Cipactli – José Luis Rodríguez Guerra
The First Day of Creation
The unformed consciousness takes form and enters the Universe.
Cipactli – the Alligator – is the first day of the Aztec Calendar. It represents the beginning of time and the first coming of a being of perception into the universe. In the Tarot this would be represented by card zero, "The Fool", in the Major Arcana. The beginning of the journey of the initiate. The first step upon the wheel of life.
Prologue — I do not write this expecting anyone to take this as fact or truth. This is a personal exploration and a search for my understanding of the void. Of the space between death and birth. Some people seek out religion to comfort them in the face of the void. Some turn to science to try and deduce through logic and reason the meaning and substance of the void. Like all mystics and scientists I seek theses things out because I am a being of consciousness. That is what we do. We all need to make peace with the void and understand it for the power it contains. The highest Buddhist ideal is to return to the void, to Nirvana, where all forces are in balance. A timeless eternal place. It’s non-existence is synonymous with our existence. It is a sacred space that is beyond time and dimensionality and is attainable within ourselves. As Giordano Bruno writing about Copernican space tried to explain; “it is because this place of perfection is contained within us all that we are always close to the Divine.” — RD
“I maintain that Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. ... The moment you follow someone you cease to follow Truth.” — Jiddu Krishnamurti
Cipactli and the Beginning of Time
By my nature I have always been inquisitive. I love to take things apart. First it was mechanical devices, watches, bicycles, toys, etc. As I got older I started taking apart more abstract things like philosophy, history, and religion.
My mother had always been a student of history and later a very serious student of religion, obtaining a Master’s in Religious Studies and going on to teach the History of Religion, Women And Religion, and Critical Bible Studies. She was a practicing Christian but embraced the good in all religions. She was also critical of the failings of religion and worked to bring out the good and useful parts and identify and isolate the harmful elements. All in all my mother’s branch of the family were deists. My maternal grandmother was a church organist and math tutor. She helped my father pass his calculus classes. She understood the smooth geometry of mathematics with a genius not often attributed to women. She also believed in a rational god. Much like Einstein. But more on that later.
My father was an Engineer. Most all of the men in family were Engineers of one kind or another. But primarily Civil Engineers. Builders of buildings and roads and the stout fabric of civilization. As Engineers they were first and foremost practical. Being Scotsmen they tended towards a Calvinist Presbyterianism. God and religion had a solid place and it was idleness and wasteful to dwell on it too much. Work was the measure of a man. God would take care of himself and all that was required of you was to work hard and not indulge in otiose questioning of God. They were classic Scottish empiricists that would have made David Hume proud. He would have been at home in my father’s family.
I started out in school being subtly or not so subtly encouraged to pursue mathematics and practical things that would help me to become an engineer. My math grades were always good but my real passion was in the humanities and philosophy. I loved engineering and physics and still try to keep abreast of advances. But when I finally got my Bachelor of Science degree I took a serious left turn and exited the field of certainty and mathematical analysis and delved into that most abstract of philosophies, law. Law was everything engineering was not. Engineering was the application of natural laws that were established and proven by objective means. Applied incorrectly the Engineer would soon discover his error. Law in the legislative sense is a synthetic human construct subject to human interpretation. Application of human law by its nature is imprecise. It requires both objective and subjective analysis and application. And if applied incorrectly the error might never be known. It takes skill and artistry to be a successful lawyer. You have to have equal parts intelligence and charisma. Legislative law as applied in a courtroom is supposed to be a pursuit of truth, but truth turns out to be a subjective thing. Sure, most legal problems are cut and dried. But those that are not end up in court. The truly interesting cases could turn on the meaning of a single word or the subjective testimony of a single witness whose recollection might be unreliable. Justice is blind but truth is in the eye of the beholder – or the jury, a group of men and women who might not hold a common perception of what was unfolding in front of them. This is where the artistry entered in. Truth as performance. As theater. Who could capture the attention of the audience and pull at their emotions? Push the right buttons and a killer could become the victim, a symbol of a struggle or even a hero. Is this a good thing, or a bad thing? Shouldn’t truth be absolute? Should it really be based on the imperfect impressions of a group of humans? The jury represents collective society. Is legal truth merely a social arbitration? It turns out the line between right and wrong, true and false, can often be quite fuzzy. As an engineer I learned that there were mathematically precise answers to any given engineering problem. In law such precision did not exist, nor would it really be desirable. A badly drafted law could wreck great injustice. Just like a poorly engineered building could cause great damage. The judge and the jury were there to help protect against overly blind, deaf, and dumb laws. Courts run by robots could cause great social damage to human society. That is why courts are made up of human beings. They act as a feed back loop to make sure that the law is not just human but humane. But despite this every year there are politicians who rail against judges having any power to decide anything and would like to effectively turn the courts into robotic justice kiosks handing out draconian sentences designed to make the political audience feel safer and exact retribution rather than serve justice.
But I digress. Natural laws of Engineering established by scientific principal are by definition objective and measurable (or in a stricter sense falsifiable according to Popper). Try as we might the laws we legislate for human conduct are at best approximations. Some may seem obvious on their face such as “Though Shalt Not Kill”. But what does this mean in practice? Does this forbid us from killing in self defense? How about executing a convict? Or killing enemy soldiers in battle during wartime? It turns out such a directive, even if it has biblical foundations still needs to be parsed and exceptions identified. It really isn’t so much a law as a strong suggestion that in order to have a smoothly functioning society we need to abstain from random killing for gain or revenge. Governments may wage war and kill the enemy for gain. Gain can be something as abstract as safety from attack by an enemy suspected of preparing to attack. The courts may execute a killer to protect society but even that is based on societal revenge for the killing of another member of that society. The arguments become nuanced and subjective. And in the final analysis is there a measurement by which we can determine with absolute certainty that the “law” has been correctly applied?
This is where my passion to analyze and take apart the very fabric of human perception was ignited. I truly love some of the insights that my study of physics gave me into the nature of the universe. Now what I truly wanted to know is how does our perception influence our interaction with the universe? I want to try and stay away from any attempt to draw parallels between the scientific investigations of physics and the musings of philosophy. As an engineer and scientist I have been taught that the two worlds are separate. But in the beginning a PhD in Physics meant that you were a Doctor of Philosophy in Physics. So Physics is originally a branch of Philosophy. The thing that the scientific principal really tries to prevent is not the drawing of parallels but rather the ossification of dogma. One should not become so wedded to one idea or principal that one can no longer pursue new paths of investigation. Only stick with that which can be proven and replicated. And even then be ready to entertain alternate explanations. No one receives a Nobel Prize for a theory. Only when that theory can be proven, and hence is no longer a theory, does the Nobel committee recognize it. Einstein never received a Nobel Prize for his Theory of Relativity. It was only his prediction of the dual wave particle nature of light and the existence of the photon and the ingenious experiment that he devised to prove it that he received his prize.1
On the other hand Theory provides a basis for investigation. A framework for something to prove or disprove. Theory is foundational. It points out a direction to look in. It is the proverbial egg from which the chicken can hatch.
Now we have a starting point. Theory.
Mankind has been creating theories about the Universe since the dawn of human understanding. Over time those theories became reliable predictors of events. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. The seasons progress from Spring to Summer to Fall and then Winter. Each time the sun sets farther and farther south we get closer to winter. When that pattern changes and it moves north the Spring is not far behind. This was important knowledge. So important that entire civilizations expended great energy building structures that measured it and assured the people that the exact moment the path of the sun changed they would be ready. It took on religious significance. Sacrifices were made to ensure that the process would repeat itself. Priesthoods were created to ensure that men were trained to interpret the sun’s movement and assure the people that the Spring would come again. Eventually it passes beyond religion to become a given. New theories rise up. Some of them may have spun out of first imperatives such as the need to create fire or to predict the return of Spring. Others to explain the relationship between animals and men. The finding of food. Dealing with other men and women. Where we came from. . .
Or how time began.
Now this is primal. Foundational. It is Genesis: “In the Beginning”.
It has more theories and more dogma surrounding it than all of the rest of the ideas mankind has ever generated. Every mytho-religion contains its version of the beginning of time. Some of them are still viewed as unquestionable dogma even today. And I don’t just mean the Genesis story. Some physicists cling to their own creation myths and fight tooth and nail to protect them. At least in the scientific world when overwhelming evidence points otherwise those academic edifices will be dismantled and won’t spawn cults – hopefully.2
Not so in the realm of a few of the world’s major religions. Some bronze age mythologies are still held on to by people too afraid to let go. Afraid that their own singular view of reality will collapse if they don’t fight for it tooth and nail. It defines their very being so they will never let go of it. And they will invent elaborate fictions to explain discrepancies. Or just treat any evidence to the contrary as lies. It is this sort of dogma that becomes one of the most harmful elements in a religion. It holds the faithful back from progress. Even the term progress becomes a sin to them. The world should be frozen in time. Unchanging.
But this is an understandably human reaction to the chaos around us.
"In the homogeneous and infinite expanse, in which no point of reference is possible and hence no orientation is established, the hierophany [appearance of the Sacred] reveals an absolute fixed point, a center.” – Mircea Eliade
Aside but related — “As I see it the three-dimensional world in time and space is like a system of co-ordinates, what is here separated into ordinates and abscissae may appear “there,” in space-timelessness, as a primordial image with many aspects, perhaps as a diffuse cloud of cognition surrounding an archetype. Yet a system of co-ordinates is necessary if any distinction of discrete contents is to be possible. Any such operation seems to us unthinkable in a state of diffuse omniscience, or, as the case may be, of subjectless consciousness, with no spatio-temporal demarcations. Cognition, like generation, presupposes an opposition, a here and there, an above and below, a before and after.” – Carl Jung
It is the desire for a center. A fixed point. That drives man to embrace these mythologies. Yet that is not necessarily a bad thing. A guiding star gives us the ability to navigate the void of Chaos. I contend that such a fixed point — a primordial hierophany — became the foundation of the Universe. Arising out of the emptiness of Chaos an event, the primordial hierophny, broke the frozen ice of the void. And from it a Universe unfolded.
This is an exercise in art. Not a rigid scientific analysis. Much of it playful. All of it based on myth metaphors that we are all familiar with. Within these metaphors though are contained truths. Truths that arise to be perceived first in the subconscious and eventually the conscious mind. From this our conscious minds can form a common language and begin to explore the nature and meaning of the “Beginning” of time. — RD (2014)
1 The Theory of Relativity was not entirely original to Einstein. Galileo laid the foundations for it when he studied moving frames of reference and laid out the first basic transformation equations. In the late 1800s a number of people put forth variations on both General and Special Relativity that came very close. Henri Poincaré almost had it and succeeded in laying the mathematical foundations for Special Relativity but veered off into the idea of the Luminiferous Ether (or aether) and its "privileged frame of reference" that dead ended when Einstein's space-time formulation proved to be more accurate at predicting the correct orbit of Mercury.
(An interesting aside is that the idea of a type of aether keeps coming back. This time in the form of the Higgs Field. Some particles are theorized to acquire mass as they move through it. This is still a strange and tangled web that pits a priori time, that is an eternal clock that exists outside our space-time, against the pure notion of relativity that requires no external clock. Basically Time as the fundamental privileged dimension. See my later discussion of Lee Smolin's Temporal Naturalism Hypothesis and its opposite Timeless Naturalism.)
2 See "A Canticle for Leibowitz" by Walter M. Miller, Jr. for an amusing tale that blurs the line between science and religion in a post apocalyptic future. Also Isaac Asimov's "Foundation" Series makes use of religion as a method to preserve scientific knowledge. In both cases knowledge is preserved at the expense of scientific method. That had to be rediscovered.
From The Thoth Tarot