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Physicist Claims Sagrada Familia Is a Portal to Interstellar Space
Eric Weinstein calls for a return to dreaming to make the next big breakthrough in physics.
I drove up the beautiful winding coast from LA to San Francisco to attend a conference with some Silicon Valley bigwigs.
I, of course, am not a Silicon Valley bigwig. But my friend invited me along, and so we drove up together.
This is not an uncommon view along that road:
The mathematical physicist Eric Weinstein was scheduled to speak. He’s famous for, among other things, positing a new “theory of everything” with the goal of turning mainstream physics on its head, the way Einstein once did to Newtonian physics. That will be important to know once we start talking about the cathedral La Sagrada Familia and why he thinks it’s a portal to interstellar space.
At the conference, there was a problem with the microphones. Everyone was sitting around awkwardly, waiting for the issue to be resolved. Instead of twiddling his thumbs like the rest of us, Eric walked to the piano and improvised some jazzy numbers. Another guy leapt to his aid and improvised some lyrics, and Eric rolled with it.
My friend found a short video of that moment on Twitter.
I couldn’t help but admire Eric. Despite being a Harvard-trained mathematical physicist, he wasn’t an egghead. He was embodied enough, at least, to sense the tension in a room and break it with some old-fashioned play.
He made this exact point once his mics worked: “The way to save the world is through courageous play.” He used the observation to segue into his next point: "If any of you stood up and told the truth, you would instantly become famous. But none of you dare to do it." Remember, we were a room full of Silicon Valley types — many already very successful (the Figma guy was there). I was pretty much the only creative writer in the room.
His talk — like his piano playing — was entirely improvised. He was "supposed" to discuss education. Instead, he took a few questions from us, got our temperature, and followed his gut. His breathless enthusiasm sharply contrasted with the other presenters, who mostly stuck to their painfully boring PowerPoints.
These days, we’re spoiled for wisdom. You hear speakers of this caliber all over social media. But to experience it in person — on the highwire without a net, so to speak — it's something else entirely. I was on the edge of my seat.
But then, he went on a tangent I didn't fully understand. He said, “If we don't put all our attention on ‘top physicists,’ make some key breakthroughs, and escape this planet, we’re all dead.”
I was turned off by the idea that all our attention should go to the headiest thing possible – high-level mathematical physics. That’s great if that’s your thing — but it is not the fundamental source of flourishing for 99.99% of people. Looking around the room, I wasn’t the only one who thought so.
It reminded me of Neil Degrasse Tyson saying that "Philosophy is a waste of time," while not realizing that that statement is itself philosophy — shitty philosophy. You can't use philosophy to say you don't need philosophy, Neil.
I figured Weinstein must be another one of these "heady" guys who’s spent a little too long huffing his own helium in the ivory tower.
And that’s that *dusts hands.*
That is until I listened to him talk on Chris Williamson's podcast. He said something that haunted me: "The ceiling of La Sagrada Familia is a portal."
I didn’t know what he meant but instantly knew it was true. It took me a few more days of waking up at 3 a.m., dreaming about La Sagrada Familia, before I understood what the hell he was talking about.
For context, I visited the cathedral La Sagrada Familia with my good friends from college a couple of years back.
It's famously still under construction, starting in 1882, and is expected to be finished in 2026.
Can you imagine working your whole life on something that you will never get to enjoy? That's that deep wisdom of "planting trees under whose shade you will not sit.”
In humanity’s “dimmer” past, people regularly built things that took several generations to finish. Hundreds of years of foresight in construction projects are pretty rare in the modern world.
Our economic power has grown several orders of magnitude since we built stone cathedrals. What's shrunk, though, is the timelines we are willing to put up with. We measure things in terms of quarterly profits, not generations. Despite all our power, we lack vision.
And that shows in our buildings. While they are admittedly very tall and impressive glass and metal penises, they lack that sophisticated, mind-shattering beauty. Real beauty is longer than length.
Similar to how the experience of listening to a speaker in person is much different than on YouTube — experiencing these cathedrals is much different than seeing pictures online. It's an obvious point to make, but I want to help ground us in the experience I will tell you about next.
As I stepped into Sagrada Familia, I was nearly forced to lie down on the floor from the pure force of the beauty. It's so overwhelming that "tears came to my eyes" is as trite as saying, "I smiled when my first child was born." There is nothing words can do to approach it.
That’s part number one to understand why this building is a portal. If you’re willing to take my word for it, do: The beauty there is real, tangible, important, and cannot be rationalized away.
Of course, modern sensibilities try to rationalize everything away. The only thing it fails to rationalize away are things that refuse rationalization. Music, for example, remains toe-tapping despite our best efforts to make "sense" of everything.
I think architectural beauty falls into the same category. It’s undeniable. The only drawback is that not everyone can fly to Barcelona to experience it.
Once you do, though, you know the beauty of Sagrada Familia isn't "subjective" any more than the position of your eyes on your face is "arbitrary."
“Art is subjective!” is a modern idea and is, at the risk of oversimplifying, dumb. Beauty reflects deep biological and even metaphysical ideals. Those ideals include the beauty of nature, of course — cathedrals are like stone forests. But dreams of cultural and scientific utopia are also on naked display in places like this. That’s why you can feel it as beauty in your body. Hell, even 4-month-old babies know a good painting from a bad one.
Beauty not only inspired but also shaped every leap forward in history. And it is the missing key to the next big leap forward. When Eric says the cathedral's ceiling is a “portal,” he's not being as metaphorical as you might think.
That’s a big claim — we’ll back that up.
There is a strange modern idea (pure misunderstanding) that religion and science are "at odds," but this idea is not only "historically inaccurate," it's anti-true. The beauty of Christian places is the nest from which the "dreams" of what we understand as science were allowed to bloom. The universities (all the great ones you can name) are all products of the Christian search for Truth (the Logos).
This dream has “gripped” us so firmly that we perceive the stage from which science is made possible as “superstition.” I’m not even mad – that’s a testament to the pure power of that dream. It’s so potent we forget we’re even dreaming at all.
All this fancy technology we “enjoy” was once just a crazy dream that would have gotten you locked up for even suggesting. The fact that you’re reading my words right now is pure witchcraft for 99.9% of human history. To materialize a crazy dream, you need a place that suggests dreams aren’t crazy. Someone had to be the first one to step through the portal.
OK, I hear the cry of the skeptics now.
I spent most of my adult life as an atheist. In college, I was a bouncer at a hipster bar called "Redstar." While checking IDs, I read the writings of the great atheists: Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Douglas Adams (hilarious). What I’m saying is I get it.
I'm not suggesting that we dumb ourselves down to "pre-reason" but wake ourselves up to "post-reason." Allow the dream that took us this far to take us even farther. Regain some damn vision. In other words, let’s allow ourselves to believe that, for example, the ceiling of Sagrada Familia is a portal to interstellar space.
After Eric Weinstein spoke, we all sat down to eat. I sat across from him, listening to people’s frantic questions. When asked about his religion, he said (something like) he was an atheist but also believed beauty and religious devotion are where all our aspirations are born.
I couldn’t help myself: "Then, in what sense are you an atheist?"
For pretty narcissistic reasons, I don’t remember exactly how he answered. I was nervous and busy thinking about myself, so I only remember my interpretation of what he said. It was in the realm of, "I don't want to be confused with fundamentalists." And it was a very fair answer. I have some experience with fundamentalist Christians.
As some of you may know, I grew up in the Deep South. But my mom is 100% Cajun French, so I was raised Catholic. I have a very strong memory of my Cajun grandfather (a wonderful man) telling me a story from the Bible. Being about six and mouthy, I said, "That's not what the story means!” My gentle Paw-paw smiled and said, "You might be right!" This is the open-minded side of Christianity that most people don’t experience, especially in the South.
However, I followed my friends to the Southern Baptist Church in my teens. This was an entirely different beast. In my experience, if you meet an ardent atheist, they likely grew up in a fundamentalist home.
In my church, for example, it was mandatory to see the Biblical stories as not only religious texts but also “scientific texts.” They were openly hostile if anyone dared to question that the world was 6,000 years old. Or that Noah had dinosaurs on the boat along with chihuahuas. On reflection, that’s weird.
Fundamentalism is a strange and relatively modern phenomenon.
It’s a funny twist of fate: The Church gave rise to science, which gave rise to scientific atheists, which gave rise to another reactionary group that claims that the Bible is science.
It isn’t. Logos is not mythos. Nonetheless, this cognitive dissonance made me an atheist from about 16 to 30.
But that’s not just my story. In our entire culture, we need to reunite the religious awe that motivated us to build Sagrada Familia and understand the intelligibility of the cosmos.
You can see that disconnect in universities built more recently. They’ve become visually sterile with a mythological flair that could only be described as “clinical.”
What allowed Einstein to "dream" up relativity is practically banned in those places. Don’t you dare blaspheme! What are you, some kind of science denier? If you are, your theory will be “discredited,” like our friend Eric Weinstein’s.
To be honest, I don’t know anything about the validity of this theory. His point (and mine) is not that his particular solution is right but that we should get back to dreaming.
While the universities become more like dogmatic churches, actual churches become sad and obsolete places to lift yourself from rock bottom (and no higher). They no longer inspire us to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth.
Meanwhile, modern art disconnects from both Truth and Beauty. As a result, it becomes ironic "anti-beauty." All “smart” art has to be cynical commentary. Real beauty is seen as too “naive” to even bother with for “serious” artists.
Finally (and maybe most damagingly), the sacred collapses into the political. The Christian notion that “all are created equal and in the image of God” is lowered to the political notion of “equality of outcome.” “Bear your cross” becomes “lift yourself by your bootstraps.”
Here on Earth, especially in physics, we depend on unequal outcomes. Lone genius (supported by many unseen people) is, unfortunately, how genius works. Crowds tend to make people dumber. Without lone geniuses, to give one example (Fritz Haber), several fewer billion people would be alive today.
Despite this, your scientific career is over if you dare to posit a wild new hypothesis. Who gave you the right? Check your privilege! You’re just a bullshitter! A guru. Pseudoscientist. Nobody seems to notice that this is all done to uphold a political doctrine with an oddly religious conviction.
Our medieval predecessors used spiritual beauty like a giant lever to propel themselves into the unknown with wild abandon. It was a messier time, sure. But that led to the foundation of science and gave birth to institutions like universities and hospitals, which we now take for granted.
Today, we bottle that same instinct mostly to fuel our political outrage on Twitter and decide who to excommunicate for “misinformation” next. We stand on the shoulders of giants and feel ourselves to be flying.
With all this context, I finally understand why Weinstein wants all our efforts on the greatest physicists. He wasn't saying only the hard sciences matter. He’s trying to get our “head, heart, and loins” on the same page again.
The embodied mythical beauty of Sagrada Familia encourages us to reach even greater intellectual heights. At least, to him it does.
Our current world religion, Corporate Political Scientism (unconsciously hijacking our religious instincts), hinders us from accessing these higher layers of reality. As a result, few are brave enough to "take the pacifier out of their mouth" and courageously speculate beyond the dogma. We’re all afraid of being labeled a “grifter” and kicked out of the tribe.
We’re trapped in intellectual cul-de-sacs – dogmas of scientism that refuse to let us dream of possibilities. But we all know something has got to give! Materialism is a death cult. Consumerism is a race to hell. And yet, we all defend to the death our right to waltz into hell.
Dreamers: dream in public, despite what all the choir-hushers and bean-counters might think. Those people won’t save us.
True pioneers are motivated by the potential of transcending their existing beliefs. They harbor a conviction (faith) that something greater exists beyond their current comprehension. They are often willing to die for it. And, yeah, sometimes they’re wrong.
When our religions were younger, people debated their meaning, which sometimes meant they had to change (Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the church door, for example). Nothing is stopping us from seeing religion as something still alive and growing.
Why shouldn’t we be inspired by a story that suggests God (love) could communicate to us from the heart of a black hole (I’m getting wild, I know)?
I mean, why the hell not? These stories are supposed to excite us. Weinstein wants us to find the version of physics that allows us to “pinch and zoom” up and down dimensions to travel thousands of lightyears. He wants us to be an interplanetary species. If that sounds crazy, imagine how crazy it sounded when a lone genius claimed that the universe was made from a fabric called spacetime in 1905.
Personally, I’m not a physicist, and so I have no ability to be rigorous in that domain, so I settle for wild speculation. But kids should be dreaming of finding the next great breakthrough in physics. Instead, they dream of being YouTubers.
Our religious reverence for our current understanding of science has confined us to what's merely comprehensible. Meanwhile, our dismissal and subjugation of actual religion prevent us from seeing Sagrada Familia as a portal. God is, at least in the story of Abraham, the force beckoning us to a great adventure.
Paul Goodman, the poet, said about the moon landing: "It's good to 'waste' money on such a moral and aesthetic venture. These are our cathedrals."
Bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Earth is not some old idea in dusty books and musty churches. It continues the long legacy of dreams that pulled impossible scientific and cultural achievements from the void.
That's why the ceiling of Sagrada Familia is a portal to interstellar space. But not just interstellar space — to everything wonderful in our personal lives, too.
If you don’t believe me, go on a pilgrimage to see it. It’s worth it. The Truth can’t survive just in your head — you need to feel it in your heart and loins, too.
And once you see one portal, you start to see them everywhere.
Thanks for reading,