Brownian motion of the soul

Illustration of Brownian motion

They ain’t moving, they’re just moving around. (Image credit: Wikipedia.)

Some weeks ago I came across the song “Divisionary (Do the right thing)” by Ages and Ages. It seems to be a curious mix of wisdom and paranoia. Not that I am unfamiliar with that. The repetitive chorus: “Do the right thing, do the right thing, do it all the time, do it all the time” reminded me of myself as a teen. Unsurprisingly it is really hard to do the right thing all the time when you don’t understand yourself or the world in which you live.

You can hear the song on Spotify, that is what I did, but be warned that it is not entirely light. There is anger and fear in it too. Handle with care, although it is certainly better than the evening news. But we’re getting to that.

Among the words of wisdom floating around in there was this word-painting:
They ain’t moving, they’re just moving around.
So if you love yourself, you better get out
Get out – get out – get out now!

Well, that’s easier said than done. We’re getting to that too. But let us look a bit closer at this not moving but moving around. It is important. This is a basic tenet of my religion, if you will put it that way. But first let us conjure up some more images.

Most colored or murky liquids such as ink or paint consist of tiny particles suspended in a clearer liquid such as water, alcohol or some kind of oil. This clearer liquid is called the solvent, and after we dissolve another substance in it, it is called a solution. (This is why we who took high school chemistry say that alcohol is not a solution – it is a solvent! ^_^) It is the same process that happens when you dissolve sugar in tea or coffee, except sugar is almost colorless so you can’t see how much there is of it in a sweet drink. (Just as well, say I!) The sugar does not change its basic nature by being dissolved, there is no chemical reaction. It just falls apart into tiny particles which are suspended in the liquid.

If you have a beaker with clear water and put a drop of ink in it, the ink will not stay in drop form for long. It will begin to spread into the surrounding water. If you look at it in a very strong microscope, you will see that the tiny ink particles are moving restlessly around in the water, even when the beaker is standing completely still and is not being heated or cooled. There is always in any liquid or gas this feverish motion, but it is random. They ain’t moving, they’re just moving around. We call this microscopic dance “Brownian motion”. The Wikipedia page has some great animations of it. (Warning: Possible epilepsy triggers.)


And this, dear choir, is my sermon today: These particles moving around getting nowhere? They are us humans, in this world. We ain’t moving, we’re just moving around. If you love yourself, you better get out, NOW. That’s what religion is all about, or was meant to be at least before it became a cozy club. It was meant to be an escape hatch from the world where we just wash back and forth thinking that we are moving forward but getting nowhere, thinking that we are alive because we are moving but in the long run we are all dead.

I keep seeing people say that religion is a comfort. Yeah, to me it is as comforting as a fire alarm going off while I dream. What would be really comfortable would be to smash the fire alarm and go back to sleep, dreaming that everything is fine. And so this is also the general attitude of this world. The light shines in the dark but the dorks won’t accept it. Everyone has accomplishments they either have achieved or want to achieve. Graduation. Engagement. Employment. Marriage. Promotion. Having a child. Buying a house. Managerial position. Divorce. Winning a court case. Retirement. Mediterranean cruise. See Naples and die… Wait, the “die” part was not what we looked forward to, but it happened anyway. Luckily the children are around to continue the Brownian motion. They should be just about ready to divorce by now if you lived well into retirement. Be sure to leave some inheritance, lawyers need a car and a house too.

I have a hard time writing about this stuff, because obviously people would want me to demonstrate it with my own awesome spiritual achievements. Preferably with miracles thrown in. But I am not the way and the life. I’m just telling it as I see it. I am not giving you the escape hatch from the world of randomness any more than a tourist is the builder of the Eiffel Tower. At best I can point you in the right direction – but you probably know the right direction already? It is moving that is hard.

Moving around is easy in comparison. But moving purposefully is like swimming in strong currents – sometimes you make surprising progress when the current is going your way, then you come into another current and is thrown way off course, or sent back to start, so it seems. But what you don’t see is where you had been if you had not started moving. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. The path of eternity begins with a single thought.