Quantum Physics and Spirituality — Part 3, Fred Alan Wolf
In the first article in this series, I outlined why I think the quantum physics revolution is so important for the future of humanity. In the second article I outlined the ensuing history of this idea — the significant figures and books. In the rest of the series, I’ll summarise and review them, beginning with Fred Alan Wolf.
Some of what follows may appear to be closer to the language of a poet, so let me begin by saying that he is a professional theoretical physicist, and former Professor of Physics. His Space-Time and Beyond¹ appeared in 1975. To my knowledge this was the first book which focused on the parallels between the newfound worldview of quantum physics and what ancient religions had been saying for centuries. He says: “The wisdom of thousands of years of mystical experience is walking hand in hand with the emerging knowledge of our sciences”.
I don’t wish to mislead readers by overstating the case, so I’ll try to make it as clear as possible where Wolf is coming from. He is somewhat contradictory, for on the one hand he says: “The thoughts presented are supported by recent scientific theory. All are referenced to papers and commentary”. However, on the same page he is here more reserved: “Many of the scientific theories presented herein are quite speculative”. Other interpretations may make more sense in the future, but “this is now” (p 15). He later describes himself as a visionary rather than a conservative physicist, and says that visionary physics “is an art form based upon scientific fact and extrapolation from fact into areas of human thought and endeavor that would not normally be included in physics. Visionary physics is the kind of physics done by physicists on the back of envelopes over a cup of coffee. It is ‘shoptalk’ on concepts. It is always a risky business” (p 125). We should therefore not rush to accept some of his ideas as established science; they are nevertheless exciting from a spiritual point of view.
As I noted in the previous article, even though Wolf is a physicist, this is not a normal academic book. It is divided into two parts. The first (up to p 121) is full of cartoons and pithy aphorisms, so that it almost seems to be aimed at children. Wolf then provides a scientific commentary (p 125 onward). (Page numbers below will therefore indicate which section the quote comes from.) Here are some of his most significant statements around four topics.
- “We only know that there is something other than space-time but we don’t know what it is, because beyond space-time is nonphysical, unmeasurable. But what is beyond space-time is within everything” (p56).
Thus the material universe is not all that there is, but is generated into existence from a non-material level. Everything within the material universe is a product of this non-material level.
So what is matter made of? “ ‘Matter’ may be nothing but gravitationally trapped light (energy). The chair is not solid but a fantastic interplay of vibrating, spinning rings of light in the turbulent sea of space” (p 46). This echoes Genesis 1.3 where God’s first command is “Let there be light”, which we can assume is therefore the basic building material of the lower levels. Or in Wolf’s words: “The incomprehensible unaware oneness beyond space-time (i. e. God) becomes aware of itself, creating light. Light chases itself in gravitational collapse!” (p 47).
Or, “is it (matter) pure consciousness?” (p 56). “All of space-time is constructed by consciousness” (foreword). It doesn’t seem to matter whether matter is made of light or consciousness, however, because “we have come to know that consciousness and energy (light) are one”. “Could consciousness itself be pure energy? Perhaps the many forms of energy are similar to the many forms of consciousness… Perhaps all of the different forms in the universe are just different forms of consciousness manifesting as observers and things observed” (p 161).
Thus matter is ‘made of’ consciousness, and “you and I are ripples in the turbulent sea of space” (p 35).
2. However, the ‘I’ that we perceive ourselves to be is not our true self. “Consciousness is the totality beyond space-time — what may in essence be the real ‘I’… What we perceive as ourselves is only the localized projection of the totality of our true selves” (foreword). This is in agreement with the core of Hinduism, as stated in the Chāndogya Upanishad: “This finest essence — the whole universe has it as its Self: That is the Real: That is the Self: That you are, Śvetaketu!”²
Or in different words, “perhaps the universe is a gigantic space-time hologram made up of interfering quantum waves” (p 144). Again the hologram idea links to this spiritual notion of each individual human as a microcosm of the universe. Going even further, Wolf states: “The whole of the universe, all knowledge is contained within each individual and each thing. Know a grain of sand completely and you know the universe in its entirety” (p 44). He is here obviously thinking of the lines of the mystical poet William Blake in Auguries of Innocence: “To see a World in a Grain of Sand, And a Heaven in a Wild Flower. Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand, And Eternity in an hour”.
“You cannot be aware of what is beyond space-time but you can walk in this dream in contact with the higher consciousness that is the real you” (p119). Since “the real ‘I’ is beyond space-time”, “there is no death, only a change of awareness, a change of cosmic address” (p 108). This sounds remarkably like the immortality of the soul, or at least the immortality of consciousness.
3. The universe is a single, unified whole: “Every part of your universe is directly connected to every other part” (p 33). Since “there is no real boundary between living and nonliving things”, “the whole universe is alive, and… there is really only a one unbroken whole” (p 138). According to Wolf, therefore the universe is a living organism, which is a return to the ancient worldview of animism.
4. “Perhaps the universe is just one big dance. If quantum waves are the basis for all matter and consciousness, then it is reasonable to say that rhythm is necessary. For all waves must have periodic or rhythmic movement” (p162). The Hindus have for thousands of years been calling the universe “the dance of Shiva”.
So there is much speculation (visionary physics), and use of the word ‘perhaps’. Wolf claims, however, that “the thoughts presented are supported by recent scientific theory”. They are presumably therefore not groundless fantasies, but are to some extent based in the realms of intuition and imagination, both of which are necessary ingredients if science is to progress.
Similar ideas reoccur in the writings of Fritjof Capra and Michael Talbot; they will be the subjects of the next articles in the series.
Click here for the next article in the series.
I hope you have enjoyed this article. I have written in the past about other topics, including spirituality, metaphysics, psychology, science, Christianity, politics and astrology. All these articles are on Medium, but the simplest way to see a guide to them is to visit my website (click here and here).
1. originally 1975, my copy Bantam 1983
2. in Hindu Scriptures, Dominic Goodall (ed.), Phoenix Giant, 1996, p 140