Constructing Reality: the duet of chaos and creation
This is the second part of my series God’s Fingernail, which digs into this scraping urge I feel to map out some obscure parts of existence I can’t seem to get out of my head. In this part, I dig into how chaos and reality came to be and co-exists, and how we perceive them. You can read part one here.
In Professor Stephen Hawking’s (rest in peace, old boy) brilliant book A Brief History of Time, he explains some of the deepest and darkest secrets and phenomena of outer space in a wonderfully witty way. I recommend the book with my whole heart (you can find it on Amazon here), but I’m afraid I’m a romantic at heart, and I do believe there are two sides to every story. I believe in energies that can be traced and channeled, and though I believe in evolution and the Big Bang, I’m not entirely convinced that’s the whole story. So I dug into the other, decorated source: folklore.
Myth may be elaborated legends without much truth to them, but they effectively formed the everyday life of the ancient man, and any sociologist known his/her salt should know that the belief of a person very much forms what that person sees and perceives in everyday life, making even a perhaps false idea very real to that person.
For instance, in some cultures like the Egyptian, they were quite keen on a literal sense of their myths. The annual sacrifice to the Nile hoped to ensure another year of prosperous harvest, yet the sacrifice included an actual, legally binding, document.
Death itself was thought of as a substantial reality, and life was considered endless, until the phenomenon, or substance, of death was given to man. The substance known as death was inherent in all who are dead, or about to die. Death, or ma’at, literally translates to “justice” or “equity”, according to the reasoning of where there is change, there is a cause; and a cause is a will.
In Egyptian mythology, the creation marks the dividing line between preceding confusion and present order. It is not implied that the creator-god conquered and annihilated the elements of chaos and set the elements of order in their place. In fact, the sun-god Atum was self-created, simply emerging from nothing; his name means “everything”, “nothing”, and “what is finished, completed, perfected”.
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus, known to his buddies as the Obscure, saw no difference between chaos and creation. He meant the universe is an intelligible whole, since thought steers all things and since it is a perpetual flux of change. Still, “mere change and flux cannot be intelligible, for they achieve not cosmos but chaos”. He also meant that existence is not a blind conflict of opposing forces, but dynamics of existence necessarily involves “the hidden attunement (which) is better than the open.”
With a sarcastic strike at Pythagoras, he added “the learning of many things teacheth not understanding”. Despite the sandbox-like fight between ancient philosophers, we’ll keep those words in mind.
On behalf of chaos, it means that there is an eternal existence of evil that a) do not follow the rules set by order (this could function as an allegory for self-consciousness; being aware of yourself does not necessarily mean you’re in charge of your primal and instinct reactions), and b) is part of an unfinished scheme, since Atum completed creation. Whether chaos is part of something greater unknown, or simply a defect cast aside, remains unclear.
Serving as an example of nature’s (and man’s) predilection for symmetry and the eternal quest for order in disorder, I’ve decided to highlight parts of ancient mythology as well as pointing out striking similarities cultures apart.
Primeval waters (bodies of water occur in all kinds of mythologies, presumably because of its everyday presence in everyone’s lives as well as the mystery behind river’s and ocean’s strength, depth and behavior) were, according to ancient Egyptian belief, inhabited by eight creatures, four frogs and fours snakes, and together these formed chaos.
Chaos is essentially an irregular oscillatory process. Basically, it’s defined by three characteristics; irregularity, sensitivity to initial conditions and lack of predictability. Science has mapped chaos mathematically and the social sciences followed suit. Ancient definitions, however, were far more substantial.
- Nún (Ocean, the primordial waters) and Nannet (Matter, the formless counterheaven)
- Húh (Illimatable, the boundless stretches of primordial formlessness) and his consort Hanhet (Boundless)
- Kúk (“Darkness”) and Kanket (Obscurity)
- Amūn or Amon (the Hidden, the intangibility and imperceptibility of chaos) with his consort Amaunet (Concealed).
Egyptian mythology highlights the patterns that were to be found within chaos; they emphasize logical implications and practical solutions. Before creation, a group called Ogdoad were in being, not as part of created order, but of chaos itself. Out of the formless chaos the creator-god Atum brought order out of, also came Ogdoad, the four pairs of chaos (funnily enough, nature’s apparent love for symmetry shines through: even chaos is neatly paired off into couples).
<Note that the masculine and feminine form of the names. The consort is simply an extension of the self and they are, by all means, one.
The parallels to the Hebrew Book of Genesis are fascinating, differing on the god complex: the Egyptian god emerging on his own accord, while the Hebrew god existed alongside the chaos. Whether Atum came into being later than the chaos is unknown, or if he, like Isaiah, existed alongside the chaos, before forming order. However, the existence of these chaotic Egyptian gods does not end because of creation; it lives on, but in its specific place, and not as a formless disorder. And so came order out of chaos.
However, there are repetitions seen worldwide. Obsession occurs when a person simply cannot get something off their mind. As familiar, it can be another person, a TV-series, or a personal goal. On a more macro-level in mythology, there also occur obsessive repetitions: the four elements (water, air, fire and earth) make countless appearances, either as gods or as independent forces. Powerful waters and the destruction of chaos are also recurring themes.
Yes, this is all ancient myth, but myth reveals metaphysical truth; it was as experienced as real as material life, therefore it was real. It was a Placebo effect at its best. It illustrates the patterns and struggles of the ancient man, and when modified into modern terms they hardly feel or seem alien.
Why all this talk of chaos?
We humans we fear what we don’t know. The caution we might feel when treading closer to the more primal and untamed parts of ourselves is, if not justified, then at least explained. The chaotic creation is important. If our souls and cells have been split up since the dawn of time, there must be imprints of this chaos in us to this day, if one chooses to believe such things. Which I do.
Whatever is capable of affecting the mind, feeling or will, has established its reality. One can say that dreams as real as impressions achieved when awake (I believe David Lynch would agree with me). Most of our daily observations are led by social constructions, and dreams are insights to our subconscious, kind of ‘from me to me’-sort of gift. We get back from our subconscious what we put in.
Then perhaps dreams could be more reliable sources on how we actually experience the world, if interpreted correctly. Now, I don’t think we should dive into the occult shelves in bookstores and try our hardest to become modern day gypsy women hovering over dusty crystal balls. I just think we could all spend some time to get more in tune with what’s happening in the deepest corners of our hearts, and maybe start there.
Dreams are usually somewhat chaotic, and if they’re peeks into our subconscious selves, perhaps it’s a good idea to start by practicing to listen to what we have to say to ourselves, before digging any deeper.
This far, we may have a sneaking suspicion of where we came from. We’re part of this world and another, and we belong in both. Parts of us are new and innovative, others are older than time. We might carry traces of ancient chaos in our DNA.
What do you think? Are we’re slipping further away from our chaotic reality, or just learning to embrace it? Can you feel the prickling feelings of ancient chaos through your body when you write, when you dance, when you walk the streets at night?
We might have some idea where we come from. There’s a tiny sliver of a chance we’re part ancient chaos. In the next chapter, we’ll explore the possibilities of what we are made of, and how these two ideas fit together.
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