Paul Henry Carr
Air Force Researach Laboratory Emeritus, ATTN: SNHA, Hanscom AFB, MA 01731

  This vugraph presentation will attempt to convey the aesthetic beauty of scientific images and illustrate how they can be used as mandalas for the sacred. Scientific images, from the macroscopic to the microscopic, can convey a sense of wonder and awe.

  The mandala is a symbol of the cosmos. The geocentric universe of Pythagoras, Plato, and Ptolemy was made of concentric spheres which carried the planets and made "the music of the spheres." The planets were circular spheres of "ether," different from the earth, air, water, and fire on the earth. Each of these elements was represented by the 5 regular solids respectively: dodecahedron, cube, octagon, icosahedron, and tetrahedron. These can be inscribed inside a sphere and therefore regarded as approximations to its perfect symmetry. (Plato’s philosophy was that existence is a shadow of the perfect essence symbolized by the sphere.) In the early 16th century, Copernicus proposed his heliocentric system as "pleasing to the mind," as it placed Mercury, the fastest planet closest to the sun, and Saturn, the slowest, the most distant. At the beginning of the 17th century, Kepler adopted this system, because he could place the 5 regular solids as spacers between the orbits of the six known planets. The fit matched the known radii of the plants with such perfection that Kepler was convinced that it was divinely planned. For him, "Geometry was God."

Images can inspire creativity. The Dharmaraja Mandala (Sanskrit, mandlam, circle) inspired Karl Muller’s discovery of the cuprate high-temperature superconductors. He and his associate, Bednorz, won the 1987 Nobel Prize. The Dharmaraja Mandala is highly symmetrical visual symbol of the universe used in Hinduism and Buddhism as a guide to meditation. This motivated Mueller and Bednorz to investigate the highly-symmetrical microscopic crystal structures which were essential to their discovery. Scientific insight and religious revelation are both creative experiences. "We are ‘created co-creators’". (Phil Hefner).

The aesthetic beauty of the images of modern cosmology can hopefully give birth to a new sacred story. Images from the Hubble Telescope and the COBE (Cosmic Background Explorer) Satellite show the origins of the universe. The Hubble telescope gives us pictures of the galaxies 12 billion light years away, which are only 2 billion years old. The Hubble also shows us spectacular supernovae, the cosmic explosions in which the heavy elements were created. This cosmic dust is now part of us. The COBE satellite gives us images of the universe only 300,000 years after it was created in a "big bang" some 10 to 15 billion years ago.

"We are sitting on an island of knowledge in a sea of mystery." (Chet Raymo)