Unitarian Internet Fellowship Forum Index Unitarian Internet Fellowship
National Unitarian Fellowship www.nufonline.org.uk
 FAQFAQ   SearchSearch   MemberlistMemberlist   UsergroupsUsergroups   RegisterRegister 
 ProfileProfile   Log in to check your private messagesLog in to check your private messages   Log inLog in 

Realaity Check by Phil Silk

Post new topic   Reply to topic    Unitarian Internet Fellowship Forum Index -> Sermons & Addresses
View previous topic :: View next topic  
Author Message
NUF President

Joined: 16 Nov 2006
Posts: 2591
Location: Leicestershire

PostPosted: Sun Jun 25, 2017 10:24 am    Post subject: Realaity Check by Phil Silk Reply with quote

Shrewsbury Unitarians
Sunday, May 21, 2019; 10:30am
Theme: Reality Check



Enter into the spirit of this assembly with your whole self, as we share words, silence and music in celebration of life. Whatever our past life has been, we are together now, exploring our understanding of life and its significance for us. We are finite creatures with an appreciation of our limits and possibilities, committed to helping each other, near and far, to rich and rewarding lives .

I light the candle today in honour of the search for enlightenment. May we cherish the search for truth, beauty and goodness today and every day.

HYMN 163 “Those Who Seek Wisdom” (G) read v.1

It has been said that each of us creates our own world. Really? In one sense, our Unitarian path relies on this idea, since we base our approach on the Protestant principle of the authority of the individual. We say that each of us has to decide what is true for us, while recognising our limits and choosing which evidence to rely on, such as scripture, organised religion, and reasoned and felt experience. But does that mean there is no Ultimate reality? I think there is an internal and external reality which encompasses everything that exists,which are integrated parts of one overall reality, but that we only have partial and changing awareness of it. This raises the questions of how we can know- this or anything. And what to do about it.

Today I want to explore approaches to reality.

Let me start with a life-changing experience I had at about age 14. At school I was introduced to the theory of atoms and how they worked, which was a shock to the system, for before then I had assumed, and based my actions on, the idea that “Seeing is believing”. To be told that the solid-seeming desk I was pounding was actually made up of small particles in motion did not seem at all sensible. Of course, the atom bomb had already been exploded twice before that, but I was too young to understand the implications. I still do not see why splitting a tiny atom produces so much energy. And if you fuse two atoms they produce even more energy. Plus, we have to be able to control
the whole process! But I trusted my teacher and had to revise my world-view. Now I am being told that inside each atom are even smaller particles in motion with the amazing ability to behave in bizarre ways I find it hard to even imagine.

Actually, do we really know what the concepts are, atoms and quantum physics? By combining a few definitions of each I shall try to define what the ideas are:
ATOMS- an atom consists of a nucleus, which contains a proton and a neutron and an electrical charge, with a set of very light-weight electrons that move around it unpredictably in a small space (More empty than full of matter); it can combine with others to make molecules.

QUANTUM PHYSICS-sometimes called Q Mechanics-the fundamental theory of nature at the smallest scale, where matter and light can be particles or waves. If you know where the subatomic particles are, you do not know how fast they are moving and vice versa. Objects exist “in a haze of probability”. Even more mysterious is that apparently a particle can be in two places at once, even miles away, a phenomenon called entanglement. Astounded and confused? Me, too, Even physicists are puzzled, but the the data seems to fit.

I shall return to the subject of atoms and the subatomic world later.

So, what is the totality of Reality? And can we ever know? Therefore? We love asking questions, but need to find enough answers to live well. So, I decided to explore with you how humans relate to the world, internal and external.

RESPONSIVE READING “Out of the Stars” by Robert Weston
I invite you now to share a RR with me, followed directly by a time for reflection.

Out of the stars in their flight, out of the dust of eternity, here have we come,
Stardust and sunlight, mingling throughout time and through space.


Time out of time before time in the vastness of space, earth spun to orbit the sun,
Earth with thunder mountains newborn, the boiling of seas.


Mystery hidden in mystery, back through all time;
Mystery rising from rocks in the storm and the sea.


Ponder this thing in your heart, ponder with awe.
Out of the sea to land, out of the shallows came ferns.


Ponder this thing in your heart, life up from the sea;
Eyes to behold, throats to sing, mates to love.


This is the wonder of time; this is the marvel of space;
Out of the stars swung the earth; life upon earth rose to love.



Imagine being one of the first human beings, life aware of itself, but in the infant stage of development in terms of knowing yourself or your world. You would have access to some information coming to you from your untutored senses, helping you respond to internal and external conditions, but no language and little culture. You would become aware of the erratic behaviour of weather and other helpful or threatening things, living and non-living, if you could even tell the difference. Subject to dreams, imagination, hunger, thirst, illness, emotions, birth and death, how did they cope? No wonder they developed the idea that everything they could see had a spirit of its own, a belief system still around today, called animism.

There are, and always have been, many ways to be human. Whatever we have thought and felt, the human race survived hundreds of thousands of years until we ourselves continue facing the wondrous challenge of making sense of our experiences and making the best of our situations.

HYMN 128 “Heritage” v.1
Restate last verse: “ Ours for the present, to increase,
Ours for the the future and its care,
A heritage of growing light,
To live, transmit, and greatly share.

Now that our world culture has grown up, now that we as individuals are inquiring adults, how do we discover and respond to our world? In many ways, mostly through our senses, which we are not entirely conscious of. Let us explore just one of them, sight, which we rely on more than any other, in general. Sight has evolved in many ways throughout the animal kingdom. Just this week on television we were shown the 500,000-year-old fossil of a seabed creature which had eyes! It is clear the human sight is variable. Not everyone has 20-20 vision; some cannot see at all; some have very sharp vision, with most of us having visual equipment in-between. Some are completely colour-blind; some partially so– and eyesight does not remain static throughout life. Furthermore, people are subject to various defects and diseases, which influence our visual cues to reality. And if that is not enough, we now know that what we think we see is never a perfect replica of the original stimulus. We interpret what our senses tell us and that view varies for all sorts of reasons, such as context, experience and culture. I am reminded of the recent fuss about whether a dress was blue with black or gold with white. What did you see? It was actually blue and black, but to many it did seem gold and white.

Shakespeare knew that appearance and reality were often mismatched. Do you remember the casket scene in “Merchant of Venice,” when Portia's suitors had to choose the right box to win her hand? Each box had a saying on it, one of which has become part of our culture, if slightly misspelled: “All that glisters is not gold/Is a saying often told.” Neither the gold nor silver caskets were correct, but they eliminated unsuitable men. Bassanio was wiser and chose the one of lead, which read “Who chooseth me must hazzard all he hath”.
Today we say “Don't judge a book by its cover” and we know full well that a piece of fruit can look fine, but be rotten inside.
To improve our ability to see, mankind has been developing eyeglasses for over two thousand years, starting with rough lenses in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, first in 750 BCE Assyria. Mysterious, though, is the presence of even earlier Egyptian statues with glass lenses. In the 11th century, Italy, reading stones made of glass, were held up to magnify things. Over the years a pair of specially shaped lenses held in frames which sit on our ears were developed, then bi-focals and now photovoltaic varifocals, which I
have. I have one long-sighted eye, one short-sighted eye and they do not come together as they should, so I need corrected sight. Joyce has had cataracts removed from both eyes. One can now even regain sight with modern technology.
We have created many ways to improve ordinary sight, but they do not extend our ability to see tiny matters or very long-distance ones. Long ago mankind started to find ways to do just that. In 100 BCE Rome, glass was shaped to magnify objects 6-10times.
By the 1600s the first real microscope appeared, with one hand-held lens which could improve sight by 230 times. Then came double lenses held in metal frames followed by triple lenses., with better and better clarity. These allowed us to see bacteria, for example, which allowed us to make great strides in medicine and hygiene.
The next breakthrough was the electron microscope, which pushed the boundaries of insight to 1000 times ordinary sight. More recently the development of the atomic microscope gives us the ability to see the smallest things there are – we think - sub-atomic particles in action, called nanoparticles. One result of this powerful tool is the development of the seemingly magical item called graphene. Ever heard of it? Let us hear part of an article in the latest issue of “The Week” for May 12, 2017.

“WHAT SORT OF MATERIAL IS GRAPHENE? It's a form of graphite – the 'lead' found in an ordinary pencil. Essentially, it's an ultra-thin sheet of graphite, which has been isolated so that it is only one carbon atom thick. Physicists had speculated about the existence of graphene since the 1940s, but had assumed that it could not exist in a stable form at room temperature. Early this century, it was.

It is the thinnest known material in the universe. It also attracts many other 'superlatives'. Says one of the scientists who discovered it. 'It's the strongest possible material, the most stretchable, the most permeable {by water}, the most conducive...there are other materials that have one of those properties, but here it's combined in one simple crystal.' Graphene is 200 times stronger than structured steel. 'It would take an elephant, balanced on a pencil, to break through a sheet of graphene the thickness of {cling film}, says James Hone, professor of mechanical engineering at Columbia University. It conducts electricity better than superb conductors such as silver and copper; as a conductor of heat, it outperforms any other material. It is nearly transparent, but it can also stretch by some %29, It has so many exceptional qualities that it is being touted as the material that will revolutionise the 21st century.

Graphene's potential uses appear almost limitless...It could be mixed with plastics, metals or carbon fibre to make new composites: super-strong, super-light materials for building, say cars or planes – which would be more energy efficient and safer than ever before. Since it is tough, transparent and conducts electricity, it could be suitable for computer touchscreens; or in the future, for whole electronics gadgets that could be rolled up, or stitched onto clothing. It could potentially replace silicon as the semiconductor in transistors, the basis of almost all electronics, making them much faster. Graphene-based electrodes have been shown to greatly improve battery life and charging time. The list of potential applications goes on and on: hyper-efficient solar cells; wallpaper-thin lighting panels; bulletproof vests; biotech implants...”
WOW! Really? Fancy the world being like that. Fancy human beings being able to discover it – and share it with us – and our being able to at least partially comprehend it.
Let us continue our service with a time for reflection accompanied by music.
HYMN 195 “We Limit Not The Truth Of God”

In addition to extending our ability to see from ordinary to extremely tiny things, humans have been extending our ability to see things which are very far away. Let me share a reading from an article called “How Do We Know...How Our Solar System formed?” by Colin Stuart,in the BBC Science magazine FOCUS,the Christmas 2016 issue:

“Asking questions about where we come from is one of the traits that mark us out as
distinctly human. Yet this inquisitive streak hasn't always led us in the right direction, particularly when we think we are more important than we ultimately are. The story of our quest to discover how our Solar System formed is littered with false starts, and one astronomers are still refining.

The world's greatest thinkers originally had the Earth at the centre of creation, with the Sun, Moon and planets and stars circling around us. It's an idea that lasted for more than 1,000 years, dating back to the days of Aristotle and the Ancient Greece. It wasn't until the Polish astronomer and mathematician Nicolaus Copernicus challenged this idea in the 16th century(1543) that the tide of opinion started t shift. He said the planets – including Earth – orbit the central Sun. Copernicus was so fearful of the inevitable backlash from religious quarters that he delayed publication of his work until after his death. Legend has it he only saw a copy on his deathbed.

It would take many decades for experimental evidence to confirm that we do indeed in a 'solar system'. It was mostly the work of Galileo Galilei in the early 1600s that cemented the idea. It wasn't all plain sailing, of course. Galileo had his own run-ins
with the Church, and he was only officially pardoned in 1992. But as far as science was concerned, the clincher came when he observed the planet Venus waxing and waning through phases, much like the moon. This isn't possible if both Venus and the Sun orbit around the Earth – only if both planets circle the central source of illumination. So, we took our place as just another one of the Sun's family of planets.”

Galileo was the grandfather of astronomy, the first to point a telescope towards the night sky in a meaningful way. The rest, as they say, is history.

In the 1600s, various European scientists began to develop lenses which enhanced our ability to see the planets, starting in 1608 with Hans Lippershay. Then Galileo made a better telescope, followed by others who increased the distances seen and improved clarity. By 1665, Christos Huygens was able to see beyond the solar system. Now we can see far beyond the solar system, billions of light years away! These bigger and better telescopes allow man to plan longer and longer space flights, unmanned and manned. There is an international 'permanent' space station loads of space waste, and already plans to colonise not just the moon but mars as well! Watch this space...

We have learned so much over the years. What an amazing world! But it is also very puzzling, complicated and random. We have so much more to learn, too. Our finite minds probably are incapable of knowing all there is to know about how nature works, let alone why an what difference it makes. Yet every time we think we have figured things out, we discover something different. Our concept of Reality has to keep changing.

Earlier I asked how we humans can know anything and mentioned the senses as being our main source, at least earlier in history. A quick look at sight shows our developing understanding of that sense. We could easily do the same for hearing and probably smell, formerly much more developed than now; taste and touch, too. Our bodies respond to other things, too, such as temperature, air pressure, pain and pleasure. What about ESP? Intuition? Some would add divine revelation. Where does reason fit in? Surely consciousness is central to our lives, and no one really knows how that works.

So how shall we presume? What conclusions can we draw from our changing reality? Perhaps my earlier new Unitarian motto could help here: Learn, Care, Share, Celebrate.

We need to learn more about how to live together in a sustainable manner-on Earth, I hope. Doubt it would be easier elsewhere. Unitarians used to be among those at the frontiers of learning about our world. Can we individually and collectively make a deliberate effort to study the paths opening up to people, helping to influence the topics being studied, the ways they are studied and the way results are tested and used, so that
human values are involved, not just technology and money? How should society use graphene to promote a more egalitarian and humane world community? What about artificial intelligence? Robotics? Cyborgs, the blending of humans with built in technology? Just to name a few modern issues.

Note these are creative science and technology issues. What about learning more about mental health, sociology, the arts? These, too, can improve the quality of life. How can we promote the use of knowledge for the good of all?

Clearly caring for each other and our planet-as well as whatever part of space we inhabit-helps link knowledge to living. Yet knowing facts and devising things, is not enough for significant living for all. We need to learn how interrelated we all are in the intricate web of existence and act accordingly, individually and collectively.

Sharing our knowledge, experiences, ideas, with care, is part of the path to the good life-not just for ourselves, but for all.

And celebrating brings joy and renews meanings and connections among people. History shows how mankind has found many reasons to celebrate and many ways to do so. You have your candles of concern monthly. Newcastle Staffs celebrate birthdays and this year, their 300 year old building. The GA has for years held an AGM annually; congregations do, too. World Religions tend to honour people and events with appropriate rituals. Summer music, drama and literary festivals abound. People seem to be good at celebrating. Still, traditions evolve and new ones develop- and so they should, I say.

I think it is really important for us to question our world view and to keep up with new frontiers of learning. I cannot explain why the universe exists at all, but is has become clear to me that the foundations of life are somewhat random, that chance plays a large part in our lives, but that at the level of ordinary experience, there is some stability and some freedom for human choice. We are not fully determined, nor are we totally free. We are subject to many influences and to chance. But we DO have some power to influence the tide of affairs. As I have mentioned before, Bonaro Overstreet put it this way: “I am determined to use my stubborn ounces for good.” Amen to that. I leave you with another quote, by Anonymous:

“I am only one,
But still I am one.
I cannot do everything,
But still I can do something.
and because I am only one
I will not withhold what
I can do.”

As we prepare to leave this service, let us consider our way forward in shared silence...
AMEN p.8


HYMN 209 “A World Transfigured”


The flame is out, but the search for wisdom continues. Let us seek the truth with our whole beings and share it well with others AMEN


LEADER Phil Silk

A Chalice Lighting
Let this light remind us of the sacred flame of life that blazes within
Constant, yet ever-changing
Burning, yet never consumed
O inner light of the soul and spirit
Lead our minds to greater understanding
Lead our hearts to love more fully
And lead our hands to create justice.
Andy Pakula
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website
Display posts from previous:   
Post new topic   Reply to topic    Unitarian Internet Fellowship Forum Index -> Sermons & Addresses All times are GMT
Page 1 of 1

Jump to:  
You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot vote in polls in this forum

Powered by phpBB © 2001, 2005 phpBB Group

phpBB Hosting from 34SP.com