The Transfiguration and the Hadron Collider

Once upon a time, there were two monks who had a famous (well, in certain circles) disagreement about the Transfiguration. Not about whether it (“it” being when Jesus appeared “transfigured” in a great radiant light, along with the long-dead Moses and Elijah) really happened or not, oddly enough, but about what the light was all about – the mystic light of God’s energy, or an optical illusion.

There’s a whole lot of scholarly theology about the great debate between Gregory Palamas and Barlaam of Calabria (which was resolved in 1341 when Barlaam’s position was condemned as heresy), but what it’s really all about is whether you can come to know God’s manifestations through prayer and contemplation (Palamas), or whether the essence of God is unknowable, and we’re better off trying to learn about things we can know (Barlaam). Mysticism versus rationalism, in other words.

Now we finally get to the Hadron Collider. According to the New York Times the other day:

The energy shortfall could also limit the collider’s ability to test more exotic ideas, like the existence of extra dimensions beyond the three of space and one of time that characterize life.

The energy shortfall they’re talking about has to do with the soldering joints between the magnets that produce all the energy that’s supposed to create those extra dimensions (such a prosaic problem for such an esoteric endeavor).

But here’s the thing: if they ever get those joints fixed, and if there are more dimensions, maybe the light those disciples saw was real – outside of space and time. And if only they’d listened to Barlaam in 1341, maybe we’d have figured this out a whole lot sooner. The real irony is, if they find whatever it is we’re calling God folded up in those dimensions, they would have found the answer rationally, not mystically.

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