On the Quantum Mechanics of the Human Intellect and the Stories It Creates
If human beings are to explore those distant and wished for lands, we must first come to grips with some of the perplexing conceptual issues that have dogged quantum physics since its inception. These riddles dance around the enigma of quantum observership. Its contemplation brings us back from the realm of the multiverse to the intimate confines of our own skin, where we ask what it means to say that “we” “observe” “nature.”
- Timothy Ferris, The Whole Shebang: A State-of-the-Universe(s) Report
During the crisis of modern science in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the postulates of early scientific discoveries had been refuted. In one of science’s most defining moments, an undisturbed photon of light was found to exhibit both wave-like and particulate qualities. The relationship between these two qualities would later be termed complementarity by Niels Bohr, one of the scientists at the forefront of this discovery. As Thomas S. Kuhn notes in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, “Before [the theory of quantum mechanics] was developed by Plank, Einstein, and others early in [the twentieth] century, physics texts taught that light was transverse wave motion” (12). So staggering was this discovery that in his autobiography, Albert Einstein recounts, “All my attempts to adapt the theoretical foundations of physics [to the new quantum knowns] failed completely. It was as if the ground had been pulled out from under one, with no firm foundation to be seen anywhere upon which one could have been built.” Not surprisingly, this arrest of the fundamental postulates of classical physics sparked a reevaluation of the “world view” by the scientists of the early twentieth century. Bohr “saw complementarity as a kind of chiaroscuro, an essential embracing by nature of opposites and contradictions” (Ferris 275). The discovery, which years ago would have been thought of as exclusively internal to science, became a critical problem in philosophy; a part of science was becoming philosophical. Moreover, the idea of duality in nature “suggested its broader application in a complementarity between mutually exclusive ways of knowledge, like religion and science…The deep interconnectedness of phenomena encouraged a new holistic thinking about the world” (Tarnas 357). If one applies these ideas to human thought, fragments of knowledge—discrete facts—it seems, can no longer be solely characterized as packets of information. Like light itself, the nature of knowledge has a certain duality: although information can exist as specific, discontinuous entities, it can also exist as a more general, continuous whole.
The work of Stephen Jay Gould consistently capitalizes on the “meaningful joinings between the facts, methods, and concerns of science and the humanistic disciplines” (Landed 5). One of the most cogent examples of this “interconnectedness” is evident in his...