Saturday, July 19, 2014

Quantum Mathematics

Two experiences within a few days have shaped my thinking for this blog. Earlier this week a friend made the statement that our world cannot fight the truth. Some in our world want to say that certain things are right when the fact is that they are not. He then used the metaphor that 2 + 2 will always equal 4 and that settled it for him. He was using common, everyday vernacular to reason about absolute truth. He was not seeking to be a philosopher and his argument was not meant to be a grand theme for every situation. He was appealing to a group of like-minded men to remember that things which God has spoken in the Bible are true for all time. His statement does make sense and I do not disagree with him.

My second experience was reading an article in Science News, a place I regularly go to keep up to date with recent developments in the world of scientific investigation. The article suggested that quantum physics calls into question many of the basic concepts of math. One of the basic principles of math is that "If you put three pigeons in two pigeonholes, at least two of the pigeons end up in the same hole." In quantum physics, because the location of a particle is uncertain, it can appear, or perhaps it can be, that a particle is in more than one place at a given time. The author of the article goes on to explain how one can have a situation where you have more particles than boxes, but no more than one particle in each box and all particles in a box. Hmm, you can read the article to see the explanation and see if it makes sense to you. Now most people reading this article will not be able to do the complex math required to prove such a concept, so we must trust the scientists who do this work on a regular basis; but the fact is that these concepts are seeping into our majority culture. People now understand that in some circumstances 2 + 2 no longer equals 4.

I write this to suggest that some of our metaphors are no longer adequate to convince others about truth. The minds of people in the majority culture have been trained to accept Schrodinger's Cat type arguments (notice how the argument has become integrated into everyday television shows, here and here). That is, people are capable of holding two opposing concepts as true at one and the same time. It is as if they are able to say two things at once: 2 + 2 equals 4, and 2 + 2 does not equal 4, and be quite comfortable with the cognitive dissonance.

It is helpful to recognize that questions of right and wrong are often more complicated and less "black and white" than we would like them to be. Making broad statements which we expect others will take as absolute unless they are insane, will alienate people more than solve arguments. Listening more and speaking grand statements less is imperative to having a voice in the majority culture. Taking the time to understand why someone else thinks that 2 + 2 does not equal 4 is an essential part of loving our neighbour. At the end of the conversation we may still disagree but we will have opportunities to speak together another time.

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