“It’s like Schrödinger’s cat,” purred Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella from in front of the shimmering model quantum computer. And suddenly a small gasp escaped my lips. I self-consciously peeked to see if anyone noticed. Even though there were 6000 other geeks in the auditorium, I momentarily thought Satya was speaking directly to me.
I’ve long been fascinated with Erwin Schrödinger’s infamous thought experiment from the 1930s. If you’re not familiar with it, you should be, because it explains a lot about how we see “reality"...
Here’s Schrödinger’s synopsis...
Until we look, the cat is simultaneously both dead and alive (scientifically called quantum superposition) … and it poses the question “When does a quantum system stop existing as a superposition of states and become one or the other?” (dead cat or live cat). And can we answer that question without an observer, or do we have to look in the chamber for the state to be determined?
Quantum superposition fascinates me, because in spiritual conversations we often debate the subtler points of the related concept of non-duality, especially in relation to Buddhist, Hindu, or New Age/New Thought traditions. Nonduality suggests: “I am you and you are me, and we are all part of the great über-consciousness.” Nonduality proposes that it is possible to experience moments where the “separateness” we usually feel slips away. It’s like in those peak experiences of seeing a perfect sunset, being absorbed in meditation, partaking in a vibrant kirtan, or making love with ultimate selflessness. Time stops… everything shines… your edges fuzz… and you feel connected to something bigger than yourself. There is no either/or. You are instead in the space of both/and. I can be “me” and “not just me” simultaneously.
As children, we experience this nonduality with our mothers. In utero, we are both part of Mom and not part of Mom simultaneously. This felt experience follows us after birth. As babies, we have to be taught that we are now separate from Mom. Amazingly it takes about seven months. In chakra theory, how this development happens will profoundly influence our second chakra, named Svadhistana. This is where our emotional identity develops and with it our concepts of self-gratification, emotions (body-based), feelings (mind-based), and sexuality.
It’s also where our judgment begins. Mom is not me. There is “other,” and that other is “different.” Thus starts a lifetime of judging how others are different, and what that means for us.
As I aged, I learned that emotional reactions were seen as a sign of losing control. They were disadvantageous, something to be hidden. Or relegated to our “shadow,” to be cast of as “not part of me,” to simmer and grow in the background of my subconscious, wreaking havoc from its invisible location.
I also learned that touch could be dangerous. That all people were not safe. I learned that when my “primary, healthy pleasures” could not be met, that secondary pleasures could (momentarily) make me feel better. As Anondea Judith notes in her informative book Eastern Body Western Mind: “Since secondary pleasure cannot satisfy our longing for primary pleasures, our lack of satisfaction makes us crave more, forming a basis for addiction.” I concur.
Psychoanalyst Carl Jung once noted, “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but my making darkness conscious.” These words still ring true today. So this month, I dug into my second chakra to see if I could release some of the darkness still lurking around in there. True, I’ve done enough digging in my past over the past decade to proverbially “dig to China.”1 But this time, I would let my brain take the day off and do the digging somatically (through the body).
My talented guide and bodyworker, Arti, eased me in slowly. I admitted to her that sometimes I didn’t feel I had a “right to feel” the way I did and that often I tried to ignore or suppress feelings that were uncomfortable. She assured me I could feel any way I damn well pleased (umm… that’s how I heard it but she probably said it much more eloquently and yogi-like). Then over the next 90 minutes, I experienced an eclectic combination of hands-on bodywork, Reiki, chanting, and drumming. Arti could sense when I was becoming uncomfortable, as my body became rigid. She would slow down, and ask me about what I was feeling, listening patiently, and confirm “it was ok” in a soothing voice. She encouraged me to have awareness about what was happening, and not to judge it. To focus on my breath, and to experience without feeling the need to analyze everything into words.
“No words?” I thought, “How am I going to be able to tell her what is happening?” Yet, she seemed to intuitively sense how to shift the work, even without my words. Hmmm. As a writer (and incessant talker) I was both pleased to learn I could heal without words, and also annoyed that I couldn’t find the right words to explain what I was feeling. The best I can attempt is that I was simultaneously feeling comfort and discomfort at the same time. I was Schrödinger’s cat.
Back to Microsoft’s CEO’s speech for a moment. When I heard Satya speak about quantum computing, I also felt this same odd sensation of comfort and discomfort simultaneously. I was excited about their power but afraid of how humankind would use it. You see, using the principles of superposition and entanglement, quantum computers don’t work linearly to solve problems. Quantum computers can concurrently work on an unbelievable amount of different possible solutions to the same problem using quantum bits. Instead of the duality of binary code (everything is either 1 or 1, on or off), in quantum computing, nonduality is present. On and off. 1 and 0. Dead cat and alive cat. It’s mindboggling what could be done with this kind of computing power. For example, Google claims its quantum computer (the D-Wave 2X) is 100 million times faster than any of today’s machines. Of course, you can’t just order one up on Amazon. And there’s the pesky problem that the cold temperature required by the quantum computers is 180 times colder than that of deep space.3 So its unlikely the machines will take over tomorrow.
But what did occur to me lying on Arti’s massage table, and contemplating Satya’s words (while I was supposed to be mindfully watching my breath), was that both science and spirituality seem to be articulating that nonduality is more powerful than duality. And I was indeed experiencing this in my body. The ability to hold two feeling states or two emotions at the same time somehow reduced the anxiety in my mind, and the tension in my body. Meanwhile, the energy within my body felt free to flow, unblocked where it had previously met the energetic equivalent of a brick wall in my second chakra. Some of my darkness had become conscious and was released.
And I couldn’t stop thinking about my skittish rescue cat’s possible second chakra issues.
[*Remember it’s a thought experiment. No cats were harmed. I’m vehemently against harming animals for scientific purposes!]
1 Ok, maybe I’m being dramatic. But apparently in theory I actually could have… Check out Could You Really Dig a Hole to China? at http://mentalfloss.com/article/27585/could-you-really-dig-hole-china)
2 See http://optimalwellnesslifestylestrategies.com/ for more about Arti and her healing services.
3 See https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/innovations/wp/2015/12/10/why-googles-new-quantum-computer-could-launch-an-artificial-intelligence-arms-race/