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

Word. I've never quite understood the desire to live forever and I was raised as a Southern Baptist and am now an atheist. I imagine the pull toward eternity has something to do with fear of total freedom, the need to be bound to culture and society. I agree with the statement that death is perhaps the ultimate reality, isn't one life enough? I think leaving mystery intact is necessary, I think one big part of a scientific world-view that many people tend to forget, is that it is all but theories based on the information we can perceive with our limited perspective. Be that perspective limited in time, or in senses, or - most inextricably related to "mystery" - in creativity, it is nonetheless limited. And this needs to be acknowledged; that there is so much more to be known than we are capable of imagining in our current anthropocentric worldviews... If you want heaven, that's a fine coping mechanism. As for me, I'll take uncertainty over the allegories upon which I was raised. If you want to live forever and you are bothered by this, bothered by your innate anthropocentric perspective, simply look smaller in scale rather than to the perhaps infinite reaches of the cosmos. See that you are a nebula of fantastic proportions, a giant among atoms. Nothing wrong with being a creature, helps you forgive society's ills as you strive to fix them, preventing personal burnout as you recognize that you alone are but a piece of the wonderful 10,000 jeweled network of existence. Part of evolution is adaptation, please let us adapt away from religion, from "faith." Read Dawkins if you think the Templeton Foundation is all that, this website of any should recognize that authenticity is not always best granted by an organization of old white guys with a lot of bias and a lot of money backing an award. Perhaps adopting a more organic understanding would assist the author and may readers, rather than taking scientific "fact" (merely observations based in method! no different from an artist's!) for what it is; integrate integrate adapt!!! Or not.

Anonymous

Word. I've never quite understood the desire to live forever and I was raised as a Southern Baptist and am now an atheist. I imagine the pull toward eternity has something to do with fear of total freedom, the need to be bound to culture and society. I agree with the statement that death is perhaps the ultimate reality, isn't one life enough? I think leaving mystery intact is necessary, I think one big part of a scientific world-view that many people tend to forget, is that it is all but theories based on the information we can perceive with our limited perspective. Be that perspective limited in time, or in senses, or - most inextricably related to "mystery" - in creativity, it is nonetheless limited. And this needs to be acknowledged; that there is so much more to be known than we are capable of imagining in our current anthropocentric worldviews... If you want heaven, that's a fine coping mechanism. As for me, I'll take uncertainty over the allegories upon which I was raised. If you want to live forever and you are bothered by this, bothered by your innate anthropocentric perspective, simply look smaller in scale rather than to the perhaps infinite reaches of the cosmos. See that you are a nebula of fantastic proportions, a giant among atoms. Nothing wrong with being a creature, helps you forgive society's ills as you strive to fix them, preventing personal burnout as you recognize that you alone are but a piece of the wonderful 10,000 jeweled network of existence. Part of evolution is adaptation, please let us adapt away from religion, from "faith." Read Dawkins if you think the Templeton Foundation is all that, this website of any should recognize that authenticity is not always best granted by an organization of old white guys with a lot of bias and a lot of money backing an award. Perhaps adopting a more organic understanding would assist the author and may readers, rather than taking scientific "fact" (merely observations based in method! no different from an artist's!) for what it is; integrate integrate adapt!!! Or not.

Anonymous

Surely human words and understandings will always drag behind reality per se. But there are actions, spiritual/psychological techniques and practices (meditation etc.) to give you a definitive "answer" for that existential angst. But even between spoken and lived shall the chasm always remain. And, given that "modern" science is just a few hundred years young, we are still just blind newborn puppies. In some 500 years there will be even more interesting questions if we do not descent back into dark ages and feudal skirmishes. And may start to believe again (as our immediate perceptions tell us) in a flat disk-world resting on the back of a giant tortoise or some other war Lord-endorsed deception.

Anonymous

Surely human words and understandings will always drag behind reality per se. But there are actions, spiritual/psychological techniques and practices (meditation etc.) to give you a definitive "answer" for that existential angst. But even between spoken and lived shall the chasm always remain. And, given that "modern" science is just a few hundred years young, we are still just blind newborn puppies. In some 500 years there will be even more interesting questions if we do not descent back into dark ages and feudal skirmishes. And may start to believe again (as our immediate perceptions tell us) in a flat disk-world resting on the back of a giant tortoise or some other war Lord-endorsed deception.

Anonymous

Why is it whenever people want to be (even mildly) dismissive of the power of science to reveal the mysteries of nature they always do so with physics, especially quantum physics. How about we replace all of the above mysteries of physics with the mysteries of biology and therefore stop studying human physiology and developing new medical techniques. Is that what you are suggesting? Maybe we should just say that all diseases are just part of the mystery of life and tell all those afflicted with them to just do some art or believe in a greater force to get better - not feel better, but to be cured. The impression that science "...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," is more a comment on the temporal nature of the scientific process (i.e. it is not all done or answered at once) rather than on the ability of the scientific process (to answer). If you want to stop science from studying nature because it affects your perceptions, then have the courage to tell the world we should stop all medical research - because it's all a part of the mysteries of nature. I, for one, remain interested in uncovering the mysteries of nature. John

Anonymous

Why is it whenever people want to be (even mildly) dismissive of the power of science to reveal the mysteries of nature they always do so with physics, especially quantum physics. How about we replace all of the above mysteries of physics with the mysteries of biology and therefore stop studying human physiology and developing new medical techniques. Is that what you are suggesting? Maybe we should just say that all diseases are just part of the mystery of life and tell all those afflicted with them to just do some art or believe in a greater force to get better - not feel better, but to be cured. The impression that science "...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," is more a comment on the temporal nature of the scientific process (i.e. it is not all done or answered at once) rather than on the ability of the scientific process (to answer). If you want to stop science from studying nature because it affects your perceptions, then have the courage to tell the world we should stop all medical research - because it's all a part of the mysteries of nature. I, for one, remain interested in uncovering the mysteries of nature. John

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