Quantum Enigma–A Response

Quantum Enigma: Physics Encounters Consciousness, Second Edition by Bruce Rosenblum and Fred Kuttner, Oxford University Press, 2011 begins:

Quantum Enigma cover

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We dedicate our book to the memory of John Bell, perhaps the leading quantum theorist of the later half of the twentieth century. His writings, lectures, and personal conversations have inspired us.

Is it not good to know what follows from what, even if it is not necessary FAPP? [FAPP is Bell’s suggested abbreviation of “for all practical purposes”] Suppose for example that quantum mechanics were found to resist precise formulation. Suppose that when formulation beyond FAPP is attempted, we find an unmovable finger obstinately pointing outside the subject, to the mind of the observer, to the Hindu scriptures, to God, or even only Gravitation? Would that not be very, very interesting? — John Bell

Physics is crossing the boundary into metaphysics, and I certainly find it very interesting. As a lifelong explorer of consciousness, being, and primary causes I’m interested in contemporary scientific views of such matters. I enjoyed this book, which is written by two respected physicists in plain English without formulas, and I highly recommend it. They present the undisputed experimental evidence along with a basic understanding of the theory to drag “the skeleton in the closet,” that most physicists don’t want to deal with, into the open for all to see. They say that one need not be a physicist to interpret quantum physics’ implications–so I’ll jump in and enter the ongoing debate.

While quantum theory predicts reliable experimental results and provides us with technological wonders that fuel our economy, it also challenges our traditional worldview–including ideas of “reality” and “separability”–with some weird, spooky ideas based on quantum experiments and theory if we look beyond FAPP. While the experimental results are solid, there are many ways to interpret those results, which affect our understanding of life. Let’s explore some of them.

Quantum mechanics is stunningly successful. Not a single prediction of the theory has ever been wrong. One-third of our economy depends on products based on it. However, quantum mechanics also displays an enigma. It tells us that physical reality is created by observation, and it has “spooky actions” instantaneously influencing events far from each other without any physical force involved. Seen from a human perspective, quantum mechanics has physics encountering consciousness. (xi)

As the title of the book implies, it deals with physics’ encounter with consciousness from a scientific perspective. I approach the encounter from a spiritual or conscious perspective. Let’s see how the two views balance and enhance each other.

As I understand, “physical reality is created by observation,” physicists have no idea how the universe began at time zero. However, a direct reading of quantum theory indicates that there was a conscious observer who created the cosmic nugget that then banged, went through an inflationary process, and created the universe as we know it. I call that observer God-dess.

[In 1935, Einstein] startled the developers of quantum theory by pointing out that the theory required an observation at one place to instantaneously influence what happened far away without involving any physical force. He derided this as “spooky action” that could not actually exist. (4)

But it does, and Einstein could not prove otherwise. This shows the interrelatedness of all things that mystics have claimed for millennia as well as the role we play as conscious observers co-creating the universe.

According to Einstein, if you took quantum theory seriously, you denied the existence of a physically real world independent of its observation. This is a serious charge. Quantum theory is not just one of many theories in physics. It is the framework upon which all of physics is ultimately based. (4)

Since physics is the basis of all the other sciences, this is immensely relevant to our lives and has far reaching effects. I believe spiritual people benefit by studying and addressing contemporary scientific matters of this nature. Otherwise, we are liable to slip into irrelevance if we haven’t already.

Since ancient times, philosophers have come up with esoteric speculations on the nature of physical reality. But before quantum mechanics, one had the logical option of rejecting such theorizing and holding to a straightforward, commonsense worldview. Today, quantum experiments deny a commonsense physical reality. It is no longer a logical option. (6)

Now spiritual people can benefit by understanding the findings of quantum physics and using them to promote a more spiritual vision of reality since even physicists are forced to consider alternative realities that may better describe the “reality” we are faced with. I don’t believe political, economic, or military solutions will create a sustainable future. We need a more radical paradigm shift away from materialistic consumerism and capitalism. A new universalist vision or mythos suited to the twenty-first century is needed.

Try summarizing the implications of quantum theory, and what you get sounds mystical. . . . Quantum theory also tells us that an object can be in two places at the same time. Its existence at the particular place where it happens to be found becomes an actuality only upon its observation. Quantum theory thus denies the existence of a physically real world independent of its observation. (7)

We are conditioned to perceive “reality” according to the current social construct from birth. However, there are numerous paradigms of what is real, and those paradigms conflict with one another fueling the culture wars that rage around us. Throughout the ages, mystics explored alternate realities and alternate ways of experiencing this “reality.” I hope the quantum view of things encourages more people to engage in mysticism that tends to unify the diverse paradigms through common experiences of the transcendent conscious reality that forms the ground of being.

If an object can be in two places at the same time, I can simultaneously exist on this earthly plane and in the spiritual dimension of Braj. This is what the spiritual practice of natural devotion entails–living fully in this world while developing a Braj identity and interacting with its inhabitants there on an inner spiritual level. The two worlds are intertwined yet separate realities.

Though the quantum facts are not in dispute, the meaning behind those facts, what quantum mechanics tells us about our world, is hotly debated. (8)

Philosophers and theologians pondered the meaning of life over the millennia. Given the new facts presented by science, these thinkers are qualified to interpret them and their meaning. Many physicists are atheistic materialists and their interpretations sometimes deny meaning to life beyond being like robots programed by nature to act in a fixed way. Therefore, I encourage rational mystics to accept the facts, enter the debate, and provide a more meaningful interpretation of life. We need not limit ourselves to ancient worldviews described in revered writings no matter how sacred. Revelation is an ongoing process, and we can help it progress.

Some argue that once the electrochemical neural correlates of consciousness are understood, there will be nothing left to explain. Others insist that the “inner light” of our conscious experience will elude the reductionist grasp, that consciousness is primary, and that new “psychophysical principles” will be needed. Quantum mechanics is claimed as evidence supporting this non-reductionist view. (36)

Of course, I side with the second view and hope consciousness will be better understood through quantum theory, although I think consciousness is beyond its purview.

“There may be forms of energy we don’t yet know about. (49)” Science traditionally confined its studies to material energy that is tangible and measurable. They are ignorant of spiritual energy, which they tend to deny and ignore–as well as the individual spirits who are conscious beings that animate and give consciousness to the body. Now that quantum mechanics encountered consciousness, it may be easier to argue for a spiritual energy or dimension to existence. As Sir James Jeans said, “The universe begins to look more like a great thought than a great machine. (53)” This is not much different from the Hindu idea of Vishnu dreaming the material universes and impregnating them by his glance.

The deeper meaning of quantum mechanics is increasingly in dispute. It does not require a technical background to move to the frontier where physics joins issues that seem beyond physics, and where physicists cannot claim unique competence. Once there, you can take sides in the debate. (54)

Physics has entered the field of metaphysics, which I’ve studied all my life. I also have a scientific aptitude and have kept up with scientific reading over the years. Therefore, I consider my ideas as valid as any. Again, I encourage spiritual people to grapple with quantum mechanics and try to make sense of it and existence from a spiritual viewpoint because atheistic materialists are certainly busy working on it.

The New York Times in 2002 quoted science historian Jed Buchwald: “Physicists . . . have long had a special loathing for admitting questions with the slightest emotional content into their professional work.” Indeed, most physicists want to avoid dealing with the skeleton in our closet: physics encounter with the conscious observer. The Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics allows that avoidance. It’s been called our discipline’s “orthodox” position. (125)

On the other hand, I explored and studied consciousness my whole life as have other mystics and spiritual seekers. We have much to contribute to the debate from our conscious perspective.

The Copenhagen interpretation avoids involving physics with the conscious observer by redefining what has been the goal of science since ancient Greece: to explain the actual world. (131)

This shows that many materialistic scientists are willing to go to great lengths to avoid consciousness and spirituality. It behoves us to provide an alternative.

Everyone is willing to abandon naive realism. But few are willing to abandon “scientific realism,” defined as “the thesis that the objects of scientific knowledge exist and act independently of the knowledge of them.” Quantum mechanics challenges scientific realism. (139)

Therefore, we need to rethink the nature of reality–they are referring to objective reality, not subjective reality. This is more than just, “Yeah. We all create our own worlds in our minds.”

Concern with consciousness itself (as well as its connection with quantum mechanics) has increasingly emerged among physicists, philosophers and psychologists. (139-40)

This provides a great opportunity for spiritual people to collaborate with each other and open minded scientists to help steer the direction of debate toward a more desirable understanding of life.

Heisenberg tells us that microscopic objects such as atoms are not “real”–they’re just “potentialities.” What about things made of atoms? Chairs, for example? Is a not-yet-seen galaxy not really there? Pressing such questions, we confront the skeleton physics usually keeps in the closet. (143)

Quantum mechanics applies to all levels of existence from sub-atomic particles to the universe itself. If the building blocks of matter are not real, then how can their macro structures be real? Also consider that most of the universe consists of dark energy and dark matter, which we don’t understand at all. What is the real nature of this place we inhabit?

The Copenhagen interpretation . . . does not deny a physically real world. It merely claims that objects of the microscopic realm lack reality before they are observed. Moons, chairs, and cats are real, if for no other reason than that macroscopic objects cannot be isolated, and are thus constantly observed. And that, according to Copenhagen, should be good enough. That was not good enough for Einstein. (155)

The Copenhagen interpretation delegates quantum mechanics to the microscopic world and leaves the macroscopic world to Newton and Einstein. It focuses on practical results and predictions obtained by working the formulas and avoids the more difficult questions raised in this book.

Einstein . . . insisted that there was a real world out there. The goal of science must be to explain Nature, not just tell what we can say about Nature. (170)

I deeply believe in the reality of the world based on my observations and studies. As a transcendentalist, I tried to escape from this material plane using various means. I had brief successes, but I always returned to the same reality I left. Now I am old and death comes closer. I look to that event as the best time to make a full and final escape–I see it as a time to put my practices and theories to the test and see what other dimensions are accessible.

Philosophers and mystics have talked of reality and separability (or its opposite, “universal connectedness”) for millennia. Quantum mechanics puts these issues squarely in front of us. Bell’s theorem allows them to be tested. (177)

Quantum mechanics confirms “universal connectedness.” We can use this to promote the interconnectedness of the web of life and encourage people to work for the common good of the environment and all species in a holistic manner.

Our world therefore does not have both reality and separability. It’s in this sense, an “unreasonable” world. (178)

Clauser’s experiments ruled out what is sometimes called “local reality,” or “local hidden variables.” The experiments showed that properties of our world either have only an observation-created reality or that there exists a connectedness beyond that mitigated by ordinary physical forces, or both. (185)

We can never be certain that any scientific theory is correct. Some day a better theory might supersede quantum theory. But we now know that any such better theory must also describe a world that does not have both reality and separability. Before Clauser’s result, we could not know this. (186)

“Reality” has been our shorthand term for the existence of physically real properties not created by their observation. Quantum theory does not include such reality. The nature of physical reality has been argued about at least since Plato’s day in 400 BC. And it still is. (187)

Sages in India have debated the question for a similarly long time without agreement. I feel this debate is important to continue using the most current information available, especially when it is experimentally testable. A multidisciplinary approach is desirable. We need a new vision to guide us through this twenty-first century because the old paradigms are breaking down and producing catastrophic results.

That our actual world does not have separability is now generally accepted, though admitted to be a mystery. In principle, any objects that have ever interacted are forever entangled, and therefore what happens to one influences the other. Experiments have now demonstrated such influences extending over more than one hundred kilometers. Quantum theory has this connectedness extending over the entire universe. (188)

Nevertheless, there is, in principle, a universal connectedness whose meaning we have yet to understand. We can indeed “see the world in a grain of sand.” (189)

All men suppose that what is called wisdom deals with the first causes and the principles of things.–Aristotle, in Metaphysics . . . Were Aristotle around today, he would surely explore “first causes” by trying to understand what quantum mechanics is telling us about the world, and about us. (193)

I spent much of my life exploring “first causes” by studying ancient myths and their theological interpretation. I study “first causes” according to physics to ground my theology in a relevant contemporary understanding of existence.

We’re not at ease with non-physical “influences.” Or with reality creation by “observation.” Certainly not with history creation. Experimental metaphysics may some day lead to explanations beyond today’s quantum theory. But Zeilinger warns us: “This new theory will be so much stranger . . . people attacking quantum mechanics now will long to have it back.” We earlier quoted John Bell telling us that we are likely to be “astonished.” (202)

It’s indeed a strange world we live in. Physicists who prefer to confine their studies to the physical now must deal with consciousness and other weird facts of life. Those in the fields of consciousness raising and expansion who engaged in “experimental metaphysics” by delving deep into their own consciousness have much to offer for developing a holistic worldview. At least I’m used to the idea of this being a strange, multidimensional experience.

Most physicists (including ourselves) would agree that consciousness itself is beyond the physics discipline, not something to be studied in a physics department. (203)

Classical physics with its mechanical picture of the world, has been used to deny the existence of anything beyond the strictly mechanistic. Quantum physics denies that denial. It hints of something beyond what we usually consider physics, beyond what we usually consider the “physical world.” (204)

This is a great opening and opportunity even though many would like to keep it closed by coming up with fantastic material explanations or denials of the enigma. They view everything as a product of physical reactions–including their own consciousness.

While there is complete consensus on the experimental results, there is no consensus on their meaning. Many interpretations currently contend. Every one of them displays a quantum weirdness. (205)

Ithaca assigns consciousness to a “reality” larger than the “physical reality” to which physics, for the present at least, should be restricted. This modest interpretation of the quantum enigma just admits a mystery. (216)

In Universalist Radha-Krishnaism, I also assign consciousness to a larger reality:

Cosmic consciousness cognizes and regulates concrete formations. From this perspective, cosmic consciousness implies a differentiated, qualified state of God-dess. Cosmic consciousness is qualified in a limited sense as a partial manifestation of God-dess, who is qualified in endless ways. Cosmic consciousness exists within beings and material nature consciously maintaining all.

God-dess relates to conditioned individuals and nature through cosmic consciousness. God-dess creates the world and enters it as cosmic consciousness. God-dess pervades, sustains, and regulates individual spirits and the universe collectively and individually as cosmic consciousness. (84)

Quantum Enigma goes on to say:

Quantum mechanics shows that our reasonable, everyday worldview is fundamentally flawed. Interpretations of what the theory tells us offer different worldviews. But every one of them involves the mysterious intrusion of the conscious observer into the physical world. . . Here’s how John Wheeler puts the dichotomy:

Useful as it is under everyday circumstances to say that the world exists “out there” independent of us, that view can no longer be upheld. There is a strange sense in which this is a “participatory universe.” (219)

I and other process theologians like to say we are co-creators with God–or God-dess as I prefer. The world responds to our perceptions, thoughts, and actions in ways we are not fully aware of. We see the beauty and grace of life. We also see human destruction of the environment and the suffering caused by clashing paradigms and inflated egos vying for supremacy. We must create a holistic paradigm that unites people to work for the common good since we all share this interconnected world that is open to change for better or worse.

Belief in our free will arises from our conscious perception that we make choices between possible alternatives. If free will is just an illusion, and we’re all just sophisticated robots controlled by our neurochemistry with perhaps a bit of thermal randomness, is our consciousness then also an illusion? (If so, what is it that is having that illusion?) (225)

Universalist Radha-Krishnaism claims the individual spirit is the conscious observer who makes free choices limited by nature, conditioning, and other factors beyond our control.

The spirit is infinitesimal, yet it pervades the physical body that temporarily encases it, like a minute sun whose conscious light pervades the whole body and beyond. It is nonmaterial, therefore, not limited by spacetime, but in this conditioned state, it believes it is. It exists as a discrete being with a field of consciousness and makes dimensional shifts in consciousness. (98)

Rosenblum and Kuttner continue:

Though it is hard to fit free will into our usual scientific worldview, we cannot, ourselves, with any seriousness, doubt it. J.A. Hobson’s comment seems apt to us: “Those of us with common sense are amazed at the resistance put up by psychologists, physiologists, and philosophers to the obvious reality of free will.” (226)

I must agree with them.

They further point out that, “The idea of physical reality being created by its observation goes back thousands of years to Vedic philosophy. (227)” Universalist Radha-Krishnaism is a contemporary interpretation of that ancient Vedic philosophy.

But today’s cosmology, our view of the universe as a whole, presents a quantum enigma, one seeming to involve consciousness on an ever-grander scale. (258)

Reflecting the writings of Paul Tillich, I consider God-dess the Ground of Being–existence itself. There is nothing but God-dess and God-dess’ energies in the whole universe.

Stanford University physics professor Andrei Linde writes:

Will it not turn out, with the further development of science, that the study of the universe and the study of consciousness will be inseparably linked, and that ultimate progress in the one will be impossible without progress in the other? . . . will the next important step be the development of a unified approach to our entire world, including the world of consciousness? (264)

Yes, however, it should not be formulated by physicists–but include the sciences, humanities, and spirituality.

But during that split second before our “familiar” quarks and electrons came into existence, the Big Bang had to be finely tuned to produce a universe in which we could live. Quite finely tuned! Theories vary. According to one, if the initial conditions of the universe were chosen randomly, there would only be one chance in 10120 (that’s one with 120 zeros after it) that the universe would allow life. . . . By any such estimate, the chance that a livable universe like ours would be created is far less than the chance of randomly picking a particular single atom out of all the atoms in the universe. (264)

What or who finely tuned what to create this habitable universe is the question. My answer as to who is clearly God-dess. Let me close with an excerpt from Universalist Radha-Krishnaism to clarify my position:

Both scientific and mythological explanations can be true simultaneously. They deal with creation on different levels of understanding. One is taught in science classes, and one in religion classes. Trouble comes when religion seeks to place ancient science on an equal footing with contemporary science and when science oversteps its bounds by discussing god.

While science and religion remain separate fields, their cross pollination can produce wonderful results. Religious interpretation adds meaning to science, and science grounds religion in twenty-first century cosmology. They complement each other and can peacefully coexist. When both views are held simultaneously a fuller understanding of multidimensional reality develops through an interpretive shift and the will to do so.

God-dess exists as the ground of being, the primal cause, the beginning and end of all, the source of life and love. God-dess exists before and after spacetime. God-dess was, is, and ever shall be. The universe springs from his-her eternal, infinite spiritual potential.

The material universe exists as a reflection of the spiritual world, like a tree reflected on water. The tree is real; the reflection is ephemeral, yet based in reality. The material universe exists as a temporary modification of the spiritual world. (Plato’s theory of forms is a similar concept.) It appears real like the dream world sleepers inhabit seems real, but they wake up and realize its temporary nature. People consider the waking world real, but it forms another level of dream. However, it shares many features of the real spiritual world. (102)


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