Archive for January 20th, 2011

What is Life?

In a surprising experiment, it appears that DNA molecules can “teleport” from one place to another, meaning that they don’t move through space but simply “leap” there, much like the transporter effect on Star Trek.   The mechanism is not human made, but based on the effects of quantum mechanics.   Here’s an interesting tidbit from the article:

“It could be that the propagation of life is able to make use of the quantum nature of reality to project itself in subtle ways, as has been hinted at in previous experiments. Alternatively, it could be that life itself is a complex projection of these quantum phenomena and utterly depends on them in ways not yet understood because they are incredibly hard to detect.

Speculatively, (and Montagnier doesn’t directly suggest anything so unsubstantiated), it could also be the little-understood quantum properties of the water molecule and not just its more obvious chemical bonding properties that gives it such a central role in the bio-engineering of life-forms. Water might be a good medium in which DNA can copy itself using processes that hint at quantum entanglement and ‘teleportation’ (our term).”

It never ceases to amaze me how little people think seriously about the implications of quantum mechanics and recent experimentation in sub atomic particles on philosophy.   We cling to a Newtonian materialist “objective” view of reality, when science is increasingly showing a strange world with properties outside of what are capable of understanding at this point in our intellectual development.

We have no clue what exactly life is, or why it exists.   We speculate.  Some thinks that life is simply a product of nature, and there are rules within nature that we should conform to in order to live moral, productive lives.   Others think life is an accident, and that we can make up our own rules as we go, morality is our invention.   Some are convinced that there is a God, and that God gave messages to humans through prophets or even sent his son.   They try to interpret and understand holy books to give them a sense of how to live.   Some believe in particular new age spiritual ideas, using methods of meditation and spiritual connection to try to harness unseen energies and potentials.   Others believe that the mystery surrounding our existence is far greater than that which we know and understand, and remain open to diverse ideas, but unwilling to embrace any dogma.

I am in the last category, though I believe that there is for lack of a better word a spiritual dimension to life that is far more important and powerful than the crude materialist cause and effect we experience in our everyday life.    Why do I think that way?   What is it about my personality or experience that cause me to choose a certain way to interpret reality, while others choose differently?  I don’t know.

All through life I’ve been filled with a sense of magic.   From chance meetings to lucky breaks and problems that turned into gifts, it seems that coincidence has been a strong ally of mine, and that seems (for lack of a better word) magical.

It can be the time in Italy when Steve (another faculty member on the trip) and I went to buy groceries for a group picnic, planning to meet the 40+ others at 7:00 at Piazza Michelangelo overlooking Florence.   A cab got us to a grocery store in an unfamiliar part of town.  We grabbed food as quickly as we could, not thinking of how much we were buying.   We paid and realized we didn’t know where we were, no cabs were close by, and we had only 20 minutes until we were to meet the others.   After a few minutes of ‘gallows humor,’ I said, “well, let’s just get on a bus, it’ll take us somewhere.”   It got us to Piazza Michelangelo at 6:59.   Our group was right there.    We had bought the perfect amount of food.

Yesterday I was planning for this year’s Italy trip, and tried to buy a ticket for a student who was going to return separate from the group.  My credit card was rejected.  Frustrated, I also tried to open a document for the group deposit.   It wouldn’t open (though I’d opened it before).    Just before the offices closed I called down and found out that a new credit card with a new expiration date had arrived.  I ran over and got it.   I realized that my efforts to pay a hotel deposit and the travel deposit (the document that wouldn’t have opened) would have failed with the old card.  Moreover, I found a much better, cheaper ticket for the student than the one I had been trying to purchase.  Tiny events, but it still felt like a bit of magic.

Coincidences pile up and bring situations that I never could plan for, but are what I need (not always what I think I want).  I’ve learned to go with this.   I try to avoid being upset when things go wrong, because I figure they’re going wrong for a reason.  I try to be open to new opportunities, figuring that if something presents itself, there might be something to gain.   It may be a work opportunity, people in my life, research or whatever.

The more I feel like I’m living “magically,” the easier life seems to be.   It could just be my own psychological ploy.  Perhaps there is no magic, but my perspective diminishes stress, which in and of itself makes life easier.   By taking life as it comes rather than trying to plan and push for a particular future, I don’t get upset when things don’t go as planned; I am quite comfortable knowing that I’m not in control.   By seeing coincidence as a powerful force to be welcomed, I become adaptable and willing to change.   Not professing any certainty in what life is all about helps me not to be judgmental or upset when people don’t do things the way I would.   Even if there is no magic and the material world just unfolds according to its own laws, my perspective makes my life easier.

But maybe life is magical.   Maybe the quantum properties we don’t understand guide us gently, offering possibilities and potentials that we can choose to follow, ignore or fight against.   Maybe our identity in his world is just one aspect of who we are, just as my hand is only one part of my body.   My intuition senses a kind of unity of existence, even as my senses perceive distinct material objects.  But modern physics already tells us that our senses are not very good at perceiving the intricate workings of nature; there is no reason to think that they give me the information necessary to understand the nature of reality.   They give me the capacity to navigate this reality.

So what is life?  I’m not sure, but I choose to embrace the sense of magic and synchronicity that seems evident in my every day life.   That doesn’t explain the pain of this world, the tragedies, or the problems.   But I don’t think we can improve things if we focus on the negative.    In fact, maybe if more of us saw magic in our daily routines we’d take a step towards having the capacity to make the world a better place.

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