Why this? Why anything?

Why should I care? Why should I care?
Pete Townsend

Nature conceals her secrets because she is sublime, not because she is a trickster.
--Albert Einstein

Dear reader, or better still, dear lady reader, recall the bright, joyful eyes with which your child beams upon you when you bring him a new toy, and then let the physicists tell you that in reality nothing emerges from these eyes; in reality their only objectively detectable function is, continually to be hit by and receive light quanta. In reality! A strange reality! Something seems to be missing in it.
--What is Life
Erwin Schrodinger

Nature contemplates, and creates by contemplation.
--Nature Loves to Hide
Shimon Malin

No, I'm not dangerous,
no more than life is.
But like you said,
We didn't come here because it was safe.
And I'm not entirely safe either.

This was going to be a treatise on physics. External physics versus internal physics. Why it is that every physicist I've ever read who made a big difference in the world had in his or her head the idea that something bigger than people was going on in the world, but maybe not.

Maybe not.

This is the operative idea. You can start with a guy like Mach who was just plain wrong, and from him comes Einstein who was pretty right but not entirely. Then you have Heisenberg and Schrodinger and these guys are saying

"God does not play dice"

"Are you kidding, Vegas is the meaning of life"

"Dude, you just said *God*"

But in the end you have to eat. It's like the world of porn. It's out there and it makes stuff happen in your brain. And if you actually did all that sex you'd die of starvation. Like if you listened to all that rock and roll. Like if you did nothing but philosophize you'd still be here and you'd still need to eat and pee occasionally.

So, look. Objectivation is when you have to try to convince yourself things are "out there" and measurable. It's the name of the process by which scientists choose what's worth studying and what's not. You're not going to get a scientist to measure the love inside you. You're not going to get one to locate the birthplace of the angels. You're not going to ever get one to tell you where you are inside your brain, even though you have a brain and, by crackie, you damn well know you're in there somewhere.

The scientists who write the books like "SUPERSTRINGS: The Weird Theory of Everything", and, "Transdimentional Space Time Made Simple" are real people who have simply gone crazy. That's what we have to call it because if they're right, the truth of existence is somewhere between the halls of the Tibetian monastery where the Dali Lama hangs out and Princeton.

In my life I have met some of these guys. One guy I met was Fritjof Capra. He wrote, The Tao of Physics. It was one of these Gary Zukav-esque The Dancing Wu-Li Masters books that explained that quantum physicists all over the world were dropping off the edge of scientific sanity and becoming monks or priests or hermits because they'd finally discovered the truth of the world. Capra wasn't quite off the edge when I met him. He was still thinking he could hear the music of the spheres by figuring out the eigenvalues of Schrodinger's equations for different constrained particles and reading the Bhagavad-Gita at the same time.

About ten of us went to hear him speak in a conference room on Easton Avenue on the Rutgers University campus. It was an intimate setting. We sat in a circle. He recounted the things he'd said in his book, quite automatically. It took about an hour, and then people started asking him questions about David Hume and John Bell, and he blasted off into a long series of disjoint sermonettes that seemed to come from a bizarre justaposition of the Bible, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, and a couple Ian Fleming novels.

The guys who asked about David Hume nodded as if the prophet was speaking. When we left, I was convinced I knew nothing about the universe except that I had to eat and pass my electronic's circuit analysis final if I was going to remain happy.

Two years ago I met a guy named Nick Herbert. Like most of the important things in my life my meeting with Nick happened through a strange sequence of events. (Of course, everything happens through a sequence of events, and if you look deeply enough--down to the quantum level--you start wondering how anything happens at all, and that it's probably all quite "strange".) It started with an e-mail Nick sent to me because I had posted something to a news group about the experiences I was having after my OOBE classes. Nick asked me a few questions and we had a nice dialog. Sometime later I was sitting in my office staring at my bookshelf and I saw a couple old books there from my college days, and they had Nick's name on the spine, so I asked him via e-mail if he was the guy who'd written them. He had.

Turns out Nick lives in Santa Cruz which is close to me. I wasn't working for a living in those days, and I had a lot of time on my hands. So under the guise of doing an interview for an article I'd eventually write, he agreed to meet me for lunch and discussion.

I met him at a small lunch place by the ocean. I sat on the deck watching the boats go by, and even though I had no idea what he looked like I had no doubt I'd recognize him. A couple of tourists came in who seemed like abscent-minded physicists, and when I accosted them, they gave me that "oh shit don't rob me" look you get from senior-citizens who don't know you.

Nick found me, somehow. He's tall and reasonably thin. One would say, gaunt, but that would indicate a state of malnourishment that isn't the case. His hands are like spiders on the end of broom handles. His eyes are bright and what little hair he has left on his head hasn't seen a comb since the Kennedy administration. He wore conservative, trousers, sandals, and a modestly tie-dyed shirt. There was a chain of pooka shells around his neck and he carried a rumpled paper sack I was sure contained a flask of cheap bourbon.

I'm not sure what he expected, meeting me, but I'm fairly sure I was not it in real life. He seemed to be a bit disappointed I couldn't keep up with the details of the discussion on the upside-downedness of quantum chromodynamics, or that my ability to calculate Bell's Inequality dulled with a couple beers while his appeared to sharpen.

I wrote nothing down. I'd brought a friend with me who was a real writer who wrote everything, and as she was a she who was reasonably attractive, she got a bit of Nick's attention, but then he shut that off and spoke only to me. It wasn't that he thought she couldn't keep up with the discussion, because clearly, she and I were equals in our lack of philosophical training, but he wanted to tell me something alone. So he told both of us he was still pissed he hadn't got his Nobel Prize yet for the work he did after John Bell's magnum opus, which proved the error of locality and shot EPR to ribbons. And then my friend, who was wearing a bikini under her clothes, stripped off her outer layer and went to distribute pheromones on the beach while Nick and I roamed the shore as I imagine John Steinbeck must have with Doc Ricketts. (Only nothing as important for humanity as Cannery Row could come from our interaction.)

Nick wanted to know about the Monroe Institute, which had sucked a total of about $5000 out of my personal coffers for four weeks of psychic training that had left me staggering like a whorehouse john on a four-day bender.

Life was like that, he thought. That you get led down these paths and it's all connected. Even when you're wrong, it's important. Everything means something. Non-local effects that seem super-luminal are not--because nothing is actually moving. It's not temporal--see? He moves his hands in the air making pions and kaons and building experiments that shape the wave function. When you decide you're looking for something, you collaborate with the universe to make it real. So if you build a photon polarization detector, the universe makes polarized things for you, and you can find them according to some rules we only understand vaguely. It's like we're looking through a steamy shower room door. We can see the big letters written on the wall, but the small ones, they're not only illegible, they may not be words at all.

He was into all that, and I was into that sort of, "we don't know what it is but here we are," thinking. The whole "maybe there are ghosts," or "maybe we can leave our bodies and fly," was what we were both into, this nearly nobel prize winning physicist and me, for whom the physics of things was a first love. I was into it because I had to figure out my place and the world. And now all the physics I'd learned as an undergrad and grad school, and all the books I read including his had led me to the beach in Santa Cruz musing the nature of the human soul.

And he was into it because his science had led him there. And he was taller than me. His mind contained so much stuff I felt like I was standing next to a nuclear reactor. "It" just buzzed out of him in energetic pulses that could make you smart by induction. He was into the mind and consciousness because of the math and the physics and Immanuel Kant and Carl Jung and a time twenty years ago with a girl with teased light-brown hair who wore culottes and pachouli who made him feel like the entire universe revolved around the two of them. He was sure he could prove it did. Then he was sure he did.

And about two miles away, she lay dying of ovarian cancer in an intensive care ward. He would have to get back from our lunch soon. He spent his time reading to her. The book he read her was in the bag he carried. He had two others--books of his poetry. He gave one each to me and my bikini'ed friend. I still have it beside my bed. I'm afraid to open it.

I hugged Nick Herbert before I left him. He told me to read Nature Loves to Hide, by his friend Shimon Malin, and I said I would, but I didn't. I got in my car with my bikini friend and rested my head on my steering wheel and tried not to cry my eyeballs blurry. I tried not to think what I thought, which was that maybe the reason why all the physics I was into as a kid, maybe it was all just so I could meet Nick Herbert on a beach 30 years later and tell him I didn't know why his love was dying, but I sure as hell knew dying wasn't anything worse than being born. Maybe it was to shake his gnarly hand and to hug the man and to say I'd keep in touch and then to not.

I just read the book, finally, two years later. Maybe I should call. Maybe we can talk again. Who knows why the universe does what it does?

I'm no physicist.

Ob*jec`ti*va"tion (?), n.

Converting into an object.


© Webster 1913.

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