Monday, November 01, 2004
- There is no deep reality
In life, in philosophy, in science, there is often a convergence of ideas. Lots of great thinkers have probably said this better than I can, but it's on my mind today so I may as well write it down: Reality is a fleeting thing, hardly there and ever-changing.
Electrons are particles and waves. Light is both, too, but in a different way. Matter and energy are interchangeable. Stated another way, matter is energy. Thus, substance need not have substance and indeed, if you look at anything closely enough, the bulk of its volume is just empty space anyway! Particles pop into and out of extistance (observance) all the time, and where they apppear is by no means certain, either.
I like to think that there are some unchanging things in the universe. It makes sense, and the thought is very comforting. Yet, common sense rarely applies on the very large or the very small scales, only on the mundane scale of our own experience.
At least there is the law of conservation of matter and energy: Enet = mnetc2. It is reassuring to know that at least this one thing is not going to change, even if that one thing is virtually infinite and altogether unknowable.
But what about meaning? If there is no "real" reality, how can anything have meaning? Well, as with certain Austrian half-doomed domestic felines, perhaps the observer and the mode of observation cause reality to leave its state of flux, to become solid and knowable in some aspect. Put another way, it is the observer who gives an object its meaning.
On the small scale, measurements are always uncertain. The more precisely you measure a particle's position, the less precisely you can know its velocity. Is there an analog in human experience? Through our perception, through our experience, we extract meaning from an object or event. But what do we lose through this process?
To the one who experienced it, the object loses its "is"-ness, its pure existance, the timeless unknowable state that it had for us before we knew it, and to which we can never fully return. In short we lose a bit of our sense of "wonder", that special way a child has of looking at things, before he or she knows what they are.
There is an uncertainty priciple at work here too: the more precisely we give meaning to a thing, the less wonder we are able to experience when we encounter that thing again.
So, there is a risk in our search for meaning. In coming to know a thing, we might lose something far more important. We should try to conserve our sense of wonder as long as we can; we shouldn't squander it.
But we are creatures of reason: it is our nature to look for meaning in things. I wouldn't be writing here if that weren't true, nor would you have continued to read this drivel. So what we must do after we tear all the wonder out of an experience is to look deeper. Find some previously unconceived mystery hiding within, now laid bare by our experience. Then leave that mystery unexplored, at least for a while. Wonder about it occasionally, and never forget to take joy in the unknown.