REGEN3 courtesy of <a href=''target='_blank'>DECONism Gallery</a>
REGEN3 courtesy of DECONism Gallery

I grew up by the shores of Lake Michigan. We used to play a game in the summer time. At the beach we would try to smash through the waves that crashed upon the shore. For some reason I really enjoyed the body-shaking feeling of a wave reverberating through my bones. As I think back on it now, I was communing with the superhuman force of ocean currents.

Much later in my life I was exposed to the more gruesome power of such waves. I was part of a team conducting an ethnography of a series of coastal villages in Northwestern Papua New Guinea that were wiped away by a tsunami. We were trying to understand how people in the community dealt with the trauma of that event.

In the short story, “The Seventh Man” Haruki Murakami describes a wave as a doorway into the “other world” that characterizes many of his stories. The other world is the world of thought, dreams, death, and imagination. The story is about a man whose childhood friend was swept away by a giant wave. Two waves came; the first one swept his friend K away. Then, the narrator admits, something slightly unbelievable or counter-intuitive happened when the second wave hit:

In the tip of the wave, as if enclosed in some kind of transparent capsule, floated K’s body, reclining on its side. But that is not all. K was looking straight at me, smiling. There, right in front of me, close enough so that I could have reached out and touched him, was my friend, my friend K who, only moments before, had been swallowed by the wave. And he was smiling at me. Not with an ordinary smile—it was a big, wide-open grin that literally stretched from ear to ear. His cold, frozen eyes were locked on mine. He was no longer the K I knew. And his right arm was stretched out in my direction, as if he were trying to grab my hand and pull me into that other world where he was now. A little closer, and his hand would have caught mine. But, having missed, K then smiled at me one more time, his grin wider than ever.

I don’t know what spirituality is, but when I think of the word, I think of waves—thought waves.

Because I am interested in the materiality of thought and its medium, I often ask myself: what is thought made of? What is its material?

Perhaps thought is like a sound wave.

Certainly one medium of thought is sound waves. Thought travels in sound waves.

Sound waves are waves of pressure. Like most waves in nature, sound waves must propagate in a medium, for example air or water (sound traveling in such media has different properties depending on the medium).

Perhaps thoughts, like sound, need to travel in a medium. Or maybe they work differently, like light, and do not need a medium at all.

In former centuries physicists looked in vein for the medium in which light traveled; they called this imaginary medium aether. Then physicists discovered that light can travel in a vacuum, that light does not need a medium. Indeed, light was its own medium. Here was a paradox on many levels: light as both matter and wave, a matter-wave. Sometimes light has properties of matter—photons can move other pieces of matter like a billiard ball. And sometimes it has properties of waves—it can be refracted, reflected, interfered etc…

Perhaps thought has this dual nature too.

As William James said: “our brains are colored lenses in the wall of nature, admitting light from the super-solar source.” James was giving a lecture at Harvard on the subject of human immortality. When James spoke of spirituality or the spiritual he meant consciousness. James was trying to deal with the problem of consciousness, the so-called “hard problem” about how the brain relates to consciousness. We are not that much further along now than we were 100 years ago when James gave his speech.

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