Morgan Freeman introduces
The Quantum World
...and a little process theology, too
So, what are we really made of?
Dig deep inside the atom
and you'll find tiny particles
Held together by invisible forces
Everything is made up
Of tiny packets of energy
Born in cosmic furnaces
The atoms that we're made of have
Negatively charged electrons
Whirling around a big bulky nucleus
The Quantum Theory
Offers a very different explanation
Of our world
The universe is made of
Twelve particles of matter
Four forces of nature
That's a wonderful and significant story
Suppose that little things
Behaved very differently
Than anything big
Nothing's really as it seems
It's so wonderfully different
Than anything big
The world is a dynamic mess
Of jiggling things
It's hard to believe
The quantum theory
Is so strange and bizarre
Even Einstein couldn't get his head around it
In the quantum world
The world of particles
Nothing is certain
It's a world of probabilities
It's very hard to imagine
All the crazy things
That things really are like
Electrons act like waves
No they don't exactly
They act like particles
No they don't exactly
We need a theory of everything
Which is still just beyond our grasp
We need a theory of everything, perhaps
The ultimate triumph of science
I gotta stop somewhere
I'll leave you something to imagine
Like Morgan Freeman, process theologians are interested in the question: What are we really made of? They are also interested in Whitehead's response fo the question.
The philosopher who inspires process theology, Alfred North Whitehead, develops the idea that we are really made of momentary events or, in his words, actual occasions of experience. These momentary events are the building blocks of reality.
For Whitehead, the clearest examples of these building blocks are the quantum events within the depths of atoms and our own momentary experience in the here-and-now.
In Whitehead's philosophy things are made of events. Whitehead offers an event cosmology, not unlike the event cosmologies of Chinese thinking.
The twelve particles of matter of which Brian Cox speaks are made of these events, too. So are the four force carriers or, if Higgs Boson has been discovered, five.
Dark Matter and Dark Energy
Some physicists believe that dark matter and dark energy make up a majority of the universe, in addition to the 12 particles and 4 force carriers. In other words, there is matter out there that does not glow like normal matter when light shines on it and that there is something driving galaxies away from one another at large distance scales
In Whitehead's philosophy the dark matter and dark energy are made of momentary events, too. Even in so called empty space there's lots of dynamism.
Richard Feynman speaks of the quantum events as little things and notes that they behave very differently from big things like mountains and bodies.
Societies of Societies of Societies
Whitehead speaks speaks of these big things as "societies" of events. By "society" he means an aggregate of events which share common characteristics through their feelings of one another.
Societies are nested within one another. For example, a molecule is a society, and so is a living cell, and so is an animal body in which a living cell plays a role, and so is the animal to whom the body belongs. The big things are societies of societies of societies.
The universe as a whole is a really big society. It is gathered into the unity of a psyche, too.
The unity of the universe is a psyche a living whole which prehends all the societies within its own body and responds with lures for feeling. Whitehead speaks of this living whole as God.
God works with, not against, the laws of nature. The laws are really the habits of nature. They are general patterns which have gained momentum over time, such that future events conform to them.
But even in their conformity there is an element of spontaneity. What is so crazy about the universe is that it contains self-creativity. There are, as it were, self-organizing wholes. Living cells are self-organizing wholes. God is a self-organizing whole, too. The whole which God self-organizes is the universe in all its dimensions.
We never see this ultimate whole as an object among objects within our field of awareness, because we are always already inside it.
God is not all-powerful. This means that the future is not known in advance by God, because it does not exist to be known.
The Future is Open Even for God
For good or ill this means that the future cannot be completely predicted in advance: we live in a world of probabilities. If we imagine the universe as an ongoing drama, lasting about thirteen billion years so far, and somehow this drama were paused and returned to its initial conditions, it might unfold in a very different way the next time around. There's a whole lot of contingency going on.
This means that the activities of the universe now, of which we ourselves are instances, can unfold in various ways. In human life we call this freedom.
Stephen Hawking speaks of a theory of everything. It would still be inherently quantum mechanical, with all the probabilistic nuances and predictions that any other quantum theory has. A theory of everything just means that we could show that all of the fundamental forces are related to one another, not that we have a clockwork universe.
So what are we really made of? We are made of little bitty jiggling things inside our bodies, which are quantum events, and we are made of our own experience, which both grows out of, and influences the jiggly things.
Decision is the Essence of Actuality
Do you see the girl on the left? As she looks at you, she is experiencing you from a subjective point of view. She is deciding how she might respond to you.
Her act of decision is an act of cutting off certain possibilities in the very process of actualizing others. It's happening all the time in her, both consciously and unconsciously. This activity is, for Whitehead, the very essence of actuality.
What Whitehead proposes is that something like this is occurring all the way down, even in the tiny packets of energy within the depths of atoms.
Is it really so different from the world of big things?
Yes and No. It is different from what what seems to be the case, if we simply look at things as objects among objects from a third-person point of view. But it is not so different from what is happening in the girl's subjectivity, moment by moment. Always there is the deciding. Always there is the creativity. If we seek certainty and perfect stability, it's kind of crazy.
Science Explores the Craziness
But for Whitehead her consciousness and the energetic dynamics of quantum events in the depths of matter are of the same kind. We can call it craziness if we wish, but we can also call it being alive.
Aliveness is always moving, always changing, always in process. So is the Soul of the universe.
Science is a way of exploring the craziness.
* Note from the Editor: This short article is really just an excuse to let you watch and enjoy the video above, which is one among many produced by John Boswell called the Symphony of Science: http://symphonyofscience.com/. The aim of Boswell's series is to introduce science and ideas in musical form. Let's not pretend we understand the science of quantum theory. But with help from Boswell's project we may understand the spirit and see some of its links with process theology. I also want to thank a physicist colleague of mine, Dr. Todd Tinsley, for providing some of the language to explain quantum theory. I use some of his language in the article. For a more general introduction to Whitehead, see "What is Process Thought?"