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Quantum and Mangum
Science, God, and a Flying Victrola

victrola with angels flying out

I have been an atheist nearly all of my life. My mother is a non-practicing Catholic; a woman who, in college, would not cross the threshold of a fraternity house because she feared her soul would be damned to hell. My father is agnostic. I was baptized a Protestant (go figure), and protest I do – against any organized religion. I was also an atheist, until recently – although considering my view of “god,” most Westerners would consider me one still.

The summer of ‘99, I began reading in earnest about astrophysics. Aside from music (I began playing piano at age five and would sleep under – or in – our piano from earlier than that), this was my earliest fascination. I collected National Geographic articles about the solar system as a kindergartner. The books I have read – from Sagan, Hawking, Asimov and Feynman (the introductory authors) to Kip Thorne’s Black Holes and Time Warps and Ken Wilbur’s Quantum Questions: The Mystical Writings of the World’s Great Physicists – have brought me to a surprising conclusion – one that I was not even open to, let alone looking for. I stopped believing in the tooth fairy at five, Jesus at seven, and – much to my despair – Santa Claus at eight (he and my mother shared the same handwriting). And yet I now find myself unable to reject the notion that there is so much more to life and the universe than we can experience, yet comprehend, that the idea of a higher logic or “god” (in the most general sense) is difficult to deny. I am not suggesting that science can prove or disprove anything within the realm of spirit, just that its laws suggest a reality far beyond that which we perceive.

Just from the electro-magnetic spectrum (which holds the “visual spectrum” of the colors), there are several frequencies that we cannot see – radio waves, UV waves, micro-waves, etc. Add to that the elasticity of space-time (things we perceive as concrete), dimensions (there may be 10, if string theory is proven correct), the earth speeding through the galaxy (and the galaxy speeding through the expanding universe – none of which we can feel), and the idea that matter is really just energy condensed to its lowest velocity, and you have a world that we can not even gauge correctly, let alone explain. Astrophysics has broken the “if we can’t see or prove it, it doesn’t exist” bond for me. When I read its laws and ideas, I feel a presence, a peace and a connection with all things and beings that I have never known or expected.victrola

I mention all this because it is the most surprising and amazing thing that has happened to me in my short life. Even though I don’t endorse the philosophies of evangelical Christians or those of other faiths, I feel I do understand something of their origin. This feeling – of a connection, of a deeper consciousness – is the most revelatory thing someone can experience, as far as I know. An excerpt from Art and Physics by Dr. Leonard Shlain:

“In Tertium Organum (1911), P.D. Ouspensky, a Russian mathematician and philosopher, describes how circumscribed entities existing in two dimensions can be part of a unity in the third dimension. Observe from one side of a pane of frosted glass the prints left by the tips of someone’s fingers touching the opposite side. A two-dimensional investigator, counting five separate circles, would conclude that each fingerprint is a separate entity. But we who can appreciate the third dimension of depth, know that the five separate fingerprints belong to one unified object in three dimensions: a hand. We also know that the three-dimensional hand is attached to a being that generates mind when time is added to the vectors of space. By extrapolation, this is exactly the example that illustrates how our separate, individual minds, existing in our limited perceptual apparatus using two coordinates, space and time, could also be part of a universal mind that is a unified entity in the higher dimension of the space-time continuum.”

I agree whole-heartedly with this and had a similar vision (mine was of humans as fingernails – relatively unconscious things that shed themselves frequently, yet contributed to and were connected to an ultimately conscious being, that was, in turn, connected to a higher organization). I suppose all this sounds over-analyzed, but it isn’t. It’s totally gut-instinct, as all the best ideas are. And that is where these ideas and art merge.

The most universal and intense experience that human beings share is the search for transcendence – that feeling of expanding beyond your body, your mind, your time to connect with other beings and the cosmos itself. Some find it in religion or mysticism, others in a song or poem, still others in a physics lab. It’s all the same quest – the Truth about what it is to exist. The search for a unifying theory – that which shows the perfection, balance, and higher logic of the universe – gave scientists like Einstein, Heisenberg and Wheeler that feeling, which is why they became mystics. And the “perfect” art – which suggests the same by some intrinsic push – gives others that same ecstasy. There is an evolutionary benefit to many of our feelings, even being in love, but not for this. How could the most powerful need we have come from and end in nothing?

Though I have been strangely moved by several experiences in my life – from harvest moons to seeing the Rosetta Stone – there have been only two things that have unequivocally given me a feeling of connection with all things here and an eerie sense of the richness of whatever lies beyond. When I am depressed or nervous, lost or fixated on some silly problem, I turn to them and, instantly, they remind me that my worries are dwarfed by the beauty and mystery of That Thing That Is Everywhere, Even In You. I have never found such peace or giddy awe anywhere else. Despite the fact that these two things are on opposite sides of our social spectrum, the feeling I get when I am in their presence is identical. How strange that I stumbled across both of them in the same summer. The first, of course is astrophysics, and the second is this silly little band.