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The Waves

For ancient humanity, the wave was evidence of the activity of elemental and divine beings in sustaining, destroying, recreating the forms of life in the cosmos – movement was inspiration. The modern physicist describes waves in terms of energy, literally the capacity to do work. There is little of the original meaning of the Greek word energoumenos, meaning ‘energised`, but also ‘demoniacally enthused’, contained in the current scientific understanding of energy. Our knowledge of energy is precise, but conceptually characterless, morally neutral – we do not, we cannot, experience the tragic force of the recent tsunami as the bursting forth of an evil dragon from the depths of the suboceanic earth, nor as the wrath of a jealous god. Nature and supernature are blameless, and our moral attention is directed purely to the capacities of human beings to respond to the crisis. Most of our practical responses to the tsunami disaster will involve and employ modern scientific knowledge, for once not playing with energy to create bombs, but motivated by fraternal love. It is untenable then to regard our natural science as less spiritual in potential than the ancient mythic worldview; yet it is what it is –clear, logical, and in its objectivity indeed selfless- because it conceives nature forces to be void of inner character. Moral qualities, such as responsibility and caring, are felt to inhere in humans, not in the nature which humanity studies. This basic feeling, relatively new in history, dissolves impassivity before the forces of destiny; we believe in free will, if not as the power to prevent tsunamis, at least as the capacity to change the suffering of our fellow humans. Our belief in free will, hence the strengthening of our capacity for love, is dependent on our not perceiving an inspired language of gods and demons as destiny in the workings (energies) of nature.

The waves of horror or of compassion, of remorse, love, mourning, fragile hope, continue to swell in human hearts long after the Indian Ocean is subsided; they are fully qualitative, and the more thoroughly they are imbued with morally imaginative thoughts, the more finely differentiated they will be. To describe these waves purely in calculable terms of energy (were it possible) would be to rob them of their essential meaning, for their cause is not physical, not the earthquake itself, but lies in the soul’s capacity for feeling. – Yet the question must arise whether these human, psychical waves are really so different from natural waves. Is the spiritual potential of modern science perhaps only realisable when we reunite our clear, objectively won knowledge of physics and chemistry with an ensouled conception of natural phenomena? No longer hearing the word of God in nature, we have become estranged from her. We study her as though she were a corpse. Who is the ocean?, we might now ask, not out of animistic superstition, but because, from our position of spiritual, if not bodily emancipation from nature we are interested in discovering or creating a new relationship with her. Knowledge is not power, but love – a relationship.

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