BY MEL SCHWARTZ
Our sense of self is constructed early in life, sometimes through traumatic events and at other times more subtly. An aspect of quantum physics called wave collapse can illuminate how this construction occurs and, more importantly, how we can empower ourselves to live a life that is unburdened by our past and open to infinite possibility.
Moving From Limited Reality to Infinite Possibilities
One day in my office, a client named Jill recalled the words her mother spoke to her when she was about eight years old: “When I learned I was pregnant with you, I told your father I didn’t want another baby.” Despite the fact that her mother was otherwise devoted and loving, Jill’s acutely personal takeaway was damning. She felt unwanted and therefore unlovable, then and ever since. She carried this core belief with her throughout her life, limiting her potential for infinite possibilities. Her own inner monologue was perpetually self-critical, confirming her belief that she wasn’t lovable. The snapshot Jill had taken of herself early in her life had become etched into her psyche as her embedded truth.
Jill’s belief affected her relations with her husband, children, and friends. Notwithstanding her husband Bob’s loving devotion to her, Jill questioned his loyalty and truthfulness in light of seeing herself as unlovable. Her belief about herself was becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy: she was forcing Bob to withdraw his love as his frustration mounted. What Jill experienced is not uncommon, for what we believe to be true about ourselves—and others—contributes to our reality-making process and whether we experience a reality of infinite possibility or not. Prior to her mother’s remark, Jill’s identity could have evolved in limitless ways, but that range of possibility became narrowed by that one short sentence.
The Quantum Worldview
For virtually all of us whose beliefs have been ingrained with the mechanistic worldview, the world as seen through quantum physics appears to be suffused with a kind of non-rational strangeness. One of the fundamental aspects of the quantum worldview, for instance, is that elementary particles exhibit a somewhat “schizophrenic” nature. I use that word not in its complex clinical sense but in the conventional meaning of having a “split personality”—and every quantum entity indeed has the dual capacity to exist as either a wave or a particle.
Physicists refer to this tendency as wave-particle duality—a notion that rubs against our commonsense logic. Ordinarily, we believe that things either are or are not, that they are distinct in their nature. This either-or thinking can also be referred to as binary thinking, which leaves only two distinct paths open to us. Binary thinking, the opposite of infinite possibilities, is a major aspect of how we observe and construct reality. Yet this either-or reality apparently doesn’t apply in the quantum realm and is questionable in our everyday lives as well.
The quantum reality exists in what is known as a series of probability waves, with an infinite possibility of potential outcomes. This means that when the particle is not being observed, it exists as a waveform, which in quantum language represents a state of pure potential, known as superposition. This term proposes that as long as we do not know what the state of any object is, it actually exists in all possible states simultaneously, as long as we don’t look to check. In that sense, the wave represents pure possibility. The very act of observation reduces the wave (potential) to a fixed thing—a particle. This reduction is referred to as wave collapse.
All that may sound far removed from our day-to-day world of personal relationships, fears and anxieties, love and hate. Yet a similar thing occurs in our lives. When we have particular experiences and make certain observations of ourselves, or have them made of us—typically in childhood—we experience the psychological equivalent of a quantum wave collapse.
Our Roots in Pure Potential
As newborns or infants, if not at conception and in utero, we resemble the infinite possibilities of the wave; our personality, not yet defined, is in a state of potential. Notwithstanding matters of genetics, environmental influences, or considerations of archetypal, astrological, or karmic influences (however we may feel about those concepts), our identity is not yet determined and fixed. But before long, we move from the potential of the wave to the “thingness” of the particle. The personal evolution of our personality gets stunted, and our growth becomes fitful. How does this happen?
Ordinarily, even a single yet significant experience is sufficient to collapse our personal wave of potential. Jill experienced a powerful wave collapse after her mother spoke one particular sentence to her. Sometimes all it takes is a hurtful statement or an embarrassing experience in our early years to reduce the potential of our personality to a narrow, restricted self-image. These events need not be traumatic; they may, in fact, be subtle. Yet in those moments, our potential fades. It’s as if we have taken a snapshot of ourselves, and we become frozen in time. I refer to these as confining wave collapses, in contrast to the defining wave collapses that usher in defining moments of infinite possibility. We are no longer the potential of the wave but the finiteness of the particle. And we carry this picture of ourselves with us through our lives, allowing it to burden and limit us. We lose the authorship of our life story.