Some semi-formed ideas on Karma and Physics

by SK

I don’t know much at all about quantum field theory, but there’s something in there about the interconnectedness of all particles, meaning we can’t do anything without inadvertently affecting something else. Or perhaps that’s chaos theory. My actions now cause a chain reaction of unexpected yet somehow predictable events. Newtonian physics suggests something similar. Is it even physics though to suggest that some things just can’t go unnoticed? I interact with enough people on any given day that even the faintest flicker of a smile could have repercussions in the days and homes and lives to come. Religion will tell us this is true too. Almost every religion promises future rewards for present moments of good. The Bible tells us to “love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great,” as in every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

I haven’t yet taken on an entire set of religious beliefs but there are many aspects of different religions that appeal. The idea of karma, for example, is a liberating one. I have less need to seek revenge on wrong doers or to wish ill on those who harm others because the universe judges in the most righteous of ways. Less cosmically, we have justice: other humans deciding how other humans should be treated based on rules and actions. But beyond our control is karma: you just don’t get away with being an asshole. We can feel smug imagining its possibilities and believing that eventually everyone will get their comeuppance. This isn’t necessarily incompatible with what we know of the laws of physics and common sense either. Someone who beat you up at school possibly grew up only knowing violence as a way of solving problems. As they continued through life with this attitude they found they were isolating people, missing out on the jobs they wanted and ruining potentially loving relationships. They got their comeuppance. I like to think it works with particle theory too: We’re all connected to each other and the universe feels all our various shifts and shuffles, every movement and push whether destructive or constructive.

Newton’s third law is often demonstrated with a pendulum swing. The force put in to send it one way means it will swing back with equal magnitude in the opposite direction. This can be useful when thinking about emotions and why when you feel strongly about someone or something you often feel extremes of both love and hate. Emotionally, I have a wide arc to my swing. I can feel great joy and as a counter balance must also be prepared to feel great sorrow. I could never be someone who hangs steadily and calmly in the middle, keeping upright and never ticking too far in one direction for fear of the reactionary tock in the other. But this can be a great affliction at times and I have to make sure I feel everything on the way from one end of my arc to the other. Making sure I enjoy the ride between and feel every emotion that makes me human. But if some of these feeling are just the swing back from earlier feelings, how can I trust them? And am I even in control?

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