PARIJAH DIARIES 15
It’s not surprising, I suppose. To look squarely at what is happening in the world at this time is extremely disturbing, and people have quickly evolved reasons for not doing so — even in my unvaccinated circles.
At least a couple of people — one vaccinated, one not — have asked me, “What do you care about the future of the human race?’ — a question I would find quite bizarre even if I didn’t have children. But I do, so my answer in both cases was simple: “You don’t have children, do you?”
There is one argument I’ve come across a number of times which seems to rest on assumptions that could be characterised as ‘New Age spirituality’, or something like that.
The idea seems to be that to give your attention to something — the existence of a powerful totalitarian movement intent on the technocratic transformation of human life, for example — is to give it more ‘energy’. By opposing something, therefore, you make it stronger. If there is a global genocide taking place, then, the correct strategy is to ignore it. By talking about it, you only enhance its power.
There’s an intriguing analogy to this dilemma in mythology: the story of the Gorgon Medusa, a winged female monster with venomous snakes for hair — and the ability to turn you into stone if you meet her eyes. The problem of how to fight her without looking at her is the riddle which the hero Perseus has to solve. He finds the answer with the help of Athena, the goddess of wisdom, who gives him a shield polished to the sheen of a mirror, which means he can strike at her without looking at her directly. This myth is fertile in significance to artists living under totalitarian censorship, for whom the shield becomes a mirror of metaphor and allusion. In our pre-totalitarian condition, we can still say whatever we want in private conversation, and are dealing only with self-censorship. And yet I still keep encountering Medusa.
A fuller development of the argument draws on quantum physics. I was presented with it recently, talking with a German technical journalist; a nice guy, friend of my friends, vouched Bohemian. We were sounding each other out, or perhaps it was just me sounding him out, on our thoughts about the pandemic and its aftermath. We seemed to have a lot of common ground, so I ventured to take the conversation to another level by saying — “I have to say, I have absolutely no doubt about what is happening.”
But I never got to utter the words ‘genocide’ or ‘depopulation’, which were hovering around our conversation, because he immediately switched gears and dived into the quantum rabbit-hole. He explained to me something along the following lines (and I’m trying to do it justice): that the famous double-slit experiment demonstrates that the wave function of a quantum particle consists of pure potential, and that it is only collapsed into its particulate (‘actual’ or ‘real’) form or path by human consciousness. Therefore, reality is determined by consciousness, and the character of that consciousness will determine the character of reality for that conscious agent. Thus, we create our own reality.
The implication was that by uttering a definite statement about reality such as ‘I have absolutely no doubt about what is happening’ one is willing that potential reality into existence; and, conversely, I presume, that refusing to think or state such a thing means that it remains in its ‘wave’ state of potentiality rather than actuality.
I was only sounding him out, and it was clear that he didn’t want to talk about the kinds of thing I was hinting at, so I’d found out what I wanted to know. I told him I’d think about what he’d said and we could continue the discussion another time. We were at Bohemia (of course); he played guitar; so we went and jammed for an hour quite pleasantly; and that was fine, because making music together is, of course, more important than agreeing about everything.
It struck me later that two men in a bar discussing probabilistic theories of the nature of reality as a way of avoiding discussing the criminal insanity engulfing the world outside is the essence of Theatre of the Absurd. Estragon and Vladimir, or Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, might indulge themselves in the same discussion to pass the time. But, hey, that’s how it is now, that’s the zeitgeist, so why not? And since I’ve heard something along these lines from so many people over the last five or six years, I may as well try to articulate what I think about it.
Later my friend sent me a link to a video on Youtube entitled ‘The Secret Connection Between Quantum Physics and Buddhism.’ The commentary, delivered (of course) in a charming Indian accent, states unequivocally that “The double-slit experiment proved that materiality was not only particles located in space and time but also waves which were everywhere all at once, but that whether they appeared as particles or waves was determined by human consciousness.” Thus quantum mechanics proves the Buddhist principle that “the world is created by our minds”.
Now, I’m not a physicist, theoretical or otherwise, though I am interested in the history of science, and have researched and written essays on the early twentieth century paradigm-shifts. My ontology is decidedly not materialist, far from it. Nevertheless, I have a number of problems with this kind of quantum mysticism, as some have called it, and the first is that I don’t think the double-slit experiment ‘proved’ any such thing. The Wigner-von Neumann interpretation of the Copenhagen interpretation — i.e., that it is human consciousness which collapses the wave-function — reflected a lot of excited speculation and occasioned some experimental attempts to prove it, but Wigner distanced himself from the interpretation in later years, as did Heisenberg, initially its most influential supporter. Wigner was reportedly embarrassed by precisely the solipsistic implications of the theory which bother me; there were too many problems associated with the ‘interactionist dualism’ on which it has to be premised; and he had to abandon his initial treatment of macroscopic objects as isolated systems: quantum mechanics cannot be applied to macro-scale actuality. Far from being ‘proved’, the Wigner-von Neumann interpretation seems to have been quietly shelved. It has always had far greater popularity among New Age spiritualists than the scientific community itself.
Even without knowing anything about the history, there are glaring logical problems with the interpretation. For one thing, the idea that reality is created by human consciousness is absurdly anthropocentric. Why only human? Why not any other species? And how must we conceive of the past before the evolution of human consciousness: did nothing exist in any defined form? Was everything just a cloud of pure potential until these last few microseconds of geological time? And what about the rest of the universe, uninhabited by humans?
Of course, human consciousness can at no point directly encounter either the wave function or the ‘collapsed’ path of a sub-atomic particle. Humans can sense none of these things, so how can human consciousness determine them? Yes, they can measure them using particle-detectors. But such an apparatus is not conscious; nor is the stream of electrons by which the result is reported; nor is the computer screen on which the results are displayed for the perusal of human consciousness. To say that the collapse does not take place until the wave form meets human consciousness at the end of this ‘Von Neumann chain’ seems to imply that it does so retroactively; that human consciousness reaches into the past to cause the collapse which has already happened. It’s a logical loop, a time-traveller’s paradox. If this sounds hopelessly ‘classical’ to you, please remember that Einstein himself could not accept the abandonment of causality, and characterised quantum mechanics as an ‘effective’ theory, meaning one which works in terms of predictions, but does not explain anything; like Newton’s theory of gravity it deals only with effects, not causes.
In fact a far more reasonable interpretation is that the wave function collapses on its first interaction with any physical system, such as a measuring device. It is defined by its encounter with the universe. If you want to tell me it’s the mind of God that collapses the wave-function and precipitates reality, fine, that works for me. But human consciousness? Please.
All of this should be prefaced with phrases such as ‘as far as I know’ and ‘as I understand it’. But for me there’s a more fundamental philosophical problem which is the very concept of plural ‘realities’. My roots are in language; I am a writer and a student and teacher of literature. ‘Reality’, grammatically speaking, is an ‘uncountable’ noun. It is inherent in the concept that there can only be one. Therefore it doesn’t take either the definite or the indefinite article, and has no plural; we do not speak of ‘the reality’ just as we do not speak of ‘the Nature’ or ‘the God.’ I cannot speak of ‘my reality’ without being ungrammatical as well as illogical. So my first objection is linguistic: to speak of plural ‘realities’ one must redefine the word as ‘perspective’ or ‘experience’. We are then left with no word for the original sense of ‘reality’: the language has been stripped of an important concept. As with Einstein’s reification of ‘space’, such linguistic subversion is antithetical to the spirit of science, which must use language with precision.
I can’t deny that quantum mechanics is structured around a mystery, but I think a more semiotic approach is needed in order to guard against falling into the cognitive traps associated with it. ‘Superposition’ is a mathematical expression, not a phenomenon in reality, where it is never experienced. My view of Mathematics (which must also be that of all physicists since Einstein) is Platonic: i.e., that mathematics is inherent in reality and is therefore discovered, not invented. Except that this isn’t quite right; actually it is discovered and invented: it is a human language which exists to translate the divine language of the Logos. A temple language, then. But still a language. And it seems to me that the kind of mathematical literalism we see in quantum mechanics represents a confusion of signifier with signified, of knowledge states with states of matter. If the mathematics gives a superposition, they regard this as real: if it occurs in the math, it must occur in reality.
Except that it doesn’t. Not at the macro level we inhabit. Schrödinger’s cat is either alive or dead, we know this; it cannot be both. And no matter how elusive, it can only be in one place at one time. Likewise, if you open the box and find the cat is dead, that doesn’t mean you killed it with your pessimistic outlook.
The same then with global genocide. If depopulation by vaccination is taking place, that’s not because I think it’s taking place or say it’s taking place. Either it is, or it isn’t. To be afraid of talking about it — to fear that talking about it makes it real — is about superstition, not superposition: the argument is fundamentally escapist, fuelled by a petrifying dread. It’s understandable; no one wants to look at that hideous Gorgon, and if you’re not Perseus, you’re Estragon, you’re Rosencrantz, helpless in the flow of events. That’s us, now, so let’s just enjoy the moment. Spark up another spliff. Let’s play some blues.
“I cannot help remembering a remark of De Casseres,” wrote Jack London in 1914. “It was over the wine in Mouquin’s. Said he: ‘The profoundest instinct in man is to war against the truth; that is, against the Real. He shuns facts from his infancy. His life is a perpetual evasion. Miracle, chimera and to-morrow keep him alive. He lives on fiction and myth. It is the Lie that makes him free. Animals alone are given the privilege of lifting the veil of Isis; men dare not. The animal, awake, has no fictional escape from the Real because he has no imagination. Man, awake, is compelled to seek a perpetual escape into Hope, Belief, Fable, Art, God, Socialism, Immortality, Alcohol, Love. From Medusa-Truth he makes an appeal to Maya-Lie.'” — Jack London, The Mutiny of the Elsinore.