By Dr. Amit Goswami, Theoretical Quantum Physicist
Amit Goswami came to the Bodhi Tree Bookstore in 2001 to talk about his book The Visonary Window. During his visit, the quantum physicist turned consciousness scientist spoke with urgency and passion about the discoveries of quantum physics.
For centuries, religion and science have offered conflicting views of how our universe and life came into being. Did God create everything, or is it all merely the result of the physical or material principals described and measured by science? As Goswami told us, a whole new picture emerges when we gaze in wonderment through the “visionary window” of quantum physics. We find that the discoveries of science closely resemble what the mystics have been saying for centuries, namely that consciousness — rather than matter – gives rise to our universe. As a result, instead of reducing our world to mechanistic formulas, science itself points the way to new dimensions of meaning and fulfillment.
Waves of Possibility
NOTE: Quantum Physics describes objects as not being determined objects. Quantum Physics says that objects are waves of possibilities. What that means is that an object has wave-like characteristics; an object spreads. For example, if you release an electron in space, the electron will not stay put in that place. Instead, the electron will have developed possibilities of being in other places, all over the room then, if you give it more time, all over the town then all over the earth and so on. So this idea of spreading is like a wave phenomenon, the electron is a wave. Then something very strange takes place, when you try to detect the electron, the electron doesn’t show up everywhere.
In one particular experiment the electron shows up in only one particular place but it’s not a particle either because, if you do another experiment, the electron does not show up where it showed up before. A Newtonian particle would have to show up in the same place again because it’s determined, but a quantum object doesn’t have to show up in that same place; it shows up in a different place. In fact, if you wait long enough and do this experiment repeatedly: put the identical object in the same place and wait to see where it shows up, eventually it will get a Bell Curve particle distribution. So that gives us the idea that behind this particle distribution, there must be a wave of possibility, not an actual wave. So the electron wave or any object (54:17 9:46) a quantum wave-like object that is residing transcendent potential, a world that is beyond this space/time three dimensional reality that you talk about. We have to postulate it in order to make sense of quantum physics.
What follows is an edited version of Dr. Amit Goswami’s Bodhi Tree Bookstore presentation.
Amit Goswami: Think of a window. It allows us to see whatever is outside. Quantum physics, which, to me, is a visionary window, produces a much more puzzling view. As a result, you may well look at everything in a new and amazing way. Let me tell you about what happened to me.
Back in the ’70s I was an unhappy physicist applying my knowledge of physics to nuclear power. I was making a living at least – I had a research grant, and sometimes, I was invited to speak at conferences. But then . . . the turning point came.
I was speaking at a conference at Asilomar, not enjoying my own talk very much. In fact, I felt jealous because the other physicists were receiving more attention – not surprisingly, since their talks were a lot better than mine. Anyway, that evening, there was a big party, with lots of drinking and lots of stimulating conversation, but by 1 A.M. I realized that all I had to show for it all was a bad case of heartburn. I decided to step outside for some fresh air. As I drew in the cool breeze off the ocean, a thought came up from my deepest core, and hit me in the most unexpected way: “Why do I live this way? I don’t want to do it any more!” Of course, changes don’t come all that easily. First, I had to find a decent way of doing physics – one, at least, that didn’t cause heartburn! Eventually, I came across quantum physics, and my life changed.
Within quantum physics, there are many surprising things. (The word quantum refers to a discrete quantity, which cannot be described by a fraction. A quantum of light, for instance, is called a photon.) Actually, many physicists avoid worrying about these anomalies, since they lead researchers into what we call the philosophy of quantum physics. And, for physicists, philosophy is said to be like the gutter – once you fall in, you just go deeper and deeper and never come out. In other words, your career is finished. Indeed, my career as a physicist changed drastically, and now I’m a consciousness scientist, whatever that means.
Let me tell you about some of the strangeness to be found in quantum physics.
When we consider the movement of an object, we think of it as being continuous and calculable – we can describe it in mathematical and logical terms. For this reason, some of you might dislike physicists, thinking that we have destroyed the mystery of the world by showing that movement is measurable and determined. But in actuality, that is hardly the case. Quantum physics tells us that there are actually two kinds of movement. One kind – the one that is taught in high school – you can determine, calculate, and predict, such as the movement of electrons orbiting around an atomic nucleus. What they do not teach you in high school, is that when electrons jump from one orbit to another, the movement becomes discontinuous. Why? Because the electrons never go through the intervening space; they just disappear in one place and reappear in another! That discontinuous movement is known as a quantum leap.
Don’t laugh when you hear someone say, “I made a quantum leap today.” It means something serious: I was creative. I took a leap in thought, even though I don’t know where the new thought came from. It happens in work, art, in play – quite often, it happens in a relationship, say when we struggle to love our “loved ones.” This is a big problem: most of the time, we don’t know how to love. But then, all of a sudden, we do know – even if it doesn’t last for long, since it hasn’t yet become stable. Is this a quantum leap? I hope to convince you that it is, and further, that we can stabilize – and sustain — this love in our hearts.
Let me give you another example of the experimental discoveries of quantum physics, which for non-physicists might seem downright spooky. In 1982, a certain physicist did an experiment in which atoms decay, giving off two photons – the quanta of light that I mentioned earlier. The experiment proved that the activity of these photons was correlated, or entangled in their phases, like two dancers anticipating one another’s moves in some mysterious way, even while more conservative physicists questioned the results.
Now to explain the findings of these experiments, you might say that two objects had become one. At least, there is something special between them. But a more subtle explanation emerges when you analyze quantum mathematics, which points to another explanation: waves of possibility. It is very interesting and emancipating to think this way, since we find that physicists can calculate possibilities or probabilities, but not actual events. Something else is responsible for converting possibilities into actual events.
This idea gave scientists some real headaches, because the idea emerged that this “something else” might be the consciousness of the observer. Now, neurophysiologists give us models of consciousness that, in my opinion, are rather poor. Elementary particles make atoms, atoms make molecules, molecules make neurons, neurons make up the brain, and the brain gives rise to consciousness. But this model, in which the brain creates consciousness, poses a legitimate paradox. The brain itself is a possibility. Why? Because the brain is made up of elementary particles, which we can only understand as possibility, or possible movements. Therefore, since atoms are possible movements, molecules are possible movements, and neurons are possible movements, it follows that the brain itself is a possible movement. Right? But that means that consciousness, if it is created by the brain, is also a possibility.
“What if consciousness is the ground of being? What if the possibilities discovered by quantum physics are the possibilities of consciousness itself? Remember there is already a class of people who think in this way. They are called mystics, and they say it is all God. Finally, a few scientists dared to say that some of the characteristics attributed to God are similar to what we describe as consciousness.” — Amit Goswami
So, if you couple possibility with possibility, can that give you actuality? No. The idea that consciousness is a phenomenon of the brain that converts waves of possibility into actual events is nonsense. It is paradoxical.
Some scientists have tried another approach. They’ve decided to think of consciousness as being separate from the material – as a completely non- material consciousness. But that creates another question: how can there be interaction between two phenomena that have nothing in common? If consciousness and matter are not made of the same basic substance, how can there be communication between them? In this dualistic view, consciousness should not be able to affect matter in any way. This is where the discussions of quantum physics stalled for many years.
Then a third possibility arose. What if consciousness is the ground of being? What if the possibilities discovered by quantum physics are the possibilities of consciousness itself? Remember there is already a class of people who think in this way. They are called mystics, and they say it is all God. Finally, a few scientists dared to say that some of the characteristics attributed to God are similar to what we describe as consciousness.
And why can we say that it is all consciousness? Consider matter existing as waves of possibility within consciousness, and consciousness choosing one possibility that then becomes the actual event that consciousness experiences. Then there is no longer any dualism.
Could it be that the mystery of quantum physics, and the mystery of mysticism are in fact the same? Certainly, we can bring science and spirituality together if we make the simple assumption that consciousness — rather than elementary particles — is the ground of being. Not only does this hypothesis integrate science and spirituality, but it also integrates eastern and western models of healing, creationism and evolutionism in biology, and transpersonal and behavioral approaches to psychology.
Is Consciousness The Ground of Being?
Can we do cosmology in a way that makes our place in the universe clear? Consider the findings of biology, since biologists are generally better at cosmology better than physicists, who are inclined to be highly theoretical. Instead of talking about stardust and the Big Bang, biologists talk about monkeys and things so much closer to human experience. Still, the problem is that neo-Darwinism tells us that — based on variations in genetic material, and natural selection or survival of the fittest – our connection with earlier life forms is an accident. To me, that’s not very satisfying, since it means that we are simply a product of chance and necessity. In this model, there is no purpose in our evolution, and therefore, in our being. Why do we evolve from childhood to adulthood? Or, in short, what are we doing here? The biologists have no answer, and even a Nobel laureate like Stephen Weinberg writes that the more he studies the universe, the more pointless it seems. Yet, the very real possibility exists that consciousness is the ground of being. Wouldn’t that point to a purpose and meaning to our existence?
Personally, I am passionate about this merging of science and spirituality. Humanity has had many forms of spirituality, and many humanistic enterprises, but to me, these phenomena have been like those of love I mentioned earlier. They occurred for a moment in time, but have not really endured. As human beings, we know spirituality, and the creativity that produces great art, but have these things changed us at the most basic level? No. We remain violent, angry, and fearful and, perhaps, increasingly so. There is something important that we are not understanding. Yet, I propose that if we understand that the ground of our being is actually consciousness, this new way of looking at ourselves will bring us more purpose and meaning. Especially – and this was the big issue for me – because it is actually scientific and can be verified in the laboratory. As a result, I believe that this quantum spirituality is the breakthrough phenomenon of our age.
Actually, quantum physics, however fantastic, is not the whole story. If we look at other research fields, we are able to expand our cosmology even more. Have you heard of Rupert Sheldrake’s book, A New Science of Life, which he published during the 80’s? It was so heretical to some biologists that they wrote a letter to the journal Nature, threatening to burn it. Why? Because, just as we have discovered consciousness as the non-physical ground of being in quantum physics, Sheldrake proposed the existence of non-physical entities, called morphogenetic fields in biology. He said that embryos become whole living organisms because of a program – but so far as we know genes don’t have these programs. They are just instructions for making proteins and nothing more. Sheldrake, however, suggested that non-local morphogenetic fields, provide the programs that tell an embryo how to become differentiated into an entire body, with toe cells that function much differently than brain cells.
This leads us to the ancient eastern concept of charkas. There are seven of them, and we know them by the places in our body where we feel. When energy is in the heart, we feel love, or when energy is in the lower chakras, we may feel fearful, or unsettled. So let’s put two and two together. Sheldrake is saying that morphogenetic fields have particular programs for maintaining the body, or creating certain feelings. In terms of the chakras, each feeling is connected with a particular set of organs as well. Fear, for instance, is associated with the stomach, or digestive organs. Do you see the connection? Organs are representations of vital body (chakra) energies, or morphogenetic fields.
Then how do we feel love, and stabilize it, so it doesn’t vanish in a few moments if we become jealous, or afraid? How do we move past the ego, which contracts our being, rather than expanding it? The solution is to learn the lesson of quantum non-locality, which means spreading our identity beyond this physical body to what I call the quantum self. It is a leap into the supramental, which is not conditioned and logical, like the mental. It is the realm of mystery, synchronicity, creativity, and most importantly, love. We can love unconditionally, so that love energy doesn’t leave the heart whenever external conditions change.
The quantum self is who we are, at a deeper level. Maybe we can realize that science has joined in this great search for the soul, and really start living from that soulfulness, the supramental.
The Visionary Window: A Quantum Physicist’s Guide to Enlightenment
By Amit Goswami, Ph.D., with a foreword by Deepak Chopra, M.D.
To purchase this book Click Here and then scroll down the page.
During the last few centuries, science hasn’t left much room for religion or spirituality, or even for God. According to much of western science, we live in a material world that is governed by physical laws and we, ourselves, are merely the result of the principles of evolution and natural selection. Even consciousness is thought to be the product of physical processes in the brain. Nowadays, however, modern physicists have pulled the rug out from under our understanding of the world – they have discovered, for example, that at subatomic levels, we can no longer locate or identify anything called “matter.” Instead, they suggest, there are only “waves of possibility,” which require some other factor before a “measurable scientific event” emerges. That other factor is consciousness.
In The Visionary Window Goswami shows how quantum mechanics undermines the conclusions of material realism. He also traces how western scientists and philosophers came to believe in a world divided between the sacred and the secular, or matter and mind, and explores the debate between creationism and evolution. Finally, he shows that a complete reconciliation between science and religion is actually possible, since both are seeking the fundamental truths of the universe. In fact, he suggests that the new science may also provide a new foundation for ethical thought and behavior. – JC
We hope that you’ve enjoyed the making of the Bodhi Tree Bookstore Lectures.
Consciousness and Quantum Physics
There was a revolution in physics at the beginning of the last century, consisting of the discovery of quantum physics. The message of quantum physics is this: the world is not made of matter neither is it determined entirely by material causation that we sometimes call upward causation because it rises upward from the building blocks of matter–the elementary particles . There is a source of downward causation in the world. You can call this source consciousness if you like and think of it as the ground of all being.
To be sure, the mathematics of quantum physics is deterministic and based on the upward causation model above, but it predicts objects and their movements not as determined events (as in Newtonian physics) but as possibilities (for which the probabilities can be calculated enabling us to develop a very successful predictive science for large number of objects and/or events). And yet when we look at a quantum object, we don’t experience it as a bundle of possibilities, but as actual localized event much like a Newtonian particle. Moreover, quantum mathematics does not allow us to connect the upward causation-based deterministic theory with experimental data. How do the possibilities of the theory become actualities of experience simply by our looking at them? This is the mysterious “observer effect.”
In quantum language, the materialists’ upward causation model translates like this. Possible movements of elementary particle make up possible movements of atoms, make up possible movements of molecules, make up possible movements of cells, make up possible brain states, make up consciousness. Consciousness itself then is a conglomerate of possibilities, called a wave of possibility. How can a wave of possibility collapse another wave of possibility by looking or interacting with it? If you couple possibility with possibility, all you get is a bigger possibility, not actuality.
Suppose you imagine possible influx of money in your bank account. Couple that with all the possible cars that you can imagine. Will this exercise ever actualize a car in your garage?
Face it. For the materialist epiphenomenal model of consciousness, how our looking can change possibility into actuality is a logical paradox.
It stays a paradox until you recognize first, that quantum possibilities are possibilities of consciousness itself which is the ground of all being. And second, that our looking is tantamount to choosing from among the quantum possibilities the one unique facet that becomes our experienced actuality.
We Create Our Own Reality, But . . .
It was in the nineteen seventies that the physicist Fred Alan Wolf created the evocative phrase “we create our own reality.” The images the phrase evoked led, however, to many disappointments. Some people tried to manifest personal automobiles, others vegetable gardens in desert environments, and still others at least a parking space for their cars in busy downtown areas. Everybody was inspired by the theory of quantum creation, no doubt, but the results of their efforts were a mixed bag because they were unaware some subtleties.
We create our own reality, but there is a subtlety in consciousness. We do not create reality in our ordinary state of consciousness, but in a non-ordinary state of consciousness. This becomes clear when you ponder the paradox of Wigner’s friend. Eugene Wigner was the Nobel laureate physicist who first thought of the paradox.
Imagine that Wigner is approaching a quantum traffic light with two possibilities, red and green; at the same time his friend is approaching the same light from the perpendicular road. Being busy Americans, they both choose green. Unfortunately, their choices are contradictory; if both choices materialize at the same time, there would be pandemonium. Obviously, only one of their choices counts, but whose?
After many decades, three physicists at different places and times (Ludwig Bass in Australia, myself at Oregon, and Casey Blood at Rutgers, New Jersey), independently discovered the solution of the paradox: consciousness is one, nonlocal and cosmic, behind the two people’s local individuality. They both choose but from this nonordinary state of one consciousness (which I call the quantum self) where there is no local individuality or selfishness so contradiction can be avoided. This allows the common sense result that in many such crossings, Wigner and his friend each would get green fifty percent of the time; yet for any individual crossing, a creative opportunity for getting green is left open for each.
A key point is that quantum downward causation of choice is discontinuously exerted (if it were continuous, a mathematical model could be constructed for it and the choice would be predictable and not free), but our ordinary state of consciousness smoothes out the discontinuity. To be aware that we choose is to wake up to the non-ordinary oneness taking a discontinuous leap, call it a quantum leap. In this way, the dictum of the new physics: I choose, therefore I am (my cosmic quantum self).
New Paradigm of Reallity
So the new paradigm of reality based on the rediscovery of consciousness within science is not only giving us back our free will, but also is identifying the source of that free will as the spirit within us, the oneness that spiritual and healing traditions have always propounded. The new paradigm is showing us great promise for integrating science and spirit. It is also promising a breakthrough integral approach to medicine that integrates conventional and alternative medicine. Read my book, The Quantum Doctor, for the latest development on this.