msb ~093 Quantum worldviews

Quantum worldviews

Schrödinger's cat - quantum worldviews
Schrödinger’s cat

One aspect of ‘reality’ where the mind’s eye leads us astray is quantum worldviews. Quantum physics describes subatomic particles, but it’s contentious whether it goes much larger: microbes, cats, quantum physicists? People often look for analogies that seem to encompass consciousness, ecology and non-Western worldviews. I’ve found these attractive ever since reading Gary Zukav’s Dancing Wu Li Masters, though my physics degree then cautioned me to think inside the box. Part of the appeal? The quantum language — ‘duality’, ‘entanglement’, ‘many-worlds’, ‘non-locality’ — and the science’s radical forms of uncertainty appeal to the abstract mind and visual imagination: the paradox of Schrödinger’s cat-in-the-box, alive-and-dead-at-the-same-time (‘superposition’, not superstition), until the instant the curious observer opens its box and the cat becomes one-or-the-other. But visual imagination cannot go there, and the words don’t mean what they do in everyday talk. Continue reading “msb ~093 Quantum worldviews”

msb ~075 A feel for the place

A feel for the place 

Geoff Dyer: 'a feel for the place'
Geoff Dyer: ‘a feel for the place’

Am I wrong to want from a programme called ‘Travel: is it worth it?’ some focus on the climate implications of a lifetime travelling to write? I agree that, while we travel with our preconceptions, travelling opens them to disruption; travellers’ accounts shake and reshape my worldview. But what of my prejudice: mass travel wastes the world faster than it makes it? Who can deny there’s a mass of travel writers? Continue reading “msb ~075 A feel for the place”

msb ~074 Negative Capability revisited: not knowing

Negative Capability revisited: not knowing  

not knowing: youths clashing with police, Paris
not knowing: “located somewhere at the edge of the world”

I’ve enjoyed this article where Paul Tritschler revisits poet John Keats’ idea of Negative Capability via psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion. “Bion said that one discovers truth, the ingredient essential to psychic growth, on the cusp of knowing and not knowing. On the cerebral map, not knowing is located somewhere at the edge of the world.”
Continue reading “msb ~074 Negative Capability revisited: not knowing”

msb ~073 Picture this

Picture this  

Picture Icelandic elements: a photograph by Gareth Goldthorpe
Iceland elements

As recent passages here — TERRA and The Library of Ice — hint, my reading’s had an Arctic preoccupation recently. I’ve never been north of 60o, so my polar regions are imaginary zones. Although reading is intensely visual, photographs still jolt my every-day, word-fed way of ‘seeing’ the distant world. I’ve dabbled in photography, but my brother does the real thing, and I’m envious of his skills and travels. I’d forgotten his recent Iceland trip, my anticipation of his new images and, checking his website, there they were: freshly discovered places that others’ words had been walking me toward. Continue reading “msb ~073 Picture this”

msb ~068 One foot through the door

One foot through the door  

Through the doors: Dark Mountain Project 14: Terra
Dark Mountain Project 14: Terra

“They say that travelling opens doors, gives people new perspectives. This is only partially true. People carry their doors with them: perspectives seldom truly change.” I’m setting one foot into Terra, The Dark Mountain Project’s new book, and this image is from one of its earlier essays, by Nick Hunt. Every journey, the next village, the next continent: a portal into that new perspective, new dimensions. Nick is recounting his travels in Ethiopia: the cultural and natural experiences that bring new things into visibility, push others into invisibility; and the “preconceptions [that] can be destroyed” with each one although, as he suggests, we carry so many with us without noticing the load on us or on the land. Continue reading “msb ~068 One foot through the door”

msb ~048 Earthrise, again

Earthrise, again   

Earthrise frame

There’s an overfamiliar-yet-fresh feel to the film Earthrise, documenting the moment humans first photographed Earth appearing behind the moon. Familiar because, raised on images and imaginations of manned space exploration as it happened, I’ve seen this photograph so many times: the small, watery rock teeming with invisible life. Fresh because the film lets us see back through the eyes of three elderly men who were there then, alone: emerging from profound blackness never experienced before, after hours scanning endless, dead grey dust no one had yet walked on – and feeling their eyeballs flood with the only colour to be had anywhere: first sight of distant home. It moved them then, fifty years ago this December, and you can see it move them now, looking back. Continue reading “msb ~048 Earthrise, again”

msb ~040 Making sense of weak signals

Making sense of weak signals

Listening mode…

In this 2009 article, Paul Schoemaker and George Day identify biases we unconsciously apply to our worldviews, blinding us to important but weak signals of change. Once we “lock in on a certain picture [we] often reshape reality to fit into that particular frame. Humans tend to judge too quickly when presented with ambiguous data; we have to work extra hard to consider less familiar scenarios.”

Such biases render reality as familiar, expected: reducing the scope to consider different perspectives. We become overconfident in our way of seeing: filtering what we see according to our mental model; rationalising it to sustain our belief in the model as reality; seeking evidence to bolster this. Continue reading “msb ~040 Making sense of weak signals”

msb ~038 “Let’s hear it for the vague blur!”

“Let’s hear it for the vague blur!”

Philip K Dick: no vague blur

I consumed Philip Dick’s novels by the handful as a teenager: just part of my science fiction diet. Many of his stories sit well with that other fare, but the shock of A Scanner Darkly, VALIS and The Divine Invasion comes into sharper relief away from the glare of rayguns, hyperdrives and aliens. Dick wrote his experience, not ‘fiction’. In BBC Radio’s Great Lives, actor Michael Sheen discusses Dick’s influence on him: “the moment where the central character begins to discover that maybe the reality he’s taking for granted is not what’s going on, maybe there’s something else going on behind it. That is a very frightening moment.” Continue reading “msb ~038 “Let’s hear it for the vague blur!””

msb ~027 Breakthroughs from left field

Breakthroughs from left field

Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell

Wonderful to see Jocelyn Bell Burnell rewarded now; her ground-breaking discovery should have brought her 1974’s Nobel Prize. Her male collaborators received that, though she did the hard work on pulsars: supercondensed end-of-life stars that emit intense radio beams. Radically expanding our understanding of the cosmos, such breakthroughs also helped fuel my own interest; ten years later, I embarked on my astrophysics degree). Now she’s been awarded the Breakthrough Prize for her landmark work. Continue reading “msb ~027 Breakthroughs from left field”