I suggested a topic of “Quantum Magic” because the more I learn about quantum science, the more I see that it is a kind of magic.
Victoria did me one better and gave me a post on quantum science and it’s connection to the nature of reality.
I strongly urge you to check out Victoria’s blog. There, you will find book reviews and articles on topics ranging from science to ancient legend (and often the connection between the two) and just about everything in between. I can get lost on her page for hours and not realize how long I’ve been wandering.
Take it away, Victoria!
The Nature of Reality
First of all, I must thank Stacey for the privilege of contributing to her little corner of the world as well as her patience waiting for me to get this article written.
Science, to me, is an integral part of who we are and where we are going. Because of that, I also believe it is a very real part of our beliefs, our dreams, our ever-changing perception of the world – the universe – around us. Science and spiritually, for me, live in the same house and are quite comfortable with each other. Part of the reason for that is what we are only now beginning to learn about the “nature of reality.”
Although most stories of this kind start with Copernicus, I tend to look even further back. Back into the golden age of the Greeks when so much was within their grasp, and they never failed to test the waters and at least try to “follow the math” wherever it would lead them.
Let’s start with a fellow named Eratosthenes who live somewhere around 200-300 BCE. He was the first to discover that the earth was round and did so without a telescope or any other modern convenience. He measured shadows. It is also quite obvious that the builders of the pyramids knew something about geometry on a curving surface. By the time we get to Copernicus and Galileo, the human race had been through a number of starts and stops in comprehending the universe. It is entirely possible that Galileo’s troubles were not entirely based on his conflict with the Church; he was challenging a whole philosophy based on the teachings of Aristotle. Even church fathers and many medieval philosophers based their interpretations of the world on Aristotelian thought. This was a revolution that rocked the foundation of centuries of developed world-view. A pretty scary thing.
Why? Because in our search to nail down “the nature of things” we often look for a comfort zone. If, as a race, we do not understand how something works, it becomes a mystery, a miracle or magic. Once we start to grow and understand that there is regularity in the universe, that there are rules by which the elements must behave, we feel more secure. This was evidenced in Newtonian science where the great “watchmaker” of the universe provided set courses and rules by which thing on earth and in the heavens were constrained. All the while keeping in mind that even the Greeks envisioned something smaller than the eye could see out of which all things were made.
What, then, was the nature of these tiny building blocks of nature? Wouldn’t they have to follow the same rules and regulations?
Evidently nothing could be further from the truth.
Now that we have entered the age of quantum physics we are being introduced to a whole new vision of “the nature of reality.” We are learning that particles can interact at any distance without a visible physical connection. Space is not empty, it is a fabric made up of time and the forces of gravity. Particles do not always act like particles, sometimes they are probability waves which do not resolve to a finite position or “state” until something or someone measures or observes it. How can we live in a universe that requires observation to become finite?
There are a number of physicists that provide really solid explanations of where modern physics is taking us. The list is rather long for this brief article, however I will name one: the gentleman that actually inspired this piece, Brian Greene. Among his published works are The Elegant Universe and The Fabric of the Cosmos. These programs put the mind bending math of physics well within the grasp of the interested layperson with dynamic, graphical presentations. Somehow it all makes sense for a bit after you view them.
Some years ago, after the release of Elegant Universe, I heard him interviewed on NPR radio. I appreciated his approach because when the questions turned to spirituality he was not defensive or tongue-tied. His response was that he really wasn’t all that concerned about the presence or absence of some supreme being. If he found one in his search for the nature of the universe that would be fine, but he wouldn’t be all that disappointed if there wasn’t one. Then he told the interviewer that he should mention that when he would discuss the latest ideas with his brother, who was Hindi, he would be informed that the ideas had been there for millennium in the Sanskrit Vedas.
For this one interview Dr. Greene has always had my respect. Even though he had no general feelings to a world outside of mathematics, he knew and was prepared to acknowledge that the human quest for the nature of reality has been a long and well-traveled path using all the tools available to us.
What then is there for us to know, at this stage in our history, about the true nature of reality? Is it some gossamer thing that changes with the slightest whim of “observance?” Is it something with set rules and regulations that we can always depend on? Is it something that we can truly understand from our perspective, or will we always need some bit of intuition?
Physicists, in my mind, are men and women who can look beyond visible “reality” and imagine how and why such a thing occurred. The philosophers and spiritualists among us do much the same thing, without the math. If we are to ever discover the real meaning of “reality,” it will take both the visionary and the fact driven scientist to reach beyond ourselves and our visual universe to touch that which gave it all existence; that which gave it life.
If you would like to explore more of the physics of the quantum world, Dr. Greene’s programs are very helpful. You can view The Elegant Universe series here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and The Fabric of the Cosmos here.
Also, NASA and JPL Labs have a wonderful website designed specifically for the layperson here.