Sunday, May 20, 2012

Reality: an Update

Another Sunday, another Spotlight.
The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.
This Sunday, let's go the whole nine yards, the big enchilada: the nature of reality. Let's look at how things really work, and dig down to the quantum level and see how protons and electrons actually operate, and what they tell us about the nature of reality. Don't worry; I'll keep it simple, but you'll be amazed at what's really going on if you've never been exposed to quantum mechanics before.

Einstein famously said, "Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one." So, what did he mean by that, really?

One of the first premises of quantum theory is that the act of observing changes the observed reality. In other words, you will alter what you are observing simply by observing it. Put even more simply, you affect reality simply be being conscious of it.

It sounds crazy, but this highly unsettling premise has been experimentally proven, a good number of times. One of the most famous experimental proofs was set up like this: projecting light through thin parallel slits creates a dispersion pattern on a capture plate behind. If there is no detector, the light registers on the back-plate as a wave pattern; if there is a detector, the light changes state to photon particles and the dispersion pattern is entirely different.

So what's going on here, and what are the implications to be drawn?

Well, we all know Einstein's famous equation, E=mc², which says that energy is equal to mass times the speed of light squared. So Einstein tells us, essentially, that energy is mass and mass, energy. They are just in two different states, like water and ice. In fact, almost 100% of the "real" mass of "solid" objects is actually empty; the near-totality of an atom and its constituent parts actually consists of electromagnetic energy, such as those electrons whizzing about the atomic nucleus in highly excited states.

Okay, still with me? This quantum weirdness was encapsulated by a physicist named Schrödinger, and his famous cat. Schrödinger proposed a thought experiment that pointed out the fundamental paradox inherent in the nature of the smallest units of matter. Imagine you put a cat in a sealed box and whether it lives or dies depends on the energy state of an electron. Since an electron can, at any given time, change from an object with mass into a state of pure energy, and there is no way to know exactly what state it actually is in, since by observing it we alter its state, then the cat is both alive and dead until we open the box to make one of these two states manifest in reality.

Still with me? All right, now let's look at human consciousness and intention. First stop, Princeton University's Engineering Department and the now-terminated Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research laboratory, or PEAR, which was founded by Robert Jahn, Dean of the school of Aerospace Engineering, and his associate, Brenda Dunne. PEAR describes itself as the "Scientific Study of Consciousness-Related Physical Phenomena." The findings reported by the PEAR project have caused enormous consternation in psychology circles, followed by grudging acceptance. Here's why:

Utilizing a tightly controlled protocol, Jahn and Dunne studied the effects of conscious intention on the output of random event generators, or REGs, devices that generate random events, most often of an electronic nature. After 25 years of research they unequivocally demonstrated that ordinary human “operators” could significantly influence the devices either locally, at distances of thousands of miles, and/or off-time, that is the effect could be deliberately demonstrated up to several weeks after initiating the experiment.

Simultaneously Jahn and Dunne studied remote perception between humans, that is, the ability of a person at the laboratory to know where someone else was at a secret remote location. Indeed, they found that the percipient knew the nature of the location, selected at random and foreign to both of them, before the remote individual knew where he was to go. Again, a temporal anomaly. These results, all statistically significant to a very high degree, indicated not only that humans could be in “touch” with each other through unknown processes of communication and that they could influence machines by thought alone, but because of the spatial and especially the temporal anomalies, the linkage could not be electromagnetic in nature.

Other experiments demonstrated that intention, per se, was not necessary to produce an anomalous output by the REG. When operators were quiescent or focused on an alternative task, the REG would still react, but in a form that was quite different from when intention was being used. And each operator had their own “signature” or pattern of REG output, that held true no which of several kinds of REGs were employed in an experiment. In group meetings the REG would react anomalously whenever the members of the group would become particularly excited and remain “normal” when members were unexcited.

In other words, those coincidences and synchronicities we've all experienced—such as when you think of an old friend for the first time in years, and you get a message from him or her soon thereafter—are not such coincidences at all. Each and every one of us has a quantifiable, albeit slight, ability to influence reality, and to make manifest our intentions. The New-Age mantra that we create our own reality is hokum but nonetheless we do, slightly, influence reality at all times, simply through our thoughts. There is a mass of ironclad, scientific proof lying behind this statement.

Oh, I almost forgot. It has also just recently been proven that quantum effects work backwards into the past, in a kind of even more mind-bending time-travel entanglement. And we also have Hardy's Paradox: "When Lucien Hardy proposed that one could never reliably make inferences about past events which hadn't been directly observed, a paradox emerged which suggested that whenever one attempted to reason about the past in this way they would be led into error." Oh great! you might be thinking (thus mucking up what you'd just thought an instant before). Well, luckily at least this paradox has been resolved by a team having devised extremely complex experimental protocols, "showing that there is a way, even in quantum mechanics, in which one can quite consistently discuss past events even after they are over and done... without disturbing them." We should be thankful to science that at least the past has been somewhat nailed down, indirectly, after a century's effort.

As Einstein famously said, "Time is an illusion, though a persistent one."

Still with me? All right, let's go a bit further down the rabbit hole by digging further into quantum mechanics. It is also axiomatic that, at any given time, due to the nature of subatomic particles, a principle known as Wave-Particle Duality, that not only will an electron reach a state of pure excitation, thus becoming a wave and having no mass at all, but that all of the other particles making up that atom will do so together in sync, and the atom will momentarily vanish. Of course, given enough time, all the atoms in your car or desk or house or you yourself will find themselves in phase and those objects, too, will blink out of existence for an instant. In fact, the entire universe will blink out of existence for an instant; this is inevitable, given infinite time. (This is the seeming paradox that may—or may not—kill Schrödinger's cat.)

You'll remember that the act of observing light changed it from waves (energy) into mass (particles, in this case, photons). In other words, observing it made the light manifest into photon particles; otherwise, it would simply be immanent, an energy wave. This strongly suggests—since the entire universe is made up of particles that are convertible from mass to energy and back again, and do in fact do this as a matter of course—that it is the act of observing that makes immanent energy cohere into matter. In other words, if there was no one alive to experience the universe, it would simply remain as energy, a potential, and not manifest itself into the material world.

Remember, the observer, simply by observing, affects what is observed. This is not so far from the quite-serious proposition made by several physicists that reality is a 2-D holographic projection, akin to a video game, and we are living in a very advanced version of the Sims.

There, the nature of reality isn't so hard to understand in the end, is it? Of course, coming to terms with it is another matter entirely. But as you ponder, let's offer Einstein the last word as well:
Now he has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me. That means nothing. People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.

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