In March of 2012, I wrote a song called “Rabbit Holes” because I’m interested in the perennial questions we can’t seem to answer: How did the universe begin, what’s it made of, is there a God? I find myself amused at our journey through the millennia in search of the answers to these persistent existential questions and I find that I am particularly interested in the turn this query took about 500 years ago with the advent of the scientific method.
I guess all of this was kicked off in my mind by the discovery of the Higgs-Boson, which some scientists call “The God Particle.” We’ve split the atom; we’ve split the split-up parts of the atom. We’ve tossed these teeny little particles around big old centrifuges at a gazillion miles/hour and slammed them into each other really hard so we could see what happens. No doubt about it, we’re a curious bunch. We want, or maybe need, to understand the nature and the mechanisms of life and the universe. The search for the Higgs-Boson, the existence of which was postulated by Dr. Peter Higgs 40 years ago, is the latest effort to explain what ‘reality’ really is. It postulates a ‘field’ that permeates the entire universe that can appear as a particle briefly, very briefly, as detritus produced by a high-energy collision between sub-atomic particles in a particle accelerator.
I seem to remember from high school science class that at one time scientists were absolutely sure the atom was indivisible. Then they found the electrons, protons and neutrons. Surely they were indivisible! Wrong. So here’s my first question: is this a problem of infinite regression? Is there no end to how small you can slice and dice these little guys?
And I have other questions: Is it possible that we are biologically/psychically limited in such a way that we are incapable of grasping certain things about the nature of the universe? In other words, is it outside our ability to comprehend? Do we exist inside a ‘box’ such that what is outside of it will always, by its nature and by ours, remain incomprehensible to us? I wanted to try and write about this and the song “Rabbit Holes” was the result.
When I had a version of the song I could call “complete”, I thought the verses were good but couldn’t get right with the chorus and, since the chorus usually houses the central idea of a song, maybe that meant I didn’t really know what the heck I was trying to say. After all, stuffing a big, multifaceted idea like this into a 3 minute song is tricky and you have to be clear where your focus is. I played Rabbit Holes for our Hi-Dez community mythologist, Dr. C. She didn’t like the chorus even more than I didn’t like it. Sometime later, and without mentioning “Rabbit Holes”, Dr. C suggested I read “Passion of the Western Mind” by Richard Tarnas and loaned me her copy. She’s sly, that one!
The book is too dense with meaningful material to skim and it took me the entirety of 2015 to read. I’m currently reading it again to see if I can dig in a little deeper. In the meantime, as a result of this immersion, I got clear on what I was trying to communicate, was finally able to rewrite the chorus to “Rabbit Holes” and am now happy to report that it will be the title cut on my next 3-song EP, due out on Coyote Gulch Records in February. Wahoo!
How the universe came into being is a problem not unlike the “paradox of infinite regression” I mentioned earlier. Stephen Hawking in “A Brief History of Time” tells this version of an old story that illustrates the problem:
“A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: "What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise." The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, "What is the tortoise standing on?" "You're very clever, young man, very clever," said the old lady. "But it's turtles all the way down!"
I mention that story because the punch line shows up in “Rabbit Holes”. Funny though it is, it accurately highlights the contrast between the ancient, pre-scientific ideas about creation and the modern view. It also reminds us how long we’ve been postulating answers to the same set of foundational questions.
There’s also a line in the song that says:
“Every time you cut a slice from the mystery of life/your gonna have to find a little sharper knife.”
I think it’s hilarious that we have to keep building bigger and bigger machines in order to find smaller and smaller particles. The Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, Switzerland is 17 miles in circumference!
I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please comment here on the blog and/or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. and I’ll be sure to let you know when “Rabbit Holes” is up on Bandcamp.
from Coyote Gulch Studios, high in the magical Mohave,
p.s. If you’re interested in a fabulous survey of Western philosophical thought from Socrates to the post-modern, you can find “Passion of the Western Mind” here. Highly recommended.