I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Thoughts about existence

First cherry blossom last Friday

I've been stuck in a new book, which I finished yesterday: A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. I read it after having finished her latest novel about form and emptiness, which I wouldn't recommend for just any reader, as it's really long and rather confusing. I put it down a couple of times, but I kept returning to it. Then I remembered back a year or so ago when I bought a copy of the Time Being book, but I don't think I actually read it, because reading it now was a revelation, and nothing was familiar about the story. Of course, I'm also different now, having been through two years of social isolation from the pandemic, and I've also been sitting for twenty minutes in meditation every day for five months. It's made a huge difference in my ability to deal with the news of the day. 

And I have been fascinated lately by the entire concept of quantum mechanics. Ozeki uses it as a plot device, which amazed me and when I realized that much of what Buddhism seems to be about is reflected in much of the idea of what reality is. Although I don't know much about either subject, their interrelationship is unmistakable as I learn more. The concept of time passing has been fascinating lately, because I'm beginning to think that my idea of time might be a fallacy, a misunderstanding of what life is all about. Are we really born as tiny infants and move through different stages of life until we come to the end, and that's all there is?
In the future, maybe quantum mechanics will teach us something equally chilling about exactly how we exist from moment to moment of what we like to think of as time. —Richard K. Morgan

 In case you aren't aware of the contradictions that quantum mechanics opens up, it's possible I can give you a quick and dirty idea here: first of all, a quantum is most often used in physics as a measure of the smallest amount of something, usually energy, that something can possess. Quantum physics (or mechanics) predicts very strange things about how matter works that are completely at odds with how things seem to work in the real world. Quantum particles can behave like particles, located in a single place; or they can act like waves, distributed all over space or in several places at once. And it seems to depend on whether there's an observer, or consciousness, to decide which state occurs.

I downloaded a book onto my Kindle today that should help me understand it all better, Quantum Enigma: Physics Encounters Consciousness. After I read the sample they provided, I was hooked. It is the only thing I've found that seems to be written for someone without a mathematical background, and so far I've enjoyed the metaphysical gymnastics I've been needing to perform as I read. It does seems strange to think that consciousness can change the state of a physical object, but that is what it seems to be saying. I learned that Einstein didn't like the idea of quantum mechanics because it counters the whole theory of relativity. The two theories are mutually exclusive, but both seem to be true.

And then I began to wonder just what is consciousness? It seems that is a big subject, and that even though I know intellectually what consciousness is, nobody has ever been able to point to it. Is it part of the mind, or separate, or what? Wikipedia gives this definition:

Consciousness, at its simplest, is sentience or awareness of internal and external existence. Despite millennia of analyses, definitions, explanations and debates by philosophers and scientists, consciousness remains puzzling and controversial, being at once the most familiar and also the most mysterious aspect of our lives.

In my studies of Buddhism, I've learned that consciousness, or mind, is what Buddhists believe continues past death and that your consciousness is transferred to another sentient being depending on your karma, or past actions. It also believes that all beings, from insects to humans, are sentient. While this seems dubious to me, it's certainly possible, and many religions believe that one's soul lives on after death. Whatever the truth is, I guess I'll have to wait until I've gone beyond to find out. Or not. But learning that quantum physics opens up possibilities of other realms of existence has made me wonder, once again, just what the heck we humans are. 

As I grow older, and every day a little closer to the day that will bring my demise, I'm finding that the prospect of dying doesn't seem nearly as scary as it once did. Everything that is alive will die, everything that was born will finish its cycle by returning to Mother Earth, and that seems to me to be rather comforting. We humans have certainly made a mess of things, and perhaps future humans will find a way to fix the destruction we have caused to the planet (I certainly hope so), and that future generations will look back at this time and smile at our naiveté. If I can believe in anything at all, whatever I wish, I believe that love and peace will prevail.

Last night I lost an hour of sleep. Well, not really, since I slept until I usually do, and awakened 45 minutes later than I normally would. But it was actually pretty much the time I always awaken, it's just the clocks that have changed. Because I wasn't sure I'd be able to get everything done (like this post) on time, I told John I wouldn't be at the coffee shop this morning. My routine is no longer etched in stone, as it was before the pandemic changed everything, and I'm finding I sort of like to have some days when I don't know exactly how I'll spend the hours. Then last night my friend Lily texted me and asked me to come to her house for coffee and go for a walk together today, and I agreed that would be great. I really miss her company.

Friends and family, and my virtual community, are all extremely important parts of my life, and I need to nurture all of my interrelationships to maintain my equilibrium. I am, after all, now an elder and need to set a good example for the younger generations to follow. The world today seems brighter, not just because Daylight Saving Time will give us more daylight at the end of the day, but because I am at this moment filled with optimism for the Time Being. One concept that Ozeki uses in her book is that memories are also Time Beings, and they are pretty and delightful when they are new, like cherry blossoms, but they fade and fall to the earth after a short while. I know my memories are not the same as the actual events, but I still cherish every single one, pressed into the diary of my days.

And yes, with that, my dear friends, I am ready to continue on with the rest of today. My dear partner sleeps next to me, his breathing steady and peaceful. My tea is gone, and the day ahead beckons me to join it. Another precious day that I can spend however I choose. May this day bring you joy, my dear reader, and I wish you all good things until we meet again next week.


Barbara Rogers said...

I've also been interested in Buddhism and quantum theories. Thanks for explaining them together, sort of. Peace.

Rian said...

Love this post, DJan. I too am fascinated with the thought of time, time travel, consciousness, and memories. I know nothing about physics or quantum mechanics, so I can't offer anything to add to your post. But I do believe that everything from insects to humans are sentient beings and also that consciousness continues after death (but I really can't explain how or why I believe this, I just do). And I also hope that love and peace will prevail... that good will win in the end (naive possibly, but it keeps me going).

Anvilcloud said...

You are certainly going deeply into your ruminations (which maybe can’t be plural since spellcheck doesn’t like that), and whatever will be will be. (I think I heard that somewhere, maybe form Doris Day. 😇)

Marie Smith said...

You always give me food for thought. The consciousness, which some call the soul, continuing makes perfect sense to me. It is that untouchable part that makes sense of the world for us and I imagine it soaring out of our bodies into the heavens when our bodies can no longer sustain it. I imagine we are part of the whole consciousness of the universe which can break into tiny pieces to experience physical life sometimes. Anyway, food for thought.

Far Side of Fifty said...

Sounds like some heavy reading! Oh my body hates the time change already:( It will be a tough week:(

Arkansas Patti said...

Good thing you are in shape physically and mentally for like Far Side said, that is some heavy reading. If insects are sentient beings perhaps there is the possibility of Putin's consciousness continuing as a dung beetle next time. There is hope.

Linda Reeder said...

I'm up about my usual sleeping in time, which means according to the sprung ahead clocks, the morning is half over. I have no big plans or obligations today. My time is my own.
You write about death a lot lately and I am trying not to think too much about that right now. There may be some serious health problems going on with me but I will have to wait and wonder too long, too much time, so I will think more about the sunshine outside my window and the plum and cherry blossoms emerging, and if the rain holds off, maybe going for a walk. I don't think I can do quantum anything right now, but you have fun with it.

John's Island said...

Your study of consciousness fascinates me. I too have been working on understanding what it's all about. Did you realize consciousness is the one aspect of human existence that scientists have been unable to explain. The workings of the soul are still mostly a mystery. We are getting some glimpses into other dimensions via NDEs and SDEs. (Near Death Experiences and Shared Death Experiences) Thanks for sharing the books you've been reading. I do believe we are headed in the same direction.

William Kendall said...

I woke up as usual this morning with no issue. I imagine the disorientation will start this evening with twilight later than it was yesterday.

Gigi said...

I'm really rooting for the next several generations to fix things; somehow, some way. And when I look at my son's generation...I feel a glimmer of hope for the future.

Have a great week!

Red said...

I should have known where you were going with the discussion of time. You took me by surprise when you suddenly got to the religious aspect of your life. Nice post. We get to a point in our life where we've been here long enough and it's time to leave.

Galen Pearl said...

Good explanation and a thought provoking post. I remember years ago reading books like The Dancing Wu Li Masters and The Tao of Physics that invited me to ponder some of these questions about reality and the nature of consciousness. That particle/wave experiment never ceases to amaze me and break open my way of thinking about things. Your meditations and readings have led to some deep posts lately!

Betsy said...

As always, I wish that they would leave our time with Daylight Savings. I enjoy the extra hour of daylight at the end of the day. My body had been extra tired all day and I look forward to a good sleep tonight.
Your reading has certainly led you into deep thoughts.
Blessings and hugs,

Tabor said...

I read about the particle accelerator in Europe many years ago and one of the anomalies was that a particle would split into two when a human was present in the room and did not when they were monitoring it from a distance. That seemed so sci-fi to me. I do think that we do move into another plane of good and bad energy when we leave this earth and that is why being at peace is so important. YOu did a good job of helping me understand this and I admire your persistence to understand it.

gigi-hawaii said...

I like to believe that the spirit, aka the soul, will live forever. Catholics believe that to be true. It is very comforting to perceive death as NOT being final. Death is a gateway to another life.

Glenda Beall said...

I tip my hat to you, DJan. I would not endeavor to plow through such books on complicated subjects. The pandemic greatly changed my life. I had COVID in January 2020 before there was a test or vaccine. I suffered many post covid problems including extreme fatigue and loss of taste and smell. But the isolation was absolutely the worst part of the past two years, that and the worry I might get sick again and being all alone changed me in ways I was not conscious of until now. So many people are suffering from post covid issues and I find I now have a heart problem I didn't have before I had COVID.

Margaret said...

I so loved that Time Being book; we read it in Book Club but many weren't as into it as I was so the discussion was disappointing. I wanted to know if the Time Being was a being in time or the time being (the present) or both. I've long been fascinated by the theory of quantum entanglement; I think it works with humans too and not just particles.