When string theorists attempt to draw or diagram what a “string” looks like, they don’t draw strings but vibrations — specifically, mathematical vibrations in multiple dimensions. For there is no final and fundamental particle, thing, or substance: when we are done dividing, we find that only the insubstantial remains. That is the ground of being; or at the very least it’s as good a candidate as a theoretical speck of matter.
Now you may want to ask: how can there be vibration without a string? How can something come from nothing? Now if I were a Zen master, I would assign you that question as your koan, a personal puzzle or problem that has no solution in the realm of thought or calculation. I would tell you to go to sleep and wake up with it; to take it to the bathroom with you; to eat it and drink it; to caress it and kick it; to follow it, hunt it down, and be pursued by it.
Such an approach is actually an intense variation on a well-known theme. I’m sure you’ve had the experience of solving an intellectual problem or general life conundrum by first burying yourself in it and then “losing it” in a temporary stream of activity that took you out of the problem — sleep, sports or games, sex, or even a different problem. Then you came back to the original puzzle and found it solved within you.
The Zen people merely magnify this process, with a focus on the matter of conscious attention. This, incidentally, may help to explain why there are so many artists, meditators, and psycho-spiritual seekers among the scientists and technicians at CERN, where the mysteries of creation are being explored within the Large Hadron Collider. We are already well into an era where the common findings of quantum physics and astrophysics are more bizarre and surreal than any celestial or infernal system of religion or esoteric fantasy. The universe as it is revealed to us is far stranger and more wondrous than anything we could have concocted in the wildest dream of expectation or projection; and there is a lesson in that for our everyday lives.
But in Zen, the way into such a realm of realization is typically a long and convoluted path of conscious struggle. They always acknowledge that it really is easy, or is supposed to be anyway — but then they lead (or follow) the student down a rabbit hole of analysis and into every trap and cage of thought, so that he may eventually realize that the answer is so much closer and clearer than anything that thought could concoct or conceive.
I am trying to provide some context for the quote in the image above; because one obvious objection to Tesla’s observation is that the brain is a transmitter, too. Technically, that’s true; but what Tesla was talking about was creativity and discovery. That is to say, when we focus on the brain-as-receiver, we open ourselves to another source or origin of the creative, and avoid the arrogance of intellectual conquest. Those Zen masters want to get their students to exactly the same place that Tesla spoke of — that invisible core from which all creativity and inspiration flow toward the heart of humility and the hand of pure effort. The Zen strategy is to access that core by undermining the authority of thought; and they do that by burning a hole in its body. Indeed, one of their primary metaphors on the action of the koan within the student is “swallowing the molten ball of iron.” The problem presented by the koan defies calculation; it burns the wooden wings of thought. Intellect cannot digest it.
So the student eventually passes through that charred hole of mind and into Tesla’s field of inspiration, where life meets experience in a starkly beautiful realm with no division, no conquest, no thought. Such moments often occur under the commonest of circumstances and environments: a Zen priest I once knew “solved” his first koan while he was sweeping up on the back porch of his temple. I have heard of others who broke through their koans while cleaning the toilet or washing the dishes.
Me? Nah, I’ve never “solved” a koan. I’d be in the loony bin before I got halfway to the end of it. But I have had these moments in which the entire city of the monuments of shadows collapsed before and around me; suddenly there was an energy in sensation and being that was, well, like sitting amid the arcs of a Tesla coil. The problem with such moments is that something inside us is compelled to grasp at them and attempt to hold them. You may as well grab hold of a hot ball of molten iron.
Can there be an end to such folly? Another koan. Take the red pill or the blue; there is no purple. But on that note, let me repeat something I mentioned earlier this year: if the universe and our lives are in fact a hologram or a matrix, then how is it that they are also “fake” or “unreal” (as the science writer in the link above says)? Is it not far better and nobler that I am a mathematical projection than the lumpy and sin-riddled creation of a clumsy and violent toddler-God such as the Jews, Christians, and Muslims worship? An equation is not an enemy of reality, but simply a different expression of it. The only enemy of reality; the only poison to the body of both Reason and Spirit; the only death worth fearing is the darkness of a hatred that parades as Faith; the violence of a tyrant disguised as God; and the delusion of priests dressed up as Truth.
So I am a hologram, and so are you. We are creations of that pure art of mathematics; we are expressions of the golden ratio; we are algorithms and not ideology. We are vibrations with no palpable string to make them; these amazing Somethings derived from Nothing — or better still, amazing Nothings coming out of Something. We are energy independent of (but not opposed to) matter. And you’re saying this is not real? As if that were a bad thing? I can scarcely imagine any discovery that would rate more as “gospel” — good news — than this: the realization that we are not real according to the superficial measure of our cultural stereotypes. It’s a truth I’ve long felt, and so I look forward to astrophysical science closing the case.