Thursday, February 08, 2007

This Quantum Existence

Today in my Archaeological Methods class we talked about various research questions and the various ways in which they approach the investigation of a site. Perhaps this roots me in the "has beens" section, but the processual questions appeal to me best. The piece I wrote about this time last year apparently belongs to the processual school of thought (I didn't know it when I wrote it, but I'll identify with a school of thought if it helps categorize my ideas). The processualists are the ones that account for systems--living systems, and especially the idea of feedback loops. Professor Gallivan asked me to explain a feedback loop, and I found myself at a loss. How can I describe something so innate to our existence? Everything we do--everything we ARE--is a feedback loop, from the way we approach the world and let it influence our perceptions to the metabolic pathways that continue serenely as they always have for countless millenia.

The best I could do was "a feedback loop is a way of describing life as a non-static system." Professor Gallivan agreed, but said that hadn't exactly defined a feedback loop. It's the idea that something can reinforce itself--lift itself up by its bootstraps, if you will. How this happens is a miracle of sorts--the concept that an event or object can not only continue but increase its influence or dominance over a sphere of existence by doing just that--existing. Considering a living system without considering feedback loops is like one of those physics problems that discounts air resistance and friction. It makes everything neat and tidy, but sadly it doesn't apply to any real context. A zero-point energy equation may make your P-Chem homework easier, but the only reason we use it is because it makes our math look better--not because it has any bearing on what molecular energy levels really look like.

Not to seem tangential, but last week in Advanced Inorganic Chemistry we dicussed how atoms can form molecules. If electrons repulse each other, how can atoms get sufficiently close to form bonds? The answer is that electrons, unlike other subatomic particles, differ in their quantum number--in essence, the level or essence of their "being." Therefore, electrons with different quantum numbers are literally unaware of each others' existence. However, the protons in respective atomic nuclei are acutely aware of the existence of electrons in other atoms' orbitals, and are subsequently drawn to them.

How is that related? Perhaps it is an allegory for how our lives proceed. How many times have we had a feeling, an intuition, a gut reaction to something without knowing why? How many times have humans being posited the idea of a world beyond the veil--a different "quantum number" of existence? As we live, we are pulled by things beyond our control and shape the things within our control. At the same time we change the shape the things that pull us and are shaped by the things we have control over--so the column of "Outside" and "Within" our control is constantly in flux, the truly existential feedback loop.

By the time I arrived at the age I am now, my feedback loop was already firmly set in motion. And yet I can change the things I do, shape the way I am, for better or for worse. No system is ever without its flux, no feedback loop ever without the shifts in the amounts of its subsequent parts. And, as within living systems, we have mechanisms set up to deal with the shortages and overdoses of the joys and vicissitudes our lives have to offer. The only time a true balance is met is when the Quantum Train leaves the station and drives beyond that Veil, the land where states of being no longer matter and we find our place of Holy Origin.

I'm still flying.


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