Sunday, April 12, 2020

Quantum Jesus

“…in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection into eternal life”

No sooner does inquisitive universe explain itself to 
itself than – BANG! – it’s back to square one.
Did you know that your place in the universe is just a matter of probability? That’s right. Maybe you're where you are and maybe you’re not. Like all matter, you have what’s known as a quantum wave function that reflects the odds of your being at any particular place in space at any particular time. 

This idea – that matter has wave-like as well as particle properties – was first proposed by the French physicist Louis de Broglie in 1924. Two years later an Austrian, Erwin Schrödinger, published an equation describing how matter waves – de Broglie waves – should behave.

Matter waves, moreover, are not merely theoretical. They’ve been confirmed experimentally for subatomic particles (electrons), neutral atoms, and even molecules. But they’re a property of bigger stuff, too, like you and me. It’s just that mathematically the odds of your being anyplace in the universe other than where you are, are astronomically small. So don’t worry about waking up on the far side of the moon unless perhaps you stowed away on the Chang’e, the Chinese lunar probe that recently landed there.

Aunt Effie’s kitty gets an assist from frame 
dragging (distortion of spacetime due to earth’s 
rotation) and quantum superposition (existing in 
different places at the same time).

Still, your exact location in space does remain theoretically unknown, open to a universe of possibilities, until it’s actually observed – which is no doubt why good parents keep such a close eye on their kids. This fixing of a thing’s position – when its location becomes a matter of  observation, not just probability – is known as the collapse of the wave function. 

And it gets weirder still. Not only is your position unknown until observed, but theoretically you could be in different places at the same time. Such is the idea of quantum superposition – which has likewise been demonstrated experimentally, albeit only for subatomic particles.  

Taken together, such observations would seem to spell doom for the philosophical idea of the Absolute. Indeed, German philosopher Georg W.F. Hegel’s (1770 – 1831) concept of the latter, “the sum of all being, actual and potential,” today sounds more like an unwitting description of quantum wave function than anything else.

The demise of the absolute, however, got perhaps its biggest boost from the publication in 1927 of German physicist Werner Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. This states that it’s impossible to know at one and the same time both the position and momentum of a particle. In other words, there’s no such thing as absolute knowledge, only Absolut Vodka. 

Cheshire cat, ubiquitous quantum state-shifting 
nuisance, revels in news of Schroedinger’s cat. 

All of which led Schrödinger in1935 to pose his famous thought experiment about a cat in a sealed box where conditions are such that the cat is both alive and dead at the same time – until an observer opens the box, collapsing the wave function to one state or the other. Although there’s much that’s perplexing about this fickle feline of his, Schrödinger was on to something. And cats aside, you wonder if he's not hit on an allegory of faith for our times.
Which brings me to Jesus and resurrection.

Physical resurrection of the dead is an idea that predates Christianity by at least seven centuries and probably much longer.  Ancient religions of the Near East and Greece offer multiple historical examples. That these ideas influenced later Christian beliefs, moreover, is not in dispute.  

Argued Justin Martyr, a 2nd century Christian apologist: 

"In saying that the Word, who is the first offspring of God, was born for us without sexual union, as Jesus Christ our Teacher, and that he was crucified and died and after rising again ascended into heaven we introduce nothing new beyond [what you say of] those whom you call sons of Zeus."
Schrödinger’s cat, said to be alive and dead at the 
same time, might have simply gone missing.

In other words, if you believe Zeus’s dead sons could spring up alive like jacks-in-the-box, why not believe Jesus could do it, too? During the 2nd century, such an analogy probably made perfect sense even if by modern standards recruiting old superstitions to bolster new ones seems a bit dubious. How many Christians today believe in Zeus?

Nevertheless, contemporary examples of persons rumored to be alive after death keep cropping up. Rapper Tupac Shakur (d. 1996), comedian Andy Kaufman (d. 1984), and rocker Elvis Presley (d. 1977) are among the more recent. 

And then, of course, there’s Jesus. According to the Gospels – although accounts vary considerably as the story has morphed over time – the deceased Jesus was buried in a tomb hewn from rock and sealed with a large stone. After three days, he arose from the dead in his original human form as celebrated during Easter. At which point, various of his followers, including his mother, showed up to find the tombstone rolled back, the tomb empty, and angels proclaiming Jesus’s resurrection. 

The Serendipity of Saint Thomas
Over the next forty days, Jesus put in appearances at various venues so that the disciples would know of his comeback. But one of them, Doubting Thomas, famously reserved judgement until he could not only see Jesus in person, but poke a finger into Jesus’s wounds. Thomas then exclaimed “My Lord and my God!” Anyone witnessing this painful, unhygienic act on the part of Thomas probably expressed the same sentiment.

For orthodox Christians, however, belief in this narrative as literal endures as a tenet of faith.
Quantum uncertainty spells big Easter surprise

Yet you wonder if for a lot of modern minds, such a conviction has become a bit much. U.S. church membership has declined sharply over the last two decades. Near-death experiences and Elvis sighting aside, someone back from the dead just like that after execution? It seems quite a stretch. 

Perhaps the whole notion would benefit from an update – a quantum of paradox or ambiguity, so to say  (pace, Saint Thomas).

Why not revise the biblical account – it’s happened before, after all – to better align with modern sensibilities? For example, after three days the angel could say “Lo, He is risen and unrisen – both ways at once mayest thou have it. Yet roll ye back not the stone lest the wave function thou collapseth and a conundrum of certitude beset thee.”
For the first time ever, despite his genius, 
Professor Krauseleiter hits personal confidence 

Even if you’re skeptical about tomb curses such as the one that guarded King Tut, you should have no trouble with a headed-up like this, covering as it does contingencies both actual and potential. What’s more, compared to the old-fashioned plank walk into the Tiber — the lot of the traditional  believer — it seems like a bucolic dip in the Jordan. 

For the faithful of, say, a Latter Day Church of the Quantum Christ, it ought come as glad tidings indeed.

                                                                                       Happy Easter

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