The Quantum Physics Revolution, and the Reunification of Science and Religion — Part 1

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This is the transcript of an online talk I recently gave to the European School of Theosophy (currently available on Youtube). For time considerations I had to omit some possible sections, which I have published on Medium in a separate part 2. So this is for the benefit of those who watched the talk online, in case they want to take a second look at the material, which I had to go over quickly on the day. For anyone on Medium who has been following my series ‘Quantum Physics and Spirituality’, you will find some of the same material. However, here I’m focussing on the direct parallels between quantum physics and the teachings of the Ancient Wisdom, the religions of the Perennial Philosophy, and Theosophy.

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DISCLAIMER.

In order to avoid any misunderstanding, although I am a member of the Theosophical Society, and have given talks for them, that does not mean that I necessarily subscribe to all their teachings. The society imposes no beliefs on its members, who “come from all walks of life and belong to any philosophy or religion, or none”. In order to join I only had to accept their three founding objectives. (If interested in finding out more, click here.)

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I hope I don’t need to persuade anyone, especially Theosophical Society members, that a religious or spiritual viewpoint is the way forward for humanity. Many people now have been persuaded, however, that so-called science has left religion behind, has consigned it to the dustbin of history. We therefore need to tirelessly expose the flaws and illusions in the persistent scientific attachment to materialism — also known as physicalism — in an effort to reunify science and religion. As those in the Theosophical Society often say, “There is no religion higher than truth”.

My argument today is that quantum physics is our major weapon in the battle against atheism, the needed foundation stone of this reunification of science and religion. It has been the most significant cultural development of the last hundred years, not just for science, but for society and civilisation in general. It is at the vanguard of a new scientific paradigm that directly challenges, or even destroys materialism. At the same time, it is rediscovering and reconnecting with the ideas and the worldview of ancient peoples before the advent of the philosophical and scientific movement known as the Enlightenment. We find the same key ideas as in the Ancient Wisdom, the Perennial Philosophy, and Theosophy.

Most physics is complicated, and on the whole incomprehensible to the general public, including me. So there won’t be any of that in the talk today. However, some physicists have taken it upon themselves to explain in simpler terms for the public the essence of quantum physics and its philosophical implications. I’ll be focussing on the material found in such books. I’ll name the physicists as I go along. For my Theosophical comparisons, I’ll be relying upon Tim Wyatt’s book Cycles of Eternity. (Tim is a member and one of the organisers of the Leeds Branch of the Theosophical Society.)

The relationship between quantum physics and the Ancient Wisdom is a vast topic, and in the limited time available today, only a brief summary will be possible. Many of you, especially TS members, may be familiar with some or much of what follows, and will have already read the books I quote. However, my hope is that I may make you aware of some new material, to inspire you to do some further reading, and thus deepen your knowledge.

I’ll begin by describing the situation at the beginning of the 20th century, before the advent of quantum physics. So-called science believed that we inhabit a mechanistic universe, governed by the laws of physics, allegedly in line with the ideas of Isaac Newton, although his beliefs had been badly misrepresented.

The perhaps best known statement of Enlightenment hubris was made by Pierre-Simon Laplace in 1814. He had developed a theory of the universe and, so the story goes, Napoleon asked him why it contained no mention of God. He is said to have replied: “I had no need of that hypothesis”.

In biology, the naturalistic evolutionary theory of Charles Darwin was becoming influential, having been heavily promoted by his ‘bulldog’ Thomas Huxley. In psychology, Sigmund Freud and his Psychoanalysis was gaining acceptance. Freud was an extreme materialist and opponent of religion.

Putting all this together, science had convinced itself that nothing beyond the material universe was needed to explain it, and any notion of God was a primitive superstition, or a projection of our own psychology, thus an illusion. Those involved liked to call this way of thinking the Enlightenment. I think of it more as an ugly black cloud blotting out the sun.

In 2005 the tide began to turn with Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity in which he stated that matter is actually a form of energy, therefore that the material universe is not what it appears. Einstein was not a quantum physicist, however. His theories were an extension or elaboration of Newtonian physics, and he did spend much of the rest of his life fighting against quantum physics and its implications.

Then the quantum revolution came along. I’ll try to give you a flavour of what an extraordinary development this was. The word that suggests itself is “mind-boggling”, although even that term may not be strong enough, for the theory is difficult to come to terms with, even for the physicists themselves.

Here is a famous quote by Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman: “If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don’t understand quantum mechanics”.

And these are the words of the early quantum physicist Werner Heisenberg: “I remember discussions with Bohr which went through many hours till very late at night and ended almost in despair; and when at the end of the discussion I went alone for a walk in the neighbouring park, I repeated to myself again and again the question: Can nature possibly be so absurd as it seemed to us in these atomic experiments?”

The answer was yes. Yet they were brave enough to think through the implications of their results, and several decades later quantum mechanics was described as the most successful physical theory of all time. However, when physicists say this, they are referring merely to the experiments, the consistency of results, the accuracy of predictions, and the applications, that is to say the purely scientific aspects. There is disagreement about what it all means, the philosophical implications, and there are therefore different interpretations of quantum theory. Given time considerations, it is not possible today to describe them, or their differences, but three of the major ones are the Many Worlds Theory, Hidden Variables, and the Relational Theory. Instead I’ll concentrate on the points where there are significant similarities between the beliefs of many quantum physicists and Theosophy. To whet your appetite, here is Niels Bohr, one of the men who got the whole thing started: “The development of atomic physics forces us to an attitude toward the problem of explanation recalling ancient wisdom”. He actually used those words.

I’m going to take a look at 6 key teachings. Firstly, the Ancient Wisdom teaches that the universe as we perceive it, supposedly physical, is an illusion; it is therefore a philosophy of Idealism. It believes that mind or consciousness is more primary than matter; that the material universe emerges from other levels of mind and spirit. To believe that the material universe is the sole reality is the illusion of maya, which is of course the illusion that much of modern science has fallen for. The discoveries of the first generation of quantum physicists shattered that illusion.

They were not actually seeking a revolution in our way of understanding the universe. What we now call quantum physics began merely as an attempt to understand the nature of the atom, to search for the ultimate building blocks of matter. To the surprise of those involved, however, they found that these building blocks do not exist.

Following the first quantum breakthroughs we find physicists saying: “The universe is looking less like a great machine, and more like a great thought”. That was Sir James Jeans. Sir Arthur Eddington said: “The external world of physics has thus become a world of shadows. In removing our illusions we have removed the substance, for indeed we have seen that substance is one of the greatest of our illusions”. And Werner Heisenberg said: “The smallest units of matter are not physical objects… They are forms, structures, or — in Plato’s sense — Ideas”.

This was a return to the viewpoint of the ancient religions, and philosophers, most notably Plato, as expressed in his famous allegory of the cave. Heisenberg has specifically mentioned Plato. Eddington was also clearly thinking of Plato’s allegory in his liberal use of the words ‘shadow’ and ‘shadowy’, not just in the quote above, and Jeans quotes Plato’s allegory as the epigram for his book The Mysterious Universe.

Since shadows are non-material, since there is no actual substance, and matter is an illusion, these are decisive statements in favour of the philosophy of Idealism, in agreement with the ancient religions, that mind is the primary reality. Theosophists would call that the mind of God. The early quantum physicist who made a clear statement suggesting such a religious interpretation was Max Planck, who said: “There is no matter as such! All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particles of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together… We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent Mind. This Mind is the matrix of all matter”.

The second key teaching, which follows on from the first, is that of non-dualism. The idea of dualism, that mind, thus consciousness, is of a fundamentally different nature from matter, has been the subject of much philosophical debate and controversy for the past few hundred years. In relatively modern times it began with Descartes, who was a firm advocate of dualism. It is currently out of fashion, not because the modern world has rediscovered Idealism, but unfortunately because modern science and philosophy have frequently gone in the wrong direction by asserting that consciousness is merely an epiphenomenon of the brain, or even that consciousness is an illusion.

The Ancient Wisdom, however, teaches that a cosmic consciousness is the ultimate reality, that everything else that exists, at whatever level, is a manifestation of that foundational consciousness. Thus Tim’s first Key Idea says: “There is a unity of existence throughout the universe — a single consciousness”, a clear statement of non-dualism.

From the standpoint of quantum physics, Danah Zohar talks about “a more fundamental level of reality that itself has a two-sided potential to become both the mental and the material”. Thinking along those lines David Bohm concludes: “We are suggesting that the implicate order applies both to matter (living and non-living) and to consciousness, and that it can therefore make possible an understanding of the general relationship of these two, from which we may be able to come to some notion of a common ground of both”. By ‘implicate order’ he means a higher level of reality that we might call ‘spirit’

The third key teaching is the core of all spiritual traditions, that a human’s ultimate nature is divine. As in Hinduism Atman = Brahman. The individual monad is equivalent to the universal Ground of Being. Thus the Chandogya Upanishad says clearly Tat Twam Asi — You are That. We might therefore say that the individual consciousness is a microcosm of the Divine consciousness.

On that theme, from the world of quantum physics, we have Danah Zohar saying: “The mind/body (mind/brain) duality in man is a reflection of the wave/particle duality which underlies all that is. In this way, human being is a tiny microcosm of cosmic being”.

And Erwin Schrödinger: “This life of yours which you are living is not merely a piece of this entire existence, but is in a certain sense the ‘whole’; only this whole is not so constituted that it can be surveyed in one single glance. This, as we know, is what the Brahmins express in that sacred, mystic formula which is yet really so simple and so clear: TAT TVAM ASI, this is you”.

So here we have a quantum physicist referring explicitly to the Hindu text. We should note, however, that he wrote this before most of the history of quantum physics, so he was clearly already inclined to Vedantism. We can, however, assume that he later found nothing in quantum physics to make him change his mind.

This idea can be extended further beyond human consciousness if we consider the phenomenon of the hologram. This is the name given to the special kind of photographic plate produced with the highly coherent light of a laser. The word is derived from the Greek words ‘holo’, meaning ‘whole’, and ‘gram’ meaning ‘to write’. Thus, the hologram is an instrument that, as it were, writes the whole.

For further elaboration, these are the words of Henri Bortoft — a student of David Bohm: “If the hologram plate is broken into fragments and one fragment is illuminated, it is found that the same three-dimensional optical reconstruction of the original object is produced. There is nothing missing; the only difference is that the reconstruction is less well defined. The entire original object can be optically reconstructed from any fragment of the original hologram, but as the fragments get smaller and smaller the resolution deteriorates until the reconstruction becomes so blotchy and ill-defined as to become unrecognizable”.

Isn’t that a wonderful metaphor for the descent of the soul into matter, accumulating various bodies on the way? The whole being is encoded into all parts, yet the further each part is removed from its original source, the more blotchy and ill-defined it becomes. It becomes virtually unrecognisable, which explains why so many people forget that they are a soul.

And this principle may not apply just to human consciousness. These are the words of David Bohm himself: he says that the hologram is “an instrument that can help give a certain immediate perceptual insight into what can be meant by undivided wholeness”. “A total order is contained, in some implicit sense, in each region of space and time. Now, the word ‘implicit’ is based on the verb ‘to implicate’. This means ‘to fold inward’… So we may be led to explore the notion that in some sense each region contains a total structure ‘enfolded’ within it”.

In other words, he is saying that every part of the universe contains the whole universe, which seems to me another way of saying the esoteric teaching, the microcosm is a reflection of the macrocosm.

Inspired by the idea of the hologram, Bohm begins to describe a realm of being he calls the holomovement. He concludes: “To generalize so as to emphasize undivided wholeness, we shall say that what ‘carries’ an implicate order is The Holomovement, which is an unbroken and undivided totality. In certain cases, we can abstract particular aspects of the holomovement (e.g. light, electrons, sound, etc.) but more generally, all forms of the holomovement merge and are inseparable. Thus, in its totality, the holomovement is not limited in any specifiable way at all. It is not required to conform to any particular order, or to be bounded by any particular measure. Thus the holomovement is undefinable and immeasurable”.

This is beginning to sound like mysticism; surely this is the ultimate Ground of Being. The holomovement seems to be Bohm’s word for Brahman, or the Tao. This becomes even more apparent when he talks about “the unbroken wholeness of the totality of existence as an undivided flowing movement without borders… The implicate order is particularly suitable for the understanding of such unbroken wholeness in flowing movement, for in the implicate order the totality of existence is enfolded within each region of space (and time). So, whatever part, element, or aspect we may abstract in thought, this still enfolds the whole and is therefore intrinsically related to the totality from which it has been abstracted”.

I’ll discuss the next two key teachings in relation to each other. The fourth teaching is that there is no such thing as inanimate matter. Tim’s 8th Law says that “there is nothing but life in the universe. Life pervades every entity large or small, seen or unseen”, and his 2nd key idea says that “Everything visible and invisible is a conscious life-form. Even atoms have consciousness”.

The fifth key teaching is that the universe is an interconnected whole. Thus Tim says: “Although appearing as separate aspects, there is only one life and one consciousness… There is a unity of existence. Everything is part of everything else”.

Quantum physicists were amazed when they discovered that even particles appear to know information about experiments, or to act as if intelligent. Here are some examples:

The first is the famous double-slit experiment. In its simplest form, the experiment involves sending individual particles such as photons or electrons, one at a time, towards an observation screen. On the way they have to pass through two openings or slits which have been cut into an otherwise opaque barrier. If you merely monitor the particle landing on the screen after its journey through the slits, the photon or electron seems to behave like a wave, ostensibly going through both slits at once, and creating an interference pattern. If, however, you choose to look to see which slit the particle goes through, it takes one of the two possible paths, therefore behaving like a photon, thus a particle.

So here we apparently have the photon behaving in different ways, responding to the intentions of the experimenter. How is it able to do this? Does it know the details of the experiment in advance?

The problem has been created of wave-particle duality. Physicists are uncomfortable about this and want to know whether the photon is ‘really’ a wave or a particle. They have therefore devised some ingenious experiments in an attempt to ‘outwit’ the photon into revealing its true identity. These are described by Anil Ananthaswamy, a staff writer at New Scientist magazine, but his conclusion is that you cannot fool the photon no matter how hard you try”. If a photon never fails to outwit the experimenter, does that imply that it is conscious?

A second example is as follows. Physicist Richard Feynman noticed that no matter how an object moved, it balanced out energies so as to use as little action as possible. He asks: “How does the particle find the right path? … All your instincts on cause and effect go haywire when you say that the particle decides to take the path that is going to give the minimum action. Does it ‘smell’ the neighbouring paths to find out whether or not they have more action?”

It is actually possible to “fool light into taking the wrong paths”. In this context, Feynman discusses a phenomenon called diffraction, the bending and interfering of light with itself, which is accomplished by blocking the natural light paths. Feynman states: “When we put blocks in the way so that the photons could not test all the paths, we found that they couldn’t figure out which way to go”. Thus the photons appeared to be trying to solve a problem. Although they failed, this suggests consciousness and intelligence.

So particles appear to be conscious. The critical word of course is ‘appear’. Are they conscious, or do they merely appear to be conscious? If the latter, what could cause them to appear to be conscious?

Here is Danah Zohar discussing Bohm’s views on this phenomenon: “He compares the movements of electrons in the laboratory to those of ballet dancers responding to a musical score, the score itself constituting ‘a common “pool” of information that guides each of the dancers as he takes his steps…’ Each electron is sensitive not just to the information, or meaning, latent in its own wave packet (its own part in the score). It is also non-locally responsive to the information latent in the whole situation… For Bohm, this sharing of information, this mutual ‘knowing’, may represent elementary conscious awareness on the part of the electron…”

Elsewhere Bohm said: “As you probe more deeply into matter, it appears to have more and more subtle properties… In my view, the implications of physics seem to be that nature is so subtle that it could be almost alive or intelligent”.

If this is true, this leads us in the direction of panpsychism, or even idealism, thus Theosophy. Zohar herself is cautious, advocating a limited panpsychism. Fred Alan Wolf, however, does not hold back: “Atoms with consciousness, matter with curiosity? Are these peculiar statements for a physicist? I don’t think so. They are simply recognitions of undeniable facts”. “At the atomic level, consciousness is primitive, but necessarily so. Neurons contain possibly several billion atomic ‘consciousnesses’. We might call each such consciousness a mind. All together they are the agents that make up your intelligence agency”.

This leads us on to the 5th key teaching, the interconnectedness of the universe; it is one undivided whole. Physicist Max Planck agrees: “In modern mechanics… it is impossible to obtain an adequate version of the laws for which we are looking, unless the physical system is regarded as a whole. According to modern field theory, each individual particle of the system, in a certain sense, at any one time, exists simultaneously in every part of the space occupied by the system”.

Evidence from quantum physics for this idea is the phenomenon known variously as non-locality, action-at-a-distance, or quantum entanglement. The idea is that two separate but paired particles are interconnected in some way no matter how far apart they are. If an experimenter affects one of the particles, its paired particle responds instantaneously and also changes.

The phenomenon is not in doubt. Thus Danah Zohar writes: “At the subatomic level, such correlation experiments have now been carried out many times on pairs of correlated photons, and the non-local influences which bind their life styles have been proven many times over. The photons’ behaviour patterns are so eerily linked across any spatial separation — it could be a few centimetres, it could be all the way across the universe — that it appears there is no space between them”.

There are two interpretations of this phenomenon. Either the particles are communicating with each other instantaneously by means of some kind of signal, that is to say faster than the speed of light. If that is literally true, then it would suggest consciousness. Since that is believed to be impossible, the alternative explanation has been proposed that the particles must be connected in some way that defies classical conceptions of causality, suggesting an interconnected universe.

Both conscious particles and an interconnected universe are Ancient Wisdom or Theosophical teachings, so whichever interpretation is correct, the Ancient Wisdom and Theosophy win.

My sixth and final key teaching is that the universe is a living organism. This would seem to be a logical conclusion if we put the first five ideas together. Tim opens his book by saying that the universe “is a living being and we are an integral part of it”. Erwin Schrödinger says: “All of us living beings belong together in as much as we are all in reality sides or aspects of one single being, which may perhaps in western terminology be called God while in the Upanishads its name is Brahman”.

Michael Talbot, not himself a professional physicist, says: “The wormhole connections of three-dimensional space connect every part of the universe directly with every other part much like the nervous system of a cosmic brain”.

Anil Ananthaswamy, commenting on the double-slit experiment, suggests that “all particles in the Universe are influenced instantly by a form of nonlocality that would make Einstein wince”. What could achieve that if not a cosmic mind?

That concludes my summary of the comparisons. There are two more that could be made, but which for time considerations I’ll omit today, firstly that time is an illusion of consciousness, and secondly the mystical viewpoint that ultimate reality is ineffable, and cannot be expressed in words. Both these ideas have their equivalents in quantum physics.

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I’ll now give a brief summary of the literature relevant to the quantum physics/mysticism revolution. I’ve already mentioned the idealist statements of the first generation. Someone I’ve not mentioned so far is Wolfgang Pauli. He must have come to the same conclusions as the others, for he went on to collaborate with Carl Jung and wrote with him The Interpretation of Nature and the Psyche, the first part of which is Jung’s Synchronicity. Pauli wrote the second part, ‘The Influence of Archetypal Ideas on the Scientific Theories of Kepler’. Also, the man whose therapy and dreams Jung documented at length in Psychology and Alchemy, and whose name was not revealed at the time for reasons of client confidentiality, was Wolfgang Pauli, as it emerged later.

The quantum physics/mysticism literature began to take off in earnest in 1975. The story is in two parts, with a dividing line in 1985. Relevant figures and books, in approximate chronological order, are:

Fred Alan Wolf, Space-Time and Beyond, 1975. This is an early attempt to draw parallels between quantum physics and what we might call a spiritual worldview, without actually mentioning any specific religions. One of my favourite quotes is: “We only know that there is something other than space-time, but we don’t know what it is. Because Beyond Space-Time is non physical, unmeasurable. But what is beyond space-time is within everything. Can it connect with us and influence us within space-time? Is it pure consciousness?”

Here, in a few lines, we have all the key ideas: that the physical universe is generated from another level, which we cannot see, and know very little about. This explains why so many people can remain stuck in a materialist frame of mind, the illusion of maya. It implicitly criticises those who hubristically deny the importance of philosophy, specifically metaphysics, the best known example of which is the late Stephen Hawking, because it states emphatically the limitations of science in understanding the nature of reality. And Wolf humbly asks questions, doesn’t make definitive statements. Is what is beyond space-time pure consciousness? We would say yes it is. If science cannot penetrate these levels, then this suggests the need for mysticism, clairvoyance, direct experience of what lies beyond as a way forward.

Wolf’s statement is confirmed in almost identical words by the physicist Henry Stapp: “Everything we know about nature is in accord with the idea that the fundamental processes of nature lie outside space-time but generate events that can be located in space-time”. This single idea is enough to demonstrate that quantum physics, that is to say science, the most successful scientific theory of all time, has completely disproved scientific materialism.

Then in 1976, Fritjof Capra published The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels Between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism. This is probably the best known book on this theme, and is a detailed exploration of the perceived relationship between the new science and the Ancient Wisdom. He explores the parallels between quantum physics and specific religious traditions, having chapters on Taoism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Zen.

Following this, there was something of an explosion, Capra later saying that “in the wake of The Tao of Physics there have been at least a dozen very successful books about the relationships between modern science and mystical traditions”. One of the better known ones is: Gary Zukav’s, The Dancing Wu Li Masters: an Overview of the New Physics, something of a cult classic. Less well known, but also very interesting is Mysticism and the New Physics by Michael Talbot, who also wrote The Holographic Universe.

Other significant books from this early period, more scientific and referring not quite so specifically to mysticism, were:

  • David Bohm’s Wholeness and the Implicate Order (1980). He was the most spiritual of these later quantum physicists, and I’ve already mentioned him and his ideas a few times in the comparisons above.
  • Paul Davies, God and the New Physics (1983). He is more restrained than some of these others. He sees himself as a conventional physicist, not wishing to rush to adopt mystical ideas, rather to expand the frontiers of science. He is nevertheless very open-minded about the problems of materialist science, which he finds inadequate. The back cover says that he explains “how the recent far-reaching discoveries of the new physics are revolutionizing our view of the world and, in particular, throwing light on many of the questions formerly posed by religion”. The book discusses the creation of the universe, and contains chapters on Mind and Soul, the Self, the Quantum Factor, Time, the Fundamental Structure of Matter, and the Physicist’s Conception of Nature. He later wrote The Mind of God (1992).

At this point the story takes a strange twist. In 1985 a book appeared which stated the following: “In the past decade there have appeared literally dozens of books, by physicists, philosophers, psychologists, and theologians, purporting to describe or explain the extraordinary relationship between modern physics, the hardest of sciences, and mysticism, the tenderest of religions. Physics and mysticism are fast approaching a remarkably common worldview, some say”. “These pioneering physicists did not believe that physics and mysticism share similar worldviews… (but) they nevertheless all became mystics”. He devotes much of the book to quoting what the early physicists actually said, in an attempt to make his point.

I haven’t mentioned his name so that you can wonder or speculate who might have said that. Was it a scientist committed to materialism, or one just less fanciful? Actually no, it was Ken Wilber, a prolific writer on spiritual matters and a Perennial Philosophist. The book is called Quantum Questions.

I’m not sure how much influence this book had, but in the following period this tendency to compare quantum physics to mystical ideas seemed to change course, or at least be less explicit. One exception was Norman Friedman’s Bridging Science and Spirit, which compared the ideas of David Bohm, the Perennial Philosophy, and the ideas of the discarnate entity Seth, channelled through Jane Roberts. Ironically, as the spokesperson for the Perennial Philosophy he chose Ken Wilber, concluding that he, Bohm, and Seth were saying essentially the same things. He didn’t mention Wilber’s Quantum Questions, so we can assume he wasn’t aware of it. Friedman’s foreword was by Fred Alan Wolf, whose earlier book Wilber would presumably have been scornful of. In it Wolf said: “The gap of understanding separating the two seemingly irreconcilable viewpoints of spirituality and science can be bridged… These two approaches aim toward the very same truths”.

In this later period, from the point of view of the battle against materialism, two trends are worth noting. Firstly, some physicists are critical of Darwinian evolutionary theory. Examples would be:

  • Paul Davies, The Cosmic Blueprint
  • Danah Zohar, The Quantum Self
  • Amit Goswami, Creative Evolution

It is therefore reasonable to ask whether evolutionary biologists have taken on board the implications of quantum physics, the most successful scientific theory of all time. Also worth mentioning is the former Darwinian biologist Bruce Lipton, who completely changed his views following his discovery of quantum physics. He tells his story in The Biology of Belief.

Secondly, following the quantum revolution, physicists suddenly became very interested in the nature of consciousness, This was a general preoccupation, but some of the more important examples are:

  • Danah Zohar’s The Quantum Self. In one of her later chapters she dares to bring the word God into the discussion about the implications of quantum physics.
  • Amit Goswami’s The Self-Aware Universe: How Consciousness Creates the Material World.
  • Fred Alan Wolf’s Mind and the New Physics
  • Roger Penrose’s The Emperor’s New Mind and Shadows of the Mind

Despite this apparent consensus in favour of a connection between spirituality and quantum physics, a small minority of physicists remain unconvinced, impervious to all these arguments. The most strident of the opponents, as far as I am aware, is the late Victor Stenger, author of The Unconscious Quantum, clearly a provocative title given the idealist tendencies of many quantum physicists. He is also the author of God the Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist.

That Stenger is not just a lone voice, crying in the wilderness, is shown by a recent development in the literature. Earlier this year a book appeared called Helgoland by theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli. It is somewhat paradoxical. On the one hand he seems to be returning to Fritjof Capra and The Tao of Physics, pointing out the similarities between quantum physics and Eastern religions. He has a section on the 2nd century Buddhist teacher Nagarjuna. He is greatly impressed by him, and says of his book: “the resonance with quantum mechanics is immediate”. We discover, however, that what he means by this is his own interpretation of quantum mechanics, which amounts to a complete rejection of all the statements made by the quantum physicists above advocating ideas similar to spirituality, Theosophy and the Ancient Wisdom. Rovelli is about as close to scientific materialism as it is possible to be for a quantum physicist.

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I finished the talk at that point for time considerations. However, there are three more relevant sections which could have been included. These can be found in part 2.

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To conclude, here is a wonderful quote which sums up much of the above. This is Albert Einstein, great physicist, although not a quantum physicist:

“A human being is part of the whole, called by us ‘Universe’, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few people nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty”. We don’t know whether he was speaking here as a physicist or a mystic.

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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).

I am a singer/songwriter interested in spirituality, politics, psychology, science, and their interrelationships. grahampemberton.com spiritualityinpolitics.com