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Home______Looking for Reality: Billiard Balls, Einstein, & Nisargadatta

A billiard ball strikes another and moves it across the table. The proximity of the one effected a change in the second. Right?

Einstein said so. He, of course, took it further and asserted that the speed of light is an absolute, a constant, that determines physical effects, none of which can be transmitted faster than its own speed, 300,000 kilometers per second (186,000 miles per second). Things happen locally, not across great distances, he added. Although Einstein didn't put it in the same manner, his principle also holds that when nobody is in a forest to hear a tree fall, there is sound nonetheless.

Then along came Quantum Theory and a physicist named Werner Heisenberg who challenged Einstein's theory. Einstein's view had reality as something with falling trees making sounds, and particles giving simultaneous position and velocity--something like a car crossing a railroad track at twenty miles an hour. (This is not a good comparison, but it helps impart the idea of position and velocity.) Heisenberg found that he couldn't have it both ways. He could either "snapshot" a particle's velocity or its position, but not both, which is akin to saying that we can describe that the car travels at twenty miles an hour or that it crosses a railroad track, but not both. On the quantum level the world simply didn't behave as Einstein conceived it on the large, gravitational level.

The point here: if things happen locally, if the local implies the real, then why can't both position and velocity be described at the quantum level?

Things happen locally?, somebody might ask, then reply, Why of course they do. Reality is based on conditions right in front of us. Things, and the conditions for an event, can't happen anywhere else but where we see an occurrence. Right?

Not necessarily.

John Bell had problems with this. In 1965 he wanted to determine whether reality could be described by a theory supporting local variables. For this purpose he developed an Inequality Theorem. This didn't work as it, too, implied non-locality. Subsequent experiments by other physicists indicated that reality, if there is one, cannot be local. (This, of course, comes as no surprise to a Zen master who teaches Big Mind, or a Hindu sage who speaks of Consciousness with a capital C. That art thou, as an ancient Sanskrit saying has it.)

In 1982, Alain Aspect conducted experiments at the University of Paris-South to determine if reality is non-local. His photon detectors were forty feet apart (12 meters) in order to record events at Track X and Track Y, sufficiently distant from one another. For purposes of this explanation, here is a key element of his experiments:

  • They were measured so that they could not "talk" to one another across Tracks X and Y. (Thus if reality is local, then the photon in Track X is independent of that in Track Y.)

    What implications for the outcome? If reality is local, then measuring the photon in X would have no effect on measurement of the photon in Y. If non-local, then measurement at X can affect measurement at Y.

    What did Aspect discover? That measurement at X affected measurement at Y. The findings imply that Einstein was wrong about locality and that the speed of light may be irrelevant to some events, or (horror! heresy!) something there is which travels faster than light. In any event, reality is non-local.

    A humble Indian merchant, Nisargadatta, had a different view of the entire matter. This is how he put it in I Am That:

    "There is no such state as seeing the real. Who is to see what? You can only be the real, which you are, anyhow. The problem is not mental. Abandon false ideas, that is all. There is no need of true ideas. There aren't any. " (359-60)

    Click on the link in the side bar to read about Nisargadatta.

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