“I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.”
-Richard Feynman

In many eastern philosophies, the brain is not the center of the human body, the heart is. The heart is at the center, with all other nodes of perception or cognition radiating out like the spokes of a wheel. In our society today, the brain is firmly in the central position with conceptual capacity being rewarded, psychologically and financially; so much so that the possibility of locating a center other than the brain is quite difficult. At first we may wonder why would the heart need to be in this position? And how? In the heart lie our moral compass, the intelligence of intuition, and our inherent capacity for compassion. The fruits of our cognitive abilities are wondrous and powerful indeed, but without a firm basis in compassion, we cannot implement the wisdom to know the proper means to employ these tools. There are many examples of this situation, when technology has apparently overtaken our better judgment: perhaps the best example being the fact that nuclear weapons exist on this planet in the first place. Our abilities to synthesize and manufacture complex chemicals to perform a myriad of tasks and releasing them into the ecosphere without proper testing of the consequences on human and other life being one of many other examples. And soon, we may be confronted with artificial intelligence. We may be able to make an intelligent machine or custom engineer our babies to order, but should we? In many of the ancient traditions it was known that the mind and the heart must work in unison. In the Zen tradition of Buddhism a kōan was the tool used to reconnect with the wisdom of intuition by shutting down the brain with trick questions that make it freeze, momentarily ceasing it’s endless computing and opening up space within. Now cliché, a very well known example of a kōan is “Two hands clap and there is a sound; what is the sound of one hand?” Or “Close your eyes and picture clearly your face; now can you picture your face before you were born?” I have found that many theories in modern physics can successfully function as a contemporary version of the kōan. There is Schrödinger’s cat for example. Imagine a cat placed into a steel chamber with a vial of hydrocyanic acid and a very small amount of radioactive material. If the radioactive material decays it will release a hammer to smash the vial of poison and kill the cat. But in the course of an hour, the radioactive material has equal chance that it will not decay and the cat will live. Since we cannot see the cat, is it dead or alive? Here perhaps it is not so much the question that freezes the mind, as is the answer: the cat is both dead and alive. This thought experiment forces the mind into the paradoxical world of quantum mechanics, where the cat is in a state of superposition and only when the box is opened and we can observe, does the wave function collapse and we see it either dead or alive. Trying to ponder superposition or indeterminacy can push the mind into a convoluted exercise of mental gymnastics, bringing it to the edge of it’s usual functionality. I have found contemplating these concepts and others within contemporary physics to cease, however briefly, the locomotive that is mind, and for a moment stand in awe, quietly staring into the vast silent space.

Schrödinger’s Kōan | 2011 | compassion, eastern philosophy, quantum physics, Schrödinger’s cat, superposition, uncertainty principle, Zen Buddhism | Comments (0)