Quantum physic and Zen philosophy.
Physics is the study of nature, matter and the properties of energy. Over the centuries our understanding of physics has become more and more refined. It started out as simply logical deductive reasoning from Aristotle. Amazingly, little more progress was made over the next 2,000 years until Isaac Newton made his monumental discoveries of the laws of motion and gravity. We are all likely familiar with his 3 most famous laws: an object will not change its motion unless a force acts on it; the force on an object is equal to its mass times its acceleration and when two objects interact, they apply forces to each other of equal magnitude and opposite direction.
These laws perfectly describe our macro world, the world that we see around us. They are deterministic. Meaning, we can use the laws to determine the future movements of objects that involve motion and gravity with perfect precision. These laws are so exact that if, in theory, we knew the exact location of every particle in the universe and the forces acting on them, by applying Newton laws we can absolutely determine the future location of those particles. In essence, we could predict the future.
Newton’s laws stood unchallenged as the basis of physics for 200 years. That was until a group of scientists in the 1920’s and 30’s discovered quantum physics. This is a very complicated field but basically what they discovered was that Newton’s laws did not hold when they started to investigate the atom and its components. At this sub-atomic level all matter is essentially light. Newton’s laws of motion and gravity simply did not describe the world they were seeing inside the atom. These young scientists uncovered a new set of laws that were able to describe what they saw. But, there was a big difference between Newton’s laws and the laws of the quantum world. Newton’s laws are able to give us perfect predictions of the future, if we knew the exact location of matter and the forces acting on it. Quantum laws give
us no such certainty. The best description they give us is one based on probability. The location of an electron at any given time can only be predicted with some degree of probability. Another key law of the quantum world is that particles only exist in relation to each other. There is no absolute existence.
So, what does this all have to do with Zen philosophy? We know that a large source of our suffering comes from our tendency to project into the future and especially to strive for some sort of certainty about how our actions will create good outcomes. You can see how this sounds very Newtonian. If I make some good choices then I will have good outcomes. But we now know from the quantum world that these expectations are false. How can we live in the macro world expecting certainty when the most basic components of our matter behave only with probability? The universe is designed to disappoint those who seek certainty. This is a tough lesson to learn for many. Our continued practice of meditation and training the mind to live with uncertainty is properly aligned with how the universe is organized at its most fundamental level.