“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death...Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54
"The greater the sin, the greater the mercy, the deeper the death and the brighter the rebirth.” - C. S. Lewis
"This story...has the very taste of primary truth." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Whole Is Greater Than The Sum of Its Parts

...So far we've looked at two examples of this pattern of "new things":

  • Mathematics, physical reality, consciousness, knowledge of God: each level is built on the one before, but at each step something completely new comes into being
  • The story of Christianity, which is the story God is telling about himself through humanity. Each turn of events surpasses all that came before; each time the change is unprecedented and explosive.
These examples are "big" ones - we are talking about the whole world, and about all of history - in short, about everything we know. Our view here is telescopic, but if we focus in on the smaller elements of creation and consider very particular things, in a sort of microscopic way, we will find a similar pattern:
  • A digital image is made from pixels, but the whole of the image is more than the sum of the individual pixels that make it up. It is only because of the way in which the pixels interact with one another that the whole emerges as a new thing, greater than the sum of its parts. The same could be said for a movie as a sequence of screenshots and sound bytes.
  • A melody is made from individual notes, but the beauty of the whole is found only in the sequence of the notes, that is, in their relations to one another. The simplest example is two consecutive notes. In this sequence there may be a sublime beauty that is wholly absent from each note individually. The same could be said of chords, that is, of different notes played simultaneously.
  • All the billions of neurons in the brain interact with one another and with the surrounding world to bring about sensations of a three-dimensional environment, the hearing of sounds, perceptions of other senses, etc. Although the brain is the means of their creation, these images and sounds are new things that cannot be found among the neurons themselves.
These examples lead us to another characteristic of the way God does things. In each case, the new thing arises from the relationship or interaction between things. It emerges from the interconnectedness of the things, from the fact that their whole is greater than the sum of their parts. Perhaps the most important example of this arising of new things from the dynamic connections between things is the pattern of paradox in Christianity...

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