Sunday, December 31, 2017
Physics and the Unconscious
For Sunday reflection, this passage from Stephon Alexander's "The Jazz of Physics":
"I walked into his spacious office and saw Dr. [Chris] Isham relaxing on a reclining armchair with his feet up... Notes on topos theory -- incredibly complicated algebraic-type manipulations of rules on topological spaces -- decorated the board behind him, so grand, they couldn't possibly fit on A4 paper. He was smiling warmly. He wasted no time and got straight to the point. 'Why are you here?' he asked. I responded, with some nervousness in my voice, 'I want to be a good physicist.' Chris then surprised me. 'Then stop reading those physics books. You need to develop your unconscious mind; that's the wellspring of a great theoretical physicist.' As if his scientific repertoire weren't impressive enough, what I didn't know at the time was that he was both seriously spiritual and philosophical. He calmly and earnestly told me that he had trained his mind to do tedious calculations while he was dreaming. He followed that remarkable revelation with another question: 'What are your hobbies?' Dumbstruck by his feats during slumber (I just slept at night), I distractedly replied, 'I play jazz at night.' There was a pause. 'You should play more music. I sing. I find that music is an ideal activity to engage the unconscious.' Another pause. 'You see these books here?' He pointed to the complete volumes of Carl Jung's writings, the founder of analytical psychology. 'I have fifteen years of training in Jungian psychoanalysis. Read volume nine, part two, Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of Self. There is a mystical side to doing physics.'"