Thursday, November 01, 2012



Cosmic Ouroboros Oil on linen 120 x 150 cm
Regular readers will know that I have previously written about the age-old transcultural/religious symbol of the ouroboros when I wrote about my painting Ouroboros  [bottom]. The ouroboros symbol is a snake eating its own tail, representing the continuance of life. My new painting [above] Cosmic Ouroboros delves into similar interests, by again combining the ouroboros with the age-old transcultural/religious symbol, the tree-of-life. The tree forms the snake's body, which is the fertile ground for more trees...and life. As I have previously written, I 'see' the tree-of-life as a symbolic template for all of life's systems, pre-human and post-human, nano and vast.
I am particularly interested in the appropriation of the ouroboros by modern cosmologists as a visual descriptor of the relationship between the quantum and cosmic worlds. Its age-old symbolic meaning refers to the constant, but simultaneous, consumption and replenishment of life. The cosmic ouroboros extrapolates this to the relationship between the vast and intimate realms of the universe. Nobel Prize winner [1979] , physicist Sheldon Glashow was the first to suggest the ouroboros as a visual descriptor of the connection with, and unification of, the extremes of size and scale.
Below is an image from 'Just Six Numbers', by Lord Martin Reese, astrophysicist and Royal Astronomer. This is an image of the ouroboros with its cosmological descriptors and numbers. On the left the numbers and small diagrams represent the microworld, subatomic or quatum world. On the right they represent the various aspects of the Universe 'out there', from humanity to scales beyond the cosmic horizon.
In my new painting Cosmic Ouroboros I have included the numbers and small diagrams, with humanity situated at the bottom centre. The ouroboros seems to float in an indeterminable space/place. Is it outer space? Is it an intimate crease in time? Is it everything, anytime, anywhere?
Phycisist Prof. Joel Primack and his wifw, lawyer/philosophe Nancy Abrams, also use the ouroboros to visually describe quantum and cosmic realtionships. Primack and Abrams often work and publish together. A good start for you is to visit their site The New Universe And The Human Future: How A Shared Cosmology Could Transform The World
What I really like about the work of Primack and Abrams is their desire to help people understand humanity's place within the Universe, from its smallest to largest scales. They comment, quite rightly, that when asked about the Universe most people will think of it at its most enormous scale rather than envisioning it as something small, as well as large. Regular readers will know why I am fascinated by ties in with my belief that seeing multiple perspectives, even simultaneously, is important in a globalised world in which we live locally...and in a world where cosmological research reveals new horizons.
Why is this symbol useful? People asked to visualize "the universe" will far more often think of the largest thing they know of than the smallest. Few realize that the universe exists on all scales, everywhere, all the time. This is a truly extravagant thought. Largeness is by no means the most important characteristic of the universe. Focusing on it makes people feel small, not because they are, but because they are simply ignoring all scales smaller than themselves in thinking about the universe. On the Cosmic Uroboros, as I call it, if the mouth swallowing the tail is drawn at the top, humans (at one meter or so) fall more or less at the bottom -- i.e., at the center of all the size scales in the visible universe. Many students are so stunned by this apparently special place that they refuse to believe it and insist it must be a result of some tricky choice of units. I don't know if the center of the Cosmic Uroboros is in fact special, but finding themselves there certainly strikes a chord with most people. Perhaps it hearkens back to the soul-satisfying cosmology of the Middle Ages, where earth was truly the center of the universe. ...

Nancy Abrams is a great advocate for the arts [all of them], as a way of communicating how new cosmological horizons can be meaningfully understood and thus integrated into sustainable and enjoyable living. Symbolism is an integral part of arts catalytic agency and age-old symbols hold truths that can potentially speak to each millenia. By virtue of being age-old their potency burns, otherwise they'd be, what I call, transient symbols. We just have to search for contemporary relevance, meaning and resonnance. I believe the appropriation of the ouroboros by cosmologists is an excellent example of age-old potency being recognised and released. For me, the tree-of-life has the same potential.
Auroboros Oil on linen 122 x 153 cm

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