Intersections



So today I clicked through from 3Quarks Daily to an article from Seed Magazine on some recent experiments in quantum mechanics. Apparently, there are some researchers and theorists who do not agree with the accepted notion of quantum reality -- one which requires Heisenberg's uncertainty principle and accepts as a foundational notion the belief that we create through observation -- Joshua Roebke describes the implications of Heisenberg's discovery better than I can:

Pairs of specific quantities are incompatible observables; momentum and position, energy and time, and other measurable pairs cannot be known together with absolute accuracy. Measuring one restricts knowledge of the other. With this quantum mechanics had become a full theory. But what physicists ended up with was a world divided. There was an inherent distinction between atoms unseen and their collective motion we witness with our eyes—the quantum versus the classical.

If I have an accurate grasp of the situation, the researchers interviewed in this article (from the wonderfully acronymed IQOQI) are trying to re-describe quantum reality so that it does not contradict 'experiential' reality.

In one of those great coincidences of my reading life, I found a similar passage in my continuing work on Axel's Castle -- the passage relies heavily on Whitehead's language of process philosophy and comes from Wilson's section on Proust [a section which, incidentally, proved to me that making one's way through the Recherche is just the tip of the iceberg -- more on that later].

He's describing this 'new conviction' of Proust's -- that which permeates his whole book -- "the conviction that it is impossible to know, impossible to master, the external world."

Proust has created in this respect a sort of equivalent in fiction for the metaphysics which certain philosophers have based on the new physical theory. Proust had been deeply influenced by Bergson, one of the forerunners of the modern anti-mechanists, and this had helped him to develop and apply on an unprecedented scale the metaphysics implicit in Symbolism. I have already suggested in the first chapter of this book that the defense of such a philosopher as Whitehead of the metaphysics of the Romantics should apply -- and it should apply a fortiori -- to the metaphysics of the Symbolists.

For modern physics, all our observations of what goes on in the universe are relative: they depend upon where we are standing when we make them, how fast and in what direction we are moving -- and for the Symbolist, all that is perceived in any moment of human experience is relative to the person who perceives it, and to the surroundings, the moment, the mood. The world becomes thus for both fourth dimensional -- with Time as the fourth dimension. The relativist, in locating a point, not only finds its co-ordinates in space, but also takes the time; and the ultimate units of his reality are 'events,' each of which is unique and can never occur again -- in the flux of the universe, they can only form similar patterns.

And in Proust's world, just as the alleys of the Bois de Boulogne which the hero had seen in his youth under the influence of the beauty of Odette have now changed into something quite different and are as irrecoverable as the moments of time in which they had their only existence -- just as his people, in spite of the logic of the processes by which they change, are always changing and will finally fade away, disintegrated by illness or old age; so love, of which we hope so much, changes and fails us, and so society, which at first seems so stable, in a few years has recombined its groups and merged and transformed its classes. And, as in the universe of Whitehead, the 'events,' which may be taken arbitrarily as infinitely small or infinitely comprehensive, make up an organic structure, in which all are interdependent, each involving every other and the whole; so Proust's book is a gigantic dense mesh of complicated relations: cross-references between different groups of characters and a multiplication of metaphors and similes connecting the phenomena of infinitely varied fields -- biological, zoological, physical, aesthetic, social, political and financial.