Before I start: I implore you read this article until the end, especially if you’re a long-time reader of this blog. I also urge to please not skip. But, if you have to choose between skipping and not reading the ending, by all means skip.
If you’ve been following this blog for some time, you’ll have seen me write about physics often. You’ll have also seen me write about happiness. Today and despite the lack of relationship between these two areas, I’d like to try to mix and match. More specifically, I’d like to share recent advances in physics that have made this discipline into a key tool for achieving happiness. Read on to find out how.
It all starts with superstring theory, which you may have heard about. This theory sees the universe as being made of tiny strings that vibrate at different frequencies, each of which corresponds to an elementary particle.
Another, not-so-well-known aspect of string theo
ry is something called T-duality. A duality is something which allows us to relate two completely different areas, in such a way that predictions in one are automatically translated to the other. In the case of T-duality, we translate between the microscopic and the macroscopic world. The idea is that the math that allow us to describe the infinitely small are exactly the ones that describe the infinitely big: in fact, there is no distinction whatsoever. Both the infinitely small and the infinitely big are one and the same thing.
Many physicists may not have realized this yet, but what they have discovered is that there is an almost mirror-like correspondence between our everyday reality and the microscopic, quantum one.
This is important. It is important because it means that it is possible to apply the seemingly magical predictions of quantum theory – such as entanglement – to our everyday realm, and then to use them to our advantage.
Before we do that, though, a few thoughts on happiness.
It seems obvious that, in order to achieve happiness, one must be able to maintain a positive state of mind, somehow cancelling the effects of negative thoughts and external influences that affect us in a harmful way. The outside universe lies, unfortunately, beyond our direct control, so focusing on managing one’s state of mind is the best policy.
However, minds are unruly. The more we try to get rid of a certain bad memory, the more it comes back to haunt us. Indeed, just like trying to not think about a pink elephant will cause us to immediately picture one, trying to get rid of a bad thought actually reinforces it. And, even though there seems to be no way out of the paradox, we fortunately have quantum physics.
There are two key concepts from quantum mechanics that may help us here: solitons and entanglement.
A soliton can be viewed as a stable perturbation. Imagine a chaotic mess of waves in the sea; now imagine that, amongst that, a recognizable shape emerges and starts moving through the chaos at a constant speed, seemingly ignoring the turmoil around it. That is a soliton. Solitons are created from the intersection of two powerful forces: from one side, dispersion or the tendency of every object to spread and disappear. From the other, non-linearity: the fact that materials are not smooth but bumpy and unpredictable. It is the combination of these two effects, each pulling in a different direction, that creates a soliton.
Understanding how solitons behave is key for achieving happiness, because it so happens that negative thoughts or states of mind behave exactly like them. In fact, according to T-duality, they are solitons: there is no difference between a negative thought and a perturbation moving through a non-linear solid.
Our knowledge of solitons tells us that negative thoughts, if left to their own devices, would tend to disintegrate because of dispersion. However, the non-linearity of their medium (our minds) acts as an opposite force, providing them with the means for propagation to the extent of making them seem indestructible.
On the other hand, happy thoughts and states of mind tend to disappear quickly. They are not solitons: like solitons, they are subject to the forces of dispersion. Unlike them, our mind’s topology does nothing to cancel that tendency. The absence of the balancing force makes dispersion queen, and so we see our happiness vanish in an instant. This is why we are mostly victims of negative thoughts and moods and seem to be constantly struggling against something.
Entanglement is another important concept of quantum ph
ysics that will help us in our route to happiness. It happens when two quantum systems emerge from the same place and become linked (entangled) forever. Anything that is done to one system will affect the other, no matter how far apart they are.
The concept of entanglement can, thanks to T-duality, be applied to our minds too: entanglement happens between our thoughts and their source, creating an ethereal bond that is very difficult to break and which causes our pain to persist more than we’d like.
In order to achieve happiness, then, we will have to go through these steps:
- Destroy the soliton-nature of our negative thoughts .
- Disentangle the negative thoughts from their source.
- Turn our positive emotions into solitons.
- Entangle our positive thoughts with our inner core.
Entanglement, for one, is easy to break. All that needs to be done is a quantum measurement. For example, if two electrons are entangled in such a way that their spins are correlated, measuring the spin in one will automatically determine that of the other; however, further measurements will have no such effect. The electrons will have been disentangled. In this sense, the best policy to disentangle our negative thoughts from their source would be to perform a quantum measurement on them, that is, to analyze them and weigh them, to dive right into them. By doing this, the entanglement is broken and the negative thought loses is power. The thought becomes separated from its source and thus unable to hurt us. However, it may still survive for some time if we don’t break its soliton-nature.
Breaking a thought’s soliton-nature is a more complicated matter. We cannot change the forces of dispersion, since they are inherent to matter and thought. Therefore, we have to modify the non-linear nature of our medium, that is, the mind where the thought runs amok. We need to re-orient the topology of our mind so that it stops counteracting the dispersion effect and starts to aid it. There are two ways to do this.
The first way is the most effective but also the most risky. We must analyze our thought patterns regarding the negative thought we wish to eliminate; then, we must elaborate a strategy that does exactly the opposite: for example, if we previously rejected, we must now embrace; what previously feared, we must now look forward to. This is extremely hard to do, since it requires control of our emotions. It is also susceptible of achieving the opposite of what we intended. However, the long-term benefits of this approach make its practice extremely recommendable.
The second way involves considerably less risk but it is somewhat slower: it consists of leaving the mind blank. This can be done by staring at a candle or concentrating on your breath and is the way Buddhists have been dealing with their emotions for millennia. There are two drawbacks to this technique: the first one is that leaving the mind blank requires considerable effort; the second one is that the effects will be slower to appear, since we are not aiding in the destruction of the thought, but merely not preventing it. That is, by leaving our mind blank we destroy the non-linearity of our thought-medium, which is therefore unable to cancel the dispersion effects that drive our negative thought to disappear. However, we do not invert the shape of the medium and thus do not accelerate the dispersion process.
These techniques are only a small taste of a new wave of physics-based recipes for happiness. The revolution has started and more and more secrets are seeping quietly from the outer edges of theoretical physics. In the next article we will tackle how to entangle our positive thoughts with our core, so that they may not be affected by external disruptions.
Crap, that was hard to write. It honestly made me feel a little sick. Anyway, I hope I didn’t fool you and you realized the article was complete horseshit from beginning to end.
If I did fool you, however, you may want to go on reading so that you know what I was doing, why I was doing it and how I did it. Even if I didn’t fool you it may be entertaining. So let me explain.
I wrote this article with several goals in mind: first, I wanted to see if I could come up with a Chopra-like article. I’m still not sure I did. Second, I wanted to do a bit of a “Derren Brown” kind of thing: here’s the trick and here’s how it’s done. In my case, I took three concepts that I deemed obscure enough for some of my readers to not know (or not be familiar enough with): entanglement, T-duality and solitons. Where I cheated the most was with T-duality, which is only metaphorically related to what I said. Basically, T-duality is a property of certain string configurations that relate position to momentum states and that allow us to consider distances below the Planck length. If that just sounded like Greek to you it’s because it probably cannot be explained in a line. Anyway, what T-duality definitely does not allow is to establish a correspondence between quantum and everyday phenomena, especially not our thoughts. The same goes with entanglement, which I described in an extremely vague way and then used in a more-than-questionable manner, using the fact that “entangled” in normal language is the same word as “entangled” in a quantum sense, even though they have nothing to do with each other meaning-wise. The part about solitons was just stupid, but at least my description of the phenomenon was relatively accurate. Associating a topology with our mind and calling it a “non-linear medium” was an exercise in imagination and pretentiousness. I was by the way inspired to do this by Lacan, who did actually speak of the topology of people’s minds and is still for some reason studied in psychology degrees.
In my next article I will give you the tell-tale signs of pseudo-scientific rubbish so that you may learn to spot it yourself. Or, if you’re materially inclined, to make a living from it.