chris jordan’s hope, or rather, his lack of hope
Chris Jordan says, ‘I’m not big on hope now. Joanna Macy has said that hope and hopelessness live on a continuum of disempowered mind states. When there is hope, we’re hoping something outside our own agency will work in our favor…. That’s the genius of Dante’s Inferno. As Dante walks into the fire, the gates say, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.” The idea is to let go of the passive victim role of hope and take control of one’s own destiny. As a culture, we have our compass set to “hope.” But it’s a giant puff of smoke, with nothing there. Culturally, I think we need to calibrate away from that disempowered concept of hope and recalibrate toward love. If we could collectively reconnect with our reverent love for the incomprehensibly beautiful miracle of our world, all kinds of change could happen fast — and just in the nick of time.’
Jordan takes action to make images we can feel and understand. He said that ‘in order to feel what is going on, we have to comprehend it.’ What do we do with our feelings, such as fear or grief? ‘I came to discover that grief is not sadness. Grief is love. Grief is a felt experience of love for something lost or that we are losing. That is an incredibly powerful doorway. I think we all carry that abiding ocean of love for the miracle of our world. And if, on a collective level, we could grieve together and rediscover that deeper part of our collective psyche, then healing the symptoms of that disconnect could happen much faster than we imagine.’
When asked by Lisa Bennett, the Center for Ecoliteracy‘s Director of Communications and coauthor of Ecoliterate: How Educators Are Cultivating Emotional, Social, and Ecological Intelligence, what he thought might overcome the fear of ‘opening up to the seriousness of the ecological crises we now face,’ Jordan said, ‘One powerful elixir is beauty. There is nothing quite like beauty. When you bring beauty and grief together, you can’t look at it, because it’s so sad — and you can’t look away, because it’s so beautiful. It’s a moment of being transfixed, and the key is turned in the lock.’ But he no longer hopes for someone else to turn the key. Rather, he takes action. ‘Joanna [Macy] says the opposite of hope is not hopelessness; it’s action.’ This former lawyer now takes action, he takes photographs and brings beauty and grief together. (Chris Jordan’s film Midway: Message from the Gyre is scheduled to première in late 2013. View the trailer.)
eternal or ephemeral?
I knew a glassblower. At one time I was his punty boy (his assistant). Blown glass, he said, lasts a long time, maybe eternity. We still have glass blown by Romans. But now he’s a printmaker. Paper, even acid-free rag paper, is damage by things like floods and flame. Prints are more ephemeral. However, ‘maybe eternity’s over-rated’, he said. Mmmmm…
Tonight [2013-08-01] we watched three docs in a row: David Suzuki’s Andean Adventure, Da Vinci: The Lost Treasure, and The Quantum Tamers. In a way, in contrasting Bolivia with Ecuador, David Suzuki’s Andean Adventure captures the nub of the question: how do we achieve social wellness? Do we mine the ‘resources’ and embrace 21st century technology like Bolivia’s pursuit of lithium batteries, or do we leave the ‘resources’ (in this case, oil) in the ground and enshrine the rights of nature as in Ecuador’s constitution? Can either strategy lead to social wellness? Five hundred years ago, was Da Vinci, the embodiment of the individual’s curiosity, concerned with social wellness? Are the bulk of quantum scientists today concerned with social wellness? Is anyone truly with concerned with social wellness, or does curiosity trump concern, or must the two–curiosity and concern–go hand in hand? Maybe quantum theory’s inclusivity offers an understanding different from the classical duality of either-or.
In these presentations and others, such as those by David Attenborough, and physicist and 2012 Massey Lecturer Neil Turok, it is evident that we are curious about both the technological world and the natural world. Also, we cannot live without either. What roles they’ll play–we all will play–is uncertain. As someone said near the end of The Quantum Tamers reflecting on the 20th century, who could have predicted the transistor, the laser, the future?
Our understanding of the world is fundamentally changing. In the doc The Quantum Tamers, Boychuk Zurich said, ‘In classical physics, we are used to the universe which is independent of us knowing about it or not. This is no longer the case in quantum mechanics, where looking at something, making an observation of it, changes how it behaves.’ But does quantum reality inform our macroscopic reality? For example, if we are no longer independent of the universe when we look at it through telescopes at the quantum level, is our macroscopic view of the universe false or incomplete or illusory? We already use quantum technology spin-offs–lasers, transistors, and we’re poised to build a quantum computer that will handle, among other things, quantum information. We are discovering that nature uses quanta in such things as the sense of smell (quantum tunneling) and photosynthesis. The more we understand, the more there is to know.
Joseph Emerson, at the University of Waterloo’s Institute for Quantum Computing, says that ‘quantum mechanics is always true, and that the world we see, the classical world, is a very special case that’s described within quantum mechanics.’ The quantum effects of our billiard ball-like classical world are too small too be noticed by our clumsy instruments, such as telescopes, but as we refine, as we strive, as we seek to understand further and do more, like Leonardo Da Vinci, we enter quantum reality, where we are no longer independent observers, where everything depends on us looking or not.
the million dollar question
‘So the million dollar question is, What’s going on when we’re not looking? What’s reality really like?’ wonders Emerson and surely many others. The most common point of view in quantum mechanics, called superposition, is that everything is going on, everything is real (until we measure it, or even look at it, that is)–true and false, left and right, zero and one, to be and not to be. This is stated by Zurich, who said that ‘quantum objects behave as if they can be and as if they can do several things at the same time (and he quoted Yogi Berra [imagined here, on the right, with Zurich]: ‘When you come to a fork in the road [signifying left and right], take it.’).
Superposition is most famously illustrated by the gedanken (thought experiment) called Schrödinger’s Cat (1935) and amusingly portrayed in the doc (amusing if you don’t dwell on the death and cyanide, which foreshadow the Holocaust). Superposition says that, until someone looks, the cat is both dead and alive. However, Schrödinger himself didn’t buy superposition (he was trying to show it could lead to ‘a ridiculous situation’). Nevertheless, Emerson says, in quantum mechanics, the results are the same, even if the interpretation of those results is open to debate. So, superposition is real, we’re just not sure why.
And there was/is/will be a lot of debate, especially between Bohr and Einstein. Bohr said quantum theory is final and describes reality fully. Einstein said quantum theory is incomplete and thus not a comprehensive description of reality. Bohr and Einstein disagreed on the interpretation, but not the results. ‘Quantum theory is a set of rules. We know how to follow those rules, even though we don’t know how to make sense of them.’ Superposition leads some people to the Many Worlds Interpretation (though some of its detractors have called it the Many Words Interpretation). In some worlds the cat died, in others it lived. I suppose that in some worlds the Holocaust did not happen, but that is no consolation in this one.
spooky action at a distance
Quantum theory has a weirdness that Einstein called ‘spooky action at a distance‘, also known as quantum entanglement. Einstein thought it was absurd. He, Boris Podolsky, and Nathan Rosen (EPR) devised a thought experiment (pictured). However, it turns out that spooky action at a distance does occur, which John Bell showed experimentally in 1964. This has been verified since then, especially by Alain Aspect in 1982.
We know how to do the experiment, but why–the interpretation (pictured is the ASL sign for interpretation)–says more about the experimenter than the experiment. From Wikipedia (2013-08-03): ‘Since the early twentieth century, quantum theory has proved to be successful in describing accurately the physical reality of the mesoscopic and microscopic world, in multiple reproducible physics experiments…. Philosophical interpretations of quantum phenomena, however, are another matter: the question of how to interpret the mathematical formulation of quantum mechanics has given rise to a variety of different answers from people of different philosophical persuasions.’ Emerson, who prefers the pilot wave theory to quantum entanglement, says, ‘It’s really a matter of taste which one you pursue, which one you believe.’
next? to build a quantum computer to increase security
Emerson adds, ‘Now, it’s my belief and the belief of many others, … that actually these different points of view might give some hints about where to go next in theory building, where to go next to understand how to unify quantum mechanics and gravity for example. ‘ Theory leads to application. One of the first applications of quantum theory is to build a quantum computer. We know how to do it, but it’s tricky. ‘In particular quantum superposition is very fragile,’ says Emerson, ‘so you have to do a very good job of protecting you system from any unwanted observations or interactions.’ And in turn, we would use quantum computers for financial security. Or faster video games.
life and quantum mechanics
Seth Lloyd is very funny and very smart. Based at MIT, he gave a lecture at the Perimeter Institute on ‘how organisms have evolved to make use of quantum effects.’ He is not a biologist. He’s a quantum mechanic. But by learning from nature, he will one day build a quantum computer. By the way, he dislikes Powerpoint, saying, ‘If life came in bullets, it would be over now’, which I guess is an analogy for the distinction between bit and qubit. Hang on, there’s more. ‘Living things, dead things, everythings,’ Lloyd says, ‘is quantum mechanical. But until very recently’ it was thought that biological systems were too large to exhibit quantum behaviour. However, we’re discovering quantum behaviour plays a role, sometimes a huge role, in living systems such as:
- photosynthesis (pictured)
- bird migration (or quantum bird brains)
- smell (or I smell a quantum)
- and probably more.
Basically, Lloyd says, you use quantum mechanics to have more sex, or at least to have more offspring, a behaviour he calls quantum hanky-panky. I first encountered Lloyd in a book he wrote in 2006 called Programming the Universe, on quantum information theory (‘the idea that the behavior of the universe can be understood by treating events in the universe,’ wrote Andrew Zimmerman Jones in a review of the book, ‘as pieces of information which are processed through the quantum laws of nature, in the way similar to how computers process information’) and on which he gave a lecture (2006-04-19) at the Perimeter Institute.
This last bit has nothing to do with quantum mechanics, and everything to do with my dream. The important thing is that I remembered my dream. These days I usually don’t. Another important thing is that it had something to do with tree people (meaning people in trees, but when I found this image I couldn’t resist). Oh, and I spoke without a speech impediment. I walked without an aid. I wasn’t visibly or audibly disabled at all. It was summer in a northern California country-like setting, the beginning of weekend series of workshops and guided meditations that I had helped organize. There were about a hundred people to whom I made the opening speech. I spoke impromptu yet fluently. (Afterall, it was my dream.) I said something like we’re here, in these seats, but out there are the tree people–the people in the trees on the edge of here–watching the show (somehow this retreat of about a hundred had become a show for thousands), they’re here too.
hot august night
I said I got the idea for tree people from listening to Neil Diamond’s Hot August Night forty years ago. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a chair or in a tree, we’re all together in this one. Then we broke for snack or breakfast, but I had forgotten my wallet, nor did I have a cell phone to call home for it. I woke up and realized that I was home, in bed, and, though in reality I couldn’t say those things so clearly, that I could write them down.