Wednesday, August 3, 2016

August 3: Heisenberg, Principle of Indeterminacy, Change

Back in 1927 Werner Heisenberg pulled out the rug, and our whole understanding of the universe toppled and collapsed.  For some reason it has not yet trickled down to the man on the street that some physicists now are a bunch of wild-eyed, raving mystics.  For they have perfected their instruments and methods just enough to whisk away the crucial veil, and what stands revealed is the Cheshire cat's grin.

What Dillard is talking about here is Heisenberg's Principle of Indeterminacy that says that "you cannot know both a particle's velocity and position.  You can guess statistically what any batch of electrons might do, but you cannot predict the career of any one particle."  Basically, Heisenberg said that you can't predict the behavior of the universe.  You can guess, but you can never know for sure.  Look through the highest powered telescope or microscope, and all you will see is the Cheshire cat, laughing his ass off.

Of course, that's just my very rudimentary understanding of highly complex idea.  The universe is full of mystery.  Heisenberg lifted the mysterious veil and revealed more mystery.  Scientists and mystics are cut from the same cloth.  They just try to answer the questions in different ways.  The answer remains the same.

I have given up trying to understand the universe.  I've seen the Cheshire cat's grin too many times.  No matter how much I plan, I will never be able to predict the trajectory of my day.  I can make educated guesses--I will write a blog post, grade student essays, eat chicken for dinner--but they are still guesses, nothing more.  As Heisenberg pointed out, I can't know both the velocity and position of my life.

The poet Keats called this Negative Capability--living in uncertainty, without grasping around for explanations.  I have to exist comfortably with the idea that I am not in control of anything, aside from, maybe, going to the bathroom and whether I eat peanut butter M&Ms or plain.  Trusting in uncertainty.  That's pretty much what faith is all about.  The opposite of faith isn't doubt.  It's fear.  I cannot call myself a person of faith and walk around constantly terrified of what's going to happen next.  Those two conditions--faith and fear--are mutually exclusive.

So, tonight, I'm singing the praises of uncertainty.  At the beginning of the summer, I was driving a ten-year-old car with over a hundred thousand miles on it.  I was working a job that caused me great stress daily, and I was finishing my twentieth year of teaching.  Now, at the end of the summer, I am driving a new car, have a new job, and received a promotion from the university.  Uncertainty was a good thing for me these last few months.

Of course, that doesn't mean that life will always be rainbows and chocolate bars.  However, even in the throes of despair, I can say to myself, "This, too, shall pass."  Sadness will give way to calm, which will eventually transform into some kind of joy.  That's what indeterminacy is all about.  Wait a second, and things will change.

Make no mistake, though.  Saint Marty isn't embracing change.  More like trying to negotiate a cease fire.

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