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

Actually, I think if someone is sick and dying, they should pull up a microscope and look at some bacteria. But seriously, come on, man. I highly doubt they are debating the power of science or medicine in this article. It sounds like they are just saying that a few ambiguous and obscure things like hope and love are not so easily explained in rational terms. And that's okay. But don't get all insecure on us. Science is awesome and based in truth, as everybody knows.

Anonymous

Actually, I think if someone is sick and dying, they should pull up a microscope and look at some bacteria. But seriously, come on, man. I highly doubt they are debating the power of science or medicine in this article. It sounds like they are just saying that a few ambiguous and obscure things like hope and love are not so easily explained in rational terms. And that's okay. But don't get all insecure on us. Science is awesome and based in truth, as everybody knows.

Anonymous

This article reminds me of a later section from Wittgenstein's 'Tractatus,' in which he writes that the world is something like a painting on a canvas; to interpret and make sense of it, we lay different screens or meshes over it, which handily divide the underlying image into differently sized and shaped sections. However, Wittgenstein writes, rational or intuitive moves we make within the context of each individual screen or mesh ultimately say a lot more about the pattern of the screen or mesh we are using than about the world itself which we are attempting to see through the screen or mesh. Different screens and meshes serve different functions, and yield different kinds of knowledge of the image beneath. As Ms (Mrs?) Gardner essentially indicated, strict scientific empiricism will result in a starved worldview for denying the appropriateness of the application of other screens and meshes. Additionally, as the author hints at, scientific-mindedness and spiritual-mindedness do not necessarily conflict. All the science in the world doesn't take away from the wonder and mystery wound up in the functioning systems of existence, and animated, living existence at that. Propositionally, I can postulate the logically-assessable statement "I exist." The statement alone, like a lone scientific fact, is inert, uninteresting, totally exposed, understood, contained. However, everything which follows from this fact - which is outside the reach of logically implicated necessity, and which exists entirely in the field of particulars, utterly foreign to the abstract universal dicta of science - constitutes an ineffable world of experience, unique, and if it is saturated with the right spirit it is replete with mystery and wonder. This reminds me also of Husserl, and the inception of phenomenology. Science provides the theoretical substructure - and that is good and useful, no doubt - but the actual stuff of human life, experience, is left untouched by it. The overwhelming success of the natural sciences in the last two centuries is not a reason for it to invade other fields of knowledge with an intent to conquer.

Anonymous

This article reminds me of a later section from Wittgenstein's 'Tractatus,' in which he writes that the world is something like a painting on a canvas; to interpret and make sense of it, we lay different screens or meshes over it, which handily divide the underlying image into differently sized and shaped sections. However, Wittgenstein writes, rational or intuitive moves we make within the context of each individual screen or mesh ultimately say a lot more about the pattern of the screen or mesh we are using than about the world itself which we are attempting to see through the screen or mesh. Different screens and meshes serve different functions, and yield different kinds of knowledge of the image beneath. As Ms (Mrs?) Gardner essentially indicated, strict scientific empiricism will result in a starved worldview for denying the appropriateness of the application of other screens and meshes. Additionally, as the author hints at, scientific-mindedness and spiritual-mindedness do not necessarily conflict. All the science in the world doesn't take away from the wonder and mystery wound up in the functioning systems of existence, and animated, living existence at that. Propositionally, I can postulate the logically-assessable statement "I exist." The statement alone, like a lone scientific fact, is inert, uninteresting, totally exposed, understood, contained. However, everything which follows from this fact - which is outside the reach of logically implicated necessity, and which exists entirely in the field of particulars, utterly foreign to the abstract universal dicta of science - constitutes an ineffable world of experience, unique, and if it is saturated with the right spirit it is replete with mystery and wonder. This reminds me also of Husserl, and the inception of phenomenology. Science provides the theoretical substructure - and that is good and useful, no doubt - but the actual stuff of human life, experience, is left untouched by it. The overwhelming success of the natural sciences in the last two centuries is not a reason for it to invade other fields of knowledge with an intent to conquer.

Anonymous

Anyone who has lost a loved one knows for a fact that the entanglement theory is valid. Space and time i.e. death does not separate the living from the dead. Love continues despite the apparent death of the physicality of the loved one. If this were a rational world, we would stop loving the dead because they are not alive and "real" or present But no one actually does that, do they? I think that should point to something. Something larger, beyond us, maybe we are just overgrown meat suits running around fueled by pure instinct. But the open discussion of metaphysics is totally ignored in our society today which points to either the death of our collective soul or the coming of a dark age or the fact that we haven't yet emerged from the dark age.

Anonymous

Anyone who has lost a loved one knows for a fact that the entanglement theory is valid. Space and time i.e. death does not separate the living from the dead. Love continues despite the apparent death of the physicality of the loved one. If this were a rational world, we would stop loving the dead because they are not alive and "real" or present But no one actually does that, do they? I think that should point to something. Something larger, beyond us, maybe we are just overgrown meat suits running around fueled by pure instinct. But the open discussion of metaphysics is totally ignored in our society today which points to either the death of our collective soul or the coming of a dark age or the fact that we haven't yet emerged from the dark age.

Anonymous

It's so sad that people had to go to college to learn to be like this. Read the first chapter of Hard Times by Charles Dickens and you can learn that you, rather than being a sincere, soul-searching 21st century man or woman, seeking only for FACT in the dark light of "modern" ambiguity and meaninglessness, are... or rather, have been (since this is soul-searching and you are changed now) merely a caricature, an archaic type tossed off by Charles Dickens 200 years ago in a moment of minor inspiration. Or did you need a physicist to tell you that?

Anonymous

It's so sad that people had to go to college to learn to be like this. Read the first chapter of Hard Times by Charles Dickens and you can learn that you, rather than being a sincere, soul-searching 21st century man or woman, seeking only for FACT in the dark light of "modern" ambiguity and meaninglessness, are... or rather, have been (since this is soul-searching and you are changed now) merely a caricature, an archaic type tossed off by Charles Dickens 200 years ago in a moment of minor inspiration. Or did you need a physicist to tell you that?

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