Howard Bliman, MD
8 March 2018
Thank you MWM Steve Doan, WM Scott Gilbert, Bro. Yehuda Benhanan, and all of you for giving me the opportunity to share my short essay about time, or more specifically, the architec-ture of time. I wrote it last September, shortly before I became an Entered Apprentice Mason.
Rodney Dangerfield understood time. When asked how long he would be in the hospital for a valve replacement, he replied, “One week, if all goes well; an hour and a half, if it doesn’t.”
My thesis is that time is a joint venture of spiraling milestones. Imagine a bucket of amorphous time and special moments. As we age, our special moments become more dilute, and some of us respond by developing a bucket list of exciting new milestones. Why? What are we trying to do? Create time to increase milestones or create milestones to increase time?
I’d like to begin by saluting an important historic milestone—the 300th anniversary of modern Freemasonry. Thank you for your service to mankind!
I was compelled to embark on a Masonic journey, because through my work as a physician, I grew to appreciate the profound impact you have had on the course of human events and the lives we enjoy.
It is not by chance that many of my friends are Freemasons. We share the same core values and ideals of fraternity, equality, and divinity. For over 300 years, you have been at the cutting edge of a benevolent world.
From humble beginnings, when a medieval guild of stonemasons helped support members’ widows, Freemasonry has evolved into a charitable fraternity with a strong moral compass. As you know, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Paul Revere were Freemasons. And at least nine Freemasons signed the Declaration of Independence, a landmark document “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
As early as 1732 in England, Edward Rose was the first Jew allowed to become a Mason, and as early as 1775 in Philadelphia, Prentice Hall was the first African American to be granted a Masonic charter. For over 300 years, Freemasons have protected racial, religious, and political minorities from persecution. But sadly, these outward manifestations of morality attracted a heavy toll, and many Masons lost their lives to tyrants like Hitler, Stalin, and Sadam Hussein.
Words of wisdom, however eloquent, are but clumsy constructs of our true intentions. Simple statements are easy to spin, twist, and misunderstand, and misunderstanding is a prime cause of social division, suspicion, and persecution.
Imagine how a time-lapse photograph of a simple sea creature, the nautilus, could be used to illustrate the principle of equivalency. This principle recognizes that all men are not created equal.
As the chambers of a nautilus provide equivalent shelter at each stage of life, each of us is morally accountable to the extent that he or she is able to understand right from wrong.
Moral yardsticks may vary, but equivalent standards are by definition, even-handed.
At the dawn of the last century, two Freemasons introduced us to the equivalency of time. In his theory of relativity, Albert Einstein recognized that the structure of time is not rigid. A few years earlier, Mark Twain remarked that, “History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” In different ways, both men whose lives spanned 76 years, came to the realization that powerful forces can twist and stretch the structure of time.
In civil law, an advocate for the disabled would argue that equal access does not guarantee equal opportunity, which requires extra time to level the playing field. It also reminds us that the spirit of a rule is as important as the letter of that rule.
That’s why I believe that the Golden Rule and golden mean, taken together, represent something deeply harmonious and remarkably universal. The Golden Rule of brotherly love refers to a universal principle of mutual respect and consideration. The golden mean is a uniquely irrational ratio roughly equal to 1.618. Denoted by the Greek letter phi, this special number appears to optimize spatial relationships. That’s why it is widely found in nature and in the art and architecture of most civilizations.
In 1202, Leonardo de Fibonacci, an Italian mathematician, introduced Europe to a series of numbers that would lead to phi. In 2011, an Israeli chemist, Daniel Schechtman, won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his discovery of phi-based quasicrystals. Two years ago, the human cornea was discovered to be a quasicrystal. Schechtman used an electron microscope to make his discovery, but a Mason’s square and compass could have predicted it!
What’s so special about a square and compass? How can these simple tools be used to express an architect’s true intentions?
The square and compass are the only implements an architect needs in order to draw a golden spiral. A Fibonacci series of squares and phi rotations would allow him to recreate that beautiful sign of equivalence found in the spiral arrangement of stars in a galaxy, clouds in a hurricane, seeds in a sunflower, bubbles in a vortex, and chambers in a nautilus.
A couple of physicists once showed that when magnetized droplets are placed on a slippery Petri dish, free to “follow the golden rule,” they organize themselves into a golden spiral. To me, the natural alignment of equipotent magnets represents “mutual respect and consideration.” It reminds me that in an ever-changing world, equivalency tends to be a better fit than strict equality.
Although not a Mason, radio commentator Michael Savage observed that, “never are Masonic principles needed more than in times of turmoil and never have humans lived in a more tumultuous time. Technology is changing everything.” In other words, more than ever, the human brain needs the ability to crosscheck and override technology.
To this end, certain numbers could serve as memory aids and rules of thumb. For example, we can use a calculator to show that it takes three mathematical operations on the number five to compute phi: 0.5 + 0.5 (5) 0.5. In a perfect world, we should all get phi, but in the real world, some of us won’t, mostly due to human error. Therefore, it helps to know a geometric rule of thumb: The pentagram bisects itself five times into sections of phi.
Although phi seems timeless and universal, it is an evolving topic of exploration and debate. But conceived in liberty and dedicated to our equivalency under God, the Ten Commandments have served as our collective moral compass for thousands of years unchanged. Three great religions have embraced them and technology cannot replace them.
To conclude, I’d like to propose that the unique signature of the Great Architect of the Universe is a ubiquitous golden spiral that connects the edifice of time to the Golden Rule.
Nobel Lecture 2015 by Dr. Daniel Schechtman
Phi and the Universe by Dr. Jan Boeyens
Pythagorean Relationship of Phi by Peter Felice
Fractal Time by Gregg Braden
The 47th Problem of Euclid by Bro. William Steve Burkle