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David Cowles

Mar 1, 2024

“Reciting the alphabet is like peeling layers off of a prize-winning red onion.”

We all know the letters A, B, and C - they sponsor episodes of Sesame Street.  We learned ‘ABC’ as the beginning of an alphabet; but later we generalized the moniker to apply to any 3 distinct ‘states of affairs’ that follow one another in an inexorable sequence, A → B → C.

We reduced that pattern to a song, making it possible for very young children to learn the entire alphabet. Using the same technique, I was able to teach the ancient Greek alphabet to one of my grandchildren when she was no older than 7. 

On the other hand, imagine that a police officer pulls you over on suspicion of DUI. He asks you to recite the alphabet and you’re happy to oblige; but a few letters in, he stops you, “No, I want you to recite the letters randomly, making sure that you include each letter once and only once and that no two adjacent letters are in alphabetical order.” 

Sounds impossible but actually it’s at least theoretically doable, but you’d need to fit the elements into a non-alphabetic pattern. For example,  “A C B E D”. No? Ok, prepare to kiss your DL goodbye, even if you haven’t had a drop of alcohol in 20 years.

Imagine our alphabet as 26 autonomous, unconnected symbols distributed randomly across a semantic plane. For the most part, that’s what an alphabet is; but we have transformed it into something quite different by giving it an invariant linear order: A → B → C → … Z. As though somehow H belongs after G.

The purpose of an alphabet is to enable the formation of words that can then be ordered to communicate meaning. Encumbering those letters with any extraneous semantic baggage reduces their symbolic power by many orders of magnitude. Yet we do it!

We have imposed an utterly capricious order on an inherently disordered string of symbols. After all, the letters of the modern English alphabet have no semantic connection to one another; do they?

Sidebar: The much respected (here) science and practice of Kabbalah is based on precisely opposite assumptions. In Kabbalah, letters are laden with meaning per se and ‘order is everything’. An adept can literally read the story of the universe by reciting the Hebrew alphabet. I have argued (above) that letters and their arrangement in an alphabet should have no intrinsic meaning whatsoever; Kabbalah argues that all meaning resides in that alphabet. Can it be that we are both right?

Idea: If we allowed every letter in an alphabet to associate freely with every other letter in that alphabet, how many letters would we need to express all the information contained in all earth’s written words? The difference is a measure of ‘semantic waste’ on a base 26 log scale. 

We create on our own the sense that A somehow ‘leads’ to B, that B is somehow ‘implicit’ in A. Reciting the alphabet is like peeling layers off of a prize winning red onion. Each layer corresponds to a letter, embodied in a prior letter and embodying a subsequent letter. 

We are born with the task of constructing a Mappa Mundi (world map), a logos incorporating the “signs of all things we are here to read” (James Joyce). Today, just two such maps are culturally pervasive. Logic links its elements via a daisy-chain of deductions. Science does the same based on the repeatability of experimental results. Note the 90° shift in orientation. Logic links elements horizontally, sequentially; science links elements vertically, hierarchically.

Two different maps generated by two unrelated algorithms; they are like the various projections we use to create our maps of the world. Perhaps then we may be forgiven for imagining a deeper resemblance, not to say an identity, between our two logoi.  

Strange bedfellows, these! Logic is data-agnostic while Science is data-driven. Logic (deducibility) confers validity on reason; Science (repeatability) confers validity on observation. Logic is atemporal; Science presupposes, at least ab initio, a spatiotemporal continuum. (Therefore, ‘true science’ was not possible before calculus.)

But something’s missing! It’s called Real Life. IRL, nothing can be deduced, nothing can be repeated! Our two ‘maps’ have no organic relationship with the ‘territories’ they represent. The stuff of Logic and Science is identity; the stuff of Real Life is distinction. IRL, the closest we can get to identity is congruence: “My son looks just like George Clooney.” A = B is an oxymoron IRL.

Scale is the new ‘spacetime’. RL is the search for scale invariant patterns (fractals) to replace spacetime extension and logic gates. Like → Like. RL is much closer to magic than it is to science. 

RL relies on scale to order experience. For example, most high school students notice congruent elements in Copernicus’ model of the solar system and Bohr’s model of the atom. William Blake saw deeper patterns; ultimately, he saw ‘a world in a grain of sand’ and ‘eternity in an hour’.

For Blake, everything is congruent with everything else. Every part of every whole is congruent with the whole itself. The Christian doctrine of Incarnation lends additional structure to Blake’s insight. One ‘part’ (Cristos) is perfectly congruent with the ‘whole’ (Theos); all other parts (onta) are imperfectly congruent with both. Congruence is commutative. Cosmos is what lies between Theos and Cristos.

Christmas celebrates ‘Emmanuel, God with us’, the mind bending fact that the entirety (YHWH) is incarnate in one of its quantum elements (Christ). Christ and YHWH are perfectly congruent: 

  • “The father and I are one.” (John 10:30) 

  • As above, so below: the Star of David. 

  • The Lord’s Prayer: “On earth as it is in heaven.” 

Ask a naïve realist to make a model of A, B, C, and you might be handed a beaded necklace with three larger beads separated from one another by two smaller beads. Each large bead represents a distinct event and occupies a region on the timeline, i.e. a duration.

A, B, C means A ≠ B ≠ C. Therefore, in the cosmology of naïve realism there must be a region on the timeline where A is no longer A and B is not yet B; there must be a ‘region of transition’: ~A ᴜ ~B. But following that logic, it makes no sense to posit ~A ᴜ ~B as a ‘region’ from which B rises, unheralded. That is the currency of the miraculous, not the real.

On the other hand, from the perspective of Process Philosophy (Alfred North Whitehead), ~A ᴜ ~B rises from oxymoron to tautology. According to Whitehead, et al., every B originates as a rejection of an A - a rejection that nonetheless conserves and propagates certain aspects A in the concrescence of B. B has the power to line item veto any aspect of A. 

~A ᴜ ~B corresponds to Whitehead’s ‘creativity’, the crucible of unrest at the core of Being that perpetuates the primal act of creation. According to this school, God did not so much ‘create the Universe’ as he implanted ‘creativity’ in the Universe.

A → B → C suggests sequence, temporal as well as logical. Where the sequence is temporal (science), we assume that A, B, and C each have duration, i.e., they each occupy a certain region on the timeline. Likewise, the transition states, call them x and y, that separate A from B and B from C will also have duration, however minimal; they too occupy a certain ‘region’.

So we can rewrite our fundamental formula as ‘A x B y C’, where A, B, C, x, and y all occupy regions on the timeline. But as you can see, we’ve been forced to infect our ontology with a bunch of dubious and in any event superfluous assumptions (e.g., that x and y are real entities).

So, let’s start over. A → B. There is no reason to suppose that there is a gap in time between the two states. Asking how long it takes A to transition into B is like asking how long it takes for an electron at one energy level to ‘transition’ to another energy level: it’s not called a quantum leap for nothing. It does not have a temporal dimension.

Instead of hypothesizing regions of transition, x and y, we may just as well assume that A and B and B and C are tangent (‘ABC’). The state of A is felt by every point in A, but one point of A also belongs to B. Therefore, any change in the state of A would be instantaneously reflected in the state of B and so on. 

Therefore, of course, any change in the state of A would also be instantaneously reflected in the state of C…and in the state of Z. The naïve realist in all of us understands the ‘tangency’ of A and B (and Z) in terms of a chain mediated by some sort of physical proximity, but it need not be so.

As John Bell proved (1964), and Alan Aspect demonstrated, A and B may be on opposite sides of the universe and still function as ‘tangent’, though we say they are ‘entangled’ to distinguish this from ‘geographic’ tangency. Whatever you chose to call it, a change in the state of A is instantaneously reflected in the state of B…and of Z. 

In this model, events are like gears. In some configurations, A and B both move clockwise; in other configurations, one moves clockwise, the other counterclockwise. According to this model, the universe is a fabric of entangled particles. Spacetime represents a tear in that fabric, the introduction of an arbitrary interval between events; ‘c’ is the measure of the extent of that tear. 

Hassidic Jews understand their function as restorative, Christians as redemptive, Secularists as entropic. Call it what you will, the rip in the fabric that was Big Bang is ‘under repair’. The Kingdom of God will be restored pristine, but we’ll experience that restoration as Heat Death


David Cowles is the founder and editor-in-chief of Aletheia Today Magazine. He lives with his family in Massachusetts where he studies and writes about philosophy, science, theology, and scripture. He can be reached at


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