My recent paintings are inspired by the conceptual world of Quantum Physics and explore how these theories can be explored through paintings. Quantum physics suggests that objects exist not so much as objects but as mists of possibilities of being that are here, there and everywhere at the same time. Then someone looks and the possibilities suddenly collapse into definite locations. That is contrary to our everyday experience where objects exist at one place at one time. We know something is either here, or not here, and that does not depend on whether we look at it. (1)
I have been working with the idea of the “mist of possibilities” in a series of oil paintings I am calling, what else? Possibilities. The first group of paintings in the series used the human figure as a vehicle for imagining the world “out there” arranging and re-arranging itself then collapsing into possible locations in the presence of the viewer.
in his blog, Paul Levy says, “quantum physics…activates the psyche, inspires the imagination and synchronistically dissolves the boundary between mind and matter”.
He suggests that, “Quantum theory demands a radical re-visioning of the role that consciousness plays in the unfolding of reality. Quantum physics is pointing out, in unequivocal terms, that the study of the universe and the study of consciousness are inseparably linked, and that ultimate progress in the one will be impossible without progress in the other.”
He goes on to say, “Quantum physics obliterated the classical notion of an independently existing world forever and has destroyed the concept of the world as ‘sitting out there.’ The universe will never afterwards be the same…According to quantum theory, the idea of a world independent of our observation has conventional meaning, but ultimately speaking, is incorrect. Our perception of the universe is a part of the universe happening through us that has an instantaneous effect on the universe we are observing. It makes no sense to think of ourselves as a self-enclosed, encapsulated, independent agent existing separate from the universe. Quantum theory has opened up the door to a profoundly new vision of the cosmos, where the observer, the observed and the act of observation are inseparably united…”
These ideas are compelling not least because of their impact on our ideas about objectivity and the ability for experts to make value neutral judgements.
In quantum physics, we are no longer passive witnesses of the universe, but rather, we unavoidably find ourselves in the new role of active participants who in-form, give shape to and in some mysterious sense “create” the very universe we are interacting with. As Levy says, “Quantum physics is itself the greatest threat to the underlying metaphysical assumptions of “scientific materialism,” a perspective which assumes that there is an independently existing, objective material world that is separate from the observer.” Then he ramps the discussion up to the next stage where it is believed by some that, “…quantum physics heralds the advent of an altogether new stage of human psycho-spiritual evolution. What seems to be an independent universe is in actuality a play of appearances…”
The next in the Possibilities series of paintings looked at this “play of appearances” using botanical images to explore the illusion of reality in our perceptions.
It is a richly visual concept with enormous painterly potential but I felt that a stepped gradation from disorganized to organized image seemed too orderly to address the idea that that there is no independently existing, objective material world that is separate from the observer.
So I began to allow a greater disorder into the work to capture the spirit of this greatest threat to the assumptions of scientific materialism again but continuing to use botanical images as the essence of the world “out there”.
Levy describes multi-faceted quantum reality as giving us “a greater resolution and capacity to see what no single vantage point can reveal. This confined, unfamiliar quantum animal is like a dream figure that exists within ourselves.”
This idea of the dream figure relates to the next paintings in the Possibilities series that returned to using the human figure as an image in an unconstrained way. These works give expression to the permeable barrier that exists between humans and the “outside world” from a quantum perspective.
Levy goes on to outline the moral/ethical/spiritual potential of this new paradigm: ” In re-visioning our idea of the world we live in, we change our perception of the possibilities available in our world, thus opening up previously unimagined pathways of creative and effective action…The apparent world “out there” has its roots in a field of sentience that is inextricably interwoven with the physical world while at the same time being shaped by the world of innumerable observers.”
This is the area of Quantum Physics that aligns itself with thousands of years of philisophical and mystical traditions. These traditions have been telling us for millenia that humans are connected to everything else and that what goes on “in here” affects what happens “out there”. For instance the ultimate goal of Yoga, according to my limited understanding, is to awaken individual consciousness to awareness that it is part of a universal consciousness.
I like his explanation for why the objective world “out there” appears to have an independent reality. He suggests that “…because of the quantum, dreamlike (i.e., consciousness-based) nature of reality, once we view the universe “as if” it independently, objectively exists, it will manifest in a way which simply confirms our viewpoint. Nature seems to respond in accordance with the theory and beliefs by which it is approached.”
It’s a fascinating theory that makes all of us creators because we are participating in creating our experience of the universe. Levy takes his blog to that most interesting and exciting aspect of quantum world where we are “bringing about that which appears to be happening as well as creating our experience of ourselves…Being a form of insight, physics is a form of art; as such, quantum physics is reflecting back to us the part of ourselves that is a creator of experience”.
Who knew that science was an art form? Or that life itself is an art form? So Joseph Beuys was right after all, everyone is an artist.
(1) The New York Times (web version), Science, July 11,2000