Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Week 31: The Gospel of Uncertainty (2/2)

The Gospel of Uncertainty
How modern physics learned to embrace uncertainty as the only absolute, and why if we would only "argue semantics" more often, we wouldn't have to fight and kill and blow-up and fly planes into tall much.  (continued from last week)  

Grappling with mysterious phenomena that couldn’t be explained through a classical lens, a group of physicists battled their preconceptions and struggled through their spiritual biases to give the world a new framework for understanding the universe: quantum mechanics.
Quantum mechanics led to a modern understanding of the universe whereby the intrinsic nature of matter is understood to be both wave-like and particle-like, simultaneously; but where we humans, because of our limited ability to perceive the universe in its entirety, can only see one or the other (wave-like or particle-like) at any given time—never both. 

In other words: what we are able to "see" depends entirely on our perspective, and since we can't "see" it all at once, we can only assume that "it" is too large for us to "see" in its entirety.

So what do we "see" then? What is reality?
The concept of wave-particle duality suggests that the intrinsic nature of the universe extends beyond our human ability to fully perceive it. And that we can only perceive 3-dimensional slices of a potentially infinite-dimensional universe at any given time.

This in turn suggests that human knowledge of absolute truth is an illusion, and that the only thing we can be absolutely sure of is that we can never be absolutely sure.

It suggests that the reality versus perception dichotomy is a false dichotomy; that there is no reality versus perception, only common versus uncommon perception—coupled with varying degrees of uncertainty.  

Universists accept this uncertainty as a part of the human condition, and are in fact driven by this uncertainty to seek out new ways—new 3-dimensional slices—in which our infinite universe manifests itself to us.

They meditate on the distinction between the English verbs “to be” and “to be described by.”

They realize that descriptions are the parts from which they can infer the whole. And though they can never be absolutely certain that that which they infer is that which is, they have faith—and spend their entire lives in search of new descriptions to reinforce this faith.

An excerpt from The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston:
After I returned from my survival test, the two people trained me in dragon ways, which took another eight years. Copying the tigers, their stalking kill and their anger, had been a wild, bloodthirsty joy. Tigers are easy to find, but I needed adult wisdom to know dragons. 'You have to infer the whole dragon from the parts you can see and touch.' The old people would say. Unlike tigers, dragons are so immense. I would never see one in its entirety.

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