Archive for category Metaphysics

Electrons and God: Are Either For Real?


Dancin Wu-Li Masters

I’m back into the book “The Evolution of God” by Robert Wright. I found this passage to be particularly interesting as it was my  introduction to Quantum Physics with the book “The Dancing Wu Li Masters” by Gary Zukav that got me first really thinking about the possibility of God.

“It’s a bedrock idea of modern physics that, even if you define “ultimate reality” as the ultimate scientific reality—the most fundamental truths of physics—ultimate reality isn’t something you can clearly conceive. ”

“Think of an electron, a little particle that spins around another little particle. Wrong! True, physicists sometimes find it useful to think of electrons as particles, but sometimes it’s more useful to think of them as waves. Conceiving of them as either is incomplete, yet conceiving of them as both is… well, inconceivable. (Try it!) And electrons are just the tip of the iceberg. In general, the quantum world—the world of subatomic reality—behaves in ways that don’t make sense to minds like ours. Various aspects of quantum physics evince the property that the late physicist Heinz Pagels called quantum weirdness. ”

“The bad news for the religiously inclined, then, is that maybe they should abandon hope of figuring out what God is. (If we can’t conceive of an electron accurately, what are our chances of getting God right?) The good news is that the hopelessness of figuring out exactly what something is doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Apparently some things are just inconceivable—and yet are things nonetheless”

“At least, some physicists believe electrons are things. The fact that nobody’s actually seen an electron, and that trying to imagine one ties our minds in knots, has led some physicists and philosophers of science to wonder whether it’s even accurate to say that electrons do exist. You could say that with electrons, as with God, there are believers and there are skeptics.”

“The believers believe there’s something out there—some “thing” in some sense of the word “thing”—that corresponds to the word “electron”; and that, though the best we can do is conceive of this “thing” imperfectly, even misleadingly, conceiving of it that way makes more sense than not conceiving of it at all. They believe in electrons while professing their inability to really “know” what an electron is. You might say they believe “in electrons even while lacking proof that electrons per se exist.”

“Many of these physicists, while holding that imperfectly conceiving subatomic reality is a valid form of knowledge, wouldn’t approve if you tried to perform a similar maneuver in a theological context. If you said you believe in God, even while acknowledging that you have no clear idea what God is—and that you can’t even really prove God per se exists—they would say your belief has no foundation.”

“Yet what exactly is the difference between the logic of their belief in electrons and the logic of a belief in God? They perceive patterns in the physical world—such as the behavior of electricity—and posit a source of these patterns and call that source the “electron.” A believer in God perceives patterns in the moral world (or, at least, moral patterns in the physical world) and posits a source of these patterns and calls the source “God.” “God” is that unknown thing that is the source of the moral order, the reason there is a moral dimension to life on Earth and a moral direction to time on Earth; “God” is responsible for the fact that life is sentient, capable of good and bad feelings, and hence morally significant; “God” is responsible for the evolutionary system that placed highly sentient life on a trajectory toward the good, or at least toward tests that offered the opportunity and incentive to realize the good; in the process “God” gave each of us a moral axis around which to organize our lives, should we choose to. Being human, we will always conceive of the source of this moral order in misleadingly crude ways, but then again you could say the same thing about conceiving electrons. So you’ll do with the source of the moral order what physicists do with a subatomic source of the physical order, such as an electron—try to think about it the best you can, and fail. This, at least, is one modern, scientifically informed argument that could be deployed by the believer in God.” [Robert Wright, The Evolution of God]

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Can You Smell the Light?


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Ah, the smell of cookies baking in the oven! There’s nothing quite like it.  Along with millions of others during the days leading up to Christmas, our culinary class baked batch after batch of homemade cookies.  Their aroma overflowed the kitchen and into the hallways, making it a challenge to keep the safe for the school’s Holiday Party. Of course by then the cookies would have cooled, no longer the source of such an intoxicating fragrance.  Rule of thumb; the desirability of a cookie is directly proportional to the strength of its smell.

Later that same week the cafeteria manager presented me with an over abundance of fresh basil.  He had ordered only one bunch but was delivered six. Snipped basil is notoriously perishable and, this being the last week of school, presented us with a predicament; what do you do when God hands you too much fresh basil? Why, you make pesto, that’s what.

Some parmesan cheese, a few cloves of garlic, a dash of sea salt along with a couple handfuls of walnuts (pine nuts were not handy) all  tossed into the Robot Coupe with our basil then blended with good olive oil and Presto! – Pesto.  Removing the food pestoprocessor’s lid I was suddenly struck with the over powering pungency of green.  The pesto smelled so green, so grass-like that it immediately conjured up images of summertime – a freshly mown lawn, my hammock swinging in a warm yellow shaft of sunshine, softly singing birds drinking at the bubbling back yard fountain.

 

Christian songwriter Chris Rice sings;

Cause I can sniff, I can see, and I can count up pretty high; but these faculties
aren’t getting me any closer to the sky,
but my heart of faith keeps poundin’ so
I know I’m doin’ fine but sometimes findin
you is just like tryin to smell the color nine.
Smell the color nine…”

Unless we have a condition known as synesthesia we are bound to be frustrated as well when we try to ‘smell the color nine’.  But I think Rice might be looking too closely at the problem, trying to put his senses to ‘logical’ use in order to encounter the sacred.  While it may be difficult to invision God intellectually we may actually open more of ourselves up to him when using our senses synergistically.  

Not long ago I found myself sittin in a dark wooden pew beneath towering white stone arches. In front of me a shining marble altar climbed up towards a large burnished crucifix that was hanging from the ceiling.  This was the century old chapel sanctuary of St. Mark’s Catholic Church outside of Baltimore and I was attending the funeral Mass for my Uncle Jim.  After Holy Communion was shared the priest began to gently wave the brass thurible by its chain, the burning incense inside tossing wreaths of smoke around my uncle’s casket. The smoke writhed slowly heavenward, flickering through narrow shafts of colorfully stained sunlight.  Breathing in deeply, the scent of burning pitch pine instantaneously transported me over 30 years back to when I was an altar boy.  Quickly, a series of brief snapshots of my days as a Catholic youth replayed in my mind; the times I spent  on the altar during Mass, wearing a black cassock and white surplice, nervously ringing the hand-held Sanctus bells. Kneeling with hands clasped tightly, in the pews with friends and family (including my uncle), taking the Communion host on quivering, outstretched tongue.  Pictures that I had not seen in decades, dark and dusty, suddenly brushed off and brightened by the merest whiff of this sacred odour.

thuribleAgain I was reminded of what the Catholic church does so well. They understand that we encounter God in many more ways than just our intellect.  Joyful sensations are not solely reserved for the sense of hearing as when we sing hymns, recite prayers or listen to sermons.  God’s presence abounds through the sounds of small bells and rustling fabrics, bright colors, gleaming sunlight, guttering candles, deep and heavy drapes against hard marble, boisterous song, the soft and familiar  intonations of common prayer as well as the aroma of ancient incense. As a younger, more arrogant man, I wrote off these deeply ingrained practices as the lingering primitive habits of a superstitious and overly ritualistic people.  I now see the beauty of these sacred traditions. They point to God as they proclaim the reality of the supernatural among us, the familiar rituals helping to bridge the divide between our meager comprehension and what lies beyond.  An atmosphere of the sacred permeates these places.

Using all of our senses, often unconsciously, we encounter the tangible presence of God in much the same way that the atmosphere of a fine restaurant enhances the experience of the diner. One need not focus too closely on the mechanics of the environment to enjoy all those sensations that go into creating an atmosphere of  sensual and spiritual delight.

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The Helper


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(High above the Earth)

A lone spectral figure races against the dark backdrop of the heavens, relentlessly scanning the planet. Suddenly up ahead a beam of light shoots up from the depths of Middle America, piercing the clouds and fading into the ionosphere. Instantly accelerating to blinding speed, the ghostly entity dives towards the light’s source, a long, glowing, meteoric tail stretching brightly behind him.

(Meanwhile, somewhere in the American Midwest)

“Call on him! Call on him! That’s all you need to do. He will help us.” The young girl was breathless with excitement.

The boy knelt on the floor, his head bowed, hands clasped together with fingers pointing skyward. His eyes were closed and his lips moved in a fast and urgent whisper.

There suddenly came the sound of a roaring wind, rising louder and louder, like a fast approaching freight train. The window curtains began to wave about crazily and a pile of papers on a nearby desk fluttered around the room like moths in a whirlwind. A blinding white light filled the space and both teenagers threw themselves down on the carpet, hands over their eyes. Instantly in the middle of the room there appeared a man of light, hands on hip, cape swirling about his shoulders. On his chest were written the bright glowing letters; H.G.

The girl peeked up through her fingers. “He’s here! He’s here! He has come to help us!”

(Later, at the dining room table)

“So now you see why we called for you. We need your help” said the girl. “If we don’t pass this exam then we won’t be accepted to Canon College next fall.”

“The temptation to cheat is so strong. Can you please help us!” His eyes wide in panic, desperation filled the boy’s voice.

The figure seated across from the boy and girl was so bright with light that it was impossible to look directly at him, yet no visible features were discernible and he seemed to lack material substance. There was a soft filminess about him, a somewhat translucent quality to his presence, like maybe he was there yet also somehow not there. A low voice emanated from deep within.

“You were right to call on me, kids. With my help you will be able to accomplish your task. Here, take this and keep it someplace safe.” He reached across and placed something in the girl’s hand. “Now that my work here is finished, I must be going.”

“But why can’t you stay with us? When will you be back?” the girl cried.

“I can’t stay; others need my help. But remember; I am always there for people of righteousness. Just call on me and I will come!“ At that moment he rocketed out of his chair and in a rush of blinding light and energy shot through up through the ceiling, leaving behind a swirling mist of shimmering particles.

The room began to settle back to normal. “Holy smokes! He’s gone!” said the boy breathlessly. “What was that he gave you?”

Slowly opening her hand they saw a square of folded paper. Carefully she opened it up and, reading what was on it, she began to smile, tears of joy running down her cheeks. “The answers! He gave us the answers to the exam! Oh, thank you! Thank you!”

They both ran to the window and looking up they saw a blazing comet streaking towards space, and a voice crying “Up, Up and Awaaay!”

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Ghost Story


My wife and daughter share a casual interest in accounts of the supernatural. They love to watch those ghost shows on the cable channels, the ones where the paranormal investigators check out allegedly haunted houses. Although they are not in the least way obsessed with the idea of supernatural contact, they both find it entertaining and have adopted a “who knows?” attitude. As for myself, I am a born skeptic and have little time for these ‘reality’ TV programs.

Last Sunday Bev and I took Dot, our 19 year old daughter, and her best friend Bekah , out to enjoy an afternoon’s drive through the countryside at autumn’s peak. It was a classic fall day, a brisk wind pushing gunmetal clouds across a blue sky. The sunlight had that watery feel to it, softening the bright colors of the leaves. Later in the afternoon we ended up in an old town that is famous for being at the center of a Civil War battle. Dot mentioned that the town was considered a favorite haunt for many ghosts, apparently due to the thousands of violent deaths inflicted in that battle.

Since the weather was so nice and the trees so beautiful we were surprised that only a smattering of restaurants in town were open. Of those few, we chose a busy place on the square. Most of the buildings in town looked quite old yet well maintained, and this one was no exception. There was a 20 minute wait for a table so I took my pager outside and sat on a bench. My wife darted into an antique store to check out their advertised “dental artifacts” while the girls ran to the lady’s room, upstairs in the restaurant.

Ten minutes later the girls burst out through the front door, laughing and giggling. When I asked them what was so funny, Dot held out her phone to me. “Listen” she said.

The traffic noise was loud on the square but I could just make out Dot’s voice saying; “Is there anyone with us today? If you’re here we would like to talk to you.” There was a long pause full of static, then Dot saying; “You can talk to me (garbled)?” Pause. “ You don’t have to be afraid of us. You can talk to me. My name is Dot. Pause. Allright, bye- bye.” This was followed by the sounds of both girls giggling. .

(I knew just what they had been up to. Recently we watched the movie “White Noise” on DVD. In it, Michael Keaton is contacted by souls who have gone over to the ‘other side’. They reached him by laying their voices down on magnetic recording tape. Upon playback these spectral voices could be heard for the first time. Called EVP – Electronic Voice Phenomena- it is taken very seriously by some people, the foremost experts being Lisa and Tom Butler of AAEVP, consultants on the film. [ http://www.aaevp.com/ ] I thought it was a fair movie, but like most ‘scary’ movies you need to suspend your disbelief for a couple of hours. My disbelief in the paranormal returned before the credits were running, My wife and daughter maintained their “who knows?” perspective. and after the movie they excitedly exchanged stories of other EVPs.)

Back on the town square, I smiled and handed the phone back. One should never underestimate what Dot might do. Just then, as Bev was walking up, the restaurant pager went off. We went inside, had an enjoyable meal and within a couple of hours we were back home. That night, in the quiet of our living room, Dot listened to the recording again. Excited, she had us listen to it as well.

In the middle of the second pause of scratchy white noise a woman’s low voice could be heard whispering what sounded like “Kitty, kitty, kitty”, followed by a very soft chuckle (or sobbing, perhaps?). I immediately suspected the girls of playing a prank but Dot was able to quickly convince me of their innocence. I know my daughter, and that’s not her style. She insisted that they were completely alone in the ladies room (she would never had attempted this stunt otherwise). I asked her to send the voice message to my phone and the next day I had some co –workers listen to it. Eyes were wide when they put the phone down. You can hear the recording by going to the following link:

Going to Google I initiated a search for more information and found what I was looking for:

In 2001 this restaurant burned down to the ground and it had since been rebuilt to the original specifications. During the reconstruction the body of a recently murdered woman had been discovered at the building site, where she reportedly had been left to die. (I have yet to find any other information). The restaurant staff says that the spirit of this woman haunts the building, open and closing doors and windows , with most of the activity taking place in the kitchen and in the ladies room.

OK. I can’t explain this. Is this the result of some elaborate hoax being perpetrated by the operators of this restaurant? It’s not as if they promoted any haunting – it was not easy finding the story of the dead woman’s body. Could it be the tortured soul of someone named Kitty, somehow trapped in this house? Or, as my daughter suspects, was the spirit mocking Dot, comparing her to someone who casually calls for a pet, not knowing what they are really dealing with? Is Kitty someone we should be praying for?

At one time I would never seriously consider such a thing as supernatural phenomena, but for over the past 5 years I have been concerned with things of a spiritual nature. As some will say, who knows?

What do you think? Does anyone have a ghost story to share?

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Quantum Miracles: Physical Spirituality


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OK, please bear with me here. Other than the fact that I am as curious as a cat (and live with three of them) I haven’t the foggiest notion what I am talking about. Still, there just might be something to this.

In 1935 the Austrian physicist Erwin Schroedinger envisioned a scenario that illustrated some of the mysteries of quantum mechanics. This famous thought experiment became known as the dilemma of “Schroedinger’s Cat.

Here is a description of Shroedinger’s Cat that I found a bit easier to digest.

Schrodinger’s Cat

A cat is in a box with a lid that is shut. Within the box is a radioactive nucleus that has a 50-50 chance of decaying in an hour. If the nucleus decays this triggers a mechanism that breaks a vial of poison gas that kills the cat. The cat has two states: alive or dead. Schrodinger argued that if quantum mechanics is regarded as a fundamental universal theory then it must be applicable to all systems be they small or large. If so, then we must write, for the cat’s state,

|cat> = a|alive> + b|dead>,

that is, the cat apparently is in a superposed state of life and death! Then we open the box.

According to the measurement hypothesis (discussed next) when we open the box, we are performing a measurement of the cat’s state; this is said to cause the cat’s superposed state to collapse into one base state or the other |dead> or |alive>. The cat is found either pushing up the daisies, or purring for its milk. Schroedinger considered this to be so absurd that (like Einstein) he concluded that quantum mechanics could not be the final word; something was missing.

This is such a strange notion, a cat that is somehow both alive and dead, and, more to the point, contrary to what appears to happen in the macroscopic world that there seems to be only two possibilities: either quantum mechanics works only on a microscopic scale, in which case it is not a universal theory, or it is a universal theory in which case it cries out for a better understanding of the notion of superposition.

Since the advent of quantum theory, many physicists have tried to devise different interpretations of the superposition of states.

From “The Quantum World” , Florida State University Physics Department.
http://www.physics.fsu.edu/users/ProsperH/AST3033/quantumworld.htm

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So, in a layman’s nutshell: Just the act of observing an experiment will affect the outcome. The tree falling in the forest makes no noise.(The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle makes a similar statement, but let’s not go there right now.)

 

The reason I wanted to talk about Schroedinger’s cat is because I think it might just have some bearing on the validity and relevance of miracles. A group of us have been engaged in a discussion over some of the works of CS Lewis and recently the topic was his essay “Miracles”. Lewis, for those of you who do not know, is considered by many to be one of the greatest of Christian apologists, practicing the art of intellectually and rationally explaining the Christian faith to those who do not believe.

In this essay it is his premise that the miracles that have been witnessed by many people over the centuries present clear evidence, to anyone who is interested, that there exists a God, particularly the God of Christianity. One of the people in our group took issue with his suggestion, a suggestion that is not unique to Lewis and is considered a part of Christian doctrine as told in the various creeds.

She contended that so many of these miraculous events are easily explained away by non-religious people and the more that science reveals of our natural world, the less people are likely to accept supernatural explanations. There also tends to be a lack of consensus among spiritual believers over what constitutes a miracle, from dramatic healings to the finding of lost keys.

I would have to agree with her. I have witnessed events that I can only describe as being supernatural evidence of God but rarely have I presented them to others as being miraculous. When I have witnessed those attempts at convincing a skeptic that God does work miracles in this world, they have never been successful. That doesn’t mean that miracles have never drawn someone closer to accepting spiritual possibilities, but I have never seen it happen.

The evidence of miracles had very little to do with my turning away from atheism, and the same can be said for my family and friends. I can not recall ever witnessing a miracle (before I found my faith in God) that I would have identified as such. But since I now enjoy a relationship with God, through Jesus, rarely does a day go by that I do not encounter a miracle or two. Some of them may be considered mundane but more than a few cannot be easily explained away naturally.

So could it be, that because I have changed my perspective on life, miracles do exist for me as I observe them? And when a skeptic observes the same event, there is no miracle, because of his particular vantage point? I am not suggesting here that our perception causes us just to see things differently (though that is certainly true) but that in many (perhaps all) instances it is our actual physical observation that helps shape the outcome.

In other words; the skeptic opens the box to find the cat dead because his rational mind, weighing the evidence in hand, tells him it must be so. When the person of faith opens the box, she witnesses the miracle of a live cat even though the same evidence was clearly visible to her. Her faith has effectively changed the outcome of the event.

And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.
Matthew 13:58

What do you think? Other than perhaps I should consider putting a little less catnip in my pipe.

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