Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Fleshy Part of the Thigh - the God Particle

I’ve always thought the sixty-ninth episode of the HBO series, The Sopranos - The Fleshy Part of the Thigh to be one of the deepest and most confronting of the many excellent episodes in the series. I had the chance to watch it again last night.

Tony, in hospital faces his own mortality after being shot by his demented uncle. In the next room, Da Lux, a rapper who was shot while leaving a club is being comforted by his manager and family. We over hear his manager telling his client that getting shot will boost record sales. Da Lux is clearly distressed and in pain.

This episode also has one of my favorite quotes scribbled on a card.   While having his wound dressed the day before surgery, Tony speculates that Janice is responsible for the card - the Ojibwe saying "Sometimes I go about in pity for myself, and all the while, a great wind carries me across the sky,"

After learning that Pastor Bob and his followers oppose female contraception, Tony asks them if their God disapproves of Viagra too. Da Lux invites Tony to watch a boxing fight at his hospital room on satellite TV. While watching the prize fight, Paulie moans about how alone everyone is, Schwinn discusses the interconnectivity of all life, telling them how no event or entity can be understood independent from the rest of the world referencing the work of Erwin Schrödinger, Quantum mysticism, and Da Lux agrees with Schwinn: "everything is everything, I'm down with that." 

Schwinn has ideas that are at odds with the beliefs of Pastor Bob, who again visits Tony later and tries to encourage him to find his spirituality. Tony confides to Schwinn he is starting to believe they are all part of something bigger.

Schwinn’s interconnectivity remark - What sounds like a casual remark is of course anything but. It’s the genius of the writers that set up and make room for reflection. Here, mortality, psychology, religion, quantum physics, art and moralism collide.

Interconnectivity, or as Tony puts it “we are all part of something bigger” isn’t, of course, a new idea. Our perception of things, the world is not just an esoteric topic confined to philosophy, but one of neuropsychology, brain structure and function, physics and more. Consciousness, as imperceptible and inexplicable as it may be, could well be at the root of everything we experience. Not just what we think, but what we see, what we feel.

The temporal lobe assigns meaning to whatever stimuli hit our senses. In short, it is the temporal lobe that gives us meaning to what we see, what we hear, etc. Temporal lobe damage can affect our ability to assign meaning to normally familiar objects. And interestingly, in some cases of temporal lobe damage that cause temporal lobe seizures, such patients can be overwhelmed with spiritual and emotional feelings beyond the norms of human experience.

So where, or how does the discovery of an elementary particle such as the Higgs boson sit? The Higgs boson, or the “God particle” explains how elementary particles gain mass by interacting with other particles within an invisible field of energy. Sure, the 2013 Nobel prize went to Francois Englert of Belgium and Peter Higgs of the United Kingdom for the theory of how particles acquire mass. This was borne out when researchers confirmed the existence in 2012 of the God particle.

But, Where did the thought of the Higgs boson come from? Does this particle exist only in our mind? Can it be manipulated by our thoughts? Is it possible that matter isn’t so much a thing as it is a perspective? If so, could it be that by changing this perspective we might discover that our essential nature isn’t matter-based after all?

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