When Christopher Columbus landed in what is today known as the Bahamas, he brought with him a level of culture shock that rivals any other moment in human history. The natives of this land were known as The Taino. By Columbus’s own report, The Taino were a very gentle race of people. They took great joy in pleasing the European visitors. None of that worked out well for them of course. Many died of smallpox and other diseases from which they had no immunity, and many more died while laboring in the colonial mines and fields.
Given that intro, those who know me might be expecting this post to be about the horrible invasion by the Europeans of the land they ‘discovered’. That’s not where I’m going though. This is about Quantum Mechanics………seriously.
I recently watch the film What The Bleep Do We Know?. It contains some excellent content about the new field known as Quantum Mechanics. It also contains some new age sounding quackery similar to what you’ll find in The Secret.
One bit that really caught my attention was a story about when Columbus first encountered the Taino. It is claimed that the natives were unable to see the enormous ships wading out in the water. Literally unable to see anything but water when looking right at the ships. Eventually, a witch doctor (or bohique as they would have called him) was able to see the ships and help others to do the same. This was because he was more open to strange things then the others. More on the history of this story later.
What the filmakers were using the story to illustrate was that the universe may not be this static thing we often envision. They are proposing a theory based on Quantum Mechanics in which our consciousness creates one reality from many (actually from all possible) realities that exist simultaneously. This is because particles only behave as particles when observed. When unobserved, they exist as a wave that occupies all possible positions and states simultaneously. This is know as Quantum Superposition.
To me, this is extremely fascinating. The Quantum Theory components of this worldview are not flakey by any means. This is stuff that can be tested. We are able to observe particles moving in and out of existence. Where they go is the question.
To think of the world that way is very challenging. Advances in Quantum Mechanics should be relatable to advances in Philosophy and other humanities. This is a topic that will remain on my mind and reading list for some time. It is something that one can try to reconcile with many existing thoughts. For example, Empiricism, God, Karma, Solipsism, and the Big Bang all take on a new twist when considering Quantum Mechanics.
The movie is claiming that because the natives did not believe that such ships were possible, their consciousness was not able to make this particular arrangement of those particles real. Well, that seemed a bit fishy to me. There are certainly situations where people have observed things that they did not think were possible. The scientists who discovered that particles go in and out of existence may even be an example of that.
In fact, the story of the natives does not even originate with Columbus and the Tainos. It likely came several hundred years later from Captain Cook. From the same citation, it is likely not true.
This should not sway you away from watching the film however, it is very good. There are many credible physicists and philosophers in the movie. It certainly shouldn’t sway you away from Quantum Mechanics, which is the closest thing to understanding the truth about the universe (or multiverse) that men and women have ever known.