Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Self-Conscious Electron and the Creative Process

Good day Blogger world!

On a not completely unrelated note to the previous blog, I'd like to talk a little bit about quantum physics.  This isn't the first time this has come up - you may remember me touching on the subject while reviewing the book "Is There Life After Death?", which had a surprising amount of quantum physics to it.  Recently I came across a  Youtube video that explains one of the quintessential quantum physics experiments, and also one of its most tantalizing mysteries.

The "Double Slit Experiment" presents two mysteries:  that of how an electron can act like both a wave and a particle, and that of how the act of observing said electron actually changes how they act in the experiment.  I find this fascinating, and inspiring, on a number of levels.  

To start off, this makes for an apt metaphor for many situations in life.  You've heard that a watched pot never boils.  Not literally, of course, but it certainly feels that way at first.  This one (probably) has more to do with the way our mind perceives time (which is something else that becomes more interesting through the lens of quantum physics).  Still, the fact that a watched electron will not act like a wave (though the actions of the unobserved electron indicate it can), draws some interesting parallels.

As often happens, I find myself thinking of art making.  In the last post I talked about how a spontaneous drawing can end up being a really good piece of art, in a different way than the piece that took months to plan and execute.  In the same way that direct observation scares the little electron into acting like a true particle, sometimes it's as though thorough planning scares off that special something about spontaneous art.  This isn't taking anything away from a really well-planned and well-worked piece of art.  I'm just saying it's different.

I don't mind being observed when I'm making art, but I will sometimes keep ideas to myself until I've had a chance to get the real-world work started.  In the past, when I've admitted one of these ideas to, say, a teacher, it almost feels like premature contact with open air kills it instantly.  Without anything solid to back it up, it shrivels and dies under scrutiny, and no amount of explaining on my part can save it.

How interesting to observe something like an electron acting...self-conscious.  We all know it's more difficult to perform while being hyper-scrutinized - that we tend to change things, consciously or sub-consciously when being observed.  But what is this power of observation that it changes the behavior of an electron?  Alternatively, what is the power of the electron that it can react to the act of being measured, as if psychically aware?  Even we as human beings don't always know when we're being observed.  What tips off the electron?  What is this connection that is being made?!

The real-world implications of this are mind-boggling.  This is just one example of proof that there's way more going on in our world than we know.  As both a metaphor and an experiment, it makes one want to observe the world around us with new attention, and at the same time to stop over-thinking and start living with a new openness to the unknown.

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