In both theology and religion, there is a concept called “dualism”, which — to avoid confusion later — I’ll note now has nothing much to do with “duality” as understood within modern physics. The former concept involves the notion that there are two aspects of reality which may either be diametrically opposed, mutually inconsistent, balanced or unbalanced, or even complementary — but always conceptually separable such that they refer to two different things.
Good or evil. Material or immaterial. Mind or matter. Spiritual or physical. Even male or female. As this article from the Jewish Virtual Library describes, many of these “dualism” classifications have been used as the bases of philosophy and religions since primitive times. They seem to constantly reemerge after being subordinated to religious and philosophical principles of “monism” (oneness or wholeness).
Duality instead has nothing to do with two different aspects of reality. In contrast, it focuses on recognizing that a single, inseparable “monist” reality does almost always have two (or more) entirely separable “dual” descriptions. It is the descriptions of reality that are dual — like two languages used to describe the same concept — and not the reality itself.
In a way, duality was the key to the anomaly that sparked the entire quantum revolution in physics at the beginning of the 1900′s. Light had been understood as electromagnetic waves since the work of James Maxwell, published in 1864. The existence of such waves was a mathematically required consequence of the basic laws of electricity and magnetism that had been easily verified in the laboratory.
But as the 20th Century dawned, observations about light were beginning to pile up that could not be explained by any wave model. Instead, depending only on the question an experiment tested, light seemed to betray either wave-like or particle-like behavior. Look for wave properties, and the experiment would find them; look for particle properties, and the experiment would find them instead. Even notions of everyday common sense would break down to maintain the insistence on light being both wave and particle.
Worse, when the wave experiments grew sophisticated enough to be applied to good-old-rock-solid matter, matter showed exactly the same stubborn insistence on being both particle and wave-like, too. Everything in the material world turned out to exhibit the properties of these seemingly contradictory physical models. Reality could not be so neatly compartmentalized according to the mental constructs humanity had available.
For a time, there was even a trendy word to describe things — “wavacle” — until people realized that giving something a new name didn’t mean we understood it any better. Quantum mechanics, the science that developed out of these early shocks to our conceptual system, has only one reality. But it can be described in at least two mathematical languages: the mathematical language of waves, and the mathematical language of “matrices”.
The languages were proven to be translatable from one to another before 1930, and so they must always make exactly the same predictions. But the value in the notion of duality is that — just as some things are easy to say in German that are extraordinarily difficult to say in Japanese, and vice versa — the difficulty in making predictions in one description is easy for some situations, yet impossibly hard in the other description. And in some other situation, the utility of the two descriptions is completely reversed. Scientists needed two conceptually different languages to describe this one reality in which we live.
New examples of duality showed up with increasing frequency as people began to appreciate the explanatory power of the approach. Some of the dualities that have been recognized are even more bizarre than the wave-particle duality.
Many of today’s best candidate theories for “quantum gravity” that would unite relativity and quantum mechanics into a “theory of everything” are collectively known as “string theory”. They often have a property called “T-duality”. In particular, T-dual theories predict that a universe, such as ours appears to be – of vast extent and expanding in size – is absolutely indistinguishable from an infinitesimally small universe which is shrinking toward nothingness. The laws of physics would dictate that exactly the same electrical and gravitational signals would enter our brains in either case.
If these string theories are correct, large and small are alternative languages to describe the same reality. In fact, for all we can tell, we could all be living in an ultramicroscopic reality right now, with our brains arbitrarily choosing to interpret things so that the universe appears infinite in extent.
Then there’s the “holographic principle”. This idea seems to suggest that there are deep connections between modern information theory — the science that underlies telecommunications, including the internet — and the structure of spacetime itself. In addition to the way we describe reality, there appears to be an entirely equivalent way to describe it using one less spatial dimension. There are even reports that an unexpected effect predicted by the second description has been seen in equipment accidentally optimized for its detection.
So duality is not going away from physics anytime soon, regardless of what the philosophers and theologians have to say about monism versus dualism. Might it be fruitful for the theologians to consider what the concept of duality has to add to their debate?
In a way, duality as the existence of multiple descriptions of a single reality, Jesus Christ – “fully man, yet fully God” — is almost too obvious within Christian history. Indeed, the connection between the Father and the Son, with the Holy Ghost thrown in as a third description for good measure, is another application ripe for exploration.
However, what I’d like to explore in this and future posts is the question of whether and where we can replace the notion of dualism between the physical and spiritual in Restoration theology with the notion of duality, so that we can begin to conceptualize the physical and spiritual realms not as separate arenas of reality, but as two translatable descriptions of a single all-encompassing reality.
If the physical and spiritual are governed by principles of duality, not dualism, then things we do on earth may not just affect what happens in heaven, they may actually be the things that happen in heaven, and vice versa.
For example, in LDS theology, certain significant acts are directly sealed — made spiritually real and binding — through covenants marked by rites, while in CofChrist theology, ordinances are viewed as helps in the physical realm for spiritual purposes. But what if reality is put together to be more than these options? What if every moment of life is inherently sealed into the spiritual realm? If every relationship we enhance here is enhanced there. If every relationship we marginalize here is automatically diminished there as surely as gravity drags us toward the earth?
And what, from the other perspective, if the spiritual is acting as well in an ever present way, to seal the purposes of God into the physical realm?