Quotes & Parables

As Margaret Wheatley has noted, “Nothing happens in the quantum world without something encountering something else.” My thoughts on the subject of living in a quantum world have been influenced over the years by a wide variety of experiences and encounters. Some of those encounters have been with the writings of different authors, a number of whom have said something that in one way or another has shaped my current outlook.

The following quotes may give you some insight into the subject of life in the quantum age. If you want to delve deeper into any of these quotes, check out the links to Amazon.com’s listing of the book from which each quote comes.


...nature has arranged that it is impossible for man to feel “right” in any straightforward way. Here we have to introduce a paradox that seems to go right to the heart of organismic life and that is especially sharpened in man. The paradox takes the form of two motives or urges that seem to be part of creature consciousness and that point in opposite directions. On the one hand the creature is impelled by a powerful desire to identify with the cosmic process, to merge himself with the rest of nature. On the other hand he wants to be unique, to stand out as something different and apart.

Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death (1973)

Perhaps we need to look at paradox in a new way -- more naively and accepting -- recognizing the reasonableness of accepting yes/no, at the same time finding a new logic in the illogical, a new consistency in the inconsistent, and embracing absurdity as making quite good, if different, sense.

Albert Einstein said he did not believe that “God plays dice with the universe,” and so he remained uncomfortable with the new quantum theory when it came along, a theory that abounds with chance, randomness, and paradox. Yet now we have a whole new generation of physicists who are quite at ease with paradox. In fact, they encourage us to take their hand, let go of old patterns and open the way to new worlds for ourselves and for our children. They ask us to leave behind the world of either/or for the world of both/and. Paradox is part and parcel of the new physics.

Chungliang Al Huang, Quantum Soup (1983)

In the most powerful moments of dialogic, where in truth “deep calls unto deep,” it becomes unmistakably clear that it is not the wand of the individual or the social, but of a third which draws the circle around the happening. On the far side of the subjective, on this side of the objective, on the narrow ridge, where I and Thou meet, there is the realm of “between.”

This reality, whose disclosure has begun in our time, shows the way, leading beyond individualism and collectivism, for the life decision of future generations. Here the genuine third alternative is indicated, the knowledge of which will help to bring about the genuine person again and to establish genuine community.

Martin Buber, Between Man and Man (1947)

Quality, or its absence, doesn’t reside in either the subject or the object. The real ugliness lies in the relationship between the people who produce the technology and the things they produce, which results in a similar relationship between the people who use the technology and the things they use.

Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974)

Nothing happens in the quantum world without something encountering something else. Nothing is independent of the relationships that occur. I am constantly creating the world - evoking it, not discovering it - as I participate in all its many interactions. This is a world of process, not a world of things.

Margaret J. Wheatley, Leadership and the New Science (1992, updated 2006)

It's the action, not the fruit of the action, that's important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there'll be any fruit. But that doesn't mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.


I must focus all my passion, my loyalty and my care onto the ongoing, evolving process of I-and-you -- both the I-and-you of more personal one-to-one relationships and the I-and-you in its broader sense. By the latter I mean the family, the group, the nation, life as a whole -- each of the many layers of relationship where my own being can comingle, overlap, and entwine with that of others. To the extent that I do that, I ensure my place in the ongoingness of things.

The kind of surrender required to make the most of quantum process is like Christ’s saying, “...and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” On a quantum view, he who would find himself a place in eternity must fully wed himself to life’s processes of relationship now.

Danah Zohar, The Quantum Self (1990)

Nobody can become a person in a void, but only in relations with other people, and if he plays safe in these relations, he remains childish and undeveloped. So in work as in leisure we shun not only superfluous pains, which is right, but growing pains, which is wrong. Jesus on the Cross rejected the drug which would have diminished his agony. Who even understands his rejection today?

Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, The Christian Future, or The Modern Mind Outrun (1946)

Modern man is drinking and drugging himself out of awareness, or he spends his time shopping, which is the same thing. As awareness calls for types of heroic dedication that his culture no longer provides for him, society contrives to help him forget.

Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death (1973)

Whenever an event moves into the stage of being represented on mass television, it has moved into a strange never-never land in which there is no longer any serious attempt to bring forth some genuine understanding of it or feeling for it. It has become McReality, experience turned into fast food.

Walter Truett Anderson, Reality Isn’t What It Used to Be (1990)

This modern man strikes me as the queerest combination of the best-informed and the most surprised human being. The public knows everything and does not understand anything that happens. For the facts which they call knowledge deal with living and standards of living. But things happen not by living but by birth and death. “Living” is but one half of life, the repetitive and predictable part. The other half is the agonizing creation and the creative agony of dying and being born.

Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, The Christian Future, or The Modern Mind Outrun (1946)

...any arguments I may put to myself about the wisdom of one choice rather than the other don’t actually determine the choice itself. I don’t say to myself that I value my marriage and all the commitments deriving from it and thus choose to remain faithful to my husband, or that I value romance and spontaneity and thus choose the affair with my lover. These are causal explanations, which simply don’t accord with my freedom. (It is not my logic which creates my choices, but my choices which create my logic.)

Rather, it is only when I have made my decision that I discover what I value, what really matters to me, and what kind of person that I am. But this is a creative discovery - it is precisely through articulating the reasons for my choice that I become the sort of person who would make that choice.

Danah Zohar, The Quantum Self (1990)

We don’t want to admit that we are fundamentally dishonest about reality, that we do not really control our lives. We don’t want to admit that we do not stand alone, that we always rely on something that transcends us, some system of ideas and powers in which we are embedded and which support us. This power is not always obvious. It need not be overtly a god or a stronger person, but it can be the power of an all-absorbing activity, a passion, a dedication to a game, a way of life, that like a comfortable web keeps a person buoyed up and ignorant of himself, of the fact that he does not rest on his own center.

Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death (1973)

In Zen archery when you shoot the arrow from the bow, your hara-tant’ien collects all the energy generated from the practice. The discipline is to focus on the bull’s-eye -- not the obvious one in the target but your own bull’s-eye in the physical-psychic center of your gut...

“Making it” in the world seems to be something out there. Yet without the inward satisfaction, the inner awareness, you have missed the target. It must strike home.

You are the target!

One of my favorite cosmic jokes: All his life a man struggles to reach the top of the ladder, and, finally, he does -- only to discover it’s against the wrong wall!

Chungliang Al Huang, Quantum Soup (1983)

Zen practice isn’t about a special place or a special peace, or something other than being with our life just as it is. It’s one of the hardest things for people to get: that my very difficulties in this very moment are the perfection...When we are attached to the way we think we should be or the way we think anyone else should be, we can have very little appreciation of life as it is...whether or not we commit physical suicide, if our attachment to our dream remains unquestioned and untouched, we are killing ourselves, because our true life goes by almost unnoticed.

Charlotte Joko Beck, Everyday Zen (1989)

The place to improve the world is first in one’s heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.

Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974)

Anytime we see systems in apparent chaos, our training urges us to interfere, to stabilize and shore things up. But if we can trust the workings of chaos, we will see that the dominant shape of our organizations can be maintained if we retain clarity about the purpose and direction of the organization. If we succeed in maintaining focus, rather than hands-on control, we also create the flexibility and responsiveness that every organization craves. What leaders are called upon to do in a chaotic world is to shape their organizations through concepts, not through elaborate rules or structures.

Margaret J. Wheatley, Leadership and the New Science (1992, updated 2006)

The collapse of belief we have been witnessing throughout the twentieth century comes with globalism. The postmodern condition is not an artistic movement or a cultural fad or an intellectual theory -- although it produces all of those and is in some ways defined by them. It is what inevitably happens as people everywhere begin to see that there are many beliefs, many kinds of belief, many ways of believing. Postmodernism is globalism; it is the half-discovered shape of the one unity that transcends all our differences.

Walter Truett Anderson, Reality Isn’t What It Used to Be (1990)

Aikido was further grounded by Ueshiba’s insistence that the key to harmony was to be found in conflict...It was only in conflict that students could come to know and so possibly transform habitual patterns of aggression or fear. The aikidoist, therefore, did not ignore conflict or spiritualize it out of existence. By entering into the attack, by joining and blending with the attack, the attack could be redirected back into the harmony of the universe. Instead of having to choose between running away or fighting, or losing or winning, aikido offered the warrior another choice.

Rick Fields, The Code of the Warrior (1991)

We do not find meaning lying in things nor do we put it into things, but between us and things it can happen.

Martin Buber, Between Man and Man (1947)

The mechanical world view successfully gave us a science that explained things, and a technology to exploit them as never before, but the price paid was a kind of alienation at every level of human life...The quantum world view transcends the dichotomy between the individual and relationship by showing us that people can only be the individuals they are within a context. I am my relationships -- my relationships to the subselves within my own self (my past and my future), my relationships to others, and my relationships to the world at large.

Danah Zohar, The Quantum Self (1990)


Above and below are bound to one another. The word of him who wishes to speak with men without speaking with God is not fulfilled; but the word of him who wishes to speak with God without speaking with men goes astray.

There is a tale that a man inspired by God once went out from the creaturely realms into the vast waste. There he wandered till he came to the gates of the mystery. He knocked. From within came the cry: “What do you want here?” He said, “I have proclaimed your praise in the ears of mortals, but they were deaf to me. So I come to you that you yourself may hear me and reply.” “Turn back,” came the cry within. “Here is no ear for you. I have sunk my hearing in the deafness of mortals.”

Martin Buber, Between Man and Man (1947)

One of my students recently told me a good story. It’s about a man who was sitting on his roof because a tidal wave was sweeping through his village. The water was well up to the roof when along came a rescue team in a rowboat. They tried hard to reach him and finally when they did they shouted, “Well, come on. Get into the boat!” And he said, “No, no. God will save me.” So the water rose higher and higher and he climbed higher and higher on the roof. The water was very turbulent, but still another boat managed to make its way to him. Again they begged him to get into the boat and save himself. And again he said, “No, no, no. God will save me! I’m praying. God will save me!” Finally the water was almost over him, just his head was sticking out. Then along came a helicopter. It came down right over him and they called, “Come on. This is your last chance! Get in here!” Still he said, “No, no, no. God will save me!” Finally his head went under the water and he drowned. When he got to heaven, he complained to God, “God, why didn’t you try to save me?” And God said, “I did. I sent you two rowboats and a helicopter.”

We spend a lot of time looking for something called the truth. And there is no such thing, except in each second, each activity of our life. But our vain hope for a resting place somewhere makes us ignorant and unappreciative of what is here right now.

Charlotte Joko Beck, Everyday Zen (1989)

I imagine a poll would show that most people still think of science as a way of getting The Truth, or think they think that. But so many ideas about science are circulating now and so many scientific ideas are flashing through the daily news -- chaos, nonlinear mathematics, alternative universes, antimatter -- that there really can’t be too many people around who think science is simply a lot of objective “facts” about cosmic reality.

An old joke about three umpires summarizes the range of viewpoints. They are sitting around over a beer, and one says, “There’s balls and there’s strikes, and I call them the way they are.” Another says, “There’s balls and there’s strikes, and I call ‘em the way I see ‘em.” The third says, “There’s balls and there’s strikes, and they ain’t nothin’ until I call ‘em.”

Walter Truett Anderson, Reality Isn’t What It Used to Be (1990)

The ancient story has it that heaven and hell are exactly alike in that each is an enormous banquet with every wonderful dish imaginable crowding the great round table. The diners are provided with chopsticks -- five feet long!

In hell, the diners give up struggling to feed themselves with these impossible tools and sit in ravenous frustration.

In heaven, everyone simply feeds the person across the table.

Chungliang Al Huang, Quantum Soup (1983)

© Dave Higgins 2012   -   Be sure to also visit my blog Quantum Sense