Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The universe is the way it is

Forget Jesus, the stars died so you could be here today.

(Lawrence Krauss, theoretical physicist)

A good painter has two chief objects to paint: man and the intention of his soul. The former is easy, the latter hard.

( Leonardo da Vinci, c. 1490)

A microcosm of sacredness

Cave of Forgotten Dreams, a film by Werner Herzog, takes us through Chauvet Cave in southern France, where we are surrounded by the oldest human-painted images yet found on Earth, wall paintings that may take us back some 35,000 years ago.

Palaeolithic artists at the Chauvet Cave have left us with more than 400 painted or engraved animals, some species long extinct, an astonishing collection. Far more than any Gothic cathedral or world famous museum I've ever visited, I felt I was in the presence of long forgotten, sacred human dreams.

Yes, as Lawrence Krauss reminds us, we humans are probably more insignificant than we ever imagined. After all, we're just stardust, because every atom in our body came from a star that exploded. Yet, following the camera as it meandered through this extraordinary cave in France, it was impossible not to be in awe at the convergence of those “magical” atoms that took up residence on one insignificant planet at the edge of one ordinary galaxy. Even so, I couldn't shake the sadness I felt as well.

Call me Vitruvius

Many of us are familiar, as Toby Lester author of Da Vinci's Ghost points out, with the famous drawing by Leonardo da Vinci of a naked man in a circle and a square. It has become pop art, showing up on wall paper, coffee mugs and corporate logos.

For da Vinci however it represented the human body as the world in miniature. The circle had been long associated with the divine and the square with the secular and the earthly. Leonardo took the ideas of the Roman engineer and architect Vitruvius, who lived around 25 b.c., and ultimately concluded that the design of the human body reflected that of the universe, which would reveal the entire world. Leonardo wanted to see deep into both our body and soul, an ambitious undertaking even for a genius like da Vinci.

Seeking or not

With our unique human narcissism it's hardly surprising that we created an infinite number of supernatural entities to justify our own special immortality. Of course I knew why I felt the sadness as I watched Cave of Forgotten Dreams. Why could we not have done better than we have I was thinking. But even if we human went extinct what would it matter to the universe? Then again, it might matter in some way to the flora and fauna still here. It was an answer I could live with, for the time being.

There is no WHY, since the moment simply is, and since all of us are simply trapped in the moment, like a bug in Amber.

(Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-5)

For some audio recordings visit me at public radio exchange

No comments: