I was at the Harvard Museum of Natural History several months ago with a group of children who lingered in the rocks and minerals area. Harvard has a large amethyst geode there which caught my attention; I’ve inserted an image below. It caught my attention because it was a pocket, or a bubble; the pocket seemed, to this casual viewer, to be the necessary condition for the existence of the amethyst. That is to say, before something new like the processes involved in the creation of an amethyst geode could begin, there needed to be a boundary, a limit, an enclosure to allow an internal environment that was different from the surrounding environment. The boundaries may be somewhat porous, but that’s only because what happens inside of the bubble needs to be related to what is outside. A lipid bilayer does this, allowing the environment within a cell to be different from the environment outside of a cell, so that processes can occur within the cell’s interior which are impossible on the outside. The magnetosphere seems to do something analogous, together with other envelopes around the earth which allow for the flourishing of complex life as we know it. I have heard speculation that the solar wind from our Sun creates a clearing within the interstellar medium of “space“, in which a solar system such as ours can exist: the heliosphere (this is in addition to the other unifying and enabling effects which the Sun bestows upon the planets and the solar system). At every stage, something like a bubble seems to occur, allowing something new on the inside. I was visiting the Harvard museum not long after writing a paper on the roots of the mathematical and geometrical imagery in St. Maximus the Confessor; in the Greek philosophical tradition generally, being and intelligibility are the same, so that to be is to be intelligible and so to be boundaried or to be limited and also to be one: difference and limit parse out an original trans-unitary fecundity of the nothingness beyond being. Circles or spheres/bubbles have these things –unity, intelligibility, limit/boundary– and have them perfectly. A circle is a boundary that is perfectly unitary, having the same radius at all points along the circumference, and having no corners. If the circle is the ideal image of the ideally unitary and self-unified being, different from other beings, then a foam of bubbles is an apt image for the world.
Which doesn’t mean that there’s one final bubble unifying the world: the world is one, but not in virtue of itself. That which unifies all things cannot be itself among the things unified (neither can it be another thing).
Then there is the issue of scale: every bubble pops eventually, different bubbles under different conditions — yet they all pop. (Something similar seems to have happened in the 1525 German Peasant’s War: the whole comes unbound through increased differentiation, and the bubbles split: the lords and peasants no longer have organic relations as part of the same world, but their worlds become separated and each world develops its own further enrichment and logic and ethos and even religion. I touched briefly on the form of this dynamic in another post which noted the effects of too much social differentiation.) There can be no universal containing bubble.
Finally, there is the issue of the unity of any image being something beheld: what is viewed has unity in being beheld by a viewer, but the act of beholding something implies a viewer who is a perpetual remainder of the image or model beheld. That is, any image –such as a sea of bubbles– has an essential item involved with it, and who unifies what is beheld in the viewing, yet this involved item doesn’t show up at all: the viewer. The viewer is not the one producing the unity, however, or else all unity is illusory, and all intelligibility lost. The unity perceived in each thing illumines the mind with whatever degree of unity it has, by which unity the unity of the bubble-cluster of the world is evident. The unity of a bubble, like the unity of the foam of the cosmos, is finally transcendent, not empirical: it is the foundation of all perception and being and measurement, but not itself a being, not itself an object of perception.
Of course, I know nothing at all about mineralogy, and not much more about astronomy and cosmology: they are here simply excuses to speculate.
4 thoughts on “Baseless Speculation About Bubbles”
I think it is time to generate some bubbles and to contemplate their spherical splendor.
I know how idiotically simple it sounds, but the image of the bubble is both primitive and profound — among the Presocratics, there is a reason it appears in Parmenides, for example, and the circle appears as a model for the world in Ps. Denys and St. Maximus. I won’t get started on Plato…
…to say nothing of Thelonius Monk’s middle name…