Spooky Action From A Distance…Two Truths and a Lie

29 10 2015

“In a landmark study, scientists at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands reported that they had conducted an experiment that they say proved one of the most fundamental claims of quantum theory — that objects separated by great distance can instantaneously affect each other’s behavior.

The finding is another blow to one of the bedrock principles of standard physics known as ‘locality,’ which states that an object is directly influenced only by its immediate surroundings. The Delft study, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, lends further credence to an idea that Einstein famously rejected. He said quantum theory necessitated ‘spooky action at a distance,’ and he refused to accept the notion that the universe could behave in such a strange and apparently random fashion.”

— John Markoff, “Sorry, Einstein. Quantum Study Suggests ‘Spooky Action’ Is Real“, New York Times, October 21, 2015

The article quoted above came to my attention during a social gathering in the basement of a convent in Wisconsin one night last week. (I know, it seems like there might be something funny to say about that, especially if you’ve never known any nuns personally. But trust me, many sisters are quite social.) It was another two days before I had the opportunity to read the article myself. As Markoff states, this study is the best evidence yet for “the existence of an odd world formed by a fabric of subatomic particles, where matter does not take form until it is observed and time runs backward as well as forward.” It gave me goosebumps!

And not just because of the study’s many scientific implications. For nearly 48 hours, I had been thinking about this concept of spooky action at a distance, allowing my imagination to run wild. So imagine how I reacted upon learning that the lead scientist on the team conducting the experiments is named Hanson – the exact same last name as mine! Weird coincidence, eh?

And that’s when I stopped giving the entire concept much serious thought, because: Halloween. In late October, it is not really possible to think about something Einstein, everyone’s favorite genius, called “spooky” without thinking about spooks and other things that go bump in the night. In that moment, the (likely ill-conceived) idea for today’s Halloween post was born:

Two Truths and A Lie: Spooky Action Version

What follows are three stories about spooky occurrences (with apologies to serious scientists everywhere). Two of them I swear are totally true, and faithfully reported. The third is partly made up. You decide which is which, because I’ll never tell! (Not in this post, anyway)

Story #1: Amber Light

In the early 1990s, my parents purchased a house at auction. The home had been built and lived in by one family, the last member of whom, Amber, had recently moved into a nursing home. My parents never met her. Over the first few years of living in the house, strange things sometimes happened: doors slammed for no apparent reason; my parents would wake up in the night to discover every light on the first floor of the house turned on (despite having been shut off when my folks went to bed). They joked that George, father of Amber and builder of the house, was less than ecstatic about the renovations they were making. The parentals weren’t particularly bothered by the occasional oddities they experienced. However, none of these incidents prepared them for what happened one winter night, years after they had moved into the house.

That night, both of my parents were awakened from deep sleep at exactly the same moment, bolting upright in bed in unison. Their hearts were pounding, adrenalin coursing through their bodies.

Dad: What woke you up?

Mom: You tell me what woke you up first!

Dad: I saw a blinding light right above us, right above the bed. It was there briefly, only a few seconds, then disappeared.

Mom: I saw it too!

They were both nonplussed by the incident, and slept fitfully the remainder of the night. In full daylight the following morning, they were still a bit freaked out, unlike any of the other times unusual things had happened in the house. After discussing the incident, they formulated a theory of what had happened. My dad got online and began searching for information to confirm their theory. Eventually, he found it: Amber, the previous occupant of the house, had passed away in the night. They concluded that Amber paid one final visit to the house that had been her lifelong home.

Story #2: Cecilia’s Curse

A few years ago, I was visiting my parents in New Mexico. In a local paper, I happened to see a notice for ghost tours being conducted in Albuquerque’s Old Town and insisted that my parents accompany me on one such tour. It was a beautiful evening in Old Town, and Dad was surprised to see just how many people had turned out for the haunted tour. It was a great experience – we learned all kinds of new things about Old Town and Alubuquerque’s history. Toward the end of the tour, we arrived at the Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapel. In all my previous visits to Old Town, I’d never seen this chapel, and I was immediately enchanted. (see video of chapel)

Once the entire tour group was inside the main chapel, I noticed someone out of the corner of my eye, way off to the side, away from the group. However, I didn’t really pay much mind to her because our tour guide, who was very engaging, had begun to tell the group about various hauntings that had been reported by chapel visitors in the past. He asked if anyone in the room was named Cecilia – and my parents and I started laughing because that is the name I took for my confirmation. The guide noticed our laughter, and called us out to share. I explained my connection with Cecilia. He began to tell a story about an incident shortly after the chapel had been built. It involved someone named Cecilia or whose patron saint was Cecilia (I don’t remember which) dying mysteriously in the chapel. Ever since, women who are connected with Cecilia often see a particular ghost. After seeing the ghost, the person visited would experience something extraordinary – either good or evil.

The whole room kept looking at me as he spoke, and I was uncomfortable with the scrutiny. I began to look around the room, and my attention was caught by the figure I had seen previously. The center of the chapel was open – faithful who had attended services there in the heyday of Old Town mostly stood – but along the side of the room were niches with wooden pews in them, so that prayerful visitors had a place to sit down. I looked to my right, and saw a woman in old fashioned dress sitting in one of the niches. She was looking directly at me, and after inadvertently meeting her eyes I quickly looked away, as I usually do when I catch a stranger staring at me in a public place.

As we left the chapel, I asked my parents, “Did you see that woman sitting on the right side of the chapel? She was staring at me and freaking me out!”

My parents looked at me blankly. “Which woman?”, they asked, looking around at the members of our group.

“She wasn’t with our group,” I said. “She was in the chapel when we got there.”

“I was the first person in the chapel after our guide,” my Dad said. “There was no one in there ahead of us, the room was empty.” We laughed, and began joking about how I had seen the apparition – now I needed to expect something momentous to occur. I was a little creeped out, but joined in the good-natured joking.

On the way home, we stopped for gas. As he often does, my father returned to the car with several lottery scratch tickets. “Here you go,” he said. “I got you a ticket – it’s the least I could do since you treated us to the haunted tour!” Unbelievably, when I scratched the ticket, I had won $3,000! Apprently, the ghost was feeling benevolent that night!

Story #3: A Little Night Music

In June of 1978, my family moved from Ohio back to Iowa. For the first couple of weeks, we stayed in a hotel, waiting for the previous owners of our new house to finish moving out. When we were finally able to inhabit our new home, a good deal of work needed to be done including adding bedrooms in the basement. For the time being, my two brothers were sharing a room upstairs, while my sisters and I (three of us) were in another room. My parents had the master bedroom.

On our very first night in the house, I woke around 2:00 a.m. to the sound of unearthly music – very similar to Native American flute music – flowing through the house. No one in our family played such an instrument, and the music was very…present…is the best word I can use to describe it. I laid on my mattress on the floor, unsure what to do but terrified of the eerie music. Suddenly, someone grabbed my foot – and I jumped about a yard off the mattress!

It was my sister, Gwen. She whispered, “Do you hear that?”

“Hear what?”, I asked.

“You know what!,” she whispered back furiously. “That music!”

Honestly, unless you heard it, you cannot understand just how freaked out Gwen and I were. We decided we couldn’t possibly leave our room to investigate, but we also couldn’t just lay there and listen to the sound of that music in our house. On the count of three, we screamed for my dad. The music immediately stopped, but we were committed to having an adult check into it. It took several attempts to scream him awake, but eventually Dad came running into our room.

We explained what had happened, which, granted, sounded silly to him. He claimed he had been awake and hadn’t heard a thing. But we knew he had been sleeping because of the difficulty we had getting his attention. He grudgingly walked through the upstairs of the house, then opened the basement door and shouted, “If you’re in our basement playing a flute, cut it out!”

We were told to go back to bed and forget about it. My parents believed the sound was simply air moving through the a/c ducts. And they stuck to that story forever, despite the fact that in the years we lived there I never again heard that same sound. But it stuck with me, and it always frightened me when I thought of it. It had not felt welcoming.

Many years later, I was living in Cedar Rapids and working professionally in college administration. I happened to pick up a book by a man who was attempting to come to terms with his Greek Orthodox religious upbringing, which was full of mystical stories and superstitious beliefs. Only, as he delved more deeply, he discovered that mystical events tend to happen in real life, not just in his mother’s stories. He recounted the following experience of visiting a deserted chapel in the countryside of Italy (this is my retelling because I no longer own the book):

The chapel was known for being particularly lovely though in ruins. The author and his friends had gotten lost on the way there. When they arrived in the town, after dark, they were told that the chapel had recently been boarded up to keep local vandals at bey. Disappointed, they drove to the chapel anyway, and decided to attempt to get inside. At the back of the building, they discovered that someone had been there ahead of them, breaking open an entrance just large enough to squeeze through. Once inside the chapel, it was evident that very recent visitors had been up to no good – spray painted graffiti was still dripping and many items inside the chapel were smashed; litter was strewn throughout. Suddenly, low flute music was heard. It’s sound was menacing. The group stood together, discussing this sudden development, and the music got louder, building to a crescendo. Suddenly, items began flying at them from around the chapel – pieces of litter, small rocks, etc. – as if a strong wind were blowing inside the building. The author and his friends fled.

I shivered in my cozy little cottage in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. His description of the flute music was eerily familiar to me – I recognized it immediately. I understood the small groups’ fear upon hearing it. And I wondered what might have happened if, all those years ago, my sister and I hadn’t started screaming.

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So, which stories are true and which embellished? Feel free to guess! If you know the truth, though, don’t give it away to everyone! And, remember that when it comes to spooky actions (to paraphrase Hamlet): there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your science, Einstein!

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

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What Shapes Us

28 06 2012

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

On our recent road trip to New Mexico, my family took Mike and I to Kasha-Katuwe, better known as Tent Rocks. The unique landscape was originally formed by massive eruptions in the Jemez volcanic field, which “spewed pyroclasts (rock fragments), while searing hot gases blasted down slopes in an incandescent avalanche called a ‘pyroclastic flow’.”  The resulting formations are spectacular.

We climbed a little over 1100 feet (from an altitude of 5570 to one of 6760), taking in the most amazing views of both the tent rock formations and the surrounding New Mexican landscape.

Tent Rock formations

Tent rocks in foreground, mountainous New Mexico in background

One of my favorite parts of the hike, both on the way in/up and on the way back/down, was the trail leading through the slot canyons. Over time, wind and rain have carved canyons and arroyos into the rock, creating passages (like the one pictured at the top of this post) of surpassing beauty. For most of the morning, we hiked through 100 degree temperatures, thin air and a burning sun. These canyons of layered rock were hushed and cool by comparison.

The stillness of the canyons gave rise to contemplation. Like the rock, which was shaped by the forces of nature, we too, are shaped by the vissicitudes of life. Our choices, our experiences, who we love and how we learn – all have a role in shaping us. Therefore, it seemed especially poignant to share this experience, and these thoughts, in companionable silence with Mike.

We met when I was 18, Mike 19. We were still fresh, unmarked clay. Our faces shone with, as J.D. Salinger put it when speaking of college students, “the misinformation of the ages”. Over the next few years, we shared some powerful experiences as each of us attempted to discover the direction of our lives. Eventually, though, we found that we were bound in different directions, and we parted ways.

The weathers of life – births, disappointments, marriages, jobs, successes – had their way with us over the next thirty years. Molding and shaping us into mature adults, careworn and wiser (we hope). And then, surprisingly, bringing us back onto each others’ paths. Under the extra pounds, the gray hair, the wrinkles, the familiar past could be glimpsed. Only now, the layers and textures add depth and surprise. They offer possibilities that didn’t exist in our earlier friendship: wisdom and generosity of spirit, compassion and forgiveness. Human capacities with which youth is often barely acquainted.

So tonight, back home in my little house in Iowa, I am thinking of Kasha-Katuwe and the lessons it taught me. Time makes shape-shifters of us all. I am grateful for this learning. I am grateful for this earth which teaches me. And yes, Mike, lest you think I left out the most important part (again), I am grateful for your company on this path.

Mike and I, at the top!





Defining Moments

14 06 2012

I have a friend from college who is on an extended vacation in Berlin. His Facebook posts paint little scenes for us, snippets of his experiences. He writes of many ghosts: in the apartment where he is staying; in the old graveyard where half the plots are tended and the other half are (mysteriously) overgrown and wild; the whispering voices of history on the Reichstag lawn at 2 a.m.

Tonight, I have my own voices from the past whispering in my ears.

Today is the anniversary of the 2008 floods which swept through Cedar Rapids, the worst natural disaster in Iowa’s history. I’ll never forget it. For more than a year beforehand, my colleagues and I had worked to put together a campus crisis/disaster plan. That planning team, and our many meetings, is where some of my best friends and most valued colleagues were cultivated. And when the flood hit our town, and the plan we had created was enacted…I was hiking in the desert southwest.

That day my parents and I were in the mountains visiting a chain of remote national monuments, old Spanish missions. At each stop, the ranger at the information desk would ask, “Where you folks from?”, and my Dad would say, “Albuquerque. But our daughter is visiting from Cedar Rapids.” And every single person asked, “Isn’t that where they’re having that terrible flood?” Each time, I felt my sense of panic ratchet up a notch. I was not where I needed to be.

It’s interesting to look back at your own life and find those moments just before something big changes. Just before your perspective shifts, creating a new way of looking at the world around you.

There were many changes to Cedar Rapids, to the lives of people who live here, brought about by the flood. I would never want to minimize the difficulties and ways people suffered. For me, though, the flood changed something deep inside: for the first time, after living here for years, I thought of Cedar Rapids as my home town. And myself as part of this community.

I’ve written about perspective before (here): how hard it is to keep, how it can be regained in a moment of stunned reaction to a major life event. It is especially difficult to maintain perspective when we live cocooned in the false notion of self-reliance. When we think we are in “it” by ourselves, whether “it” is our job, raising our children, living through a serious illness, or simply trying to get through the day. The truth, hard as it is to hang on to when we feel alone, is that we are not alone.

This sense of being part of a community has only grown in me over the years since the flood. I didn’t suddenly start seeing Cedar Rapids as my dream city, or the only place I could ever live. However, I’ve come to understand that community transcends place, while it is also grounded in a place. We call that place “home”.