Archive for October 20th, 2009

Albert Einstein once commented that “if at first an idea is not absurd, there is no hope for it. ” The October 17-23 issue of New Scientist reports on one such idea, initially  considered absurd by the scientific orthodoxy, that is gaining serious attention in the face of mounting evidence.

The idea revolves around the biochemistry of the origin of life itself and challenges the conventionally assumed primacy of the breakdown of ATP (Adenose Tri-Phosphate) in generating the energy that powers cells. Peter Mitchell, however, controversially suggested that the energy of cells comes from a process more like electricity (protons flowing across membranes providing the energy to form ATP molecules, or “chemiosmosis”) for which he won the Nobel Prize in 1978.

His hypothesis was that life on Earth all began in rocks under the sea floor made up of labyrinthine pores in which water mixed with the mineral “olvine” and resulted in a hot alkaline fluid rich in hydrogen. These hydrothermal vents were subsequently found, in the year 2000, along the mid-Atlantic Ridge by University of Washington researchers. These scientists referred to the find as the “Lost City,” owing to impressive spires of porous rock formed in the process. The chemicals found at these hydrothermal vents are the ones essential to genetic building blocks RNA and DNA.

Nick Lane of New Scientist writes: ” The last common ancestor of all life was not a free living cell at all, but a porous rock riddled with bubbly iron-sulphur membranes that catalysed primordial biochemical reactions” ( p. 42). This development is a stunning illustration of the march of science, and why ideas that are developed around the periphery of scientific orthodoxy are crucial. When a conventional understanding  is overtaken in this way, the release of creative energy, fresh activity, and inspired lines of research is intoxicating. Everything is, for a time, brand new, and full of provocative possibilities.

As I think about the article in the New Scientist, my thoughts travel along two parallel tracks: (1)  breaking through boundaries of thought through constructive heresy is essential to progress, and (2) the roots of all life and, by extension, the sparks of consciousness, rest in primordial fields of elementary particles that carry the signature of the first singularity, the Big Bang. Consciousness derives from fire, the “conflagratio” of the prima materia of alchemy, directed by the “Logos” (a configural matrix at the heart of Matter).

Teilhard de Chardin, philosopher, theologian, paleontologist, and Jesuit Priest, spoke of “complexification” ( the tendency of the Cosmos to evolve toward ever increasing enfoldments and entanglements) as a force drawing all of Creation toward a hypothetical fullness, “Pleroma,” fully consummated at a hypothetical “Omega Point.” In effect, matter and spirit are eternally and infinitely conjoined, both guided by elementary constellations of forces that guide and shape the fabric of space-time itself.

The whole universe is endemically personal since it is in its nature to become self-referential and aware.  Epiphany and salvation, redemption and realization, agape and compassion are all pre-configured in space-time. The expanding physical universe and the expanding noosphere, or consciousness (and then supra-consciousness), is  a matter for both physical science and spirituality. All scientific study is therefore, in its fullness, another form of spiritual practice: a stylized path to contemplating mystery.

In stumbling, as we always do, over revelations about the physical universe, such as the growing support for “chemiosmosis,” we do well to take a few steps back, and allow a time for non-scientific active imagination: a time for tacit knowledge to incite the soul along with the intellect, to see more deeply into the unfolding story of the Cosmos, and to spot, on the periphery of the canons of so-called common knowledge a surprise and moment for awe.

White Flange Section of "Lost City" Rock Formations

White Flange Section of "Lost City" Rock Formations

© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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