Red, White & Black

O blindness to the future! Kindly giv’n,
That each may fill the circle mark’d by Heav’n;
Who sees with equal eye, as God of all,
A hero perish, or a sparrow fall,
Atoms of systems into ruin hurled,
And now a bubble burst, and now a world.
— Alexander Pope, Essay on Man

All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible.
— T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom

Brighter stars will rise on some voyager of the future — some great Ulysses of the realms of thought — than shine on us. … Without dipping so far into the future, we may illustrate the course which thought has hitherto run by likening it to a web woven of three different threads — the black thread of magic, the red thread of religion, and the white thread of science …. [W]hat will be the colour of the web which the Fates are now weaving on the humming loom of time? will it be white or red? We cannot tell.
— Sir James George Frazer, The Golden Bough

“Man proposes and God disposes.” There are but few important events in the affairs of men brought about by their own choice.
— Ulysses S. Grant, Personal Memoirs

BODIES do not just fall toward each other, they also cease falling. A theory of gravity should explain both of these phenomena, and it should do so based solely on a single albeit complex principle, a single yet complex belief, a single but extremely complex mystery.

Hence the word gravity should connote not only falling but also standing, not only black holes but also atoms, not only unity but also multiplicity. And most deeply it should connote, yes, the spiritual.

Indeed we should ask, what are the bodies — the substances, the real things — that are at once falling and standing (or rising, as it were, á la the Phoenix)? Following Leibniz we have little choice but to recognize these bodies as souls, i.e. particles (quanta) of experience. Each soul is unique; nevertheless each is in relation with all the others; and the number of souls is best considered infinite. Leibniz thought these units must be monads, each a sort of monarchy. I think they must be pleiads, each a crudescence of the whole cosmos, each consisting not only of itself but influenced by and structurally (physically) resonant with all others. Indeed, I will argue that our understanding of merely physical objects — i.e. of the structure of experience rather than experience itself — should be derived from this principle of plenitude, a holistic and holographic principle of the extreme relation of real things. Such principle, I assert, is the ultimate principle of relativity. My Gravity trilogy is meant to be based upon this truly general principle.

Falling, rising, generality, difference, relation. These are extremely profound notions; people for countless millennia have naturally meditated upon them. Indeed via mythology and etymology we will discover — or reconstruct — the original and in fact prehistoric theory of quantum gravity, the prehistoric theory of everything. Likewise we will learn that this antique Holy Grail, if you will, interfaces naturally with the theory of everything nascent in our contemporary world. In the process we will recognize that we owe as much or more to the likes of James Joyce as to the likes of Leibniz and Einstein.

Note that the principle of relativity involves a fundamental trinity: unity, separation, and plenitude. Indeed, physics, mythology and in turn history are precisely understandable in terms of this trinity. Perhaps the most beautiful and seemingly the most common set of terms which mythology — or mytho-logic, as I like to call it — attaches to this trinity consists of the colors white, red and black, respectively. In the 1960s, American linguists Brent Berlin and Paul Kay studied the universality and evolution of basic color terms in eighty-eight diverse languages. They discovered that the least embellished languages, those spoken by the bushmen of southern Africa and the aborigines of Australia, had distinct color-words for white, red and black only. Moreover, these colors alone were common to all those eighty-eight languages.

To emphasize the exceeding symbolic importance of these colors, I render their names in capital letters. Of this trinity, the Black is the most important. The Black is reality: existence, facticity, the supposed plenum, the set of others, the matrix — what I call the “Present Mother” and the “Baroque.” The Black’s attributes include passion, pain and pan(ness) as well as the cognate passivity, peace and patience. The White and the Red are rather ideal — by this word I mean conceptual — in comparison.

The White begins from the notion of simple unity. Which is to say, the White emphasizes continuity — as in evolution, continuum physics, e.g. field physics, and as in whole number mathematics coupled to the concept of zero. Hence the White attempts to achieve a monadic, monarchic, autonomous, progressive, pure, simple, free existence (i.e. free from the influence of others). The White is analytical rather than wise, epic rather than romantic, linear rather than circular, otherworldly rather than this-worldly. The White idolizes ideas, concepts, knowledge. The chief concept employed by the White is the concept of space, i.e. space-as-container, outer space. The White conceives of its separations in terms of space: the separation of one mind from another, i.e. the localization of mind in terms of space and matter, yet the White program aims to reduce to space the description of matter. Likewise the White asserts the utter incommensurablity (and in this sense the simple duality) of minds and physics — although the White aims to reduce Mind (in the singular), i.e. God, to space/physics/Nature. In this sense the White believes that reality is essentially comprehensible but that no mind (and hence no set thereof) — i.e. no mere facet of Mind/God/Nature — can possibly comprehend it perfectly. Hence the White does not believe that a truly final physics can ever be achieved. Spinoza remains the chief philosopher of the White, while Newton, Einstein and Schrödinger remain its chief physicists. The White does not believe in irreducible complexity, i.e. in quantumness, hierarchy, archetypes, destiny. Neither does the White believe in intuition, for intuition implies real, magical yet commensurate relation to others. … In accord with Nietzsche’s early classic The Birth of Tragedy, and for reasons that will become clear, I alternatively call the White the “Apollonian.” Apollo was the god of distance.

The Red, conversely, begins from the complex notion of multeity-in-unity, i.e. from the principle of (real, magical, commensurate) relativity. In a word, the Red begins with the end: it is cyclic, or, better put, quasi-cyclic, temporally as well as numerically quantum. Hence the Red, in marked contrast to the White, understands choice by way of emphasizing intuition over analysis, wisdom (which means “turning, cyclic”) over knowledge, destiny over mere chance, hierarchy over mere equivalence-become-identity, archetypes over vanishingly different aspects, liberty (implying bondage) over mere freedom. Yet the Red thus subsumes the White. Leibniz remains the chief philosopher of the Red, while Bohr and Heisenberg remain its chief physicists. As I suggested above, Red mathematics is complex, holistic, fractal, non-whole number, fundamentally quantum. Likewise the ultimate Red physics is essentially non-local and final. The archetypes of myth correspond to such mathematics and physics. … Again following Nietzsche, I alternatively refer to the Red as the “Dionysian.” Dionysus was a god not only of intuition but also of the (Black) forest. He was a broken yet resurrected god, a god of cycles. God of the vin, he is Finn. God of the tree, he is Three. God of the forest, he is Pan, he is the Green Man. Finesse, finality, multeity-in-unity, non-locality (i.e. acausality, ubiquity): these are his accidental qualities.

The White/Apollonian embraces the simple. The Red/Dionysian embraces the complex, the messy — in hopes of understanding its beauty, i.e. its combination of order and variety. The White believes in a cosmic war of Good versus Evil — destined to be won (if never finally) by Good. The Red believes that Good and Evil are better considered a fundamental, irreducible duality. Thus the Red not only affirms the carnal, the here-and-now, but considers this middle ground of sorts more profound, more holy, than anything else — even, we might fairly say, more holy than God, for God accordingly remains but a member of the set of others, albeit the greatest/limiting member, and therefore is an object of faith/belief/principle rather than an identified soul. Such God is neither self-sufficient nor creative. Rather such God is but another person, to use the word in its most general sense, and is thus very much indeed like a father or mother.

Given the ideal nature of both the White/Apollonian and the Red/Dionysian, we may call each a paradigm. Yet we will do well to consider these the most natural paradigms of all, and we should recognize that the White/Apollonian is more ideal, more paradigmatic than is the Red/Dionysian.

Because these paradigms are so natural, each entity — whether a person, a business, an industry, a government, or a religion — fundamentally subscribes to both, yet each entity is paradigmatically either chiefly White or chiefly Red. Christianity, for example, is chiefly Red/Dionysian, but within it the Protestants are White relative to the Roman Catholics (i.e. the orthodoxy), and likewise the evangelical Apocalyptic Christian is White relative to the the common Christian. Generally speaking, Christianity is a re-expression of the prehistoric pagan, Red/Dionysian cosmology but under the tremendous influence of White/Apollonian Zoroastrianism. By way of contrast, Islam is chiefly White/Apollonian, but within it the Sunnis are Red relative to the Shiites, and likewise the Islamic evangelicals/extremists are White relative to the common Muslim.

Not only do extremes meet, as Red/Dionysian William Blake said, but there are also natural affinities between all entities. In a word, there is natural peace to be recognized between all entities. What’s more, according to the truly general principle of relativity there is the general peace — the absolute relativity, the absolute interconnectedness, the absolute co-existence — between all souls.

Red, White and Black: Funeral Mass of Pope John Paul II.


Mythology tends to represent the White/Apollonian paradigm in terms of a youngest sibling (often of twins): a rather naïve upstart, a warrior, masculine, the prodigal son, decidedly free and at least in this sense pure, but eventually to be empowered and wounded/humbled/corrupted/experienced, i.e. sacrificed (cuckolded, for instance) and thus transformed into a complex, complete, relatively feminine, Red/Dionysian figure. Meanwhile the Red/Dionysian is represented in terms of an eldest sibling. This relatively mature figure is typically a poet, a priest, a wizard, a guide, a trickster, a cad (as in caduceus), even a villain.

In this light consider the legend concerning Merlin’s childhood. During the Saxon invasion the Briton warlord Vortigern — a Pelagian who had originally invited the Saxons to Britain — retreated to mountainous North Wales and there in the shadow of Snowdon tried to re-establish his power by building a castle. Construction of the castle was cursed, however: almost all the work which Vortigern’s craftsmen performed each day collapsed mysteriously during the night. Vortigern consulted his wise men or wizards about the problem. They informed him that the curse would continue until the castle ground had received the sacrificial blood of a child who had no mortal father. The king therefore launched a search for such child. In Carmarthen, in South Wales, some members of the search overheard a youth named Dinabutius taunt a boy named Merlin for having no father. Merlin, it turns out, was the son of the daughter of the king of South Wales. Merlin's father was said to be an incubus demon. This mysterious royal boy was brought northward to stand before Vortigern on the castle grounds. There the discoverers of Merlin shared with Vortigern the story of the boy’s birth. Facing imminent death, Merlin attempted to save himself by offering to show Vortigern the reason why the castle walls kept collapsing. Young Merlin straightaway led the warlord and company to a secret cave inside the mountain. The cave had a lake. Merlin advised Vortigern to drain the lake, for in its depths was to be found the cause of the castle's curse. Thus were discovered in the lake a white dragon and a red dragon, doing battle. The white dragon seemed about to win, then the red dragon, then the white, then the red, then the white, then finally the red drove away the white, making 3 times the red dragon overpowered the white. The king and his wizards stood awestruck as the prophetic boy Merlin explained all this to them: The two dragons represented forces in fundamental dynamic conflict with each other. Merlin elaborated: native Britain (Red/Dionysian, we can say) was presently suffering conquest at the hands of the Saxons (White/Apollonian), but Vortigern (White/Apollonian, a Pelagian and virtually a traitor to Britain) would be killed by fellow native Ambrosius (a Catholic, Red/Dionysian); in turn the pseudo-native Uther Pendragon (White/Apollonian) would rise to power, followed by the great native Arthur (Red/Dionysian), and thanks to Arthur the natives would gain the upper hand over the Saxons; then the Saxons in Britain would be invaded by the Normans, and finally the native Britons would drive out all invaders. Merlin’s prophecy caused Vortigern to flee for Ganarew, where Ambrosius destroyed him.

In a sense the Red/Dionysian character is not only mature and powerful but a falling/fallen character in contrast to an ascending/ascended White/Apollonian character. But merely White/Apollonian ascension is a sort of extreme separation which meets extreme unity. Red/Dionysian descension is a closing of a circle involving ascension/separation; its unity is complex, a magical equality of unity and multiplicity.

Despite the distinct differences I’ve pointed out between the White/Apollonian, the Red/Dionysian and the Black/Baroque, each of these aspects reference what I call the “Absent Father,” i.e. God, Allah, Brahman. The Absent Father is the ultimate White/Apollonian figure. He stands singularly and extremely distant from the rest of the cosmos, which set of others (the rest of the pleiads) may all but fundamentally be considered His creation. That creation is Red/Dionysian in the sense that it is equivalent to the self-sacrifice of the Absent Father. This equivalence implies 3 components: White absence (above, as it were), Black absence (below), and Red tangible presence (inbetween): White = Red = Black. Really, however, the Black/Baroque matrix includes the Absent Father as the single greatest soul (pleiad). In this sense the Absent Father, too, is fallen, Red/Dionysian, demiurgic. As such, the notion of creation is superfluous, merely ideal, and we are left with the Leibnizian, Existentialist notion of a com-union of souls (i.e. real quanta) that are best considered as existing concomitantly with each other rather than as creations. Although the Absent Father is considered the single greatest soul and is precisely inasmuch the Absolute, He is precisely less than the whole set of souls, which whole set may be called the Present Mother. Absent Father and Present Mother are contrasting but inseparable, like White/Apollonian and Red/Dionysian, like particle and wave in orthodox quantum physics.

The only complete and consistent appreciation of the White, Red, Black trinity is the perennial philosophy I call the Golden/Legal. (Leibniz coined the term “perennial philosophy” and it was famously expounded upon by Aldous Huxley.) The Golden/Legal philosophy naturally accommodates both the antique and the presently nascent theories of everything (i.e. of quantum gravity). This philosophy is more than a paradigm, I think, in the sense that it is the only paradigm that seems capable of truly addressing the Black/Baroque. I hinted at this philosophy when I described the holistic nature and holographic essence of the true principle of relativity and when I emphasized the natural affinities — peaces — between all entities.

In Albrecht Altdorfer’s famous little painting “Saint George in the Forest” we see the Golden/Legal philosophy referenced precisely in terms of White, Red and Black. The silver-armored knight St. George is seated on his white horse while prodding — but not killing — with lance a rather lowly red dragon of oddly human size, both figures all but overwhelmed in a deep, dark, primeval forest nevertheless opening in the distance onto a bright, golden landscape.

Altdorfer's “Saint George in the Forest”
Alte Pinakothek, Munich


As the legend of St. George goes, a kingdom was plagued by a dragon blowing poisonous, fiery breath and requiring sheep be sacrificed daily to its terrible maw. Eventually the king’s store of sheep was exhausted by this demand. Therefore the king had no choice but to offer to the dragon human sacrifices instead. Before long the king’s own daughter drew the short stick in this horrible respect, prompting a certain young George, significantly young and of rather lowly birth, to ride forth, lance the dragon — but again I stress, not kill it — and collar the beast with the princess’s girdle.

Importantly, the name George is closely related to the Sumerian root gi — equivalent to ja, ya, ji, yi, ga, ge, je, jo, u, o etc. — which means not only “young man” but also “small and thin like a reed” and “to reject, dislike; to return, come back, send; to answer, restore.” The Ge- prefix in German signifies commonality, collectiveness, but inasmuch plurality. In contrast the -org suffix signifies individuality, singularity, but inasmuch unity. Of course the Ge- prefix also signifies the Earth, as in geo and Gaia. Typically the name George is said to mean “earth-worker.”

Not only does the legend of St. George smack of Adam and Eve and the serpent; it also smacks of Perseus and Andromeda — daughter of (Phoenician) Ethiopia’s Cepheus and Cassiopeia — and the sea monster Cetus; and it likewise yet even more poignantly smacks of the nuclear family unit, the sacred family, as it were. In this latter sense the dragon corresponds most strikingly to the baby. Talk about an Oedipus complex! Seriously, consider Gaudi’s famous cathedral in Barcelona, the Expiatory Church of La Sagrada Família — The Sacred Family — still under construction. In emphasizing the Holy Family — i.e. not only Mary and baby Jesus but also Joseph — it virtually places Joseph on an equal footing with Mary and Jesus and is thus perhaps the most pagan work under the aegis of Christianity. The origins of La Sagrada Família go back to 1866, the year when Barcelona bookseller Josep Maria Bocabella i Verdaguer founded the Spiritual Association of the Devotees of St Joseph. From 1874 the Association — some 50,000 members strong — promoted the construction of an expiatory church dedicated to the Holy Family. The foundation stone was laid on 19 March 1882, the feast day of St Joseph, at a solemn event presided by the bishop of Barcelona, Josep Urquinaona. That year was the year following the millenium of the famed Catalonian monastery of Montserrat, home to Catalonia’s patroness, the Black Virgin of Montserrat, and home, some say, to the Holy Grail as well. In Wolfram von Eschenbach's telling, the Grail was kept safe at a castle called Munsalvaesche (mons salvationis, alias Corbenic), entrusted to Titurel, the first Grail King. Eschenbach describes the Grail as a stone which fell from Heaven (called lapsit exillis) and which had been the sanctuary of the Neutral Angels who took neither side during Lucifer’s rebellion. Some, including Goethe and Schiller, have identified Munsalvaesche castle with the real sanctuary of Montserrat in Catalonia, Spain. Regardless and by no mere coincidence, the patron saint of Barcelona is none other than St. George (whose feast day is 23 April). The patroness of Barcelona is St. Maria del Mar, Mary of the Sea (whose day is 24 September).

The Sacred Family on the Nativity Facade of Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia.


The Black Virgin of Montserrat, near Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain.


The Montserrat monastery, near Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain.


Montserrat from the air.


The Feast of Saint George is celebrated by Palestinian Christians, whose patron saint is George, and by many Palestinian Muslims — especially in the areas around Bethlehem, where he is believed to have lived in his childhood. St. George and the Dragon are ubiquitous in Bethlehem, especially in and around the ancient Church of the Nativity. Christian houses in Bethlehem are identifiable by a stone-engraved picture of the saint (known as Mar Jiries, i.e. Mars Jiri/Juri/Uri etc., where Jiri is another version of the name George) in front of their homes. Muslims call him Al-Khiḍr — Arabic for "the Green One". Greek Orthodox Christians from Bethlehem march in procession to the nearby town of al-Khader to baptize newborns in the waters around the Monastery of St. George and to sacrifice sheep in ritual. Al-Khader is also well known in the area for its peaches, grapes and apples; it hosts its annual Grape Festival every September. Al-Khiḍr also figures in the Alexander Romance as a servant of Alexander the Great. Al-Khidr and Alexander cross the Land of Darkness to find the Water of Life. Alexander gets lost looking for the spring, but al-Khiḍr finds it and gains eternal life. That legend of Alexander echoes the Epic of Gilgamesh.

Statue of Saint George and the Dragon in Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem.


Saint George and the Dragon over the door of a home in Bethlehem.


The St. George legend involves a rather unfortunate but very natural historical twist which, following Joseph Campbell, I refer to as the “Great Reversal”: an especially severe and enduring yet doomed White/Apollonian (masculine) represssion/simplification of the Red/Dionysian (feminine) and even an attack on or denial of the very feminine Black/Baroque. The Great Reversal is of a kind fundamental to the Golden/Legal philosophy, but it is an extreme and inasmuch rather unhealthy instance of such reversal. In the next chapter we will trace this especially extensive and still lingering but nevertheless profoundly mordant repression to its beginnings in the 4th century BCE.

Of course the elemental mythological trinity White–Red–Black — where the cyclical progression, in contrast to merely White/Apollonian linearity, is from White to Red to Black and so on — calls to mind among myriad theological trinities the Christian trinities Father–Son–Holy Ghost, spirit–soul–body, God–angels–people, and Father–Son–Mother. It also recalls the Islamic trinity angels–jinn–people. According to the Qur’ân, angels are made of light, jinn of fire, people of clay; Satan, Iblis, is described as an especially powerful jinn. The Black–White–Red further corresponds to the early Gothic maxim: “God hath shapen lives three,/Boor and knight and priest they be.” Likewise we are reminded of the plebes, consuls, and senators of Rome; Black, White, and Red, respectively. According to Greek mythology the hero Theseus introduced federal government to Athens, which had otherwise been divided into 12 nearly autonomous communities that occasionally warred with each other; and in so doing he recognized precisely 3 classes within the happily burgeoning population: the Demiurges or “artificers,” by far the most numerous (Black); the Georges or “farmers” (each farm being characteristically autonomous, a little monarchy); and the Eupatrids, who managed law and religion and enjoyed the highest status. Medieval society emerged upon a similar tripartite footing: peasants, monarchs, and aristocrats; Black, White, and Red, respectively. Hence we have the British House of Commons, the Royals, and the House of Lords. Hence too we have the United States of America’s House of Representatives, the White House, and the Senate. The role of the aristocrats/senators is Red in the sense that it represents a profound middle, an extremely heroic balance between multiplicity and unity, a radical conservatism. Generally the federal government of the U.S.A. is addressable in terms of the people, the executive branch, and the legislative branch (including the judicial): Black, White, Red. Note, however, that the Commander in Chief, the President of the U.S.A. — as the very title President suggests — is rendered a complex, Red/Dionysian figure, more a high priest than a warrior king, more Red than White, for that officer is profoundly and significantly lamed, sacrificed, as it were, from the start. (Likewise as the Middle Ages developed and concomitantly the mediating power of the aristocrats and in turn the gentry rose, kings increasingly took on the signifance of priests.) In this deep, complex but likewise extremely precise sense the United States of America is in fact a theocracy.

A note regarding humility and theory:

James Joyce once commented about his artistic production, “I have a grocer’s assistant’s mind,” and “I have learnt to arrange things in such a way that they become easy to survey and to judge.” His father exclaimed about him, “If that fellow was dropped in the middle of the Sahara, he’d sit, be God, and make a map of it.” The Gravity trilogy is my map, an ironically personal cosmic cheat sheet. Yet I think you will find this device remarkably useful.

Near the beginning of his Summing Up, Somerset Maugham writes:

If in the following pages I seem to express myself dogmatically, it is only because I find it very boring to qualify every phrase with an 'I think' or 'to my mind.' Everything I say is merely an opinion of my own. The reader can take it or leave it. If he has the patience to read what follows he will see that there is only one thing about which I am certain, and this is that there is very little about which one can be certain.

This passage largely expresses the way I feel about the Gravity trilogy. Still I recognize — and I expect my readers to do the same — that a theorist is obliged to postulate, to eventually present at least a single postulate as if it is simply true, and to build his/her theory as much as possible on the minimum number and simplest expression of such postulates. These foundational postulates are what we call principles. Good science is ultimately reckless in this deepest, principled sense. Aldous Huxley in his Literature and Science notes the same with respect to literature, pointing out “the ultimate magic — the magic of what might be called verbal recklessness.” Principles are the highest codification of magic. A theorist is a poet. Yet contrariwise Maugham says, "to write good prose is an affair of good manners.” I intend my writing to be an appropriate and pleasing balance between the poetry of theory and the prose of practical discourse, i.e. between the unexpected and the expected. Similarly I intend this book to express the fact that I respect my readers and that I feel humble in relation to them as individuals and as members of their communities and nations (civic and religious).

Next chapter: “The Great Reversal”