The Language of Physics

There is a fascinating phenomenon that I’ve noticed in physics, but haven’t really noticed anywhere else.

It is that as we learn more about physics and the underlying structure of the Universe the language of science becomes more like the language of mysticism. We see physicists asking questions like, “How old is the universe?” “Is there life after death?” “When we die, what happens to our consciousness?” “Is there such a thing as free will?” and other questions. Many of these questions sound like the Master talking to Grasshopper. I was first introduced to this in the book, The Dancing Wu Li Masters by Gary Zukav. In his preface, he describes his first meeting with physicists as follows:

To my great surprise, I discovered that (1), I understood everything that they said, and (2), their discussion sounded very much like a theological discussion. I scarcely could believe what I had discovered. Physics was not the sterile, boring discipline that I had assumed it to be. It was a rich, profound venture which had become inseparable from philosophy.

Throughout mankind’s’ existence philosophers, priests and mystic have been developing a variety of explanations to address the inexplicable. Those explanations have become an integral part of our language. Thus, as we begin to understand the formerly inexplicable, the language we use to describe the science sounds very much like an echo of mysticism.

For example, during a recent radio interview, the host commented, “What you are talking about sounds like mind over matter.”

To which I replied, “Yes! That is exactly what I’m talking about!”

I immediately realized that somebody tuning in right then would think I was talking about some sort of paranormal telekinesis, when in fact I was simply talking about normal, everyday life. Think about it; when you raise your hand above your head to ask a question, isn’t that mind over matter? Your hand (and the rest of your arm) is made out of matter, and you are the one who decided to raise your hand. It is, by definition, mind over matter. When you drive your car, aren’t you actually, well, driving your car? Isn’t THAT mind over matter? The Physics of Success simply expands on the same principle as raising your hand. The host had actually begun to understand, which is what prompted the question. Unfortunately, the phrase “mind over matter” has a magical connotation, which is very different from discussing the mechanics of how your consciousness actually moves stuff around. The words are correct; problem is that the connotation of the words is misleading. Merriam-Webster defines connotation as “something suggested by a word or thing : implication.”

A lot of the time when I say certain words, I mean them quite literally. Unfortunately, many words have implications that make things sound very fuzzy (for lack of a better description).

Some examples are:

Many Dimensions – there are a bunch of them, but we aren’t talking about where the leprechauns live. It’s just other directions.
Many Worlds – we aren’t talking about “alternate” universes. We’re just talking about a different…
Spacetime Continuum – They aren’t like trains. You can’t get off one and jump on another like they do in the movies.
Time – It doesn’t exist. Well, it does, but not like you think.

 So, if you are reading my book, or reading my comments (or anyone else’s), if it starts to sound like I’m trending toward the mysticism or metaphysics, take a step back and think about the literal meaning of the words.

Posted in Physics, Random Interesting Thoughts