Is Reality the Right Saucer of Milk?: Schrodinger, Quantum & the Occult
The study of the supernatural begins with a sense of awe. Something spectral, outside the norm or different. Often times, the supernatural defies the empirical and is based solely on experiential happenings. And always it is attached to a sense of wonder. However, anthropologists, folklorists, and students of religion sometimes disagree as to whether the supernatural is in a system or if the system is made up of the supernatural. It is the classic macro/micro debate. For example, a scholar of the supernatural needs an office, a place to investigate, laboratory, tech equipment, an archive of narratives, cameras, witnesses, an audience, and ‘evidence’ or variances of the phenomenon. This structure is formed from local narratives that are collected, classified, changed, and performed in a myriad of ways. the supernatural begins at the local level then moves globally as it shifts and traded through dissemination.
What this means is that a student of the supernatural has a choice of routes and can focus on either the local or the global aspects of the supernatural. We can either study the spirit of the phenomenon as a whole or render an inquiry into a local paranormal investigative team. Just as Capitalism has a ‘spirit’ but no plausible opposite since its everywhere, a trading room on Wall Street has many competitors in
, London etc…Wall Street is connected in many ways and it is bigger only in this sense. As Latour has remarked, it is not wider. The point is to not focus on Capitalism but don’t stay stuck in the trading room either. We must follow the connections. After all, “what is acting at the same moment in any place is coming from many other places, many distant materials, and many faraway actors” (Bruno Latour,Reassembling the Social. 206). The paranormal also fits this pattern. Although researching the spirit of phenomenon is essential, we must also hone in on local teams that help make the narratives a viable piece of folklore. Shanghai
This idea of faraway entities interacting on the local arena also finds its place in quantum physics. According to Capra, “In the framework of quantum theory, distinct physical entities are therefore idealizations which are meaningful only to the extent that the main part of the interaction has a long range” (Capra, The Tao of Physics. 137). In other words, each transaction involves effects extending over great distances. This was the essence of the Einstein/Bohr debate of the 1920s. Einstein was convinced that there are no nonlocal connections. He believed that there must be some external reality consisting of independent spatially separated events. Bohr opined that nonlocal connections do exist. In quantum theory, particles transcend usual information transfer and two separated particles (even by space and time) can influence one another. John Bell settled the matter once and for all. He devised an experiment where two electrons are brought close to each other. At the instant we perform a measurement on particle 1 and set its rotational spin, the second particle automatically began to spin along its opposite axis thus giving the pair of total spin of 0. But would this happening occur if the electrons were separated by long distances? Einstein said ‘No’ because since no signal travels faster than light, it is impossible that a measurement on 1 will ‘instantly’ determine spin on the other. There must be some lag time. Bohr posited that a two-particle system is an indivisible whole. Even if their separated, the pair of electrons will continue to act on one another. Bells’ theorem proved consistent with Bohr’s theory and showed that electrons, and by extension the universe, is interconnected.
The paranormal also shows ideas of interconnection or unification. If we postulate the probabilities of potentialities based upon measurement, we can surmise the legitimacy of paranormal phenomenon. It’s not hard. Television is full of ghosthunting investigators utilizing a potential ‘Haunted House’ as a laboratory. Experiments are run in a myriad of ways to capture evidence of some supernatural entity. Often times, the ghost or specter is used as an ethnographic informant and structured interviewing is implemented to form a dialogue with the unseen. If we postulate that consciousness of spirit has some corresponding mechanism in our ordinary sphere of influence, the system can be seen as a pair of interconnecting parts. For example, if we use a voice recorder to measure the probability of spirit talking and we capture an anomalous recording on the device, can we find a corresponding sound vibration or band-width to use as a mechanism or catalyst for the happening? Probabilities can be mustered by using quantum thinking in areas of the paranormal. Sure, its difficult to verify. But is difficulty a justifiable reason to not explore these potentialities?
Inherently, the problem of the supernatural is one of Existence. The whole point of studying anomalous entities is to come to grips with our wanting to believe in something outside normal circles of space and time. We conjure narratives of myth and folklore. We apply reason and rationality in an attempt to explain scientifically what the anomalous re-presents to us. Probabilities and potentialities are the new symbols of the paranormal entity. More than an estimation of an occurrence or true statement, probability has become synonymous with the entity itself. Furthermore, the entity sits betwixt and between Being and Nothingness. Like the appearance of Schrodinger’s Cat, the supernatural creature cannot be said to ‘Be’ or ‘Not Be’ really there. As our perspective changes, so does the behavior of the entity. As Capra remarked, “The introduction of probability waves, in a sense, resolves the paradox of particles being waves by putting it in a totally new context; but at the same time it leads to another pair of opposite concepts which is even more fundamental that of Existence and Non-Existence. We can never say that an atomic particle exists at a certain place, nor can we say that it does not exist. Being a probability pattern, the particle has tendencies to exist in various places and thus manifests a strange kind of physical reality between Existence and Non-Existence” (Capra, Tao of Physics. 154). The particle recalls the supernatural entity in that it enjoys a liminal existence. As it is measured or as it is ethnographically studied, the particle sits without a status and is inbetween shifts in agency. Is it a limbo or purgatory existence? It is process of becoming and the state just before objective knowledge and subjective experience is unified into a new assembly? It is all these things and more.
The quantum is a sufficient metaphor for the supernatural. After all, many supernatural creatures can only be said to be perceived indirectly. Such in the case of the voice recorder or shadow on film. Particles exhibit similar behavior. Again Capra remarks that there are “Other particles that belong to a category called resonances. They live for a considerable shorter time, decaying after a few ‘particle seconds’, so they can never travel farther than a few times their own size. This means they cannot be seen in the bubble chamber; their existence can only be inferred indirectly” (Capra 228). Supernatural creatures also show the tendency to be indirectly perceived. For example, ceremonial magicians perform highly ritualized and formal invocations of the anomalous. Sometimes the rite consists of a complex magical circle, liturgy, and intense visualization. As the invocation progresses, sometimes a change of air pressure or strange sound is all that announces the entrance of the desired Being. Like the particle, the existence of the entity can sometimes only be inferred indirectly. A resonance and a supernatural entity cannot be said to be objects or events. They are an experience or happening…..