Topic 5 – Squeezing the Infinite into Your Briefcase
Once upon a time there was a squire, who inherited an immense holding complete with a grand manor house and thousands of acres of land, containing forests, fields and gardens. Strangely, with this holding came a requirement that the squire remain in his manor house which had no windows and only a peephole on the huge oak door. Rather than experience his estate first-hand, he’d been told stories about it and permitted to view it only through the peephole.
Since he’d never been outside, he wasn’t terribly discontented, because he had no idea what he might be missing. However, he did suffer from the malaise that accompanies those who wonder if this is all there is. If people were to ask him about his grand estate, he’d describe it as this wide strip of gleaming whiteness bounded by a great green carpet on either side, very pretty and quite large—his description being of the cement sidewalk and a small portion of the grass lawn on either side. How could he have known, nor would he have believed that beyond that were fields of hay and grain, pastures of horses and sheep, forests of giant old hardwoods and spruce, rivers and streams, and tended gardens of exotic beauty?
The problem with any worldview is the degree to which it limits our perception of the truth. Limitation is the factor in a worldview that has the most detrimental impact on those who hold it, for it creates an aberrant understanding of what we are and the nature of the world we live in, just like the squire looking through the peephole. In fact, how we delineate our world, delineates our truth as well. Some of our most basic assumptions were bequeathed to us from a science birthed in that worldview, which focused the thinking of the pre-quantum era of physicists. From these assumptions, we formed many of our beliefs.
For example, our mechanical approach to life, which has us believe that we can understand the whole best by divvying into parts, is a byproduct of Newtonian physics. It’s all we could do facing the immensity of complexity that surrounds us, while armed with the most limited worldview one could imagine. It fosters our acceptance of equating life to a machine. And that mechanistic thinking is our prime problem-solving tool as well as our model for relationship. We dissect our problems into parts or behaviors, focus in on one aspect and wonder why it is so impossible to solve. Yet every time we face a problem, we do it again. Did you ever wonder why we came up with the definition of insanity—doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result? What else can we do with a worldview that excludes the notion of interconnectedness on any but the most superficial level? An example for me is hydroponic food production. We have convinced ourselves that we can reproduce the results that normally require the elaborate complexity of soil, with a water based solution. Just eat a head of hydroponic lettuce, and you’ll sense what I’m talking about.
Cause and effect is another one of those assumptions, one that has produced our medical model among other things. We see disease as effect and search for its cause getting tangled instead in symptoms and ending up treating those. Interestingly, the Aborigines didn’t see it this way and could heal themselves right smartly. With our way, cause eludes us and with it real cures.
Another is the belief in determinism, that nothing is uncertain, only a consequence of some earlier cause. From this comes our insistence that we can know something completely and eventually define it or find the answer we seek by using this approach. What happens instead is we bang away year after year, century after century at the same old approaches, unwilling to accept that we have no clue how to create real and permanent change. Our corporate model is a living testament to how ineffective that assumption is, and the one that perhaps gave birth to the notion of hope, as a necessity of life on earth. Do you think the creatures of the natural world see a need for the notion of hope?
There are other assumptions, but these give us a hint that the way we see and interact with the world isn’t necessarily a fact as we think of facts, but something we have assumed and been conditioned to accept as true. The quantum revolution placed those, and all our other fundamental scientific assumptions, in the limbo of doubt, explaining why no one threw a welcoming party for its arrival on the scene. It disclosed that the very foundation of matter, the subatomic particles were wildly unaware of the world as we’d described it. They weren’t fixed in appearance or behavior, and they seem to submit to all manner of influences around them not the least of which being the consciousness of those studying them. How’s that for spontaneity and fluidity in a world that had structured the atom with a sense of rigidity of a concrete block, by comparison?
So the point of today’s discussion is to rattle you a bit, to take away the certainty with which you interact with one another and the world as if it were the only way there is to understand our world and solve its problems. And it doesn’t take much of a look about to see that our problems are mounting faster than our ability to solve them. In fact, when we feel brave enough to look closely, we see that each solution comes with yet a new set of problems.
The quantum view looks into our kitbag and laughs hysterically at the rather primitive, or shall we say limited, assumptions we gave ourselves to handle life on earth. As if that weren’t tough enough, there is yet a further ramification of this limited view, one responsible for hindering our pursuit of finding a way out of this mess. Our worldview frightens us to death, from manageable concern to chronic angst to outright terror; we know little respite from fear. Stay tuned for Topic 6 – Shiver Me Timbers.