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AFTER THE GOLDEN AGE for 01/27/2003
Volume 2, #64
I thought the above question from Paul was worth a column rather than a simple Round Table answer. He's asking about a field that's probably least understood among all the sciences, and yet, historically, has proven to be the most successful of any scientific theory ever. It has completely changed the way we make things, for example. And that goes from basic materials which we can transform like alchemists into whatever we need, from wood to ceramics to cars to life itself. How is it possible that a world-view such as is embodied in quantum physics, so imperfectly understood, can function so effectively?
Within the field of quantum physics, what are some of the more illuminating works you would recommend? Also, what other works are of interest to you right now?
The answer to that question isn't to be found in quantum physics but in larger questions such as the reality of time, the effect of the future on the past, as well as what we already know but do not know we know. Sounds paradoxical?
Well, let's look at this new science about which we have more questions than answers. To my mind, it had its beginnings with Planck's constant-the discovery that radiant energy didn't move in a simple flow, but in pulses, in tiny discrete pulses. From which some scientists and philosophers have concluded that the entire universe that we're aware of simply pulses off and on-that reality itself consists entirely of vibrations. I'm simplifying a bit, but I'm doing so because I'm asking you to take a leap here along with me when I propose that nothing is continuous, that everything is a simple matter of amplitude and frequency. And reality, in the end, is to be found in dreams, as Planck found his constant in a dream. That's absolutely correct. Planck was embarrassed when he presented his quantum and its implications to the Royal Society because it had indeed come to him a in a dream. So how does one begin to understand quantum physics?
You don't. You create it by other means. That's my unique opinion. I recommend therefore that first, interested ones like Paul go back and read Blake, who said that "nothing ever existed that was not first imagined." Then go and read Kant. That remarkable philosopher who lived his nineteenth century life in Koenigsburg in such organized fashion that people were said to have set their watches by his daily walks-let's listen to what he said.
First, he asked the question: "How are synthetic propositions a priori possible?" In simple English, that means: How is it possible to make a statement in which there is more in the predicate than in the subject? That, by the way defines what happens grammatically when we discover something that's new-that wasn't known before, and came to us without any experience-that is, "a priori." In other words, Kant was asking, where does new knowledge come from? From what platform, if you like, does it reach us? He gives a simple answer. If it doesn't come from experience, then it must come from anschauung-the German word for "imagination."
Then think of how the Australian aborigines tell us that in the beginning, there was the "dream time". Everyone and everything lived in a constant state of dreaming. Then, slowly, some dreamers entered into their dreams, and that became reality. Eventually, everyone took this path. So reality is the dream we live in today, they claim. And of course, when men reach the end of reality, the only way they can find out what's beyond is to go back and dream it. In the past century, for example, we went back and dreamed the "big bang". But that solution is wearing a little thin and new dreams are developing to displace it. There are a lot of possibilities in "dark matter" at the moment. And vibrating strings. But in the end, I'd like to introduce you to some interesting physicists who offer interesting visions of their own. I highly recommend David Bohm's "Wholeness and the Implicate Order". If you don't have any math to speak of, you can still skip the math part which is meager an! d get the sense of the whole book. You should also get acquainted with Bell's Theorem and the idea of non-locality in which you'll discover that the entire universe is right at your hand, instantaneously present. Bell's Theorem has been "proven" recently by the work of a French team under the leadership of Alain Aspect. Also, understand such physics standbys as "the collapse of the wave function"-that is, you can't find an electron until you observe it. By that strange sentence, I mean, since you can't find the position or velocity of an electron until you observe it, then the electron unobserved is not real.
Now all this is the stuff of dreams, as Shakespeare told us long ago, but it's only today that some of us are beginning to believe him. You want to understand that heart of quantum physics? Then don't go to the average scientist who sits in a lab, sweating out her grant, and focusing on spectral interferometers and stuff like that. Go to the poets and artists. They draw directly from the dream world.
Incidentally, that's one of the great things about comics. They're dream world stuff that everybody can read and make up their own dreams about. Seems to me we've been doing that in spades ever since the late thirties.
In closing, I'm going to propose a book by a writer who had some special talents himself and was driven to investigate the subject I've been discussing-in his own way and measured against his own unique experience. Read "Beyond the Quantum" by Michael Talbot. It's out of print but there are plenty of used copies available on Amazon. And after you've read Michael (who died a few years ago), check out his bibliography and you'll find lists of other interesting works on the subject. Also, search under Michael Talbot. He wrote a couple of others on the same subject. Oh, yes-he was also a fan of David Bohm.
<< 01/20/2003 | 01/27/2003 | 02/03/2003 >>
Discuss this column with me at my Round Table.
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