[ilds] Seeking the Truth

Charles Sligh Charles-Sligh at utc.edu
Sat Sep 25 11:50:03 PDT 2010

  On 9/25/10 1:42 PM, Bruce Redwine wrote:
> Heisenberg's uncertainty principle applies to the world of quantum 
> mechanics, subatomic particles, and it's a very big stretch to use 
> that as the basis for analyzing everyday reality.  I don't think the 
> two levels comparable.
Call me a materialist, but that assertion beggars my understanding, I am 

So our "everyday reality" is not primarily grounded and ruled by physics?

Are we not to recognize that our bodies and the bodies of our fellows, 
our homes and our fields and our trees and our islands -- indeed, our 
planet and our universe -- are not all made up of "subatomic particles"?

What other ultimate "level" of "everyday reality" is discernible, 
locatable, or demonstrable?

If so, then how do the rampant uncertainties about the ultimate and 
elementary ground of our basic existence not impact our perception of 
"other levels"?

That is, how is that story we tell about physics not connected to our 
other stories, when we claim it to be the source story from which all 
other spring?

To go straight to the point, I think it is more honest to confess that 
we humans create these fictions of stability and truth amid the flux out 
of necessity, as defensive strategies into which we commonly join in 
corporate agreement.

That recognition of uncertainty is at least as old as Heraclitus.  It 
was not unknown to the Victorians, and it is perhaps the plot-of-plots 
and the essential grammar of /The Alexandria Quartet/:

>         What is the whole physical life in that moment but a
>         combination of natural elements to which science gives their
>         names? But those elements, phosphorus and lime and delicate
>         fibres, are present not in the human body alone: we detect
>         them in places most remote from it. Our physical life is a
>         perpetual motion of them—the passage of the blood, the waste
>         and repairing of the lenses of the eye, the modification of
>         the tissues of the brain under every ray of light and sound—
>         processes which science reduces to simpler and more elementary
>         forces. Like the elements of which we are composed, the action
>         of these forces extends beyond us: it rusts iron and ripens
>         corn. Far out on every side of us those elements are
>         broadcast, driven in many currents; and birth and gesture and
>         death and the springing of violets from the grave are but a
>         few out of ten thousand resultant combinations. That clear,
>         perpetual outline of face and limb is but an image of ours,
>         under which we group them—a design in a web, the actual
>         threads of which pass out beyond it. This at least of
>         flamelike our life has, that it is but the concurrence,
>         renewed from moment to moment, of forces parting sooner or
>         later on their ways.

The alternative to imposing that "design in the web" is, well. . . .  
But to pretend that it is not a web, a temporary design, one moment 
frozen by the particular limits of our mortal perceptions. . . .  My 
Greeks warn me away from such /hubris/.

Of course, I am perfectly willing to cede the point that "Heisenberg's 
uncertainty principle" and the whole of physics or psychology or history 
&c. are all "designs in the webs," interpretations, stories about the 
world, not "reality prime" itself.

I have not been accustomed to consider "Heisenberg's uncertainty 
principle" as a moral maxim or as an allegory for everyday experience.  
But now I see that is the application that I have made.

Is the "moral" of the /Quartet/ any different?


Charles L. Sligh
Assistant Professor
Department of English
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
charles-sligh at utc.edu

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