Remember the ad campaign for Miller Lite when light beer first came out, the one about “tastes great — less filling”? They argued over what was the more attractive or significant feature of the new lower-calorie brew, taste or the alleged benefit to one’s waistline?
It wasn’t all that long ago that physicists engaged in a similar argument over the nature of light, as they wondered what it is, what it’s made of, and if it’s a material substance.
Some described it as a bunch of little balls of light, called “particles,” while others described it as a “wave.” This was before the days of quantum mechanics, before paradoxes were allowed into our physical sciences and our descriptions of truth.
The evolution of the argument goes back 2,500 years, to when Democritus put forth the theory that light, and everything else for that matter, can be broken down into smaller and smaller parts, until it can’t be divided anymore. These indivisible units he called atomos, or “atoms.” He imagined empty space between the atoms, and said the less space between them, the heavier and more solid the material. That was the beginning of the particle theory of light.
In the 1600s, Descartes put forth a wave theory, but Newton argued against it, citing visible rays of light and saying only particles could be responsible for such straight lines. Others soon developed math equations that could adequately describe those straight lines using wave models, and by the mid-19th century the predominant view among the scientific community was that light is a wave, and that different types of light — visible, infrared, ultraviolet — are just waves of differing frequencies.
Good friends are like trampolines. They’re there to catch you when you fall, then they bounce you back up again. They have enough give in them to let you sink down a bit, but not so far as to go smashing and crashing down to the ground. Sometimes we’re reluctant to admit that, as if it’s giving too much power to others or not taking enough responsibility for ourselves. We don’t want to over-emphasize the importance of other people doing things for us and coming to our rescue, as if that’s somehow not admirable or independent enough.
That view held until 1905 when Einstein pointed out instances in which wave theory failed to explain the behavior of light. He postulated a new theory involving little discreet bundles of energy he called photons, which behave as particles.
Normally, in science if a theory fails to hold up in certain situations then the whole thing gets thrown out as inadequate, but in this case, Einstein referred to the opposing classical theories of light as “two contradictory pictures of reality.” He added, “Neither of them (on their own) fully explains the phenomena of light, but together they do.”
In other words, sometimes you need wave theory and other times you need particle theory. It took about another 20 years but eventually all the giants of quantum physics threw up their hands and said, OK, it can be both.
Perhaps we would do well to follow the lead of the quantum physicists whose real breakthrough may have been their willingness to abandon an either/or approach to truth in favor of a bigger, more inclusive view that rests on the word “and.”
We used to do this drill at baseball practice. We called it “situation.”
There is no doubt that much of our suffering and unhappiness comes from having a limited view of reality and seeing only limited possibilities available to us. We get locked into an either/or mentality where we think we have to choose between following our heart and being a responsible adult, between happiness and security, dreams and reality, winning and losing, between being smart and being passionate, between healthy and delicious, and between looking out for number one and caring about the world.
We all have to choose, but rarely are our options mutually exclusive. As our physicists and our marketers have pointed out, we do not have to accept the premise of this or that, when there is a possibility for this and that.
There are many recipes for success, many roads that lead to the same destination, and different means by which knowledge is acquired and fulfillment is attained. It is time to expand our consciousness, enhance our awareness, and enlarge our view of the multidimensional infinity that is Life, reality, and the universe.