Sunday, December 28, 2008

Entanglement

"Any time two entities interact, they entangle. It doesn't matter if they are photons (bits of light), atoms (bits of matter), or bigger things made of atoms like dust motes, microscopes, cats, or people. The entanglement persists no matter how far these entities separate, as long as they don't subsequently interact with anything else--an almost impossibly tall order for a cat or a person, which is why we don't notice the effect. . . . . It starts when they interact; in doing so, they lose their separate existence" (Gilder, 2008, p. 3).

I find the conceptual implications of the above quotation (and the Wikipedia definition of entanglement) captivating. It comes from a book on the history of quantum physics which I am currently (if somewhat guiltily) enjoying. Like most non-fiction books, this one is also organized much too chronologically for my taste. However, the author has done a beautiful job of grounding the development of quantum theory in the daily lives of those through whom it was revealed to the world. She also does a brilliant job of reconstructing conversations from historical documents in a way that highlights the significant influence the scientists' personal and social "entanglements" had on theoretical developments in the field of physics.

It is interesting to consider the degree to which we are consciously aware of our "entanglement" with others, the relative strength of each of those connections, and how intensely the connections persist in the face of prolonged separation (due to death, the decay of a friendship, divorce, or simply increased absence from the realities of one another's normal, daily routines). Have you ever spent time trying to isolate and unravel the "entanglements" that are most persistent in your life? Are there people who are no longer physically part of your daily routine with whom you continue to be deeply entangled (in terms of the influence they exert on your thoughts and actions)? Do you ever wonder why THOSE particular people seem to have such a disproportionate influence within your sphere of existence?

From an alternative perspective, have you ever wondered what noticeable effect your individual existence has on the rest of the world? Do you ever ponder whether the brief comments, insignificant interactions, or trivial activities in which you engage affect anyone else in deep and lasting ways? Have you ever thought about the degree to which the effect of those tiny expressions of self may be magnified by their absence in someone else's life? Have you ever considered the effect that your unspoken musings would have on the world if you were to share "the real" you with more of the world? Conversations about the concept of entanglement merit a much greater investment than the time and space inherent in a midnight blog post. For now, I'll suffice to say that the manner in which we live would surely change if we truly believed and viewed ourselves as connected to others and our environment in physical ways.

References

Friendwheel
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Gilder, Louisa. (2008). The age of entanglement: When quantum physics was reborn. NY: Alfred A. Knopf.

7 comments:

Mary said...

This reminds me of a game we played at a peer mediation group.

You start with a huge ball of yarn one person standing in the middle, and throws it to a person and says some reason why they are throwing it to them. ( Often revealing something that may have seemed insignificant to one, but made a difference in another's life, etc) You can only throw to one person, and then the circle continues. As you hold on to your piece of the string, you become entangled. The very last person who gets the ball of yarn gets to throw to ANY person, and then you have quite a visual of how the entire group is connected.

It is SUCH a powerful activity, I still remember what people have said, and even have the string that we cut to pieces when we were finished.

:D
Always connected.

Spice Girl said...

Cherice! Love these thoughts on entanglement. They make me think about my own graduation (6 months away!) and the career choices I've made and friends past, present, and future. So glad you're one of them.

(And the word verification is "kniting"--how appropriate!)

S & B Udall said...

My comment is just to say that i popped in... I just wanted to see if you were the Cherice that i thought you were when I saw your comment on the Kuehne's blog. I don't know any others so I shouldn't have questioned. Congrats on finishing your PhD!

Shayla Udall (Skinner)

Cherice said...

Mary - I've played the game, but I haven't seen it used in that way. Neat idea. The fact that you still have the string says something of the incredible power of words. Makes me sigh when I consider how incredibly misused they (words) often are--especially in academia. I'm watching a trend of conversations on Twitter right now re: how to expand the fiscal "worth" of your blog. It saddens me that the conversations become more about positioning than content.

Cherice said...

Can't believe your graduation is only 6 months away! Congrats! I'm still waiting for the final version of the tree story! And the word verification IS quite appropriate!

Cherice said...

Hi Shayla,

It is so fun to hear from you. Yes, you've found the right Cherice. Congrats on the new last name! Hope all is well with you!

jenn said...

Loved this post and the depth of thought that it's brought me to now. Love the thought about how, upon being once "entangled", you are often never really "separated". I have often felt that way b/c many of the people I've moved away from have meant so much to me and I still think about, dream about, and keep in contact with so many of them (even ones I haven't seen in years!). Physical separation is difficult sometimes, but the bonds (and that person's influence in your life) don't ever end. I guess you could say I'm still "under the influence" of Cherice, too. :)

And I think I just might use Mary's suggestion of using a ball of yarn with our Young Women's group. Thanks!