Look close at a tree. I mean, really close. A tree is really, when you look close a bit alien, a bit other than you, if you’re human, and then again there’s something familiar looking back out at you. Other and you. Rooted to place and branching above, its skin is alive and revealing of its age. An inner bark of living tissue and an inner bark of dead tissue. Like human skin. A world of biopolymers, tannins, lignin, suberin, suberan, and polysaccharides–so says the Bark page on Wikipedia. A place for a god to live. Connection between what is below and what is above, and truly, what is above is simply what is below. Looking closely at a tree and musing on its botanical and metaphorical properties certainly can lead to a reverie. Time to go for a walk, but first I must begin my deer stock for my Viltkött Bourguignonne.
The combination of deer ribs and leaves puts me in mind and action of the forest, and of course, for the last couple of posts, the mind of a Frenchman walking under tree branches. Rousseau writes in his Seventh Walk,
Reverie relaxes and amuses me; reflection tires and saddens me; thinking always was a painful and charmless occupation for me. Sometimes my reveries end in meditation, but more often my meditations end in reverie; and during these wanderings, my soul rambles and glides through the universe on the wings of imagination, in ecstasies which surpass every other enjoyment.
And often, as we’ve seen, for Rousseau a reverie begins with chervil and borage and groundsel and plant after plant form the sea to the Alps. Which brings me to Arthur Machen’s novella, The Great God Pan,
“Look about you, Clarke. You see the mountain, and hill following after hill, as wave on wave, you see the woods and orchard, the fields of ripe corn, and the meadows reaching to the reed-beds by the river. You see me standing here beside you, and hear my voice; but I tell you that all these things—yes, from that star that has just shone out in the sky to the solid ground beneath our feet—I say that all these are but dreams and shadows; the shadows that hide the real world from our eyes. There is a real world, but it is beyond this glamour and this vision, beyond these ‘chases in Arras, dreams in a career,’ beyond them all as beyond a veil. I do not know whether any human being has ever lifted that veil; but I do know, Clarke, that you and I shall see it lifted this very night from before another’s eyes. You may think this all strange nonsense; it may be strange, but it is true, and the ancients knew what lifting the veil means. They called it seeing the god Pan.”
Ah yes, Pan. God of snaring and beguiling. Pan who chases Luna and Syrinx. According to the Library of Apollodorus, it is Darius the Samian who states that Penelope of Ithaca is mother of Pan by all the suitors. Yes, I know. All the suitors. Not the same story Homer tells. God of sexual gratification. God of fear and flight. Of panic and reflection. God of rape and refusal. Running toward and running away. Where the wild things are, that’s where you’ll find Pan. He’s not a god of the city, no, more like his brother-in-arms Dionysus, he chases and leads city-dwellers, the followers of straight-edged rule and order, into the mountain woods where he and they rip apart animals and humans alike. According to Liddell and Scott, Pan is “god of Arcadia, son of Hermes, represented with shaggy hair.” And with other Greek words, he is the all–all-wretched, all-shining, all -blazing, all-sparkling, all-ugly, the cause of all and the one to whom all guilt belongs . . . on and on. And for Arthur Machen, Pan is πανταχού, meaning he is everywhere, he is ubiquitous. In The Great God Pan, this means he is behind and through and with every appearance and illusions that we mistake for reality. Pan is beyond the veil, and in this, Pan has something very much to do with Heraclitus.
φύσις κρύπτεσθαι φιλει
Nature loves to hide or nature is accustomed to hiding or how things come to be tends to bury itself and so on. As Pierre Hadot elaborates in The Veil of Isis, often translates into the “secrets of the gods and the secrets of nature” as Hesiod and Plato testify as well. Hadot reads this ancient division between what the gods are aware of and what humans can hope to perceive into the Age of Science,
The idea of “secrets of nature” which I am about to discuss did not, moreover, cause the disappearance of the ides of “divine secrets.” We encounter it once again, particularly at the beginning of the seventeenth century, at the height of the mechanistic revolution, when for various reasons philosophers and scholars both hoped to discover the “secrets of nature” by means of the experimental method and admitted the existence of one impenetrable secret: that of the omnipotent will of God.
Which brings us, of course, to the latest iteration of this question and search in the more recent equations and experiments and evidence for the absolute and complete explanation of nature as understood through quantum mechanics. Take a look as Sean Carroll offers his version of playing the game φύσις κρύπτεσθαι φιλει.
Waves, not particles; yet still particles, so it all depends if you’re looking or not where sudden changes can occur or not. Things are where you think they are when you measure them, but not really, certainly not completely, and then when you’re not looking, well you’re not looking and the invisible just keeps going on its merry way. Is the wave function the real real–all of nature or just part? Is a measurement consciousness? Or do we follow Hugh Everett and say the wave we can’t see is absolutely the real? You and I are part of the wave function of the universe, and the real as the Higgs Boson can decay into two realities each spinning in a different direction.
But we can’t tell which reality is spinning up and which reality is spinning down. because they are entangled.
And you can’t just talk about one electron and then another, you have to talk about both at the same time. For instance, there is a cat and the cat is in a hat. Is the cat awake or asleep in the hat? Depends if you look in the hat or not. Before you look, the cat may be awake or it may not; but when you look in the hat, then it is either awake or asleep. Ah, the cat in the hat.
But wait. Besides the cat, the observer looking into the hat is also a wave function, which means reality offers the cat awake when you peer into the hat and the cat is asleep when you peer into the hat. So, what have you seen? But wait–there’s a further entanglement. There’s the environment (entire rest of the universe) which the real is and is within. And the environment is interacting with the cat in the hat. And each of these possibilities with a cat in a hat and you and the environment continue on their happy way. So, yes, two cats and two of you and so on. So we have the many cats or the many worlds. Many cats branching and splitting. Something deeply hidden is many. You can know so many things about the wave, but not necessarily where you are and that’s when Pan appears because the cat you see, the cat in the hat you see, the cat in the hat that you see with the rest of the universe isn’t really there as you see–not in the real. So when Machen writes,
You see me standing here beside you, and hear my voice; but I tell you that all these things—yes, from that star that has just shone out in the sky to the solid ground beneath our feet—I say that all these are but dreams and shadows; the shadows that hide the real world from our eyes.
And at this point I’m deep in the woods and must try to find my way back home to the deer stock and possibly what I meant by conjuring Pan in the first place. Bon Appétit!