Light, physics and sandals
Light is a lofty topic for a talk but who better to tackle such a broad topic than a sandal wearing ex Anglican Priest, with a degree in Physics and Theology and a PhD in Philosophy.
How do you begin such a conversation? By asking them what they think of when they think about light to gauge the intelligence/ physics qualifications of your audience. It is a proven fact that individual responses to that question will usually reveal a hidden PhD in Astro Physics. This is important to do if you are about to embark on a crash course in the science, perception and philosophy of light. For those of you looking to put me in a box, I said light is the opposite of heavy. I, of course, was in the minority with that response.
The definition that he went with, to set the tone for the talk was, that light enables us to see, but we don’t actually see it. Oh a sign of things to come. Further the scientific aspect of light allows us to see things differently, for us to be enlightened, if you will. If it wasn’t inappropriate for people over 30 to use smiley faces, I would have used one after that sentence.
Physics is the most accurate science known to man
We started with the physics of light, running through the work of: Aristotle; Newton; and Maxwell. It’s at this point that I learn that quantum physics is the most accurate science known to man. Given my limited IQ, I have no way of validating the accuracy of this statement. Further, physics envy is defined as scientists and other lay people who wish that their area of expertise was as accurate as physics. Again, with my brain and in my line of work, I don’t have this issue, but I sympathise with those, such as our fearless lecturer, who do. Given, this physics envy, he most definitely deserved a hefty round of applause for dealing with the topic of light on so many levels. I am not going to comment any further on the physics of light, for the aforementioned IQ related issues.
But humans mess it up by never truly seeing anything objectively
As humans, we are incapable of seeing things objectively. I’ve never thought about it before, but for us to make use of light to physically see, we require some understanding of the context or environment within which we are seeing. Think about it, even our language tells us this, for example we never say, my eye saw, rather, I saw. It’s not just our eyes, rather our whole brain seeing. This is something explored by Sartre in his works, nothing has a value in and of itself, we assign value or context to what we see based on our own culture, traditions and experiences. This is why there is really something to be said for a great artist, who truly changes your perceptions of what you see. Or why I would say that I saw that the sea in Greece is blue, but that there is no word in Ancient Greek for blue.
During the two hour session we were awarded a 5 minute peanut break. Typically this is a good opportunity for those who consider the talk to be bullshit to slip out unnoticed. But not to our theological guide! Who named and shamed every person who left in the interval. Lucky for them, most had just gone out for a smoke - although eternal damnation obviously awaited those who did actually leave. I thought Priests had an inner light and were somewhat impervious to the dark lord of self-doubt. Knowing this makes me feel bad about leaving church early at Christmas all those times. I’ll stay right to the end this year. Even though the service always finishes with Away in a Manger – my least favourite carol.
That’s why we need ‘enlightenment’, to expand our otherwise narrow horizons
While it is true, we ‘see’ a combination of what our society, experiences and brain hemispheres allow us to see, there are some noble creatures among us who believe that we can ‘transcend’ these filters to achieve true enlightenment. Essentially, awakening yourself to possibilities other than what you have always know to be true. Kant describes true enlightenment as: not accepting something just to be true, rather daring to know something for yourself; and then once you have convinced yourself that this thing is true, putting it to the test of public opinion. To illustrate this, we spent a long time talking about Plato’s cave.
Plato’s cave is a long story, but the idea is that there are a group of people fixed at the bottom of a pit, trapped by a combination of circumstance, apathy and fear of the shadow people on the wall. One day, say one of the pit dwellers is released or the curiosity of what goes on beyond the pit wall, becomes too much for one pit dweller, who decides to climb over the wall and up and out if the pit. Having done so, she makes various painful discoveries, including fire - it hurts her eyes - other humans who are using the fire and their bodies to cast the shadows on the wall and eventually sunlight, outside the cave. Having made these discoveries, she chooses to follow Satre’s definition of enlightenment and returns to the pit to put her findings to the court of public pit dwelling opinion. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work out well for her. Watch the video.
So it seems to me that we are all trapped, up until the point where we choose to be freed – or enlightened. Simply freeing ourselves is painful and difficult, but the second step, the test of public opinion, can be downright deadly. Plato’s cave applies to our lives in so many ways, one of which being via physics, where the analogy put forward by one of the participants to describe the cave - of course there was a physics analogy - is the idea of being ‘able’ to see the world in 2D, 3D, 4D etc.
I don’t mind maths, but words are better
You can’t argue that maths, physics and geometry bring light to many situations, by explaining things that we can’t use our spoken languages to explain. I think that it is fair to say that the expansion of the scientific field has stilted progression of the other obvious definition of light, enlightenment. Apart from Slavoj Zizek and Alain De Botton are there any other rock star philosophers out there working today? Well Alain is actually more of a pop star, but the point is that we just don’t seem to spend the same amount of time just thinking or revere those who do - if not in the name of a particular problem that needs solving. Philosophy, it seems, has become the domain of 1st year university students and jailed oligarchs. And that’s a shame.