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 Today's Take:  NCR's daily Web column
Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news.  It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.

January 26, 2004
Vol. 1, No. 188




Sister Rita Larivee Learning more to discover more

Sister Rita Larivee, SSA, NCR associate publisher

The second rover space craft, Opportunity, landed on the surface of Mars this past weekend, touching down on the Meridiani Planum, a smooth plain near Mars' equator on the other side of the Red Planet from its twin rover, Spirit.

Some people are asking whether this type of research is really worth the expense? Only time will tell. Personally, I lean on the side of exploration. But let me explain why.

Other Today's Takes by Rita Larivee
June 25, 03 Use closed sessions with caution
June 24, 03 Howard Dean and a reminder of the common good
June 23, 03 Baseball's best kept secret
May 21, 03 Kudos to Maine Rx
May 20, 03 Managed truth (a.k.a. 'lying')
May 19, 03 Celebrating spring rites of passage
I'm both a technologist and theologian, having done doctoral studies in both fields. So it is understandable that I spend a great deal of time thinking about the world, both physical and spiritual. Yet, much to my chagrin, I am beginning to wonder if humanity has lost its sense of wonder and imagination. The more I learn, the more I discover what I do not know. But listening to the leaders of the day, you'd think they'd been infused with all the answers. Whether they are world leaders or church leaders, they pretend to have the solutions to all our challenges. No sooner does an issue get raised than someone in leadership makes a proclamation with absolute certainty, very effectively cutting everyone else off at the pass should there be creativity and dialogue about other possibilities.

The effect: polarization has been established as the working model for our time. We have allowed those who would control us to set the agenda for our discussions. Rather than address with renewed energy the possibilities for our global community and church, we too quickly become engaged with an agenda that causes us to react and defend. In the end, we achieve oscillating debates that seem more like major windstorms and the accompanying destructive forces than authentic movement toward truth and understanding for the human family.

There are wonderful conversations happening within our world that should force us to reconsider how we interpret everything around us and within us. The world we once knew never was. Whether it is science or theology, both represent our finest attempts in explaining our experience of the unknown, not the known.

All this week, this column will be devoted to a few of the new ideas emerging that don't typically make it into the public arena. The rovers on Mars, though a great scientific accomplishment, may actually be symbolic of an even greater event -- the emergence of a reawakened human consciousness with a renewed vigor for venturing into the unknown. What shall we find? It's anyone's guess, but the journey has great promise.

Let's begin.

Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727), remember him? According to the well-known story, it was on seeing an apple fall to the ground that he discovered the law of gravity. He had a few other notable discoveries as well. He has been called the father of classical physics, a title he has held for more than 300 years. (Though he did get some help from his predecessors, Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo.) Nevertheless, there were many who thought his work to be the final explanation for understanding the mechanics of the entire physical world.

But, alas, his reign could not last. Classical physics is a flawed theory, but only when dealing with very small things like atoms or with very fast things like objects traveling near the speed of light. The laws he discovered simply do not work in these instances. This, of course, is no small thing since the entire physical world is made up of atoms and the most powerful source of energy known to us is the sun.

Despite the inconsistencies, most humans interpret reality in terms of Newton's understanding of things; e.g., the world is three-dimensional, every object is separate from every other object, physical and spiritual are not connected, every physical happening has a cause and every cause has an effect. In other words, most of us today embrace an incomplete and simplistic view of reality because that is all we are aware of or can relate to directly. This is similar to society 500 years ago which related to a flat earth. Anyone who had the temerity to suggest otherwise was burned at the stake.

Albert Einstein comes along in the early 1900's and gives us the special theory of relativity that does a better job of explaining things like light, but still failed to explain the intricacies of atoms. Gone are the days of imagining an atom as a nucleus at the center and electrons looping around as if to be a mini solar system. By the second half of the 20th century, quantum mechanics was born, which did a good job of explaining what Einstein could not. Unfortunately, while Einstein's theory explained some things and quantum mechanics explained others, the two theories were in conflict of each other.

By 1980, a new group of physicists begin to discover what is today referred to as superstring theory. It connects all the theories together as one. Light, motion, energy, atoms, and molecules are all connected. We live in a unified world. There does not exist one set of laws for one situation and a second or third set of laws for other situations. In fact, though it is difficult to describe, physicists believe that there are more than three dimensions for describing the physical world, every object is connected to every other object and that the mere existence of something is enough to cause effect on something else. It's all intertwined and we're part of it. We too are made up of atoms.

What does this mean?

We are not journeying in the universe, but with the universe, we are not living in an evolving world, but co-evolving with the world, and that there is much more to the universe than our senses can perceive.

But while physicists are beginning to verbalize a theory of everything, the fascinating phenomenon is that philosophers and theologians are saying the same thing from a completely different starting point. Here, too, the theory of everything has emerged, describing in a new way our understanding of the global community.

Two individuals whose writings I'll look at this week are Diarmuid O'Murchu, the author of Quantum Theology: Spiritual implications of the new physics, and Ken Wilbur, whose writings on consciousness theory have been translated around the world in a wide variety of languages.

Both authors provide a perspective on what is not getting into the public debate, political and theological, and offer insights into what seems more often than not these days like a stalemate. I wonder if the well of our public consciousness is dry and that we must draw from a new well.

Rita Larivee is NCR associate publisher. She can be reached at

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