Science and Spirit

My posts that attempt to relate certain perspectives based in science and spirituality

What is the Nature of Reality?

Caveat: The following is based on my lay understanding of physics based philosophical literature that I’ve read. I am not a quantum physicist nor any other type of physicist for that matter.

          Some years ago French physicist Alain Aspect conducted a test of a proposition first formulated by John Bell in 1964 (Bell’s Theorem). Bell’s Theorem asserts that the nature of reality is local. What this means is that if you do something to x it cannot have any effect on y if the two are separated by enough distance so that even at the speed of light the effect on x could not transit the distance between x and y in the time it takes to measure y. Bell was reacting to the prediction of quantum physics that two particles (see note on particles at end) that have interacted with one another are from that point on entangled. What this means is that when something is done to one (x) it will instantly affect the other (y) and the distance between the two is of no consequence. This is what Albert Einstein once referred to as “spooky action at a distance.” In short, what quantum physics predicted was that at root reality is non-local. What non-local means is unbound by space-time. Thus, a confirmation of Bell’s Theorem would support locality and a refutation of it would support non-locality.

It was not until near the end of the twentieth century that it became technically possible to conduct a controlled experiment of the theorem. This experiment was done by Aspect and the results supported non-locality. This resolved a debate that had gone on for 23 years between Albert Einstein and Neils Bohr (both Nobel Laureates in physics) in Bohr’s favor. Unfortunately, neither lived to see the debate resolved. The finding has been replicated and extended by subsequent experiments by other physicists much to the chagrin of many in the physics community who are committed to a local view and choose to ignore the implications of the experiments.

Recently, a physicist (Menas Kafatos) and a Philosopher of Science (Robert Nadeau) wrote a book (The Conscious Universe) explaining the debate and exploring the implications of Aspect’s experimental findings. In their view, the implication is that given the 12-14 billion year age of the universe every particle comprising the universe has had more than enough time to have interacted with every other particle. In short, every particle comprising the entire universe is entangled with every other particle. They propose that entanglement, non-locality, order and the manifestation of the physical dimension out of a wave of probabilities through measurement or observation requires that consciousness be a fundamental aspect of the universe and is a primary, not an emergent property. Thus, if conscious intent, as many experiments suggest, is required for a particle to be manifest out of a range of probable outcomes present in the quantum field then consciousness is primary and matter an emergent property.

Their interpretation of universal entanglement is that the universe is an undivided whole. This has serious consequences for both the ontological (matter is primary) and epistemological (understanding the whole from the parts – reductionism) foundations in which science has been grounded since the time of Newton. They argue that in the case of the universe the whole cannot be known from studying the parts because an indivisible whole cannot be the sum of its parts. Further, they argue that this imposes an event horizon on human scientific knowledge. There is a point beyond which analytic study of apparent parts will yield no useful results. They do think that science can play a role in expanding human knowledge just that it has an inherent limitation beyond which it cannot pass. They also suggest that for science to make much further progress it must undertake a serious examination and revision of its paradigm (reductionist materialism).

The authors also explore at some length the role of Bohr’s Principle of Complementarity, which in physics, is the tenet that a complete knowledge of phenomena on the quantum scale requires a description of both wave and particle properties. However, Bohr himself thought the principle to be more generally applicable and discussed some of the potential macro applications in such fields as biology and psychology. Kafatos and Nadeau think that many of the phenomena in the physical world and human culture can be thought of as complementary pairs such as good and evil, logic and intuition, life and death, male and female, thinking and feeling and so on. Each pair comprises a whole that defies complete understanding when examined as separate phenomena. It is advocated that more holistic approaches to the study of such phenomena are needed.

One possibility explored is that the whole might be knowable through an intuitive process referred to as “knowing by being,” which is equated with reports by mystics through the ages. They suggest that it may be possible for an individuated aspect of universal consciousness to intuitively access the source and experience the whole (The One, The Absolute, The Unified Field, God, etc.). However, the knowledge of mystics is private and subjective whereas scientific knowledge is public and objective. Each has a legitimate claim on its particular knowledge and way of knowing and both are experiential as opposed to being mere beliefs. The authors also point out that given their mutually exclusive but complimentary natures neither is capable of validating the other. They discuss the Indian system of yoga known as Kashmir Shaivism as possibly having the most to say to people from western culture about knowing by being. For a discussion of what yoga has to offer western science read the free ebook by Donald DeGracia, PhD titled What is Science?.

Andrew Truscott, at the Australian National University (ANU), ran the most recent experimental test of John Wheeler’s “delayed choice” thought experiment first proposed in 1978 (click here for video). This experimental result again confirmed Wheeler’s prediction of the outcome. There is a concrete illustration of what is going on in this experiment offered by retired NASA physicist Tom Campbell, which you can see by clicking here.  If you want a more detailed explanation click here.

As I understand it, the traditional double slit experiment observes that when atoms are directed at a panel with two slits the atoms produce an interference pattern on a sheet of film behind the panel. Think about dropping several pebbles close together into a pool of still water. Each pebble produces a ripple pattern and because they are close together the ripples interfere with one another forming a more complex pattern. This is called an interference pattern. In the experiment, the only way that this pattern could be produced would be if the atoms went through both slits in a wave form rather than a particle form. If the atoms had been in a particle form they would have produced two separate and similar patterns on the film that indicate no interference took place. If you repeat the experiment with detectors setup to identify which atoms go through each of the slits as they pass through the respective slits, what you get is a particle format on the film behind the panel. The implication being that observing and knowing which atoms pass through each slit causes the wave form to collapse into a particle form. If you redo the experiment and take away the detectors, you once again get a pattern on the film indicating interference and thus the atoms must have gone through the slits as waves.

Wheeler’s thought experiment asked what would happen if you did not use a detector until after the atoms had passed through the slits and were about to hit the film. In short, the atoms had already passed through the slits and based on the prior experiments should be in a wave form. Thus, the decision to measure and determine the state of the atoms was delayed until after they had passed through the slits. Passing through the slits in a wave form is the only explanation for the interference pattern observed when the state of the atoms has not been assessed at the slit. If no measurement has been taken at the slits, the expected pattern is an interference pattern. However, if the measurement is taken just before the atoms hit the film, you get a particle pattern on the film, which implies that the atoms did not pass through the slits as waves but as particles. In short, the measurement just before the atoms hit the film appears to retroactively affect the atoms prior to their passing through the slits. Think of jumping off of a high dive into a swimming pool. Once you jump, you cannot reverse the action and return to the diving board but the experiment seems to imply that at the quantum level this is possible. The lead researcher, Truscott, in the ANU experiment said about the result, “It proves that measurement is everything. At the quantum level, reality does not exist if you are not looking at it.”

The results have also been described as retroactive causation. What this is intended to convey is that the effect of the delayed choice measurement actually went backward in time and changed the state of the atoms before they passed through the slits. However, given the earlier experiment discussed that confirmed reality at the quantum level to be non-local (not bound by space-time) it may be unnecessary to invoke “time travel” to explain the results. Campbell has argued that a better explanation of the obtained results is the one that Wheeler himself proposed. According to Campbell, Wheeler thought that an atom is actually neither a wave or a particle though potentially both. It is an information packet. Campbell suggests that measurement is tantamount to a query of the information packet, which provides a data stream defining one of the potential outcomes available in the information. In this scenario the critical variable is not where the query is made (at the slits or at the film) but that it was made. In short, the slits only appear to cause the outcome. The real cause is whether there is a query made or not. When you know does not matter so much as that you know. Wheeler thought reality was at root constructed from information. Campbell agrees and suggests that what we actually experience is a self-evolving, virtual reality (click here for a video explanation). Campbell is not the first to suggest this possibility. Three physicists published a paper in 2012 proposing that the universe appears to have characteristics similar to a computer simulation (click here for their paper abstract).

What we’ve seen in the above experiments are confirmations of two thought experiments that finally got put to an empirical test. One suggests that all of reality is a singular whole and the other that this whole could very well be nothing more nor less than a massive database used to virtually manifest what we think of as the universe. The underlying nature of reality is truly mysterious.

End Note: It has been said that physicists have retained from the 19th century the use of the label “particle” for particular phenomena even though they know better. Think of an atom, which is generally thought to be a critical building block of the physical world. Our generic atom consists of an electromagnetic field populated with various “particles” such as protons, neutrons and electrons. What are these “particles” in an atom? We lay people are inclined to think of them as very small bits of matter; however, they are actually “excited states” of the field. Think of the ocean with waves arising from the surface. The wave is still the same water that the ocean is comprised of just in a different state. One might even say an excited state compared to the underlying ocean.

It has been suggested that one think of an atom as a field one hundred yards across with a green pea in the center of the field (to represent the nucleus) and a BB at the outer edge of the field (to represent an electron). This leaves a lot of room or unexcited area. Someone calculated that if you took a human being and removed everything except the “particles” in each atom comprising that individual and then repeated the process with every person on the planet one could fit the human race inside the volume of a sugar cube. So, how is it that things composed of “matter” comprised of these atoms appear to be so dense? Why can’t you easily stick your hand through a wall? The answer seems to be something similar to opposing lines of force associated with the vibratory quality of the excited states within atoms. By way of analogy, think about attempting to push the opposite poles of two magnets together. Anyone who has attempted this has observed a considerable resistance for no apparent reason.

See also: Reality Appears to Arise from Mysterious Foundations

A Quantum Metaphor for Enlightenment

          Werner Heisenberg is famous for the Uncertainty Principle. This principle basically posits a limitation on localization of conjugate pairs of physical properties such as momentum and position or energy and time. Essentially, the principle says that you can’t have precise observation of both simultaneously. However, Niels Bohr saw additional implications of this formulation and extended it into what is now known as the Complementarity Principle. In Bohr’s more general version, he proposes that the limitation on localization applies also to alternate ways of perceiving and interpreting any given event. Bohr stipulated that the alternate ways of perceiving and interpreting an event were in fact complementary. More importantly, for the purposes of this piece, Bohr proposed that a full understanding of categorical dichotomies can only come about through establishing a superposition of the conjugate pair. A superposition for the purpose of this piece will be defined as a condition in which neither component of a complementary pair is localized.

Robert Jahn and Brenda Dunne in Margins of Reality extend the complementarity principle to include states of consciousness. These writers provide several examples of such complementary processes in human consciousness: analysis/synthesis, observation/participation, reasoning/intuition and doing/being. It appears that both the physical and mental worlds consist of many such dyadic pairs. The concept can also be extended to the biological dimension (male/female), to the emotional dimension (love/hate) and to the social dimension (rich/poor). Many other examples could no doubt be generated but these should be sufficient for illustration. The point is that it isn’t possible to have both of these dichotomous but complementary pairs manifest simultaneously within the same physical reality, consciousness or person, which no doubt lies behind our general disdain for any ambiguity that we perceive in a recognized and accepted dichotomy such as male/female. Thus, this is how the dualistic world that we inhabit is built.

Jahn and Dunne suggest that for the most part the best one can do with complementary processes within localized consciousness is learn to establish a balance between them. Take, for example, an activity such as art. One cannot access creative inspiration while focused on the details of the painting process. On the other hand, one cannot practice the details of the painting process while seeking an artistic intuition. If one focuses exclusively on intuition then one may have an artistic inspiration but not a work of art. On the other hand, if one focuses exclusively on the painting process one may create a painting but not a creative masterpiece. The switching from one mode to the other and back again involves the dichotomy between doing and being. As the quantum physicist Amit Goswami has suggested, one should learn to regularly shift between these alternatives or as he often says, “do, be, do, be, do.” However, this describes a balance achieved by alternating between modes, not a superposition.

To experience a superposition one must go further and resolve the differentiated nature of the complementary pairs. It is proposed then that experiencing a superposition is what occurs when one has the simultaneous experience of both local and non-local consciousness, that is, an enlightenment experience. In short, enlightenment is the resolution of the apparent dichotomy within consciousness. Thus, enlightenment might be defined as a direct experience of the superposition of all dualistic systems within material reality and thereby revealing their undifferentiated origins; i.e., the unity of All That Is.

See also: Reality Appears to Arise from Mysterious Foundations


Goswami’s Brain-Mind Model

          The outline of Goswami’s Brain-Mind model presented below doesn’t capture all of the nuances of the development that the model received in his book The Self-aware Universe. I have used a few terms, especially in the upper part of the Figure at the end, that he doesn’t use but that I think are comparable and to which he probably would not object. For example, he uses the term Unitive Consciousness and I used the term Unified Field of Consciousness (UFC). I have also used three terms that come from David Bohm’s model (Super Implicate Order, Implicate Order and Explicate Order). Bohm indicates that the explication of a collapsing wave of possibility by its unfolding from the Implicate Order (transcendent dimension) into the Explicate Order (material dimension) is what creates our perception of time. Since in Goswami’s model the transcendent non-local consciousness (NLC) is obscured from local consciousness (LC), I offer Bohm’s idea of how time is created as the basis for the temporal discontinuity that obscures the one from the other. Goswami does discuss a temporal discontinuity as being what obscures our unconscious programming from our conscious awareness so proposing a complimentary temporal discontinuity as the obscuring factor between NLC and LC seems reasonable and provides a certain symmetry.

I have also included in the upper portion of the figure the term Quantum Monad (QM), which is a term used by Goswami but not until a later book (The Physics of the Soul, as I recall) and is roughly equivalent to what is often thought of as a soul. A QM is a possibility from a more complex set of possibilities which he refers to as a Bliss Body and I have referred to as an Oversoul (OS). If you think of the UFC (NLC, if you prefer) as a fabric then an OS is like one thread contributing to that fabric. An OS is too complex for explication into a single physical body/brain in the material dimension so a portion of it is explicated, i.e., a QM. Thus, LC can be thought of as a node of NLC that has its roots in the transcendent dimension but is generally unaware of its connection to the OS from which it is being projected, which in turn is an integral part of the UFC or NLC. The veil obscuring NLC from LC appears to me to be the temporal discontinuity created by the explication process.

Briefly, as a QM and it’s physical host grow and develop it is presented with many situations and choices. These choices can be thought of as a wave of possibilities with varying probabilities of being chosen and thus collapsed into actuality. Some possibilities are more probable than others for a variety of reasons, including biological programming (e.g., an innate preference for a sweet taste) and socio/cultural influences operating from outside the individual nudging him or her toward particular choices (e.g., parental preferences). Choices have outcomes and if an outcome is rewarding the same choice becomes more probable in future situations in which the previous choice is present. On the other hand, if the outcome is punitive the choice becomes less probable. Eventually, a program based on classical memory and consisting of a type of situation, a choice and an outcome is created and becomes an automatic process that operates beneath conscious awareness. Thus, our life is shaped over time and eventually the vast majority of our thinking, feeling and behavior arise from automatic programs (APs) [see sub-section in Part I) that keep us largely on autopilot (some suggest as much as 99.99% of our activity is on autopilot). The choice made by an AP is what we sometimes refer to as the “path of least resistance.” Conscious awareness is engaged with dealing with those situations that arise for which we don’t have automatic programs with which to engage the situation. Conscious awareness also observes the thoughts, feelings and behaviors arising from the unconscious APs. There is a demonstrated brief time lag between the choice made by an AP and awareness of it and its execution.

One effect of this temporal discontinuity is that conscious awareness begins to generate an explanation for why certain thoughts, feelings and/or behaviors are occurring. What evolves is a “fictive self” or agent that is responsible for these occurrences and constructs an explanation for them or one’s personal narrative. This agent is also referred to as self, ego and I. Thus, if one defines “free will” as the ability to make lower probability choices than the automatic and high probability choice that we would make on autopilot, then the most basic exercise of “free will” is the ability to say “no” to an AP choice arising from the unconscious. One obstacle to doing this other than the effort required is that often the time lag between decision and awareness is so long that what amounts to a reflex response occurs coincident with awareness.

Goswami suggests that one effect of meditation practice is that this time lag diminishes and the temporal discontinuity obscuring one’s AP from conscious awareness is weakened. The other effect at this level is that sitting quietly and allowing thoughts and feelings to arise into awareness and pass through provides practice in not reflexively acting on such thoughts and feelings. Goswami likens a thought to a quantum object. One can focus on and follow a thought and observe its path or one can focus on its content and explore the richness of its content but one can’t do both at the same time. Thus, a thought can be compared to either a wave form or a particle form. In meditation, one attempts to develop skill at avoiding following or exploring the thoughts and feelings that arise into consciousness. Thus, systematic application of meditation to develop local consciousness helps one acquire the tools needed to be less of a victim of AP and more deliberate or mindful about one’s choices.

Meditation can also help one bridge the temporal discontinuity obscuring LC from NLC. By learning to deliberately minimize one’s attention to stimuli generated by both AP and the external situations that activate them, it becomes possible to more easily access NLC. One effect of this is to open the doors to a more creative life since NLC contains infinite possibilities although with limits on the degree LC can engage them. Goswami suggests that Jung’s collective unconscious is an aspect of NLC and that the archetypes (defined as quantum objects) that are available therein constrain the infinite possibilities to a set available for exploitation by humanity. These constraints on possibility along with constraints on choices shaped by biology, language and culture are what create the consensus reality that permit a sense of shared experience. Personally, I view consensus reality at its broadest as a “fictive self” for the species and somewhat more narrowly as a “fictive self” for any given society. Finally, weakening the temporal discontinuity between LC and NLC also opens up the possibility of direct experience of the UFC, which many mystics have described as experiencing the unity of all things or merging with the mind of God.

David Bohm’s Reformulation of Quantum Physics

David Bohm was an eminent quantum physicist. Early in his career he worked with Albert Einstein at Princeton University. With Yakir Aharonov he discovered the Aharonov-Bohm effect. He was professor of theoretical physics at Birkbeck College, University of London and author of several books on quantum physics. He died in 1992. The David Bohm Society.

I.            Holomovement:

The holomovement is a quantum field (QF) outside of space-time in which everything exists simultaneously as a unified whole creating a seamless, multidimensional field that is imbued with consciousness, intelligence and meaning. The QF is a vast sea of light energy in a state of constant flux and is the ground for all that is. The fundamental reality thus created is a unity that is causal but nonlocal. This means that events arising from the holomovement are determined but are independent of space and time (see two Figures, at end).

A.            Super Implicate Order:

Creativity has its roots in the super implicate order, which is governed by the super quantum potential where possibilities are infinite. The super quantum potential is the source of the processes, laws or principles that give rise to the forms that are taken on by quantum potential (Q), which gives rise to implicate orders. Creativity is expressed through the QF as it generates implicate orders in a manner that could be compared to the way in which a fractal algorithm generates ordered forms in a seemingly random process.

B.             Generative Order:

The QF is permeated by and is in correspondence with Q from which both waves and particles arise. Q acts on the entire QF and relates every particle to every other particle. Q does not carry energy but rather information. The effect that Q has on a particle is determined by Q’s form and the information carried by Q determines its form. Form is the structure, pattern, shape or organization conferred on a particle by Q. It is distinct from the particle itself and is analogous to the way the rules of syntax are independent of a sequence of words forming a sentence but guide its formation. Thus, Q can be thought of as the formative cause that guides the activity of a particle.

Order is dynamic and controlled by the information available in a specific context. What appears random in one context will be seen to be part of an ordered pattern in a broader context where more information is available. For example, evolutionary theory attempts to create an orderly description from apparently random events. Bohm’s model, however, suggests that what appear to be random events are actually embedded in a higher order that provides a broader context in which the random events become part of an orderly pattern. Order exists along a spectrum of orders that represents an open and potentially infinite system. For example, when a mystic perceives the reality of an implicate order, the mystic’s context has been enlarged or broadened. However, the level of detail or content available will be less than that perceived by a physicist from the context existing in the corresponding explicate order.

  C.            Implicate Orders:

               1.            Formative Order:

             Bohm’s second implicate order. The subtle level of formative, organizing and creative activity. The “blueprint” for the material order.

               2.            Material Order:

             Bohm’s first implicate order (first in the sense of being the first level above the explicate  order). At this level particles (the basic building block for matter) undergo rapid creation  and annihilation causing matter to appear to be blinking on an off. Particles are created by  the convergence of waves in the QF causing an interference pattern or ripple referred to  as a wave packet. The process described as “blinking” is also referred to as enfolding and  unfolding and as projection and injection. A particle is explicated, unfolded or projected  into the explicate order and then implicated, enfolded or injected back into the implicate  order. One complete cycle is called a moment. The more rapid this process the greater the  appearance of seamless continuity as perceived from the explicate order. It is the unfolding of the implicate order to produce the explicate order that creates the perception of time. The more separation between unfolding and enfolding the less apparent is continuity and the more events appear to be random. For example, when an electron  appears to “jump” unpredictably from one position to another, the amount of separation in the electron’s moment causes it to display what appears to be random, discontinuous activity. One way that this can be thought of is as a series of photos. When presented  slowly, one merely has a set of individual pictures, which may appear random. When presented rapidly, one has a movie.

  D.            Explicate Order or Three Dimensional Reality:

Three dimensional reality is a derivative of multidimensional reality. The appearance of direct causal connections in the explicate order are actually representations of relationships in the implicate order. Bohm’s model indicates that space-time was enfolded into the implicate order and was explicated in a pulse of light energy (comprised of all waves that move at the velocity of light). This pulse is now described as the big bang, which brought our expanding universe into existence. In some ways, matter can be thought of as condensed or “frozen” light. Since the QF is infinite and eternal, there is no reason to doubt that there are other universes created in the same manner.

Physical (soma) and mental (significance) are reciprocals of one another and there is a two-way flow of energy and information between them. Each significance has a corresponding soma structure. The relationship between soma and significance is meaning. Meaning is roughly equivalent to consciousness and spreads out over a spectrum. Consciousness thus is implicit in all matter in 3D reality but consciousness is not equivalent to self-awareness. The deeper meaning is enfolded into the implicate order the more subtle it is. The perception of shades of subtle meaning requires insight and cannot be attained through analysis alone. A change in meaning changes soma and a change in soma changes meaning. Content is meaning extracted from a given context.

Formative cause is similar to meaning and gives form to the activities of an entity as well as goals toward which the entity is moving. In a sentient being consciousness is its formative cause and thus a sentient being has the ability to self-direct its activities and the goals toward which it is moving; i.e., the being can exercise free will.

The manifest world provides a display. The 3D world then is like a computer monitor that allows the display of relationships between objects and events that are free to vary and create new relationships within limits imposed by the underlying software. Having a display allows consciousness or intelligence to become active. Recall that the pulse between the implicate and explicate order is two-way. The explicate order enfolds or injects information back into the implicate order. The implicate order then assimilates this information and incorporates it into what is unfolded or projected into the explicate order. The holomovement appears to be experimenting and thereby learning or evolving. A process that implies purpose for the 3D universe.

The above is my less than complete understanding of the presentation of Bohm’s reformulation (or interpretation, if you prefer) of quantum physics taken from the section on Bohm in: Friedman, Norman (1990). Bridging Science and Spirit: Common Elements in David Bohm’s Physics, The Perennial Philosophy and Seth.

Here is an expert opinion on Bohm’s reformulation quoted in the above book. John Bell, of Bell’s Theorem fame, upon reading Bohm’s reformulation said, “…one could see immediately that what he was saying was right.”