Friday, October 22, 2010
During this morning’s hike at Radnor Lake, I recommended a 2004 film (What the Bleep Do We Know!?) to a friend who shall remain anonymous, based on his status as an intelligent spiritual seeker. The controversial film – a great conversation starter at the very least — discusses theorized connections between spirituality and quantum physics. I enthusiastically recommend that everyone learn more about quantum physics; it is among the most fantastical, unbelievable, fascinating areas of science, and it may eventually reveal itself to be intimately intertwined with spirituality, the Law of Attraction, and the like.
One would be hard pressed to come up with a branch of science that’s more amazing, or perhaps even flabbergasting, than quantum physics (also known as quantum mechanics). Deepak Chopra was heard to say, "Quantum physics is not only stranger than you think it is, it is stranger than you can think!"
The subject of quantum physics – that realm of physics dealing with the properties of the ultra-small (atomic, subatomic) – came up during a hike at Radnor Lake this morning with a friend, with whom I have enjoyed much deep conversation over the last few days.
Among the subjects often discussed with this anonymous Christian friend – and discussed yet again during our cool hike this morning — is a subset of spirituality often referred to as New Age, or sometimes New Spirituality. New Age or New Spirituality can be seen as an evolved mixture of Christian Mysticism, the mystical branch of Islam (Sufism), Eastern religions like Buddhism and Hinduism, and other metaphysical ingredients from ancient to modern. It is not an organized religion whatsoever; it’s actually more of a categorical term used to describe part of the “spiritual but not religious” population, a term which sometimes appears to be used more often by people outside of it than within it.
Actually, my comment above about "New Age" applying more to the “spiritual but not religious” is not accurate. There are ever-increasing numbers of religious folks — open-minded Christians, for example — who buttress their faith with New Age teachings. I think these numbers are rapidly growing: properly or adequately interpreted, it would seem that the greatest of spiritual and religious teachings are in harmony, despite the wildly differing terminology preferences. For example, large numbers of Christians are finding that the Bible is a great source, but not the only source, of vast, far-reaching spiritual wisdom; also, many religious people are discovering Wayne Dyer and other New Spirituality teachers.
I can’t help but wonder why the word new in New Age is used to describe what is largely comprised of ancient wisdom. This terminology seems to be blatantly misleading; after all, much of the substance which continues to be lumped into this New Age category is, in fact, rooted in age-old literature such as the Tao Te Ching. (The Tao Te Ching is an absolutely amazing spiritual writing by Lao Tzu from around the sixth century B.C.E. and is the subject of many books – notably, Wayne Dyer’s 2007 book Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao.)
So what does all this have to do with quantum physics? Possibly, everything! In the last couple of decades, speculation has greatly increased with regard to commonalities between quantum physics and spirituality; there are several books on the subject and many more works are doubtlessly on their way. In particular, I wanted to introduce my friend to a controversial 2004 film called What the Bleep Do We Know!? This flick, appropriately subtitled Down the Rabbit Hole, is an entertaining introduction to the possible links between quantum mechanics and consciousness. At the very least, this film will ably and superbly perform the role of conversation starter, regardless of any religious beliefs (or lack thereof) held by viewers.
What the Bleep Do We Know drew much praise – such as from “spiritual but not religious” folks – but it also received criticism aplenty from scientists and religious fundamentalists. (It’s very interesting that these two oft-opposed camps are grouped together for a change. It is equally interesting that a premise of this movie is that these two formidable powers — religion and science – are, in reality, two sides of the same coin.)
Naturally, though, any movie which attempts to interpret metaphysical subjects — especially when it goes a step further and attempts to marry its views to science — is likely to receive its fair share of criticism at a bare minimum, and will almost certainly be roundly criticized by mostly predictable sources.
The most common type of criticism was that What the Bleep Do We Know was seen by many skeptics and scientists alike as another attempt to pass off certain mystical views or theories as actual, confirmed science. For example, the movie implies repeatedly that the ‘Observer Effect’ of quantum physics shows that consciousness underlies — or maybe even powers — all of reality, and furthermore, that reality itself can be molded by us humans using techniques such as those suggested early on by Norman Vincent Peale in his breakthrough work The Power of Positive Thinking, and more recently by the Law of Attraction.
Surely any controversy resulting from the appearance in the movie of the channeled being known as “Ramtha” was expected from some camps, given the very nature and assorted opinion of channeling. Similarly, “proven” theories such as those of Masura Emoto involving water molecules are ripe for broad criticism.
I’m a skeptic by nature. In fact, a couple of weeks ago, one of my hiking buddies told me I have an intellect that demands proof prior to belief. While he is greatly exaggerating (I hope!), I must admit that I still look cockeyed at things like channeling and the postulations of Masura Emoto. However, I have surprised myself by gradually coming to accept a great deal of “New Spirituality” teachings as being in line with truth and reality, particularly tried and true ancient wisdom such as that contained within the Tao Te Ching and the like.
Despite my skepticism, much of this “New Spirituality” actually rings true to me and resonates with my heart to such a degree it cannot be ignored or set aside without serious consideration. I find many New Age assertions to no less believable than many common religious beliefs, particularly the type of beliefs held by literalist-type religious fundamentalists. However, as a virtual synchretist, I think whatever you believe is great if it works for you and does not impose on the freedoms of others.
Where science (in general) almost always makes some sort of sense, or at least does not typically violate logic or reason, quantum theory takes some amazingly counter-intuitive twists and turns! Quantum physics flies in the face of classical (or Newtonian) mechanics/physics. Einstein once said, “The more success the quantum mechanics has, the sillier it looks.”
"Quantum mechanics is certainly imposing. But an inner voice tells me that it is not yet the real thing. Quantum theory says a lot, but does not really bring us any closer to the secret of the Old One. I, at any rate, am convinced that He (God) does not throw dice." (Albert Einstein, On Quantum Physics, Letter to Max Born, December 12, 1926)
Here are a few examples of weirdnesses in quantum physics which seem to be counter-intuitive:
- Quantum physics deals with things that are so incredibly small and unusual that some of their properties apparently change due solely to the process of being observed.
- Particle-Wave Duality: Sometimes a given thing will behave more like a particle than a wave; yet, under other circumstances, the exact same thing behaves more like a wave than a particle.
- Uncertainty Principle: In quantum mechanics, certain pairs of physical properties (such as position and speed) cannot both be precisely known; the more a scientist knows about one property, the less precisely the other property can be measured. Furthermore, an electron cannot be viewed as having an exact location at any given time; rather, we are limited to computing the probability that the electron will be here or there.
According to the still-dominant “Copenhagen interpretation” of quantum theory (developed by Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, Wolfgang Pauli, and others) says two basic things:
- Reality is identical with the totality of observed phenomena (which means reality does not exist in the absence of observation).
- Quantum mechanics is a complete description of reality; no deeper understanding is possible.
Related Fun Facts
According to some, the Tao Te Ching and Buddhism arose independently of each other. I was amazed to learn this, given their similarity in concept and depth. (not independently verified)
The “New Age” moniker may have originated with English poet William Blake as early as 1809, but became popular in the mid-1970s with a magazine titled New Age Journal.
Description of New Age
Religious Tolerance on New Age
Wikipedia on New Age
What the Bleep Do We Know
Wikipedia on What the Bleep Do We Know
Skeptic.com on Ramtha
Experience Festival on What the Bleep Do We Know
AllExperts.com on Taoism and Buddhism
Wikipedia on Laozi (Lao-Tsu)
Wikipedia on the Tao Te Ching
Wikipedia on Spirituality
Wikipedia on Introduction to Quantum Mechanics
Esolibris.com on Spirituality and Quantum Physics
SpaceandMotion.com – Albert Einstein Quotes on Quantum Physics
Esolibris.com on Esoteric Theory
Amazon.com: Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life: Living-Wisdom, by Wayne Dyer
Wikipedia on poet William Blake
DeepakChopra.com – Home
Deepak Chopra – Wikipedia
Deepak Chopra, M.D. – The Chopra Center
Some of you have surely wondered, as have I, what the difference might be between quantum physics and quantum mechanics. According to my very brief research, there’s no substantial difference, really; these terms are used more or less interchangeably.