Feb 192016

by Kim Pederson…….

It’s a saying we hear often: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. These words came to us from the ancient Greek philosopher and scientist Aristotle. His statement might have been the starting point for holism, which tenets that the only way to understand any system (physical, social, economic, us, etc.) is to study it as a whole rather than examining the components individually. It also might have been the prompt for gestalt psychology. This field believes “conscious experience must be considered globally…because the nature of the mind demands that each component be considered as part of a system of dynamic relationships.” In fact, some gestalt psychologists believe Aristotle’s words are more correctly translated as “the whole is other than the sum of its parts.

Some physicists seem to have a different view. According to the path integral formulation, a system (physical, social, economic, us, etc.) does not have a unique, single trajectory but instead exists as the sum of an infinity of possible trajectories. This is a little much for my pea brain. Fortunately Charles Wu explains it more simply in his novel How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe. As he puts it, “a particle, any particle, a photon, say, is not so much a particular object at a particular location in space and time as it is an aggregate, a total, a sum over histories.”

So this is what we really look like.*

So this is what we really look like.*

We are made up of particles: molecules, atoms, electrons, neutrons, protons, quarks, leptons, bosons, and on and on. So it stands to reason (as least to the small amount I have left) that our whole is not only the sum of all these parts in the present moment but also the sum of what all these parts have experienced, might have experienced, did not experience, might experience, never will experience over a lifetime. This puts the kibosh on all that advice to gain peace of mind by living in the moment since, at least according to the path integral theory, there is no such thing as a single moment. Emily Dickinson once said, “Forever is composed of nows.” Apparently she got it backwards. It’s really “now is composed of forevers.”

The lesson to take away from this, or at least for me to take away from this, is that no one, in spite of our incessuntary (incessant yet involuntary) determination to try, can ever really explain anything or anyone. This suggests that the real way to “live in the moments” zenfully is to follow John Lennon’s advice and let it be or adopt Alfred E. Neuman’s “What? Me worry?” philosophy. This is a “copt out” approach to life, I realize, but one that can be very tempting at times, especially on days like today (Wednesday, February 17) when, as CNN so graciously informs us, the next 2016 GOP presidential guff-fest is only eight hours, fifteen minutes, and thirty-four seconds away.

* Marcel Duchamp, “Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2” (US-PD)

Visit Kim Pederson’s blog RatBlurt: Mostly Random Short-Attention-Span Musings.

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 February 19, 2016  Posted by at 12:48 am Issue #154, Kim Pederson  Add comments

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