A priest once told me that the movie in my head was much better than real life and I was just setting myself up for disappointment. I actually felt sorry for him…and, hopefully, now that he is not restricted by human limitations any longer, he sees things differently. I don’t know if it a blessing or a curse, but I do believe the movie in my head is fantastic…because it’s inspired by God and God has an even better imagination than I do. I do admit, though, that priest’s words have challenged me throughout my life to understand the importance that perspective ( the movie in our heads) has on shaping reality. While the theological essence of perspective has been my choice of study…I wanted to enlarge my focus to include a scientific perspective as well. As a non scientist, though, it’s been an exciting challenge to understand the process of observation within the context of quantum physics. but I do so because it opened my eyes (pun intended) to the important position of being an observer, and my personal impact on the world. The first part may seem unbearably dry, but bear with me, it’s essential in understanding how important observation is in bringing the movie in our heads to fruition. Just as important, in a time where fame and infamy give credibility and notoriety to a select and often undeserving few, I think a pitch for the ordinary Joe or Josephine is crucial.
It is tragic that in my study of theology, we never looked at science to broaden our understanding of God. Reflecting back on my own experience with science, it always made me uncomfortable. There was always an unspoken understanding that science was diametrically opposed to religion (just look at the controversy between evolution and creationism, or “divine intelligence” as its now called). Somehow, since God transcended the material world and couldn’t be proved by extrinsic evidence, science existed in some subterranean dimension. Many scientists and theologians appear to lie in wait to challenge, as fallible, the fundamental suppositions of either discipline (although there are plenty of religious leaders who believe there is plenty of extrinsic evidence that proves the existence of God, the majority of scientists I’ve met generally, keep faith and science separate).
During my early studies, the discovery that religion hadn’t necessarily represented my role as a woman in the world fair or accurately, led logically to understanding that perhaps that the conclusions they made about other things were flawed as well. History has many sad moments when the church harshly closed a door on a scientific discovery. It didn’t seem like an in-congruent step, then, as a result of all the historical animosity that scientists were not giving religious truth a fair shot either. It appears to me, anyway, that many on both sides would be perfectly happy to cancel the other out. Nothing like throwing out the baby with the bath water, don’t you think? Let us hope that cooler heads prevail and we learn to utilize the language of the empirical and language of the spiritual to create a broader understanding of reality: where theology can nurture the observer, and science the observed.
In my own experience, I recall a conversation with a scientist about my belief that science and religion, like light, are the same thing, just observed differently. By his reaction, not only was he offended that I would reduce quantum physics in such cheap layperson’s terms, as a theology teacher, I obviously didn’t have the level of intelligence necessary to further the discussion. Unfortunately, his snub left me speechless. While hiding in a bathroom stall to hide my watering eyes and embarrassment, I began to wonder if, in terms of science anyway, his observations would always be superior to mine. My embarrassment turned out to be a good thing, however, because it also made me angry enough to begin yet another search for truth (OK, it also included the desire to prove him wrong—regardless of my motivation though, I did learn a thing or two).
It is sad that most people, like my conversation with the scientist, never get to fully understand how someone arrives at a certain perspective. Not everyone just pulls things out of thin air. I had spent countless hours studying and preparing for a class with the physics teacher at the high school where I taught: an investigation of theology from a scientific perspective and science from a theological perspective. What happened was something I could have predicted. From the onset it appeared as if the idea had its own agenda. When my colleague and I entered into the world of quantum physics (I still get a tingle up my spine thinking of that moment), I knew my life would never appear the same again.
In the world of quantum the observer, or the means by which “something” is observed, means everything. Its form depends on how it’s observed. For example, light can exist both as a particle or a wave, depending on how it is observed, which, until quantum physics, was considered impossible. Physicist Werner Heisenberg, gave even more importance to the observer via the uncertainty principle, which states that the exact position and velocity of a particle cannot both be known at the same time—the more precisely one value is known, the greater the range of possibilities that exist for the other. Even the act of observing something changes the reality of what is being observed. In the classical view of the universe, science taught that by eliminating subjective influences nature could be revealed as she really was. Quantum physics changed that classical viewpoint by exposing a dichotomy between experienced and un-experienced reality. The idea that the mechanism of observation could actually affect what form matter took forced science into a new paradigm, besides giving great weight to the observer.
The discovery of the wave/particle duality has taken us beyond the limitations of Newtonian physics. There are two levels of reality which can be said to exist: reality as experienced, or as it exists in relation to the observer; and reality that is un-experienced, or as it exists in the absence of an observer (sort of like the old question does a tree falling in a forest make a sound when no one is there to hear it?). Un-experienced reality, then, is reality as it exists before or beyond human experience (perhaps in a dimension beyond height, width, weight, depth and time). Un-experienced reality relates to experiential reality in that it forms the basis or context of experienced reality like an archetype or prototype. The issue that is of central importance to me is the relationship between what is experienced and what is not. Naturally, since human beings, as observers, are confined by certain dimensional and subjective limitations, it would seem obvious that the un-experienced dimension has the greater control over what we perceive. I’m not so sure of that anymore; from my theological background I know the power human beings have to be co-creators of the universe, and therefore color every experience with personal meaning. What I have begun to worry about in this age of information overload, is the effect that all the negativity and violence has on the observer. On a microscopic scale, are we turning into that priest that I talked about in the beginning? Are we killing the movie in our heads and living a life of fear and disappointment? Stay tuned.