Sunday, 30 November 2014

Quantum mystery

In semiotics a sign is rarely, if ever, just the sum of its parts. A hunter may know where to go to optimize his/her chances of bagging prey, but there are no guarantees that they will succeed every time. Not having gamed the system (perhaps by intention), the Inuit psyche seems especially open to the probabilistic, the mysterious, in its pristine state.

The word "mystery" as used here is not a weasel (or, all-purpose) word serving some ulterior motivation, but rather a recognition of a state of affairs within one's ken and pondering but currently beyond one's articulation and psychological mastery.

When I was a child I often thought about the nature of infinity having heard of the concept in church as "without beginning or end". The endless fog bank, the lead in the ice that went on forever, etc. I was looking at a boulder underwater and wondered at how long must have that boulder not experienced dryness (literally, forever, in my mind)—certainly not yesterday, nor the countless yesterdays I would be inclined to examine. What about the inside of the boulder itself: has it ever seen the light of day?

When I hit upon the science of classical and quantum physics, my mind (in my mind) was ready to receive their mysteries. Of course, I had preconceived notions of what reality was all about and how it must be just so. But I grew up in a culture that seems to have little use for preconceptions, and a rich metaphoric imagination that even a child knows is metaphoric rather than realistic.

I loved the philosophical discourse of physics if not outright captured by the math—interestingly enough, my restless mind finds calm in the equations for some strange reason: I can look at and ponder the meanings of equations (grammatically and geometrically) and get something akin to spiritual completion. For a long time, I'd talk ad nauseam (literally) about physics to anyone who had the misfortune of being in my presence.

I'd talk about imaginary (or, complex) arithmetic, Lorentz transformation laws, the impossibility of imagining our reality without movement in contrast to the oft-claimed impossibility of seeing the four dimensional space-time. It wasn't so much that people I spoke to understood, but that I worked through and revel in these objects of my obsession: I swear I intuited the Pauli exclusion principle by examining the periodic table of elements before I ever read about the principle itself; that I reconciled the dual nature of particle physics by realizing that we see things in colour.

I read of Michael Faraday and he became my inspiration because I saw how knowledge acquisition in science is more like him than the mathematical prodigies who seem to formulate theorems that come fully-formed and impassive and inscrutable to the human mind: informed imagination, more often than not, precedes articulated formulation.

Every once in a while I'll come across a precious gem of a thought. But my compulsion to insist upon sharing an insight is much diminished and is diminishing still. My ego still asserts its irresistible power but, by and by, it seems to become more comfortable in its own skin. My insights, once gotten, rarely ever expire. I find waiting for the right moment to share is much more satisfying (and mature). I often find that someone else will have come across the same thought, and, often, have better language to articulate them.

About this fact of a maturation process, I have sometimes wondered if Hermann Hesse's Magister Ludi is subconsciously influencing/modelling my experience, or whether it is true of all deliberately cultivated minds and would hold true even if I had never read the book.

Ironically, even now, I realize that I still have much work to do on my patience, my ego, my still crippling visceral fear of ignorance. I'm psychologically repulsed by closed minds (including my own, upon reflection), and, it is especially in these moments of existential terror, I turn to Christ, the greatest mystery, the mystery, that is capable of affirming and assuring meaning on an otherwise seemingly meaningless, terrifying existence.

Jay

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