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.