Family, Crystals, Spirituality, Science and New Beginnings (IFC Championship Entry)


IFC artwork by @jimramones

This is my entry for the IFC Season 2 Championships run by @apolymask and @ifc. This round consists of a number of topics (see the Title!) across wide range of interests!

These five topics... such a range of ideas and thoughts. Originally, I had thought to address each topic in turn, but in the end, I think that doing it all in a single mega-post would also be interesting. Some of the topics are relatively easy for me to write about as they already resonate with my interests and character, other topics... are a little bit further away from the centre of my interests!

In the end, all five topics will be a sort of musing on something that is related that I've recently been thinking about. Sometimes directly related, other times... a little bit tangential! Hope you enjoy the tour!



I grew up in a very small nuclear family, just my parents and a single brother, a long way from extended family. My wife grew up in a large family (parents and 6 siblings) with an incredibly large extended family... all of whom lived quite close to each other. Needless to say, when I first experience family gatherings on my wife's side... I was more than a little bit overwhelmed! So many new people, faces and names to remember... in addition to the tangle of relationships... and the ever changing backdrop of boyfriends/girlfriends/spouses/pets...

I guess it was quite fortunate that her family, despite being large, was really close and tight-knit. I know that other large families can be a little bit dysfunctional at times... so far, over several generations, her extended and close family have remained on really great terms... which makes the holiday or weekend gatherings something to be cherished. It's something that I didn't really experience when growing up... of course, we would have the holiday and weekend gatherings with family friends and all of that... often fellow first generation immigrants from all over the world gathering together to celebrate the melting pot in a new nation free of the fetters of countries left behind... but somehow, despite the fact that it was also incredible fun, it is slightly different.

Fast forward to now. We are living with our little nuclear family here in The Netherlands, a country that is quite a nice place to live in. However, it is so far away from the extended family all the way back in Australia. With the interesting times of 2020, we have suddenly felt further away from our families than ever. It's no surprise that my wife feels it more than I do, but I really miss the large gatherings... and when you are seeing all the chatting and photos on the comms channels... well, it's hard not to feel the distance.

So, along with many other people in the world... our priorities have changed quite significantly over the last year. Family... or the lack of constant physical contact with the extended family has been something that has been missing. A support network, a group of people who will always be there... quirks, annoyances and everything!



So, here begins an interesting tangent about an article and podcast that I was listening to near the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic. Apologies for the shallow explanation of the idea, I was really quite interested about the topic, but the depth of understanding in the more specialised field of Condensed Matter Physics means that I can only grasp the general concept of: TIME CRYSTALS!

The idea of Time Crystals brings to mind Doctor Who or that sort of thing.. Sci-Fi wonders of travelling through time in a machine powered by these crystals. Unfortunately, that isn't the sort of thing that the concept of time crystals refers to.

I had vague memories of this concept being talked about in my university days as a a student... however, at that time, it was a theoretical concept and it wasn't certain that it was a real thing or a mathematical construct.

So, to break it down simply... a normal crystal is what we would call a space-crystal. It repeats a pattern over a space dimension (the crystalline structure) and thus breaks spatial symmetry. Spatial symmetry is the idea that every location is the same as any other location... it doesn't really matter if you do an experiment in one place or two metres to the left... there is nothing intrinsically special about where you are.

The idea then extends to our other perceivable dimension, time. Could it be possible to build structures that would repeat periodically in time, and thus break time symmetry? (Time symmetry being the idea that it doesn't matter if you do an experiment now or in a minute... there is nothing especially special about any particular moment). Maybe...

There were some objections to this idea, namely the problem of entropy and energy. Spatial crystals are organised, but they organise to the lowest energy level for the group AND stay there! Time crystals would need to be able to periodically rearrange but transition between different energy level... without additional energy input, which is a big NO-NO for physics.

However, recent developments and experiments in Condensed Matter Physics have shown that this particular mode of thinking was perhaps the wrong model.... and that there are different models of organisation that could really result in time-crystals!

Needless to say, I'm still getting my head around the general concept of these models... so, I'm not going to try to explain any further... but if you are interested, there is a friendly article about it here: Time Crystals

Who knows where this will take us? I did read somewhere that it could serve as a unit of storage for quantum computers... but I didn't follow that up to see how.



This is a bit of a tricky topic for me. In my public persona or my blog, I guess I can sometimes come across as anti-Spirituality. And in some ways, I am... but like most things that are online, the actual nuance is lost a bit!

Let me get one thing out of the way first, I don't really want to get into the idea that there is a dichotomy between spirituality and materialism. People can be both, or none or a mix of the two... whatever balance makes them happiest.

I guess the issue that I have with "spirituality" is not really the concept of it itself. It is more what it has become. Spirituality for me means the finding of your own balance, what keeps your self centred and content. For everyone, it is something different... and one moment of balance doesn't mean that the next moment is in balance... everything is always shifting and in flux, the balance keeps changing.

I guess, as a musician, you do learn a bit about how to find that "zone" and "inner peace" when you are about to go on stage. Again, everyone does that in different ways and with different techniques.

What I do have a bit of an issue with is the seeming idea that seems to be more common these days, that people have to display or document your "spirituality". Spirituality in my eyes is about a sense of calm, of the moment... which comes and goes. It's not a moment of sudden enlightenment or a click of inspiration that changes a life forever. In my eyes, it is also a private experience... not one that needs to be shared.

... and I guess that strikes at the heart of what I currently see as marketed as "spirituality". It has become a "lifestyle" marketing exercise, a way to find meaning... I fail to see point in always seeking meaning, there is just being and the current state.

Scattered thoughts... but I hope it makes some sense!



In contrast, I do see Science as humanity's light in the darkness... our only way to discover our surroundings and to test our ideas. However, I do believe that it is grossly misunderstood by the general public.

The principal basis for the Scientific Method is doubt and uncertainty. By applying robust statistical methods (not polling with percentage numbers...) and experimentation, it is possible to determine the limits of validity of a hypothesis. Logically, it isn't possible to "prove" a hypothesis... only disprove.

However, with enough tests of validity, certain hypothesis (hypothesii?) attain near certainty within a limited boundary area of validity. These ideas and concepts are given the highest title of "Theory". Notice the different use of that word in comparison to public usage of the word theory, a common tactic of marketers.

The ideals of the scientific method are solid... however, like all systems with humans in it... there will be mistakes and bad actors. Still, it is the best method that we have for discovering truth and exploring reality.

There is the idea in the general public that Science is stale and full of righteousness... nothing could be further from the truth. Of course, there will be scientists who get endlessly frustrated at simplistic claims that they are completely wrong and that their expertise is completely useless... but that happens in every field, I can imagine the local auto mechanic thinking that I'm stupid as all hell if I tell him that I know better how to fix a car after watching a YouTube video.... and after several hundred people do this, well... I wouldn't be surprised if he came out with a few choice words!

Part of this feeling of staleness is the fact that most people only encounter high-school Scientific and Mathematical concepts... studying concepts and ideas that have had centuries of validation and are not likely to be debunked in their fields of validity in the foreseeable future. This sense of infallibility means that people come away with the sense that Science is "always right".... however, if you look further afield, there is a great deal more uncertainty about what reality is trying to tell us.

... and don't get me started with Maths. This is the language used by Physics to describe reality, and by Science in general to glean signals from random noise. However, the general population is easily wowed and confused by marketing percentages where two numbers are divided by each other for a BIG or SMALL number... thinking that this implies mathematics. That is not mathematics, that is called behavioural marketing techniques.

Science invokes wonder... and the sense of being tiny and small... and crazy consequences that contradict our common sense. But these are only contradictions born from our limited personal interaction with the universe. Our lives are rich and varied, but they are such a small part of what is possible!

Let me end this section with a little thought... one that is implied by the consequences of some modes of thought in Physics. Keep in mind all of this is just conjecture, and nothing more than that!

I was talking about Time and Free Will with my wife whilst we were driving to our Christmas gathering. Most people would consider that time flows like a river, ever changing and moving forward to the unknown. However, Relativity holds that time is more like a block... already set in the forward and backwards. The only thing that distinguishes past from future is the weird singularity in the past. That is one of the dominant ideas about time in Physics, and we know that the idea of Relativity is pretty damn robust. Of course, it might still need tweaking to make it integrate with Quantum Mechanics.

However, what does that mean for Free Will if time is block-like? Do we have Free Will or just an illusion of it? Should we reject a theory because it "denies" us free will? Why?

Science is just another method for answering the big questions that humans have always dealt with... however, it has a back-testing method for falsifying itself and robust tools to test validity. This is something that has never existed before... and competing systems rarely have these traits. More to the point, it is robust enough to start with "I don't know".

New beginnings


New beginnings are always a bit scary. I guess the biggest worry is the leaving of things that are secure, for a future that is completely unknown. I've done quite a bit of moving around and starting from scratch in my life.... however, I had thought that that phase of my life was completely done with. That said, I knew that at some stage, we had a plan to return back to Australia before we died.

Coronavirus has brought into stark relief the distance away from our families, and the passage of time and memories that would be unrecoverable with the extended families. It has also destroyed most of our work here in Europe as well, as concerts are cancelled left, right and centre.

So, in many ways... the time is ripe for a new beginning as we have less to lose and leave behind than a couple of years ago. Calling curtains on our European life will take quite some time... but it is looking to be happening more in the near future rather than the far off future that we had originally envisioned. It could all be for the better, we probably should move before the girls grow up too much... otherwise we would find that they have established their lives here when we decide to move!

Our minds are set, to make this last (hopefully...) jump into the unknown, but we are waiting for a few last minute plans to fall into place before we can make the final leap. We will leave fond memories of our time here.... our adopted home for so many years. In many ways, this should be an easier leap than other times... we are leaping back into a support network of family and old friends, into the land of our citizenship.

... but it isn't something that we have shared with the children yet, as we don't have a definitive timeline. We drop hints about cousins and Australia and how nice it is there... and they agree, and miss things from their visits there... but I know that the change will be tough on them. But many families move, and not everyone turns out broken. Still... it breaks my heart everytime I take them to school... or to friend's places... knowing that eventually, I will have to shatter this bubble of joy and contentment with a piece of destabilising news. It hurts to withhold the plan... but I also don't look forward to sharing it either.

Still... our family is strong, and we will support each other through it. We will be supported by the larger family network as well. I am sure that the girls will be able to grow through it.... I hope that my wife and I can as well!

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