From Atoms to Perception


In this huge network of agitated molecules that represent our cosmos, we could see ourselves almost like astronauts in a vessel equipped with five kinds of probes to test the outside: our five senses.

These five probes give chemical information to our brain which translates these encoded messages into a language we understand, as if we had a radio set within: the air is cold, the sky is grey, the food is sweet, the coffee is hot etc.. For centuries these processes were believed to lay the basis of our perception. In such a view of our cosmos we all appear stuck in a vessel floating in an unquestionable outside reality and isolated from each other.
This scientific description of perception held for centuries and still holds for many of us today. However since the discovery of quantum theory, nothing could be more mistaken!

First of all, quantum theory made a major rectification to our image of matter. Matter consists of atoms and molecules but these are not small beads! At the atomic scale very strange phenomena are observed which all point to the fact that the smallest bricks of matter are not solids but waves! We call them waves because they interfere but these are not common waves such as sound waves or electromagnetic waves. These waves of matter are waves of probabilities. To simplify let us say that for quantum theory each of the smallest bricks of matter represent a huge set of options, each having a probability to “materialize”.

But this is not all. The most revolutionary aspect of quantum theory is its conclusion: there is no reality without an observer.  Quantum theory claims that there is nothing to perceive without there being an observer! As long as there is no observer to interfere with these waves of matter, all the options remain at the level of probabilities. But as soon as there is an observer, meaning a human observer,  matter becomes restricted to one option, the one we perceive as  the “real” one, and this becomes our “reality”. It is as if at every instant we were taking a snapshot that freezes one of all the possible options. Our reality would be the result of these countless snapshots, like a movie unfolding in front of us.  If there were no “camera” there would be no movie, only a multitude of possible scenarios. Thus without being aware of it, at any moment we actually are this “camera”, we “choose” our reality. Taking this much further each of us could ask himself “would the world still exist after I am gone?   According to quantum theory, we are all victim of a fantastical illusion, how far can this illusion go???
Nevertheless, we can conclude that if we didn’t have devices such as our senses there would be no shapes, no colors, no sounds, no smells, no tastes and no textures! In brief, without us the world would not exist! There would be only waves: A vibrating void gorged with options! We are the builders of the world. Not only because we know how to make houses and highways but because without us the world would vanish!

If you think that this is just another crazy theory, let me inform you that the mathematical formulation of the theory and its application has led to the tremendous technological breakthrough in which we reside, since the end of last century, including our amazing new tool, the Internet. Therefore as mind blowing as it sounds, quantum theory is not contested any longer.
On the one hand in few decades the theory has totally blurred our image of matter including that of our own flesh and in a way has left us much more ignorant than ever, on the other hand our picture of the world and of our own existence are metamorphosed.
In the light of quantum theory, we should realize that we are no longer isolated from each other. We interfere. We are no longer a community of rigid molecules, reacting like billions and billions of robots working in a very busy factory, the limit of which is our skin. We are a packet of vibrating waves and we interfere with each other’s waves. According to scientists the wavelengths associated with the chemical systems of our size are much too small to be detected by our actual scientific equipments but this is not a reason to ignore their presence.
In such a world, our perception is not any more the product of our sole five senses but of all our molecules since all of them interfere and react to the outside world. Our senses would be devices which would work more like a fax, which translates electromagnetic waves into a text or a picture. Our senses would translate matter waves into a three dimensional reality to which a “personal touch”, a personal “flavor” is added.
But this is not all: quantum theory pretends that in creating the reality we live in, a selection has been made, since one of the many possible options or scenarios has been selected. Without this selection there would be no reality and matter would remain only a bunch of options.  So who chooses? Do we choose? What do we choose? Which choice did you make today? Which choice can you make?  If the chair in front of you is white and high can you choose to see it small and red?  So what is it that we choose? What can affect your perception of the world? Can your emotions affect your perception of the world? Can you choose your emotions? Would that change your reality? Would your reality influence mine?  What impact does your choice have on me and on the world at large?

After Copernicus and Galileo people suddenly imagined the earth moving, and in their imagination, the stellar ceiling which until then had looked rigid and impenetrable collapsed. Even if the earth had always been in motion and even if there never was a stellar ceiling, this discovery was felt like a real cosmic event:  As if his image of the sky could affect his whole being, once the roof of the sky opened, man seemed to exit a prison where only his imagination had confined him, by general consensus. Fruits of this new creativity could be seen in all fields of culture: religion, philosophy, art, literature and science and technology. Modern science was born. This episode of our history could be a good example of the often underestimated power of imagination and its conditioning.

Quantum theory was born only a few decades ago. It has hardly traveled beyond the confines of research institutes and hardly started to infiltrate the public mind. This theory could initiate one of the next big scientific revolutions, perhaps even more earth-shaking than the Copernican revolution. This time it is not the structure of the sky which collapses, but the very substance of the universe, and along with it, that of our own flesh. What we are left with are just possible scenarios. Which one do you choose?


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