Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Trinitarian theology, phenomenology, and quantum physics

Here are insights in three disciplines I believe to be related.

Contemporary Trinitarian theology has emphasized that the "identity" of the persons of the Trinity is located in their relationship to each other. In other words, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit ARE their mutual relating.

A consequence of this Trinitarian insight: We are better served speaking of the members of the Trinity as a grammar or language for prayer, or in relationship one to another, than attempting to define aspects of the immanent Trinity based on economic insights. Theologians love to argue whether the economic Trinity IS the immanent Trinity. Under this new construal, there is no immanent Trinity to access backside of the relating itself.

On this point, see most recently Robert Jenson's Theology in Outline: Can These Bones Live?

In the world of quantum physics, compare this fact, that the equations in quantum mechanics do not describe what happens to physical systems, but rather, they only describe how a physical system affects another physical system.

As Carlo Rovelli says of this insight in his recent Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, "We must accept the idea that reality is only interaction."

A consequence of this is profound. There may not be any such thing as time per se. So Rovelli again: "The passage of time is internal to the world, is born in the world itself in the relationship between quantum events that comprise the world and are themselves the source of time." There is no time in which all of reality/space/being is flowing. "There is no longer space that 'contains' the world, and there is no longer time 'in which' events occur. There are only elementary processes wherein quanta of space and matter continually interact with one another."

Which leads to the final item, phenomenology, and in particular what is often called the phenomenological reduction, formalized most briefly in a phrase by Jean-luc Marion: "Autant de r├ęduction, autant de donation" (As much reduction, as much givenness). For Marion, the more reduction is radicalized, the more givenness is deployed. And to my mind at least, this kind of reduction sounds quite a bit like the Trinitarian perichoretic insight, the quantum physical commitment to reality as and only interaction... because the more reality is reduced to its interactions, just so the more reality.

It used to be the case that quantum theory emphasized that reality didn't exist until you measured it. This is only about half right. For reduction, the measurement is the reality, giving itself precisely in the measurement of what wasn't.

1 comment:

  1. The phenomenological line about reality as interaction reminds me of Kierkegaard's claim (via his pseudonym Anti-Climacus) that "the self is a relation that relates itself to itself" and, of course, relates also to an other.

    Along these lines, you or your readers may be interested in the new Open Commons of Phenomenology website, which aims to make texts and translations from the phenomenological traditions more accessible: http://ophen.org/