Every so often, an inspirational speaker is truly inspiring

Forty years ago, I missed Jean Houston the first time around; but at 82, she’s still at the top of her game.

Space is collapsing, time is warping. The breadth and complexity of our experience as individuals is ten or even a hundred times greater than our ancestors of just a century ago. Today, we are being invited to become worthy of the challenges and opportunities that present themselves. We are asked to recreate ourselves, so that we can respond with creativity, courage, heartfulness, and deep insight and intelligence, to a world that accelerates beyond anything humanity has known before…A thousand years from now, in the fourth milennium, people will look back at us with words to the effect, “Well done, you ancient ones! You gave us our hope, our lives, out history—well done!”


Frontiers of Physics: the Forest and the Trees

When we think of the frontiers in quantum physics, the examples that come to mind are the Higgs boson and the quest to populate the particle zoo at the limit of very rare, very heavy, very short-lived particles.

But theres another physics frontier, one that is hardly recognized and doesn’t yet attract the press attention or the best minds in physics. Nevertheless, I predict that the next breakthrough in fundamental physics will be in the area of bulk quantum phenomena and not in the physics of single particles.  

The very idea of an independent particle is a limiting ideal in quantum physics. Physicists are comfortable talking about “the wave function of an electron”, but if you press them, they know quite well that this is an approximate way of speaking. Strictly speaking, there is no “wave function of a particle” but always the “wave function of a configuration.” In other words, those probability amplitudes that you hear so much about don’t apply to the probability of an electron being in a particular place at a particular time, but rather to the condition of an entire system. Quantum mechanics is essentially relational.

Why do we hear so little of this? Why are all the cutting edge quantum experiments based on properties of single particles? It’s because the calculations for multiple particles are so complicated that we don’t know how to do them! In classical mechanics, we know how to calculate multiple particle systems, but not in quantum mechanics. In classical physics, calculating three particles is six times as hard as calculating one particle. That’s because there are six pairs of particles, each with their own interaction. But in quantum mechanics, calculating three particles is a billion billion times harder than calculating a single particle. That’s because the space of all possible configurations is a 3*3*3 dimensional space. A 27-dimensional space is just as hard to work in as it sounds. it’s far too complex for even the most powerful computer we have today.

Hence, if we want to compare quantum calculations to experiments, we have to choose a system for which we know how to do the quantum calculation, and that can only be an isolated particle. We’re doing the experiments with isolated particles for the same reason the drunk is looking for his keys under the lamppost.  

We have adopted the approximation of single-particle wave functions because that’s all we know how to compute. Exact quantum computation of a system as simple as a 6-electron carbon atom is far beyond our reach. Hence the physical basis of chemistry and solid state physics is semi-empirical approximation. In other words, we write down a theoretical model, compare the results to observation, and adjust parameters of the model to give us the best fit. All such models depend on the approximation of independent particles, which makes the computations tractable, but also assumes away the massively entangled multi-particle states where interesting new physics may be lurking. 

What Im talking about is exactly what is commonly called “entanglement”. But everything you read about entanglement deals with the simplest case of two entangled particles. In real life, every object that we hold in our hands contains a billion billion billion entangled particles. We need a new way to think about this.

It’s not known whether we can do better than single-particle approximations. It’s not known whether there are novel multi-particle phenomena waiting to be discovered, because we can’t predict them.  This is a backwater where few physicists are thinking, and the paradigms have not expanded since Linus Pauling.

  • Pollack has documented anomalous properties of water that are almost certainly examples of new bulk quantum effects. 
  • Cold fusion has been observed in hundreds of labs around the world over the last 30 years, and yet most physicists are in denial because we have not opened our mind to the idea that fundamentally new physics could be waiting for us in multi-particle systems.  
  • I am among those who believes that there is a frontier in quantum biology — i.e., that all of life has evolved to use bulk quantum effects in ways that are outside the framework of our present paradigm for the quantum basis of chemistry. 
  • Penrose and Stapp have speculated about novel quantum mechanics in the brain (with two very different models). 
  • I could go on to realms yet more remote…evidence for psi phenomena is compelling and it points us toward an expanded notion of the quantum mechanics of many-particle systems as an entree into understanding of the relationship between mind and matter.

If the best minds in physics are stymied by a paucity of high-energy data to guide high-energy theory, perhaps they would find appropriate challenges that are just as fundamental in a quest to understand multi-particle phenomena that doesn’t depend on single-particle approximations.


Ongoing creation—a Kabbalistic Fable

It seems that the world stands on its own. We assume that that which existed a moment ago will continue existing a moment later. Newton’s First Law is about inertia, after all.

But who proclaimed that just because Newton’s First Law was true yesterday it will still be true tomorrow?  Who, I ask? It was that guy who spells his name with a dash in the middle, as though His very N_me were unspeakable.

In fact it is the Creat_r who is perpetually maintaining the cosmos. In the absence of the steady flow of Divine energy, all would cease to exist, much as the water in the tap would stop flowing if the water pumps lost power. G_d just keeps pumping away, and he does it just for us.  Us meaning you and me and that toadstool that’ appeared on your front lawn after last night’s rain.

Every once in a while, or once a year to be more precise, G_d loses interest in His creation pastime. We were created because G_d desired to be a beneficent king, and consequently we, His subjects, came into being: creatures upon whom G_d could heap His otherwise unused infinite capacity for kindness.

We were supposed to live in wonder and gratitude for this grace, but it turns out that we’re more likely to feel undeserving, reminded of all the stuff we were supposed to do last week but instead we were just lazing about in the Garden. To allay our feelings of unworthiness, G_d invented Capitalism. It’s not a gift but an exchange, an even proposition, G_d assures us. You render your service, He provides the Universe.

So at the onset of every year’s Rosh Hashanah, The Creat_r pretends to lose interest in his Creat_on. He withdraws, becomes sullen and demanding, and if we want the world to go on for another year, we must appease Him. (He isn’t really losing interest, LOL. It’s just a game he’s playing, part of the Master Plan.

If we want the Woild to go on for one more year, we have to get off our ass_s and Git To Woik. Now you know why Hasidim work on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, while the Reform Jews have all gone to take a four-day weekend in the Borscht Belt.

Rosh Hashannah, a Kabbalistic Spin

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Rachel Carson—Today More than Ever

 ‘We look too hastily,’ she lamented. ‘[P]eople everywhere are desperately eager for whatever will lift them out of themselves and allow them to believe in the future.’

If enchantment with ourselves and our artificial creations can alienate us, there is another conception of wonder that can help us transcend our self-centred, even solipsistic impulses. In the 1940s, Rachel Carson began developing an ethic of wonder that stood at the centre of her ecological philosophy.

The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the Universe about us, the less taste we shall have for the destruction of our race. Wonder and humility are wholesome emotions, and they do not exist side by side with a lust for destruction.

For Carson, bearing witness to nature, and responding with joy, excitement and delight at the sight of a ‘sand-coloured, fleet-legged’ ghost crab scurrying across the starlit dunes of a night beach, or to the miniature, multitudinous worlds hidden within tide pools, those slant-rock shallow basins where sponges, sea slugs, and starfish so often reside; or even to the daily affirmation of the sunrise, which anyone – no matter her location or resources – could see, fostered a sense of humility in the face of something larger than oneself.

Jennifer Stitt writes for Aeon Magazine

<p>Nature’s wonder: semipalmated sandpipers on the coast of Maine in October 2018. <em>Photo by Alan Schmierer/Flickr</em></p>

The Secret Path

Whoever has discovered the secret path leading to his divine center is easily identified by the way he negotiates obstacles and inevitable difficulties.  A higher life has begun for him. There are millions of men and women who are unhappy because they have never learned this truth. Let us pray not for wealth or fame, but to have this crushing ignorance of our true nature removed.

There is an ever-open door to the real self of man, which nevertheless must be groped for and felt after within the mysterious recesses of the human spirit. If man would acknowledge his divine possibilities as readily as he acknowledges his animal limitations, the millennium would come quickly.

From The Secret Path, by Paul Brunton

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