“Entanglement Theory”

December 28, 2015 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.