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Quantum Physics is Saving My Life

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

I’m stuck. Living in the Toronto Covid “hot spot” is in no way as exciting as it sounds. I’m 24/7 with someone I love dearly, but who perversely insists on being the exact same person day after day. We walk the same streets day after day (masked) and go over the same topics, day after day.

 

In other areas, I’m plagued by a sense of uselessness and impatience. My group endeavours require slow-moving consensus, all over the eyeball-dessicating Zoom. Every now and then there’s some drama that drags even this virtual action to a standstill.

 

I want something to happen! 

 

No! I DON’T want something to happen. What if it’s some new, worse disaster? Friends and relatives getting sick. Permanent lockdown. Some looming political explosion. An environmental disaster that my cozy home won’t shield me from. So I’m stuck.

 

But then, there’s quantum physics.

 

If I’m not free, atoms and electrons and photons are. Sly little rogues! They can apparently do anything and be anywhere right up until someone nosy looks into them. Yes they have limits—a range of probability—but they are never completely in one state or another, never completely determined until a measurement slaps them into position, like someone flattening a spinning coin to make it heads or tails.  And if you do that to one particle that’s had a relationship with another one, the second particle instantaneously assumes a complementary state. No one knows why. And then there are the “virtual” particles that, with no regard for either likelihood or good sense, constantly wink in and out of existence in what is supposed to be empty space.

 

But the best thing about quantum physics is that no one understands it. Even quantum physicists don’t understand it.* “Spooky action at a distance”? Proven, but not explained. The Casimir effect? Observed, but there are paradoxes that still need to be worked out. We can use quantum effects to create photoelectric cells and atomic clocks and GPS systems and PET scans. But in many cases we can’t actually visualize or grasp what’s really going on down there. Yet this frenetic dance is what creates our world of seemingly stable objects.

 

There is mystery, and beauty and surprise down there. The pleasure of finding things out, as well the pleasure of being confounded.

 

For the Buddhist in me, quantum physics reveals the illusory nature of appearance. To my yogic self, the emphasis on energy—prana— as the engine of reality makes complete sense. And for my Nature-worshipping Pagan soul, the deep dive into Her mysteries, into the processes at the heart of both stars and atoms, honours the very source of divinity.

 

Indeed, the names of classical gods grace both elements and constellations, as if acknowledging that the unique awe science inspires is more aesthetic than moralizing, more Pagan than pious. It is simply pure wonder, one that tempts the spirit away from self-concern to a broader and more generous perspective.

 

My own personal Hermes (trickster god and guide) is physicist Richard Feynman. His joy in the pursuit of the “inconceivable nature of Nature” was combined with an impish delight in unveiling nature’s perversity. A charmer who played the bongos, taught physics barefoot at Esalen, and hung out in topless bars to sketch the dancers, Feynman escorted me over the boundary between science and spiritual life, reminding me the ultimate context of our human drama is a mystery far beyond us, because “Nature’s imagination is so much greater than ours.” 

 

Set far above is the cosmos, deep within is the microcosm. Between them I live out my little life. But now, I know myself bounded by the boundless. 

_______________________________________________

 

* “Feynman’s Warning”: “I think it is safe to say that no one understands quantum mechanics. Do not keep saying to yourself … “But how can it be like that?” because you will go ‘down the drain’ into a blind alley from which nobody has yet escaped. Nobody knows how it can be like that."

 

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Archer has been trying to make sense of religion since her parents first abandoned her at Sunday School in the 60s. She’s a mom, yoga teacher and repository of useless bits of information on ancient religion, spiritual practices and English grammar. Check out her column “Connections” in Witches and Pagans.
 

Comments

  • Meredith Everwhite
    Meredith Everwhite Thursday, 04 March 2021

    This was delightful and very refreshing, thank you! This is the kind of insight and thought process more modern pagans need to have, to the point that I often want to say "pagans" these days, with very deliberate quotes. As many others obviously have, I've been absent from blogging or even reading anything here for over a year now but it's nice to come back and read a post like this that gives me hope and actually has some depth and point to it (and, dare I say it, a touch of subtlety and sophistication), unlike a lot of what I still see being posted.

    I've only ever had physics and other sciences deepen, clarify and validate a lot of my personal magical and spiritual insights and beliefs. If only that old marriage of science and the occult still existed. At least, to the extent that it once did.

    I especially adore the last few simple but profound sentences, perfect truth - "Set far above is the cosmos, deep within is the microcosm. Between them I live out my little life. But now, I know myself bounded by the boundless". So often have I felt the exact same thing and used it to ground and orient myself, and I just may have to quote that one day.

  • Jamie
    Jamie Saturday, 06 March 2021

    Archer,

    Great article as always, and so true. The 'higher causes', as the Platonists called the realms of the Goddesses and Gods, are revealed by the 'lower causes' (the physical realm).

    The majestic design and vast scope of the Universe, on every scale, fills me with awe and wonder at the unimaginable power of the Deathless Ones.

    Thanks for reminding us again.

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