This week’s instalment of the IndieInk Writing Challenge is a doozy. My challenge, submitted by Dara: ‘One of my favorite quotes is from Salman Rushdie’s novel Midnight’s Children: “Who what am I? My answer: I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all I have been seen done, of everything done-to-me. I am everyone everything whose being-in-the-world affected was affected by mine. I am anything that happens after I’ve gone which would not have happened if I had not come. Nor am I particularly exceptional in this matter; each “I,” every one of the now-six-hundred-million-plus of us, contains a similar multitude. I repeat for the last time: to understand me, you‘ll have to swallow a world.” Using this as inspiration, tell a story of your life as a study in cause-and-effect.’
The amazing response to my challenge can be found here.
Physicists are actually closeted philosophers and nowhere is this more evident than in the mind-bending concept of how something in the atomic world can be two things at once. Two of quantum theory’s main ideas state that a particle’s movement is inherently random and that it’s physically impossible to measure both the momentum and the position of a particle at any given time due to the fact that measuring one alters the other. Any particle traveling through time and space can therefore follow any number of paths and proceeds to do so. Only when observed is it forced to chose only one path and take it. This is how Schrodinger’s cat could be both dead and alive while sitting in a closed box, but became either one or the other the moment that the box was opened.
Einstein’s famous quote concerning God’s disinclination for playing dice addresses his unease with the concept of nature’s randomness. Take away randomness, and suddenly atomic particles move in concert, communicating in unexplainable ways and resulting in every particle understanding the trajectory of every other particle it’s ever encountered. On the other side of the cognitive playground, but still on the same campus, Jung believed in the existence of a collective unconscious, wherein every human being inherently understands the nature of humanity and is therefore ‘connected’ to everyone else through this knowledge. Read deeply enough and one might start to see the formation of a Venn diagram; making sense of reality is a common goal of two disciplines separated largely by ridiculously complex math in the one case and the occasional use of shock therapy in the other.
Most people spend their lives trying to make sense of their reality through narratives built around cause and effect. There is nothing random about the concept. Something happens and a decision is made. This scenario plays out in every person’s life from second to second resulting in a path being chosen that impacts the world in ways measurable by degrees of separation. People are anchored to one another through chains of cause and effect. So, while the causes that accompany our happiness or sadness may seem random, it’s instructive to remember that the effect of how we deal with our circumstances may be a bit more far-reaching in nature.
A major cause-and-effect moment that stands out in my life happened when I was five years old. My mother had been on the receiving end of a marriage proposal from a guy that neither I nor anyone to whom I was close at the time (mom being the exception) particularly liked. One morning, she told me about his proposal and asked me how I felt about her marrying him. Up to that moment, I had been like the cat in Schrodinger’s box, neither alive nor dead, my electrons capable of following any vector and doing so as either a wave, a particle, or both. Children, generally speaking, tend to want their parents to be happy. I buried my real feelings, spewed forth something along the lines of, ‘Fine with me’, and chose my path. The cat was dead.
At least that’s what I grew up thinking and continued to think for a very long time, allowing it to color everything, success and failure alike. Eventually I came to realize that had it not been for the metaphorical death of my allegorical cat, I wouldn’t have developed the tools necessary to live a life (nutshelled in bullet form here for convenience) that exceeded my youthful expectations by leaps and bounds. More importantly, however, the overall effect from the cause was the acquisition of an understanding that there are no right or wrong decisions, only right or wrong ways that we allow those decisions to effect ourselves and others. In the end, we do our best with what we’re given. No act is insignificant. Every interaction matters. And regardless of the paths we choose, we don’t have to endure it alone.
Sir @ March 10, 2011