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Something described as holistic is characterized by the belief that the parts of something are interconnected and can be explained only by reference to the whole.

Holism is the interdisciplinary idea that systems possess properties as wholes apart from the properties of their component parts. The concept of holism informs the methodology for a broad array of scientific fields and lifestyle practices.

You may have heard of holistic medicine which is the treatment of the whole person, taking into account mental and social factors, rather than just the symptoms of an illness.

I knew the term from my years in education. Education with a holistic perspective is concerned with the development of every person’s intellectual, emotional, social, physical, artistic, creative, and spiritual potential. It seeks to engage students in the teaching/learning process and encourages personal and collective responsibility.

I have seen the word appear connected to religion. Holistic ministry views persons through God’s eyes, as body-soul wholes created to live in a wholesome community. That means you must minister to every dimension of human need – spiritual, financial, psychological, physical etc. A lofty charge to take on. It also means wholeness at every level of society – individuals, families, communities, nations, and the global human family. Some people refer to this as “natural religion.”

I thought about this the past week because I was rereading (via the audiobook – and No that’s not cheating since much of Adams’ writing began as radio plays) Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams which is the first book in his Dirk Gently series. Adams is a clever and funny author best known for the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series, but the books take on some big and serious themes too. At Dirk’s Holistic Detective Agency, they solve the whole crime. Adams has Dirk promote his business by saying that “We find the whole person. Phone today for the whole solution to your problem (Missing cats and messy divorces a specialty).”

In this first book, there are ghosts, time travel, eccentric computer geniuses, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the end of the world, and some missing cats. Dirk uses “the fundamental interconnectedness of all things” to solve crimes, so his investigations sometimes follow seemingly irrelevant paths.

Dirk is psychic, though he refuses to believe in such things. He says that he has a “depressingly accurate knack for making wild assumptions.”It is depressing because he doesn’t seem to be able to use it to win money gambling.

My favorite of the three Dirk novels is The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul. That phrase appeared in his earlier Life, the Universe and Everything. It described the horrible boredom of being immortal. It is also a kind of punning allusion to the theological treatise Dark Night of the Soul, by Saint John of the Cross.

You may not see the connection but in my post yesterday about missing the Full Moon, I waxed a bit philosophically and holistically about how celestial events, happenings in nature, and many very human events around us, go unobserved by most people. I do believe in the interconnectedness of the universe. I have long believed in synchronicity. It has been suggested that Ying and Yang may be a way to explain synchronicity. I used as an illustration here a Yin and yang symbol. It represents a Chinese philosophical concept that describes opposite but interconnected forces. Yin is the receptive and yang is the active principle. It can be seen in all forms of change and difference. For example, the annual cycle (winter and summer), the landscape (north-facing shade and south-facing brightness), and even sociopolitical history (disorder and order).

We are all trying to figure it out.


If you are more of a watcher than a reader or listener, there is a 2016 BBC TV series
with Dirk Gently played by Samuel Barnett, and his reluctant assistant Todd played by Elijah Wood. I watched the two seasons on Hulu. There had been a 5-episode series in 2012 with another cast.

Four Gods


I once read about a survey that polled Americans about their beliefs in God, including God’s characteristics and behavior. The idea was to analyze the results and determine how engaged in the world Americans believed God to be and whether or not they thought God was angry at humanity’s sins. Their conclusions were that Americans tended to believe in one of four types of God.

The word “God” was used but they allowed that participants might personally use another name, such as Great Spirit, Universe, Allah, Father, deity, the Almighty, the Creator et al. The variety of names shows that there are certainly more than four types.

One is the Authoritarian God who is very involved in people’s daily lives and world affairs. They believe that God will punish those who are unfaithful. This God would be responsible for economic downturns and natural disasters. Is that your God?

Maybe you believe in the Benevolent God who is involved in our daily lives, but is not angry or wrathful and is mostly a positive force. Sounds very nice.

Some people believe in a Critical God. This God observes the world and is unhappy with it, but does not get involved in our daily affairs. Maybe divine justice doesn’t happen in this world.

The fourth view of God is a Distant God who is not involved in the world and is not angry. This God is a cosmic force that sets the law of nature in motion.

Of course, you might not believe in any God or hang out with all the college kids in the agnostics lounge.

I have identified for quite a long time as a Deist. I don’t know which of the four Gods is most Deist. Distant in that he (she? they?) chooses not to interact with our lives, but could? Crtitical for his detachment? If you want to give any God credit for good things and miracles, then you also have to attach blame for all the bad things that happen. Very few Benevolent club members do that.

I think that any of the four Gods would be pleased that we are thinking about them.


Walkabout refers to a rite of passage where male Australian Aborigines undergo a journey during adolescence and live in the wilderness for a period as long as six months. It’s a vision quest taken to extremes.

My introduction to it was through a fill called  Walkabout by Nicolas Roeg. I saw it the year I started college and it really intrigued me.

It follows the journey of a sister and brother who are abandoned in the Australian outback and their meeting with an Aborigine boy who is on his walkabout. Together they journey innocence into experience in the wild.

The film has a cult status these days, but back in the early 1970s very few people I knew had ever heard of it. Of course, I was not alone in having a crush on the unnamed girl in the film played by Jenny Agutter.

The film was unconventional and had almost none of the “plot” that we expect in a film. Years later, I saw a “director’s cut” but by then I had forgotten the details from my original viewing. (A benefit of the aging brain and memory is that you can re-experience things you loved as if they were new again.) The scenes of frontal nudity and realistic, survival hunting scenes seemed perfect in context, but unusual at the time.

So, that film led me to read the original book and several other non-fiction books about the walkabout experience. I even tried once to teach the book to middle school students, but they just didn’t get it.

I loved the idea that the seeker followed “songlines” that their ancestors took. These songlines (or dreaming tracks) of the Indigenous Australians are an ancient cultural concept and motif perpetuated through oral lore and singing and other storytelling dances and paintings.

The songlines are an intricate series of song cycles that identify landmarks and mechanisms for navigation. They remind me of the songs of whales. I can’t explain how they work any more than I can explain the whale songs or how migrating birds find their way. Though I have read about all of these things, I don’t think I really want to know (at a scientific level) how it works.

Each song has a particular direction or line to follow and walking the wrong way may even be sacrilegious. You don’t go up one side of a sacred hill when that is the side to come down. That would send you in the wrong direction both literally (on a map) and figuratively (in your life).

What is it about being alone in the wilderness that tunes (or, more likely, re-tunes) our awareness of the natural elements and our connection to them, and even to some creational source? Though I and my ancestors are a long way from that natural life, something remains inside us.

Like the vision quest, the walkabout is an initiation into the teachings and mysteries of the self and the universe. The seeker both finds truths and has truth revealed.

While the walkabout may have Aboriginal roots in Australia, and the vision quest is associated with Native American traditions, the journey is not unique to only those locations. That is why that film eventually led me to read about the archetypical “hero’s journey” and the search for the Holy Grail.

I wish I had a true vision quest or walkabout tale to tell you. I still hope that someday I will.

I have taken two much smaller journeys.  On one full moon weekend journey, with some guidance from someone who knew more about it than I did,  I sought my “guardian animal” in a vision or dream.

I wish I could say it was a wolf that I found because I have always felt an affinity to them, but it was a rabbit. (Of course, I was in New Jersey at the time, so a coyote would have been about as close as I was to come to a wolf – and we know the coyote is the trickster.)

I have also felt some kind of connection to rabbits since childhood.  The rabbit in my vision was quite real and I felt led me. I say that because I followed it and it never ran away but would stop, look back at me, wait, and then continue. I followed it for what seemed like a long time, and then, while I was looking at it, it disappeared.

That’s how I would describe it. Disappeared.

We were at the top of a rocky outcrop. There was a small stream ahead of us and down the rocks. I did not see a life direction or message in where I had been taken that day.  But I felt that I was at a place where I had a good, clear view. I did not know exactly where I was, but I was not lost. I could find my way back to where I had been, but I didn’t see where I needed to go next.

In the traditional Lakota culture, the Hanblecheyapi (vision quest) means “crying for a vision.”  I am still looking.

It’s Turtles All the Way Down

Hindu turtle Earth
Chukwa supports the elephant Maha-pudma who holds up the world.

I think I first saw the expression “Turtles all the way down,” when I read Carl Sagan’s Broca’s Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science. He recounted it as a conversation between a Western traveler and an Oriental philosopher.

I don’t have that book handy, but it is also told in Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time which is on a nearby shelf (I have both the nicely illustrated edition, and the “in a nutshell” versions which I found easier to understand).

A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the Earth orbits around the Sun and how the Sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: “What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.” The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, “What is the tortoise standing on?” “You’re very clever, young man, very clever”, said the old lady. “But it’s turtles all the way down!”

If you search a bit online, you’ll also find this called “The Infinite Turtle Theory” and find that it has found its way into a good number of cultural works. I myself have pinned the saying to several web pages I have online.

Although Hawking relates the anecdote more to point out something about ridiculous theories, others actually use it as a way to discuss an infinite regression belief about the origin and nature of the universe.

When I encountered it, I immediately thought of it as a variation of ancient beliefs that our world moves through the universe on the back of an animal. In many Native American creation myths, it is a turtle that holds up the world which is called “Turtle Island.”

I also found that it is similar to some Indian classical texts, including the myth that the tortoise Chukwa supports the elephant Maha-pudma who holds up the world.

The reference to Bertrand Russell may be from a 1927 lecture he gave titled “Why I Am Not a Christian” during which he said:

“If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God, so that there cannot be any validity in that argument. It is exactly of the same nature as the Hindu’s view, that the world rested upon an elephant and the elephant rested upon a tortoise; and when they said, “How about the tortoise?” the Indian said, “Suppose we change the subject.”

But you could go back to 1690 in John Locke’s “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding” where he refers to an Indian who said the world was on an elephant which was on a tortoise “but being again pressed to know what gave support to the broad-backed tortoise, replied — something, he knew not what.”

A more modern allusion to it supposedly came from William James (father of American psychology) who supposedly had a conversation with an old lady who told him the Earth rested on the back of a huge turtle.

“But, my dear lady”, James asked, “what holds up the turtle?”
“Ah”, she said, “that’s easy. He is standing on the back of another turtle.”
“But would you be so good as to tell me what holds up the second turtle?”
“It’s no use, Professor”, said the lady, avoiding a logical trap. “It’s turtles, turtles, turtles, all the way!”

Ah yes,  we will never get to the bottom of some things.

Infinite regressions. What existed before the universe existed?  If God created the universe, what created God?

It’s turtles all the way down.

Seven Deadly Sins 2.0

The seven deadly sins (AKA the capital vices or cardinal sins) is a classification of vices within Christian teachings. They are not a list from the Bible, there are seven things God is said to hate in the Book of Proverbs. They are behaviors that give rise to other immoralities.

The standard list is pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony and sloth.

It is said that Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) considered the seven deadly sins to be:

  1. Wealth without works
  2. Pleasure without conscience
  3. Knowledge without character
  4. Commerce without morality
  5. Science without humanity
  6. Worship without sacrifice
  7. Politics without principle

Thinking About Infinity. Check My Math.

I have been thinking about infinity.

I was never good at math in school but I have always been fascinated by numbers. Here is what I have been running through my thoughts. Check my math.

infinity + 1 = infinity, which makes it seem like that 1 is a zero – no effect.

What about infinity minus 1? It has to be less than infinity. Right? So, what is the answer?

infinity + infinity = infinity

But infinity – infinity = 0

Two things inspired this infinitely frustrating thought experiment. First, I watched the film A Trip to Infinity (on Netflix). This 2022 documentary explores the concept of infinity through interviews with mathematicians and physicists.

The second inspiration was the much lighter sitcom Young Sheldon. In a recent episode, the precocious and young genius Sheldon comes to doubt the existence of zero. He is tutoring his not-very-bright neighbor Billy in math. During the session, Billy naively asks how zero can simultaneously exist as something but be nothing. The question causes Sheldon to have a kind of existential crisis. He turns to the two professors he works with and they can’t really answer the question and have some mathematical doubts too. It’s not unlike the physicist and mathematicians in the infinity film who have answers about defining infinity but don’t really agree or even seem very confident.

Sheldon rejects religion and God which is very important to his very Christian mother. Somewhat incongruously, when Sheldon talks with Billy again, Billy suggests they just pretend zero exists. Sheldon interprets this as an act of faith and that restores him.

It’s not that you can’t find a definition of “infinity.” It is that which is boundless, endless, or larger than any natural number. The ancient Greeks discussed the philosophical nature of infinity. In the 17th century, we get the infinity symbol and infinitesimal calculus. Working in the foundations of calculus, it was unclear whether infinity could be considered as a number or magnitude and, if so, how this could be done.

By the end of the 19th century, people were studying infinite sets and infinite numbers, and infinity was clearly a mathematical concept. In physics and cosmology, whether the Universe is infinite is still an open question.

There is a section of the film that I rewatched and it still doesn’t make sense. One physicist says that if you place an apple in a box it will decay into mush and then dust. Then, it becomes microscopic particles and then it becomes one with the universe. Whoa. Give it enough time, and it will become an apple again. What?

I think the connection between the film and the TV episode is the futility of wrestling with paradoxes. You probably will end up accepting that with all of our knowledge we will likely never explain or comprehend the greater existential realities of the universe.

Aristotle said that the more you know, the more you realize how much you don’t know. Not that we shouldn’t think about these things. Just don’t expect an answer.