Quantum Black Magic

Because I write against religion a lot, it’s easy to assume that I’m not religious myself. This is not precisely accurate. It’s true that I don’t go to a church and I don’t believe that a supernatural being is watching me live my life. This naturally leads many people, especially believers, to conclude that I don’t really believe in anything. I don’t often help to dissuade this notion; I even wrote a series of posts about not believing.

The problem is: that’s not particularly accurate. Even in the original post, I still wrote about the things that I do believe in. It is very easy to spend too much time talking about the things that I don’t believe in. Because my view tends towards a minority position in this country, it’s far easier to define myself via opposition to the mainstream. If you’re keeping score at home, yes, I just admitted I have hipster tendencies. I hope you’ll forgive me and continue to read my blog.

I’m finishing up Carl Sagan’s book Contact and I’ve been struck by how, well, religious Sagan’s approach to the galaxy is. It’s a fiction novel, of course, but it’s a fiction novel in the tradition of didactic sci-fi that seems out of vogue these days: you have characters and a plot, but it’s all really just a vehicle for the author to express himself. It’s one of those things that is absolutely terrible when done poorly, but quite interesting if successful. Sagan, I think, pulls it off.

Anyway, I’ve started thinking about how little I express my feelings of wonder and awe, which are the feelings I believe are at the heart of the religious experience. The true believer feels wonder when he or she contemplates whatever deity or tradition makes up his or her respective beliefs. I think it’s that feeling of wonder that separates religions from, say, art (which is not to say that there is no religious art, of course, or any other permutation).

With that in mind, let me show you something that I consider to be an inspiration for awe and wonder. Now, I’ll warn you: the visuals and voice work are pretty cheesy. Some of the explanations are “Physics for Dummies” level. But if you’ve never really thought about quantum physics before, I’ve never see a better video to explain just how close the whole thing is to actual magic. Thinking about this stuff is what fills me with wonder and awe. Quantum physics, the vastness of the universe, the nature of the infinite . . . these are things that create experiences for me that I believe are just as comparable to any other religious experience.

Why does the act of observing change the behavior of a particle? How does the electron “know” that it’s being observed? Why does it sometimes act like a particle and other times like a wave? There are so many questions; how can you not think about these things and marvel at just how much we don’t know?

If there is a deity, I am content with his or her apparent decision to sit back and let the universe run itself. It allows us to figure things out on our own. I think it’s a profound loss if we don’t allow ourselves to wonder at the intricate nature of our universe. If we assume we have all the answers, or worse, that the answers don’t matter because “insert-deity-name here” did it, how many opportunities for wonder have we lost?

Here’s the video. If you watch it, let me know what you think.

2 thoughts on “Quantum Black Magic”

  1. This is why I like acoustics. My waves act like waves all the time. They don’t hedge their bets like some other waves.

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