We are the change that we seek
November 20, 2008

I believe the Universe is what it is: neither benevolent nor malign, just indifferent most of the time. It isn't here to reward me, nor is it here to punish me. It just is . . . what it is: unknowable, beyond the imagination or perception of humans, a great iceberg of the cosmic tide, more of it hidden than shows on the surface. Every time we think we've seen the ultimate tiniest particle at the heart of matter, gravitational perturbations show up to let us know that nuh-uh, somebody else is hiding down there in the depths. The only thing that is truly certain about the Universe is that it doesn't wish to be known at its most profound level.  

At those deepest levels, it is deeply strange, composed of protean particles that somehow agree to hang together to make matter. Shapeshifters of extraordinary talent, they seem to like pleasing their audience, bending with the observer to be what is expected of them. Particle? Wave? Sure, I can do that. Just tell me what you want, I'll make it happen.  

That's why I think that if we marshal our forces, strive for a change, believe in it, commit to it, or simply change our way of looking at a problem, we can sometimes nudge the Universe in the direction we want to go. I believe in the butterfly effect. If there's any realm of magic, it's there, where quantum physics and chaos theory meet, where particles that are also waves change form according to the expectations of the perceiver, where tiny local conditions cause a chain reaction that leads to major effects.  

I don't believe in from-the-top-down change. Usually massive programs are too cumbersome and passive to have the intended effect. I believe in change that happens within each human heart—whether inspired from the top, or locally, everyone doing what they can, no matter how small—and in the spreading waves of influence those tiny changes can bring.  

That's the surest form of magic I know: that somewhere in the world, the flapping of a butterfly's wings can bring a nation to its knees—or, conversely, call up a strong and favorable wind for an amazing journey of discovery.

Copyright © 2010 P.J. Thompson