“What we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning.”
– Werner Heisenberg
I have a book of photographs by Clark Little. His specialty is pictures of waves frozen in time. Taken from unique angles in beautiful tropical locales, the waves sometimes look like anything but a wave – castles, mountains, crowns, walls, tunnels.
These are wonderful illustrations of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle in quantum mechanics, which states that the more precisely we know the position of a particle the less we know of its momentum and vice versa. In Little’s photos the position of the wave is sharp and clear, so there is no indication of movement at all.
This lets us imagine all the fanciful things we see in those waves, things that are solid and unmoving. Even though we’re fully aware that these are split–second glimpses of a constantly changing system, our pattern–seeking minds rush to fill in meanings for the fantastic shapes we see.
What is the “reality” of those shapes? They are definitely “real” for that instant of time, then gone in the swirl of energy. The flip side of the uncertainty principle is that when our attention is on the movement of that swirl we lose awareness of individual shapes.
I’m now seeing everything as a wave. It’s easy to see ephemeral things like cloud formations and actual waves on the ocean this way because they change so rapidly, but even “solid” things are eventually found to be temporary. Once there was no Eiffel Tower, now it exists, and eventually it will be gone. Even during the time it “exists”, if we look at it on the atomic level we’ll see mostly space, albeit filled with buzzing subatomic particles flying every which way. That solid steel isn’t really so solid!
At any given moment what we “are” is the sum of all the causes and events leading up to that moment, literally from the beginning of time. We’re a snapshot, like Little’s pictures, of uncountable little waves all coming together. An instant later, and the waves have continued on in their particular directions. If we take another snapshot, what we “are” will be different – a new frozen moment in time.
What if we reorient our view away from the position and to the movement? Now what we “are” is quite different. Instead of a person dressed in somewhat shabby exercise clothes located on a particular street at a particular time, what I “am” is running, dodging, puffing. There is a blur of colors surrounding me and I feel currents of energy, pain and inspiration in my body, but no real awareness of “inside” or “outside”. Here it’s easy to see the wave aspect of life – constant change, constant motion, nothing stationary.
Big events occur and they act like big rocks thrown into a pond – big waves radiate out from the point of impact, influencing everything else. The farther away something is, the smaller the effect of the wave, but it is affected nonetheless. Also the waves eventually bounce off the shore, or rocks and islands in the pond, and return to the original impact point. Our actions do come back to us!
The waves roll out and return. Are you the individual wave, or the ocean that produces it?