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Posted on April 12, 2017 in Artists-in-Residence
Dance, Writing, and Quantum Entanglement

Photo: David Cooper

In this guest post, Barbara Adler writes about Spooky Action at a Distance, her upcoming collaboration with Dance Centre Artist-in-Residence Lesley Telford:

Quantum entanglement describes a state where particles are so deeply entwined they share the same existence. The science isn't exactly intuitive. In fact, it is so counter-intuitive to our familiar ways of thinking that Albert Einstein initially dismissed the phenomenon as 'spooky action at a distance'. Today, its existence has been verified and scientists and philosophers are working through the consequences quantum entanglement has for our understanding of the natural world.

In my writing for Part I of Spooky Action at a Distance, I've been working through the metaphors. I'll have to admit, when we started this project, quantum entanglement wasn't a metaphor I felt particularly drawn to. I only scuffed through Physics 12 because I figured out how to program the equations into my graphing calculator. The parts that appealed to me were the word problems because they were almost like narratives: "If Chrissy the Gymnast bounces off of her trampoline in a parabolic arc…" There was a certain satisfaction in translating sentences into equations and I could almost be interested in what Chrissy the Gymnast was up to, because Chrissy had a name and seemed to be a person. Points and vectors and forces on their own were much less appealing. 

This might be a false memory, but I feel like at some point I might have said, in physics class, "electrons seem made-up." They felt that way to me because I couldn't sense them in any meaningful way and because I couldn't sense them, I had a hard time relating.

I suspect that many people have a similar problem. So, a major part of my work for this show has been in thinking of ways to make the world of quantum entanglement sensuous. Dance can do that directly and it has been a pleasure, and a relief, watching Lesley and the ensemble of dancers create images about sub-atomic particles that make my skin tingle. But Lesley's unique way of working with text has meant that those solutions had to be in my writing as well. So, I've been looking for solutions to the problem. In reading for this show, I found that many popular science accounts of quantum entanglement feature cartoon particles holding hands, with cartoon hearts radiating between them. So, the metaphor of love can make entanglement sensuous. I'll admit that Lesley and I started there. We have both collected firsthand evidence that romantic relationships can impact our direction, sometimes eerily, across vast distances and spans of time.

Yet, as we've moved through the material it has become clear that an entangled world is fundamentally different from the one we are accustomed to observing. I hate to say it, but it's bigger than love. Entanglement seems to have consequences for everything that happens: to us, to others, behind us in time and beyond us, in the future. And that's a beautiful, satisfying thought in one sense. But through another lens, it's hardly romantic. If Entangled Particle A instantly affects entangled Particle B, what does that mean for Particle B's agency? Particles don't choose to be entangled; they just are. The question: "how is quantum entanglement like love" has gradually and completely been replaced by different questions. How is an outcome created between participants in an event? And more basically: Why do things happen?

If you're interested in having a crisis of doubt about the sub-atomic state of your individuality\autonomy\choice and perception I can recommend reading up about the quantum world. I've only started the process of beginning to understand it but already I've seen that these facts -- if we can absorb them -- suggest a totally different way of measuring our relationships to other matter. Digging into these ideas continues to be difficult. I'm a bit nostalgic for word problems I could fake through with a calculator. I am very nostalgic for Chrissy the Gymnast. I think you'll get a sense of that in some of my writing. But pushing in this way has hardly been agony. An entangled world seems to satisfy some deep intuition I have felt, or wanted to feel, about the truth of connection. And, in a fundamental sense, the demand to reconsider everything we have observed so far suggests that this world is still infinitely surprising.  

Ten Thousand Wolves is the music, writing and theatre projects of Canadian artist Barbara Adler.


The Dance Centre presents the Global Dance Connections series

Lesley Telford | Inverso
Three Sets/Relating at a Distance
Spooky Action at a Distance (phase one)
- If My tongue, your ear
Thursday-Saturday April 20-22, 2017 at 8pm



Supported through the Artist-in-Residence program


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