Values, Morals – and Quantum Ethics | Spirituality in Daily Life || Mary Coday Edwards

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By Mary Coday Edwards
People House Featured Blogger

Every spring I do battle against cheat grass, an invasive plant species which grows quickly, sucking our meager moisture out of the ground.  Meanwhile, the native grasses and plants slowly making their annual appearance wither and die due to lack of moisture.

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And when the native plants go, so do the insects, butterflies, reptiles, bees, and small mammals – in short, our ecosystem – that depend on the cyclical flowering and subsequent nutrients produced by this local ecosystem.  Cheat grass lives long enough to kill everything else, whereas all year round native grasses offer protection, shelter, and food, as well as maintain the stability of the soil, keeping erosion at bay. When the cheat grass dies after its brief reign of destruction, it leaves only dirt which is blown and washed away.

Other than poison – which also kills off an ecosystem – the only way to effectively remove it is to pull it out by hand, ensuring that the thick, matted root system comes with it.

 

“All things are bound together. All things connect. What happens to the Earth happens to the children of the earth.” Chief Seattle

 

This annual garden scenario divulges much about me:

-My values, which are defined as my principles and my judgment of what is important: i.e., diversity and a healthy ecosystem.

-My morals, defined as reflecting what I believe to be right or wrong: cheat grass’ bullying behavior is wrong and thus everyone should pull out the cheat grass! (This has now become a moral imperative for me – which I’d like to impose on all my neighbors.

-Lastly, my ethics. Ethics examine and give a reason “why” behind my moral imperative. I’m calling this quantum ethics in this blog, as my why is based on what I believe quantum physics is telling us about the fabric of reality, focusing on interconnectedness based on the EPR (Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen) Effect.

The EPR Effect posits a reality where at the subatomic level, the universe is in relationship. Physicists use various terms to express this concept including mutual entanglement and interconnectedness. Einstein referred to this entanglement as “spooky action at a distance”. Physicist John Polkinghorne calls this interconnectedness a “… deep-seated relationality present in the fundamental structure of the physical world” (1).

Austrian quantum physicist Anton Zeilinger claims that we can build an ontology, or a way the world is, of relations, and that “one consequence of this entanglement is that relations are more important than individuals” (2). In other words, we shift from focusing on the individual to focusing on the relationship between individuals.

Not random, but participating in patterns

Out of quantum physics have developed system laws, where elements adjust their properties to those of the others; none can be modified without causing a modification to the others. Ian Barbour said that the being of any entity is comprised not just of its individual parts, but primarily by its relationships and its participation in more inclusive patterns (3).

Indigenous cultures, mystics, seers and poets have long known this as the fabric of reality.  Rebecca Adamson says, “The indigenous understanding has its basis of spirituality in recognition of the interconnectedness and interdependence of all living things, a holistic and balanced view of the world.”

Philosophers extrapolate from this interconnectedness, saying reality consists of events and relationships rather than of separate substances or particles.

However for centuries, the Western worldview has been in the grip of classical physics, where the scientist – and everyone and everything else by association – was seen as separate from its surroundings.  In other words, Asia’s disappearing Aral Sea, fed by the Amu Darya and Syr Darya Rivers whose waters were siphoned off to irrigate cotton in the desert so we could purchase unlimited t-shirts, wouldn’t impact us living on the other side of the planet. And it has, of course, in the form of desertification, localized climate change, and subsequent starvation and refugees.

And what about the nonphysical world? How does our lack of compassion and love – our meanness of spirit – impact our own energy and the life around us?

 

Orphaned ship in former Aral Sea

Orphaned ship in shrunken Aral Sea

The mystics and poets have spoken of this for centuries. In this last century, scientists have proven it. For me personally, it’s a daily spiritual exercise to mindfully  remember that “In nature [of which I am a member of], nothing exists alone,” as Rachel Carson wrote (4).

 

Hitched together with the bees

But our postmodernism society views any truth as suspect, as a process of social construction, and therefore, reality/truth is defined by those with the social power. Be skeptical of what I’ve written. However, as a critical realist, for me there’s enough evidence via the physicists and mystics to support an interconnected world, one built on relationships. This is a piece of my ethics, this helps inform my daily choices.

And because my compassion/love is so imperfect, this ethic also serves me when I’m in the grip of my selfishness and self-centeredness. It’s in my best interests to pull out that cheat grass and keep those bees pollinating my food supply.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Einstein’s Nobel Prize winning discoveries were just beginning to ripple upon humanity’s consciousness. Ahead of his time, John Muir, father of our national parks, penned in 1911, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”

In other words, I’m hitched together with the bees.

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Note 1: Polkinghorne, J.C. Quantum Theory: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002; pg. 80.

Note 2: Zeilinger, Anton. “Quantum Physics: Ontology or Epistemology?,” in The Trinity and an Entangled World: Relationality in Physical Science and Theology, ed. John C. Polkinghorne. Grand Rapids, MI; W.B Eerdmans Publishing, 2010), 35-36.

Note 3: Barbour, Ian. Religion and Science: Historical and Contemporary Issues. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2000; pg. 175.

Note 4: Carson, Rachel. Silent Spring.  Houghton Mifflin, 1962; pg. 51.

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About the Author: Mary Coday Edwards is a Spiritual Growth Facilitator and People House Minister. A life-long student of spirituality, Mary spent almost 20 years living, working and sojourning abroad in Asia, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and Latin America before finding her People House “tribe” and completing its Ministerial Program. Past studies include postgraduate studies from the University of South Africa in Theological Ethics/Ecological Justice, focusing on the spiritual and physical interconnectedness of all things. With her MA in Environmental Studies from Boston University, abroad she worked and wrote on environmental sustainability issues at both global and local levels, in addition to working in refugee repatriation.

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