Our Unstable Reality

Geoff Smith Portrait

BY Geoff Smith

POSTED ON DECEMBER 23, 2015

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This is a modestly disjointed year end blog. I'm not even entirely sure what I'm trying to say.

I read a cool New York Times article earlier this year. Basically, the author was marveling at the fact that at the most basic level of physical reality - electrons, etc. - the behavior of elemental particles, and therefore the reality of everything they make up (including us) changes continually, depending on how and when they are observed and measured. It's not that they don't behave as expected, it's that their behavior actually changes. The reality of our very ‘make up’ changes. Raising the question: Is there a fixed reality, or is reality nothing more than 'a kaleidoscope of infinite possibilities'? Measurable science says that it may be the latter.

Which raised another question, for me anyway: What the hell is going on here? Actually, after a while, the idea that there may be no fixed reality made me quite happy. I found it liberating.

For most of my career, I've been chasing this ideal that a company doesn't exist merely to maximize profit and 'shareholder value' and all that stuff. A company also exists - in fact, it primarily exists - to maximize the career opportunities and achievements of the great people who work there. I believe that if we can accomplish that, above all, the shareholders and clients will be very well taken care of, and we will have achieved a moral good (I can go on and on about this).

OK, fine. But where does that take us (and the company), exactly? If we are trying to deliver great lives to each other at our companies, how do we know we’ve succeeded in our purpose? There's Maslow’s 'Hierarchy of Human Needs', which says (greatly abbreviated here) that once people achieve the more basic needs of Food, Security, Love and Belonging, then what we really crave is Self Esteem and Self Actualization. That is, if we are doing meaningful work, or more importantly, if we are working in an enterprise that is doing something meaningful, it makes all the difference. It makes for a good life (or at least helps a lot). So that's been the goal, the overall pursuit.

But if reality itself is 'neither here nor there', doesn't that unbalance absolutely everything - including the 'meaning' we seek? Enough, at least, to enable us to examine our own purpose, day after day? Put another way, if that’s true, then everything about us isn’t just entirely destabilized, it’s also entirely liberated. We can define our own meaning. If it's not just the times we live in, but reality itself that is unstable, we absolutely must. Things only have meaning at all if they have meaning to you. Today. And then again tomorrow. Isn't that cool? I'm sixty years old, what should I do when the alarm goes off tomorrow?

If you've read this far, you probably think I'm bonkers, but read the article and make up your own mind:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/22/opinion/sunday/the-reality-of-quantum-weirdness.html (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/22/opinion/sunday/the-reality-of-quantum-weirdness.html)

It’s a bit of work but, whatever you do, make sure you read the last paragraph.

Nothing stays the same. Including reality. So create your own, every day. And have a great 2016.

Geoff