Listening to White Noise

I was having breakfast at a restaurant this morning, seated near a table of people (genders will not be revealed) who were gabbing incessantly. The conversation was about the usual stuff: places they had been, what they’d seen there, and, most importantly, whether or not their experience had been good or bad. Then the subject segued into politics. The talk became more animated and much more assertive. These people were onto a subject they had strong feelings about. The feelings were based upon convictions and the convictions were based upon what? Certain knowledge? Hardly. Their convictions reflected everything they had been told about the current political drama. The cliches were as thick as particles being fired through an observed double-slit screen. No sign of wave interference anywhere.

What was apparent was the fact that none of these people had a clue that there could be anything but particles supporting their political biases. They were wholly embedded in a reality they had chosen for themselves and were, in lively fashion, flogging it to death.

Had I approached their table and proposed the idea that there was nothing real about anything that they were talking about, I would have been immediately scorned and probably asked to mind my own business. When it comes to politics, reality takes sides. And of course the assumption is that reality actually does have sides and that it can be divided into a “good” side and a “bad” side. This has been the major operating principle since Zoroastrianism and the Manichean philosophy. To hear it being celebrated into the second decade of the 21st century is frankly as disturbing as discovering a severed leg on the sidewalk.

Why the persistence of such a completely outmoded way of thinking? We’ve had roughly a hundred years of quantum mechanics and its implications are being revealed on a weekly basis. Now there is quantum Bayesianism, which is like quantum mechanics on steroids. If plain quantum mechanics has taught us that nothing exists until it is observed, quantum Bayesianism is asserting that we, individually and subjectively, are responsible for having that experience. Get this: Everything is just made up.

Back to the breakfast table. Imagine announcing to the diners that, first, not only everything they are discussing is totally fabricated by their consciousnesses, but second, that the food they are eating, the table they are sitting at, the other diners in the restaurant, and the restaurant itself are all being made up out of their observation of pure wave function. Their entire reality is a holographic projection created out of their subjective awareness. It is all essentially white noise being given form and meaning.

Somebody call the cops! Of course, the arriving cops would be made up too. Did you ever hear of Br’er Rabbit and the tar baby? Rabbit gets into an argument (a one-sided one) with the tar baby and when Rabbit loses his patience with the tar baby’s lack of response (because  he’s just a tar image of a baby), he gets physical, attacking the tar baby and getting ever more stuck in the tar of which the baby is made.

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Physical reality is a lot like the tar baby. As soon as we take it to be real and begin interacting with it physically and emotionally, we get stuck. The more we struggle to get free, the more stuck we become. Overcoming the tar baby would seem to be a good idea at first, but it’s actually the worst thing you can do. “Spiritual” people think that they are overcoming the tar baby by not getting into a fight with it. Still, they acknowledge it exists. Otherwise, they would have nothing to ignore. We, on the other hand, believe that by controlling or punishing the tar baby things can only get better.

I wound up seeing the diners at the breakfast table as a bunch of rabbits struggling with the tar baby and the noise they were making over it a nondescript white noise. After all, they were just making it all up.