Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Quantum Consciousness: A Blossom at Dawn

Lenten Rose, photo on taken 3/30/14
                                                         More than ever I want to see
                                    in these blossoms at dawn
                                             the god’s face.

                                                Matsuo Bashō in The Essential Haiku
                                                            (Robert Haas, Ed. & Trans., p. 37)

         While the term quantum consciousness has recent provenance (e.g., the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has been tracking it for the past decade, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/qt-consciousness/ ), its roots go back much further than the century-old scientific explorations of Einstein, Heisenberg, Bohr, and others. Still, this work in quantum physics has importantly advanced the presence of this kind of knowing into our collective consciousness.  Quantum consciousness distinctively contributes to contemporary meaning-making because it resonates with and validates our vital need to come to terms with living in multiplicity and in making commitments within uncertainty.
            I believe even young children turn off schooling when their authority figures carry an outmoded consciousness. A learner’s lie detector goes off when a teacher or a text fails to resonate with the tenor of today’s reality. We are now living in a quantum age. Like the child who saw through the lie of the emperor’s new clothing, 21st century learners recognize, even if they cannot articulate, the fake in the old epistemologies and in so-called research that sounds presumptuous because it does not acknowledge the uncertainty and indeterminacy that has now been clearly pronounced in quantum study.
         The Age of Reason may have advanced civilization beyond manipulations of superstition, but educators still stuck in logical analysis risk losing the breath of creativity, the validation of feeling, the inner affirmation of intuition, and the joy of holistic apprehension. Underdressed educators include teachers who still assert that nonfiction is true and fiction is false, as well as those who are unaware of the Common Core silliness about rebalancing the distribution on this dead division. Such practices need illumination.

         The long, though shadowy, presence of quantum multiplicity can be traced in the work of the artist, of poets like Bashō shown above who wrote in Japan in late 1600s, in the classic court jester whose role was to temper the conscience of power, and also in science. As a prime example, Darwin modeled multiplicity as he recorded levels of thought ranging from public reports on his voyage on the Beagle to his secret journals that reflected private thinking.  As portrayed by Peter Sis in a format accessible to young as well as older learners, Darwin’s work and very life would have been threatened if his edge of consciousness had been published too soon; his evolutionary knowing required multiple levels: public, private, secret.

            In contrast with Darwin’s need to hide the multiple levels, quantum physicist Richard Feynman openly acknowledges the degree of uncertainty that characterizes cutting-edge work in science: “laws are guessed laws; they are extrapolations into the unknown” (p. 24 in The Meaning of It All). I think I might have believed more in science if my teachers could have admitted how Darwin explored and how Feynman embraced doubt because then science could have resonated with the deep knowing I had inside. When researchers claim the certainty of pseudo-science and teachers proclaim exploration as absolute truth, the curtain around the Wiz of Oz goes transparent and would-be learners grow more cynical.
         As a literacy educator, I don’t want to study quantum physics much; but I contend that quantum consciousness needs to be advanced, particularly within the teaching profession at large. Reviewing basic psychology and philosophy with a quantum perspective makes a good start. For example, Robert Ornstein in The Psychology of Consciousness interweaves Idries Shah’s accounts of Nasruddin with the tricky tangle around personal consciousness. Problems often ensue if we think and act in the illusion that personal constructions must align with external reality in producing a single truth. Multiplicity allows space for variation, paradox, contradiction, and doubt. Ornstein also threads William James into the conversation blending educational psychology with philosophy and showing again the roots of multiple-layered consciousness.

            In relation to literacy education, the work of Robert Bly has been invaluable to me. Perhaps most obviously connected with changing consciousness is his News of the Universe: Poems of Twofold Consciousness. Bly offers further development related to quantum consciousness through his translations and his account of the process of translating (Eight Stages of Translation).  These reveal how poets and poems are crossing levels of knowing. In an interview, Bly tells of the movement of consciousness: “by trying to translate something like that [Tranströmer], the poems come deep inside you, the images come deep inside you. . .You feel yourself, because of the work you've done on the image, invaded by the image. You feel that it has become a part of your house like someone who's moved into your house, and your house is changed then. Your house has changed because these images have come in. So that's the way I feel about translation. It's a blessing.” This movement is also evident in Bly’s Leaping Poetry and in his more recent work with the ghazal.
         In the past few years and related to this arena of literacy education, a few of us have begun mucking about into quantum storytelling.  David Boje has been forging the way in his writing, with blacksmithing, in hosting a conference, and in co-editing a volume soon to be available: Being Quantum: Storytelling and Ontology in the Age of Antenarrative.
           In a course I’ve developed titled “Good Stories: Teaching Narratives for Peace & Justice,” we practice holding multiple levels of engagement with the story and experience it in multiple modes: oral, print, & digital. Our work/play with narrative and in constructing digital media links to Bryan Boyd’s On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, & Fiction. I especially choose Boyd’s text because he builds the link between science and narrative.
          In our work/play with narrative, a major step in our engagement is Amplification. The purpose of amplification is to nurture the garden of leaps. As we engage with our developing capacity for quantum consciousness, we hold and negotiate multiple levels of knowing. Connections spark across levels with potential both to light up insight as well as to burn destructively.
         Robert Hass, cited at the beginning of these comments, points to one danger: “I think it was DH Lawrence who said that the soul can get to heaven in one leap but that, if it does, it leaves a demon in its place” (p. xv). Earlier on that page, Haas remarks on multiplicity and the relationship between Zen and haiku. “Zen provided people training in how to stand aside and leave the meaning-making activity of the ego to its own devices. Not resisting it, but seeing it as another phenomenal thing, like bush warblers and snow fall, though more intimate to us. Trying to find this quality in every haiku, however, romanticizes them and the culture they came from. It tends to make one rush to their mysteriousness and silence.”  From this multiplicity involved in an objectivity that is also subjectivity, Haas builds to the conjecture he attributed to Lawrence of making the soul leap that leaves an earth devil.
         Quantum consciousness, like haiku, offers leaps; but, like the alchemy noted in Boje’s video, it works best in tempered handling, like a blacksmith who knows the elements and loves the matter, the tools, the process, and, of course, the art produced. Quantum consciousness has a dangerous side in the rush, perhaps like Icarus lusting for the sun, like the premature leap of lovers, not yet tempered for the demands of Love.  But power always carries risk; and knowing the danger, we’re better prepared to engage the fire within quantum consciousness that tempers us to meet the challenges of advancing peace and justice.