QUANTUM THEORY: SPIRITUAL PANACEA OR RED HERRING
© Ian Lawton 2006
[Note that there is a new section in The Big Book of the Soul entitled 'Quantum Mysticism' that represents a further update of this paper; see chapter 8, pp. 231-5]
For many years I have endorsed the idea that modern science is at the forefront of introducing a new metaphysical worldview. And while I do not now reject this idea completely, recent investigation has led me to the conclusion that my own use of elements of both quantum and string theory to support a Rational Spiritual worldview requires significant amendment. Nor am I convinced that the recent exposure that quantum theory has had via films such as 'What the Bleep do we Know?', involving distinguished contributors such as Fred Alan Wolf and Amit Goswami, has helped to clear up certain areas of confusion - however much, in one sense, I am delighted by the effect they have had in galvanising a more spiritual worldview.
In order to explain some of these reservations, we need to recap a little. Basic quantum theory resolved the paradox that particles such as electrons seem to have the characteristics of both particles and waves. More specifically, it proposed that they are 'probability waves' that only become particle-like - that is, for example, take on a specific position - when they are observed. However there are a number of supposed implications of this that are not as concrete as I and others have tended to make out. We will examine each in turn.
Is the Physical World Only an Illusion?
The attractiveness of this proposition is two-fold. On the one hand it reinforces the idea that we can 'create our own reality', and on the other it appears to confirm ancient esoteric notions of maya. And, in some respects at least, it is true. For example, atoms and their nuclei are made up almost entirely of the vacuum that exists between the various particles. So objects that appear to be largely physical are in fact made up almost entirely of empty space. However, it is not accurate to claim that the particles themselves are 'only energy'. Of course, at one level everything is just energy, but we should not be sloppy about how we define this. Even under the most far-reaching interpretations of quantum theory, by the time we observe an object we are causing it to manifest only one particular set of quantum probabilities, and therefore it is made up of particles and not unmanifested probability waves.
Can we Create our own Reality?
We know that it may be possible to use various techniques to focus our minds to levitate or move objects – but it seems much less likely that we might in any real sense be able to create them from scratch, or make them disappear for good. We know that adepts might be able to smash piles of bricks, walk on hot coals, lie on a bed of nails and so on – but even they are unlikely to walk away unscathed from crashing a motorbike into a brick wall at speed. So if there are limitations, what causes them?
We should remember that when physicists perform quantum experiments they isolate individual photons or electrons, for example, or their more fundamental constituents, and observe how they behave. They do not observe complex systems of atoms and molecules. So to what extent does quantum behaviour affect the complex systems that make up our physical environment and reality, if at all? When paired electrons, for example, are established as 'nonlocally' connected, they are said to be 'entangled'. And most physicists seem to accept that, because of ever increasing layers of entanglement, quantum probabilities become far more deterministic the greater the scale of the environment in which they are playing out – or, more formally, the greater the complexity of the system. So, under normal circumstances, there would be a high quantum probability that the collection of molecules, atoms and particles that go to make up my body will remain in their current state of highly complex entanglement. But it seems that there would only be the minutest quantum possibility that they would be able to maintain this state when slammed into a brick wall at speed.
But even if quantum theory does itself place some limits on our ability to manipulate our physical environment completely at will, does it play a more constructive role in our more modest attempts to direct our lives? In ‘What the Bleep’ a young boy teaches the main character to aim a basketball directly into the basket from distance. And we should have no doubts that total focus and belief can exert a massive influence on our ability to achieve such things. But is quantum theory itself playing a part? Under the most common interpretations the wave functions of all the particles that make up the ball would have been collapsed at the moment it was first observed after its production – and if it was made from individual components, at the point when each was completed. Indeed, if it was manufactured from liquid plastic the wave function would have collapsed when that liquid was first observed – and if various component liquids and solids were used in the manufacture of that, when each of those was first observed – and so on and so forth. From each of these points on, quantum entanglement should surely have taken all other quantum probabilities out of the equation? If this analysis is broadly correct, a successful shot would not rely on the thrower/observer managing to manifest the one quantum probability path for the ball as a whole whose trajectory led to the basket, but from an energetic focussing of consciousness that would be operating at a completely different level.
To illustrate just how incomplete and open to debate quantum theory is, it appears that there remains huge disagreement over the essential issue of who or what constitutes an 'observer', in the sense that it is they who cause the quantum wave function to collapse. Wolf suggests they have to be conscious, although this term is not closely defined. But what about an experiment in which equipment records the occurrence of a particular quantum probability and the human observer only subsequently looks at the result? They would argue that the historical timeline is created only at the moment when the human observation takes place. But perhaps it is more intuitively reasonable to suggest that the quantum wave function is collapsed at the moment the measurement is taken, rather than when it is consulted - in which case the observer would be the equipment itself.
Holographic Universe or Holographic Soul?
I have always tended to go along with the idea put forward by the controversial but much admired physicist David Bohm, supported by Michael Talbot, that the universe is one huge, interconnected hologram. However I was sufficiently stupid that I failed to realise that the conclusion Bohm drew from this was that the entire universe we perceive is illusory, as is all perception of individuality. And anyone familiar with my work will realise that I believe there to be firm evidence to the contrary.
Nevertheless, I would argue that the sense in which it is useful to see the universe as a hologram is by using the new terminology I have recently coined of the 'holographic soul', which I define as meaning that we are both individual aspects of the Source, and full holographic representations of it, all at the same time. However this does not mean that all sense of soul individuality is in itself an illusion. Indeed, the principle of the hologram is that the part contains the whole, and yet is clearly distinguishable from it.
String Theory and Other Dimensions
I should also note that I have repeatedly quoted string theory as indicating that there are other nonphysical dimensions. But in fact string theory, which as yet is entirely unproven and remains only a mathematical construct, merely predicts that there must be other dimensions that are too small for us to perceive. This does not mean that they are nonphysical dimensions at all, and in truth I am surprised that no one has pulled me up on this elementary mistake before.
In conclusion, it seems that much of modern quantum and string theory has been somewhat inappropriately cited as support for a spiritual worldview, by myself as well as others. It is also clear this line tends to incorrectly place the emphasis on soul unity instead of a more balanced combination of holographic unity and individuality.
[Please note that if any readers better versed in quantum and string theory than myself would care to clarify or refute any of these points, I would be happy to hear from them.]
As a result of the above request I have had several responses that are worth noting:
"The world of our experience, the world you and I inhabit and in which we live out our lives, is not the world of quantum or string theory. We have no direct contact with that world at all, we only have what is mediated through our sensory apparatus and then reassembled cognitively into an inner world-experience. So you don't want to be looking at physics to explain mystic experience. You want to be looking at cognitive science, especially at neuro-psychology and the very new but blossoming research into 'mirror cells' and the 'self-arena' located in the pre-frontal lobes." Gary Murphy, Sep 06
"Mainstream academia has ignored the real work on Einstein's Unified Field Theory. So how can one properly address issues like quantum theory and string theory if most of the information being transmitted about it is based upon mistakes? For more details see my website at www.einsteinconspiracy.co.uk." Roger Anderton, Sep 06