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April 2, 2012 | by  | in Features |
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Love in the Time of Quantum Physics


“The commandment of love bade us not to love our neighbour as ourselves with the same amount and intensity of love, but to love him as ourselves with the same kind of love.” – James Joyce

Much of the everyday technology we take for granted is the side effect of research and development for warfare: plastics, internet, aeroplanes, satellites, nuclear energy, even instant coffee all included. National security is sufficiently urgent to warrant the cost and effort of research.

But is there an equal and opposite motivation in science? Does science—clinical and objective as we consider it—have an Aphrodite for its Ares, a Vishnu to its Shiva? My (steadfast and airtight) conclusion is Yes: alongside research and development in the interests of war and security, the equal and opposite motivator in science is pillowtalk.

Right now, deep in the earth under the Swiss-French border, scientists at CERN are firing atoms toward each other at destructive speeds, seeking to discover the ‘Higgs Boson’. Also known as the God Particle, this is the potential indestructible remains of an atomic collision. If found, it will be deemed the building block of life. The experiment will either reveal this particle—or confirm that life is infinitely divisible, composed of energy. The implications of being fundamentally material or immaterial are immense—not least because it could change, perhaps, love in the time of quantum physics.

Whether we consider it divinely designed or evolutionary accident—overwhelmingly vast or dismissably small—the strange and precarious nature of human existence sees us all seeking validation for our own. Not fragile, fleeting or sentimental inspirations, but robust validation—a reason to care, risk, partake. Underpinning what constitutes this validation for each of us, are ever-changing views on the nature of life itself. Always, though, validation must be irrefutably real: visceral and lasting. As each person is an infinity in the making, the love of a human being is this kind of expansive, living validation.

This means that love rarely goes unquestioned. It must be tested, its nature uncovered. To follow is a crude escapade through history glimpsing ideas on the nature of life itself informing lovers’ mutual deconstruction.

First stop, seventeenth century: The Slave’s devout Jewish shepherd Jacob is tortured by his love for the beautiful Wanda. She pulls apart his worship of God to bring him close; he grapples with the possibility that this God who fashioned the pastoral landscapes he so admires may also have created such a fine distraction from the Torah. With his afterlife at stake, he agonised that she “blazed”—like a bread oven, said he—”with an ecstasy—was it from heaven or hell?”

By 1880s England, this blaze has a likeness to technologies more modern than bread ovens. Charlotte Mortimer tingles as Peter converts her to Electricity, the universe’s secret power, newly discovered—unifying, but unlike God, unjudging. “Think of the language of the liturgy”, he coaxes. “God is almighty, all powerful, invisible. God is power, is creation and destruction, is energy, is the divine spark, the prime mover, the Light of the World”—an unseen force surges through them both on each accidental contact.

Alas, this precedes the days of televised ACC advertising, and the electrician dies falling off a ladder. Charlotte turns to a more rural sort of love, that of a naturalist: full of pistils, stamens, carpels, stigmas and other raunchy aspects of vegetation. Godwin is not a man of vast forces unseen, but of peaches and apples that blush, and coy precious stones that glint and sparkle. Out of love he polishes and collects these for observation, and indulges Charlotte as much; but she cannot be sure how long he’ll marvel before he finds a specimen more perfect.

In the hopeless setting of interwar France, comfort is scarce and God pronounced ‘dead’. Sartre’s Antoine is an existentialist doomed to isolation through the nature

of his being: a finite body with a self trapped cruelly inside like a prisoner. Life is an arbitrary assemblage of material forms—a chair here, a tree there— Antoine’s consciousness is a kind of tragic evolutionary incident doomed to elusive containment. An acquaintance tries to convert him to socialism, perhaps the atheist’s last refuge. Bemused and beyond salvation, atomised and insular, Antoine can only observe his acquaintance try:

“The autodidact’s soul had risen to the surface of his magnificent blind man’s eyes. If mine does the same, if it comes and presses its nose against the window panes, the two of them can exchange greetings.” – Jean-Paul Sartre

At the same time, light, energy and x-rays are found to travel in lines—Dora Maar watches her lover, Picasso, blend his friends’ faces into a splintered haze of webs and dots, merging them with space, and the furniture. Henry Ford launches his automobile assembly line, and by 1949 Biff—in Death of a Salesman—finds his father’s love steeped in capitalist economics and materialism. Biff finally bursts, having priced himself: “I’m one dollar an hour, Willy! I tried seven states and couldn’t raise it… I’m nothing!”

A decade later, Kerouac’s barefoot bohemian Buddhist Japhy Ryder splits the materialist American world with a turn to the East. Consciousness was expansive to Japhy, a free spirit to the point of misogyny. Japhy (think Into the Wild’s Supertramp) would not suffer loyalty’s delusions nor have his heart possessed. In the final scenes of the Dharma Bums, he boards a ship to Japan and flings his distraught girlfriend Psyche off it, shedding her, and involvement, like an addict. Consider Jesus’ pronouncement:

“I did not come to bring peace, but a sword… He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me… He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.” – Matthew, 10:34-39

Perhaps consciousness is neither transcendent as Japhy’s nor insular like Antoine’s, but language’s own portal. John Donne reckoned that “more than kisses, letters mingle souls”—and the postmoderns would agree. Perhaps we cannot even think without language, have no self but that which it composes, no heavenly afterlife but our collective all-permissing buffet of words and signs—and no love but what they enable. Or, perhaps love is earthlier: deep in the Congo, Kingsolver’s Orleanna finds the roots of her fierce maternal love watching the constant, merciless and determined regeneration of the jungle.

Mothers, writers, salesmen; prophets and institutions, Galileo, Darwin and chemistry, Rutherford and Einstein, Freud, Watson and Crick: people love themselves as their brand of love allows.

The lovers and partners of innovators have shaped our history by scrutinising and challenging them: ‘what kind of love is this?’ they may ask. ‘What would it have of me?’ Thrown off boats? Swallowed, absorbed, thwarted, ignored? The lovers’ challenge fuels a need to explore further and verify: perhaps progress is love itself at work, or language, art, God, people.

What of the quantum physicists at CERN? Their Large Hadron Collider is restaging a battle of, in fact, timeless and epic proportions: Vishnu vs. Shiva, Tu vs. Tawhiri, energy vs. material. Will the victor determine the nature of life—and change the stakes in our quest for validation?

“Here is the paradox of all human relationships: you have no need for a particular other in order for you to experience fully, Who You Are, and… without another, you are nothing. This is both the mystery and the wonder, the frustration and the joy of human experience. It requires a deep understanding and total willingness to live within this paradox in a way which makes sense…” – Neale Walsch

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