NOTES TO POEM: SPECULATIONS ON THE SOUL

By Peter Y. Chou, WisdomPortal.com


This poem was inspired by Mary Oliver's poem
"Some Questions You Might Ask" from House of Light (1990).

Mineral, plant, or animal—
Is the soul absent, asleep, or awake in them?

Recent scientific studies have shown that animals do have feelings. There seems to be consciousness in plants too. Panpsychism is the belief that consciousness is universal in all that exists. Theosophists believe that the mineral experiences of freezing, melting, being crushed, turning to molten metal, all impact upon the mineral consciousness. Dr. Masaru Emoto has discovered that crystals formed in frozen water reveal changes when specific, concentrated thoughts are directed toward them. Water exposed to loving words shows brilliant snowflake patterns. In contrast, water exposed to negative thoughts, forms irregular patterns with dull colors. It's interesting that science is catching up with what sages and poets intuited centuries ago. The Chinese sage Wang Yang Ming (1472-1529) wrote in Inquiry on the Great Learning: "The great man regards Heaven and Earth and the myriad things as one body... when he sees plants broken and destroyed, he cannot help a feeling of pity. This shows that his humanity forms one body with plants. It may be said that plants are living things as he is. Yet even when he sees tiles and stones shattered and crushed, he cannot help a feeling of regret. This shows that his humanity forms one body with tiles and stones." William Wordsworth shared this sentiment in The Prelude; or the Growth of a Poet's Mind, III.127-132 (1850):
        To every natural form, rock, fruits, or flower,
        Even the loose stones that cover the highway,
        I gave a moral life: I saw them feel,
        Or linked them to some feeling: the great mass
        Lay bedded in a quickening soul, and all
        That I beheld respired with inward meaning.

What about iron?— liquid core of earth, atomic weight 55
Iron, chemical symbol Fe, has an atomic number = 26 and atomic weight = 55.845. Iron is the most abundant metal on Earth, and also the most abundant (by mass, 34.6%) element making up the Earth. The Earth's inner core is composed mostly of iron (Fe) and is so hot that the outer core is molten, with about 10% sulphur (S). The inner core is under such extreme pressure that it remains solid. The large amount of iron in the Earth contributes to its magnetic field.

numerical sum of the Lambda series which
Plato called the soul of the universe.

Platonic Lambda The Platonic Lambda, the Soul of the Universe,
is the sum of the two series (Timaeus 35b):
Sum of the double interval series (powers of 2) =
20 + 21 + 22 + 23 = 1 + 2 + 4 + 8 = 15
Sum of the triple interval series (powers of 3) =
30 + 31 + 32 + 33 = 1 + 3 + 9 + 27 = 40
Sum of the double & triple interval series (Timaeus) = 15 + 40 = 55
“Now God did not make the soul after the body, although we are speaking of them in this order; for having brought them together he would never have allowed that the elder should be ruled by the younger... First of all, he took away one part of the whole [1], and then he separated a second part which was double the first [2], and then he took away a third part which was half as much again as the second and three times as much as the first [3], and then he took a fourth part which was twice as much as the second [4], and a fifth part which was three times the third [9], and a sixth part which was eight times the first [8], and a seventh part which was twenty-seven times the first [27]. After this he filled up the double intervals [i.e. between 1, 2, 4, 8] and the triple [i.e. between 1, 3, 9, 27] cutting off yet other portions from the mixture and placing them in the intervals.” (Benjamin Jowett's translation of Plato's Timaeus, 35b)

Does the soul have a lung?
The connection between soul and lung traces to Genesis 2.7:
"And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed
into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul."

trillions of lungs in hemoglobins of red blood cells
Red blood cells are also known as erythrocytes. The diameter of a typical human erythrocyte is 6-8 Ám. A typical erythrocyte contains about 270 million hemoglobin molecules. Adult humans have roughly 2-3 x 1013 or approximately 25 trillion red blood cells at any given time.

four iron horsemen carrying oxygen as we breathe in and out
Each hemoglobin molecule is a tetramer contain two α-chains of 141 amino acids and two β-chains of 146 amino acids. The 574-residues hemoglobin has a molecular weight of 64,000 daltons. Each chain contains a heme group with iron at its center that carries oxygen from the lungs to the tissues in our body via the blood. Hence, the four heme groups in hemoglobin may be compared to four iron horsemen. Max Perutz was awarded the Chemistry Nobel Prize in 1962 for elucidating the 3-dimensional structure of hemoglobin. In his humble Nobel Banquet speech, he said that his "ultimate goal is to explain the physiology of breathing in terms of the architecture of the haemoglobin molecule." Perutz later showed that as the oxyhemoglobin and deoxyhemoglobin carried and released oxygen, the hemoglobin molecule moved on a microscopic scale— expanding & contracting much like our lungs as we breathe in and out.

Is Adam still circulating, spinning in every atom of our soul?
Just as all the elements contain the first element of hydrogen within them, and all the numbers no matter how large have the number 1 as its foundation, so according to Genesis, Adam is our first forefather, and his imprint is in our DNA, circulating in all of our genetic blueprints.

What about grass?— summer hair of the Great Mother
"What about the grass" is the closing line of Mary Oliver's poem
"Some Question You Might Ask". But I'm also paying homage
to Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass (1855), Section 6:
    A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
    How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is, any more than he.

The reference to Great Mother is to Mother Earth.

swirling with the sunflower's golden spirals
The sunflower seeds seem to be arranged in 34 spirals opening clockwise. But you can also see spirals going the other way. If you count the tightly wound spirals near thhe centre you get 21, if you go for the more open spirals starting at the rim you get 55. So this sunflower displays three consecutive Fibonacci numbers: 21, 34, 55. Leonardo of Pisa (1175-1250), an Italian mathematician was the discoverer of the Fibonacci series that is found in the Golden Section in nature— sea shell shapes, branching plants, flower petal and seeds, leaves and petal arrangements, on pineapples, artichokes, and sunflowers.

shining from the visible spectrum's center
of greenness to some source beyond

The colors of the rainbow are ROYGBIV—
red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet
The color green is the center of this visible spectrum
of light. If our world is represented by these colors
of multiplicity, then their source (recall Newton's prism)
is white light— philosophical symbol of Oneness or Heaven.

swan can separate milk from water
Hindu mythology: In India, the swan is associated with advaita vedanta, the philosophy of non-dualsim. The swan stays in water, but its feathers remain dry. Similarly, the advaitin lives in the world, yet strives to remain unaffected by life's ups and downs. The swan is also mythically credited with the ability to separate milk from water, indicating the power of discernment. Similarly, the advaitin discerns the eternal reality (Brahman) from the changing world of illusion (Maya). When I was with Paul Brunton (PB) in Switzerland (1972-79), he would take me often to Lac Leman after our lunch where we'd feed the swans. I asked PB about the swan's ability to separate milk from water. PB said "It's a myth that has never been proven— Peter, you're a chemist. why don't you do the experiment. Get some of your chemistry students together, find some swans and place some pails of milk and water, and do the test!" I've never taken up this challenge, and hope some more adventurous soul to undertake this fascinating experiment.

Socrates' dream of swan landing on his bosom
singing the night before Plato came to be his student

One night in the year 407 B.C., Socrates had a dream. He saw a graceful
white swan flying toward him with a melodious song trilling from its throat.
The next morning Plato came to him and asked to become his pupil. (Dreams)
Anthony Damiani first told me this story in Ithaca (1968)
which I found later in Olympiodorus's "Life of Plato" in
Volume 1 of Thomas Taylor's 55 Dialogues of Plato (1804).

hamsa in Sanskrit means swan & soul— the sounds of breathing.
The in-breath sounds like Soooooooh and the out-breath sounds like Haaaaaaam. Breathing in and out has a sound like Soham. Breathing out and in has a sound like Hamsa. With every breath in and out you have been muttering to yourself in Sanskrit. SohamHamsa in Sanskrit translates as "The Swan of the Soul".
(Breathe; Hamsa Meditation; hamsa and soham mantras)

Does the soul have a phone number?
How about 55?— sum of one to ten,

The dials on telephone are from 1 to 9 & 0 representing 10
The sum of the first 10 numbers = 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 + 7 + 8 + 9 + 10 = 55

Plato's 55 Dialogues
Thomas Taylor & Floyer Sydenham translated 55 Dialogues of Plato from Greek to English, published in 5 volumes (R. Wilks, London, 1804). They influenced the romantic poets Coleridge, Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, Byron, and Blake.

the stars Dante scattered in his Commedia
Number of stars (29 stella + 26 stelle) Dante scattered in his Commedia = 55.
(Ernest Hatch Wilkins, Thomas G. Bergin, & Anthony J. De Vito,
A Concordance to the Divine Commedy of Dante Alighieri, 1966)
(Dante's 55 and the Platonic Lambda)

What about 5 and 5 coming together—
our fingers touching in prayer?

In my first draft of this poem, my closing line was
"What about 55— the numerological number of my name?"
(Peter Y. Chou = 7+5+2+5+9 +7 +3+8+6+3 = 28 + 7 + 20 = 55)
I was amazed to find that my name was numerically in harmony with so many sacred numbers in nature that adds to 55. When I had this poem critiqued at Dick Maxwell's poetry workshop at Foothill College (3-11-1993), one of the poets commented "So what?" My poem had bombed and few cared for all the 55 symbolisms packed in the poem. I revised the poem and searched for a more suitable ending. Then I came across a 1955 Saar semi-postal stamp (Scott #B106) showing Albrecht Dürer's Praying Hands (1508) in the Graphische Sammlung Albertina, Vienna. This was the answer to my prayer— My first ending was too egotistical, pointing to my name for attention. When talking about something so sacred as the soul, one should be most humble in contemplating on it. This new ending of "our fingers touching in prayer" has the right feeling of gratitude to it. After reading this second version in class the following week (3-18-1993), it received a warmer reception.

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