Sunday, October 11, 2009

Going Deep: The Lawyer and The Engineer get Metaphysical with 'It'

While at a party, doing our best to put a dent in a keg of beer, The Engineer confirmed my suspicion; namely, I don't know squat about anything. According to The Engineer, I'm in good company, because nobody else does either. That's a relief.

We could have been talking about sky-rocketing unemployment, the public option, Max Baucus's pocketing of $500,000.00 from the health insurance lobby, Afghanistan, the premodern insanity of the far right, a recent article published in the Journal of Interpretive Dance, or whether Denise Milani is the sexiest woman alive. Instead we were talking about quantum physics and humanity's limited capacity to know.

The way I explained it is that I have read quite a lot about quantum physics over the years and have never fully wrapped my mind around it. The Engineer explained that quantum physicist don't understand it either. "They grasp it mathematically, but beyond that they are just as confused as any one else about the way atoms behave, and the meaning of it all," said the Engineer.

"Physicist know that atoms are more like frequency transmitters than they are little billiard balls," he continued. "Atoms are more constituted of space than any thing tangible. And it only gets weirder. One atom can seem to be in more than one place at the same time. Consider this: from the ground we stand on, to our brains, everything is made of this stuff. Nothing is as it seems. As things should have it, we are incapable of discerning the nature of the stuff we and everything is made of."

We topped off our plastic cups at that.

Having completely lost the little crowd we were engaged with, I turned to epistemology.

"So," I said, "we don't really know what the stuff of the universe is, of which we and everything is intimately composed, nor do we have much access to a full perception of our environment given our very limited perception of things. The brain is a transducer that is bombarded by all of the universe we are in through our five senses, which is tuned to nothing more than a very narrow bandwidth."

We tugged at our chins.

"Much is lost on us as a result, stretching all the way back to the infrared and forward to the ultraviolet," said The Engineer. "It's like we are listening to a piano composition but can only hear one note."

"Just because we can't sense it doesn't mean it isn't there, whatever 'it' is," I suggested.

"Our window on reality is really a tiny peep hole," The Engineer added.

Feeling stupid, we refilled our beers.

"Denise Milani," I asked, "real or fake?"

"Definitely a brunette," responded The Engineer.

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