Revisiting Catastrophes. Thought of the Day 134.0

The most explicit influence from mathematics in semiotics is probably René Thom’s controversial theory of catastrophes (here and here), with philosophical and semiotic support from Jean Petitot. Catastrophe theory is but one of several formalisms in the broad field of qualitative dynamics (comprising also chaos theory, complexity theory, self-organized criticality, etc.). In all these cases, the theories in question are in a certain sense phenomenological because the focus is different types of qualitative behavior of dynamic systems grasped on a purely formal level bracketing their causal determination on the deeper level. A widespread tool in these disciplines is phase space – a space defined by the variables governing the development of the system so that this development may be mapped as a trajectory through phase space, each point on the trajectory mapping one global state of the system. This space may be inhabited by different types of attractors (attracting trajectories), repellors (repelling them), attractor basins around attractors, and borders between such basins characterized by different types of topological saddles which may have a complicated topology.

Catastrophe theory has its basis in differential topology, that is, the branch of topology keeping various differential properties in a function invariant under transformation. It is, more specifically, the so-called Whitney topology whose invariants are points where the nth derivative of a function takes the value 0, graphically corresponding to minima, maxima, turning tangents, and, in higher dimensions, different complicated saddles. Catastrophe theory takes its point of departure in singularity theory whose object is the shift between types of such functions. It thus erects a distinction between an inner space – where the function varies – and an outer space of control variables charting the variation of that function including where it changes type – where, e.g. it goes from having one minimum to having two minima, via a singular case with turning tangent. The continuous variation of control parameters thus corresponds to a continuous variation within one subtype of the function, until it reaches a singular point where it discontinuously, ‘catastrophically’, changes subtype. The philosophy-of-science interpretation of this formalism now conceives the stable subtype of function as representing the stable state of a system, and the passage of the critical point as the sudden shift to a new stable state. The configuration of control parameters thus provides a sort of map of the shift between continuous development and discontinuous ‘jump’. Thom’s semiotic interpretation of this formalism entails that typical catastrophic trajectories of this kind may be interpreted as stable process types phenomenologically salient for perception and giving rise to basic verbal categories.


One of the simpler catastrophes is the so-called cusp (a). It constitutes a meta-diagram, namely a diagram of the possible type-shifts of a simpler diagram (b), that of the equation ax4 + bx2 + cx = 0. The upper part of (a) shows the so-called fold, charting the manifold of solutions to the equation in the three dimensions a, b and c. By the projection of the fold on the a, b-plane, the pointed figure of the cusp (lower a) is obtained. The cusp now charts the type-shift of the function: Inside the cusp, the function has two minima, outside it only one minimum. Different paths through the cusp thus corresponds to different variations of the equation by the variation of the external variables a and b. One such typical path is the path indicated by the left-right arrow on all four diagrams which crosses the cusp from inside out, giving rise to a diagram of the further level (c) – depending on the interpretation of the minima as simultaneous states. Here, thus, we find diagram transformations on three different, nested levels.

The concept of transformation plays several roles in this formalism. The most spectacular one refers, of course, to the change in external control variables, determining a trajectory through phase space where the function controlled changes type. This transformation thus searches the possibility for a change of the subtypes of the function in question, that is, it plays the role of eidetic variation mapping how the function is ‘unfolded’ (the basic theorem of catastrophe theory refers to such unfolding of simple functions). Another transformation finds stable classes of such local trajectory pieces including such shifts – making possible the recognition of such types of shifts in different empirical phenomena. On the most empirical level, finally, one running of such a trajectory piece provides, in itself, a transformation of one state into another, whereby the two states are rationally interconnected. Generally, it is possible to make a given transformation the object of a higher order transformation which by abstraction may investigate aspects of the lower one’s type and conditions. Thus, the central unfolding of a function germ in Catastrophe Theory constitutes a transformation having the character of an eidetic variation making clear which possibilities lie in the function germ in question. As an abstract formalism, the higher of these transformations may determine the lower one as invariant in a series of empirical cases.

Complexity theory is a broader and more inclusive term covering the general study of the macro-behavior of composite systems, also using phase space representation. The theoretical biologist Stuart Kauffman (intro) argues that in a phase space of all possible genotypes, biological evolution must unfold in a rather small and specifically qualified sub-space characterized by many, closely located and stable states (corresponding to the possibility of a species to ‘jump’ to another and better genotype in the face of environmental change) – as opposed to phase space areas with few, very stable states (which will only be optimal in certain, very stable environments and thus fragile when exposed to change), and also opposed, on the other hand, to sub-spaces with a high plurality of only metastable states (here, the species will tend to merge into neighboring species and hence never stabilize). On the base of this argument, only a small subset of the set of virtual genotypes possesses ‘evolvability’ as this special combination between plasticity and stability. The overall argument thus goes that order in biology is not a pure product of evolution; the possibility of order must be present in certain types of organized matter before selection begins – conversely, selection requires already organized material on which to work. The identification of a species with a co-localized group of stable states in genome space thus provides a (local) invariance for the transformation taking a trajectory through space, and larger groups of neighboring stabilities – lineages – again provide invariants defined by various more or less general transformations. Species, in this view, are in a certain limited sense ‘natural kinds’ and thus naturally signifying entities. Kauffman’s speculations over genotypical phase space have a crucial bearing on a transformation concept central to biology, namely mutation. On this basis far from all virtual mutations are really possible – even apart from their degree of environmental relevance. A mutation into a stable but remotely placed species in phase space will be impossible (evolution cannot cross the distance in phase space), just like a mutation in an area with many, unstable proto-species will not allow for any stabilization of species at all and will thus fall prey to arbitrary small environment variations. Kauffman takes a spontaneous and non-formalized transformation concept (mutation) and attempts a formalization by investigating its condition of possibility as movement between stable genomes in genotype phase space. A series of constraints turn out to determine type formation on a higher level (the three different types of local geography in phase space). If the trajectory of mutations must obey the possibility of walking between stable species, then the space of possibility of trajectories is highly limited. Self-organized criticality as developed by Per Bak (How Nature Works the science of self-organized criticality) belongs to the same type of theories. Criticality is here defined as that state of a complicated system where sudden developments in all sizes spontaneously occur.

Sino-India Doklam Standoff, #BRICS and Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). How the Resolution Could Have Been Reached?

The National Security Adviser of India, Mr. Ajit Doval was posed with a blunt question by China’s state councillor Yang Jiechi when the two met on July 27 to make a settlement over the disputable patch in the Bhutan-owned Doklam stretch. He was asked: Is it  your territory? However, this tough question failed to faze Doval, who, according to reliable sources, had most calmly replied that the stretch of land in question is not China’s territory either – Does every disputed territory become China’s by default? Doval asked in return. This has the potential to read a lot in between and thus without getting awed by the response, deconstructing what transpired is the imperative. This sharp exchange between the two countries was followed by several rounds of negotiations between the two sides in Beijing, with India’s foreign secretary S Jaishankar and India’s ambassador to China Vijay Gokhale trying to reach out to a mutually acceptable solution. These meetings were also sanctioned by the prime ministers of both the countries, especially when they met in Hamburg on the sidelines of G20 meeting on July 7. In fact, the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping also agreed to the fact that the negotiations should be held at the NSA level in order to let the dispute not escalate any more. Modi later asked his diplomatic team to reach to a solution at the earliest as this dispute had been the worst in numerous years and the two countries cannot afford to lose each other’s support any more.

This is Doklam, the tri-junction between India, Bhutan and China.

Doklam Plateau-3


It was here that India and China were involved in a three-month standoff with the two largest militaries in the world in a eyeball-to-eyeball contact. While, it was in everybody’s interest that the countries do not spark a conflagration, the suspense over this tiny out-of-bounds area had consequences to speculations trajectory. It all started in June this year, when the Indian troops crossed over the disputed territory claimed by both China and Bhutan as its sovereign territory to halt a road construction at Doklam, which could have given China the surveillance and access mechanism over India’s Chicken Neck, the narrow strip that connects the NE Indian states with the mainland. But, other reason for India’s crossing over the boundary lies in a pact with Bhutan where the country would defend any incursions into Bhutan. The standoff was pretty tense with piling up of the war machinery and the troops from either side in a ready-to-combat stature, but still showed extreme presence of mind from getting involved in anything adventurous. China’s blistering state-owned media attacks from instigating to belligerent to carrying out travel advisories on the one hand, and India’s state-purchased media exhibiting peppered nationalism to inflating the 56″ authoritarianism on the other did not really help matters boil down to what was transpiring on the ground. We had pretty much only these two state-owned-purchased behemoths to rely upon and imagine the busting of the myths. But, this week, much to the respite of citizens from either side of the border and the international community at large keenly observing the developments as they were unfolding, the tensions eased, or rather resolved almost dramatically as they had begun in the first place. The dramatic end was at least passed over in silence in the media, but whatever noises were made were trumpeting victories for their respective sides. Even if this were a biased viewpoint, the news reports were quantitative largely and qualitative-ness was generally found at large. The resolution agreed on the the accelerated withdrawal of troops from the site of the standoff.

China still vociferously insists that the territorial dispute in Sikkim was resolved as long ago as in 1890, when Beijing and the British Empire signed the so-called Convention of Calcutta, which defined Sikkim’s borders. As per Article (1) of Convention of 1890, it was agreed that the boundary of Sikkim and Tibet shall be the crest of the mountain range separating the waters flowing into the Sikkim Teesta and its affluents, from the waters flowing into the Tibetan Mochu and northwards into other rivers of Tibet. The line commences at Mount Gipmochi, on the Bhutan frontier, and follows the above-mentioned water-parting to the point where it meets Nepal territory. However, Tibet refused to recognise the validity of Convention of 1890 and further refused to carry into effect the provisions of the said Convention. In 1904, a treaty known as a Convention between Great Britain and Tibet was signed at Lhasa. As per the Convention, Tibet agreed to respect the Convention of 1890 and to recognise the frontier between Sikkim and Tibet, as defined in Article (1) of the said Convention. On April 27, 1906, a treaty was signed between Great Britain and China at Peking, which confirmed the Convention of 1904 between Great Britain and Tibet. The Convention of 1890 was entered by the King of Great Britain on behalf of India before independence and around the time of independence, the Indian Independence (International Arrangement) Order, 1947 was notified by Secretariat of the Governor-General (Reforms) on August 14, 1947. The Order provided, inter alia, that the rights and obligations under all international agreements to which India is a party immediately before the appointed day will devolve upon the Dominion of India. Therefore, in terms of Order of 1947, the government of India is bound by the said Convention of 1890. However, India’s affirmation of the Convention of 1890 was limited to the alignment of the India-China border in Sikkim, based on watershed, and not with respect to any other aspects. However, India-backed Bhutan is convinced that Beijing’s attempt to extend a road to the Doklam area goes against a China-Bhutan agreement on maintaining peace in the region until the dispute is resolved.

The question then is: how could have the tensions that were simmering just short of an accident resolved? Maybe, for the Indians, these were a result of diplomatic procedures followed through the time of tensions, whereas for the Chinese, it was a victory and yet another lesson learnt by the Indians after their debacle in the 1962 conflict. The victory stood its claim because the Chinese maintained that even if the Indians were withdrawing from the plateau, the Chinese would continue patrolling the area. Surprisingly, there isn’t a convincing counterclaim by the Indians making the resolution a tad more concessionary as regards the Indians. It was often thought that amid tensions over the dispute, there had been growing concerns over whether Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi would skip the upcoming BRICS summit in China as he did in May when Beijing hosted an international event to celebrate the One Belt One Road Initiative championed by Chinese President Xi Jinping. Harsh Pant, a professor of International Relations at King’s College, London, and a distinguished fellow at Observer Research Foundation, said,

If the road is not being built, it’s legal enough for India to pullback, because the boundary dispute is not the problem and has been going on for ages. The real issue was China’s desire to construct a concrete road in this trijunction under dispute. If the Chinese made the concession to not build the road, the whole problem went away.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry’s spokeswoman said on Tuesday that China would adjust its road building plans in the disputed area taking into account of various factors such as the weather. In his turn, Prime Minister Modi would not have gone ahead with the visit to China if the border dispute remains unresolved, according to the expert. Following the resolution of the border dispute, India’s MEA said that Modi plans to visit Xiamen in China’s Fujian province during September 3-5, 2017 to attend the 9th BRICS Summit. But, the weather angle refused to go, as in the words of Hu Zhiyong, a research fellow at the Institute of International Relations of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences,

The weather condition is still the main reason. We all know that heavy snowfall is expected in the Donglang region by late September. The snow will block off the mountain completely, making it impossible to continue road construction. This incident has allowed China to clearly understand potential threat from India. I would call India an ‘incompetent bungler.’ That’s because India always is a spoiler in all the international organizations it becomes a part of. It always takes outrageous and irrational actions. After this incident, China realized that India is not a friendly partner, but a trouble-maker.

The Shanghai-based expert pointed out that the recent standoff has helped China better understand the potential harm India can cause. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that Beijing hopes that New Delhi will remember the lessons of latest border confrontation and will avoid such incidents in the future. Despite both China and India agreeing to deescalate the border dispute for the sake of the BRICS summit, the temporary compromise may not last long, as tensions could quickly flare again. In the words of Brahma Chellaney, a professor of strategic studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research,

The standoff has ended without resolving the dispute over the Doklam plateau. The Indian forces have retreated 500 meters to their ridge-top post at Doka La and can quickly intervene if the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) attempts to restart work on the military road – a construction that triggered the face-off. As for China, it has withdrawn its troops and equipment from the face-off site, but strongly asserts the right to send in armed patrols. A fresh crisis could flare if the PLA tries again to build the controversial road to the Indian border.

Hu, the Shanghai-based Chinese professor, asserted that the recent standoff has allowed China to better prepare for future border disputes with India. The Chinese Defense Ministry said that China will maintain a high combat readiness level in the disputed area near the border with India and Bhutan and will decisively protect China’s territorial sovereignty.

So, where does Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) fit in here?

With India and Pakistan as newly installed members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, or SCO, China is likely to face an increasing amount of divisiveness within a regional economic and security organization accustomed to extreme comity and cooperative discussions. India’s entry could especially frustrate Beijing because of rising geopolitical competition between the Asian giants and different approaches to counterterrorism. Beijing may not have even wanted India to join the SCO. Russia first proposed India as a member, likely in part to complement bilateral economic and security engagement, but mainly to constrain China’s growing influence in the organization. Russia is increasingly concerned that post-Soviet SCO members  –  Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan – are drifting too far into China’s geostrategic orbit. Moscow had long delayed implementing Chinese initiatives that would enable Beijing to reap greater benefits from regional trade, including establishing an SCO regional trade agreement and bank. As China gains more clout in Central Asia, Moscow may welcome New Delhi by its side to occasionally strengthen Russia’s hand at slowing or opposing Chinese initiatives. Indeed, during a visit to Moscow, Modi said, “India and Russia have always been together on international issues.”

Going forward, this strategy is likely to pay big dividends. New Delhi has a major hang-up related to the activities of its archrival Pakistan – sponsored by Beijing at the 2015 SCO summit to balance Moscow’s support of India – and continues to be highly critical of China’s so-called “all-weather friendship” with Islamabad. In May, New Delhi refused to send a delegation to Beijing’s widely publicized Belt and Road Initiative summit, which was aimed at increasing trade and infrastructure connectivity between China and Eurasian countries. According to an official Indian statement, the flagship project of the Belt and Road Initiative – the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor – was not being “pursued in a manner that respects sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Indian opposition stems from the plan to build the corridor through the disputed Kashmir region and to link it to the strategically positioned Pakistani port of Gwadar, prompting Prime Minister Narendra Modi to raise the issue again during his acceptance speech at the SCO summit last month. New Delhi likely will continue to criticize the corridor in the context of the SCO because, as a full member, India has the right to protest developments that do not serve the interests of all SCO members. The SCO also offers another public stage for India to constantly question the intent behind China’s exceptionally close ties to Pakistan.

India-Pakistan tensions occasionally flare up, and Beijing may have to brace for either side to use the SCO as a platform to criticize the other. In the absence of a major incident, Beijing has admirably handled the delicacy of this situation. When asked in early June whether SCO membership would positively impact India-Pakistan relations, China spokesperson Hua Chunying said: “I see the journalist from Pakistan sit[s] right here, while journalists from India sit over there. Maybe someday you can sit closer to each other.” Additionally, the Chinese military’s unofficial mouthpiece, Global Times, published an op-ed suggesting that SCO membership for India and Pakistan would lead to positive bilateral developments. Even if that is overly optimistic, it would set the right tone as the organization forges ahead. But the odds are against China’s desired outcome. Beijing needs to look no farther than South Asia for a cautionary tale. In this region, both India and Pakistan are members of the multilateral grouping known as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. New Delhi, along with Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Bhutan, boycotted last year’s summit in Islamabad because it believed Pakistan was behind a terrorist attack on an Indian army base. Even with an official ban on discussing bilateral issues in its proceedings, SAARC has been perennially hobbled by the intrusion of India-Pakistan grievances. Beijing can probably keep its close friend Islamabad in line at the SCO, but this likely won’t be the case with New Delhi. Another major issue for the SCO to contend with is the security of Afghanistan. An integral component of the organization is the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure, aimed at combating China’s “three evils” – terrorism, extremism, and separatism. India, however, is likely to reliably and reasonably highlight the contradiction between China’s stated anti-terrorism goals and the reality of its policy. Most notably, Beijing has consistently looked the other way as Pakistani intelligence services continue to support terrorist groups in Afghanistan, including the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network. Moreover, because India is particularly close to the Afghan government, it could seek to sponsor Afghanistan to move from observer status toward full SCO membership. This would give India even greater strength in the group and could bolster Russia’s position as well.

Lingering border disputes and fierce geostrategic competition in South Asia between China and India is likely to temper any cooperation Beijing might hope to achieve with New Delhi in the SCO. Mutual suspicions in the maritime domain persist as well, with the Indian government recently shoring up its position in the strategically important Andaman and Nicobar island chain to counter the perceived Chinese “string of pearls” strategy – aimed at establishing access to naval ports throughout the Indian Ocean that could be militarily advantageous in a conflict. Such mutual suspicions will likely impact SCO discussions, perhaps in unpredictable ways. Although India may be an unwelcome addition and irritant to Beijing at the SCO, China does not necessarily need the SCO to achieve its regional objectives. From its announcement in 2001, the SCO gave Beijing a productive way to engage neighbors still dominated by Moscow. But today, China’s economic and military strength makes it far more formidable on its own – a point that is only magnified as Russian influence simultaneously recedes, or rather more aptly fluctuates. For instance, even though India rejected Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative overture, China remains India’s top trading partner and a critical market for all Central and South Asian states, leaving them with few other appealing options. India’s entry into the SCO, however, could put Beijing in the awkward position of highlighting the organization’s value, while increasingly working around or outside of it. Outright failure of the SCO would be unacceptable for China because of its central role in establishing the forum. Regardless of the bickering between countries that may break out, Beijing can be expected to make yet another show of the importance of the SCO, with all of the usual pomp and circumstance, at the next summit in June 2018. China as host makes this outcome even more likely.

Taking on the imagination to flight, I am of the opinion that its the banks/financial institutions, more specifically the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and the upcoming BRICS Summit that have played majorly into this so-called resolution. India’s move to enter Doklam/Donglang was always brazen as India, along with Pakistan entered the Shanghai Cooperation Organisations (SCO) shortly before India entered Chinese territory. In this sense, India was almost mocking the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation by refusing to utilise the SCO as a proper forum in which to settle such disputes diplomatically. So, even if diplomatically it is a victory for #BRICS, materially it is #China‘s. Whatever, two nuclear-powered states in a stand-off is a cold-threat to….whatever the propaganda machine wants us to believe, the truth is laid bare. This so-called diplomatic victory has yielded a lot of positive, and in the process have snatched the vitality of what economic proponents in the country like to express solemnly of late, growth paradigm, wherein the decision is rested with how accelerated your rate of growth is, and thus proportionally how much of a political clout you can exercise on the international scenario. India’s restraint is not to be taken as how the Indian media projects it in the form of a victory, for that would indeed mean leading the nation blindly at the helm of proto-fascism. This could get scary.

Dance of the Shiva, q’i (chee) and Tibetan Sunyata. Manifestation of Mysticism.

अनेजदेकं मनसो जवीयो नैनद्देवाप्नुवन्पूर्वमर्षत् ।
तद्धावतोऽन्यान्नत्येति तिष्ठत् तस्मिन्नापो मातरिश्वा दधाति ॥

anejadekaṃ manaso javīyo nainaddevāpnuvanpūrvamarṣat |
taddhāvato’nyānnatyeti tiṣṭhat tasminnāpo mātariśvā dadhāti ||

The self is one. It is unmoving: yet faster than the mind. Thus moving faster, It is beyond the reach of the senses. Ever steady, It outstrips all that run. By its mere presence, the cosmic energy is enabled to sustain the activities of living beings.

तस्मिन् मनसि ब्रह्मलोकादीन्द्रुतं गच्छति सति प्रथमप्राप्त इवात्मचैतन्याभासो गृह्यते अतः मनसो जवीयः इत्याह ।

tasmin manasi brahmalokādīndrutaṃ gacchati sati prathamaprāpta ivātmacaitanyābhāso gṛhyate ataḥ manaso javīyaḥ ityāha |

When the mind moves fast towards the farthest worlds such as the brahmaloka, it finds the Atman, of the nature of pure awareness, already there; hence the statement that It is faster than the mind.

नित्योऽनित्यानां चेतनश्चेतनानाम्
एको बहूनां यो विदधाति कामान् ।
तमात्मस्थं योऽनुपश्यन्ति धीराः
तेषां शान्तिः शाश्वतं नेतरेषाम् ॥

nityo’nityānāṃ cetanaścetanānām
eko bahūnāṃ yo vidadhāti kāmān |
tamātmasthaṃ yo’nupaśyanti dhīrāḥ
teṣāṃ śāntiḥ śāśvataṃ netareṣām ||

He is the eternal in the midst of non-eternals, the principle of intelligence in all that are intelligent. He is One, yet fulfils the desires of many. Those wise men who perceive Him as existing within their own self, to them eternal peace, and non else.


Eastern mysticism approaches the manifestation of life in the cosmos and all that compose it from a position diametrically opposed to the view that prevailed until recently among the majority of Western scientists, philosophers, and religionists. Orientals see the universe as a whole, as an organism. For them all things are interconnected, links in a chain of beings permeated by consciousness which threads them together. This consciousness is the one life-force, originator of all the phenomena we know under the heading of nature, and it dwells within its emanations, urging them as a powerful inner drive to grow and evolve into ever more refined expressions of divinity. The One manifests, not only in all its emanations, but also through those emanations as channels: it is within them and yet remains transcendent as well.

The emphasis is on the Real as subject whereas in the West it is seen as object. If consciousness is the noumenal or subjective aspect of life in contrast to the phenomenal or objective — everything seen as separate objects — then only this consciousness can be experienced, and no amount of analysis can reveal the soul of Reality. To illustrate: for the ancient Egyptians, their numerous “gods” were aspects of the primal energy of the Divine Mind (Thoth) which, before the creation of our universe, rested, a potential in a subjective state within the “waters of Space.” It was through these gods that the qualities of divinity manifested.

A question still being debated runs: “How does the One become the many?” meaning: if there is a “God,” how do the universe and the many entities composing it come into being? This question does not arise among those who perceive the One to dwell in the many, and the many to live in the One from whom life and sustenance derive. Despite our Western separation of Creator and creation, and the corresponding distancing of “God” from human beings, Western mystics have held similar views to those of the East, e.g.: Meister Eckhart, the Dominican theologian and preacher, who was accused of blasphemy for daring to say that he had once experienced nearness to the “Godhead.” His friends and followers were living testimony to the charisma (using the word in its original connotation of spiritual magnetism) of those who live the life of love for fellow beings men like Johannes Tauler, Heinrich Suso, the “admirable Ruysbroeck,” who expressed views similar to those of Eastern exponents of the spiritual way or path.

In old China, the universe was described as appearing first as q’i (chee), an emanation of Light, not the physical light that we know, but its divine essence sometimes called Tien, Heaven, in contrast to Earth. The q’i energy polarized as Yang and Yin, positive and negative electromagnetism. From the action and interaction of these two sprang the “10,000 things”: the universe, our world, the myriads of beings and things as we perceive them to be. In other words, the ancient Chinese viewed our universe as one of process, the One energy, q’i, proliferating into the many.

In their paintings Chinese artists depict man as a small but necessary element in gigantic natural scenes. And since we are parts of the cosmos, we are embodiments of all its potentials and our relationship depends upon how we focus ourselves: (1) harmoniously, i.e., in accord with nature; or (2) disharmoniously, interfering with the course of nature. We therefore affect the rest: our environment, all other lives, and bear full responsibility for the outcome of our thoughts and acts, our motivations, our impacts. Their art students were taught to identify with what they were painting, because there is life in every thing, and it is this life with which they must identify, with boulders and rocks no less than with birds flying overhead. Matter, energy, space, are all manifestations of q’i and we, as parts thereof, are intimately connected with all the universe.

In India, the oneness of life was seen through the prism of successive manifestations of Brahman, a neuter or impersonal term in Sanskrit for divinity, the equivalent of what Eckhart called the Godhead. Brahman is the source of the creative power, Brahma, Eckhart’s Creator; and also the origin of the sustaining and supporting energy or Vishnu, and of the destructive/regenerative force or Siva. As these three operate through the cosmos, the “world” as we know it, so do they also through ourselves on a smaller scale according to our capacity. Matter is perceived to be condensed energy, Chit or consciousness itself. To quote from the Mundaka Upanishad:

By the energism of Consciousness Brahman is massed; from that: Matter is born and from Matter Life and Mind and the worlds . . .

In another Hindu scripture, it is stated that when Brahma awakened from his period of rest between manifestations, he desired to contemplate himself as he is. By gazing into the awakening matter particles as into a mirror, he stirred them to exhibit their latent divine qualities. Since this process involves a continuous unfoldment from the center within, an ever-becoming, there can never be an end to the creativity — universal “days” comprising trillions of our human years, followed by a like number of resting “nights.”

We feel within ourselves the same driving urge to grow that runs through the entire, widespread universe, to express more and more of what is locked up in the formless or subjective realm of Be-ness, awaiting the magic moment to come awake in our phase of life.

Tibetan metaphysics embraces all of this in discussing Sunyata, which can be viewed as Emptiness if we use only our outer senses, or as Fullness if we inwardly perceive it to be full of energies of limitless ranges of wave-lengths/frequencies. This latter aspect of Space is the great mother of all, ever fecund, from whose “heart” emerge endless varieties of beings, endless forces, ever-changing variations — like the pulsing energies the new physicists perceive nuclear subparticles to be.

In the Preface to his Tao of physics Fritjof Capra tells how one summer afternoon he had a transforming experience by the seashore as he watched the waves rolling in and felt the rhythm of his own breathing. He saw dancing motes revealed in a beam of sunlight; particles of energy vibrating as molecules and atoms; cascades of energy pouring down upon us from outer space. All of this coming and going, appearing and disappearing, he equated with the Indian concept of the dance of Siva . . . he felt its rhythm, “heard” its sound, and knew himself to be a part of it. Through this highly personal, indeed mystical, experience Capra became aware of his “whole environment as being engaged in a gigantic cosmic dance.”

This is the gist of the old Chinese approach to physics: students were taught gravitation by observing the petals of a flower as they fall gracefully to the ground. As Gary Zukav expresses it in his Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics:

The world of particle physics is a world of sparkling energy forever dancing with itself in the form of its particles as they twinkle in and out of existence, collide, transmute, and disappear again.

That is: the dance of Siva is the dance of attraction and repulsion between charged particles of the electromagnetic force. This is a kind of “transcendental” physics, going beyond the “world of opposites” and approaching a mystical view of the larger Reality that is to our perceptions an invisible foundation of what we call “physical reality.” It is so far beyond the capacity or vocabulary of the mechanically rational part of our mind to define, that the profound Hindu scripture Isa Upanishad prefers to suggest the thought by a paradox:

तदेजति तन्नैजति तद्दूरे तद्वन्तिके ।
तदन्तरस्य सर्वस्य तदु सर्वस्यास्य बाह्यतः ॥

tadejati tannaijati taddūre tadvantike |
tadantarasya sarvasya tadu sarvasyāsya bāhyataḥ ||

It moves. It moves not.  It is far, and it is near. It is within all this, And It is verily outside of all this.

Indeed, there is a growing recognition mostly by younger physicists that consciousness is more than another word for awareness, more than a by-product of cellular activity (or of atomic or subatomic vibrations). For instance, Jack Sarfatti, a quantum physicist, says that signals pulsating through space provide instant communication between all parts of the cosmos. “These signals can be likened to pulses of nerve cells of a great cosmic brain that permeates all parts of space (Michael Talbot, Mysticism and the New Physics).” Michael Talbot quotes Sir James Jeans’ remark, “the universe is more like a giant thought than a giant machine,” commenting that the “substance of the great thought is consciousness” which pervades all space. Or as Schrödinger would have it:

Consciouness is never experienced in the plural, only in the singular….Consciouness is a singular of which the plural is unknown; that; there is only one thing and that, what seems to be a plurality is merely a series of different aspects of this one thing, produced by a deception (the Indian Maya).

Other phenomena reported as occurring in the cosmos at great distances from each other, yet simultaneously, appear to be connected in some way so far unexplained, but to which the term consciousness has been applied.

In short, the mystic deals with direct experience; the intuitive scientist is open-minded, and indeed the great discoveries such as Einstein’s were made by amateurs in their field untrammeled by prior definitions and the limitations inherited from past speculations. This freedom enabled them to strike out on new paths that they cleared and paved. The rationalist tries to grapple with the problems of a living universe using only analysis and whatever the computer functions of the mind can put together.

The theosophic perspective upon universal phenomena is based on the concept of the ensoulment of the cosmos. That is: from the smallest subparticle we know anything about to the largest star-system that has been observed, each and all possess at their core vitality, energy, an active something propelling towards growth, evolution of faculties from within.

The only “permanent” in the whole universe is motion: unceasing movement, and the ideal perception is a blend of the mystical with the scientific, the intuitive with the rational.