The Trickster | Jan 2004

FMBR Editorial: Jan, 2004

The Trickster

William C. Gough

In most mythologies of the world there are figures known as tricksters. Their principle characteristics are cunning, quick-wittedness and a propensity for mischievous or humorous behavior. The effect of their behavior can be creative or destructive, or both. The trickster speaks to the physical as opposed to the spiritual. He introduces chaos and uncertainty into our physical environment. However, modern Western society "banned" the "trickster." For the past few hundred years Western science, and as a consequence the Western mind, have been preoccupied with notions of certainty, predictive power, and the exercise of control. We created a belief in a clockwork universe. There could be no surprises and no ambiguities, only a series of certainties strung out along the line of time. We viewed the universe as if we were outside and looking in at it -- as if we were separated from it by a window pane of glass.

Now that perception is changing. Quantum theory smashed that glass. We are no longer objective observers of the universe, we have become participants in its evolution. In the process we have moved from a world of certainty to a world of uncertainty. Quantum theory requires that we must always be willing to accept some degree of "missing information." Total knowledge and predictive power will never be available to us. Two types of uncertainty exist in the universe. The first represents a measure of our ignorance and science will be able to seek answers for these uncertainties. However, the second type of uncertainty represents an inherent property of Nature. Heisenberg's "Uncertainty Principle" in quantum theory dictates that no matter how refined the measurements are, the level of uncertainty can never be reduced. This uncertainty is absolute and irreducible and lies at the heart of the quantum universe. The price we pay for becoming participators and co-creators in the world is this uncertainty.

Thus, we have the famous wave/particle duality of quantum physics. The mystery didn't go away as scientists repeated the double-slit experiment first with electrons, then with neutrons, and then with atoms. All of these larger "particles" also behaved as both waves and particles. Scientists have even done similar experiments with molecules consisting of about sixty atoms of carbon. The same mysterious wave interference pattern again appeared.

What if instead of a continuous beam of particles we send only one electron or proton at a time through the double-slit? Again, the pattern of single point-like flashes gradually became a wave-like interference pattern, as if each electron had somehow split in half and passed through both slits. It doesn't even appear to matter how much time is taken between sending the single particles, the wave interference pattern still appears. What if we changed the experimental set-up after the particles were on their way? The results demonstrated that the change set-up determined the outcome. Our delayed choice effectively reached back into the past and determined after the photon was on its journey whether it would be detected as a wave or a particle. Other Double-Slit experiments of a different kind were performed that effectively removed the intervention of a detecting device in the path of the photon. Amazingly the results were influenced by the mere possibility that the experimentalist could take actions, even if he doesn't take these actions. Thus, these data indicate that mental acts can influence future events. Maybe there isn't a particle out there, and maybe there isn't a wave out there. What is there may depend upon how we choose to describe, measure, or think about it. The perceived "certainty" of science has slowly dissolved into uncertainty. The trickster has returned. Or perhaps the trickster never left. Our belief in certainty was just another of his tricks!

William C. Gough, FMBR Chairman of the Board, January 2004