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In Context #12 (Fall, 2004, pp. 19-23); copyright 2004 by The Nature Institute

Quantum Puzzles
Stephen L. Talbott

The following is adapted from a fuller essay (tentatively entitled "Unfulfilled Revolution") scheduled for publication in The Nature Institute's online NetFuture newsletter. The essay originated as a commentary on The New Physics and Cosmology: Dialogues with the Dalai Lama, edited by Arthur Zajonc (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

By the beginning of the twentieth century, the paradigm of classical physics and cosmology, founded on mechanistic models, dominated not only the hard sciences, but also the life sciences. Further, since a mind that insists on contemplating the world in a mechanistic fashion forces itself to function mechanistically, it is no accident that the reigning paradigm was looking more and more attractive even as a framework for understanding the mind.

The early decades of the twentieth century shook this simple and comfortable world outlook with a disturbing force we have still barely begun to comprehend. It is hard, Arthur Zajonc writes, to overestimate the significance of quantum theory and relativity. These theories challenged mechanistic accounts of the cosmos and granted unexpected significance to the human observer.