All posts tagged as quantum physics

28 May

Holy Aloneness

In Essays by poeticinterconnections / May 28, 2011 / 16 Comments



This month’s poetic interconnection is a personal one.

I’ve spent my last six months sharing a loft in an urban setting. The apartment is spacious but, being a loft, it’s one unbroken space. There is no privacy. The area is hip but, being downtown, it’s bustling. There is no quiet.

A challenging experience for a creative artist: a lack of privacy and quiet within which to create. All composition, analysis, experimentation, evolution, frustration, elation, and repetition occurring within direct eyeshot and earshot of a housemate, and always accompanied by the roar of traffic and the chatter of passersby.

I’ve answered this challenge by pressing pause on myself, my creative flow held back and pooling inside as I’ve grown more and more hungry for time alone, crisp air, and trees nearby.

Ancient Kabbalists wrote about our often unrecognized need for hitbodedut—’holy aloneness’. We live our days surrounded by other people and the bustle of commerce, our time given to practical tasks. Our spiritual need becomes easily neglected. To answer this need, Rabbis suggested retiring into nature at dusk, after our day’s work. There, alone, we can approach God, unhampered by inhibition or obligation. Our prayer can be intimate, spontaneous, and uncensored. It can be raw. We can catch the divine flow, the source of creative inspiration. We can perceive our potential—press play, roll tape, and jam.



There’s a scientific analogue here. Did you know that at quantum scales our universe behaves differently when it’s observed than when it’s left alone? When observed, subatomic entities act like classical particles, tightly packed balls of energy moving discretely from place to place. But between measurements, unobserved, quanta leave evidence of behaving more like waves. Particles loosen, smearing out into streams of potential energy. The streams stretch out infinitely across our universe.

Only when they’re left alone do subatomic particles relax and express their full potential, languid and boundless. Apparently, even our physical universe needs hitbodedut.

I’m well overdue for some.

A creative person spits out their internal experience as art. This blog post is a hard-won work: a confession, and a cry for help. Something’s gotta give.

Can you relate?

Comments welcome.

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23 May

Thin Places

In Essays by poeticinterconnections / May 23, 2010 / 13 Comments

Last week I was touring the East Coast playing music—my career when I’m not writing Poetic Interconnections. One of my shows was at a church in Dover, DE. The chapel was beautiful: stained glass, vaulted ceilings, dark wood pews. And the acoustics in the space were ideal; the natural reverb was lush and gorgeous.

Down the center aisle was a Steinway full grand piano, perfectly tuned and balanced. I sat and played an hour before my gig, reveling in the vibrations, resonant and lovely. During my set, I sang Leonard Cohen’s "Hallelujah" in that ambient sanctuary and I literally felt God. It may have been my most sublime artistic moment.




Since that evening, I’ve been thinking a lot about sacred spaces. Churches, temples, and shrines all seem to have the same effect on me: as soon as I step inside I feel reverent, humble, and inspired.

What is it about these places that moves me this way? What residue lingers in the air after years of prayer and devotion, hallowing a physical space, making it what Celtic Christians used to call a "thin place," an area where the barrier between the secular and sacred becomes permeable?

What makes a place tangibly holy, and could there even be a scientific explanation for it?

Turns out, there may be.

Some quantum physicists believe we move in a field of subtle energy, much like fish swim in water. This energy sea underlies our physical universe; it’s so fundamental we can only perceive it indirectly. The implications are intriguing… Imagine a ship on the ocean; it leaves waves behind as it travels. For as long as these waves churn before they dissipate, the surface of the sea becomes a recording of the ship’s presence and motion. Analyzing the wave patterns we can tell where the ship was, what direction it was moving, and possibly even how massive it is.

The energy sea in which we live is like an ocean, except unlike water, physicists theorize it’s superfluid. This means it’s a medium with no viscosity, no friction, so waves moving within it never dissipate! The field of energy in which we live may thus be a permanent recording of universal events. The cosmos may literally have a memory.

So what does this have to do with thin places? Like any activity, religious ritual surely makes waves in the energy field underlying a sacred sight. Maybe years of repeated reverence cause more and more waves to layer and interweave into a thick tapestry of spiritually-inspired quantum energy. And maybe this energy, when repitition makes it grow sufficiently dense, becomes physically perceivable, if only subtly.

If this is true, I wonder if repeated events in any location cause it to become full with energetic memories. Perhaps thin places don’t have to be only spiritual. They could also be secular: childhood bedrooms, beloved gardens, concert stages, etc.

Do you have a thin place—somewhere you feel timeless, connected to powers greater than yourself?

Comments welcome.

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20 Mar

From Zero to Infinity

In News by poeticinterconnections / March 20, 2010 / 30 Comments

Last week I was honored and thrilled to introduce my Spirituality, Science, and the Creative Process students to two stellar visual artists from Los Angeles, CA: Victor Raphael and Clayton Spada.

Generously donating their time, Victor and Clayton came to class to show and discuss their ongoing collaborative series, "From Zero to Infinity". All these artworks juxtapose spiritual and scientific images in a beautiful, resonant way. To me, they’re poetic interconnections rendered visually.

I’m an unabashed fan.

My students were also excited by the series, encouraging me to introduce you to "From Zero to Infinity". Here are a few of the artworks:



This piece is called Genesis. The scripture is from the first chapter of the Torah, detailing God’s creation of the physical world. The lines and swirls interlaced with the Hebrew text are bubble chamber tracks: images of elementary particles being created in high-speed collisions. To me, the artwork is a meditation on creation at its most fundamental, unitive level.



This piece is called Odyssey. It layers images of ancient cave paintings with equations handwritten by Albert Einstein, commenting on the evolving ways humans have communicated their conceptions about the nature of their world throughout the ages.



Finally, this piece is called Emanations. It features the Japanese Goddess Quanwon, whose energy field is thought to bring health and happiness to her worshippers. Juxtaposed is an artistic depiction of the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation—the sea of energy pervading our universe, left over from the Big Bang.

"From Zero to Infinity" was on display at USC’s Doheny Memorial Library this past fall. To see more prints from the series, please visit Victor’s website and/or the USC Libraries webpage for the exhibit.

And if these artworks enchant you as they’ve enchanted me, please spread the word about them! Forward this blog post to anyone you know who might be equally captivated.

My sincere thanks to Victor Raphael and Clayton Spada for their time, their art, and their vision.

Comments, of course, welcome…

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29 Jun

Religion, Science, and Education

In Essays by poeticinterconnections / June 29, 2009 / 8 Comments

Yesterday I graduated the Master of Arts in Education program at Antioch University Los Angeles! This personal milestone has put me in an excited and reflective state of mind. And so today, rather than detailing a specific poetic interconnection between spirituality and science, I’m feeling inspired to renew the overall mission statement of this blog, and my ongoing research in religion, science, and education.

This post is a credo!

The world’s religions have been at odds for centuries, with violent and tragic results. And since the Scientific Revolution in the 16th century, religion and science have also been unable to stop fighting. The reason for these conflicts is that our religious sects, and religion and science, have traditionally offered very different answers to the deepest questions people face: Where did we come from? Who are we? Why are we here?

These questions are philosophical, but should not be dismissed as abstract. Guiding philosophies lead directly to actions. Our metaphysics informs our ethics.

In his wonderful book Religion and Science: Historical and Contemporary Issues, groundbreaking religion/science scholar Ian Barbour defines metaphysics as “philosophical analysis of the most general characteristics and components of reality…” At this point in human history, we undertake such analysis of our foundations using religion and science as our main tools. Sadly, in my opinion, both have become misused and misinterpreted in-and-of themselves. Traditional religious dogma convinces us our deepest questions all have answers, promoting absolutism over inquiry, hubris over humility. Worst case result: we kill in the name of our chosen deity. The scientific materialism of classical physics reduced us to assemblages of mindless particles moving in empty space—purposeless, lacking agency and soul. Emphasizing technology over wisdom, we penetrated the atom and used what we learned to build nuclear bombs.

But inside these tragic problems lies their solution: there are less traditional forms of religion and new developments in science that answer our most vital metaphysical questions in ways that sound similar, finally allowing for the possibility of an integrative and constructive worldview in which we can all share, peacefully. These untraditional forms of religion are the mysticisms this blog continually describes and celebrates: Vedanta Hinduism, Mahayana Buddhism, Taoism, Kabbalah, Islamic Sufism, and Christian mysticism. The new developments in science are Einstein’s relativity theories, quantum theory, chaos theory, systems theory, and evolutionary biology.

The perennial philosophy of mystical spirituality and the worldview emerging from discoveries in modern science both describe a reality characterized by holism, interdependent relationship, and emergent creativity. This sort of reality should inspire awe and humility, compassion and charity, and playfulness and artistry.

As a thinker, writer and educator, I encourage all these orientations! I find them all to be expansive. Thus expanded, we all tend to kindness.

I also prioritize synthesis: both/and, higher level thinking. Other academics have championed religious tolerance, and tolerance between religion and science. While admirable, these efforts haven’t eased the perception that these two worldviews are fundamentally dissimilar—thesis and antithesis. My mission is actual resolution of the dialectic: I want to lead my readers and students in identifying principles common to religion and science, and interweaving them into a new unified and useful philosophical tapestry.

To repeat an analogy previously used in this blog: Only from the mountaintop can we clearly see how all paths upward actually converge on the same peak.

My goal is to illumine that summit—and to share the beauty, joy, and enchantment I experience seeing it all lit up!

Thank you, as always, for joining me along the way.

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19 May

Yin Yang Jung

In Essays by poeticinterconnections / May 19, 2009 / 4 Comments

Today’s poetic interconnection between spirituality and science is inspired by the Chinese Tai Chi symbol:


Tai Chi


This classic Taoist emblem illustrates the dynamic relationship between yin and yang. Fundamental metaphysical compliments, these archetypes of passivity and activity, rest and energy, constantly flow into and back out of one another. And even when either one is dominating, a spot of the other remains—right in the middle.

Together, yin and yang characterize the fundamental tao: the full circle, ever in fluid motion.

Carl Jung was a pioneering psychologist who believed that the human personality was characterized by two similar elements: anima and animus. Anima is the feminine, connective and passive element of the psyche, and animus is the masculine, discriminative and active element. Jung taught that men’s psyches are balanced and “compensated” by their anima, and women’s by their animus. He further theorized that neither anima nor animus are directly perceivable on their own—only in interaction with a member of the opposite sex does a person’s corresponding gender archetype activate, coming clearly into view.

Jung thought anima and animus to be timeless expressions of the collective unconscious—the part of the psyche that transcends personal identity. He believed dream symbols, myths and other common human characteristics and patterns come from this shared field of consciousness.

Anima and animus seem to me to be smoothly analogous with yin and yang. And Jung’s collective unconscious can be likened to the fundamental tao.

Let’s re-imagine the Tai Chi symbol, then, as an emblem depicting the human psyche—anima and animus swirling and interpenetrating, the full circle symbolizing the complete self in dynamic balance!

Neils Bohr, a primary architect of quantum theory, similarly re-imagined the Tai Chi in his Danish coat-of-arms, using it to represent another totality characterized by interdependent opposites: the quantum. Bohr’s principle of complementarity asserts that all quantum phenomena require two simultaneous types of description—one appropriate to waves, and one appropriate to particles. He developed this principle after experiments revealed that quanta display characteristics of both, which is an ongoing mystery, as waves and particles were previously thought to be mutually exclusive modes of matter.

Waves passively intermix when they encounter one another, making them analogous to yin and anima. Particles actively bounce off one another when they meet, or they break up into smaller particles. Either way, they remain discrete, like yang and animus.

Contemporary physicists theorize that all quanta spring from and share in a foundational field of physical energy known as the Zero Point Field. This field can be visualized either as a dense tapestry of interweaving waves, or a boiling body of water from which particles bubble up.

The quantum ZPF is thus another wholeness with dual characteristics—like the tao, like Jung’s collective unconscious.

And so I’m led to ask these questions: Is science only recently discovering a fundamental reality that mystics and philosophers have intuited and experienced for millennia? Is physics confirming metaphysics?! And if so, should that strengthen our trust in less empirical ways of interpreting the world?

Comments welcome.

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20 Apr


In Essays by poeticinterconnections / April 20, 2009 / 1 Comment

Today’s poetic interconnection between spirituality and science is inspired by a bold book called The Trouble With Physics. Written by Lee Smolin, one of my favorite contemporary physicists, the text argues against the popularity of string theory. After years of focus and funding, the cutting-edge theory has yet to actually be made physically testable. And since good science requires experimental trial and verdict, the question inevitably comes: Is string theory science at all, or just wishful thinking?

Discussing the almost religious faith the theory has inspired in the scientific community, Smolin explains that its big temptation is its claim of unification. String theorists believe they’ve discovered a Theory of Everything—a mathematical and conceptual framework that fully explains our physical foundations, incorporating all the previously irreconcilable masses and forces in the universe.

A true TOE could be the sublime end of theoretical physics. A messianic age for science! Good stuff.

Smolin writes:

The most cherished goal in physics… is unification. To bring together two things previously understood as different and recognize them as aspects of a single entity—when we can do it—is the biggest thrill in science.

This blog, of course, is dedicated to uniting seemingly dissimilar ideas and discoveries. And unexpectedly, this now stated goal of science turns out to also be the same as that of spirituality! All the world’s religious mysticisms teach us that the multiplicity of creation is an illusion: All the varied things we see are just passing, playful expressions of a singularity we call God. We’re called to recognize this reality, and live accordingly.

What Smolin calls unification, mystics call gnosis. What he refers to as a thrill, mystics call the sublime bliss of enlightenment.

Religion may inspire more poetic language, but the ideas are essentially the same: Both spirit and science seek the purity and simplicity of wholeness. It appeals to both our emotions and intellects in a primal and mysterious way, bespeaking truth. And the realization that we’re all entangled aspects of one totality leads to ethics of connection and compassion that can be world-changing!

Does it matter whether that realization comes by way of revelation or experimentation, intuition or cognition?

Ancient Kabbalists used the Hebrew word yehudim to describe the spiritual exercises and prayers used to reconcile self with God. The term translates literally into English as… unifications.

The synchronicity thrills me, and it leads me to ask: Are spirituality and science just neighboring paths up the same unitive mountain?

It must be a lovely view from the top.

Comments, as always, welcome.

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13 Dec

The Revised Gospel of NET

In Essays by poeticinterconnections / December 13, 2008 / 2 Comments

Religious scholars believe our scriptures are mostly compilations. To historical experts, sacred texts reveal signs of revision, editing and translation. For me, nothing about this possibility makes our holy books less beautiful or valuable. I like the idea of God-inspired people co-creating our wisdom traditions. It feels communal.

This week, I was blessed with a bit of co-creation! My last blog post, The Gospel of Nonequilibrium Thermodynamics, was based on a book called Into the Cool: Energy Flow, Thermodynamics and Life. One of the book’s authors, Dorion Sagan, was kind enough to leave a comment about the post, and in his comment he made a notable correction to what I’d written.

I’d said that perhaps life on Earth evolved to reduce a temperature gradient (difference) between the hot sun and cold space. Mr. Sagan explained that the reduction of any temperature gradient was a secondary issue, and that the primary gradient life on Earth reduces is between the “high quality” electromagnetic energy of the sun and “low quality” energy of space. He referred to the sun’s energy as “quantum packets”, referencing quantum physics’ discovery that light travels in discrete energetic bundles.

We facilitate a balancing between star-quality energy and dark, cool space. The poetry in it knocks me out.

And here comes today’s spirituality/science interconnection: All world mysticisms believe human beings to be a conduit between divine and physical realms. Kabbalah teaches that the purpose of human life is Tikkun Olam—’repairing the world’. In an earlier blog post called Kabbalah and Einstein, I explained Isaac Luria’s teaching that material creation is thought to be infused with sparks of divine light, fallen from their divine source and needing to be raised and redeemed.

So now, putting it all together, I wonder… Are Kabbalah’s holy sparks analogous to quantum packets of solar energy? In reducing the sun/space gradient, are we all actually working toward Tikkun Olam?

This post is to thank Dorion Sagan for his feedback.

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