Friday, July 12, 2013

Quantum Physics, Poetry, and Theology: Weaving a Braid

In the past week, I've found myself coming across a variety of references to quantum physics, which has been an interest of mine, even though I can scarcely get my brain around most of the ideas that the science contains.  It seems worth considering these strands to see if they're just random coincidence, or if they weave together into an interesting braid.

--A week ago I was almost done reading Kate Atkinson's "Life After Life," which has a sci-fi, quantum physics aspect in that the main character lives all sorts of lives.  Is she really living these lives or is this novel more akin to a choose-your-own-adventure book?  I could make the case for either.  As I was reading, I was thinking that I wasn't finding the characters compelling, sine each scenario didn't let us spend much time with them.  And yet, in the week since I finished the book, my brain keeps returning to them.  It's interesting to watch how the lives of the characters remain essentially the same, regardless of what happens to them.  And yet, there are crucial turning points which determine the future, both historical events and individual encounters between characters.  There are 2 scenarios at either end of the spectrum of happy-unhappy endings which seem to hinge on one crucial scene; I won't say more, so as not to ruin it for those who have yet to read the book.

--When I returned, I was pleased to find this NPR piece on Physics and Poetry.  What happens when a professor of astrophysics returns to T. S. Eliot's "The Wasteland"?

He writes to a John Beer, professor of English, who  is also a poet, and they have an interesting exchange.  Here's a taste:

"For Beer a poem is a kind of living thing to be experienced, rather than an explanation to be unpacked:

'You can live somewhere new for a while and still not have a strong sense as to where the best restaurants are, or find yourself getting lost on a regular basis. Poems are likewise to be lived with.'

I liked Beer's metaphor about living uncomfortably in the midst of a poem you don't understand. That speaks to hidden similarities between physics (and all science) and poetry (and all the arts). In my own experience, for example, you do have to move in with a difficult piece of mathematical physics. It comes to you slowly. You read it, work out some details, get lost, come back again later."

--He's not the only one exploring the intersections of poetry and physics.  Rachel Barenblat has written an intriguing post on her study of quantum physics while at a Jewish renewal/retreat experience.  As they study physics and poetry, they also look at texts from the Hebrew scripture:

"One of my favorite parts of the first class was when we read some Ezekiel (the start of chapter 1, the vision of the fire with lightning sparking in it, and creatures who had the appearance of fire sparking with lightning, וְהַחַיּוֹת, רָצוֹא וָשׁוֹב / v'ha-chayot ratzo v'shov, and those creatures "ran and returned"), and then paused to learn about how lightning works. (Did you know that lightning involves an upward flow of ions / energy as well as a downward flow? That dovetails with some extraordinary metaphors for divinity -- I'm having Yom Kippur sermon ideas!)"

The whole post is full of these kinds of nuggets that make me want to capture notes for possible poems.

--And then there's this post by Bookgirl which explores friendship and communities of all kinds and which types of people seem more open to which kinds of exploration:

"I have been intrigued to discover a niche, a small group of us, mostly in academia, largely in English (or Quantum Physics), who are deeply involved in theological discovery and lay ministry, some of whom seem wholly satisfied in this sacred calling and some of whom continue–even in our 40s–to wonder about the lay/ordained divide, and what the Holy Spirit is calling in our lives: Kristin, Mary Beth, Jo(e), Michelle come to mind. The interweavings fascinate me. In California, the divide between academia and the church can be wide. To see other people negotiate the two (and also spouses and children and life) is reassuring and fascinating."

--Here, too, in South Florida the divide seems wide, but I begin to wonder if my perceptions are accurate.  I wonder if it's similar to college, where I assumed the gulf was wide between Greeks and non-Greeks, but in my last year of college, I got glimmerings that maybe we had more in common than I thought.

--And like Bookgirl, I see all sorts of interweavings, and as I see these strands braiding together, I, too, return to the idea of a call, which could take the form of a lighting spark or the form of a whisper.  Where will it all lead?

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