Contrary to resolutions, reformations, and even revolutions, reconstruction is not about fixing yourself. In a society fixated on personal growth and self-improvement, this is a radical and subversive statement. This is even more true in a religious landscape that focuses on sin and what is wrong with us. It is easy to find ourselves constantly bombarded by the message that we are broken and in need of fixing.
But what if this idea flows from a faulty understanding of what it means to be human?
Newton’s Mechanistic World
If you are like me, then you originally learned to understand yourself from what we can call a Newtonian mindset. That might sound confusing, so let me break it down.
Sir Isaac Newton essentially saw the cosmos as a machine. Everything he observed in nature seemed to operate according to a set of natural laws. Whether it is the story of an apple falling on his head prompting him to explore gravity or identifying the three laws of thermodynamics, much of Newton’s life identified and explained the rules behind the cosmos.
We can apply this same kind of thinking to actual machines that we are familiar with. For example, when you get in your car and turn the key (or for those who are fancier than me, press a button), the engine starts up and the car is ready to drive. That is a machine that works. But sometimes, the car fails to start or it does but the engine sounds clunky. These are signs that something with the car needs fixing. The idea then is to keep the machine well-tuned. If you keep it that way it is always available to get you where you want to go as efficiently as possible.
An application of Newtonian thought suggests that nature’s machine works because everything follows the rules. But our machines fail because something broke and needs fixing.
Newton’s Influences Expands
In the decades following his death, others applied the thought and philosophy of Newton (along with Galileo Galilei and the chemist Robert Boyle) to an array of social applications including politics, economics, and the psychology of self-interest.
These projects assumed if we could just figure out the rules, we could create systems that allow for human thriving. This era is known as the Enlightenment. Itis the social and cultural context that gave birth to democracy, capitalism, and property rights. In other words, at its roots, America is functionally Newtonian.
Similar ideas carried over to religion. Theologians argued that God’s Law is a form of natural law. This law that lays out how to live a healthy and happy life. It is a Newtonian mechanistic mindset that turns the Bible, into a science book and humanity’s owner’s manual. It created a generations of Christians and a culture of Christianity built around the belief that following biblical principles results in a successful life. When something goes wrong, obviously something needs fixing.
When we apply this same thinking to ourselves, it is only natural to assume that if we thrive, it is because we are doing something right. This is the foundation of meritocracy. Of course, if things are not going well, the only explanation is that something is wrong and needs fixing.
Understanding Beyond Newton
While Newton’s mechanistic understanding works flawlessly in an array of contexts, is also an environment where it does not work, specifically with atoms and other subatomic particles. There, in what Marvel’s Ant-man and the Wasp calls the quantum realm, Newton’s Laws cease to function.
That said, the popular notion that Newton was right for big things and quantum physics works for small things, is incorrect. Instead, quantum physics exists as the foundation of all physics. Through that lens, we can begin to see questions we never imagined possible because the answers are neither entirely observable nor predictable.
Think about that last clause, neither entirely observable nor predictable. If you stop and think about it, that sounds a whole lot more like human behavior than what you get from Newton. When people act and react, we cannot see everything that drives their behavior. We each carry with us years of subconscious learning that shapes how we interact with the world. Often our more primitive and reactionary brains will hijack our cerebral cortex which then works to rationally justify what we do so we feel like our behavior is logical. We are not thinking things, we are impassioned lovers! This means the real motivation for our behavior is not what we think, but what we subconsciously love.
Maybe this means that, instead of embracing Newton and the need to fix ourselves, we should engage in a quantum analysis.
From Fixing to Changing Perspective
One of the most interesting discoveries within Quantum Physics is the idea that, by looking at something differently, you change it. So if you measure light as a wave, it will reveal itself as a wave. But if you could look at the same light and seek to measure mass, it will reveal itself as a particle. This means everything is pure possibility but it never becomes anything until it is acted upon and what we look for is what we see.
So how do you look at your story? Is the person in the mirror broken or beloved? Does guilt feel like a weighty burden or a gift? Is your past there to haunt you or guide you moving forward?
What you have looked for until now brought you where you are. How you look at yourself moving forward will determine whom you become.
Did a I really use a superhero movie to explore quantum physics? Yes, I did. And here’s an interview with the movie’s science advisor.
Article: Light is Both a Particle and a Wave
Just a resource to back up a claim I made in this post.
Book: Desiring the Kingdom by James K. A. Smith
The opening part of Smith’s book, “Desiring, Imaginative Animals: We Are What We Love,” provides a fantastic exploration of human anthropology. He carefully and enjoyably guides his readers from a faulty Enlightenment view to something more rooted in reallity.
Reply to this and let me know if you find this section valuable. Do you actually read and do these?
While I originally planned to introduce you to on of my favorite resources this week, I decided this post provided some important context. Over the next two weeks, I’ll share two of my favorite resources for helping us change the way we see ourselves.