Both Sides Now

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for confusion, and a time for understanding.  
                                                    –Ecclesiastes 3

(Ok, I admit the last line is mine, but I think King Solomon would approve.)

The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth. – Danish physicist Niels Bohr

A book about math and science that a friend recommended as highly readable had been languishing on my bedside table for a couple of years now.  I can’t begin to explain why I picked it up as my “beach reading” for a quick trip to Florida a few weeks ago, but The Universe and the Teacup by K.C. Cole had me with its subtitle: The Mathematics of Truth and Beauty.  The author suggested ways that the realm of physics offers us the opportunity to understand how we might avoid those often impossible choices between one valid truth and another.  Not mourning or dancing, but times for mourning and dancing.  Seeing different truths gives us a deeper insight into a problem, just as mourning and dancing offer us a fuller understanding of life.  Cole gives the example of light – at once a wave and a particle.  Life, she reminds us, can be explained by biology as much as by novels and poetry.  Or as Joni Mitchell wrote, clouds are ice cream castles in the air one moment and the next, simply something that block the sun.

Both Sides Now – Joni Mitchell

A young friend gave me permission to share excerpts from an opinion piece she wrote for her high school newspaper recently.  I was moved by her ability to articulate the practicality of impracticality.  That doctors and poets are equally responsible for moving humanity forward in our search for understanding.

So We Beat On: Why Art Matters by Sophia Higgins

Here’s the truth: Life isn’t fair.  Or perfect, or quantifiable by any metric.  There are people who live under bridges and in war zones and with heroin addicts for parents.  People are unequal and things often don’t go as planned.  That’s just the way things are.  We exist to alleviate suffering…Doctors and the Mother Teresa’s of the world keep us living…but there’s still a group of people whose purpose is not so clear.  Of what use is the poet, the musician, the painter?  Poetry doesn’t keep you alive.  A song can’t cure disease.  Art is what we survive for…it finds meaning beyond the suffering…connecting people in the most basic expressive way, [creating something that touches] you despite a gap of space and time.

Art is pointless

The fact that a “theory of everything” in physics remains elusive just might reveal the limitations of having any single point of view.  Perhaps understanding requires us to stay open to contrasting perspectives and truths.  K.C. Cole, in The Universe and the Teacup quotes 20th century theoretical physicist Victor Weisskopf:

What’s beautiful in science is that same thing that’s beautiful in Beethoven.  There’s fog of events and suddenly you see a connection.  It expresses a complex of human concerns that goes deeply to you, that connects things that were always in you that were never put together before.

Symmetry and proportions are often our guides through the fog as we search for meaning and beauty. As Cole writes, “symmetry therefore lends a satisfying concreteness to the vague sense that there is beauty in truth, and truth to beauty.” Could the symmetry of seeming opposites create different perspectives and definitions which take us to those deep truths we yearn to understand?



Where I’ll be:

April 17 – Church of the Redeemer, 6201 Dunrobbin Drive, Bethesda MD, playing for their 10:30 am service

April 24 – performing L’enfant prodigue, Debussy’s one-act opera, with Mary Shaffran, James Shaffran and Andrew Brown, at Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church, Bethesda, 7:30 p.m. ($15 suggested donation)

 *   *   *   *   *

This blog represents my attempt to put thoughts together on various things that seem to connect – in my mind anyway. More often than not new ideas first involve reaching back to what was and I can only hope that the prehistoric San cave painting at the top of this page inspires all kinds of new connections between old and new.

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