stalemate of classical physics that Kauffman and others are attempting to break through. This would change our view of the universe and its ultimate purpose.

This time two years ago:
The Devil is indeed Doubt

This time three years ago:
Are you aware of your consciousness?

This time four years ago:
"Why are all the good historians British?"

This time six years ago:
Central Warsaw, evening rush-hour

This time seven years ago:
Cold and getting colder

This time nine years ago:
Uwaga! Sople!

This time ten years ago:
Ul. Poloneza at its worst

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

From the world of science to the social world

Lent 2018: Day Eight

From the world of Newtonian physics (working out trajectories of planets) and quantum mechanics (working out positions of subatomic particles), Stuart A. Kauffman moves on through the non-entailing, unprestatable laws of biological evolution, to the human world of economics, politics - art even.

Newton is prestatable. We know where Venus and Mars are tonight, and where they'll be ten years from now (although all those tonnes added to these planets' mass by Mankind might have some detectable long-term effect). We can observe the positions of those subatomic particles (but only if we actually do the observation - otherwise all we can do is speculate). The future evolution of the biosphere - entirely unprestatable.

The human world is not bound by entailing laws. Take economic theory. As we all know, the global financial crisis following the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008 was not something that economists forecast. Yes, some individual economists got it broadly right, but there was no consensus, such as that among astronomers who can forecast the next Transit of Venus in just under 100 years' time to within a day's accuracy. "We cannot mathematize... the evolution of the economy," says Kauffman. The same goes for political polling, or for seeing what uses we will find for a newly developed technology.

He touches on game theory, citing the famous prisoner's dilemma - cooperate or defect. Here, I'd take issue with Kauffman - over millions of rounds of playing this game, there is an optimal outcome. Cooperate with them that will cooperate with you, but defect on those that defect on you the very moment they do so - and continue to do so until the very moment they return to cooperation. [I wrote about this here in the context of international relations.] While the rule has been proven, what is difficult to define is 'defect' (A colleague leaves a mess on your desk? A friend insults you. A neighbour throws a brick through your window? A criminal steals your car? Murders your family?) and to define the response (Measured? Proportional?) Games have rules, but those are not the same rules as those that govern the motion of a body in space.

Unexpected consequences intrigue Kauffman as they show just unprestatable is the unfolding of human society. Every new law will have a loophole that the legislators did not expect. That is what lawyers are for. "Unprestatable new loopholes open unprestatable new opportunities and thus enable, but do not cause, new actions, strategies and behaviours. Laws both constrain some actions, yet enable other, often unforeseen, actions with unforeseeable payoffs. "No one designed English common law," he says. It evolved.

Kauffman shows how the chain of Actual->Possible->Actual->Possible unfolded from Alan Turing's first mathematization of 'mechanical computation' in 1933, to the world's first computer, ENIAC (1946), to mainframe computers; the invention of the microchip enabled computers to shrink in size and increase in power; word processing came along as the 'killer app' that would make the personal computer a household product; file sharing enabled - but did not cause - the world-wide web; the possibility of selling goods on the web enabled eBay and Amazon; the web also enabled social media to come into existence, and the increased power of mobile telephone allowed browsers to to move to smartphones.

"History unfolds into the possibilities it creates, new Actuals enabling new Possibles, enabling new Actuals." But this process is messy, sprawling, interwoven, confused. "We must live into the future and make it, structured by our past, yet not fully knowing what it is that we enable as we enable it," says Kauffman.

This time two years ago:
Music, mysticism and the human spirit

This time three year:
My first Pendolino journey 

This time four years ago:
Poland's universal panacea

This time five years ago:
Of taxis, deflation, crisis and strikes

This time six years ago:
Lent starts again

This time  seven years ago:
Art Quiz

This time eigh years ago:
A month before Spring Equinox

This time nine years ago:
The beauty of winter
[some of my finest winter photos]

Sunday, 18 February 2018

The evolution of the biosphere cannot be predicted

Lent 2018: Day Five

Stuart A. Kauffman is keen to show that biology and physics observe different laws - so different in fact, that any attempt at a final theory, as dreamt of by Steven Weinberg, will forever remain an impossible dream.

Whereas the Newtonian worldview works fine on an idealised, friction-free billiard table, or in an entirely abiotic solar system in which barren rocks orbit a ball of thermonuclear plasma, it breaks down once life is born. And once that life begins to evolve, it ceases to have any sway.

The outcome, says Kauffman, is no longer entailed by any natural law. It is unprestatable. You cannot state it in advance.

"The biosphere becomes complex and diverse because it can; it becomes into those very possibilities that it creates," he says. As I wrote towards the end of my previous post, those possibilities are so vast as to be unrepeatable - in a battle between eternity and infinity, infinity wins. As the biosphere evolves, whole series of accidental happenings affect individual members of each living species, which unfold in future generations, wave after wave, driving evolution in paths than cannot be prestated.

Kauffman gives an example of the lungfish, which at some point in its evolutionary history, evolved a swim bladder, a sac in which the fish can regulate the ratio of water and air to alter its buoyancy. Without that evolutionary adaptation, he says, the microscopic worms and bacteria that live within the lungfish's swim bladder would never have evolved. Now, who could have considered that possibility as the ancestors of the lungfish first made tentative hops from one puddle to another? New biological functions are evolving constantly. New adaptations. "Life is a miracle of largely unprestatable becoming."

This, suggests Kauffman, supports the view that the Universe is antientropic. It's not winding down, nor cooling off like a glass of tea on your desk. Not only is it physically expanding at an accelerating rate, pushed outward by a mysterious dark energy that science cannot see nor even define, but biologically is is evolving in directions that we could have never guessed.

These 'unfoldings' of what is Actual create new possibilities for the biosphere to evolve further, as those possibilities then become actuals that create more new possibilities, and so on. Unlike those Newtonian billiard balls whose future trajectory can be worked out precisely, life is entirely too complex, too diverse, for any law to be able to determine how it will continue to unfold. "The swim bladder enables, but does not cause the bacterial or worm species to evolve to live in it." It is random mutations in their DNA that cause them to adapt to life inside the lungfish's swim bladder.

"No laws entail the evolution of the most complex system we know in the universe. We are beyond entailing laws, so beyond Newton, Einstein, Schrodinger and even Darwin," says Kauffman. "We can still get to the moon using Newton. But no laws at all entail the specific evolution of the biosphere." This, he says, is where reductive materialism fails. "The biosphere does not fit the Pythagorean dream that all that is has foundation, preferably mathematical."

More soon!

This time last year:
Jeziorki meltdown in the fog

This time two years ago:
Health, happiness and wholeness

This time three years ago:
Kicking off Lent again 

This time four years ago:
Improving the procurement of Poland's infrastructure 

This time five years ago:
Wait to spend or save lives now? An infrastructure quandry

This time nine years ago:
It's not rich countries that build roads, its roads that build rich countries

This time ten years ago:
Snow that was doomed to melt

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Entropy and anti-entropy in a constant-ruled Universe

Lent 2018: Day Four

The Second Law of Thermodynamics is concerned with the direction of natural processes. It asserts that a natural process runs only in one sense, and is not reversible. For example, heat always flows spontaneously from hotter to colder bodies, and never the reverse, unless external work is performed on the system.

Place a mug of hot tea on your desk, leave it for long enough, and it will cool to room temperature. Energy runs down. This is entropy. We age, we die. A freshly picked strawberry eventually rots. It's a one-way process. All of this suggests that our Universe is winding down.

Yet it isn't. The Universe is expanding at an accelerating rate (something scientists only discovered 20 years ago). This is due to something we've not been able to prove or quantify - something that science calls 'mysterious' - dark energy. It comprises 68.3% of all the energy in the entire universe.

Stuart A. Kauffman makes the connection. "The implication of this accelerating expansion is that we do not have to worry about enough free energy. As the universe becomes larger, its maximum entropy increases faster than the loss of free energy by the second law, so there is always more than enough free energy to do work."

Since the Big Bang, 13.8 billion years ago, the Universe has become vastly complex - never mind the fact that it spawned us - marvellous, sentient, creative creatures capable of abstract thought - the observable Universe contains some two trillion galaxies, containing more stars than there are grains of sand on earth. [How much life could be out there! How much of it sentient! How much of it more advanced than us!]

Kauffman points out that this complex Universe is ruled by constants. "The laws of physics, general relativity, and the standard model, have about twenty-three constants of nature, such as the speed of light, the ratio of proton to electron mass, and so on. Were any of these constants very different, we could not get a complex universe with stars, galaxies, complex chemistry, and life. This is called the 'fine tuning of the constants'." [Do read this Wikipedia entry - it really is mind-blowing!]

So we are not living in a Universe that's winding down. Indeed, the opposite is happening, Kaufman says: "As more complex things and linked processes are created, and can combine with one another in ever more new ways to make yet more complex amalgams of things and processes, the space of possible things and linked processes becomes vastly larger and the universe has not had time to make all the possibilities."

Our Universe, expanding at an accelerating rate, is powered by dark energy, growing in complexity, complex systems are spawning even more complex systems - this is not entropy, this is anti-entropy. "The Possible becomes Actual, and this enables what next becomes Possible," and so on.

The mathematics of those possibilities, ponders Kauffman, boggles the mind. Let us consider all the carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulphur atoms in the Universe, and all  the possible combinations of molecules, forming amino acids, then proteins. How many times would we need to repeat the history of the Universe to form all possible proteins up to 200 amino acids in length, asks Kauffman. (His answer - ten to the power of 39 times).This all suggests that our Universe is non-repeating.

That's a mind-blowing thought. Repeat Big Bang billions upon billions of times - and there will not be another Universe like this one - ever!

This time last year:
Truth, spin, bullshit and lies

This time two years ago:
How much spirituality do we need?

This time five years ago:
The Chosen Ones

This time six years ago:
Fixies in the snow

This time nine years ago:
Just the ticket

Friday, 16 February 2018

Before and after Isaac Newton

Lent 2018: Day Three

"With Newton, we became disenchanted, and entered modernity," writes Stuart A. Kauffman, quoting sociologist Max Weber. The Enlightenment was indeed a hinge of history. It led directly to the Industrial Revolution (which couldn't have happened without Science, empirical, repeatable, objective) and the modern age. A modern age offering modern man more than we need.

Isaac Newton's thinking did not emerge from a vacuum. It was based on the observations and measurements of Pythagoras, Euclid, Archimedes, Plato, (then after a pause for the Dark Ages) Copernicus, Galileo and Descartes. The Newtonian revolution was the birth of classical physics. "The conceptual framework invented by Newton is stunning in its brilliance, for its pervasive brilliance and for the hold it retains over our minds. Newton remains our dominant model for how to do science.

Defining the universal law of gravity, Newton used differential equations of motion, allowing scientists to deduce the forward trajectories of moving bodies such as planets and their satellites. Newtonian physics holds that the the Universe is causally closed. Taken further, French mathematician Pierre-Simon Laplace postulated a 'demon' who knew the positions and momenta of all particles in the universe. Such a demon could calculate, on the basis on Newton's differential equations, the entire future and past history of the Universe.

Fundamental laws, standing outside the Universe, that "just are."

This changed Mankind's view of God. From a deity that intervenes in our day-to-day lives, sending hurricanes, pestilence, earthquakes or other tribulations to try us, God became the Creator that wound up the Universe, set its immutable laws... and stood back.

For the Church, the birth of modern science was a challenge to its authority. I have written about this in my 2013 Lenten series of essays (Tischner-Żakowski, click for link). As  Kauffman puts it: "With Newton, all that changed: we are entirely law governed." Fundamental laws, that can be scientifically measured, determine how things are, were and will be - not a God with a long white beard. This is what Alexander Pope had in mind when he wrote "God said let there be Newton, And all was Light."

But the deterministic Newtonian world view would begin to fracture within a couple of centuries. The uncertainty inherent in quantum mechanics denied Laplace's demon the ability of calculate anything at all in the sub-atomic world. And not long before the birth of quantum physics, Henri Poincaré developed the chaos theory in mathematics - dynamic systems that are highly sensitive to initial conditions. The weather is one such example of a chaotic system. "Two 'infinitely close' initial positions and momenta can follow trajectories that veer apart becoming 'exponentially' more distant with time... determinism no longer implies predictability, for we cannot measure initial conditions to infinite accuracy," explains Kauffman.

And so although the Newtonian order was already being undermined in mathematics and in physics, Newton's reductive materialism maintained a powerful hold on our minds "by the mid-20th century, we found ourselves in a meaningless universe. Consider Steven Weinberg, Nobel physicist, who wrote not long ago, "The more we know of the universe, the more meaningless it appears"," says Kauffman, pointing out that Weinberg's Dream of a Final Theory shows him to be a believer in the triumph (one day) of reductive materialism in which everything is entailed by natural laws." In philosophy, the mid-20th century existentialism of Sartre and Camus depended on a meaningless Universe.

Along came quantum mechanics. Kauffman explains the concept of light - photons - being waves and particles at the same time, something first shown in Thomas Young's double-slit experiment (1801!). This is sufficiently important to be expanded over five pages. I, however, would merely suggest you have a look at the Wikipedia page about the experiment - the notion that photons, particles which can be waves have no mass and move at the speed of light is quite amazing to ponder over.

Quantum mechanics also gave us Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle (1927), which states that the more precisely the position of some particle is determined, the less precisely its momentum can be known, and vice versa. And the similar Observer Effect, which posits that simply observing a situation or phenomenon necessarily changes that phenomenon - in other words, that measurements of certain systems cannot be made without affecting the system.

Now, if uncertainty reigns in the subatomic world - how does that square with the determinism of Newton's reductive materialism?

Wikipedia warns us against going too far in rejecting Newtonian determinism: "[the uncertainty principle and observer effect] findings have led to a popular misconception that observation by a conscious mind can directly affect reality, though this has been rejected by mainstream science. This misconception is rooted in a poor understanding of the quantum wave function ψ and the quantum measurement process."  Despite him quoting parapsychologist Dean Radin, Kauffman is not going to let himself go down the road of New Age mysticism. Kauffman's aim is rather to question the "rampant scientism that plagues us and blinds us", railing against "'the hard-headed realist' stance in a world now devoid of mystery... I admire reductive materialism; I seek... not to deny it, but to destroy its hegemony over our minds and set  us free."

More soon!

This time last year:
Historical turning point: which way now?

This time two years ago:
Coincidence and consciousness 

This time four years ago years ago:
North-east of Warsaw West revisited

This time five years ago:
Looking for answers

This time six years ago:
Fresh powder in Warsaw's parks

This time eight years ago:
Another Lent starts

This time ten years ago:
Okęcie dusk

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Bending the laws of physics with your will

Lent 2018, Day Two

Stuart A. Kauffman intends to upset the hegemony of reductive materialism (the science of reducing everything around us down to a set of equations that empirically prove how things are). Accepting classical physics as the basis of our worldview, he suggests, tends to make us feel that we are but helpless automatons in a pre-ordained universe. We chase the illusory goal of endless economic growth, buying things we don't need, despoiling the environment because we have lost contact with art, with poetry, with that which lies beyond scientific law.

The mechanistic, rationally scientific way of looking at life has blinkered us. We are fully alive, a messy part of a confused and confusing biosphere that we are co-creating.

Science is continually searching for a final theory, a grand unifying theory, a foundational law, outside of the Universe, that will perfectly explain why everything is as it is, its origin and its ultimate end. Kauffman does not believe we will ever find a final theory... "...efforts to unite quantim mechanics with general relativity have all failed since 1927."

What we will find, he suggests, will be ever-changing, a Universe of continually shifting possibilities.

Isaac Newton's third-person objective science allowed Mankind to calculate the elliptical orbit of Mars with great precision. Knowing its precise mass, we could have once be sure that the planet would continue along that orbit forever more, in a steady-state Universe.

But, says Kauffman, Newton did not reckon with the will of mankind. From 1971 to the present, sentient primates on Planet Earth have steadily been increasing the mass of Mars; human intervention has resulted in Mars gaining over six tonnes (a variety of landers and rovers, some crashed; others are long-defunct, their missions over; Curiosity still roves and sends us data).

Those six tonnes may be a tiny fraction of the planet's overall mass, but Newtonian physics insists that they would influence Mars's orbit. And so the silent billiard ball, obeying the initial and the boundary conditions of its motion, will be ever so slightly deflected, altering the dynamics of the entire solar system... because of Man's will.

Returning to quantum mechanics, Kauffman mentions the experimental evidence by Dean Radin from 2013 that conscious human attention can alter the outcome of quantum measurement - even at a distance.

So not only is Schrodinger's cat alive and dead at the same time until the observer opens the box - but there is now the suggestion is that the observer can will the cat alive (or dead). "Radin's experiments are a first hint that we can show how human consciousness can 'mediate' measurement, perhaps even nonlocally."

The implications are huge. "This all leads to a vast panpsychism, in which all quantum measurement is mediated by Mind, conscious and free-willed, as part of the furniture of the entire universe!" says Kauffman. He sets out the triad of Mind, Possibles and Actuals, in which Mind measures Possibles to yield new Actuals, which in turn yield new Possibles which the Mind can measure.

Panpsychism suggests that Consciousness and Will are distributed throughout the Universe. "[They] have evolved at the origin of and with life," says Kauffman, who points out that the single-celled E. coli bacterium "gives signs of emotions ranging from fear to disgust and anger".

Wow. Flaky science or a new pathway? As Isaac Newton says, he was standing on the shoulders of giants - Einstein standing on Newton's shoulders, but in terms of looking at matter and the Universe, it is clear we still are a long, long way off full understanding.

More tomorrow!

This time two years ago:
Giving it up for Lent

This time four years ago:
North-east of Warsaw West revisited

This time five years ago:
Looking for answers

This time six years ago:
Fresh powder in Warsaw's parks

This time eight years ago:
Another Lent starts

This time ten years ago:
Okęcie dusk

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

The Becoming and the magic that'll re-enchant us

Lent 2018, Day 1 - Ash Wednesday

As I wrote yesterday, this Lent I will be drawing on Stuart A. Kauffman's book Humanity in a Creative Universe. The book's basic premise is that scientific reductionism has killed off mankind's capacity for wonder, by reducing everything to a series of mathematical equations which prove that things are as they are because that's how they are. He considers Isaac Newton (1643-1727) as the father of this revolution, tying together the mathematics of Pythagoras and Euclid with the astronomical observations of Copernicus and Galileo.

From man's ability to predict the elliptical paths of the planets, to the 'equal and opposite' reaction about which we learnt at school, Newton's thinking brought on the Enlightenment, the end of alchemy and the beginnings of modern science. The Church lost influence as science began to rationally explain more and more natural phenomena. At the same time, John Locke was arguing that governance was about checks and balances and not the divine right of kings; Adam Smith then explained economics, while 83 years later Darwin gave us evolution. These four great thinkers brought about the End of Magic, suggests Kauffman.

Everything around us could be explained, and if it couldn't, it would only be a matter of time before it could - scientifically. Reductive materialism reigned.

But then along came quantum mechanics. The position of the electron in an atom's shell. Hardly something worth being curious about, one would think - not something that remotely impinges on our day-to-day life.

From 1909 to 1927, physicists and mathematicians had cracked the theory behind it - as Kauffman points out - to eleven decimal places. Using scientific method, examining the results of experiments repeated over and over in many different labs, it was proved that the strange world of quantum mechanics is not a flaky theory, but an incontrovertible fact. An electron can indeed be in two places at one time, until someone detects its actual position - pinning it down by observation. Until an observer has observed it, the electron is said to be in 'superposition' - this is Schroedinger's famous cat - alive and dead at the same time until someone peers into the box.

Quantum mechanics has overturned Newton's neat world of atoms bouncing off one another equally and oppositely, like billiard balls. Suddenly, an event that happens in one place (an electron moves from one shell to another), can happen somewhere else at the same time - simultaneously, faster than the speed of light. Suddenly, the presence of a conscious observer is needed to determine the outcome.

So cause and effect are no longer necessarily linked, and with that change, the determinism that had reduced us to the status of meat robots in a steady-state universe, is starting to change...

But many people still consider that life, consciousness, is a mere accident of chance, caused by random atoms bumping into one another over billions of years. For them, God is dead, the magic has gone and will not return.

Even more people, however, are still living with a pre-Enlightenment mindset, that an omnipotent, omnipresent God reigns over the world and is here to punish or reward us. Some people stumble between the two, subscribing to a religion because one ought to, while not really believing in anything. A post-post-modern world view is emerging, one in which our presence is central to a Universe that is fulfilling itself.

Kauffman's book is spiritually optimistic yet based on firm scientific grounding. He asks us not to be over-reliant on reason, not to be materialistically driven by a desire for endlessly growing GDP, and to be aware of our role as a creative part of a Universe that is Becoming.

More tomorrow...

This time last year
Short-haul musings 

This time two years ago:
Mind, matter and life

This time three years ago:
Compositions in blue and white

This time six years ago:
Waiting for the change to come

This time seven years ago
A wetter Poland?

This time nine years ago:
Heavy overnight snow

This time ten years ago:
Changing Jeziorki skyline

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Preparations for Lent

It starts tomorrow, Ash Wednesday, and lasts 46 days until Easter Saturday (31 March). Today I shall empty the last of the Merlot, eat a hamburger with French fries - and as from tomorrow there will be no meat or alcohol, not to mention fast food, salt snacks, confectionery (cakes and biscuits I tend not to eat anyway). Exercising will be stepped up. Yes - and a focused cut in my salt intake (stuff like anchovies and oyster sauce, piri-piri or sambak oel).

That's the 'body' bit of Lent. But of increased importance to me over the years has been the spiritual side; here I will make the most of the coming 46 days to explore further my beliefs and how they are evolving over the course of my lifetime. Since 2013, my Lents have become more than just a record of how many sit-ups I can do, but have become a more structured time of spiritual exploration. [If you are here mainly for my photos, there won't be many between now and Easter.]

My guide in this process this year will be Stuart A. Kauffman's Humanity in a Creative Universe (Oxford University Press, 2016). I received the book from my brother the previous Christmas, but could not get past the introduction on account of the complexity of the physics (a bit like my abortive assault on Fr Michał Heller's Filozofia przypadku). I understand the dead cat. But you can't really understand the physics without understanding the maths. Filozofia przypadku had a lot of maths in it - something I could only deal with up to O-level - quadratic equations were beyond my non-scientific mind.

Yet science and religion should be brought closer together. Reductionist scientists like Richard Dawkins, who posit that we are just meat robots that somehow just happened in an accidental universe are, to me, just as wrong as fundamentalist Christians who persist in believing that God made the world in seven days.

Over the next 46 days, with the aid of Humanity in a Creative Universe, I shall attempt to move further in my understanding of the universe, where it's heading and why we exist.

As Kauffman points out, the word 'religion' comes from the Latin 're' and 'ligo' - literally, I tie together. Tying together the physical world and the spiritual world into one.

How much spirituality do we need in our lives? Certainly more than most of us currently experience. Not just random moments of awe, but a structured search for meaning. This requires as much effort as daily exercise or staying off foodstuffs that harm. A bit of self-discipline, but something more than just going through the motions of Sunday Mass. Why do we need it? Meaning, purpose, direction, order.

The unfolding (or 'becoming' or 'entailing' - two words used by Kauffman) of the Universe is something we are all a part of; we can either be a conscious part of that process, or we can choose to say it's all been an accident, a meaningless coincidence, of no consequence. Shutting our minds to the beautiful creation that is our Universe, billions of galaxies composed of billions stars, is dangerous. Our destiny is to evolve spiritually, away from the beastly, towards the angelic. Seeing the Universe as meaningless is a first step to a return to barbarism, allowing the beast to roam unfettered.

This year's journey, a few short steps on the infinitely long road from Zero to One, this years Pilgrimage of the Lenten Mind, starts tomorrow - join me for it.

This time two years ago:
Religion and Spiritual Growth

This time four years ago:
When trams break down

This time six years ago: 
Who are the thickies of Europe?

This time seven years ago:
Oldschool Photochallenge: Response No. 2

This time eight years ago:
Oligocene water from Jeziorki