Still reading Augustine’s Confessions. Still love this man. He has spent dozens of pages, here in Book XXI, talking about the nature and measurement (or, rather, the possibility of measurement) of time and sound. His discussion of the measurement of sound intrigues me so—sound, speech, spoken sentences, syllables, this thing on which the smooth functioning of society depends, what is it? That it is born of us with a calculated breath and muscle movement, and dies immediately, leaving nothing of itself behind to be measured? The sound in the present moment is, but no sooner is than is no more, and we must remember it to consider it, understand it, or quantify it.

What a tenuous existence, how heavily we lean on clouds and climb on haystacks.

Now, of course, digital recorders preserve a “perfect memory” and measurement of [many qualities of] sound, but like photographs, all that’s saved is an impression of that body, that phenomenon that slipped between the cracks of time as soon as it had emerged. We also know now that sound is not a body, to be explained in terms of itself, but is a series of waves broken into this ocean of air molecules in which we live—the wakes of violent ships of percussion. Could Augustine have imagined this? Perhaps he did.

A world without movement is a world without sound. Though no-one would be able to hear that perfect silence, because even if all else were still, the blood flushing through the inner ear could be heard, and the static of neurons, as a distant (or, in Marshall’s case, loudly) throbbing buzz.

As with sight: nothing can be seen without light. As an astronaut moves into the shadow cast by his/her ship, the lack of anything to reflect or diffuse the sunlight means the shadow is so dark it can’t be seen into. A hand lost in it up to the elbow is lost to the power of the eye. And yet light is not only a particle, but also a wave; has not only wavelength, but also a speed.

What is this strange world? That is shows itself as more and more complex with each passing century, each new crop of brilliant scientists and philosophers?

I don’t think scientists who are pure physicalists lack information, or conviction, or ethics/morals—I think they lack imagination, or humility, and maybe courage. Very glib, I know. And maybe inaccurate. But the Uncertainty Principle of quantum mechanics hovers in my mind, that—as of yet—there is something in our cosmos that will not be measured, and yet it exists. It resists us, and we are necessarily uncertain of it. Who knows if this principle will fall before the growing knowledge of future scientists? And who knows if it will not? Not us.

Augustine’s conclusions, after exploring his uncertainties with a passionate desire for knowledge, are somehow both restless and restful. This is paradoxical, which means it has a strong resonance, for me, since I see paradox most everywhere I look. For Augustine, paradox was sacred, as you see:

“…behold my life is but a scattering. Thy right hand has held me up […] that I may apprehend by Him in whom I am apprehended and may be set free from what I once was, following your Oneness: forgetting the things that are behind…stretching forth to those that are before (not by dispersal but by concentration of energy) I press towards the prize of the supernal vocation, where I may hear the voice of Thy praise and contemplate Thy delight which neither comes nor passes away” (xxi:xxix). Wow.

 

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