Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Modern Physics Metaphors

I hesitate to indulge in metaphors having to do with modern physics, for a couple of reasons:

1) while I love physics, from classical mechanics to quantum mechanics & relativity, I am of course am a mere amateur with respect to deep understanding and expertise.
2) many others have indulged in philosophizing on the nature of life using ideas from modern physics. Some such authors have quite inspired ideas, but others have gotten a bit carried away on the mystical side of things. I can imagine many physicists rolling their eyes at yet another amateur scientist philosophizing about quantum mechanics.

But--I just HAVE to indulge though--because modern physics is just too interesting and important! Also I feel that most physicists are so busy doing physics--much of which perhaps a daily grind through highly esoteric research--that they may not be applying their minds very often to considering the philosophical import of their work.

Another practical reason I have for dabbling in this area is that quantum mechanical phenomena are undoubtedly relevant in the workings of the brain. The behaviour of a neurotransmitter at a synapse, the motions and contortions of molecules within neurons, the energy sources which power these motions, the role and dynamics of electrical phenomena in neuronal stimulation--all of these phenomena require quantum-mechanical formulations to understand fully.

Relativistic phenomena, while immensely interesting, are perhaps less obviously relevant with respect to neurophysiology. Yet, who knows? Relativity is a ripe area to form metaphors, though.

Here are a few metaphors borrowed from quantum mechanical ideas:

1) "the energy of a ground state is non-zero": to some degree, a statement of hope--no matter how low things get, even in a "vacuum", the potential for energy is always present.

Perhaps, even in the freezing void of empty space (is your life like this?) , there is always the possibility for something new.

2) Positions and movements are best understand as probability distributions, rather than as precisely knowable entities. The probability distribution may be quite accurately knowable, but perhaps not more detail than that. This encourages the idea of letting go of the need to view nature in terms of absolutes.

It encourages the idea of possibility.

It discourages "black and white thinking" (though, ironically, a core feature of quantum mechanics is its description of energy states which occur as integers, and its description of energy which occurs as "quanta").

For some people it may be disconcerting to admit the probabilistic nature of phenomena (whether it be in the universe as a whole, or within the mind). But on the other hand, it may be a source of comfort, hope, connectedness, and possibility.

...there are many more such metaphors to build on, which could be applied to psychology. Feel free to correct or adapt mine...I may add to this post gradually.

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