Tag Archives: Max Planck

Will We Ever Really Know Ourselves?

2016 Dino Reichmuth
When the ancient Greeks first uttered the dictum “Know thyself,” they had another choice. They could have said “Know lots of other things.” In one direction the investigation goes inward; in the opposite direction the investigation goes outward. “Know thyself” stands for something that, as far as we know, only human beings possess: self-awareness. “Know lots of other things” also points to a unique human capacity: curiosity about the outside world. I think it’s unarguable that the investigation of the outside world, as pursued by science, has gotten much, much further than self-awareness. Scientists have probed Nature in every dimension, while self-awareness hasn’t even stopped humanity from the impulse to destroy itself.

The gap between “Know thyself” and “Know Lots of other things” was sharply drawn by a current post from the back-page editor of Scientific American, Michael Shermer.  Reading his piece, “At the Boundary of Knowledge,” one comes away with a sense that science is totally triumphant. Not only has science achieved huge successes in acquiring facts and data that led to the overwhelming dominance of technology in the world. It has done something much more difficult. Quoting a recent book, The Big Picture, by Sean Carroll, a physicist from the California Institute of Technology, Shermer claims that now we can be almost certain about how all knowledge is attained. “All of the things you’ve ever seen or experienced in your life—objects, plants, animals, people—are made of a small number of particles, interacting with one another through a small number of forces.”

From this position, which we can call hardline materialism, Shermer reaches the following conclusion: “Once you understand the fundamental laws of nature, you can scale up to planets and people and even assess the probability that God, the soul, the afterlife and ESP exist, which Carroll concludes is very low.” I haven’t read Prof. Carroll’s book, but you can see Shermer, and many of his readers, dusting off their hands with a satisfied sense of “Well, that’s that.” If they are right, science has eliminated the need for “Know thyself” simply by swallowing up the whole issue of self-awareness and packing it away with particles and forces, having scaled up to planets and peoples, God and the soul. Continue reading

Making a Choice: Is the Universe Mental or Physical?


By Deepak Chopra, MD, Menas Kafatos, PhD, Bernardo Kastrup, PhD, Rudolph E. Tanzi, PhD

Science often makes strides by contradicting what we take for granted, and the biggest thing everyone takes for granted is the physical world.  Our senses wrap themselves around tangible objects so naturally that it’s difficult to believe that they may be misleading us completely. This is true of working physicists as well, so when any prominent theorist states the evidence of a different view of reality, one in which the mind creates the properties of what we call “the physical world,” it’s more than intriguing.

The possibility of a mental universe has a strong lineage going in the quantum era, but present-day physicalists (physicists who accept the physical nature of reality as a given) feel free to dismiss or ignore figures as towering as Max Planck, Werner Heisenberg, and John von Neumann. We discussed them in our last posting. Physicalism holds sway with the vast majority of cosmologists, and yet Andre Linde of Stanford University made some important points in an article on the most current theories of the inflationary universe: “…carefully avoiding the concept of consciousness in quantum cosmology” may artificially narrow one’s outlook.” ( http://scienceandnonduality.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/UNIVERSE-LIFE-CONSCIOUSNESS-Andrei-Linde.pdf)

As a result, Linde points out, a number of physicists have replaced “observer” with “participant” when describing how humans interact with the universe. Others use the phrase “self-observing universe.” It’s startling when an important authority on the inflationary cosmos opens the door for human participation as a key element. Linde asks the same question posed by many quantum pioneers a century ago: “Is it really possible to fully understand what the universe is without first understanding what life is?” Continue reading

Deepak Chopra: From Quanta to Qualia — The Mystery of Reality

Written By Deepak Chopra, MD, FACP, Menas Kafatos, Ph.D., Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics, Chapman University, and 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).

Wherever reality leads, science follows. The two are inseparably linked, as they must be when science is our way of knowing reality. Reality shifts in ways that are unpredictable and strange. Time and space took very strange turns a century ago, for example, while cause-and-effect turned into a game of probabilities, and the solid physical universe dissolved into invisible energy clouds. Quantum theory had arrived, keeping pace with where reality led it. What Einstein called the “spookiness” of activity at the quantum level has only become more spooky ever since.

Now it appears that reality is about to lead us into new, unexpected paths once more. A hint of the future was provided decades ago by one of the most brilliant quantum pioneers, Wolfgang Pauli when he said, “It is my personal opinion that in the science of the future reality will neither be ‘psychic’ nor ‘physical’ but somehow both and somehow neither.” By using a word that science shuns – psychic – Pauli was pointing to a kind of ultimate mystery. The vast physical mechanism we call the universe behaves more like a mind than like a machine. To thousands of working physicists, the riddle of mind and matter doesn’t apply to their research. But the founder of quantum physics, Max Planck, had no doubt that mind would eventually become the elephant in the room, an issue too massive and obvious to ignore. Planck is worth quoting in full:
I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.

The reason that mixing mind with matter disturbs many scientists isn’t a secret. Mind rules the subjective world, while matter is the basis of the physical world, and science is dedicated to gathering objective data from it. Subjectivity is fickle, individual, shifting, and prey to all kinds of bias, if not outright delusion. Consciousness therefore has been systematically excluded from scientific consideration – it’s simply a given that all of us are conscious, and a given doesn’t need to be factored into the equation.

But Planck and Pauli were not alone in suspecting that consciousness was more than a given. Mind holds some kind of key to the nature of reality. Neither Planck nor Pauli followed up on the mystery they had uncovered. There was no need to, not for a long time. Quantum physics blossomed into the most accurate and mathematically sophisticated model in the history of science. It achieved such precise results that its predictive powers were nothing less than stunning. As the eminent British physicist Sir Roger Penrose notes, Newton’s gravitational theory as applied to the movement of the solar system, is precise to one part in 10 million. Einstein’s theory of relativity improved upon Newton by another factor of 10 million.

Spooky as the domain of quarks and bosons may be, even to trained physicists, it obeys mathematical rules and can be predicted using those same rules. Reality, it cannot be denied, has led science along a very productive path. Leaving consciousness out of the equation was like leaving metaphysics out of cookbooks. You don’t need metaphysics to measure cake flour and butter. But its commitment to follow reality wherever it leads can make science very uncomfortable, especially when it’s time to overturn some cherished assumptions. That time inevitably arises, however, for one simple reason: Reality is always more complicated than the models we use to explain it.

In this series of posts, we want to follow up on Planck and Pauli’s intuition that consciousness will turn out to be the thing you cannot get behind. We think their intuition was right. The future of science depends on factoring in the mind. We don’t say this because we happen to be fans of the mind or have a personal stake in boosting it. Science has come to a turning point by following its own findings. We hope to show this in some detail, and our aim, although not stated in mathematical language, is to be scientific in the best sense: We want to expand the accepted picture of Nature and to discover where in the cosmos human beings belong.

Part 1: Quantum Reality

The hints about consciousness are hidden in our existing model of reality. Today’s science as it is practiced assumes an external reality “out there,” existing independently of any observers (and not limited just to human observers). Therefore, the universe is independent of the human mind, even as our minds conceive the theoretical constructs of science. This sounds like common sense. People may be baffled by the riddle, “Does a tree falling in the woods make a sound if no one is around to hear it?” but they have no problem with “Did the Big Bang occur if no one was around to see it?” Yes, of course.

Although at first this seems obvious and reasonable, a fixed, solid, reliable universe is inconsistent with quantum mechanics, whose incredible precision deals with the finest level of Nature, the subatomic domain. In everyday life, we seem to experience a world “out there,” while our own feelings, thoughts, sensations, etc., seem to be “in here.” That’s what we believe and what classical Newtonian physics taught. Quantum physics presents us with a radically different viewpoint: The subatomic quanta whose properties we study in the laboratory are inexorably tied to the act of measurement. The observer is involved in what he observes. Quantum properties exist in potential form (invisible, unlocatable in time and space) until a measurement is actually carried out.

Before that moment, no specific values can be assigned. Once a measurement takes place, hidden potentialities reduce to specific values. This is called the “collapse of the wave function”. Quantum theory calculates with great accuracy probabilities of occurrence, but it cannot say for certain what will happen when a measurement takes place; only how probable it is to get a particular value. Nor can it say – and this is the crucial point – how the act of observation actually effects what is going on “out there.” Common sense tells us that looking at a sunset doesn’t change the sunset. But common sense is confounded in quantum reality. In some mysterious way, looking isn’t a passive act.

Most physicists, including the ones who put the theory together almost a century ago, accept the probabilistic nature of events (not everyone, however – Einstein never stomached the quantum world, even though he did much to launch the quantum revolution). But at the same time, most scientists go about their profession as if the classical world were indeed an accepted reality. They drive to work in cars, not in clouds of probability waves. They do science at a level far grosser than the quantum domain, on the assumption that quantum behavior is confined to the microscopic world. But the usefulness of a reliable, fixed physical world is at bottom invalid.

Everything we see, touch, taste, and smell is founded on a more fundamental level, and when you get down to the building blocks of Nature, you find a shadowy dance of quanta that don’t have any “hard” material presence. Hardness is a quality that dissolves as we go into smaller dimensions. So do all the familiar qualities delivered by the five senses. Imagine that two powerful magnets approach each other with their positive poles facing each other. Similar poles repel, so at a certain point, two powerful magnets would stop dead because repulsion forces them to go no further. If magnets could speak, they’d say that they ran into an invisible hard wall. But when viewed at a finer level, hardness dissolves into the activity of an invisible force field.

If you go even deeper, across the boundary of time and space to reach the precreated source of the universe, the physical world disappears even more radically. Quantum properties vanish. Armed with the developing theory of superstrings, it now appears that entire universes can (perhaps) “pop out” of the nothingness of the quantum vacuum state. In this way the smallest and largest levels of Nature get unified through the rich fullness of the quantum vacuum. The world of quanta is a world of “haps” (infinitesimal happenings). This view of constant change was also held by the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus. But what seems to prevail as we move around our everyday existence is the view of another Greek philosopher, Democritus, who taught that the atoms (in Greek meaning “indivisible”) were tiny and hard and could not be divided any further. Subatomic theory makes this view invalid, even though we act as if it is true.

Modern quantum theory says that at some point all the forces of nature get unified, including the weakest of them all, gravity. As we approach that ultimate limit, called the Planck dimension, the elementary particles get dissolved into tiny vibrating strings of energy, until we reach the Planck limit, where space and time themselves cease to exist. Thus modern quantum theory predicts the end of physics (and itself) as reality leads us to the vanishing point that is also the point of unity. But does the human mind stop there, also? Can we go beyond the ultimate limit of the physical? What does it mean that there is no space and time? The human mind keeps asking such questions, which turn out to be questions about itself as well as about fundamental reality. The thinking mind, armed with its product, the language of mathematics, seeks to go beyond. This yearning is the topic of our next post, where we will discover that other products of the mind, not just mathematics, are capable of probing the finest fabrics of creation.


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