Glimpses of ultimate reality in Mozart and quantum physics
As somebody who A) adores the music of Mozart, B) feels positively overcome by the intimations of an agonizing ultimate beauty in Amadeus, and C) has been fascinated by the metaphysical and philosophical implications of quantum physics for decades, aided by such things as a love for Robert Anton Wilson‘s writings and worthy popular expositions like John Gribbin’s In Search of Schrödinger’s Cat, I was struck today by the evocative power of a beautiful statement I came across in a recent a science article for The Wall Street Journal.
“Science, Spirituality, and Some Mismatched Socks” (May 5), by WSJ journalist Gautam Naik, looks at the issue of “spooky” behavior in the quantum universe, that is, the long-established mystery of apparently instantaneous (as in, faster-than-light-speed, which flouts the theory of relativity) communication between subatomic particles. The fact that the laws of physical reality as we are famliar with them from regular daily experience, and also from the branches of science other than quantum physics, appear to be ignored and violated at the subatomic level has long been a source of much consternation and fascination. The aforementioned Robert Anton Wilson got a lot of mileage out of this in his quasi-fictional novels and quasi-nonfictional nonfiction books. I myself made use of it to horrific metaphysical effect in my novelette “Teeth,” first published in print six years ago in The Children of Cthulhu and due to be included, in much revised and expanded form (with the quantum physics stuff intact), later this year in my new book, Dark Awakenings.
As sketched briefly in the WSJ article’s opening paragraphs, Einstein himself, the world’s unofficial physicist-in-chief, disagreed that “deep” reality really could be the way quantum physics would seem to suggest — but he may well have been wrong in this:
One of quantum physics’ crazier notions is that two particles seem to communicate with each other instantly, even when they’re billions of miles apart. Albert Einstein, arguing that nothing travels faster than light, dismissed this as impossible “spooky action at a distance.”
The great man may have been wrong. A series of recent mind-bending laboratory experiments has given scientists an unprecedented peek behind the quantum veil, confirming that this realm is as mysterious as imagined.
The article goes on to sketch the history and then discuss recent developments in the study of quantum spookiness, in directions previewed by the slugline: “Researchers Turn Up Evidence of ‘Spooky’ Quantum Behavior and Put It to Work in Encryption and Philosophy.”
The line that blew me away comes at the very end. Here it is, in context with its preceding two paragraphs, which set the scene:
Because of its bizarre implications, quantum theory has been used to investigate everything from free will and the paranormal to the enigma of consciousness. Several serious physicists have devoted their lives to the study of such ideas, including Bernard d’Espagnat. In March, the 87-year-old Frenchman won the prestigious $1.5 million Templeton Prize for years of work affirming “life’s spiritual dimension.”
Based on quantum behavior, Dr. d’Espagnat’s big idea is that science can only probe so far into what is real, and there’s a “veiled reality” that will always elude us.
Many scientists disagree. While Dr. d’Espagnat concedes that he can’t prove his theory, he argues that it’s about the notion of mystery. “The emotions you get from listening to Mozart,” he says, “are like the faint glimpses of ultimate reality we get” from quantum experiments. “I claim nothing more.”