The following story is fiction. Characters do not portray actual people, living or dead.
The Ethereal Quotient
The conversation went this way: “I cannot tolerate intolerance!” My friend was sitting at a wrought iron chaise in her courtyard. The grounds, framed by elegant cypress trees rising high into the hazy sky, were muted by the thick balmy air of a summer afternoon.
“I consider myself an equal,” she insisted. “I regard every person the same. Perhaps this is why I get along so fabulously well with everyone!”
As she gestured widely with a half-filled glass, her chair scraped across the flagstones of the patio, bringing up the smell of sparks, iron friction against stone. She paused a moment, listening to the sound of the ice tinkling in the glass, then added, “But maybe it’s why I don’t get along with anyone!”
I sat silently, sipping my drink, mulling over the paradox of ‘getting along with everyone’ and ‘not getting along with anyone’ when she veered on a completely different thought.
“I think God is a powerful force, unleashed without warning,” she said. “And we, afraid for our existence, have created this image of a Great Father in the Sky who gives the things we need if we wait long enough. We fail to see the equivalent of a toddler cuddling stuffed tigers and bears; if a real tiger gets loose from a zoo or a circus, the child runs to it thinking, Gee, there’s a big toy! Expecting nurture, it is instead slashed to pieces.”
You cannot ‘see God and live,’ the Western Bible tells us. Could it be the Deity is not the peaceful, benevolent confidante we approach when we pray?
History teaches religion has not made a very good impression of itself. Most thinking educated people are aware of the atrocities committed in the name of God. The Divine Nature manifests itself repeatedly, with uncanny certainty and violence.
Humanity has been stuck in a cycle of violence ever since we learned from our gods how to deal with the enemy. Sacred texts are instruction manuals in how to take vengeance on the godless. Once we identify the wicked, the rest is easy, just follow the models found in the holy writings of every faith.
“The belief needed today cannot be taught,” she said, waking me from my reverie. “Once a truth has been voiced it becomes void. The religion of the heart, one’s own experience with the Great Spirit, not just the thoughts and words of the dead; this is what counts. No Bible, Koran, Bhagavad Gita or Sutra will teach what can grasped from a simple walk in the woods; not a million written letters or a thousand visits to a cathedral or shrine. We learn from the Air, the Sun, the Earth.”
The Quantum Equation
As Science continues to dig into the basic stuff of life, we find ourselves in a worse quandary than proposed by Antonia’s spiritual angst. As scientists dissolve the glue that maintains religion’s hold on society, we realize with ever more certainty nothing really is absolute. All truth is subject to change. Even our understanding of the concept of God.
This becomes pronounced when we peer into Quantum Mechanics. Throughout the 20th century, physicists have performed numerous experiments to unravel the secrets of the universe. Strange things happened when physicists experimented with atoms. They were caught in the intrigues of the shell game con artists play on street corners: the cup most likely to hold the bean is not where you’ll find it. But I n the Quantum world, the opposite is true. Where you expect to find the bean is where you find it. In God and the New Physics, (1983 Simon & Schuster) a book on the conflicts of belief versus modern scientific discovery, Paul Davies describes an experiment with photons, electrons and atomic particles:
“. . . the fuzzy and nebulous world of the atom only sharpens into concrete reality when an observation is made. In the absence of an observation, the atom is a ghost. It only materializes when you look for it. And you can decide what to look for. . .”
The author then clarifies the baffling apperception of these “ghost photons” with a simile, the Hindu concept of Maya—the idea that our material world is merely an illusion:
“Considering that the quantum theory is now several decades old, it is remarkable that its stunning ideas have taken so long to percolate through to the layman. There is, however, a growing awareness that the theory contains astonishing insights into the nature of the mind and the reality of the external world, and that full account must be taken of the quantum revolution in the search of understanding God and existence. Many modern scientists are finding close parallels between the concepts used in quantum theory and those of Oriental mysticism, such as Zen. But whatever one’s religious persuasions, the quantum factor cannot be ignored.”
In further describing the bizarre realities posed by quantum mechanics, Davies uses the example of broadcast transmissions to make his point.
“The image on a television screen is produced by myriads of light pulses emitted when electrons fired from a gun at the back of the set strike the fluorescent screen . . . the number of electrons involved is enormous, and by the law of averages, the cumulative effect of many electrons is predictable. However, any particular electron, with its inbuilt unpredictability, could go anywhere on the screen. The arrival of this electron at a place, and the fragment of picture that it produces, is uncertain . . . electrons . . . simply turn up at the target . . . [There is] no known reason why the electron should go to point x rather than some other place. The picture fragment is an event without a cause . . .” [Italics added]
I am eerily reminded of the voice in the Kevin Costner film Field of Dreams: “If you build it they will come!” In the quantum universe, we only need to look for it and it will become.
The Zen Factor
Years ago I used to think to live like the Ancients I had to follow the philosophies of the East and learn their disciplines. But my wife, of Chinese origin yet Christian, has a mystic quality I suspect is inherited and has nothing to do with cultural upbringing. I observe a quiet aura as she takes her tea, as if not to disturb the life-spirit of the moment; and refusing to drink from the bottom of the cup, for the last drop is sacred.
I watch her closely, intrigued. I finish the last bite of the sesame cookie at the moment I take my last sip of tea.
the crooked picture
on the wall
never moves. . .
until a hand reaches
to touch it
(then it straightens
In the Quantum Universe, the ghost-photons of matter match the real world, but are not there unless we look for them. In our Universe we are made of those particles, floating in an imaginary field until some random event causes us to appear. Really?
Recalling my friend’s Highball fueled rant, I wonder.