Last year, I sustained a back injury. It immobilized me for about a week. I saw my chiropractor, who’s helped me with issues before. He didn’t lay a finger on this pain. His view was that I should get an MRI immediately. My primary care physician gave me a thorough workup and a tentative diagnosis. I asked him if he wanted me to get an MRI. “I wouldn’t do that unless you really have to,” he responded. “You know that, if they look, they’ll find something. That’s what they do.”
This exchange opened the door for me to write about some ideas that have been jostling around in my head for a long time: Do things that weren’t there before emerge when we go looking into the depths of where they have been residing? Do things come into existence that wasn’t present before we created a means by which they might be observed?
This line of thought is sort of like having a personal Schrödinger’s Cat. Erwin Schrödinger had a cat. Schrödinger was connected to Werner Heisenberg. They were two of the first articulators of quantum theory. Heisenberg came up with a thought experiment involving the cat to develop the uncertainty principle. He wondered if a cat, put in a hermetically sealed box along with radioactive material, would be alive or dead inside the box.
Werner Heisenberg Schrödinger’s Cat
Schrödinger concluded that there was no way to know without opening the box and observing the cat. Otherwise, the outcome was surrounded by uncertainty.
Through their pioneering work in particle physics, these innovators, plus their colleagues, Neil Bohr and Paul Dirac, went on to evolve all sorts of ideas about the "neither this-ness nor that-ness" of reality.
The idea that everything is made up of atoms has been around since Democritus 2,500 years ago. Being only 100 years old, particle physics is of much more recent vintage, and it is in no way broadly discussed or understood. If one has been exposed to a robust educational system or studies a lot, one has likely had some awareness of particle physics. If one hasn’t gone to school where science is taught seriously or explored these concepts by oneself, it’s quite likely that they are completely foreign. In other words, most people have never heard of particle physics.
200 is the number assigned to a variety of subatomic particles roaming about inside every atom, although the total number of fundamental particles is assumed to be significantly smaller. The Higgs boson (an elemental particle) has been called the “God particle” because it seems to give mass to the other subatomic particle.
Turns out that the subatomic world is a quirky place.
When we use our senses to look at something or touch something, we don’t question its existence. We say, for example, “That’s a cat.” But when we get down to the fundamental, underlying nature of what we’re observing, the subatomic domain, it turns out everything’s fuzzy. Unlike our cat, which is wholly formed and recognizable to us, a “quantum object” – a particle -- has many probable states to choose from when the moment arrives that we observe it. (The question of how it makes those choices we’ll investigate some other time.)
Image Source: Scientific American
Something like the quirkiness of reality at the submicroscopic level is also displayed in humanity’s space explorations.
(Brief rant: the idea that we are exploring “outer space” is a misnomer. We are in “outer space!” There is no such thing as “outer space!” All research humanity conducts happens in “outer space!”)
Many questions about the nature of the Universe are unanswered, for example:
1. Since the Universe is so big, why do other civilizations seem to be so rare?
2. What is the meaning of “next” when the Universe shuts down?
3. Is personal death similar to the death of the Universe?
4. We know that there are other dimensions, but what do we know about what goes on in and with them?
5. If you are ever in time, can you ever be out of time?
The 2022 launch of the James Webb Space Telescope has added virtually unlimited mystery to where we are at.
As discussed in Scientific American, early images from JWST revealed:
An inexplicably massive object that dated back to just 300 million years after the big bang, older than any galaxy ever seen before.
A virtually infinite number of new galaxies were just discovered!
(Or maybe not)
This discovery led to another, astonishing question:
Could the bevy of anomalously big and bright early galaxies be illusory …If genuine, could they somehow be explained by standard cosmological models? Or, just maybe, were they the first hints that the universe is more strange and complex than even our boldest theories had supposed?
The inner and the outer natures of reality are both hard to pin down and profoundly mysterious.
This ambiguity makes me think of, Blow Up, a film that has been a favorite of mine since its release in 1967.
David Hemmings plays a hedonistic fashion photographer in Michelangelo Antonioni’s classic. He is taking pictures at a park and, by happenstance, photographs several images of Vanessa Redgrave with her lover, an older man. Hemmings is fascinated by Redgrave, who enters his life in the course of the movie and blows up the photos to magnify various aspects of the park’s surroundings.
In one image, he sees what very well could be a man pointing a gun at the lover…but we’re not convinced that he has and he may not be either.
By the end of the movie, Hemmings has moved from being a jet-setting party animal to a man who has lost his compass, a man who may be aware of possible realities that others cannot see, or a man who has gone mad.
The Anthropocene has no compass. The orienting arrow has lost its way.
We’re not only not in Kansas anymore, but increasingly we’re nowhere that we recognize.
Delving deep into the interior of matter and the vastness of space’s content and void is exposing humanity to worlds and possibilities that are both endless and unbelievable from the perspective of the structures of our minds, our ability to perceive, and reality.
Joan of Arc and many thousands of others have asserted and are asserting that they’ve been guided by voices and angels. For millennia people have been certain that they’ve seen and communicated with ghosts and the spirit world. Many others report that they’ve seen unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP) and more than a few claim they’ve traveled on alien spaceships.
These UAP reports have gained enough credibility that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has authorized in-depth research into such sightings.
The possibility that there are dimensions that humans cannot see with their typical physical equipment leads many to discount any reports of alternative realities or states of consciousness that are radically outside the norm.
But “What Is” is becoming radically altered with each step deeper into the Anthropocene.
The philosopher of science, Thomas Kuhn, wrote and spoke about eras when the anomalies of existence start to overwhelm the explanations provided by “normal” science, i.e., science that has adequately explained almost everything for quite a while. Einstein’s theory of relativity and quantum theory have thrown Newtonian physics out the window, which is a shame because most people haven’t even caught up with understanding even that! We are in an immense paradigm shift and many/most people can’t explain the model we’ve been living in for the last 350 years!
Our instrumentation is showing us truths and possibilities that we’ve never considered. Thinking about them, and speculating on them shakes us up. It’s scary.
A very new and different reality is emerging in real-time, and most of us can’t or won’t see it.
We’re wearing glasses that were crafted in the 1700s. It’s time to see the optometrist! Let’s do it before we crash into an Anthropocean wall. Let’s turn that wall into a door by learning about the era we are in rather than clinging to the one that is vanishing.
Our dreaming consciousness is one key to opening that door.
Like the emergent Anthropocene, our dreams have many confusing elements that seem to float in from everywhere and anywhere. Yet, many are sure that they tell us both a personal and a universal story. They give us information about our concerns and our blind spots, the places we need to look at to grow. And, according to the Jungians, the content can present us with knowledge discovered and possessed by our species over the course of many millennia. They can ground us and show us the path that we want to be on even in the face of the Anthropocene’s swirl. The unconscious has insights beyond the understanding of our conscious, thought-filled, ego-focused minds. They can help us make informed choices even when our compasses seem to have broken down.