“Man is not truly one, but truly two”
Dr. Jekyll / Robert Louis Stevenson
With all due respect, not even close Mr. Stevenson. We are so much more than two, and limiting us to only two (binary thinking, 1s and 0s) is just not the way the world works. Something we are only just learning.
Look at IBMs Q Experience. Today, right now, you can go to their site and program a quantum computer. They are already inventing new language, a sure sign of progress in progress.
We are replacing 1s and 0s with superposition, entanglement, and qbits. Here, here, and here, you can hear it as the technology changes the language. These engineers and scientists are trying so hard to explain something basic about the universe, something our language (and, thus, our thinking) isn’t quite ready to handle.
We are replacing the surety of concepts (black-white, good-evil, up-down) with the unsurety of truth; superposition, entanglement, and randomness. Yes, the language is clunky now, but…we’re just at the beginning.
These sites are all attempts to build a quantum computer (qcomputer). But, whether we actually ever make a working qcomputer is immaterial (other than to those businesses). The understanding of the quantum realm may alter our perception of reality much as the understanding of physics enabled our use of digital technology.
It is fairly clear that, in their research, quantum scientists have reached the bottom turtle of the material world. This is where energy becomes stuff (e=mc2, remember?) and stuff turns back into energy…constantly — a random froth where the universe’s two main components (matter and energy) play.
Where binary breaks
We have this quantum world — at the foundation of everything — where the non-binary nature of the universe is the most apparent.
This makes it clear that, while powerful, binary thinking is still a (nicely) gilded cage…but a cage none-the-less. A limit to our understanding of the world in order to calm our ancient fears. At some level, we all know this. This is why we have phrases like “read between the lines,” or “the grey area.” At some level, we know that how we understand the world also limits it.
We also seem to know that it’s just not the way the universe works. Duality is a simpler way to view the world, and it has gotten us very, very far: From itinerate, illiterate, collectives to sweeping civilizations that affect the planet itself. It has taken us beyond anything we might have imagined; from the edge of the universe to the fundamental constituents of reality.
And now we are reaching the edges of that cage. Something has to give. We need to soar into something beyond duality, to a worldview that incorporates the true nature of reality, or give up on progress.
A language for continuums
The world does NOT work in mysterious ways. It works the way it works. We just barely have any idea of what that is.
The world is analog, a continuum. Between 0 and 1 there is a universe. Reality has gradations and nuances and subtleties that any form of 1 and 0 will always fail to capture entirely.
Why else are vinyl records making such a comeback? Because binary digital technology can only capture so much of the music (reality). There are some ineffable qualities to music that simply won’t fit into any stream of 1s and 0s, no matter how fast the sample rate or sensitive the sensors.
An accurate view of the world can only be perceived (let alone captured) with a viewpoint that can see, realize, and think about the infinite continuity that lies between 0 and 1. Being able to do that requires that we invent the language that allows us to.
And that’s happening. Remember superposition, entanglement, and qbits, from above?
We may be on the cusp of a significant change, something that would radically alter the way in which we perceive the world and the way in which we view ourselves and our role in the universe. Historically we have seen that language points the way.
Throughout time humans have conceived the world and the workings of our own minds in the terms developed in the latest technological language. Just look at how we’ve described ourselves over the past century: The clockworks brain. The mechanical brain. The computer brain.
The brain as a binary computer: one that runs on hardware that only talks 1s and 0s. Except, we’re now discovering that even that metaphor is an incomplete picture. Recent studies have indicated that neurons (the hardware of our brains) aren’t just “on” or “off,” but that there are intermediate states. How do we talk about this? Our language is simply lacking the structures that allow us to talk about 1 becoming 0. It’s not a 1 anymore, but…not yet a 0; what is it? We just don’t have the language. Yet.
There is a reasonable argument to be made here that our very conception of ourselves and the world around us is in lockstep with the technology we have been able to develop, for we are only able to see the additional details of reality as we develop the language to talk, to think, about it. The world we perceive and understand is directly tied to the language we use to describe it, because language evolves with our understanding of the world, and that understanding fosters the growth of the language, in a feedback loop that is literally only really limited by time (let’s leave out our own idiocy for the moment).
At least we’ve learned how ignorant we are
Don’t get me wrong, 1s and 0s have gotten us pretty far. We’re able to do some amazing things; we have the world in our pocket, constant connectivity, free computing, we’ve found planets orbiting stars billions of light-years from here, looked deeply into the abyss of the physical world to find that, apparently, everything is built on chaos. We have probed deeply into ourselves to increase our self-awareness, we’ve cured the incurable and wiped pandemic diseases off the planet.
We’ve gone so far that we just discovered that we have no idea how 95% of the universe works or what its made of. We have some ideas on how to detect it, but that’s about it. We don’t know the basic rules. Does there other 95% follow the same laws as our 5% of the universe, or something completely different (dark matter funny walks?)?
As a species we have made it to the “gets the easy 5% of the universe” club. Good for us! Just getting above the zero took a lot — lots of years and lots of effort. We had to learn to write for goodness sake! Which meant we had to start really thinking in order to connect meaningless squiggles to sounds to meaning to bidirectional communication (and that’s just for language, leaving out math for the moment).
Are we happy with this 5%? I hope not. The main reason we’ve even come this far is that we have an insatiable urge to take the next step, make the next discovery (just watch a toddler take their first steps — every one is an adventure), and for God’s sake I sure hope we don’t stop now.
For two reasons: a) the answers to most of our current problems are likely out there in the 95% and, b) understanding and developing the language to talk about continuity will allow us to take the red pill and see “the desert of the real.” Because that’s hard — it’s easier to talk about 1s and 0s than the process of getting from one to the other because neither our thinking nor our language deals with things in process very well. We can talk about 1 or 0, no problem, but try to talk about the 1 becoming a 0, and there is no language to describe it.
What does it all mean?
The question this leads to (for me, at least) is: how will this change our understanding, perception, and conception of the universe and ourselves? I think we better get ready to think in a continuum, a way that isn’t dualistic, but continuous, recognizing the nuances, indeed the unity, between dark and light, up and down, good and bad.
Problems that seem inscrutable become easily solved when put into a larger context. (see below)
What will the world look like, what will we look like, when we can see, understand, perceive, and conceive of the world in all its nuanced glory, rather than the false duality we have forced onto it?
Now that’s something I am eager to see.
“Problems that seem inscrutable become easily solved when put into a larger context.”
Non-binaryism is not just a thought experiment; it’s also easily applied to many problems we face today and, it seems to offer answers to those problems we find intractable. Let’s look at a provocative example, because, why not?
Abortion. Right now both sides of the debate (if such uncivil discourse can be considered “debate”) are trapped into a binary puzzle: abortion or no abortion. There’s no way out! One side always loses. What if we change that through looking at the argument from a non-binary perspective? The larger context shows us that the argument is really about unwanted pregnancies. If we took action to stop unwanted pregnancies, the whole problem of abortion would be pretty much moot.
This is just an example of how seemingly intractable problems become quickly solved once we break out of the binary puzzle.
Since having this realization I have been able to apply this broadly in my own life and I have found that it does indeed make life easier. Anytime anyone gives me an A or B choice I reply that the world isn’t binary and there have to be other options.
Mostly, people are annoyed.
But, we’ve sure come up with some creative solutions we didn’t see before.