[h/t Deepak Chopra for the enlightening (and table-turning) phrase "superstition of materialism." For all his faults, the man is brilliant.]
Michael Ortiz has written a dead-on quantum mechanics explanation of why, according to natural laws of the universe, the philosophy of capitalism is "bound to perpetuate the likes of environmental devastation and vast human suffering." I would have said "is bound to perpetrate"" as well, because the philosophy of capitalism is the root of so many current challenges facing humanity. Ortiz's point, in line with the similar thoughts of many of humanity's most intelligent thinkers and scientists, is general and basic enough that any aspect of collective human reality would profit from examination in the light of what quantum mechanics tells us of the nature of physical reality. In this article, it is capitalism which Ortiz holds up to examination for consistency with the fundamental laws of quantum mechanics. The present essay is meant to complement and clarify Ortiz's article, which I highly recommend.
"Physical" reality is nothing like what our world-addled senses tell us it is like, unless these senses are refined to a high extent such as through advanced meditative practices. It is difficult but possible to still the steady conceptual rattling of the mind long enough for the senses to observe the moment to moment change which advanced meditators perceive in nature around them. Looking at any field of human endeavor, to the extent that actors within that field are operating from a notion of matter as a solid, physical thing characterized by the well-defined, unchanging objective independence that our mental concepts demand, to the extent that actors within a field are governed by this understanding, to this same extent it may be expected that results obtained will encounter difficulties and contradictions. The inconvenience is that this view of reality is an illusion. Material objects are not constant nor even defined until observed; prior to observation they exist as uncommitted potentialities.
I have read some discussions, such as the The Tao of Physics and Dancing Wu Li Masters, which I feel over-generalize from the characteristics of nature revealed by the quite specific and limited quantum mechanics experiments. It is dangerous to assume that every poorly understood aspect of reality revealed when examining the atomic and sub-atomic can be generalized to apply to the macro world of ordinary human perception. It is my opinion that Ortiz's hypothesis does not suffer from this flaw. Even though our habitual views and dominant collective reality cause us to be disposed to read some of Ortiz's claims as dreamy or even screwy, I believe that every claim made in this article is literally, basically true. Consider this summarizing sentence:
Given the fact that the underlying premise of capitalism acts in opposition to the principles of quantum mechanics and, therefore, the nature of the universe itself (as understood through quantum mechanics), then we should not be confounded in the least when we experience the destructive consequences of a system that is based on prodigious wealth and material accumulation.
Ah, another mystic, the dominant culture likely will respond to such crazy talk. Meanwhile, Ortiz and others who see the inescapable truth of this statement based on the observed nature of the universe will be left to watch its on-going verification as suffering grows. In fact, today we see increasing strain maintaining consistent collective views of reality as the illusions of capitalism bring about consequences contrary to what a flawed materialistic view would predict. On many levels we see more scrambling to cover over reality with theories, claims, secrets, and demonstrable inaccuracies. If lying is necessary to keep a system intact, this signals that the system per se is fundamentally flawed. It is human nature to believe it is possible to "get away" with lying. If the measure of success were to be convincing other people, then perhaps lies could be said to work; if the measure of success is coherence with the world as it is, then we as a species never "get away" with lying.
It may be pointed out with reason that "successful" capitalists don't give a fig about the nature of reality and that none of any of this is preventing yacht enthusiasts from "enjoying" astonishing benefits which come with concentrated matter, whatever the underlying form of that matter. Sure, it may be said, physics teaches us that the underlying nature of reality is surprising, but what are being called illusions actually exist precisely because they work so well in helping human beings manipulate the world. In response to this objection one may initiate a discussion of what happiness is and to what extent wealth may bring happiness, but that question aside, these ideas make no claim to be a prescription for convincing the unconvinced nor a formula for bringing change to a system by force or even by reason. The present discussion remains scientific by avoiding venturing beyond description of what is so along with predictions of what may be expected to result from ordering our world on the basis of a delusional philosphy. However, if the quantum mechanics experiments are to be taken as informative, then we do find a prescription, which Ortiz describes:
Consequently, when we look at the world through the lens of quantum mechanics, we see that the economic systems of capitalism, socialism and communism actually have more in common with each other since they all are based on material acquisition and distribution and on the assumption that our world is a fundamentally material realm. However, we can use quantum mechanics to create an entirely new way of viewing and operating inside of the world, which would require a drastic philosophical and ideological change of epic proportion. Epic change, perhaps, is a concept that we may need to start entertaining.
Epic change. I say, "Why not?" I have seen enough so-called "incremental change" to doubt that I will contribute to two-party politics again until the dynamics are vastly different than we suffer under today. I have seen diddling, lying, and denial as the planet hurtles toward catastrophe for humans and critters, this despite the power of science to have foreseen this and described its causes. I take Ortiz's piece not as a cerebral exercise in abstract thought, but as a challenge to exert effect on the world through what I choose to observe and thus bring into reality, through bringing my habitual daily interpretations of the world more in line with what experiments in quantum mechanics have proven to be so. I choose to remember that exertion of force on material is not the only way to change the world.
We cannot hope to counteract the effects of capitalism by buying into the same belief in materialism herein critiqued. Inducing change through awareness certainly strikes most of us as weak tea, to say the least. Drones and helicopter gunships, lobbyists and sleaze money seem much more powerful, much more real. This is because of the illusion of reality as fixed and solid. If we take seriously what we learn from experiments in quantum mechanics, then we also believe that our awareness exerts a powerful effect on what sort of reality emerges to define itself as seemingly solid.
A description of Young's double slit experiment with light
The starting point for Ortiz's discussion is the famous double slit experiment which countless people have evoked to make countless generalizations about the nature of reality. Certainly, the implications of Young's experiment and subsequent attempts to place the results in a cohesive conceptual framework have produced ideas which are shocking to our naive sense-based idea of the world. Following is a brief description this experiment and its implications. Although it is scientific and technical and thus may be daunting to some, this experiment is not at all difficult to understand.
A source of light was projected against a wall with parallel slits. The light that passed through the slits then fell on a screen. On the screen, Young observed a pattern of alternating light and dark vertical lines. "How can this be?" Young wondered. A tidy explanation arose if the light emerging from the slits were conceptualized as waves rather than as particles. When it is considered that the two slits create two sources of light which is behaving as waves, then the center of the light vertical lines projected on the screen can be explained as a place that both waves strike the screen at a high point of the wave, thus adding to each other, while the center of the dark vertical lines can be considered as a place that one wave strikes the screen at a high point and the other wave strikes at a low point, thus cancelling one another out.
As an interesting side note, scientists initially sneered at his theory, whose mathematics are not complex. Applying the wave theory of light to a point source of light emerging through a pinhole, it was shown that one would expect to see a dark point of wave cancellation at the center of the screen on which the light was projected. People felt they had disproved Young's theory until the predicted dark spot was demonstrated in experiment. (It is simple to observe the wave behavior of light in the beam of a flashlight, whose imprecise mechanism produces irregular concentric darker and lighter circles as light waves mutually reinforce and mutually cancel out.)
The quantum mechanics aspect of this experiment emerge as scientists attempt to follow the detailed behavior of specific quanta of light, which had on other occasions behaved as particles. How can the notion of a particle be reconciled with wave behavior, scientists are wanting to know? In doing so, the strange results discussed by Ortiz arise, results which indicate that
A particle exists only in relationship to the state that it finds itself in, with no generic or concrete form. So, the more we examine "solid matter" in great detail, the less solid it actually becomes.