Quantum Mechanics, Plato's Cave and the Blind Piranha

Sat, 24 Jul 2021 07:00:00 GMT
Scientific American - Science

Can we ever really know the world

In his classic 1987 work Speakable and Unspeakable in Quantum Mechanics, Bell chides physicists who apply quantum mechanics while blithely disregarding its "Fundamental obscurity"; he calls them "Sleepwalkers." But Bell acknowledges that efforts to "Interpret" quantum mechanics so that it makes sense have failed.

Plato presents himself as this enlightened being in his famous parable of the cave, which I make my freshman humanities classes read every semester.

The parable describes people confined to a cave for their entire lives.

An evil trickster behind them has built a fire, by means of which he projects shadows of everything from aardvarks to zebras onto the cave wall in front of the prisoners.

The cave dwellers mistake these shadows for reality.

Yes, we can escape the cave by studying physics and other fields, but we only end up in another cave, with equations projected on the walls instead of silhouettes of aardvarks and so on.

The new cave may be more interesting, comfortable and better-illuminated than the cave we were in before, but it's still a cave.

We can leave the cave and see the light of truth, but only by accepting the teachings of great sages such as Buddha, Moses, Jesus or Muhammad, and perhaps by practicing spiritual disciplines such as prayer and meditation.

Who cares if we're in a cave or not? If we're having fun, that's all that matters.

See my recent chat with Russian writer/artist Nikita Petrov, in which we talk about the blind piranha, Plato's cave and psychedelics.