fear no art

Creativity and the Quantum Leap.

 

I can’t believe I’m starting with the words “Webster’s defines ________ as _________” but in this case it’s a natural starting point, so here goes:

Webster’s defines “quantum leap” as “an abrupt change, sudden increase, or dramatic advance.” This is how it is used in popular parlance, but how many people know that in addition to the metaphorical quantum leap, there is an actual thing that’s more radical — more quantum — than most people know when they employ it with reference to their various abrupt changes, sudden increases and dramatic advances?

The actual quantum leap is something only electrons do, and what characterizes it more than the terms Webster’s uses is that it is discontinuous. When electrons move from one orbit (or energy state) to another because of the absorption or emission of a photon, they do so without ever being in between those two positions. It’s like magic.

This is one of those things that made the first generation of quantum scientists (including Albert Einstein) think there must be something wrong with quantum theory, but the theory has held and its freakiness has allowed us to make lots of cool things like lasers, nuclear bombs and computers.

You could say that embracing the quantum leap (and the rest of the quantum weirdness like non-locality, uncertainty and the observer effect) allowed an immense amount of scientific creativity to be unleashed.

Webster’s defines “creativity” as… ha, fooled you! Now that would have been a lame transition.

But seriously, folks, I’d like to segue to creativity now and specifically how it relates to the idea of the quantum leap. Notice, a quantum leap isn’t a big leap; it’s actually very, very small. And nothing dramatic happens as a result: a photon of energy is either taken out of circulation or put back into circulation. It’s the discontinuity that makes it so interesting: the idea of moving from one place to another with no transition.

There’s no planning, no warm-up, no preparation. You really need to trust the process for it to work. Imagine a universe of electrons too afraid to give up or gain an electron because they didn’t want to leave their comfortable orbit. Nothing would get done. Literally nothing: the universe would be inert.

The most basic chemical processes are made possible because a lot of brave little electrons are willing to get zapped out of their comfort zones.

And what of humans, with their metaphorical quantum leaps? As much as they like to talk about them, humans tend to prefer their comfortable orbits. They don’t like discontinuity and they hate getting zapped, even humans who consider themselves to be creative.

There are those who have invested heavily in the orbit that positions them as creative individuals, and yet when you engage with them, you find that they are unwilling or unable to actually make that little leap into the unknown that is the hallmark of true creativity.

As Charlie Parker famously said, “You’ve got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail.” That forgetting is the quantum leap that so many people have a hard time with.

It may look like they’re wailing, but they’re actually staying inside the bounds of what they know rather than allowing themselves to be led by what they’re feeling and hearing in the moment. It’s like being born, and as you play, you discover who you are today, which gives you a clue as to what part of your knowledge you need to remember.

It often means dropping down an orbit, and doing less than you’re capable of and instead doing what fits the situation and supports the whole. So many Jimmy Page wannabes full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Parker also said, “Don’t play the saxophone. Let it play you.” True enough, but there’s more to it than that even. When you’re wailing, you’re not just being played by your instrument, but by the other instruments and players and the music that’s happening between you. So you spend a lot of time listening, even as you’re playing.

There is silence between the notes that’s like the zero point field whence all matter emerges and returns in a constant cosmic cycle of creation and destruction. When you’re in that space, you don’t know what’s going to emerge. Even something as basic as the genre you’re playing can be subject to Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle.

I’ve heard people laying an African song over an Irish jig; I’ve witnessed the emergence of a country swing groove that none of us saw coming and we laughed as we surrendered to it.

No matter how proficient you are, no matter how good you’ve been in the past, when you’re wailing, you’re operating at the limit of your ability and playing with the possibility of failure. Even if your listeners don’t know it, you’re looking yourself in the eye to see just how good you really are. Eddie Van Halen compares it to falling down a flight of stairs.

So you’re in a state of danger, but you also find yourself in a state of grace that only emerges once you surrender to the process. It doesn’t just carry you across the gap of the quantum leap, it negates it. There is no gap to be leapt, which is why from the outside it looks like magic. It’s no accident that musicians so often refer to this experience in religious terms regardless of the beliefs they might hold otherwise.

In my experience, this state is open to anyone regardless of their level of musical knowledge and experience. The only requirement is that they be open-minded, open-hearted, humble and curious. This allows them to surrender to the void and — in the ultimate expression of Parker’s sentiment — they themselves become the instrument that is being played.

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Clive Treadwell is a writer and ascension coach who has previously been a management consultant, advertising copywriter and filmmaker. When he’s not supporting the evolution of the human race, he plays music and enjoys having an uninteresting life for once in his life. He is the author of The Reluctant Monk: An Ascension Story and can be found at his website.

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