Quantum Mechanics, Life, Ethnoscience and the Limitations of Human Knowledge
Emmanuel Ofuasia, csp (Ofuasia.email@example.com)
As humans, we pride ourselves as the higher animals – with improved reasoning faculty, language, and adaptability, to name a few. Unfortunately, there are true, untrue and doubtful elements implied within this conviction. We are merely massaging and soothing our ‘Ego-Humanity.’ I admit that we are better, more knowledgeable and higher only by the standards we had set (but also revise as new pieces of ‘evidence’ surface) by ourselves for the rest of nature. The preceding is the only true aspect, but others are untrue or at best doubtful! Whereas the basic argument that we are no better than other types of living entities is not new, there are scanty frameworks that foreground the idea from Quantum Mechanics, Time and Ethnoscience. Incidentally, these are ideas that have been original to ancient sages and mystics, with very few process thinkers that are emergent in recent times. Assuming the implications of Quantum Mechanics are true, we have lesser knowledge of the actual world than some plants and animals, just as we possess a cognitive faculty that is inherently and primordially deficit. The findings and implications of Quantum Mechanics and life, in general, are not new to the postulates of extraordinary personae. Ancient and modern ‘mystics’ and sages such as Heraclitus, Cratylus, Ọrúnmìlà, Lao Tzu, Siddharta Gautama, Zoroaster, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, William James, Henry Bergson and Alfred North Whitehead, are some of those whose reflections fall under the nomenclature – process metaphysics. These are diverse minds that emanate from various scientific cultures on the planet.
As these minds have echoed previously, nothing is lifeless, save for the misleading biology taught to us since elementary level. Another common denominator among them is that the fragile human mind is difficult to grasp reality in one instant. Even when the proposals of these minds are worthy of reconsidering, it is pertinent to add the African voice. One principal implication to be inferred from this reconsideration is that much of what modern science tells us about the actual world are not new to the ethnosciences of traditional Africa and Asia. Incidentally, the world has had to wait for the ‘Almighty Western science’ before these ethnosciences could be validated, when it could have humbled itself, learned from them and perhaps the human cognitive faculty with our knowledge of the actual world could have improved than its present state. A curious question at this juncture, would be: just how limited is our knowledge or knowing capacity vis-à-vis other entities? Recourse to the cognitive capacities of humans and non-human entities, will not only be of help but further the inevitable end of anthropocentrism.
There is a proposal which reeks of the outlook that humans are better ranked than other species-life owing to advanced linguistic skills. This is founded upon the complexity and dexterity with the tongue. But this reasoning is flawed and constitutes an untrue aspect that this piece seeks to highlight! It gives scope to the human yardstick as its basis. Assuming echolocation, bats and dolphins would rank highest. Assuming telepathy, perhaps, cats and dogs! From these equally pertinent standards, humans will not make the list. This is striking when we recall the verdict of Cyril Hoskins, the British plumber who claims to be a reincarnated Buddhist lama named Lobsang Tuesday Rampa. For him: “Animals are not just stupid creatures who can’t talk and can’t do anything. Actually, humans are the dumb clucks because animals can do and do talk by telepathy. Humans, for the most part, have to make uncouth sounds which they term a language, whereas animal can do telepathy in any language!”
There is another proposal that is suggestive of the adaptive fittings of humans as a species. This, it has been tendered, accounts for the imprimatur that the ability to hyper-cooperate and withstand harsh conditions; overcome hitherto impossible challenges through scientific and technological breakthroughs make humans better than other species-life. But this reasoning is flawed. Again, this is viewed from human standards. Tardigrades are micro-organisms that do well in temperatures as low as absolute zero and up to 150 degrees centigrade. They can admit over a hundred times the radiation that will kill humans. They can live for thirty human years without food and water. Jellyfishes have their nervous system distributed all over their bodies so cannot boast of a central nervous system (i.e. brain). They have however witnessed and overcome five mass extinctions in the history of the earth as they have bagged 500 million years since the Big Bang, or what Gary Schwartz calls the Big Bloom. Assuming these stands, I doubt if humans will continue to boast of superiority arising from survival and adaptive capacities. Humans as a species have barely reached the 200,000 mark and we possess enough nuclear weapons to cause our extinction. Survival and adaptive competence, when examined from the ‘standards’ of tardigrades and jellyfishes, disclose that humans are fragile. Unfortunately, however, extensive research, using the unreliable human brain, has emanated in various forms of publications concerning humans and other species-life, both living and ‘undead.’ The preceding is where the real problem lies and why I tender that nearly all of what we know are doubtful and untrue. The unknown unknowns are much more than the known knowns, and the known unknowns!
It is admitted that each human, throughout their lives, can only use between 5-10% brain ‘space,’ and in imperfect ways too. Allow me to amplify here! The human brain, by process of sensory gating, sieve out about 400 billion bits of stimuli and presents our consciousness with its capacity of just 2,000 bits. Whereas humans have three types of photoreceptors, pigeons and shrimps have five and twelve respectively, meaning they can detect colours better than we can. Even some plants have as much as eleven types of photoreceptors, meaning they can smell, hear and feel much better than humans. At this juncture, I agree with Ken Anyanwu that when the traditional African looks at a tree within the conventions of his [ethnoscientific?] culture, s/he sees and imagines a life-force interacting with another life-force. He sees the colour of the object (tree), feels its beauty, imagines the life-force in it, intuitively grasps the interrelationships between the hierarchies of life-forces – a version of what Senghor calls Negritude – the ideological springboard for Agada’s Consolationism. Speaking on this cadre of consciousness, William James submits: “our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but a special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different.” Unfortunately, these ‘other types of consciousness,’ explored and original to the ancient Africans especially were pushed aside as primitive, unscientific, to be committed to the River Nile and replaced with the Western outlook whose modern physics ended up admitting that the conclusions of the ancients on the actual world may have actually been correct. This is the case when one considers Quantum Mechanics.
Quantum reality reveals an actual world where there are no distinctions between linear time and local space. Time, therefore, is not a sequence of events. Albert Einstein’s Special theory of relativity reminds that time is relative, and that as the velocity of one observer increases, time slows down and its length contracts. The implication is that if we travel faster the velocity of time slows and if we travel at this speed, our ageing process will decrease, and our bodies would not age as quickly as those relative to us. Time persists simultaneously, which is why quanta (i.e. quantum particles) can exist in several places at once. Incidentally, few people have developed or have been gifted with the capacity to discern the knowledge of the three times (Triple Time Vision). For the sages who are able to transcend the consensual but misleading linear idea of time that passes events within the cadre of past, present and future, everything is warped, fused and indistinguishable. This accounts for Cratylus’s correction of Heraclitus that one cannot step into the same river once when the latter had said twice. Indian and Chinese sages, operating with the ethnoscience of their time had maintained that time is a river, where the past, present and future are not distinguishable. When this fusion was revealed to the mind of the untrained Arjuna by Lord Krishna, as chronicled in the Gita, Arjuna, was benumbed. Of all the implications of the warped idea of time in Quantum Mechanics, death is out of the equation. We merely transform from one form of consciousness into another – what some call reincarnation. This must have inspired the Suffi poet Rumi to write:
I died as a mineral and became a plant,
I died as a plant and rose to animal,
I died as animal and I was man,
Why should I fear? When was I less by dying?
An idea that is not limited to Eastern ‘mysticism’ finds a place in Africa too. Specifically, the ancient Yorùbá sage, Ọ̀rúnmìlà, in Odù Ọ̀yẹ̀kú Ọ̀ṣẹ had considered the affair:
The teachings of Ọ̀rúnmìlà were interpreted for the wise ones
Who assembled and invited some Ifá priests to interpret the teaching of Ọ̀rúnmìlà on death
They asked: “Why is it that death kills people and there is no one who does not die?”
One Ifá priest replies that Ọ̀rúnmìlà had said: “It is good that ‘Amúniwáyé’ the One who brought us into the world created death.
Water which does not flow back and forth becomes a pond of polluted water causing disease
Water takes people away freely and brings them back freely
Let the ill go home to receive a new body;
Let the corrupt go home to receive new character;
So they may return to the world.”
The Ifá priest then asked the wise ones: “What is unpleasant about this?”
The wise ones bowed in respect for Ọ̀rúnmìlà, saying:
“The offering has been made; may it be accepted and blessed.”
Then they dispersed and went away.
And they no longer regarded death as a matter of sorrow.
In the Brihad-Aranyaka Upanishad, the position of Ọ̀rúnmìlà is further corroborated thus:
From the unreal lead me to the real!
From darkness lead me to light!!
From death lead me to immortality!!!
Perhaps all these extracts from African and Asian ethnosciences may have actually informed the spirituality of that age, unbeknownst to us, yet cast as esoteric, mystical and mythic. However, these propositions on death, time and many more from the ethnosciences of ancient Africa and Asia have been admitted by the brilliant Quantum physicist, Julius Robert Oppenheimer who surrenders that:
The general notions of human understanding…which are illustrated by discoveries in atomic physics are not in the nature of things wholly unfamiliar, wholly unheard of, or new. Even in our own culture, they have a history, and in Buddhist and Hindu [and African] thought a more considerable and central place. What we shall find is an exemplification, an encouragement, and a refinement of old wisdom [Bold emphasis and addition, mine].
What the entire history of the development of Western science connotes as Oppenheimer affirms is nothing but saying the old things in new ways. And for death? I console myself with One Republic’s assertion in the song ‘Counting Stars’: “Everything that kills me makes me feel alive!”