“To see the world in a grain of sand, and to see heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hands, and eternity in an hour.”-William Blake
Metaphor dazzles the brain, transporting it instantaneously through space and time. This is the power of poetry and much more (as if that wasn’t enough). The mind-blowing aspect of metaphor is its immediate effect, in-your-face action. It is an “ah-hah!” moment—a moment of discovery, and epiphany, when a new frame of reference immediately emerges out of the old order. This transformative moment happens through metaphor, the trickster on the cross-roads, when the processes of the unknown—the mysterium tremendum—take root in the human brain and manifest something new. This novelty often feels good, provides a rush of dopamine, as if the body was wired to its core with metaphor—which it is. This point of contact of the old and the new is a realm unto itself, wrapping in and around space-time. It is where a river flows into the ocean—a liminal zone where certain life-forms emerge and which exist nowhere else. Strangely flecked crabs with oversized foreceps that scoot along the delta eating plankton can only exist in brine-infused fresh water—or is it fresh-water infused brine?
Metaphor is not an A to B car of logic but a dematerializing beam. This is that small space between Adam’s and God’s finger as Micheagelo rendered it—as man points to his own metaphor he is lifted to the heavens and has found God. We always have the opportunity to discover the face of God with each new insight. Or the devil, or a monkey diety, or nothingness, or a world run by reptiles, or even evolution. As Picasso said: ”I don’t search, I find.” Not all metaphors find their mark, neither do sperm nor migrating salmon. But all that is found is via metaphor. So how do we find the Blakean world in a grain of sand, heaven in a wild flower? Certainly this is merely poetic fancy? An exaggeration of language?
It is a precept of the occult and direct lineage to certain shamans of the Paleolithic Age that: Above is as Below. Called by anthropologists sympathetic magic, wherby humans actually think that they can influence an event with the use of symbols. If a shaman paints a deer on the cave of the wall and charges this image with song, dances and invocates the spirits, then the hunting party is assured a kill the next day.
Exchange the symbol of the deer on the wall with the symbol E=MC2, and the hunting party the following day with Enola Gay over Hiroshima and you have sympathetic magic incarnate. As Arthur C. Clarke recognized:” Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” The seminal psycologist Carl Jung also saw this connection—when he talked about sublimation and the fact that many technological advancements are in fact wish fulfillments of early magical spells. Thus humanity danced through the 20th century like a brilliant and nightmarish pastiche of science, rational thought driven so deep into the collective brain that
only cracks with sanity could maintain the overall survival of the planet into the next millennium. Underneath it all seethed the inextricable and supra-rational nature of self- generating metaphor.
We pick up what we have around us from the physical world and compare it to something else, something that is abstract and barely graspable. As a result of this piece of miracle, we fill our existence with meaning. We create God as we create Gravity. For instance, we understand the human brain now as a computer, but only because we created a computer first. The brain/mind has always been compared to the latest technological innovation. This correlation is important, revealing a cross-fertilization of technology and the science of the mind. This is not an exception but the rule. Our metaphors help us create more metaphors. Metaphor is built upon metaphor, woven into the intricate warp and weft of existence.
We compare sport to war and wonder here, which came first? Could they be linked somehow beyond the syntactic equation? In some cases perhaps, but when is the evening sky like a patient in a hospital? In Eliot’s Wasteland it is, as he comments on the modern world and its symptoms of illness. Thus the evening sky is a patient that needs to be treated. War is a sport because there needs to be a winner and a loser and two enemies, and distinct colors and uniforms and chants by the hoi poloi and cultural artifacts that delineate the two. On the other hand marriage is a dance, where partners commingle and spawn, fusing the two rather than sundering them apart. What maintains society and boundaries of physical reality is that a sport is never really a war and marriage is not an actual dance. And yet they are. Such a way of thinking is not cognitive dissonance—it simply is the basis of meaning making.
All is one. This is not a mere trope, but a tautology. There is this concept of everything— which is an abstract notion that can only achieved through the use of metaphor. If all things, everything, is contained as it must be in our minds, then there is a conceptual circle around these objects, that is, this circle contains all of these objects within that set--which we call everything. For instance, in the room I’m sitting I might include a list of furniture and pictures and electronics—that is everything in my room. Then, like a Confuscian diagram, the circles spread out further—include everything on my block, in my city, in my country, world, universe and multiverse. We can even imagine outside of this last circle--this closed system of the all encompassing multiverse--with the use of infinity (which is a concept that goes beyond ordinary math). However, this is yet another conceptual circle—the very possibility that we can frame and use the word infinity and seemingly understand the concept, a larger circle is thus drawn. The universe contained within the universe ad infinitum is as far as the simple mind can go, using only metaphor to build with.
So the many and possibly infinite variations of matter that we see in the world are included in the single set. All is one. If not, we must defer our rational minds to a mystery. That is—what is outside of the circle. Or perhaps this is the mystery. Are we outside or inside the circle? Can you hold everything at once, the world in a grain of sand?
Perhaps we can try: take in enough knowledge from the world, from the written word, music and art and the sciences, low and high culture, and we’ll begin to attune as an ant does to the pheromones of the Queen—but not as a worker ant, but as the human who observes the methodical formations and flanking order of the insect. We flex our reflexivity and self- awareness—that ability that makes us the god of the anthill—with the choice to dispense our wrath and kick it over, or observe it like a scientist, to dissect and break-it down into representational bits. Knowledge has been created not to answer these questions in unison, but as applied to specific concerns. Even philosophy has shunned a sustained, integrative system rebuking metaphysical concerns as secondary and messy. Science in itself is not aetheistic because it is aware of itself only being able to solve certain problems—and yet so often it becomes myopic in its own pursuit, a form of collective autism sometimes referred to as scientism. Can all of these systems be cobbled together into one unifying theory? Is religion needed to transcend? Transcend to where?
The information Age with its 0s and 1s as the latest fount of knowledge, its invisible architecture filling our skies, is not an encyclopedia to be paraphrased for your school report. The popular mind creeping up the ant pile does not yet know what this is—and yet modernism always promised it. There are more things on heaven and earth, than are dreamt of in your philosophy-are words hurled down from the 15-century Bard that still hold true. For we will never detach ourselves from it enough to grasp it because we are it. Our minds have been refracted into satellites and our bodies contain universes.
From the schisms of the ages and debris of the 20th century, between the here and there, is life. The vertigo of change (which anyone can certainly feel for themselves if they close their eyes and try to hold the all in one) is a carnival ride after all, and we have bought our tickets upon entering this strategy to conquer space-time--biological life. If we feed in these liminal zones, as we have evolved to do, and live as we must, then that is all we need do. There is only the opportunity to become more aware of our metaphors and let them work through us. All else is vanity.