Ambiguity & the Death of Mathematics

Quantum mechanics as it is currently defined in its broadest state owes its genesis to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. His 1925 paper on matrix mechanics discussed the laws of probability forever shifting human consciousness out of the knowable and into the probable. Suggesting that any given objects position may be known or it’s velocity but never their intercourse was revolutionary and eventually led to the development of the atomic bomb. What I find significant here is less his principle than its timing and parameters.

1925 followed Einstein’s theory of Special Relativity by twenty years. In a year when Thomas Scopes was convicted in Tennessee of teaching evolution, or some variation thereof, Werner Heisenberg suggested initiated a theory which today is understood as the precursor to multiple dimensions. In 1925 Heisenberg for the first time determined that our very existence was uncertain, undefinable and impossible to prove definitively. We are all bound by ambiguity.

It is common today to hear environmentalists to speak of Gaia, the planet as a living whole. As likely as this concept presumes to be, it is clearly impossible to realize in any realistic way. If we are incapable of measuring subatomic particles in reliable ways, (meaning we are unable to describe them in absolutes, vis a vie — (G)od) then we can never comfortable measure the enormous discrete functions of entire living body the size of our earth. Suffice it so say, we must act on a kind of faith, a reliance on the mathematics of probability. And there lies the conundrum in my mind.

If probability is akin to faith (as I describe above) than how is mathematics different from faith? Despite the machinery of our inventions and our search for Higgs boson, we are ultimately still pushing assumptions based on observables which we understand to change based on the mechanics of our observations. It requires 17 miles of underground tunnel to replicate the conditions to potentially observe the unobservable. I am not pretending to be a physicists nor am I in the slightest degree mocking the potentials of science or an individuals faith. I am however, pointing out that we, as Homo Sapien Sapien, live by our own paradigmatic constraints and those constraints are fluid.

The Hebrew Bible refers to the Tetragrammaton, the unspoken name of god or the YHWH. God as they understand him is undefinable, unspeakable. Taoism refers to the one, and then the ten thousand things. Brahmagupta created zero as a manifestation available to describe the indescribable. It was literally written as, Brahmasphutasiddhanta (The Opening of the Universe.) The Buddhists developed the idea of reincarnation as a descriptor for infinity and the quantum mechanics of probability. Faith is ambiguity. Religion and science both strive to define the undefinable or at the very least couch it within the knowable so that we might not awaken overwhelmed.

Technology and the accumulation of knowledge is growing exponentially and is currently at a rate nearly beyond our control, and certainly beyond the comprehension of the majority of human beings. We are alive in a world of profound opposites where the illiterate, poor hunt vast trash dumps for daily sustenance while nanotechnology and genetic manipulation are becoming commonplace. It is a time of great novelty which is precisely why we need to re-examin ambiguity in a human context. Pure science exists to provide us with context to uncertainty not to assay the absolution of a singular certainty. Our blind coherence to faith in its’ opposing forms, has the potential to manifest itself in the form of armageddon if we are unwilling to accept ambiguity as the only true constant. The future of our comfort, our persistence as the dominant species is dependent on our acceptance of our complete and total ignorance of the universe we occupy.

To hold and fill to overflowing
is not as good as to stop in time.
Sharpen a sword-edge to its very sharpest,
And the edge will not last long . . .
Withdraw as soon as your work is done.
Such is Heaven's Way.
—Lao Tsu, from the Tao te Ching

Image courtesy of Todd Sargood, Untitled, work in progress, 2008, mixed media on board.