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“Entanglement Theory”

by Marshall Cutchin
Fly Fishing

“Size 18 Angler” by Joshua Bergan

In 2015, science added further evidence for atomic entanglement, where two electrons separated by physical distance exhibit synchrony in state and behavior.  When one changes, the other does, even when, as in the case of the new research, they are almost a mile apart.  This adds to other mind-taxing theories of quantum research that suggest, for example, that a particle can exist in more than one place until it is observed.

Perhaps you’re wondering what all this has to do with fly fishing. Bear with me.

You are lucky to know one body of water well in your lifetime.  When you look at the history of the great anglers, they all spent most of their time studying a single river, drainage, body of lakes or set of flats, all within driving distance of where they lived.  This is because once you reach a certain stage of study about a body of water, you realize that you have only scratched the surface. There are too many variables that change over time to make a static set of knowledge useful, and what you begin to learn that is unique about a place is its dynamism, not the specific labels like whether it is a freestone river or a spring creek or mud covered marl flat with a high nematode population.

That dynamism is why when we talk about becoming experts at fly fishing we are really talking not about learning all the techniques and systems and responses that are necessary in a given a situation, but instead about being able to listen, perceive and learn at the moment. It’s not a learn-this-then-do-that sport.

It’s why, when you talk about the interaction between an angler and a guide, you’re really talking about the conversation they are having, not the calculated sum of their collective skills.  You could assume that the more skills and knowledge present, the more likely a good result.  But that is not always true.  If an angler and guide don’t communicate well enough to simultaneously learn and share what is happening, all the skills in the world will simply not matter.  And if you are too distracted to pay attention to the thing that is happening right in front of you at that moment, your perfect casting and fly choice makes no difference at all.  Great guide-angler duos often think the same things at the same time, apprehending the same things at the same time about a change happening in front of them.  They leave that place and time with something new and something in common, between themselves and the water and the fish.

A wonderful thing happens when you truly learn a body of water and the behavior of the life that fills it.  You become permanently connected to it, in part by understanding all the things you don’t know and that are waiting to be learned. Once you reach that point, regardless of how far away it is in terms of distance or time, you feel that a part of you is still there and a part of it is within easy reach.

Does it extend in real, physical terms to our daily lives?  Who knows?  Does something I do related to the water I know so well, like tying a fly to fish there, change that place in some infinitesimal way?  Does a change in that place mean a tiny change in me?  Maybe, just maybe, something is happening in both places, at once.  As a gas-technologist friend of mine who designed nuclear detection systems for submarine warfare says, “The human mind is severely limited in terms of what we perceive and what we can know about the world.”  Truth.

I do know that when I come back from a trip and unpack my rods and wipe the last bit of remnant salt dust or leaf pieces from my reel, I am changed.  It may be only for a few minutes or an hour, and it may happen only when I pick up that particular rod or box of flies again several months on, but there’s no doubting it: I feel an insoluble and present bond to that place.  Molecular or not, fly fishing produces entanglement.

The clear trend in physics is toward accepting that things can be affected by more than their immediate environment, what Einstein disdainfully called “spooky action at a distance” and Carl Jung happily labeled “synchronicity.” For us—for people who derive an often-unexplainable satisfaction from being on a river or in a boat or just getting to and from wild places—we can be even happier knowing that those connections don’t necessarily vanish.  They may, in fact, never leave us.  Even in scientific terms.

MidCurrent Fly Fishing
Marshall Cutchin is the editor and publisher of MidCurrent.
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  • Mark Millonas

    I enjoyed your post.

    As a fly fishing Physicist I suppose I should point out that the new stuff here are the experiments – all of this stuff flows essentially unchanged from basic quantum mechanics as was worked out as the fundamental way the world works by about 80 years ago. So not new. But still weird and ‘spooky’ today, even to those of us that don’t have a fundamental philosophical problem anymore with the violation of the classical ideas of underlying causality that Einstein had a problem with. However, since Einstein co-authored the paper that started all of this business in 1935 he is basically one of the fathers of entanglement, so you should probably give the Einstein bashing a pass on this one – he understood the weirdness inherent in quantum mechanics and put a precise finger on it before anyone else.

    The weirdness is even deeper than you give credit here. It is not that “a particle can exist in more than one place at the same time”, it is that there is no such thing as a “particle” until you observe it, and thus force reality into the “particles mode” (and in the process destroy any quantum entanglement that existed). Likewise there is no such thing as two particles (or any particles) when “they” are still in an entangled state.The most profound significance of the entanglement experiments, which have gotten progressively more sophisticated over the decades, is that they definitively prove there can be no causal physics behind reality at all – nothing that makes sense to brains wired to understand the macroscopic world, nothing that lies behind quantum mechanics that will EVER make sense. This is what the “quantum deniers” were looking for many decades ago, a bigger theory that subsumed quantum mechanics and miraculously made sense. But there is no escaping that ultimate reality does not fit, that there is no “ultimate reality” at the microscopic and fundamental level that would fit anyone’s definition of that word. In such a case it has always seem to me astounding that all this really fundamental mystery can be described so precisely and mathematically, and really simply by quantum mechanics.

    So in terms of fishing, or just the everyday interaction of our minds with the world, strictly speaking entanglement is pure metaphor – the second you interact with the world and a conscious it the entanglement is destroyed. Fortunately the type of connection you are describing, and I too feel profoundly, is accessible to us in other ways. I go back to Emerson’s “I become a naked eyeball” in his essay “Nature”. The eastern mystics, and quite a few western ones as well, over the years would say the instant you analyze the world into categories: fish, river, trees, rocks, fly, me – the essential unity is lost. I suppose then that in these terms using “entanglement” as a metaphor for this mystery is as accurate as any other metaphor..

    • Wonderful commentary, Mark. I especially like what you suggest about “entanglement” as a metaphor–apt or not–for mystery. More thinking to do.

      Thank you!

      • Mark Millonas

        Unfortunately for me quantum mechanics at the most basic level has never been any kind of comfort to me. I find the mathematics beautiful, and the fact that it works a mystery by itself, but it is a cold inhuman beauty. While fishing and backpacking I switch back and forth between the feeling that nature and I are connected, and the feeling that nature doesn’t give the fleetingest damn about me, even when it seem it is actively trying to kill me. With QM it is more hard core, it never reassures me about anything. Its a bit like the penultimate scene in 2001 where the old guy is looking at the obelisk and still has no idea what is behind that – at least in my own interpretation.

        So I know starting with books like the Tao of Physics and The Dancing Wu Li Masters (all crap) and going forward a lot of stuff has been built up on, what I would interpret as Physics as metaphor – where the writers in question conveniently leaves out that the physics itself, properly understood, really doesn’t correspond directly to the mystical stuff. It just doesn’t in my opinion – even though I am a big fan the mystical traditions that are probably also being misrepresented there too.

        • I think it was Joseph Campbell who said: “The real mystery is that there is no mystery at all.” Which I think was his way of saying that the mystery itself is amazingly beautiful.

        • Cee Blue

          ‘ and reality be damned ‘ —- you have accomplished that Amigo – I’m sorry

          • Mark Millonas

            Cee Blue, if you are trying to say something negative, at least say it in a way that someone will understand you. To paraphrase Cyrano de Bergerac, you could have come up with a whole bunch of creative and interesting put downs, and all you managed to post, in front of the whole world, were these incomprehensible sentence fragments.

            • Cee Blue

              Mr. Millonas – yours is of an intellect that would find it difficult to understand an ol’ plowboy like me –
              You offered ‘ if I could have my brain rewired —- and reality be damned ‘
              —- and you can – but I am not your teacher
              I hope you do –

  • Jim Patton

    As we said in the 60’s……”far out, man!”

    • steve parker

      imagine something that you have made that tricks nature…and catches fish! upholding this illusion you have to believe!

      • halcyonsancta

        When I am skunked… perhaps that is an illusion?
        Nature abhors a vacuum and we seem to need all this stuff to explain our perceived universe. We don’t seem to be too comfortable with ambiguity or uncertainty as a species. Perhaps too much philosophical inquiry just confuses us about stuff we already know? Kind of like Mr Patton’s above comment which reminds me of the Hip vs Square duality. To paraphrase and pay homage to Mr Freud: “Sometimes a fish is just a fish”.
        BTW when I looked at the title of the article, I thought is was going to be about line entanglements as in wind knots in one’s fishing line… those eternally and infernally frustrating entanglements that seem to be the fish’s best friend and conservation aid as they keep me off the water for long periods of time!