Sunday, February 14, 2010

Quantum Mechanics and Language

Upon reading David Bohm's Wholeness and the Implicate Order.

From the first paragraph of Bohm's introduction to Wholeness and the Implicate Order, I realized that what he was theorizing about in this book, published in 1980, I was concurrently developing in my poetry since the mid 70's. You can find many of my short essays on language and consciousness on this blog or at my website, If you are unfamiliar with my thoughts on this topic, I suggest you begin with a pleasant and easy little essay, “Wy I Rite So Funnee” at:
Wy I Rite So Funnee
If you want to then go deeper, you can explore some of the labels on this blog, such as 'complexity,' 'phenomenology,' and 'poetics,' or you can jump right to this link which is a partial summary of my various posts:
Literary Complexity

Bohm's path emerged from quantum mechanics; mine from phenomenology and consciousness, but both of us realized the necessity of interdisciplinary analysis. My ideas have been greatly influenced by the development of quantum mechanics over the 20th century, as Bohm's have been by phenomenology and the philosophy of consciousness.

Consider this statement by Bohm, who is widely regarded one of the Illuminati of quantum mechanics:
"It is clear that in reflecting on and pondering the nature of movement, both in thought and in the object of thought, one comes inevitably to the question of wholeness or totality. The notion that the one who thinks (the Ego) is at least in principle completely separate from and independent of the reality that he thinks about is of course firmly embedded in our entire tradition.... But this confronts us with a very difficult challenge: How are we to think coherently of a single, unbroken, flowing actuality of existence as a whole, containing both thought (consciousness) and external reality as we experience it?" (Bohm, p. x of Introduction, 1981 paperback, Routledge, Kegan, Paul Ltd.)

He then goes on two pages later:
"In chapter 2 we go into the role of language in bringing about fragmentation of thought.... We then inquire whether it is possible to experiment with new language forms in which the basic role will be given to the verb rather than the noun. Such forms will have as their content a series of actions that flow and merge into each other, without sharp separations or breaks." (ibid, p. xii)

Now consider this excerpt from my mid-80's essay, “Wy I Rite so Funnee”:
"My second intention with stevespell was more ambitious and radical. I wanted to develop a grammar in which subject and predicate, object and action were merged. I had heard that this was possible in Sanskrit, and it seemed intuitively right to me. Surely, the actor and the action are not two separate things, but aspects of one thing.... Perhaps our language was creating unnatural distinctions between actor and action, or between past, present, and future."

In chapter 1, p. 9, Bohm explores his first love, quantum mechanics.
"In a more detailed description the atom is, in many ways, seen to behave as much like a wave as a particle. It can perhaps best be regarded as a poorly defined cloud, dependent for its particular form on the whole environment, including the observing instruments. Thus, one can no longer maintain the division between the observer and observed (which is implicit in the atomistic view that regards each of these as separate aggregates of atoms)."

Here we see the confluence of quantum mechanics and consciousness in two important areas.

First, Bohm, working from Heisenberg, says that, in atomic spaces, the act of observation affects what is observed. We see this in precisely the same way phenomenologically. The act of self observation modifies what is observed (our thoughts). The closer we observe ourselves, the more completely our act of observation is what we see, obscuring and obstructing a free flow of thought. This is a precise corollary to Heisenberg's principle that when we observe phenomena at the atomic level, the more accurately we desire to know where a given object is, the more inaccurate our understanding of where it is going.

Second, just as at atomic level observation we see the breakdown of the “division between the observer and observed,” so we see in consciousness that there is no clear division between individuals. This is quite obvious by observing the transmission of emotion from one person to another. An individual shouting angrily at another causes an immediate and visceral reaction, usually either anger or fear in like measure. This transmission is not based on proximity, and can be verbal or non-verbal. Two people shouting at each other will each become increasingly disturbed, while an onlooker, to whom their anger is not directed, can observe dispassionately. I have also often observed in myself, when sitting silently with someone who is extremely anxious, that although I am not consciously aware of their anxiety, I will find myself inexplicably anxious, inexplicable, that is, until I ask them, “are you anxious or nervous?” Their answer almost always confirms that what I am feeling is their emotion!

I will offer one more example of the confluence between quantum mechanics and consciousness using Bohm's observations as a starting point. On pp. 9-10 he says:
"What is needed in a relativistic theory is to give up altogether the notion that the world is constituted of basic objects or 'building blocks.' Rather, one has to view the world in terms of universal flux of events and processes. Thus,... instead of thinking of a particle, one is to think of a 'world tube.'
This world tube represents an infinitely complex process of a structure in movement and development which is centred in a region indicated by the boundaries of the tube. However, even outside the tube, each 'particle' has a field that extends through space and merges with the fields of other particles."

Let me now rewrite the second paragraph, speaking of human beings rather than atomic particles:
"This human body represents an infinitely complex process of a structure in movement and development which is centred in a region indicated by the boundaries of the body. However, even outside the body, each 'ego' has a field that extends through space and merges with the fields of other egos."

These overlapping fields are not limited to atomic and subatomic particles and emotional sensitivities. I would posit that the very nature of consciousness is represented better by behaviors described by quantum mechanics than by any Euclidean or Newtonian model. Therefore, time, also must be understood in a quantum mechanical way, since time is a product of consciousness. While the ego is focused into a present moment, that looks back into a past and forward to a future, human consciousness itself is not so bounded. Events of the past can have a profound effect on present behavior without there being any direct series of causal connections. Consciousness connects past, present, and future into a single interactive continuum with multiple, direct causalities.

Our language is structured to make concrete distinctions between objects, between objects and the actions that connect them, and between moments in time. These distinctions can be a helpful artifice, but they misrepresent the true behavior of objects in motion (events in time), and thought (consciousness). Bohm postulates a more active, fluid, verb-based language, but that is insufficient. Stevespell attempts a more comprehensive interleaving of objects, events, and time periods. I would call it a quantum mechanical language, which attempts to represent the more complex, non-Euclidean, interactive causalities operating in the human observation of the mental and physical worlds.

In sum, as we begin to peer into the atomic world, where matter “sublimates” into energy and energy “condenses” into matter, we are also observing the workings of consciousness as it articulates the foundations of space-time. This more accurate observational ability that evolved in the 20th century, shattered our ancient world-views (Aristotelian, Euclidean, Newtonian). Now we are beginning to understand that our further development is inhibited by our language, which also needs to evolve to represent this new, subtler understanding of our world.

1 comment:

Troy Camplin said...

Have you read my "Diaphysics," which came out last summer? I think you will find it very interesting. Especially my comment in it that there are no nouns, only verbs.