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Arts & Culture

The Scramble Is Fundamentally Indistinguishable From All Other Scrambles

Wikimedia Commons
A typical electron diffraction pattern.

Here’s a question: If the things we’re made of — the particles, the fundamental elemental irreducible bits, the most basic littlest chunks of us — if those things are literally, actually indistinguishable from one another, from the tiniest simplest bits of everyone else, from the tiniest simplest bits of everything else… then what makes us us?

What even makes us anything at all, really?

We want to believe that a thing is somehow more than the sum of its parts. That if we removed an electron’s charge, its mass, its spin, there would be something leftover, a bald electron, a haecceity, as the philosophers say, a primitive thisness. We want to believe that there is something that it means to be this electron rather than that, even if no observation, experiment, or statistic could ever reveal it. We want to believe in a primitive thisness because we want to believe in a primitive ourness […] We want to believe it, but quantum mechanics doesn’t let us. “We are fooled into thinking that our distinguishability inheres in our material substance, but that’s just a big misunderstanding on our part.”

But before we get to all that

If it’s the job of popular culture to parse the world around us, to make sense of it, to force us to deal with it, where is the television we deserve, the television we need right now? And the movies?

After September 11, 2001, shows like "Battlestar Galactica" and "Generation Kill" and movies like "Rendition" and maybe even "Revenge of the Sith" were how we processed a new world imbued with a new kind of terrorism. Where are this era’s analogs?

And: The seventh film in the "Rocky" series came out last week. Colin saw it and he, in his words, “cried, like, eight times.” America’s Greatest Living Film Critic loved it too. We’ll talk "Creed," and we’ll examine the phenomenon of breathing such fresh, new life into such an old, dusty film franchise.


  • David Edelstein – Film critic for New York magazine, Fresh Air, and CBS Sunday Morning
  • Amanda Gefter – Physics and cosmology writer
  • Maureen Ryan – Television columnist for Variety

Join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

Colin McEnroe and Chion Wolf contributed to this show.

Jonathan is a producer for ‘The Colin McEnroe Show.’ His work has been heard nationally on NPR and locally on Connecticut Public’s talk shows and news magazines. He’s as likely to host a podcast on minor league baseball as he is to cover a presidential debate almost by accident. Jonathan can be reached at jmcnicol@ctpublic.org.

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