We promised at the outset to explain the nature of reality by going to its very heart. To all appearances reality is dual. The objective world exists “out there” to be measured, but its existence is known only through subjective experience, which is “in here.” Both worlds need each other, and to be trapped in only one is unsatisfactory. The world turns into a dream only if you are conscious of your inner feelings, moods, sensations, and images. Yet if you rely only upon the physical world, you may wind up with meaningless data that don’t provide any link to what is truly important in everyday life. This point is easy enough to see, but joining the two worlds into wholeness isn’t easy.
Indeed, the task is so difficult that science proceeds as if it can exclude the mysterious, unreliable world “in here,” preferring measures of reality that can be reduced to quantifiable numbers. As a result, all of us have become used to balancing two versions of reality, and we do it almost without thinking. A summer day can be 90 degrees Fahrenheit, which is a fact, or it can be warm, which is a sensation. The two are not synonymous. “Warm” is a purely subjective statement, and it has no correlation to the thermometer. (After a subzero winter in Antarctica, 32 degrees F. feels warm, whereas compared to the inside of a volcano, 90 degrees F. is cool.)
Is there a way to join these two halves of reality? Most people aren’t concerned with such a question, but we posit that wholeness – seeing reality exactly for what it is – would set the human mind, and human life itself, free. The cosmos is a cold prison measured as meaningless data extracted from random events. To be human is to crave meaning, and yet intellectual honesty compels us not to accept easy answers. It is too easy, for example, to say that God created the universe, and since God loves us, the universe is our loving home. Such answers once sufficed, but four hundred years of scientific theories and data to back them up have swamped us. Overwhelmed by facts about the world “out there,” it is a struggle to give the world “in here” the validity it deserves.
Our trek to wholeness, as outlined in the first two posts, involves the quantum principle of complementarity, whose purpose is to make some of Nature’s seeming paradoxes compatible. (Please refer to the previous posts to see how this repair job on duality works.) Essentially, complementarity holds that opposites need each other – they cannot be complete in themselves without the other “half”. The classic example is the opposition of particle and wave, which look and act totally different but which are the inescapable reality of quanta. Complementarity is critical because it asserts that there is only one reality, and no matter how much it shifts its shape as we look from different perspectives, all the angles from which reality can be seen must ultimately fit together. This is comparable to all the tourist photos taken of the Grand Canyon. No matter how many there are, what time of day or night when they were taken, and irrespective of the million aspects of the canyon that were chosen, the whole collection of photos can’t depict different Grand Canyons – there is only one in the first place.
Unfortunately, things aren’t this simple when we substitute “reality” for “Grand Canyon,” because from the perspective of “in here” there is no proof that the external world exists independently of conscious awareness. At the same time, using only scientific data gathered “out there,” there is no proof of the subjective world, either. An MRI scan can show the brain centers for pain lighting up, yet if you ask someone “How much does your arthritis hurt today?” only their subjective report is valid. Even consciousness itself is only inferred by watching the brain light up. A brain scan is actually a very complicated version of those cartoons where a light bulb goes off when somebody, usually an egghead professor, has a bright idea. The light bulb can’t tell you what the bright idea actually is, and neither can an MRI.
Thus in order to see reality as a whole, we have to ask something incredibly basic: Why did creation split into subject and object in the first place? They are so wildly incompatible that this split has dogged and troubled humankind for centuries. Couldn’t God or the multiverse or random chance have come up with something much simpler, a reality that holds together properly? It doesn’t seem all that much to ask.
The two worlds “in here” and “out there” are either split for a reason or it just happened that way. If it just happened that way, fine. Science will go on, and so will subjective experience, and the two will uneasily meet somewhere in the brain. But if “in here” and “out there” are split for a reason, that’s a new story. There have been many versions of the story so far. In many cultures, there was once a Golden Age that was innocent, pure, and untroubled (in other words, whole) while now we live in a fallen age, and our separation from God or the gods has resulted in a fragmented world. Good is forced to come to terms with its opposite, evil, and therefore a reality of light and darkness envelops us. Needless, to say, such a story has not been satisfactory in a rational, scientific age. It persists as myth and religion, which billions of people still prefer to science.
We come closer to a rational story via complementarity, because when complementarity holds that opposites have a hidden unity at the limit of observation (revealed through mathematics), a complete view of quantum physics is satisfied. An opposite pair light wave and particle arise from the same source, and even if this source is beyond the five senses, lying in some invisible virtual domain, quantum mechanics can link the opposites and thus make every measurement turn out right. By extension, can we say the same about “in here” and “out there”? Do they spring from a common source?
Our answer is yes, and we point to the only source that could unite them, which is consciousness. The universal model for any experience needs three parts, commonly called the observer, the observed, and the process of observation. “Newton saw an apple” fits this model, as does “the collapse of the wave function produces a particle.” In the first case, the observer is named – Newton. In the second, the observer is implied. A great many physicists would balk, however, claiming that the collapse of the wave function doesn’t need an observer. It can happen even with automated experiments that carry out observations of the quantum system. It’s an objective event that occurs trillions of times throughout the cosmos, like countless other events (colliding hydrogen atoms, exploding stars, protons getting sucked into black holes) that came along before observers ever existed.
But this argument, which seems so commonsensical, is fallacious. The principle of complementarity tells us that “in here” and “out there” aren’t just compatible; they are necessary to each other, intertwined aspects of the whole. You can’t have one without the other. Grasping this fact is hard. Classical Western science, from the ancient Greeks through Newton and beyond, was based on atoms, molecules, and other physical “stuff” that exists on its own. But just as there cannot be particles without waves; “out there” needs consciousness, “in here.” This is a participatory universe, and leaving the participant out cannot be valid. In a fundamental sense, the universe is human, because we aren’t just isolated observers like kids pressing their noses to the window of a bakery shop. The three-part model needs all three parts: observer, observed, and process of observation.
Stay tuned for Part 4!
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Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 70 books with twenty-one New York Times bestsellers, including co-author with Sanjiv Chopra, MD of Brotherhood: Dharma, Destiny, and The American Dream, and co-author with Rudolph Tanzi of Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being (Harmony). Chopra serves as Founder of The Chopra Foundation and host of Sages and Scientists Symposium – August 16-18, 2013 at La Costa Resort and Spa.
P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, FRCP, Professor of Psychiatry, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina and a leading physician scientist in the area of mental health, cognitive neuroscience and mind-body medicine.
Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard University, and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), co-author with Deepak Chopra of Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being. (Harmony)
Neil Theise, MD, Professor, Pathology and Medicine, (Division of Digestive Diseases) and Director of the Liver and Stem Cell Research Laboratory,Beth Israel Medical Center — Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York. www.neiltheise.com
Menas Kafatos, Ph.D., Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics, Director of the Center of Excellence at Chapman University, co-author with Deepak Chopra of the forthcoming book, Who Made God and Other Cosmic Riddles. (Harmony)