The Magic Eye

I wear an Eye of Horus around my neck.  While not uncommon it may seem strange to those who know me as a fairly outspoken atheist.  Unfortunately my reason for wearing it is not what most people would think.  It is only because I am a big Alan Parsons Project fan and the symbol appears on their most well known album Eye in the Sky.  lol

But in searching for that symbol, which I had no idea what it is called I came across the story of it.  Recently in reading one of a fellow blogger’s post, spouting some theist rhetoric equating faith as being a plausible substitute where uncertainty exists, it reminded of the story of the Eye of Horus.

Long story short, the myth involves Horus and Set (in some accounts are brothers, in some  nephew and uncle respectively).  Set kills Osiris (Horus’ father) and in revenge Horus kills Set, but in that battle Horus is injured.  Set struck at the eye of Horus shattering it.  As luck would have it the eye is broken into a fun set of mathematically progressive pieces.  The symbol of the Eye of Horus is drawn with 6 strokes, each stroke represents what they believed were the 6 senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell, and thought.  This shattered eye is broken into 6 pieces in specific proportions: 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/16, 1/32, 1/64.  Horus took the pieces of his eye to a local magician to reassemble the eye, but if you do the math, you will of course discover that you are 1/64th short of a whole eye.  This magician had to use ‘magic’ to fill in what was missing.  This was the left eye of Horus, which represents the moon, and is why the moon is supposedly more mysterious (because part of the eye was reconstructed with magic).  The right eye of Horus represents the sun, and this became the more common eye used later in Egyptian culture as a symbol of protection.

Anyway, where I am going with all this is that it seems to me that our human uncomfortability with uncertainty is what drives us to put faith into the missing picture.  You have something that is a whole, you only understand a part of it, and the other part you fill in with faith, instead of remaining uncertain.  This seems hardly surprising to me.  What it does feel like to me is that as we learn more about any particular thing the proportion of what we don’t know gets smaller and smaller.  The God of the Gaps has less of a Gap to cover, and yet we want to give that magic the same level of  importance.  We can go from no idea of our origin, to a very substantial set of empirical evidence about evolution, but no matter  how little uncertainty remains it seems magic must still prevail as long as any proportion still remains.

I think there could be beauty in the things we come up with to explain the unexplainable, but it’s perhaps the dogmatism that concerns me the most.  The inability to be cognizant of the fact that in that space of uncertainty there are many types of magic we could conjure up to fill in that gap, none being more valid than the other.  And yet different religions will try to tell you their magic is better than yours.  In the end, being comfortable with uncertainty seems the more important goal, because it in no way prevents you from enjoying a good story.  I rather like the story of the Eye of Horus. 🙂


10 thoughts on “The Magic Eye

  1. You put your finger on a lot of important notions here, Swarn. Metaphors, parables, symbolic images etc can be very helpful to us humans: guides to unravel problems; to develop respect for others and the world we live in. And in doing this, they can also nurture our creativity, expand our thinking. So: very useful and often inspirational tools then. But as you say, it’s when we start believing they are absolute truths that the trouble starts. And tools become weapons.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Tish. I have a general fascination for how we deal with uncertainty. The balance we walk in this life between risk and safety. Uncertainty elicits an emotional response in humans and sometimes that emotional response can be wonder and as you say inspire creativity, but it can also lead to fear which has us shying away from the unknown. While I was still a theist, I broke away from organized religion and simply decided I was going to believe in a God that made sense to me. There really is nothing stopping anybody from defining the divine in a way that makes sense to them, even if there is a God, it’s clear that no major religion has figured out God in any meaningful way anyway. I’ve never considered myself a risk taker, but I am certainly not afraid to wander into the unknown and explore. The way organized religion quells curiosity and exploration I think is the greater travesty I think.

      And I guess in this piece I was more struck thinking about no matter how much uncertainty there is, even as that diminishes, the idea that any uncertainty sort of implies that all is uncertain enough that any explanation would fit. In this way I think ideologically driven groups exploit any amount of uncertainty to derail even what we know, and then insert another explanation in there as equally valid. This also seems a dishonest and unproductive way of dealing with uncertainty.

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      1. Forgot to say, I like this viewpoint ‘ There really is nothing stopping anybody from defining the divine in a way that makes sense to them’. We most of us must have a sense of the sacred – however we experience it. We could call it the universe, a life force, creation, joy, or even god. It really doesn’t need to be pinned down. We could simply accept it as is, and with wonder. A show of gratitude is always good too. It might even over-ride some of the fear of uncertainty. How’s the new babe doing?

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        1. Yes, gratitude is a good thing and could very well override a fear of uncertainty. Even though I don’t believe in god, I sometimes have a feeling of thanking someone (the universe?), feeling blessed, feeling fortunate. The other end of that feeling need not be filled with something so solid. I have never really understood the need to make it so.

          The new baby is doing well thank you. 🙂 This one I think is going to be a big eater, as opposed to my oldest son, who is a tall bean pole who eats like a pigeon. lol

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  2. I rather like the story as well. I also think humility is ever needed in the human world. Not knowing everything gives us perspective and keeps us respectful of other living things and systems. Reserving a glimmer of space in the pie chart for the numinous does not require religion by any means. It does keep us mindful that we are specks among stars and that we need a respectful approach in order to forge a sustainable future. This has never been more clear than it is today. Aloha, Swarn.

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    1. Agreed Bela. Well said. The unknown is what keeps us humble. It seems to be this is always what the divine has represented and when you look at the variety of religions now and in the past, one can appreciate both the diversity in stories but also the similarity in themes and lessons they were trying to teach. I think one of those lessons was of humility, but this requires less of a literal take on the stories and more of metaphorical interpretation.

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  3. I’ve tried to post a comment twice, without any luck, so it must be that I was trying to include a link. Instead of the link, this time I’ve only included the Google search parameter that brought me to the link…

    I think you’re right about the need to learn to live with uncertainty, Swarn. Admitting there are things we don’t know, and resisting the need to rush in and claim the territory of the unknown prematurely in defense of a certain dogma is really important.

    I only found a quick recounting of the story you described with Horus and Seth and Osiris, and it reminded me of the story of Humpty Dumpty. For me it raised this notion: when something whole is reduced to pieces, there is something nearly intangible that is lost, and that is wholeness. Setting aside all dogmas and religious concepts for a moment, does the possibility that wholeness is an element of reality give you pause for concern?

    Here is a link (search for Mendel Sachs atomism vs holism) to a scientific paper on this subject. I submit this not because I have the expertise to say this! this is it! but to try and present the idea of holism as one with validity from a scientific perspective. And to keep us from getting into a theological discussion. I’ve long been intrigued by the idea of wholeness, and whether we can really say it is not relevant to the structure of our universe.

    And of course, I haven’t a clue!


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    1. Hi Michael! Sorry I’m just getting to this now.

      First of all, I’m sorry this took multiple attempts. I did find your messages somehow in the spam folder. This doesn’t seem typical, as people have posted links to articles before in response, so I am unclear as to why it happened this time. I don’t move those out of the spam folder because then it would have appeared as multiple comments. But yeah, if that happens again, just send me an e-mail or write a quick comment to check my spam folder.

      I do think the parable of the Eye of Horus has a different meaning than what I’ve mentioned here, My associate here is a loose one, I admit, but nevertheless this is the story that popped into my mind. I also was thinking about how in the topic of climate change that regardless of what lines of skepticism gets addressed, the need to harp on uncertainty as upending the entirety of an argument even as facts pile up against you, just seems to be this odd side of human nature. I guess I kind of saw the Eye of Horus as sort of symbolic of our human tendency to want absolute wholeness and certainty and often reject that which casts doubt into our views. Interestingly, in my experience, those who I consider the most moral people of faith are ones who are comfortable with uncertainty, and doubt. More than that, they see it as a healthy part of having faith as opposed to something that is a sign of moral weakness.

      I read over the paper you linked and it is interesting. I would say physics has progressed some since it was written, but his philosophical questions I think still exist. The link between the quantum and the macro-physics world still exists. For my own part, I don’t have a particular worry about this as there are many physics puzzles we’ve yet to solve, this being one of them, it doesn’t seem unrealistic to think that one day we will. Maybe the better question is “what if we don’t? Is that a problem?”

      It seems to me for solving problems about most things we care about, that will actually lead to human contentedness in life solving this problem doesn’t matter. Interestingly I was just think about this issue today after listening to a podcast about a computer programmer and sociologist who was trying to use big data to predict a human life. There is this huge data set that exists for a number of kids and he was trying to predict what their GPA would be at 15 and also how much grit they had. His experiment was a failure. It’s possible there is too much randomness. It seems highly unlikely that we would ever get enough of the variables right to predict a human life accurately. Maybe one day. And maybe molecules only appear to move randomly…perhaps they don’t. But knowing enough to predict their trajectories seems a complex task at best, and maybe it doesn’t really matter. The example I thought of is that despite random molecular motions, when there are pressure differences the wind will still blow, and that I can predict with reasonable accuracy. That being said I cannot deny that things are also constructed. That new things are made, while old things break apart. And even as entropy decreases, it seems that things really are made molecule by molecule. Protein strand by protein strand. We know that atoms beyond hydrogen are fused in the core of stars, and there are forces between all these particles…to break apart everything into it’s smaller parts to try to recreate the universe is interesting, and maybe possible, but it seems so far away from what we can do and even if it might have some applications like teleportation, it is also quite possible that we humans are simply always going to be too limited to make any headway here. I think wholeness matters a lot more, and that there is a lot of value in learning how systems work, even if we can’t understand the components well enough. Not everything, it seems, has to be reverse engineered down to its parts to be understood. Or at least understood well enough to be useful.

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