Quarky Quanta and Singing Strings


Abstract image of quantum physics

Photo © Andrew Ostrovsky/iStockPhoto

by Susan McCaslin

Some Reflections on Chapter 4 of my new book, Arousing the Spirit (Wood Lake Publishing).

I borrowed the title of chapter 4 in Arousing the Spirit, “The Paradise Ear,” from an essay by Thomas Merton. In it Merton expresses how poetic vision recreates the world anew so that we become attuned to its paradisal qualities. I use Merton’s phrase somewhat differently and explore the almost universal human longing for other dimensions hidden within what we call the physical, or a life beyond death.

Since childhood, I’ve been open to the presence of deceased relatives. I’ve had visionary dreams of my parents since their departure from this world. A teacher of mine, a Canadian Christian mystic, Olga Park, lived daily with direct experiences of other dimensions. Psychologists might dismiss such things as subjective projections, wish fulfillments, or delusions.

And many progressive and liberal spiritual writers and teachers are rightly concerned that emphasis on other realities and a life beyond death leads to neglect of this world, and keeps us from being fully grounded here and now.

For Olga and for me, however, the awareness of interior regions never threw us off-balance or kept us from experiencing this world deeply as our home.

The complete rejection of such interior mysteries seems to me to come out of a false either/or construction. Choose either this life or the next. You can’t have both.

But what if being aware of inter-dimensionality actually enhances one’s commitment to the here and now?  We love this world precisely because it is part and parcel of a vast mysterious field that we can’t completely analyze or explain.  What if being here and now has ramifications at many levels? What if this life and what we call “the other life” are actually one, and intimately interconnected?

Of course, no one knows fully what happens after death, but whether or not consciousness dies with the death of the brain is something rational analysis can neither prove nor disprove. Best to remain wisely agnostic than to dogmatically declare, “Once you’re dead, you’re dead.”

I’d like to go beyond the parameters of my essay to bring in some of the implications of quantum theory in regards to the question of whether the mind includes and survives the brain. Since I wrote Arousing, I’ve read two very engaging books on this subject that I highly recommend.

The first is The Elegant Universe (Vintage, 2003) by physicist Brian Greene. In this lively and accessible exploration of superstrings (string theory), hidden dimensions, and the quest for the ultimate theory, Greene ably demonstrates that the universe is stranger, more quirky and quarky, than we ever could have imagined. His argument that the things we see and feel arise out of dark matter (a dark or hidden ground of being) and that there are multiple and simultaneous dimensions everywhere, is mind boggling, defying our usual sense of time and space.

If you want a more theological exploration of the same quarky turf, look at Diarmuid O’Murchu’s Quantum Theology: Spiritual Implications of the New Physics (Crossroad, 2004).  O’Murchu, a priest and social psychologist, writes: “In quantum terms, death is not a meaningless termination; it is a transformation into a more wholistic way of being” (179).

So when it comes to the intricate workings of the universe, it seems to me that scepticism and objectivity have their place, but openness to mystery is better and a quality the best of our scientists have maintained.

Susan McCaslin is a prize-winning poet and author of eleven volumes of poetry. Susan is Faculty Emeritus of Douglas College where she taught English and Creative Writing for twenty-three years. Her most recent volume of poetry, Demeter Goes Skydiving (University of Alberta Press, 2011), has recently been named a finalist for the BC Book Prize (Dorothy Livesay Award). She lives in Victoria, British Columbia. Visit her website at www.susanmccaslin.ca.

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2 Comments on “Quarky Quanta and Singing Strings”

  1. Margaret
    April 7, 2012 at 11:24 pm #

    Susan, I find your observation that there doesn’t need to be an either/or construction — we may accept the grounded world and interior mysteries — to be very helpful. This is something I have gotten stuck on.

  2. Kat Fretwell
    April 11, 2012 at 6:19 pm #

    Just finished reading Arousing and am enthused and awed anew at your wisdom, compassion, intimate tone, honesty, respect and honour re all beliefs, and lively prose and poetry. This deserves a huge readership! Brava! Your reinterpretations are stunning, marvelous, timely, urgently needed. Your synthesis of new and old theology, symbols, beliefs, mysticism and guidelines for discernment are smooth, clear and helpful. Insightful.

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