Nihilism and Revolution

Veiled Reality

Mystery is not something negative that has to be eliminated.
Veiled Reality
Clotheline – Stacey Gardner

I’ve spent much of my adult life trying to quell my metaphysical leanings by training my mind to observe and deduce. Shining the light of reason into the darkest corners of my mind and soul, I’ve chased away ambiguities and replaced them with facts. I think it was Hegel who said that if you look at the world rationally, the world will look rationally back at you. I desperately want to live in a rational world: one composed entirely of black and white. Because it’s the gray where I get into trouble. Gray is the color of lone existential wandering – of mystery, uncertainty and fear.

“Mystery is not something negative that has to be eliminated. On the contrary, it is one of the constitutive elements of being.” There, in black and white, a rational defense of gray. It was an article about an esteemed physicist, Dr. Bernard d’Espagnat, who’d just been awarded the controversial Templeton prize, a $1.42 million accolade for work toward the reconciliation of spirituality and science. D’Espagnat, an 87-year-old professor at the University of Paris-Sud, certainly didn’t set out aiming to balance the two. Much of his career has been devoted to quantum mechanics, specifically work on Bell’s theorem: a groundbreaking theory that runs counter to the commonsense notion of locality. Locality states that an event happening in one place has no instantaneous effect anywhere else. If a star explodes, we find out only when the flash gets here.

Much of d’Espagnat’s work focuses on the theory of entanglement: a strange and troublesome idea that hasn’t been able to gain much traction in mainstream physics. According to the theory, once two particles have interacted, they remain bound in a powerful yet inexplicable way. If something happens to one particle, the other instantly feels the effects of that event. They may spin to opposite corners of the universe, but their connection is independent of distance. The particles are forever entangled, each one’s existence bound to that of the other.

D’Espagnat doesn’t regard our inability to explain entanglement as a reason to suspect a flaw in the theory. He regards the mystery of entanglement as evidence of a veiled reality, one that exists beneath what we perceive as space, time and matter. Science, he claims, can never hope to fully explain the nature of being. It can only offer us a partial window to reality – one through which we can steal fleeting glances at what lies beyond. The human mind, which d’Espagnat believes to be capable of perceiving deep realities, must turn to other methods – such as art or the belief in a greater cosmic force – to gain a greater, more complete understanding of the world.

Reading about d’Espagnat, I found myself taking comfort in the idea of an entangled reality beneath the veil. To live in a world of empirical fact is to believe only what we can observe to be true. But strive though I might to be a faithful empiricist, so much of what I want to believe requires far more faith than fact. I would like to believe that when I die I will somehow persist. Maybe not as a being but as a spirit, a consciousness or an energy. I’d like to believe that all I’ve touched is still out there, somehow affected by my movements and thoughts, bearing my imprint in some mysterious way. And I’d like to believe that I, in turn, carry the touch of all that I’ve experienced: all that I’ve loved and all that has wounded or moved me. I’d like to believe I am forever entangled with my existence and my existence with me. The idea of indelibility – of a mark that cannot be erased by space or time – makes the gray area seem less lonely, less frightening. I’m willing to step beyond the bounds of black and white for that kind of comfort.

–Sarah Nardi

40 comments on the article “Veiled Reality”

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Anonymous

I agree that empiricism does not answer all the questions humans face, especially humans who face love and death quite intimately. In war, do all the innocent victims simply vanish off the face of the planet? In love, when our hearts are broken, do those connections with lovers simply absolve as if they never existed? I also believe that everything we do leaves a unique finger print. Even though that person (you know exactly who it is, don't you?) shattered our heart, they will never be able to erase our beneficial effect on them. They will always remember those beautiful moments that required our presence in order to be so sublime. When facing empiricism, we must still admit that some things are invisible: for example, love, which at its essence is totally unexplainable. No one can ever say why they love some one. They just do, even if the loved person is completely unfit for a loving relationship. That mystery will always remain unexplained. But, even certain scientific facts will remain mysterious. No one can ever quite explain why dirt plus seeds and water will somehow turn into green grass. Sure, they can examine the steps that occur. But they cannot say exactly why dirt can eventually turn into something completely different. Another great example is the human mind. There is so much unexplained about the brain. Allegedly, we only actively use a small portion of our brains while awake, but who is to account for the other portion? And how exactly do we explain intuition? The only danger in admitting that some things will always remain mysterious is when we start to think that everything is mysterious. That is the mistake that many religious people make: they think that empiricism and mystery cannot co-exist. Thus, they feel forced to choose between one or the other. In grounded reality, empiricism should be able to say that some things are simply unexplainable. And religion should also be able to admit that some things must be scientifically proven in order to be believed. I guess this dilemma is similar to many things in life: it's complex. But that's not a bad thing: complexity is what makes us human. We need certain things to be proven scientifically in order to progress. And sometimes we need to believe in something unprovable in order not to die of sadness. But don't worry, you'll usually know when it's time for either side. The key is to not feel guilty for feeling unsure. Just be easy on yourself: let your obscure, unexplainable feelings exist; let your curious need for absolute fact exist as well. You're being the exact thing that you should be: you're being human.

Anonymous

I agree that empiricism does not answer all the questions humans face, especially humans who face love and death quite intimately. In war, do all the innocent victims simply vanish off the face of the planet? In love, when our hearts are broken, do those connections with lovers simply absolve as if they never existed? I also believe that everything we do leaves a unique finger print. Even though that person (you know exactly who it is, don't you?) shattered our heart, they will never be able to erase our beneficial effect on them. They will always remember those beautiful moments that required our presence in order to be so sublime. When facing empiricism, we must still admit that some things are invisible: for example, love, which at its essence is totally unexplainable. No one can ever say why they love some one. They just do, even if the loved person is completely unfit for a loving relationship. That mystery will always remain unexplained. But, even certain scientific facts will remain mysterious. No one can ever quite explain why dirt plus seeds and water will somehow turn into green grass. Sure, they can examine the steps that occur. But they cannot say exactly why dirt can eventually turn into something completely different. Another great example is the human mind. There is so much unexplained about the brain. Allegedly, we only actively use a small portion of our brains while awake, but who is to account for the other portion? And how exactly do we explain intuition? The only danger in admitting that some things will always remain mysterious is when we start to think that everything is mysterious. That is the mistake that many religious people make: they think that empiricism and mystery cannot co-exist. Thus, they feel forced to choose between one or the other. In grounded reality, empiricism should be able to say that some things are simply unexplainable. And religion should also be able to admit that some things must be scientifically proven in order to be believed. I guess this dilemma is similar to many things in life: it's complex. But that's not a bad thing: complexity is what makes us human. We need certain things to be proven scientifically in order to progress. And sometimes we need to believe in something unprovable in order not to die of sadness. But don't worry, you'll usually know when it's time for either side. The key is to not feel guilty for feeling unsure. Just be easy on yourself: let your obscure, unexplainable feelings exist; let your curious need for absolute fact exist as well. You're being the exact thing that you should be: you're being human.

Anonymous

Beautiful, insightful, fascinating and moving. Rarely does prose manage to combine these things so seamlessly. I know this because I’ve often tried. Kudos to you, Sarah.

Anonymous

Beautiful, insightful, fascinating and moving. Rarely does prose manage to combine these things so seamlessly. I know this because I’ve often tried. Kudos to you, Sarah.

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