At the Crossroads
by Kenneth King
Published in the North Dakota Quarterly, Fall 2015, Volume 82.4
“In later life, Dirac liked to point out that quantum mechanics was the first physical theory to be discovered before anyone knew what it meant."
Graham Farmelo, The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Quantum Genius (96)
Crossroads are intersections where crises and the karmic complexities of destiny are enacted through crimes, transgressions, and catastrophes. Crossroads appear throughout history, at life's various stages, and throughout the cosmos. On the concourse of time, history perpetuates a continuum of increasingly dangerous and entangled junctures. Crossroads interconnect the dimensions of the universe.
Haunted by ghosts, demons, and hangings, crossroads were unsavory places of stealth, superstition, and foreboding, where lost souls gathered and taboos were brokered and broken. They can also be gateways of discovery, healing, transformation, and initiation. On the electronic highway, they propagate virtual extensions.
Crossroads are guarded by deities and disincarnates such as the Lares, genii loci, or the Haitian Loa Legba. Even the human genome possesses invisible crossroads—chromosomes can permute the genetic code and transfer intercellular data. Language, too, produces crossroads because the grain of syntax catalyzes contexts that transect dimensions and set confluences into motion.
The first crime occurred at an ancient crossroads, forever marking them as diabolical places. Long before the biblical ideas of the Fall and Original Sin, Oedipus killed his father, King Laïus, near Delphi, where three roads meet.
Oedipus' sovereign and mythic power originated when he passed the ultimate test and answered the Sphinx's cryptic riddle. The Delphic Oracle proclaimed another riddle of sorts—that Oedipus was destined to murder his father and marry his mother. At the fateful crossroads he was blinded by the force of circumstance, and so arose one of the greatest legendary enigmas.
Oedipus did not know that the man who was refusing him right of way at those crossroads and whom he ended up slaying was his father. That primordial crime became inscribed on the human genome. The incest taboo might be older than myth.
Crossroads demarcate physical locations where boundaries and taboos are trespassed and point to disembodied thresholds having quantum ramifications. Crossroads can be corporeal, microscopic, atomic, or galactic, involving eye, brain, cells, genes, germs, viruses, isotopes, or the galactic grid of constellations and interpenetrating magnetic fields. Like lines in the sand, these intersections invite strange occurrences and inexplicable concurrences.
Hiroshima was our seminal apocryphal event. August 6, 1945 brokered the atomic crossroads where the first quantum planetary initiation occurred. The Big Bang has been compared to a cosmic thermonuclear explosion, which stars also undergo. The physics of entanglement support the synergy of subatomic mysteries. Who would have guessed that the capacity for a tremendous catastrophic explosion lurked within the interstices of the tiniest and remotest regions of an atom's nucleus?
Oedipus' blinding, following his meltdown, points to crossroads situated somewhere on the far side of the visible. A blinding light is also associated with satori and enlightenment, and a virtual blinding also occurs during sexual euphoria. Freud: "The pleasure principle, then is a … return to the quiescence of the inorganic world. We have all experienced how the greatest pleasure attainable by us, that of the sexual act, is associated with a momentary extinction of a highly intensified excitation" (Gay 625).
Crossroads traverse the grain of syntax because the elements of whatever is perceived, seen, recorded, or read have to be broken down and their digitized data sorted, stored, and rerouted through various parts of the brain. In a sense, the wor(l)d has to be detonated in order to make sense of and process it, which is akin to a cognitive fission.
In Reading in the Brain: The Science and Evolution of a Human Invention, French neuroscientist Stanislas Dehaene notes: "Our visual system is very precisely wired to reassemble the giant jigsaw puzzle created by the retina when it explodes incoming images into a million pixels" (130). A “nuclear” deconstruction might be said to inhere in neurological functioning—the essential distillation of consciousness continues to be transformed by digital technology.
"Upon entering the retina, a word is split up into a myriad of fragments, as each part of the visual image is recognized by a distinct photoreceptor. Starting from this input, the real challenge consists in putting the pieces back together in order to decode what letters are present, to figure out the order in which they appear, and finally to identify the word" (Dehaene 12).
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Even without sight, the blinding flashes at Hiroshima and Nagasaki would have short-circuited the optic nerve—Big Science inaugurated a crucifixion by light. Atomic Oedipus was blinded by Pluto's onus: plutonium. Atomic symptoms became culturally endemic. By 1954 a wave of horror movies such as Godzilla and Monster from the Ocean Floor forged a new cinematic genre that featured aberrations, monsters, aliens, genetic mutations, and grotesqueries from the depths spawned by widespread nuclear testing and the scourge of fallout.
In the year of the Bomb, 1945, another momentous crossroads as prescient as Teiresias' transformation occurred when Sir Harold Gilles, a noted British surgeon, quietly turned Laura Dillon into Dr. Lawrence Michael Dillon. Seven years later, Dr. Christian Hamberger, in Denmark, changed George Jorgensen, an American GI, into Christine, who immediately became a worldwide celebrity. Her sex change blasted across headlines, knocking news about the explosion of the first hydrogen bomb off front pages.
Sir Harold Gilles was equipped to challenge gender crossroads because he surgically treated soldiers who had been genitally mutilated in war, and his expert medical knowledge enabled him to reconstruct damaged anatomy. The entanglement of genes, genitals, and hormones are no longer contingent upon divine provenance. Like fire, it has been stolen from the gods.
Tampering with the atom, and interfering with genes and gender, creates another mythic interface—medicine coupled with electronics and technology incarnates the digital body, which virtualizes the nervous system and connects it with hyperspace. 1945 was not only the year of the Bomb. The explosion of quantum theory, fissile genes and particles, hormone conversion, and cellular permutation catalyzed a new cultural and planetary alchemy.
In Sophocles' play, Oedipus Rex, written in the fifth century B.C., Teiresias is Oedipus' double and nemesis, the clairvoyant prophet who skirted another crossroads that enabled him to see into and through other dimensions.
For the Greeks, the gods perpetrate strange intrigues. Teiresias resolved another mysterious enigma by being granted the intimate knowledge of being both sexes. He was the first transsexual prophet. One day, while walking in the woods, he came upon two great serpents copulating, and when he struck them with his staff, he was transformed into a woman. Seven years later the gods turned him back into a man. Freudian puns aside, stick or staff, serpent or phallus, fission and fusion, both inform and shatter the nuclear enigma.
The circuit of Oedipus's corporeal conundrum spreads across the entire cultural landscape, and its crossroads reach into an interstellar grid. "This grid is a cosmic 'underground' along which information can pass faster than the speed of light…" constituted by "a network of dark matter filaments," notes Percy Seymour in Dark Matters: Unifying Matter, Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Universal Grid (153).
Information transference depends upon patterns of interference. "An interference pattern is the hallmark of waves. Waves interfere with each other while particles do not" (Aczel, Entanglement 19). Complementarity, Neil Bohr's discovery, is comprised of an either/or—waves and particles, or wavicles—constituting an inextricable duality of light's capacity of corpuscular transference. Thus reality is comprised of interference patterns, and matter is ruled by synchronistic and acausal concordances.
Gamma rays from an atomic explosion cause genetic mutations in plants, animals, and humans. Bodies mutate, but so do genes, germs, viruses, and bacteria. AIDS, Ebola, the H1N1 virus, MRSA (the near-untreatable staph infection, also called a superbug), the spore-forming airborne fungus Cryptococcus gattii, and the lethal genetic enzyme NDM-1 cross intercellular crossroads to threaten survival.
Crossroads can be places of pestilence that extend under the earth as well as across tectonic plates, whose fault lines conceal chthonic upsurges. When Oedipus' saga began, Thebes was besieged by a plague. Ecological and natural disasters prove as lethal. Haiti's catastrophic earthquake on January 10, 2010, devastated the poorest nation in the western hemisphere, largely destroyed its capital, Port-au-Prince, uprooted three million people, and caused a cholera epidemic.
A month later an even stronger seismic disturbance rocked Chile and sent a tsunami as far away as Hawaii and Japan. On April 20, the BP-Transocean-Halliburton oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico created the largest-to-date unstoppable blanket of pollution that compromised the southern ecosystem, comparable to an industrial Chernobyl. Following in July and August, Pakistan suffered torrential floods that submerged one-fifth of the country and affected an estimated twenty million people—four million homeless, eight million desperate for humanitarian aid.
Beginning in January 2011, the Arab Spring movement provoked massive uprisings that erupted in Tunisia and Egypt, whose revolutionary upsurges continued in following years to destabilize the entire Mideast, followed in September by Occupy Wall Street demonstrations in major cities. On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9 mega-quake struck Japan's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, causing a tsunami, fires, and catastrophic damage, killing approximately 19,000 people, and exposing the fuel rods of several of its six reactors, releasing high dosages of radiation and widespread contamination. Planet Earth is definitely at a crossroads.
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The body, too, harbors crossroads that stretch across its corporeal and virtual thresholds perpetuated by its anatomical binaries—bifocal image production, bicameral hemispheres, bipedal gait, and double-chambered heart, as well as the demarcation between perception and apperception, conscious and unconscious, liminal and subliminal—that support the mysteries of Eros and Thanatos.
Freud developed his Oedipus complex a decade before his theory of the Death Instinct (he began to use the term "Oedipal" in 1910). The unconscious is bordered by libidinal crossroads that activate phobias and taboos having analogical transferences. This involves a superposition of dualities similar to that between matter and antimatter—and the living and dead, the known and unknown, and creation and decreation. The particulates or syntagma of syntax unlock ciphers of transference. The talking cure causes an upsurge of linguistic signages whose intersections reveal secrets and far memories, just as accelerated particles produce isotopes.
Freud conceptualized the Death Instinct in 1920, a decade before the invention of the cyclotron. During World War I the human psyche, too, was already becoming fissionable, as if the junctions between neuroses and psychoses were contingent upon particle spin, shell shock, and toxic fallout. The Death Instinct might also be conceived as the anlagen of dark matter. Fission is transgression in extremis. It resonates with atomic terror.
There may be an uncanny connection between X-rays and the X-rated, because the chain reaction of toxic obsessions fuels the tropes of horror coupled with the frenetic fallout of the flesh. Hypersexuality, pornography, and sexual obsessions became radical means to alleviate apocalyptic dread. Religion today is at a similar crossroads. Priests are patriarchal sovereigns invested with an institutional power mired in a retrogressive medieval mindset. Following the planet's atomic initiation, they, too, became victims of troubled libidos, mutant genes, and damaged psyches, resulting in the Catholic church's massive pedophilia scandal, which first rocked America, then Europe, and whose consequences are yet to be reconciled.
Fission and the concatenation of subatomic mysteries could be compared to stealing fire from the gods, resulting from bombarding the nucleus of atomic elements with neutrinos. Isotopes are permutations of atomic elements, similar in principle to how chromosomes mutate the genetic templates of animal and human species. Like playing with tropes or conceptual isot(r)opes, thinking also involves a cerebral fission, a conflation of particles and fields comprised of interactive pulses, images, ideas, and signages.
Language and its codes were permuting as well. Philosophers and linguists joined the cadres of clandestine intelligence agents involved with decoding secret transmissions. A code is a distillation of reality, a condensation of a hidden order, and a precursor of algorithms: "...a desire to see, to reveal, to profane the deepest mysteries, to raise the veil, to see the naked truth to penetrate the secrets of nature or matter..." (Goux 82).
Age, time, and death present crossroads that every man must confront, and no one averts. "The tragedy explores and unsettles the scene of philosophy, bringing to light what philosophy does not know about itself, what it cannot glimpse within the terms of its own language." (Goux 132).
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How light transmits information remains another enigma. When Louis-Jacques-Mande Daguerre invented the daguerreotype (1839), this nascent technology of image-capture presaged cinema and video and created an emerging neuro-retinal crossroads that began to broker virtual extensions. The daguerreotype engaged photonic, photomimetic, and photomnemonic transferences.
Light channeled through a lens onto a photosensitive plate and treated with chemicals and mercury vapors became coactive with materializing a replication of reality, its image. Every photon is an inextricable element of consciousness, since light, illumination, and information cohere as a complimentarity. "And the rule in quantum mechanics is that a particle can be here and there at the same time, not necessarily here or there" (Aczel, Uranium Wars 46). Energy processes information; the Universe is a superposed information grid.
Photography created a crossroads between reality and its double, its representation or copy, materializing semblances and image repertoires, a forerunner of virtuality. A scene or a specific moment could be captured as the rarified filaments of a stream of photons passed through a lens, creating mnemonic topoi as well. Photography and cinematography created bombardments of photons that transformed retina and brain.
The blast at Hiroshima caused many inexplicably strange photosensitive phenomena. The blinding radiation acted as an extreme catalyst that created weird double exposures leaving reproductions of people's images ingrained on walls and their shadows embedded on sidewalks. In one case, as a child handed in her assignment, it became permanently imprinted on her teacher's face.
The first nonlocal crossroads were created in 1858 when Cyrus Field organized the first transatlantic cable so that telegraphy could transmit electrical signals across the continental divide—encrypted messages could be conducted over a wire to the other side of the world, whose field caused a superposition of space-time communications. A century later television crossed a neurolectrical threshold by transmitting images over a distance directly into the retina and human brain.
Even physics is haunted by ghost particles, such as the neutrino, which, when accelerated and bombarded, arises momentarily like a phantom and decays as quickly. Einstein, haunted by Hiroshima, speculated photons could be guided by "ghost waves"—mathematical entities that had no actual existence. He called entanglement "spooky action at a distance."
In 1983, Yanhua Shin, a physicist at the University of Baltimore, conducted his famous Ghost Image Experiment with two distant entangled pairs of photons that simultaneously passed through two openings at the same time—a seemingly physical impossibility unless they were nonlocal and superposed—and which, like astral projection, created a ghost image at a distant remove: "quantum particles are in a superposition of several states at the same time" (Aczel, Entanglement 244).
Entanglement remains the great mystery of quantum physics. The phenomenon can be described as a double transference of atomic particles in which spacetime and distance either disappear, or become inextricable, or superposed. Painters like Georges Braque created cubist collages of superimposed images that were harbingers of virtual superposition. Superimposition is visual and spatial, superposition is synergetic and nonlocal.
In Entanglement, Amir Aczel clarifies: "The superposition of waves explains the phenomenon of interference. … Superposition is one of the most important principles in quantum mechanics. The weirdness of quantum mechanics really kicks in when a particle is superposed with itself. … When the quantum system contains more than one particle, the superposition principle gives rise to the phenomenon of entanglement" (68-69). "Einstein still felt the same uneasiness as before when confronted with the strange consequences of the theory" (115). His goal: a unified field theory.
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Science is not immune from myth, even in that collision zone between philosophy and cosmology. What if there were not a beginning or an end—is that another myth? The Big Bang theory generates major funding for physics experiments. The notion that new supercolliders will simulate the originating moment of the cosmos may beg an impossible question. But what may be revealed about quantum reality might well provide a gold mine for future research.
Every subatomic particle has a mirror image antiparticle. Scientists are finding ways to isolate and study antimatter atoms. The antiparticle of the electron, the positron, is used in a medical imaging technology of growing popularity known as positron emission tomography. In May 2010, the New York Times reported that physicists at the Fermilab in Illinois observed a new mysterious particle discovered as the result of collisions between protons and antiprotons: "The new effect hinges on the behavior of particularly strange particles called neutral B-mesons which … oscillate back and forth trillions of times a second between their regular state and their antimatter state" (Overbye A1).
The concepts of beginning and end belong to causal 3-D anthropomorphic thinking, breeding hidden preconceptions. Consciousness is sustained in part by dualistic binaries that get caught in the either/or puzzles of life-death, before-after conundrums. From the inside it's hard to perceive a spectrum. To posit something from nothing may benefit the hagiography or metaphysics of mystery, but it will not solve origins. Quantum time has neither beginning nor end, since it transcends linearity, temporality, extension, and spatiality.
The reciprocal interactions between matter and antimatter, fission and fusion, and Eros and Thanatos may be a high-frequency oscillating connectivity activated by an accelerating transformation of particles, letters, and signs that involves apparitional transferences between here and there, being and nothingness, life and death, creation and decreation. In other words, matter is coming into and passing out of existence much faster than our senses can perceive. Life and death are superposed with each other.
Myth operates on two planes simultaneously, since it occurs both inside and outside of time. Myth, a fable of origins, involves a complementary entanglement of possibility and compossibility, truth and fiction, logic and irrationality. Like the ghost particle experiment, myth consists of paradoxical and allegorical transferences, stories that cannot be entirely understood analytically, or by the conscious mind alone. Oedipus was transformed into Job through a sort of mirror image transposition.
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The three post-quantum crossroads are antimatter, dark matter, and dark energy. Dr. Seymour: "According to the latest calculation, dark energy makes up 75 percent of the universe, dark matter 23 percent, and ordinary matter makes up only 2 percent of the universe" (194). We're outnumbered.
Nothing escapes myth. Real or tacit, virtual or psychological, all crossroads ultimately pass through the letter and the human brain. Language, activated by reading, crosses interdimensional thresholds. Before the digital domain of electronic virtuality and the quantum field, the agent of the letter, the dead letter as linguistic carrier, insured that the patriarchal institution of the law acted as a thanatonic—a psychic transmitter connecting the living and deceased. Thus patriarchy's imprint, genetic and genotropic, insures the haunting of the father, the legacy of Oedipus and King Laïus.
The retina too limns subliminal thresholds, not only between what is seen, known and unknown, visible and invisible, but between perception and apperception. Eye and brain constitute one of the most complex feedback systems because they process the entire continuum of consciousness.
In a sense, the brain was the first cyclotron—the principles of all technology reside in the human body. The crossroads of life and death veer through the phenomenology of language and interpenetrate the labyrinthine neurocircuitry of the skull. The skull, an empty container in the classical canon, is the hub of a diabolical fear of the unknown—think of Hamlet's famous cemetery soliloquy after confronting his father's ghost.
Just as particle constellations underlying matter and the interpenetration of phenomena cohere within a "Zero Point" quantum field, the concatenation of letters and words, like the anagrammatics of a riddle or the transference substitution ratios of tropes and codes, permute signs and perceptions as precursors to the algorithm. It would be tempting to coin a word such as interstistics to identify the elemental cognitive attenuation that occurs in the spaces between letters, words, neurons, and photoreceptors catalyzed by the synaptic jumps that produce re:cognition. Our virtual world has become nonlocal, superpositional, and digitally paramimetic.
Within the weaves that compose the intertwining helix of language, innumerable invisible calibrations conceal a mosaic of hidden responders. Within the contours and lacunae of glyphs and between the eidetic complementarity of matrices arising from the retina's photoreceptors, neural processing coheres as a cognitive fission. The warp and woof comprising the syntagma, or the elemental particles of syntax, synergize a voltaic of signs as lexical, atomic distillates.
Just as nonlocal particles are able to pass through both slits in the famous ghost particle experiment simultaneously—the "realistic impossibility" of quantum reality—an image passing through both eyes mimics a camera obscura by transforming and decoding the information riding on a light beam. That stream or wave of information particles is being disassembled and deconstructed, concatenated, and disseminated at every moment. Programming constitutes an instantaneous two-way dialectic. "Two information processing pathways coexist and supplement each other while we read" (Dahaene 38).
Images, ideas, words, and icons erupt, surface, and percolate, then ebb, flow, dovetail, merge, and transform in saccadic attenuation. Reading, too, produces curious crossroads since past and present, memory and projection conflate a mixture of what is actual and what is unreal, as well as what's inferential, suggestive, and presumptive. Saccades (the jumps of the reading eye), synapses (retinal feints), and phonemic and graphemic interstices insure the concatenated interpositions of all perceptual and neural inputs. Even processing the crossroads of this text lie in the reader's subconscious where subliminal intersections are necessary to decode its mosaic.
The paradoxical and allegorical aspects, elements, and themes of myth also have cosmic and quantum attenuations—Oedipus would be an apt name for a star cluster or galaxy. His myth functions like a pulsar, having engaged generations with its labyrinthine mysteries. "And some pulsars emit X-rays and radio waves" (Seymour 72). The micro connectivity between galactic gravitational fields, as say on Jupiter, where the emission of radio waves was first picked up in 1955, or within the microscopic chromosomal matrices of the human cell, evidence massively parallel intracellular and interstellar systems that interact within the superposability of the human brain. "The motion of each star in a galaxy is controlled by the force of gravitation between it and all other stars in the galaxy..." Thus, the galactic matrix links up "subatomic particles, such as electrons (which move about and emit radio waves)" (Seymour 84). The Universe is broadcasting to itself!
An abundance of intricately emerging and dangerously compounding crossroads continues to proliferate the enigmas of the Atomic Age. The interferences between interpenetrating psyches, codes, networks, and nations continue to synergize a formidable and ferocious information diffusion superposed with interstellar resonance. Oedipus' sin still resounds, despite our having too much information and too little knowledge. Opening the lens of language galvanizes the neurosphere that pulses with cosmic inflections and interflexions. The transmutation of crossroads presents a quantum challenge that will continue to synergize the dark mysteries of transference and trans(in)formation…
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Aczel, Amir. Entanglement. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 2001.
____. Uranium Wars: The Scientific Rivalry That Created the Nuclear Age. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.
Dehaene, Stanislas. Reading in the Brain: The Science and Evolution of a Human Invention. New York: Viking Penguin, 2009.
Farmelo, Graham. The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Quantum Genius. London: Faber and Faber, 2009.
Gay, Peter. The Freud Reader. New York: Norton, 1989.
Goux, Jean-Joseph. Oedipus, Philosopher. Trans. Catherine Porter. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 1993.
Overbye, Dennis. "U.S. and European Scientists Sign Cooperation Pact." New York Times, 7 May 2015: A1.
Seymour, Percy. Dark Matters: Unifying Matter, Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Universal Grid. Franklin Lakes, NJ: Career Press, 2008.
© Kenneth King. For permission to reprint, contact firstname.lastname@example.org