Monday, November 12, 2007

Total Responsibility II – New Highs

My next significant step towards belief in total responsibility occurred in my late teens when I was first introduced to the ideas of personal enlightenment and quantum mechanics. Quantum theory is naturally attractive to people interested in exploring mind-blowing ideas. For any such person, if the question of how matter can be both a particle and a wave doesn’t get your head spinning, what will?

In the early days of my ongoing interest in quantum mechanics, I also developed a deep fascination with the Zen koan: “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” The familiar lightheadedness that I felt whenever I pondered this question led me to look more deeply into Zen which in turn inclined me to learn about Buddhism in general.

In Buddhism there is a concept of Nirvana that is often interpreted by us non-Buddhists as a distinct spiritual domain that is analogous to heaven in most Abrahamic traditions. But as a result of my contemplations of quantum mechanics, my immediate inclination was to view Nirvana as the supremely enlightened state of being from which this world is perceived to be in perfect harmony.

The critical idea that led me to this interpretation was the quantum theory that the method by which we observe something shapes what we see. In quantum mechanics this is generally referring to the premise that the nature of the experiments by which scientists observe a quantum phenomenon determines what will be seen (e.g., the Double Slit Experiment).

I extended this idea of quantum subjectivity to an even more abstract level by noting that how we observe our surroundings is ultimately constrained on our uniqueness (i.e., how we can observe it). For instance, the uniqueness of dogs limits them to perceiving the world mostly in terms of smells and sounds, while our human uniqueness makes us primarily sight and sound observers. As such dogs cannot see certain things that we can and we cannot smell certain things that they can though these things all exist in the world we share. We are all looking at the same reality but we perceive it differently because we are unique beings. This idea of universal subjectivity led me to conclude that how we look at reality is shaped by what we are and shapes what we see.

Taking this idea to the extreme, I posited that the selflessness that characterizes the various supremely enlightened beings that have walked the Earth (back then I tended to use the Buddha as my template for such a being) made them able to see this world as being in perfect harmony, i.e., Nirvana. This perfect harmony is based on their ability to see connections where the rest of us only see separations. I concluded that perfect harmony represents the objective view of the world and all disharmonious perceptions are subjective. This meant that my uniqueness-based lack of enlightenment was why I saw (and continue to see) such a disharmonious world.

Though at that point, I had largely turned away from Catholicism (and theism in general) this insight eventually took me back to my initial mind-expanding question of “Why did God bother?” In the context of the idea that what we see reflects what we are, the answer to this question became obvious. From the perfectly selfless, absolute perspective everything is still in perfect harmony; it is my uniqueness shaping my self-centered, relative perspective that causes me to see things otherwise. God had nothing to do with it. (In a future post I will explain why I do not see the Supreme Being as having any more to do with the creation of my uniqueness than the system of all numbers has to do with the creation of the value π.)

If everything is in perfect harmony from the absolute perspective, the observer of this perspective does not see the disharmonies that distinguish my world. As such, the observer of the absolute perspective is not responsible for the state of the world as I perceive it, in which these disharmonies manifest. Since my perception of this world is shaped solely by my uniqueness, I am totally responsible for what I see as its current disharmonious condition.

2 comments:

vivzan said...

This is great stuff. You rock for including Dr. Quantum. I too became interested in quantum mechanics in my late teens/early twenties. I turned to it as a way of trying to understand my existence, my place in the universe. I remember hitting on the concept of universal subjectivity then, right around the time I had my mystical experience.

Rational Answers said...

Thank you, Vivzan. Your comments are very much appreciated.

I just finished reading a book called Quantum Enigma: Physics Encounters Consciousness that offers an interesting interpretation of quantum/consciousness interactions without "going mystical".

I look forward to hearing more about your mystical experience.

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