Saturday, November 27, 2004

God Is A Battery 

The Taoist tradition tells us that certain energies flow through creation, and that to stand in opposition to these currents is to invite disharmony into one's life. This concept appears in Taoist medical practices like acupuncture and meditative practices like chi gong as the flow of chi through the human body; in the geomantic discipline of feng shui as the patterns of energy flowing through the earth; and in Taoist philosophy as the flow of social and psychological energies. In each context, resistance to the flow, the Tao, is self-destructive and ultimately futile.

The Sepher ha Zohar, the foundational text of medieval Kabbalism, likewise evokes the metaphor of a current to explain the manifestation of God in the form of the phenomenal world. Reality is envisioned as a circuit consisting of ten nodes, the sephirot of the tree of life, which range in degree of abstraction from the initial, undifferentiated godhead down to physical matter, and the creation (and constant re-creation) of the world of forms is powered by the Lightning Flash, a flow of divine energy in a zig-zag pattern through the tree of life. The Lightning Flash, like any electrical current, can be read in either direction: from abstract unmanifest to concrete substantial, or vice-versa. This dynamic flow is said by the Kabbalists to be powered by the tension, or "balance" (metheqela) , between God's two opposing tendencies of mercy and judgment. Thus, God's bipolar nature - "The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away" (Job 1:21) - supplies the voltage powering the the circuit of reality, the cycle of life and death called samsara in the Hindu tradition; the turning of the earth and the seasons, the phenomenal world.

This is revealed elsewhere in the Abrahamic tradition: "I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end" (Revelation 1:8). The voltage of a circuit - the tension between God's mercy and His wrath, the beginning and the end of the circuit of reality - is equal to Amperes of current times Ohms of resistance: AΩ.

Also revealed is the prophet's admonition to God's people:
The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain.

Isaiah 40:3-4
To make straight the way of the Lord is to align yourself and the world around you with God's will. To resist the Tao, to oppose the will of God, is to invite ruin and defeat. Jonah and the sailors learn that the unwilling prophet cannot escape his destiny, and his attempt to do so nearly destroys those around him. Just as a stone facing the flow of a river produces foam and tumult but is gradually worn down by the current, and just as a resistant conductor generates heat and light as it is melted and burned by the electricity passing through it, so does a man produce chaos and misery as the will of God passes through his resistant spirit, destroying him but only momentarily slowing the inexorable Tao. "Make straight the way of the Lord" - set your life to right with the flow of the universe, that God's will may manifest through you harmoniously.

My current project along these lines is the advocacy of what I see as an inexorable and just policy in this country for the distribution of knowledge and the creation of new artistic works. So you can imagine how pleased I was to see Professor Eben Moglen at Columbia Law School use the same metaphor as the Taoists and the Jews in a recent speech on the subject:
The net is a superconductive medium for the creation of software. So, as I wrote in 1999 when it was a little less obvious than it is today, we are witnessing a phenomenon first noticed by Michael Faraday at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Wrap a coil around a magnet; spin the magnet. Electrical current flows in the wire. One does not ask, "what is the incentive for the electrons to leave home?'' It's an inherent, emergent property of the system, we have a name for it: we call it induction. The question we ask is, "what is the resistance of the wire?'' Moglen's corollary to Faraday's Law says, wrap the Internet around every brain on the planet; spin the planet. Software flows in the network. It is wrong to ask, "What is the incentive for people to create?'' It's an emergent property of connected human minds that they do create. The forms in which they create, like the evolution of spoken and written language, like the disposition of memes, cultural forms, patterns of pottery, shapes of musical endeavor, and so on, are structural characteristics of the human mind. We are a social species, and we create together; that's our nature. The question to ask is, "What is the resistance of the network?'' Moglen's Corollary to Ohlm's Law states that the resistance of the network is directly proportional to the field strength of the intellectual property system. The conclusion is: Resist the resistance. Which is what we do.
Resist the resistance. That's what we do.

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