The Quantum Physics Revolution, and the Reunification of Science and Religion, part 2
I recently gave an online talk for the European School of Theosophy. For time considerations I had to omit some possible sections, which follow here. What follows makes most sense, therefore, it if you’ve either watched the talk online, or have read part 1, which is a transcription of it.
(This would have occurred near the end, following the second section which listed the relevant literature.)
It’s also worth noting briefly that materialist scientists tend to dismiss parapsychology, specifically telepathy, as impossible because it allegedly violates all the laws of physics, by which they mean of course the laws of classical pre-quantum physics. Quantum physicists, on the other hand, are very open to the possibility of telepathy, and so on. Fred Alan Wolf is especially enthusiastic.
Karl Pribram who, influenced by David Bohm, developed the concept of the brain as a hologram, said that the holographic system explains “things that have hitherto remained scientifically inexplicable: paranormal phenomena, and synchronicities”.
Former Oxford professor of philosophy, the late H.H. Price said: “psychical research is one of the most important branches of investigation which the human mind has undertaken”; that it seems likely “to throw entirely new light upon the nature of human personality and its position in the universe”, and that in time “it may transform the whole intellectual outlook upon which our present civilisation is based”. He presumably meant that it threatens to overthrow the philosophy of scientific materialism, and therefore this statement could just as easily be applied to the quantum physics revolution. Parapsychology and quantum physics can therefore be linked together.
An important figure from that world is the parapsychologist Lawrence LeShan. In addition to the worldviews of mystics and physicists, he identifies the Clairvoyant worldview, and discusses how that is similar or identical to the other two. One of his books is called Clairvoyant Reality, formerly The Medium, The Mystic and the Physicist.
(The following section would have followed on from the conclusion of part 1.)
All this gives you some idea of how important quantum theory was both for science, for religion and spirituality, and therefore for society in general. It completely revolutionised the way that scientists understand the nature of the material world. In a short space of time, the whole worldview of materialist science had been overturned, dare I say, had been destroyed. As the Transpersonal Psychologist Stanislav Grof says in Ancient Wisdom, Modern Science (note that title) “Twentieth century physics have questioned and transcended every postulate of the Newtonian-Cartesian model… Reality is entirely different from the seventeenth century model used by mechanistic science”.
In the afterword to the third edition of The Tao of Physics, Fritjof Capra said that the impact of his book was beyond his original expectations, and that he hoped that the parallels he had made between quantum physics and Eastern religions would become common knowledge. They were, or should be “part of a much larger movement of a fundamental change of worldviews, or paradigms, in science and society… a profound cultural transformation”. Marilyn Ferguson in The Aquarian Conspiracy (1980) was also optimistic, expecting imminent change in the various sciences.
Such optimism seems to have been unfounded. The physician Eben Alexander III has put it very well: the materialist model is fatally flawed, and should have died off with the advent of quantum physics, but it has held on fiercely despite evidence to the contrary. This is perhaps because such things do not necessarily impinge on the lives, or the thinking, of the general public. Extraordinarily and very regrettably, the implications of quantum physics do not even seem to have penetrated the consciousness of other scientists, and many philosophers.
Quantum physics should have profound implications for evolutionary biology, neuroscience, and metaphysics. Arguably, Darwinism and the idea that consciousness is an epiphenomenon of the brain could and should have disappeared from the scientific literature nearly 100 years ago. Instead, only a few years after the quantum revolution, the extremely materialist neo-Darwinian synthesis was formulated. In the field of neuroscience, as late as 1994 Nobel Laureate Francis Crick felt able to write that “ ‘You’, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules”.
This problem arises obviously if scientists remain within their specific discipline, and do not feel the need to inform themselves of what is going on in other areas. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised, for in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn describes the process by which a new paradigm replaces an outdated worldview. There is a period when the two contradictory, incompatible paradigms co-exist, the old seemingly oblivious of the new. That is what seems to be happening now. The quantum revolution should have won the argument nearly 100 years ago. Yet the changes one would expect did not happen, and are taking place only gradually, if at all.
In the last thirty years arch-Darwinist and passionate atheist Richard Dawkins has had a spell as the Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science (some irony there), and was once voted the world’s most influential thinker in a poll of readers by Prospect magazine. The other members of the New Atheist group known as the Four Horsemen are also influential, even though their books are on the whole terrible. Only two years ago, Steven Pinker, another highly influential figure in public opinion, felt able to write Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress. By science, he didn’t mean quantum physics, however, which doesn’t get a mention.
On the other side of the argument, however, there has been an increased interest in spirituality in all its forms — whether Buddhism, the New Age, paganism, or Carl Jung — and there are various scientists advocating a new paradigm viewpoint.
So it’s worth asking why the quantum physics revolution has not made more impact, and succeeded in disposing of the old worldview in the minds of the public. It is regrettable to have to point out that one of the principle reasons is that the old paradigm is consistently promoted by the mainstream media. In Britain, both the BBC and Channel 4 are described as ‘public service broadcasters’. They therefore have certain duties and responsibilities, or should have. The public trust their output, especially the BBC. There seems, however, to have been a significant change in attitude down the years.
The BBC is meticulously careful, sometimes obsessively so, to be balanced in its political coverage. If only the same could be said about its scientific output.
In the good old days, I’m thinking of the 1970s and ’80s, the BBC had Gordon Rattray Taylor as Chief Science Advisor, and editor of the Horizon series. He wrote a brilliant critique of Darwinism called The Great Evolution Mystery. In 1990 they broadcast the legendary six interviews of Joseph Campbell by Bill Moyers called The Power of Myth. In 1994 BBC2 did a series of six portraits of unorthodox scientists called Heretic, one episode of which was devoted to Rupert Sheldrake, new paradigm biologist, and more recently a Theosophical Society speaker.
Over the last ten years or so, however, the BBC has consistently produced programmes propounding the dogmas of materialist science and philosophy.
With regard to evolutionary theory, the icon and national treasure David Attenborough, adored by the public, is allowed free rein to express his uncritical enthusiasm for Darwin. The most obvious example was Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life. In it he states that “two hundred years ago a man was born who was to explain this astonishing diversity of life”. So we are led to believe that this is a fact, not something that, despite widespread acceptance by many, remains very controversial, and in the eyes of Theosophy completely wrong.
Also on the subject of evolution, in 2013 there was a two-part TV series about Alfred Russel Wallace entitled Bill Bailey’s Jungle Hero, in which the comedian, a big fan of Wallace, embarks on a mission to rehabilitate his reputation. The orthodox story is that he came up with the theory of evolution by natural selection about the same time as Darwin, therefore deserving equal credit. He was not given recognition at the time, and has therefore been to some extent lost in the historical account.
The true story is that, whatever Wallace may have believed in the late 1850s, by the end of his life he was a firm believer in God and Intelligent Design, as is clearly shown by the title of his book The World of Life: a Manifestation of Creative Power, Directive Mind and Ultimate Purpose. He was also a firm believer in spiritualism.
Bill Bailey failed to mention all this, even though the first programme was specifically meant to be an account of the life of Wallace. Instead, he described the theory of evolution by natural selection as “one of the greatest scientific ideas of all time”. He even said that Wallace had taken “a path which would ultimately lead him to deny God”, which was either ignorance on an extraordinary scale, given that he claimed to be a big fan of Wallace, or a blatant lie.
In 2016, neuroscientist David Eagleman presented a series for BBC4 called The Brain. During the series he presented his unsubstantiated opinions as facts:
- “For the past 20 years I’ve been trying to understand how what happens in three pounds of jelly-like material somehow becomes us”.
- “Somehow all this weird biological stuff results in the experience of you being you”.
- “For a long time the answer was an immortal soul, or spirit, something that goes beyond mere matter and gives you your life and your identity. But the modern study of the brain tells a different story. Who we are can only be understood in terms of the three-pound organ in our heads”
Since then, nothing much has changed. He was interviewed earlier this year for New Scientist magazine. The title of the article was ‘How our brains could create whole new senses’.
On the subject of parapsychology, in 2014 there was a very sympathetic portrayal of James Randi entitled Exposed: Magicians, Psychics and Frauds. Randi was a very talented magician, but also an extreme sceptic about all things parapsychological. This is clear from the title of his book Flim-Flam: Psychics, ESP, Unicorns and other Delusions. As the programme demonstrated, he has done some excellent work in exposing some frauds. It gave the unjustifiable impression, however, that all claims of parapsychology are fraudulent.
In 2013, BBC radio 4 broadcast a series of five programmes called Our Dreams: Our Selves. This was described as a general history of dreams, and yet there was not a single mention of Carl Jung, whose therapeutic system centred upon dream interpretation. There was, however, a whole programme devoted to Sigmund Freud, most of whose theories about dreams are nonsensical. In the history of dream interpretation Jung is a far more significant figure than Freud. Perhaps his omission can be explained because he was a ‘mystical’ psychologist who happened to believe in God, while Freud was an extreme materialist and atheist.
On the subject of Freud, in 2015 BBC2 broadcast a series of three programmes entitled Genius of the Modern World. The three figures deemed to be worthy of this extravagant compliment were Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud — interesting choices. The only surprising thing was that Darwin was not included. These three may have been very influential, but that hardly qualifies them as geniuses. The only thing they seem to have in common is their hostility towards religion.
Turning now to the Big Bang. This may seem uncontroversial to the public, but is much more controversial from a Theosophical perspective.
One of the BBC’s prominent scientific figures is Jim Al-Khalili. He presents The Life Scientific on radio 4, and is a frequent presenter on the TV Horizon series. He is a physicist, indeed a physics professor, who even does research into quantum biology. He nevertheless describes himself as an atheist and in 2013 become president of the British Humanist Association. How can be so unaware of everything that all these other quantum physicists have said for 100 years?
In 2016 he was the BBC’s choice to present two programmes about the Big Bang in quick succession, telling the orthodox version of the story. The second version went over exactly the same material a few weeks later.
In all this time I am not aware of any programmes from the BBC about the quantum physics revolution and its relationship to ancient mystical ideas.
Turning briefly now to Channel 4 which, despite being a public service broadcaster, sees itself as a vehicle for the ideas of Richard Dawkins. Over the short space of three years in the 2000s he was given free rein to air his views in three separate documentaries. In 2006 there was The Root of All Evil?, later renamed The God Delusion. Then in 2008 there was The Genius of Charles Darwin. In between was another series entitled Enemies of Reason. For one programme they attempted to deceive Rupert Sheldrake into appearing on a programme in order to ridicule him, having told him in advance that it would be a serious discussion.
So that is what we are up against as we try to win the battle of religion and spirituality against atheism and materialism. Even the trusted BBC is working against us, and misleading the public. I hope that I might this afternoon have inspired some of you to become spiritual activists and, if you aren’t already doing so, fight this battle — read more, become more knowledgeable, write, take on the arguments, start campaigns, whatever takes your fancy.
(This is the final section which would have concluded the talk.)
Would you like to end with a little light entertainment, a bit of fun? Although he takes the subject very seriously, the parapsychologist Lawrence LeShan plays the following game with his readers. He produces various quotes, and asks the reader to decide whether they come from a physicist or a mystic. The point is not necessarily getting the answer right, but noticing how difficult it is to tell the difference, how any of them might have come from either source, Ken Wilber and Quantum Questions notwithstanding. Here I have to make it easy for you by providing the answers.
“the value placed on permanence creates the world of apparent substance; in this sense, perhaps, the God within creates the God in nature”. (physicist Arthur Eddington)
“…the reason why our sentient, percipient, and thinking ego is met nowhere in our world picture can easily be indicated in seven words: because it is ITSELF that world picture. It is identical with the whole and therefore cannot be contained in it as part of it”. (physicist Erwin Schrödinger)
“the stuff of the world is mind stuff” (Arthur Eddington)
“we realise more and more that our understanding of nature cannot begin with some definite cognition… but that all cognition is, so to speak, suspended over an infinite abyss”. (Werner Heisenberg)
“Thus the material world… constitutes the whole world of appearance, but not the whole world of reality; we may think of it as forming only a cross section of the world of reality”. (Sir James Jeans)
“The objective world simply is, it does not happen. Only to the gaze of my consciousness, crawling upward along the life line of my body, does a section of this world come to life as a fleeting image in space which continuously changes in time”. (H. Weyl, physicist)
“We are deceived if we allow ourselves to believe that there is ever a pause in the flow of becoming, a resting place where positive existence is attained for even the briefest duration of time. It is only by shutting our eyes to the succession of events that we come to speak of things rather than processes”. (Ananda Coomaraswamy, Perennial Philosophist).
“… all phenomena and their development are simply manifestations of mind, all causes and effects, from great universes to the fine dust only seen in the sunlight, come into apparent existence only by means of the discriminating mind. Even open space is not nothingness”. (Suringama Sutra, mystic)
“Every attempt to solve the laws of causation, time and space would be futile because the very attempt would have to be made by taking for granted the existence of these three”. (Vivekananda, mystic)
“Matter expressed itself eventually as a formulation of some unknown Force… When the dividing ignorance is cured, that gives us the sense of a gulf between life and matter, it is difficult to suppose that mind, life and matter will be found to be anything else than one energy, triply formulated”. (Sri Aurobindo, mystic)
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).