Forty Two Days – Week Three

Thoughts this week had to do with reality and perception. I’ve been reading through a layman’s explanation of some of the more unusual findings in quantum mechanics. My first response was amazement, my second, the question, “So what?”
From the reading I did, I gathered that “reality” and our perceptions are often vastly different. Consider findings concerning locality. Locality is the concept that physical influence requires a spatial connection. For one particle or thing to influence another, there must be a direct connection between the two particles or things. If particle one is completely isolated from particle two, then one should not be able to influence two. The mathematics behind quantum mechanics, however, suggest otherwise. Experiments on infinitesimally small particles (namely electrons) show that spatially isolated particles can be linked, and if one particle is acted upon and a change takes place, a change will instantaneously take place in another particle which is somehow non-spatially linked to it. Another example of the weirdness would be time asynchrony. Perception suggests that time is linear. Though we always feel as though we’re in the “present,” time moves from past to future. But apparently higher mathematics suggest that this isn’t the case, either. Though it sounds deceptively simple, motion bends time, meaning that “right now” for different entities moving at different speeds can encompass pretty much all of time.
That takes care of my response of amazement. Now on to part two: “So what?” Our perceptions of the world have been good enough that we humans are pretty functional. Does it benefit us to try and throw out our perceptions of how things are and instead force our brains to think of the world as working differently than it appears to? Back in the day, the mind bending new discovery was the spherical nature of the earth. That was hard for people to accept, just as non-locality and time asynchrony are hard to accept. But to what degree have people accepted the spherical nature of earth? Unless you’re atop a huge mountain or out at sea, you can’t tell the earth is curved. It seems flat. And for everyday living, it doesn’t make a big difference whether we think of the world as round or flat. Gravity holds us down as if the world is flat, so people “down under” in Australia don’t have to walk upside down. Other than not worrying about falling off the edge of the world, it doesn’t make much of a difference. Granted, airplane navigators have to take geodesics and the earth’s roundness into account when charting courses, and long range missile operators have to watch out that the curvature of the earth doesn’t interfere, but these situations are the exception, not the rule. The rule is that the earth seems flat, and as long as we can recognize that it is round and this applies to some situations, we can keep thinking of the earth as flat in most situations.
Perhaps the same is true of locality. We can recognize that time can be bent or particles can be “magically” linked, and yet continue living as if these aren’t true. Except in specialized situations, people can continue to live as if perception is reality, while recognizing that while a good approximation, this doesn’t always hold true.


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