Quantum superposition, Narsinh Mehta and so on

It is fun to extend the concept of quantum superposition to phenomena beyond the quantum world. For instance, to us humans.

The idea that particles exist in a quantum superposition, meaning in all their possible states simultaneously, until we as observers choose to measure them. Then they acquire a definite observable and observed state. In short, the act of looking accords the particle an identifiable state at that particular moment of time. Now extend this to life as we humans with our fairly coarse senses understand. It opens up a bizarre world.

You don’t know what I am doing unless you choose to find out by either calling me or, if you happen to be in the reasonable vicinity, by dropping by personally, or texting me or emailing me. I could be in the version of human superposition of being dead, alive, sick, triumphant, depressed, ruminant, reflective, asleep, diarrheal,  whatever. The point is since you don’t know what state I am in I must be presumed to be in human superposition of being in all possible states.

Speaking of all possible states, one that I am deeply involved in right now is my pet project, a documentary on the life and times of Narsinh Mehta. I begin shooting it in January in Junagadh, India.

One of the questions that "Narsinh Mehta: The Poet for the Eons" will examine is whether his enduring ballad  ‘Vaishnav jan to’ always had the composition our ears are so attuned to. The popular version has several subtle variants set to what I am told is the Raag Khamaj.

A bhajan written by Mehta over 550 years ago has transcended linguistic, cultural and religious barrier over the centuries, particularly after Mohandas Gandhi made it his life’s moral guiding force. As I say in my introduction to the documentary, very few outside Gujarat might know that it was not Gandhi who wrote it but Mehta. That is just as well because the written word is more important than the writer. I say this with some hesitation having been a source of many written words in my life.

Those who have lived in the Saurashtra region of Gujarat like my family and I are quite familiar with the more folksy and therefore more raw version of it. That version has the feel of a rustic singer carrying one-stringed instrument walking silhouetted across the horizon against a rising sun and singing it.

My idea is to find out if what Mehta sang was anywhere close in melody to what we are all used to now. I am pretty sure it was not. I am going to spin a short film out of the documentary that solely tells the story of ‘Vaishnav jan to’ as a song at the heart of the Indian experience.

Thanks to this post, those who read my blog now know that one of the possible states that I was in this morning was thinking about something that happened over five centuries ago. It is extraordinary that Mehta would have no clue about his enduring legacy.

The morning for me began with the idea of quantum entanglement about which I have written before here. I was reading a piece by David Kaiser in The New York Times titled ‘Is Quantum Entanglement Real?’ That is when I went off on a tangent of quantum superposition, Narsinh Mehta, Vaishnav jan to and so on. This is a case of what Albert Einstein described as “spooky actions at a distance.”

Incidentally, quantum entanglement as I understand is the idea that two particles separated by a massive, unimaginable distance can affect each other or in a way are entangled as memorably described by Erwin Schrodinger, which, for want of a better expression, freaked Einstein out. You should bear in mind is that Einstein’s freaking out is not like an ordinary mortal’s freaking out. It is based on some profound objections. Unraveling Einstein’s freaking out can earn you a PhD in physics.

Phew! I somehow managed to stitch it altogether although the patchwork shows rather glaringly. It is a quilt made of intellectual rags.


About chutiumsulfate

South Asians can infer from my name what I am. View all posts by chutiumsulfate

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