Column: From the physical world to the political world
By Rich Elfers
We all live simultaneously in three realities, states theoretical physicist Max Tegmark in his book “Our Mathematical Universe.” The first reality is our understanding of the world based on our life experiences, our internal reality. The second reality is what Tegmark calls “consensus reality.” This level is one where people have agreed on what is real because there is a common understanding. The third reality is defined as what really is, whether our individual and collective experiences agree or not.
These three realities can help explain the political world in which we currently live. But before we analyze politics, a scientific understanding of our macro (visible) and microscopic (invisible) worlds must come first.
Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1726) gave us our understanding of the macroscopic world through physics: For example, the laws of gravity, light and motion. We explain the movement of planets by using Newtonian physics.
Albert Einstein, in the early 20th century, drastically changed Newton’s views of physics with his theory of relativity. He is famous for giving us an understanding that time is different, based upon where one is. His theory became the foundation for the development of the atomic bomb.
Quantum mechanics developed from Einstein’s theory. Quantum mechanics has shown us that the microscopic world – the world of protons, electrons and neutrons – operates under an entirely different set of rules than our macroscopic world. When studying atoms, it was discovered that an electron can apparently be in two places at the same time. There is another paradox: When we examine something at the subatomic level, we actually change its very nature. Cellphones and computers have been developed from quantum theory.
Now, Tegmark’s three realities can be used to explain our political world.
Internal reality: It is clear that there are widely divergent internal realities among people when dealing with politics. To prove this, converse with someone who holds a different view of President Trump than you do. Their internal reality will in no way mirror your own. Trying to reason with those who hold differing views is largely a waste of time, but it does clearly demonstrate Tegmark’s internal reality theory.
Consensus reality and politics: There seems to be some agreement in this area. All mainline political groups have agreed to work within the parameters of the U.S. Constitution. Checks and balances are functioning quite well right now. While Democrats and Republicans may violently disagree, all have submitted to the process that allowed for the confirmation of Supreme Court justice Neil Gorsuch, for instance. Civil war has not broken out, even if Democrats are plotting revenge on the Republicans. Democrats hope to manage a peaceful political revolution in the 2018 congressional elections.
Actual reality and politics: This reality is the hardest to understand. It requires that true believers of both the major parties face the fact that actual reality may be like the differences in physics between the macroscopic world of Newton, and the microscopic world of quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics doesn’t operate according to conventional expectations. Understanding the subatomic world requires suspension of judgment and a deep need to be open-minded to different possibilities.
Just like the quantum phenomena demonstrates that examining something at the microscopic level may actually change its nature, so, too, comes the realization that studying actual reality may profoundly alter the person who does the examination. True believers might come to understand that the perceptions of both major parties have a smidge of truth and a large dollop of fiction.
Coming to this realization may cause the Big Bang, not of the universe, but of understanding of differing perspectives and of others’ views of reality. It will require more humility and adaptability than most of the fervent can realistically manage.
And, as has been clearly seen in the evolution of scientific theories, new perspectives are usually strongly resisted until that generation of scientists has died out.
It’s my hypothesis that the ability to understand someone else’s reality is more difficult than understanding the difference between Newtonian physics and quantum mechanics.
Which levels of political reality do you operate in?
Rich Elfers is a columnist with the Courier-Herald in Enumclaw, a former Enumclaw City Council member and a Green River College professor.