The Edge of The Universe

The Edge of The Universe

In Freemasonry, it explained that the “extent of a Lodge” covers the whole of existence, rising to the heavens, to the depths of the earth, east and west to each horizon, and north and south the same. This is the width, breadth, and depth of a Masonic Lodge. This is emblematical of the Temple of Humanity, but truly not just humanity. The Lodge is all of creation, edge to edge. If this is so, then the whole of the entire universe is a Lodge, and all of the entirety of the universe are its officers and workers.

Everything? So it would seem.

We also know that a Lodge is not a Temple. The Temple is the place where the Freemasons meet, to perform ritual, enjoy brotherhood, and revel in sacred space. The Lodge is the body of Freemasons that make up the Fraternity. Plainly, it would seem that the Lodge is not just Freemasons but truly all life, organic, inorganic, and all matter within the known universe. Is it any wonder that the Freemason creed is to study the hidden mysteries of nature and science? Hidden, it seems, is the operative word. No pun intended, I assure you.

Yet, I think Freemasons may rarely study either. Many are content to execute ritual with good friends, and for many, that is the whole of Freemasonry. Some are involved in activities outside themselves, such as service to their Order and to other non-profit organizations, which are necessary activities. New Masons may observe and listen; yet, there are steps to real study that need to be followed to find understanding. This study and exploration continues well beyond the Third Degree. This is not meant as a condemnation of those good works; it is but a passionate appeal to seek for more.

A Freemason’s study entails curiosity, reading, experimenting, testing, theorizing, and play. It requires creativity and intuition to explore that creativity, looking for new ways to be in and of nature. It involves art, engineering, science, and math. It involves all the liberal arts. There is so much depth the foundational principles of Freemasonry and we only have to delve further to decant vast pools of mystery where we can drink direct understanding.

Indeed, most humans rarely look beyond their own bodies, and sometimes not even then, to study nature and science. We are accustomed to people telling us what to see, hear, and do. This is not to say their input is incorrect or malicious. It is their opinion based on evidence to their eyes. It is based on their own perception of the universe. Every perception, including our own, is only a shadow of perhaps all there is, and we need to remember that when listening and observing. The ideas we come up with from observing how nature works, by the vehicle of science, is a far better path towards wisdom. This is why ancient philosophers are so fascinating. It the not-so-distant past of humanity, a mere two thousand years, we were focused on the union of these two methods – observing nature and theorizing on its state – to understand life. Philosophers would not have separated the two ideas; nature taught, philosophers sought to understand, test, and validate their findings.

They were a curious lot, and for hundreds of years helped humanity steer itself toward a union between itself and the rest of the universe. They were often wrong; yet, even today we find them often right. Democritus, “Father of the Atom,” understood that “the world is made of up of granular particles.” Today, his work has informed Einstein as well as many modern quantum physicists. We recognize that the world is made up of grains, atoms, and their constituents are also granular.

These great thinkers are not limited to just the well-known philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates. In fact, I do not believe we can truly understand these three unless we take steps to understand their predecessors and successors. Zeno of Citium, in 300 B.C.E. taught that universal reason, logic, is the foundation of all goodness in life and that living a life of reason was humanity’s purpose. Epicurus, with his principles of pleasure and happiness informed Lucretius’ work On the Nature of Things, which has also informed many modern scientists. Three hundred years earlier, Anaximander, a student of Thales of Miletus, became what we now believe to be the “first” philosopher, as Thales’ writings have ceased to survive.

“Anaximander invented the idea of models, drew the first map of the world in Greece, and is said to have been the first to write a book of prose. He traveled extensively and was highly regarded by his contemporaries. Among his major contributions to philosophical thought was his claim that the ‘basic stuff’ of the universe was the apeiron, the infinite and boundless, a philosophical and theological claim which is still debated among scholars today and which, some argue, provided Plato with the basis for his cosmology.”1

The past informs the future and sometimes, it informs the far future if we pay attention. Carlo Rovelli, in “Reality is Not What it Seems,” states:  “It is only in interactions that nature draws the world.” Or, “The world of quantum mechanics is not a world of objects: it is a world of events.” Rovelli sees the world as Anaximander did, as an eternal flow between events; these events may be the life of a human being or a rock, not as fleeting as that of the quantum processes of creation.

In Lucretius’ discussion about the existence and composition of space, he poses what we now know as the Javelin Argument:

“For whatever bounds it, that thing must itself be bounded likewise; and to this bounding thing there must be a bound again, and so on for ever and ever throughout all immensity. Suppose, however, for a moment, all existing space to be bounded, and that a man runs forward to the uttermost borders, and stands upon the last verge of things, and then hurls forward a winged javelin,— suppose you that the dart, when hurled by the vivid force, shall take its way to the point the darter aimed at, or that something will take its stand in the path of its flight, and arrest it? For one or other of these things must happen. There is a dilemma here that you never can escape from… Lastly, before our eyes one thing is seen to bound another; air is as a wall between the hills, and mountains between tracts of air, land bounds the sea, and again sea bounds all lands; yet the universe in truth there is nothing to limit outside.”2

We now theorize that with Loop Quantum Gravity, a form of quantum theory about how the universe is constructed at the quantum level, spacetime is a network that creates itself, as the universe is expanding. While we may believe there is an edge to the universe, it is at the quantum level unbounded in that it has a constant creation. According to Claudia de Rham, theoretical physicist at Imperial College, “General relativity yields the predictions of black holes and the Big Bang at the origin of our universe. Yet the “singularities” in these places, mysterious points where the curvature of space-time seems to become infinite, act as flags that signal the breakdown of general relativity.”

Courtesy of NASA

Additionally, Juan Maldacena, a quantum gravity theorist at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, has said, “In quantum gravity, space-time itself behaves in novel ways. Instead of the creation of particles, we have the creation of universes.”

If the foundation stones of Freemasonry are these ancient philosophers, it behooves us to understand them so we have a foundation to understand the nature of humanity in order to perfect it. In fact, we require their knowledge to understand the nature of all things, so that we may remember whence we came and that of which we are made. To understand a thing is to know it. Can we understand ourselves if we do not understand nature? We do not stand apart. We are the universe in all things. As NASA has said,

“The hydrogen in your body, present in every molecule of water, came from the Big Bang. There are no other appreciable sources of hydrogen in the universe. The carbon in your body was made by nuclear fusion in the interior of stars, as was the oxygen. Much of the iron in your body was made during supernovas of stars that occurred long ago and far away. The gold in your jewelry was likely made from neutron stars during collisions that may have been visible as short-duration gamma-ray bursts or gravitational wave events. Elements like phosphorus and copper are present in our bodies in only small amounts but are essential to the functioning of all known life,”

and have come from exploding white dwarfs and massive stars.3

To the Freemason, then, there are ever things to explore and understand. In fact, we might even say that we are co-creators in the universe, as it constantly growing and developing. The breadth, depth, and width of our “Lodge” is on the move, and we have the past and the future to explore. Spacetime is inconstant, creative, and evolving, and there is a wonderful eternal now from which to draw our study of nature and science. Perhaps that is a subject for another time. Again.


Notes:
1 – August 21, 2020, https://www.ancient.eu/Anaximander/
2 – August 22, 2020, https://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/carus-on-the-nature-of-things/simple#lf1496_endnote_nt239
3 – August 09, 2020, NASA https://ift.tt/2DCCwin

The Socratic Method: Does It Lead A Mason From Darkness To Light?

The Socratic Method: Does It Lead A Mason From Darkness To Light?

“I can’t teach anybody anything. I can only make them think.” 

So says Socrates, a great thinker of his time in Ancient Greece. He was known for educating his disciples by asking questions and thereby drawing out answers from them, called the Socratic method. The goal was to nudge people to examine their own beliefs, instead of unthinkingly inheriting opinions from others. The approach was a way for his students to find the truth of anything. Thinkers have venerated the method ever since. It really worked for the Greeks.

I have always had a fascination with Greek culture. I particularly enjoy studying Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. I also admit to getting lost in Greek mythology at times, enjoying Greek food, and have always secretly wished that I could dance like a Greek goddess.

Given the above, it seems only reasonable I should find myself honing in on Socrates. Mind you, I am no authority on the great ones of the ancient past, other than being humbled by their wisdom and insight. Socrates is for me the most interesting of the three: a perspective I am sure many might agree and equally as many might disagree.

There are two statements that Socrates made that I found particularly thought-provoking. 

“To know, is to know that you know nothing. That is the meaning of true knowledge.”

“Let him that would move the world first move himself.”

The first quote that starts, “To know, is to know that you know nothing” is a paradox right off the bat. Yet, instinctively, somehow, I understand the entire point and it makes sense even while being a total paradox! And the second quote struck me as so linked and interrelated to the first one. One would be hard pressed to assert one carries more11873522964_9cb8eb5a44_b weight than the other or to even think about them separately. 

How can we know what we don’t know? Does the Socratic method offer us a technique to advance towards the light of true knowledge? 

Plato’s Dialogue: It’s About the Questioning

Socrates said: “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” In other words, question everything. I recently read the statistic that children through the ages 2-5 ask roughly 40,000 questions. I have wondered why, as we go through into adulthood, the number of questions we ask drops significantly. 

We know through the writings of Plato, the student of Socrates, that he was often quizzed by his teacher about deeper realities. Red Rose in the GardenIn “Plato’s Dialogues,” we can read short works in which Plato recreates various conversations Socrates had with another student. And thus, we get a really good idea of the Socratic method. 

The style of a Platonic dialogue may go something like this:

Q: “What color is the rose in the garden?”
A: “The rose in the garden is red.”
Q:”Is this rose still red to a blind person?”
A: No.
Q: “So you are saying the rose is red only to those who can see.”
A: Yes.
Q: “What color would it be to a blind person? Would it be pink or white or some other color?”
A: (No answer – student is bewildered).
Q: “So the rose is red only to those who can see.”
A: Yes.
Q: “If the rose in the garden is where no one can see it, is it still red?”
A: (No answer – further bewilderment).

And so on. The questioner might end up forcing a realization in the student of how color only exists in a person’s mind as a result of their perception; it isn’t actually a property of the rose. In other words, the rose is not red.

Socrates believed there were two ways to come to knowledge: through discovery and by being taught. To be taught presupposes that someone else has discovered the truth for you. He thought for his disciples to really know a subject, they should form their own beliefs and experience their own blind alleys and realizations.tunnel-2033983_960_720

How does this idea of discovery relate to the path of a Freemason? 

From Darkness to Light

Every Freemason is on a quest to discover his “true self.”  He is taught the importance of the Liberal Arts and Sciences, of which logic is one of them. The study of critical thinking and reasoning allows the Freemason to look beyond mere perception and dogma in the search for truth. In this way, it is possible to forge a path to moral, scientific, and philosophical enlightenment. “To know nothing” is leaning into the next moment, wondering what you are going to find. It is a form of being blindfolded or hoodwinked, waiting for more light. 

It was in Freemasonry that I really learned to embrace the journey from darkness to light, to become a friend of the Socratic method, and learn to be humble in what I don’t know. When I first joined, a poor blind candidate, I was asked probing questions about the First Degree. Questions like, “What does it mean to know thyself?” and “Is truth absolute or relative?” I was asked to explore the relationships among concepts and ideas. For example, I had to compare two types of symbols and to explain how they are similar, how they are different, or evaluate the meanings of each. 

Over the many masonic degrees, my mentors have pointed me in the direction of truth only to glorify the beauty of the group vision and the image of enlightenment. 

The Freemason W.L. Wilmshurst said:

“Truth, whether as expressed in Masonry or otherwise, is at all times an open secret, but is as a pillar of light to those able to receive and profit by it, and to all others but one of darkness and unintelligibility.”

I think he is saying that truth is a mysterious something that is sensed, even though the truthrational mind may try to discredit it. The ability to sense this invitation to truth, even when the path is dark and hidden, is perhaps the most important lesson to consider here. “The future I do not see. One step enough for me.” 

My takeaway from the Socratic method is this: Remember how little you know, question everything, and keep your mind open to other possibilities. If all goes well, truth is our travel companion from darkness to light.  What do you ask for? 

The Masonic Pursuit of Freedom

The Masonic Pursuit of Freedom

What makes a Freemason free? I started brooding over this question one day when wondering which word is better to use, “Freemason” or “mason.” Is one term more correct? Historically, the distinction is said to be a carry-over from the medieval period of the stone masons. In a grammatical sense, both terms are used interchangeably today. Like any word, I guess you can speculate more about their deeper meanings, if you are so inspired.

Anyway, as sometimes happens, a smaller question led to bigger ones. 

What is freedom? How is it important to a Freemason?

The concept of freedom is difficult to understand because it can work in mysterious ways from within out; it is not imposed from the outside. Rosa Parks was not protesting so that she could be free, nor was Mahatma Gandhi in prison waiting for someone to anoint him with an elixir of freedom. In their hearts and minds. they were already free!

Freedom means many things to different people. Some philosophers call freedom a principle, a law, or a right. It can be defined from various perspectives like economic, social, political or religious. Freedom has also been said to be a state of mind or even a state of being when a person is liberated from the “tomb of matter.” There are a select few who don’t believe it exists at all.

Regardless of how we define it, most would agree that freedom is part of our approach to life. The very ideas such as freedom of thought, freedom of speech, freedom of worship, and freedom of choice all have become the very water and air of our societies. These freedoms are highly prized.

The American Declaration of Independence tells us:

“We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Is, then, the instinctual striving toward freedom and the pursuit of happiness inherent in all human beings?

The Pursuit of Happiness by Aristotle
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The great philosophers in earlier centuries had a huge impact about how we think about these types of questions today. More than anyone else, Aristotle enshrined happiness as a central purpose of human life and a goal in itself. I read Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics years ago before becoming a Freemason and adopted it as much of my own personal philosophy. In the lectures he presents a theory of happiness that has carried through all my years as a mason which says a lot.

Aristotle sought to answer the most fundamental questions you can ask yourself. What is the highest good of human existence? What is the highest good achievable by action?

Aristotle suggests that human existence is an activity of soul in accordance with virtue. To understand the nature of happiness or “eudaimonia,” as he called it, we must investigate the nature of virtue.

As Aristotle puts it:

“If happiness is in accordance with virtue, it is reasonable that it should be in accordance with the highest virtue; and this will be that of the best thing in us.”

Now, I thought the conclusion that Aristotle comes to after his lecture on virtue is very interesting. He says that none of the moral virtues are inherent in human nature. For example, the moral virtues, such as fortitude, temperance, justice, and prudence, can only be attained through practice and habitual action. Essentially, his line of thinking is that happiness comes from virtue, and then virtue comes from  freedom of choice. He says that “to entrust to chance what is greatest and most noble would be a very defective arrangement.”

statue-of-liberty-1746808_960_720Choices, as he defines them, are the things that can be brought about by one’s own efforts. Responsible choices are the ones that provide the greatest good for the greatest number. The freedom of choice is an essential component in the formula to happiness and consequently to becoming more “free.”

Which aspects, then, of freedom are most immediately identifiable to a freemason?

The “Free” Mason

In the writings of Manly P. Hall, we find many ideas that are in sync with Aristotle. When a mason passes through the door of the Temple and takes his seat, he has made a choice to let his entire nature be subjected to a drastic discipline of ethical training. By development of virtues, he advances in the Craft.

Manly Hall writes in The Candidate:

“There comes a time in the growth of every living individual thing when it realizes with dawning consciousness that it is a prisoner. It is at this point that man cries out with greater insistence to be liberated from the binding ties which, though invisible to mortal eyes, still chain him with bonds far more terrible than those of any physical prison.”

soul-2698886_960_720One can only speculate what Hall meant by the binding ties that chain him. 

What is the candidate being liberated from? Perhaps it could be said that the candidate is a slave to his dogmas and ideologies. He may be further tainted by the dynamics of power and profit. When a person is liberated from the prisons of ignorance and vice, then the attainment of greater freedom is automatic. There’s a greater purpose to life than the egotistic individual who is running the show.

Hall writes again:

“The eternal prisoner awaits the day when, standing upon the rocks that now form His shapeless tomb, He may raise His arms to heaven, bathed in the sunlight of spiritual freedom, free to join the sparkling atoms and dancing light-beings released from the bonds of prison wall and tomb.”

As Hall expresses, to be released from the bonds of prison wall is not a simple task. As Aristotle emphasized, it is easier to miss the mark than to hit it. For this reason, “right conduct is rare and praiseworthy and noble.” Freedom comes from examining everything in the light of whether it comes from an inner truth, or from a reaction to outer things.

In the end, why is it so hard to align with that inner truth? I say that maybe it’s much harder to hold out against it.

“Liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth.”  ~ George Washington

Universal Freemasonry

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