To See The Whole World In A Grain Of Sand

I wrote the following post on November 5th, 2014 and I am republishing it here.

Yesterday I cleaned the inside of the sink with a paste cleaner made for stainless steel. I must have left some residue because when I looked at the sink this morning the water in the sink had coalesced with surface tension into ‘random’ shapes.

Plainly, they are not random. Rather they are the consequence of the forces acting upon them.

To calculate or model or predict the forces that would result in exactly these shapes is as good an example as any of the ‘butterfly flapping its wings in the forest’ principle. That’s the idea that in the real world there are innumerable forces at work that can have a multiplying effect.

So one might say that a hurricane’s origins could be traced back to the air currents caused by a butterfly flapping its wings somewhere in the Amazon basin.

When I was a teenager, I argued the other way out, as it were – that someone with Godlike powers of comprehension could read out the whole of the universe by looking at a grain of salt.

Which reminds me of the opening verse of Blake’s poem Auguries of Innocence. I don’t think it’s saying the same thing, or perhaps he is.

To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.

It’s appreciations like this that expand the universe inside one’s head. Perhaps that is why someone can treat others and the environment so badly – they have a small universe in their heads.

David Bohm

I watched a video, listening to the theoretical physicist David Bohm speak. He died in 1992 and his career took some odd turns as a result of persecution for the political associations he had in his youth and perhaps because of professional jealousy.

If I can say what he said and not make a mistake – the whole universe IS in that grain of salt or sand or that knife or that hand. That is, the whole world in a grain of sand is exactly and precisely true. The expression of the universe here is a grain of sand, and there it is a knife, and there it is a human body, and here it is a tree.

There cannot be a rogue part that operates separately. Everything is connected and part of one thing and all of one thing.

Which begs the question, what about us? Our bodies are part of this, but what about our consciousness.

My personal experience is that my consciousness is not within my body. I exist apart from it, as though I operate outside of time – dead and not yet born.

And the time that we experience is made up of moments that only appear to be connected linearly,

When I was nineteen I stood looking at a car passing on the street. I saw that I had a construction in my mind that saw the engine in the car and the wheels turning and that I concluded that the car was moving because the wheels were turning, just as I saw a cause for all the change around me.

But then I saw that what I was actually seeing was the wheels on the car in different positions. In other words, there was nothing to say that I understood the causal nature of what I saw. But I was wise enough not to stand in front of the car.


I must be interested in this subject because I wrote a post on June 2, 2019 about randomness in foxgloves. Here is what I wrote:

I know it seems an odd question to ask how randomness is determined. But the red spots on the white foxgloves are different in one flower to another, from one plant to another. And there must be something that rules the randomness in the pattern.

Or perhaps it is not random at all? Perhaps the particular location of that flower relative to the plants and trees around it, the position of the sun, and who know what else, might all come together in that particular pattern. But if it is not that, and it is just a release of the reins of control – then how does that arrangement happen?

One commenter said “That’s deep! I’m not sure whether there IS any randomness, but what determines it?! … my spontaneous answer would be God.”

And I replied:

“Yes, I deliberately left God out of the picture. Did I ever mention my theory of the Universe (with God in the picture)? I have this image in my mind’s eye of some scientist making a breakthrough in science. Let’s say it was when they first discovered the atom. They have a theory that there are atoms and they look in their equipment to confirm the theory experimentally.

Of course, in God’s world, there was no need atoms until now. But God can’t have scientists looking inside material and saying ‘There’s nothing there!!!’, so God scrambles around the back (well, not really scrambling, more like ambling) and puts all the atoms in place for the scientists to find. And so on…”

So what more is there to say? If man has free will and there is a God, then allowing for free will is a pretty neat trick. It is a miracle greater than making galaxies. And so, perhaps, God can allow randomness – which is very cool.

Under A Spreading Chestnut Tree

Ah, under a spreading chestnut-tree. The line comes from asong that goes back centuries and was popular in England in the days of music hall. If I recall correctly from old clips, there was a saucy innuendo in the way the words were delivered.

And ‘under a spreading chestnut-tree’ is also the opening line of a poem, The Village Blacksmith by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Under a spreading chestnut-tree
⁠ The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands,
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands

It’s not the most etherial of openings. The words and the rhyming are pretty obvious and, to my mind, clunky. But then later in the poem there is this, the penultimate verse.

Onward through life he goes;
Each morning sees some task begin,
     Each evening sees it close;
Something attempted, something done,
     Has earned a night’s repose.

Of course, I don’t know how much the average village blacksmith valued or respected his work. What was life like for a person like that in the 1800s in Longfellow’s day? Perhaps the blacksmith went home each day and collapsed exhausted and hated everything about his life.

Or perhaps he learned a lot about the materials he worked with, and grew to love the things he discovered in the materials and the challenge of working with them.

Perhaps when he was young he contemplated his future and tried to imagine how he was going to become successful. Perhaps he chose a profession where he had the best chance of acquiring the success he wanted. 

One could see how he would attach himself to anything that furthered that goal. He would turn like a weathervane, attracted to the next chance to advance.

If, on the other hand, he thought of what inspired him and of the work he wanted to accomplish, then the focus would be on the work. That is something honest and worthwhile that he could feel good about. He would not be divorced from the world. Rather he would be attached to it and feel good as a servant of it.

[Note: For he and him read also she and her.]

Tales From The Anteroom

The scene is the anteroom before souls are injected into the worlds. Present are the voyager and the guide. The guide is explaining the scene that lies before them.

Outside the window there are vast celestial bodies. They arrange and rearrange themselves so that one celestial body is central and the others rotate about it. Each celestial body is identified in turn by the guide.

“This is the fucking body; this is the acquisitive body; this is the higher plane body. You choose which celestial body most appeals to you and that is the world where you live. That is the world where you will experience what is central in your mind and your desires. The other bodies will rotate about it but it will be central and the world you experience will be dominated by what you desire.

As you can see, the bodies have arranged themselves based upon the karma you carry from past lives. It appears you want (words muffled as the guide turns away) and so it shall be if you want.

There is time to change your mind but remember that if you choose that which you do not really want, you will have an uncomfortable time down there.

On the other hand, choose what you want wisely. There are roads that lead out of here and roads that lead back to this anteroom.”

Existence and Being

Follow-up to a lecture given by Henrik Schøneberg ‘Awakening of Consciousness’. He described Sartre’s theory of existentialism – that existence precedes essence. That is, that it is only by acting, by making choices, that we give meaning to our lives. But if we bumble along without making conscious choices, then we do not realise our purpose and we do not become.

It’s a point of view. I can see how Sartre might see himself as exhorting people to wake up and realise that they must make themselves, not follow the web of established thinking. But does he accept that he too might be wrong, that the truth might lie outside his own thinking?


Schøneberg talked about Heidegger as being the most analytic of the existentialists, but that he ‘went too far’ when he joined the nazi party. As the song goes in Springtime For Hitler, in Mel Brooks’ The Producers, the way to get ahead is to get smart. In the words of the song: ‘Don’t be stupid, be a smarty/Come and join the Nazi Party’.

The philosopher, Heidegger says, is resolved ‘to understand time in terms of time,’ and not time in relation to eternity. He does not want to be involved with the Divine. Religion is an agent of modernity, and Heidegger hated modernity.


Modernity is, he says, the process by which powerful movements based on illusion rather than reality, seek to make a paradise on Earth by running people’s lives. I cannot understand at all how Heidegger does not see the nazi party as a prime example, but he sees nazism as going back to the roots of German Being, with a capital B. It is the cure for his existential homesickness.

I kind of get it, it’s visceral and basic and beast-like, and powerful. It’s before all the ‘fancy ideas’, all the fancy rational thinking that screws us up because we think we are rational when in reality we exist before that. It gets your blood up and it makes you feel good, so it must be real.

Well, yes, maybe. That’s the appeal, but in reality the nazi were all scared witless of the guys higher up on the ladder. You can tell from the cut of their uniforms and the swagger. Humility will take you anywhere, but swagger will only get you so far.


Moving on, I came across an article that compared and contrasted Heidegger and Eric Voegelin. Voegelin says it is ‘ridiculous to pretend that there was nothing to consciousness but the consciousness of objects of the external world.’

Well that is either self deception, metaphysics that take one further from Being as Being as meant by Heidegger and Sartre, or else Voegelin is right. Maybe.

On the one hand we have Heidegger’s ‘Being without concepts’. On the other hand we have Voegelin and humility and a sense of awe at the mere existence of existence. And why wouldn’t one want to enquire as to the ‘why’ of existence? Why is it only right to start from existence and work forward? Why wouldn’t one want to search for meaning outside of desires and passions? Voegelin asks whether man can perfect the world without God, and he answers that it is not possible and one shouldn’t try. And that is kind of like Heidegger’s opinion of modernity, so to that extent they can agree.

Man’s Search For Meaning

Does man become divorced from himself by searching for meaning? Is that it? I can see that, too, because we humans are pattern makers above all. We detect patterns, sometimes even where there are none. So we can lead ourselves up the garden path and lose ourselves in metaphysics and lose the simple truth of setting ourselves free to Become. Maybe.

I looked up Heidegger’s personal life. His Wikipedia entry describes he personal life this way:

Heidegger married Elfride Petri in 1917. Their first son, Jörg, was born in 1919. Elfride then gave birth to Hermann in 1920. Heidegger knew that he was not Hermann’s biological father but raised him as his son. Hermann’s biological father, who became godfather to his son, was family friend and doctor Friedel Caesar.

Heidegger had a long romantic relationship with Hannah Arendt and a steamy affair (over many decades) with Elisabeth Blochmann, both students of his. Arendt was Jewish, and Blochmann had one Jewish parent, making them subject to severe persecution by the Nazi authorities. He helped Blochmann emigrate from Germany before the start of World War II and resumed contact with both of them after the war.Heidegger’s letters to his wife contain information about several other affairs of his.

Voegelin, on the other hand, married and as far as I can see, had neither affairs nor divorces. I can cut all this philosophising down to size and say that Heidegger was drawn to go downwards to the brute essence, looking outward like an animal because that is what he was attracted to. Voegelin had a different temperament and looked for the Divine in the everyday. Maybe it was just a difference of temperament.

Existence and Being What?

Thinking back about Sartre, I guess what he does is make the break between existence and being. He thinks it is not automatic that one thinks and chooses and becomes because one exists. He does not say ‘I am and therefore I think. He says I exist and I had better get my skates on and start understanding my situation before it is too late. OK, but where to go from there? To follow one’s passions? To follow one’s desires? On what are those passions founded? What happens when the passion dries up? Is passion enough?

What happens when one’s passions run up against the opposing passions of others? It all seems very lone wolf, like Hesse’s Steppenwolf.


Freud would say that ego is made whole and balanced and sane when expressed in the community of people. It cannot be made alone. If that is right, then it stands opposed to existentialism, which in Freud’s view would simply be narcissism. That is unless of course through a happy coincidence of passions, the existential person chooses to join the community of people and gain expression there. In the view of Sartre, Heidegger, and Freud it would work just as long as the community of people steer clear of metaphysics and ideologies.

That leaves me with a question. Is there even the beginning of a scale by which to measure the value of such a community? Or is the notion of ‘value’ a descent already into metaphysics and the loss of Being?


In Euripides’ The Bacchae, the characters identified as ‘some maidens’ ask and answer the question of what is wisdom:

What else is wisdom? To stand from fear set free: To stand and wait.

In Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground, the narrator asks and answers what the normal state is for a man who is conscious enough to question the nature of things:

After all, the direct, legitimate, immediate fruit of consciousness is inertia.

I am going to pull back a bit. I am not convinced that the next step from existence is anything active at all. Perhaps it is simply to react. It’s a thought I have had before. I have been down this road. What determines how one puts one foot in front of the other?

If it is habit then it is a terrible thing. If it is curiosity and wonder, then that’s the antithesis of boredom. Perhaps that is enough. Then there is no grand enquiry into ‘Who am I?’ There is instead an appreciation of the rhythm of the day.

In Camus’ The Outsider’, when the principal character shoots the man on the beach he says of himself:

’I knew in that moment that I had broken the balance of the day.’

Is that enough, simply to appreciate? Must we accept that we are discontented with that state, that it is not enough, or that it simply does not apply to us? Are we so deep into metaphysics that we cannot regain that Eden? It’s a problem, and not one I am going to solve today.