The Smoky Dragons of Reality

No phenomenon is a real phenomenon until it is an observed phenomenon. We are participants in bringing into being not only the near and here, but the far away and long ago. – John A. Wheeler

A distant cousin of mine, John Archibald Wheeler, was one of America’s greatest physicists. He worked with and taught many of the 20th Centuries most talented scientists (Einstein, Bohr, Feynman). His distinguished lifetime of scientific investigations led him to conclude – many basic aspects of our Universe required conscious observation to bring them into being.

Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else.George Orwell

Modern physics shows we live in a participatory Universe. Consider the measurement of particles of light. We learned in school that, due to wave-particle duality, light is both a wave and a particle before being measured. But as photons of light travel, how do they travel along two paths, as both wave and as particle? Or, does our experiment collapse the particle-wave into one or the other form, depending on our measurement?

Wheeler described these particles of light as a great smoky dragon. “The mouth of the dragon is sharp, where it bites the counter. The tail of the dragon is sharp, where the photon starts, What the dragon does or looks like in between we have no right to speak.”

In this way, at the fundamental level, our world is not entirely physical. The material Universe is constructed out of infinitesimal bubbles of virtual particles (transient quantum fluctuations of spacetime) which Wheeler named quantum foam. This deep layer of existence is governed by the uncertainty principle. Under this principle, all forms of matter/energy exist simultaneously (superposition) until observed. Our participation summons the world into existence. The observer-participancy creates the information upon which our Universe is based.

Wheeler, however, took this a giant step further. He proposed, and it was later proved, that if the observer delayed the choice to measure for a wave or particle until after the smoky dragon passed through the device – the result was the same. The act of measurement in the future determined the result in the past. This, in effect, demonstrated that the observer had created the past. The choice made after-the-fact summoned the past after it had theoretically occurred.

In a sense, the observable Universe requires our observations to bring it into being. When asked the age old riddle – which came first the chicken or the egg? We can answer both.

Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.Albert Einstein

Published by cewheeler

Writer/Artist:12 years in China – univ. lecturer: writing,poetry,culture; editor – magazine/newspaper & actor. 40 years students of the Tao. Traveler. Father. Read my books at:

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