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A Matter of Choice

By Dr. Dick Wieder

It has long been argued through largely by faith that we as individual human beings do possess the ability to make true choices in the making of decisions in the conduct of our daily lives. Freudians might argue that all choice is based on a succession of experiences that are reinforced one way or the other by external circumstance in such a way that free choice is merely an illusion. And yet intellectually there is a tendency to reject absolute determinism. Something from our "collective unconscious" whispers to us that we are truly creatures capable of choice. But is there any way at all of knowing empirically that we have true free choice? Is there any way or quality within or aspect of this universe that can allow us to know whether we as a species have the ability to choose rather than be directed solely by instinct?

Science for centuries followed the system of the ancient greeks of reductionism. We can know about the world by reducing it to its constituent parts. That in the end we would find the very basic concrete constituents parts of which all matter is composed. And of course all this "stuff" in the universe had come about through a neat system of cause and effect dubbed determinism. Very neat and tidy. Then came twentieth century physics...

Albert Einstein through his papers on General and Special Relativity sounded the death toll for the absolute. Everything became relative to position and speed of an observer. Even time was no longer absolute. For now there was a new view of the macroscopic universe: time and space became one fabric with matter - by its very existence - causing curves in the fabric of space - time. And only one constant - the speed of light: unsurpassable and unreachable.

In Germany, Max Planck and others were looking into the microscopic world: the particles that make up atoms. They stumbled upon a new view. There was a stumbling block, however: was the basic aspect of matter a particle or a wave? Enter Werner Heisenberg, a physicist in Copenhagen. Concerned deeply about this...this problem of particle or wave, he took leave from his work to first get away and think about things. During this time he came upon an idea! He reasoned that the basic quality of matter is both particle and wave! It merely depended how you look at things! There was a hitch of course: you could not see it as both. You decide by the structure of your experiment whether you will see the basic quality as a particle or a wave. But you cannot see "it" as both simultaneously. You choose which way you will see it but seeing it that way excludes seeing it in any other way. Matter could never now be concrete. For we could never know the true essence of matter except that it is both particle and wave. A duality arose that cannot be resolved. An uncertainty. The principle that was found is known as the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. It is one of the basic tenets of what is known as quantum physics.

The accumulated knowledge not only of science but of all human endeavor can only be accepted as absolute truth within the limits of an uncertainty. And I believe that because of that basic uncertainty "faith" has evolved. For not only is there a duality in the microscopic world, there is an obvious duality in the macroscopic world. Our perception of the macroscopic world is governed by a duality. Thus, we see things black or white, up or down, love or hate, life or death - "to be or not to be." Thus, arises uncertainty. And it is irritating because uncertainty is the mother of insecurity. As science dreamed of a concreteness...a "oneness" to it all, so all of mankind from the very beginning cried out for a oneness to it all. Thus evolved the belief in gods and spirits. And great religious systems. All an attempt to cover that uncertainty with a cloak of certainty called faith.

The uncertainty of the macroscopic world came to be known by our species when perhaps several - but at least two - of our earliest ancestors sat about the evening fire. And through some quantum leap in evolution gave themselves names. They became separate from every other member of their species. They became separate from creation. And self-awareness brings with it an uncertainty-awareness. Acceptance of that uncertainty requires faith.

Now it seems to me that if we did not have choice we would not be aware of any duality. For if instinct is our only beacon then we would "see" in only one way. Yet an awareness of a duality allows for a choice of one aspect of the duality or the other. If there was no choice, we would "see" "things" as both aspects of the duality simultaneously. Thus, we can choose. And thus we fell.

Here, then, is the heart of all the creation myths. By becoming individuals through a quantum jump in evolution, man was born as a creature of choice.

With the acceptance of the basic duality comes a security that we can know something as fact or as real or as truth within the limits of that uncertainty. Nothing in science or in any form of thought or in matter itself can be reduced further than to a basic duality. If there is a "oneness" then it exists beyond this reality. We can only have faith that that oneness is there just beyond the confines of physical reality.

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