The Poetry & Physics of Interconnection

By Michael Caduto

    The Brain–is wider than the Sky– 
     For–put them side by side– 
     The one the other will contain
     With ease–and You–beside.
                                              —Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson has had her moment of late, with popularized books and movies attempting to paint her life and poetry with a flair that is more relatable to contemporary sensibilities. As a lifelong lover of Dickinson’s poems, and one who has even written a song about her life, I watched one of these movies recently; to my eye the bright cinematic energy, while entertaining, tended to obscure the profound truths that the light of her poetry shines.

These opening lines are excerpted from Dickinson’s poem 632. They speak of the unlimited capacity of human powers of reasoning and imagination to hold in our minds eye such a breadth of perception about the universe that it cannot even be contained by the verge of the heavens. Time and again we are confounded and amazed at humankind’s expanding grasp of our place in the cosmos. 

Each new revelation brings us closer to understanding just how interconnected everything is, from the astounding diversity of peoples and forms of life with whom we share our home planet, to the very essence of matter that burns in distant stars and composes the exoplanets that revolve around them. While we have become increasingly aware of how everything that we do affects the world around us, we are just now beginning to understand how penetrating this truth is, and in a way that asks our consciousness to become truly wider than the sky.

From spiritual understandings to physics, and from astronomy to ecology—the fact that our existence is interwoven with that of other lifeforms and physical matter is a reality that binds us all, from here to eternity. While it is easy to grasp how burning fossil fuels is heating up the planet, the science behind quantum entanglement poses a challenge to the imagination. Research into quantum entanglement has repeatedly demonstrated that seemingly unrelated subatomic particles in space can actually be connected in such a way that if the state of one particle is altered, the other particle will be similarly affected even if they are separated across immense spans of space and time. The impact of one particle on its distant partner happens nearly instantaneously, with the force traveling between them faster than the speed of light. Simply put, quantum entanglement is a phenomenon through which the atoms of which everything in the universe is composed are connected in such a way that atomic particles in our own backyards can affect atomic particles at great distances (and vice versa)—here on Earth, and beyond. 

The theory of quantum entanglement was first put forth by physicist John Bell in 1964, and has been observed in the results from real-world experiments first reported in 2015. In his new book The One: How an Ancient Idea Holds the Future of Physics, Heinrich Päs explores our subatomic interconnectedness and what it means for considering the universe to be one whole entity, rather than a vast place of individual lifeforms and planetary bodies that are distinct and separate. NASA is conducting a quantum entanglement research project called the Space Entanglement and Annealing QUantum Experiment (SEAQUE), which is designed to explore how quantum computers could be used to connect communication devices across far-reaching distances in space.  

The more we understand about the impacts of our actions on everything from trees in our forests to distant stars, the greater our responsibility to act so as to preserve and care for this wondrous universe. Even though the immediate experiences of Emily Dickinson’s day-to-day world would seem closeted and confined to many of us living in these times, she grasped the human capacity to elevate our awareness and capability to meet the tremendous challenges we face. 

“We never know how high we are till we are called to rise.
Then if we are true to form our statures touch the skies.”

What is the cosmic kinship between the spiraling tip of a growing plant (l) and the shape of a distant galaxy (II)? (l) Photo by Linda Pomerantz Zhang on Unsplash. (II) Spiral galaxy M74. NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration


Learn more about our Vermont Standard articles.