Beam Splitting Wholeness

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Science

Our perspective of the world underwent an abrupt overhaul with the development and experimental validation of quantum mechanics, and like whorls in a cloud chamber flung from the site of a detonated photon, a legion of metaphysics spun-off from the diverse array of interpretations and suppositions the field inevitably engendered.  I remember, vaguely, when I read The Dancing Wu Li Masters while taking high school physics.  It was a sufficiently beautiful experience to propel me into a nearby university that fall as a declared physics major.  After a successful year I decided to shift into engineering, thereby cutting my minimum required stay in academia by half, content in the fact that I could reflect upon the essential nature of the universe and of my self with a good book and a meditation cushion, with or without a PhD.

Today I feel vindicated in this regard.

I have also come to cringe when I see the admittedly mind-boggling quirks of physics used as explanations for the bedrock of identity and being, the existence of consciousness, or the freedom of will.  I think that is a slippery slope, and that you cannot derive the glorious and timeless character of Rumi from a science that permits, within very narrow ranges, uncertainty, or that has demonstrated a “spooky” connectivity at a distance through entanglement.  I think it is quite the other way around, and that we find within science the traces and patterns of the very essence of who we are.  Connectivity, for instance, is primary.  It is a given.  It is real.  And the phenomenon of quantum entanglement is but one of countless avenues through which the reality of connection reveals itself to us.  Something vast and invisible is at play– not a he or she, not a God with a beard, not us alone and certainly not an other, not a thinking intelligence as we understand it, but a Love that gives of itself like a sunset, an apple, a human being, a blue bird, and two photons whose inter-being knows no distance.

It is in the spirit of the latter, as Creation being literally festooned with relics of its own innermost nature, that I love to poke around in the findings of science and consider the multiply-layered potential meanings of what is on display.  As an example, a few years ago I had the honor and pleasure of interviewing physicist Mendel Sachs in his home– yes, I pretty much asked him to invite me, a stranger, into his home for a coffee table discussion of his work– and one of the great takeaways was his pointing out that Einstein chased after the theory of relativity out of an insistence on the notion that truth is true, and that if something happens in the universe, there must be a way to translate its appearance from any one reference frame into any another so that the two observers can ultimately agree on what occurred.

This is beautiful!

The theory of relativity is like a universal translation device, enabling two viewers of the same event with radically different relationships to it– e.g. diverse physical points in space, rates of motion towards or away from the event, etc.– to realize they agree completely, even though at face value they each witnessed something seemingly very different.  The speed of light is constant because it is a mathematical necessity of the translation device, and time and space– which make sense only in their durations– are seen as a language for expressing what occurred, rather than reality itself.  When the language is properly understood, the meaning in all reference frames is the same.

Recently I was thinking about quantum mechanics, and asking myself, what might this crazy branch of physical-theoretical phenomena be showing us?

The double-slit experiments, of which there are many forms, some of which are very intricate and could only be performed in the last decade due to advances in experimental technology, have as their beginning the behavior displayed when monochromatic light passes through two slits located close together.  The light emerging from each slit diffracts to form an arc, like the ripples in a pond spreading out from a tossed stone.  The two sets of ripples overlap– imagine two stones thrown at the same time– and when the light hits the far wall there are places where it is very bright, and places where it is very dim, since the light waves add together where they coincide and cancel each other out where one is a crest and the other a trough.

This is classical physics, not quantum physics.  Now imagine the intensity of the light source is turned way down, and the wall is equipped with photodetectors.  The photodetectors “click” when a single particle of light, a photon, hits them.  What is observed is that the bands of light and dark we saw on the wall are the result of a shower of countless individual particles that, one-by-one, strike the detector in various places.  The individual particles, en masse, construct perfectly the structure we had attributed to waves.  This has been observed countless times as, click by click, as slow as you like, the interference pattern of the wave is reconstructed.

How is that possible?  How is it that a single particle, which surely must travel through one slit or the other in a straight line, could wind up five or ten degrees off course?  It appears that an individual particle somehow interferes with itself as if it were the original wave of light striking both slits, and forming the two sets of ripples and the subsequent interference pattern, and yet each photon ends up striking the photodetector at a single, discrete location.  Each photon yields but a dot.  It is the sum total of which over time yields an interference pattern.

This is difficult enough to comprehend, but the experiment becomes even more of an affront to common sense when a detector is placed at each slit to tag photons as they pass by.  When these “marker detectors” are in place, the photons are indeed found passing through either one slit or the other, not both, as one might expect of a trustworthy little particle, but now the interference pattern on the final detector disappears!  In its place, the photons all strike the photodetector in one of two relatively fixed locations, each the product of their respective slit, as if the photons are now flying through one slit or the other in a straight line for their target.  The wavelike interference pattern has vanished.

To circle back to an earlier point regarding the spin-off metaphysics of quantum mechanics, at this point some would say the experiment demonstrates the way in which the notions of subject and observer break down in quantum mechanics, and even go so far as to suggest that human consciousness, through observation-participation, causes wave functions to collapse and thus interacts directly with reality.  I think human consciousness is far more directly enmeshed with reality than by going around all day collapsing wave functions, but I think scientifically the experiment simply doesn’t support such a conclusion.  A person standing in the room will see an interference pattern on the wall, regardless of what they are thinking, until the “marker” detectors are added to the experiment.  Without the additional markers, the experimental behavior of the light will not change, no matter how much intentional wave collapsing your average person attempts to project upon the scene.  I’m not suggesting such a miracle is impossible, but it’s not obvious from the mathematics of the theory…  So it strikes me that the key to collapsing the wavelike behavior at each slit is the rearrangement of the experiment in such a way that different information is extracted from it.  When we force the experiment to tell us which slit the photon took, it will.  Otherwise, freed of such a constraint, it will dance for us.

What does this say about us and the nature of this universe?

I think for starters it reveals the way in which the individual and the whole are indelibly interwoven, and mutually supporting.  The interference pattern observed in the double slit experiment is a wavelike behavior that, in quantum physics, arises as an emergent phenomena, constructed of the paths of countless individuals.  When an individual particle allows itself to follow its own path, simultaneously responding to and embodying a relationship with the underlying field– by “interfering” with the underlying virtual wave– it follows a path that is at distinct, yet nonetheless integral to and revealing of the whole.  Something unexpected arises encompassing all particles.  There is an individual for every path, and from the relationship of every path to every other path, wholeness.  Likewise, the path of each individual is informed by an interference with, or relationship to, each and every other path through the field– or said differently, through relationship to the whole itself.  Each path is born of trust in being an individual, a trust which arises out of relationship to the whole.

For me the experiment also suggests that our insistence on measuring and judging the nature of our journey every step of the way collapses both individual and collective possibility, and impedes the natural unfolding of what we, as individuals and as a unified field, are desiring to express.  When we insist on judging progress, on maintaining “normalcy”, and on controlling the trajectories of our lives by knowing where they are aimed, we close off our relationship to the unknown, lose touch with the other trajectories around us, and the whole pattern dies to uniformity and mediocrity.  The end result is two disconnected patches of light, duality, an either-or existence.  When our lives are informed by mystery and intuition, however, and we allow what is latent within us to emerge organically, we contribute to allowing a new and beautiful wholeness to emerge.

I think this is what Jesus meant in A Course of Love when he suggested that being ourselves, and making the unknown known through our very lives, would author a new world.  A pattern will emerge on the wall, with each individual in his or her perfect place, each a unique and distinct arising of the entire field.  This isn’t the product of effort…  There are no measurements to be made…  We simply respond to the relationship that binds us to every other, and to the whole.  Together, we are a wave.  The wave is all of us, together.  Each one of us is a unique expression of the whole, and yet the whole is simultaneously all of us.

24 Comments

  1. You lost me of some of this, but I resonate with your conclusion that “When our lives are informed by mystery and intuition, however, and we allow what is latent within us to emerge organically, we contribute to allowing a new and beautiful wholeness to emerge.” Thanks for pondering the big questions and connections in life Michael. Now if I can learn to live that way. I’m still stuck in duality and problem solving, which clearly is not working as my life continues to fall apart. Uggh!

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    • Hi Brad,

      I lost myself with a bit of that, too! 🙂

      And I wish you peace, Brad, in your revelatory undoing. A falling apart can be a making room, and while that may seem like little to no consolation right now, I think it is the truth of these things. I was struck after the cataclysmic meltdown of the Brazilian team today by the message of some of the players and the coach that was shown on the US broadcast, and it was basically: look, we love all of you and we wanted terribly to give you the team and the outcome you deserve, but we failed… So go home and be with your families… Love them… It was like, in their stunning disappointment, the only thing left was (perhaps not yet for everyone) obvious and simple: there’s just you where you are. Love it… It is a great thing…

      Meanwhile, the ZEBRA’s are looking for an experienced cliff diver with loads of agape, or inexperienced, either way, as long as there’s loads of agape. I heard you’re the man.

      Michael

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  2. Challenging and exciting post Michael! Lots to think about!!

    “For me the experiment also suggests that our insistence on measuring and judging the nature of our journey every step of the way collapses both individual and collective possibility, and impedes the natural unfolding of what we, as individuals and as a unified field, are desiring to express.”

    This line really spoke to me. All I could think about while reading the rest of the post was the concept of “receptivity.”

    What have we lost in undervaluing “receptivity” to the “natural unfolding” in a culture of doing, doing, going, judging, dissecting, figuring, etc.?? Has our culture decided we no longer require being open and receptive to wonder or mystery, because we are so busy judging and over-determining our world? This idea of receptivity is central to the Tao and High Yoga, and total receptivity to the Source, or the Mystery, is considered the hallmark of personal and collective POWER. Receptivity = Power…. a very different equation indeed….

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    • Hi Amanda,

      So, first off, this one came out of the oven a bit longer than expected, and I wasn’t sure I’d get anyone reading to the end, so thank you. It is kind of the opposite surprise to receiving a response to a one sentence post…

      And then you zeroed right in on the sentence I probably spent far too long finding way to. 🙂

      Receptivity is kind of my mantra these days, under the cover of another dictum of close relation: acceptance. I guess they are not altogether identical, but as I reflect upon them I think they are mutually reinforcing aspects of a common dynamic. Acceptance (for me) relates to accepting that we don’t need to go out into the world and “make ourselves” into anything, and receptivity enables the beautiful flow of creativity, abundance, synchronicity, and inspiration that comes in to fill the void of “accomplishing”…

      I’m not sure it relates at the end of the day to quantum physics or not, but it was sure fun trying. Thanks for taking the time… Much appreciated.

      Michael

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  3. I’m not really up to speed on these correlations with physics and metaphysics – didn’t Fritjof Capra start it all off? There was a time when I looked at it briefly, and then found Roger Penrose to be the most insightful and helpful of those few that I read.

    What troubles me slightly with these parallels, is how some (in particular), Neo-Advaitans support their putative teachings with specious references to Quantum Theory. As Richard Feynman said: ‘If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don’t understand quantum mechanics’.

    I think we might be in agreement here Michael, when you say: ‘I have also come to cringe when I see the admittedly mind-boggling quirks of physics used as explanations for the bedrock of identity and being, the existence of consciousness, or the freedom of will.’

    I agree with the conclusions you arrive at, and applaud you for trying to make sense of this messy area without falling prey to the dubious assertions that others cleave to.

    With gratitude and respect as ever, Hariod.

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    • Thank you, Hariod. We indeed agree, although I need to go look up the meaning of the word Neo-Advaitan. Suffice it to say that a great many philosophies and metaphysical meanderings are able to derive some support from quantum physics, but quantum physics being quantum physics, it would not be all too difficult to derive all sorts of conflicting conclusions from it.

      I simply disagree (and here I agree to agree with you) with trying to use the findings of quantum physics to leap frog materialism into a holistic theory of things. It’s like saying, okay, materialism was right, the root of existence is what we can physically see and measure, but look, it actually explains a multi-dimensional cosmos and the existence of consciousness, so we should be happy about that.

      I love science when it is understood as providing glimpses into the incredibly brilliant wake left in the passing of an invisible Presence, but when the presence is pitched as a byproduct of the science, I can’t buy it.

      Thank you for reading and sharing. Much appreciated, Hariod.

      Michael

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  4. I am loling as I type this. I make it from the older to current posts waiting to be read in the wordpress reader and now find this post waiting here. Of course it would be here as this is where the thoughts leopards were leading all along!

    Those darn spots make so much such fun camouflage for the mind to melt over…just in the same way that sprinkles on cake always improve the taste. The whole cake doesn’t yet make it through the slits, but those little individual spots or sprinkles do and my oh, my how they add to a fun pattern on our human coats and the fun of being alive in general!! lol -x.M

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    • Photons are the spice of life.

      But don’t tell the positrons. They’ve been known to spin the wrong way and annihilate a thing or two. Another great analogy that doesn’t hold up I guess: the whirling of the dervish, annihilation, and the positron that winks the next thing it touches out of existence. Now THAT’s a little death…

      Michael

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    • What a joy it can be to be prompted to discover things you didn’t previously know by attempting to explain the things you thought you did. This is the beauty of having dialogue… Thank you for taking the time to be here…

      Michael

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  5. Einstein himself was so scientifically dogmatic he just refused to study the measurement problem. The photon is a future probability until observed. This tells us a lot about intent and the role that choice makes on the ever unfolding future (probability). The nature of reality is Consciousness (an information field) that is evolving by experiencing Itself as separate individuated consciousness, which is us.

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    • Hi David,

      Your note about Einstein is interesting. One of the things Mendel told me was that Einstein had one foot in the past, and he wouldn’t budge. He was specifically in that case speaking about one of the symmetries contained in classical physics that Einstein thought was “beautiful”, but refused to even consider letting go. Mendel thought if Einstein had been more willing, he would have made substantially more progress. In Mendel’s own work, removing this particular symmetry, (and don’t ask me to remember which one, please!), he found an expanded set of equations for relativity that “recover” the basic equations of quantum mechanics much as Newton’s Laws of Gravity are “recovered” in Einstein’s Theory of Relativity when certain assumptions are made, like the region of space being considered is relatively “flat”. This is why Newton’s laws were so close… but not quite. Relativity explained that little gap. I really like the idea that quantum mechanics could be recovered from an expanded theory of relativity under certain “local assumptions” that typically apply to quantum experiments, as it suggests that the particles arise as “modes of an all-encompassing wholeness”, which is a slightly distorted attempt on my part to remember words of Mendel’s I read years ago. I love the idea that there is only one field, and all that arises as seeming separate “things” is a particular mode within the whole, and I’m with you on the nature of reality. That’s partly why I resist the tendency of a few to find “opportunities” within quantum physics to create a link between consciousness and “reality” or “matter”. If they are truly unified, how do mechanics matter…?

      Thanks for your note-
      Michael

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      • They don’t. It closer to a virtual reality, symbolic of a video game. It’s a very high definition (speed of light) virtual (reading of information from the unified field) reality. I don’t think anyone has actually found matter even in a particle. They find an empty space vibrating very fast and call it a particle. I think we are on the verge of a real Theory of Everything that will make perfect sense to everyone (well, almost) – as soon as science gets out of it’s own dogmatic views.

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        • I’m standing by in eager anticipation, lending a vote of support in the form of knowing this is what is… 🙂

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  6. So in effect, when thinking about this, the theory may change; because of the wave pattern field created around any thoughts produced. most curios.

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    • Hi Eddie!

      I’m not sure if I follow what you’re saying exactly, but everything about this is most curious! 🙂 I think undoubtedly our thought interacts with the wave field to sculpt possibility. One thing that is strange about all of this is that when we think to ourselves, wow, our thought could shape our reality, some will say, when is the last time our thought was so reliable it produced the same results to an accuracy of twenty-five decimal places? Because that is what the quantum theories do… But I think that is a revealing situation… showing we really don’t understand or experience the power of our unified thought… The power of all of us thinking together, is as reliable as strangeness in the quantum world… 🙂

      Michael

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  7. I remember in my college physics, I took it pass/fail because I didn’t want to mess up my GPA, and at at certain point, this freed me up to really just flow with the information; I stopped trying to nail the science down and it was just allowed to be – and then the knowing of it would click outside of the pressure of “understanding” it.

    This wide open field of possibilities that doesn’t need to be nailed down I think can be seen so openly in the face of the newborn that Maren (http://seeingm.wordpress.com/2014/07/09/coming-home/) was just helping us gaze into!

    Thank you so much for such a fresh and insightful explanation of the double-slit experiments that I understood much differently – this explanation rings true!

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    • Wow. How I would have loved to take some physics classes with the luxury of just trying to grok it, and not focus on all the mathematical tricks needed to pass an exam. I am thinking I went about a few things the hard way… 🙂

      This one was tricky, because the more I wrote about the double slit experiments the less I felt I understood. Today I was thinking about it further, and I was just shocked by this fact: a person standing in a room is not a measurement. The interference pattern will not collapse in a crowd. Put a detector on it, and clear the room, and the wave field will collapse. Why?

      Heck if I know! But I think this shows the surface human thoughts alone don’t necessarily cause this collapsing wave function. But physically interacting with the system in a manner that extracts information, causes the entire system to change. I just can’t get over that one… And thankfully, I’m okay with not knowing… Just enjoying it…

      Tomorrow, I’m going to audit my life, without the pressure of understanding what the heck it’s all for, and see what happens.

      Michael

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      • What keeps popping up in my “mind” with your exploration here and the reason I connected to Maren’s baby is the way you are viewing the extraction of information as the wave “collapser”, which makes me feel like the powerful place is in not narrowing down possibilities by collapsing the field by measuring. Can we be functioning humans in a space outside of analysis and extraction? Am I stretching this in a direction that is non-sensical? Cool, no matter how you slice/slit it 🙂

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        • Hi Marga,

          I haven’t caught up with your latest, but this note touches upon exactly the question on which I was trying to land… I agree with your way of thinking– the power is not in the collapse, but in the ability to hold open possibility, to be a conduit for a vast unknown… I think we CAN be functional and vast all at once. We can pour milk on our cereal without having any idea what it means or where it might lead, and maybe in such a spaciousness that room is allowed for an inspired idea to flit into our awareness that changes everything… 🙂

          Yes, cool indeed! Thanks for helping to illumine the point! I think there’s maybe a link from here to quantum computing as well, and a takeaway about how the greater the vastness we allow, the quicker a needed answer will emerge… but another day… 🙂

          Michael

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  8. “Unequivocalness is simplicity and leads to death. But ambiguity is the way of life.”
    – Carl Jung
    Oh, forgive me, my friend. I’ve came on to your blog and beat a simple point into the ground with the heel of my shoe, and now I’m back again to tap dance on the level dance floor I made in the process. The above quote came through the following article: http://realitysandwich.com/220825/dealing-with-ambivalence-and-ambiguity/
    Too much overlapping ideas with your insights to ignore.
    Hope the landlord has your heat at a good setting for your weekend fun!

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    • Wow, that is a great link. I have noticed more and more that feelings arising either in myself or others seem to be coming in waves, like there are groups out there on the grid who’ve been assigned little projects and whether they know it or not, are exploring certain elements and seeding them into the awareness of the Whole. So great to discover these shared threads… They speak to unity somehow. We’re adrift on a shared sea of knowing for sure… Dance away! For all of us…

      Michael

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