Beyond our comprehension
If I’m ever in a position to describe what I do for a living (ie, a medical writer), my stock answer is that anyone of average intelligence can do it. On the surface, it seems a false humility. But in fact I believe it to be absolutely true.
A carpenter can show you how to make a dovetail joint—how to rip the wood, how to measure and groove it. A key opinion leader in any specialty, who has the patience for it, can explain the mechanism of action, the competing physiological responses, the body’s reaction (or expected reaction) to any sort of pharmacologic or mechanical intervention. It is chemistry. It is mechanics. It is physical material that exists, for the most part, in a Newtonian world.
The physicist is a little more difficult to understand. But as Richard Feynman once said of the double-slit experiment:
[It is] “a phenomenon which is impossible… to explain in any classical way, and which has in it the heart of quantum mechanics. In reality, it contains the only mystery [of quantum mechanics].”
He apparently also said that all of quantum mechanics can emerge from simply thinking through the implications of this single experiment.
Časlav Brukner and Anton Zeilinger expressed this limitation as follows:
“The observer can decide whether or not to put detectors into the interfering path. That way, by deciding whether or not to determine the path through the two-slit experiment, he can decide which property can become reality. If he chooses not to put the detectors there, then the interference pattern will become reality; if he does put the detectors there, then the beam path will become reality. Yet, most importantly, the observer has no influence on the specific element of the world which becomes reality. Specifically, if he chooses to determine the path, he has no influence whatsoever which of the two paths, the left one or the right one, Nature will tell him is the one where the particle is found. Likewise, if he chooses to observe the interference pattern he has no influence whatsoever where in the observation plane he will observe a specific particle. Both outcomes are completely random.”
And the double-slit experiment has even weirder implications:
Sending particles through a double-slit apparatus one at a time results in single particles appearing on the screen, as expected. Remarkably, however, an interference pattern emerges when these particles are allowed to build up one by one… For example, when a laboratory apparatus was developed that could reliably fire one electron at a time through the double slit, the emergence of an interference pattern suggested that each electron was interfering with itself, and therefore in some sense the electron had to be going through both slits at once… an idea that contradicts our everyday experience of discrete objects.
Even these concepts, though, can be cogitated to make some sort of other-dimensional sense. Same with astronomy and cosmology. Only at the strange, utter nexus of the very tiniest and the very largest in the universe as we know it is there a deep, incomprehensible mystery.
It is, in fact, the very starting point of spirituality, the absolutely (as in absolute zero) thinnest film through which people like Deepak Chopra pass (in fact, Deepak Chopra himself), who can say things like:
“Whatever relationships you have attracted in your life at this moment, are precisely the ones you need in your life at this moment. There is a hidden meaning behind all events, and this hidden meaning is serving your own evolution.”
“You must find the place inside yourself where nothing is impossible.”
Or this, for crying out loud:
“According to Vedanta, there are only two symptoms of enlightenment, just two indications that a transformation is taking place within you toward a higher consciousness. The first symptom is that you stop worrying. Things don’t bother you anymore. You become light-hearted and full of joy. The second symptom is that you encounter more and more meaningful coincidences in your life, more and more synchronicities. And this accelerates to the point where you actually experience the miraculous.”
It is a key opinion leader, head of a program at a prestigious institution, who grants you a moment to sit in a conference room, while you sit ready with a notebook and perhaps a recorder, and he says:
Could you repeat that, doctor? I was too busy not worrying. I became light-hearted and full of joy. But this seems as it should be, somehow. Don’t you agree?
Why certainly, I’ll be happy to send a draft to you for review prior to publication (you arrogant bastard). I’ll need your corrections within 48 hours (and will be lucky to get them in a week or two when the article is in press). Your request, in fact, agitates and worries me greatly.