Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Epiphanies and Mathematical Proofs

Still influenced by recent general anesthesia, I’m attracted to an interesting quote in an interesting article in the NYT about a mathematical proof and an altered paradigm of human thought, which sounds a bit like hype or is simply something over my head. According to the article there's quasi-confirmation of a Russian mathematician's announcement that he solved an intractable mathematical problem, known as the Poincaré conjecture, which speaks about the nature of space. The article says, "Mathematicians have been waiting for this result for more than 100 years, ever since the French polymath Henri Poincaré posed the problem in 1904. And they acknowledge that it may be another 100 years before its full implications for math and physics are understood. For now, they say, it is just beautiful, like art or a challenging new opera."

But what brought this piece to my blog is what Poincaré once said, “Thought is only a flash in the middle of a long night, but the flash that means everything.” Now I find that to be truly amazing: that Clarity (with capital C) can often be a concentrated, frightening speck of intense realization, unprovable, but a bezel of Certitude that can overwhelm a person with lightening force. I think that most people have moments like this but dismiss them because of a number of reasons: lack of confidence, thinking that it is spawned by some kind of demonology, postmodern mind-bashing deconstruction of "special" in all of its forms, or public school.

When we have those moments — example, "no God but God" with a meaning that floors you because you behold, in a flicker, the Explanation for Everything — when veils drop and one confronts a true epiphany, then let's appreciate the Clarity and weightiness of what the Prophets received and bore, especially the Final One. When we are startled by an epiphany, remember those who walked the earth who *lived* with something greater than it — pure, often worded, and secure to boot.


Anonymous Irving said...

On the Sufi path there are such moments also, a metanoia, a change in perception. We see the world differently then, in a clearer way. The randomness of everyday life makes more sense, and our thoughts are changed, physically changed. Our neural pathways are actually changed by it. It's one way that thought changes the physical world.

8/18/2006 3:13 PM  
Blogger fromclay said...

That's really interesting, Irving. I find that the very notions of Clarity and altered perceptions have been profaned or, worse yet, something commercialized. This is how emphasis on the physical world changes thought.

8/18/2006 4:47 PM  
Blogger Shahnazzz said...

Forgive me if this is a stupid question, but is Clarity a deepending/heightening of everyday perception or a radically different form of perception?

(By the way there's a fascinating article co-authored by Sylvia Nasar on the Poincare puzzle and the mathematicians who tried to solve it in the next isue of the New Yorker.)

8/19/2006 6:36 PM  
Blogger fromclay said...

Not a stupid question at all, Shahnaz. And the over-simplified "comment" answer is that Clarity can be both. It is being able to see sacred purpose in everything around us, and if we start off with a schooled profane understanding of the world and all of its symbolism (terribly reduced to organic and physical realities), then Clarity is about an altered view. But if one is already accepting of a sacred purpose or is at least open to it, then Clarity is the "deepening" you speak of. One of the realities we have to accept is that humanity can lose knowledge, which is a blow to the modern notion of perpetual development. I think we have lost the spiritual knowledge that can easily deconstruct the emphasis on the material. We are left with a legion of “intellectuals” who pontificate, however profoundly, on the complexities of a material existence with little hope for an other-worldly reality. Obviously, a million things can be said about this, and we hope that when they are said, their impact will still be possible.

8/19/2006 10:57 PM  

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