Tag Archives: qualia

New Body, New Mind, New Medicine

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By Deepak Chopra, MD and Rudolph E. Tanzi, PhD

Since one of us (Deepak) began advocating the mind-body connection thirty years ago, a time of great opposition among physicians to the very notion that thoughts have physical consequences, the trend has been entirely against the physicalist position, i.e., that the human body is a machine that needs fixing when it gets broken.  One research after another has validated what should have been obvious in the first place: mind and body are too intimately related to be seen as separate entities.

Several principles can be listed that are backed by the best science, and yet which have had minimal impact in a doctor’s daily practice.

  • Every cell is in some form of communication with the brain, either directly or indirectly, is receiving messages triggered by all of our thoughts, feelings, moods, expectations, and beliefs.
  • Experience gets transformed and metabolized, exactly as food, toxins, pollutants, air, and water get metabolized. In a word, if you want to see what your experiences were like yesterday, look at your body today. If you want to see what your body will be like tomorrow, look at your experiences today.
  • The body is a verb, not a noun. In other words, it’s a continuous unbroken process.
  • Cells are born and die; atoms and molecules fly in and out of each cell constantly. Yet despite this constant flux, the blueprint of the cell remains intact. This blueprint is invisible, intelligent, dynamic, and self-organizing.
  • Lifestyle choices make the dominant difference between wellness and chronic illness. Years, sometimes decades before symptoms appear, cells can be gaining negative input that lead to the onset of disease.
  • Our genes are dynamic and respond to everyday experiences and lifestyle choices. Habits lead to longer term changes in the programming of our gene expression via “epigenetics”, as explained in our book “Super Genes”.
  • If we knew the pivot point that creates positive cellular activity out of positive experiences, a state of radical well-being is possible.
  • Purely mental practices, especially meditation, have been shown over and over to improve various physical functions, and these improvements are now known to extend all the way down to gene activity.

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 Will the “Real” Reality Please Stand Up?

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One peculiarity of our times is that people are so quick to accept the reality they see, hear, touch, taste, and smell. We do this automatically, disregarding the fact that every preceding age was totally mystified by existence, to the point that mystics, poets, philosophers, sages, and spiritual teachers, without exception, insisted that there was an invisible, hidden dimension which constituted the “real” reality. In a hidden realm could be found God and the gods, heavens and hells, a domain of perfect forms (according to Plato), Nirvana (according to the Buddha), or some version of spirits, ancestors, shamanistic creatures, and so on.

Where did this “real” reality go? The easy answer was simple. The hidden dimension was extinguished by science. In a scientific age, nothing was considered real unless it was formed by bits of matter (molecules, atoms, subatomic particles) bound by elementary forces. On this foundation, which is often called physicalism, reality became consistent from top to bottom, from the farthest galaxies to the domain of the quantum, leaving everyday reality—rocks, people, trees, the Republican Party—sandwiched in between. Until very recently, physicalism provided a seamless picture of existence, minus all the gods and monsters relegated to the past.

But the easy answer has been unsatisfactory for over a century, even by the standards of science, and now physicalism hangs on by dint of scientific superstition, given that actually proving it is impossible. Without a doubt modern physics has revived a hidden, invisible, formless dimension that exists beyond time and space. This dimension preceded the Big Bang (with apologies for using “preceded,” since the word implies time, and there is strong evidence that time came into existence only with or even after the Big Bang.) Without going into detail, we can accept what modern cosmology asserts, that something came out of nothing, the something being our universe and the nothing a formless dimension we can dub the pre-created state (even though there are problems with any word assigned to describe it, since words are a creation in time and space also).

So the mystery of the “real” reality has returned with a vengeance. This poses an immediate intellectual challenge, to find a way to understand the pre-created state but also a second, more practical challenge, how to adjust our lives, if we need to, to a completely new reality. Let’s confront the first challenge now, with a future post devoted to the second. There are three routes to solving the mystery of the “real” reality: Continue reading

Why Consciousness Is Still a Mystery—Sorting Out the Clues

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By Deepak Chopra, MD

No one doubts that it’s hard to figure out where consciousness comes from, and when a problem persists for thousands of years—which is literally true in this case—it’s worthwhile sorting out the clues that might lead to an answer. Some are better than others, and a few may be completely false. At the very least, if we can agree on the hottest leads, a final answer may come nearer.

Clue #1: The brain lights up when we think.

Neuroscience depends exclusively upon this clue, which offers material traces (so-called neural correlates) to mental activity.

Advantage: Watching the brain in action provides the most reliable map to date of how the activity of consciousness is physically processed.

Disadvantage: There is no proof that neural correlates are anything except correlates. They could be symptoms or signs of consciousness rather than the cause. Any attempt to make consciousness physical, in fact, is suspect.

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Deepak Chopra: What Is Enlightened Awareness?

Perceptions, thoughts, emotions, and everything else we experience in life comprise the contents of our awareness. How, then, do we move from passive awareness to enlightened awareness?

In this episode of “Ask Deepak” on The Chopra Well, Deepak discusses methods for developing enlightened awareness and moving toward universal consciousness:

How do we know that we, other people, and the world exist? Because we are aware of their existence. How do we experience our world? We experience them as thoughts, sensations, feelings, moods, and images in consciousness. All that exists is awareness and the contents of awareness. To know this and to feel this is to have grounding in a universal awareness. Our world is only a “qualia gestalt”, a perception in our quality of awareness. To be able to be grounded in that understanding is moving in the direction of enlightened awareness.

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Deepak Chopra: From Quanta to Qualia — The Mystery of Reality (Part 4)

A breakthrough has occurred in explaining our universe that hasn’t yet become mainstream. This is the concept of a living cosmos that did not need to evolve to produce life on Earth. Rather, all the elements characteristic of life were already present. They didn’t become apparent until human beings developed self-aware minds. Humans have assumed that the constituents of life did not exist until some time in the history of our planet, which arbitrarily gave birth to life.

An agreed upon theory of a living universe hasn’t been formulated yet. That’s what we’ve started to do in this series of posts. However, as you explore the scientific literature in which speculative thinkers muse on the links that bind reality at every level, common patterns emerge. One that links different aspects of the cosmos to everyday life is what we term a trinity: Quarks, Quanta, and Qualia. It maps out a progression from the physical to the mental.

The quantum revealed that the appearance of a solid, stable physical universe was not fundamental; at the finest level, creation is based upon invisible packets of energy, and a revolutionary theory, quantum mechanics, made it possible to better understand three out of the four fundamental forces in Nature with astonishing precision (the fourth being gravity, which is still elusive).

Quanta formed the bridge between what used to be thought of as completely different and opposite aspects of the universe, namely matter and energy. Subatomic particles exist at the transition between the vacuum state, and invisible domain of infinite potential, and visible creation. Quanta are themselves energy and matter. Quarks eventually emerged from quantum field theory (the successor to the original quantum theory) as the building blocks of the nucleus of the atom, what constitute matter itself. Even though quarks are quanta, for our purposes we can consider them as being more “solid”, while still acting as messengers of the fundamental forces.

To date, quanta and quarks define the outlines of how the universe emerged, although there are other theories, such as General Relativity, needed to complete the picture. For a scientist working in the scheme of “physicalism,” which holds that all phenomena can be explained through the interactions of matter and energy, the future consists of refining and unifying the findings of quantum physics.

The Three-in-One State

Matter and energy aren’t enough to explain the universe. We propose that a third element must be added – Qualia – before anything approaching a unified description of reality will ever be possible. Efforts to devise the so-called Theory of Everything will come up woefully short if the third part of the trinity, consciousness, is left out. While the old quantum theory opened the door to consciousness, it is now time to make better sense of the unified whole, and consciousness does that.

Physicalists take consciousness as a given. They have no explanation for the emergence of mind; the transformation of atoms and molecules into mental events – feelings, sensations, wishes, dreams, scientific theories – goes unexplained. Mental events can be unified as Qualia, a term for all subjective perception. It is undeniable that we know the universe through subjective experience. Science itself is a subjective experience, despite the attempt to isolate and reduce objective facts and expel subjectivity.

It’s time to realize that subjectivity is the elephant in the room. It must be taken into account. Setting aside any other argument, the most basic reason for Qualia science is that, in the words of the late physicist John Wheeler, we live in a participatory universe. What does our participation consist of? Three things: observer, observed, and the process of observation. Quantum theory has wrestled with the latter two for a century, ever since it became invalid to treat waves and particles as fixed things “out there,” apart from the observer effect. The observer changes what he observes. That’s been undeniable in quantum mechanics for many decades. But the observer effect is often brushed aside as a minor glitch or as a factor that can be worked around.

We propose a three-in-one model that unites observer, observed, and process of observation. Their unity exists naturally, in our own experience. Hard as it is for physicalists to accept, there is no sunset, cloud, mountain, electron, or galaxy independent of a unified state that must include an observer and the process of observation. The total inadmissibility of this idea is a mark of how necessary it is. Science doesn’t describe reality (even Stephen Hawking has attested to this), it describes phenomena that fit various theories. It’s the map, not the territory.

The territory is reality, which is one and only, an undivided wholeness. What humans experience constitutes reality, since by definition whatever we can’t experience is inconceivable. We aren’t referring only to the five senses. As Peter Wilberg, one of the most astute and gifted qualia theorists, has explained, we don’t see because we have eyes. Eyes are physical organs that evolved to serve the mind’s desire to see. Mind comes first. It reaches out to experience reality through qualia, which embrace the five senses along with sensations, images, feelings, and thoughts in the mind.

As alien as it sounds to put mind first, one’s sense of strangeness reflects our habitual view of things. As long as materialism dominates, physicalists will always agree that the eye precedes sight, the brain the mind, and so on. It’s in the nature of new theories, when they are truly revolutionary, to overturn the existing paradigm. In his groundbreaking writing on perception, cognitive scientist Donald D. Hoffman has offered a model of perception that places the individual mind, which he calls a “conscious agent,” at the center of the reality. That is, he begins with experience as the measure of what exists. Wilberg takes perception even further, asserting that when we feel that something around us reflects a certain mood (the optimism of dawn, the cheerfulness of spring, the gloom of a dark, low-hanging clouds), it isn’t possible to claim that the mood belongs only to the observer or that it is separate from the thing being observed. The founders of quantum theory intuitively felt the same way, as attested by Schrödinger, Bohr, Heisenberg, and Pauli. Later on, Eugene Wigner and John von Neumann went even further – they claimed that consciousness was necessary to resolve the fundamental quantum measurement problem (i.e., the problem of how to account for the way that an observer effects what he observes.)

When qualia are fully understood, reality is three-in-one. The progression of quarks-quanta-qualia reflects the history of science. Discoveries unfolded in a line from the more inert and physical to the more subjective. But this should be reversed to qualia-quanta-quarks, which recognizes the undeniable fusion of observer-observed-process of observation. This reversal maps the natural way in which the universe becomes aware.

For anyone who can loosen their loyalties to the current scientific paradigm, the three-in-one model of nature isn’t opposed to current science; it’s more expanded and inclusive. Therefore, we consider it the natural next step. For example, in Nature it is self-evident that there is creation and destruction. The new cannot come about unless the old gives way. But creation and destruction are not isolated opposites randomly crashing into each other. They are connected. Through their connection, an emerging new thing takes into account information from the old thing. You can see this as you read a sentence. As one word passes out of sight and a new one appears, there is a stream of connection, known as meaning. The first word looks to the second word, and the second looks back at the first. “The-black-bear-is-climbing-a-tree. “ “The” tells you that a noun is coming. “Black tells you that the noun hasn’t arrived yet, but since “the” is still in mind, you await the noun, which arrives with “bear” and completes the phrase.

The point isn’t that one word has to follow another in a linear sentence. The point is that the appearance of new words, following on the disappearance of old words, builds a self-organized structure. From this simple example we see how the human brain is organized as an evolving organ. It operates as a feedback loop that integrates past, present, and future experiences. They form a dynamic process that keeps consuming itself and expanding into new life. This process occurs physically in the brain structures studied by neuroscientists. But without a mind to organize everything, the brain has no reason or ability to evolve. The passage of time is irrelevant; the same blue-green algae that emerged at the beginning of life have remained unchanged for billions of years.

Yet even one-celled organisms respond to the world by breathing, eating, dividing, heading for the light, and so on. Those responses were the first links in the feedback loop that eventually gave rise to the physical brain. Every experience is qualia, including the experience of blue-green algae. Thus we have a common link that can unify all phenomena that the mind can conceive of. Qualia medicine could one day explain spontaneous remission of cancer, for example. Cancer is marked by numerous changes at the genetic level, including complex changes in the “junk DNA” (formally known as “non-coding DNA”) that comprises over 96% of the human genome. Genes respond to the environment around them, which includes all the incoming information that passes from the bloodstream through the cell membrane. That information is controlled by the brain, and the brain is the processing center for all thoughts, feelings, sensations, and images – qualia. The feedback loop closes in a dynamic, ever-changing circle that includes qualia at every level. Medical science has taken thirty years to accept the validity of the mind-body connection. Once it takes the next step into qualia, the difference between disease and wellness can be understood with the inclusion of personal experience. Present mind-body phenomena like the placebo effect, or the increased risk of illness caused by depression, will expand. Instead of being peripheral to “real” medicine (i.e., drugs and surgery), the mind-body connection will be central to prevention and wellness.

We’ve presented here only a sketch of the possibilities. A living universe must be considered as a strong possibility. It already is among far-seeing scientists. The library of books about a self-organizing cosmos is growing. Consciousness is no longer a taboo subject at scientific conferences. What’s lacking is a unifying model for the countless things that remain unexplained by physicalism. It may sound incredible that the entire universe is the product of mind, whether we are speaking metaphorically as Einstein did (“I want to know the mind of God’ everything else is just details”) or literally, as qualia theory does. But science proceeds by accepting the simplest hypothesis that fits what needs to be explained. As a three-in-one state, reality can be explained far more simply, we claim, than using random chance and bouncing particles to explain the emergence of the mind’s richness, creativity, and intelligence.

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Deepak Chopra: From Quanta to Qualia — The Mystery of Reality (Part 3)

The universe is evolving – on that almost all physicists agree – but in what direction? As we saw in two earlier posts, the world “out there” is neither static in time nor constant in time. Quantum theory undermined every quality of the physical universe that classical physics studies, replacing them with an ever-shifting reality based on invisible probability waves and quantum fields.

True reality consists of infinite possibilities that are realized only as we observe them. Consciousness allows us to do so. Quantum physics has opened the door to consciousness, now it needs to look beyond its boundaries to integrate the central role of consciousness. In doing so, it will have to go beyond its own boundaries and posit a reality that it itself was hinting at from the very early days of development of quantum mechanics: The participatory nature of reality. To take it further, a hint about the next breakthrough comes in a quote from the British physicist David Bohm: “In some sense man is a microcosm of the universe; therefore what man is, is a clue to the universe.” Humans have always looked to Nature as a mirror of ourselves. If we really are a microcosm, then the macrocosm – the universe at large – must be seen in terms of what makes us most human: consciousness. It is the same consciousness, which quantum mechanics, tells us, operates through the acts of observation in quantum measurements.

The simplest and most elegant explanation for why human beings can think, feel, and experience the world is that the universe consists of consciousness at the most fundamental level. Any other explanation that leaves consciousness out, leads to strange views of the universe, views which ultimately lead to contradictions and a host of new problems. This is the line we’d like to explore next.

Beyond looking outward at the vastness of quantum fields, the next and natural place to examine consciousness is personal and intimately close: individual awareness. For all of us, the world and everything that happens in it is experienced subjectively.  In quantum theory each quantum is a tiny chunk of energy. In subjective experience, each tiny chunk of unitary experience is a qualia (the Latin word from which we get the word “quality” – we will use the same term for singular and plural).  Our five senses are designed to turn the raw data of physics into a living reality, which they do via sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell.

These are the qualia that create the world “in here.”  The lush redness of a rose is a qualia, as is its luxurious scent.  The smoothness of silk, the roughness of beach sand are also qualia. The reason that qualia are so important isn’t just because we need the five senses. The only reality we can possibly know is the qualia interpreted for us by our brains. There is no way to know that reality exists outside qualia.  Qualia are units of perception, and reality is a perceptual collage. If it is anything else, we will never know it. The inner world also contains thoughts, feelings, images, and sensations. They are qualia as well. There is no difference, as far as the visual cortex is concerned, between seeing a red rose and imagining it. The qualia of red is present in both.

At first this may seem too obvious to matter.  The rose is red, and I see it as red. A camera does the same thing, mechanically transferring a specific wavelength of light on to a chemically reactive film or digitized screen.  This implies that perception is a given, a passive process. That is far from the case. Perception is a conscious act. Far from being passive, perception creates reality. In words of Sir John Eccles, a famous British neurologist who declared, “I want you to realize that there exists no color in the natural world, and no sound – nothing of this kind; no textures, no patterns, no beauty, no scent.”

The only reason that a rose is red is that you have a human nervous system that registers a frequency of electromagnetic radiation or light as a certain experience that we call red. Perception is tied to acts of observation and for us humans, we take it for granted what it is. But would it be the same for other species? It is likely that perception is species specific. However, we have no way of knowing how a bumblebee, porpoise, or dog experiences the world, even in as basic a thing as color. This reversal, making perception the whole key to reality, is where we believe physics – and all science – needs to progress. At first qualia seem counter-intuitive. We are used to making the world “out there” a fixed, reliable point of reference. But science, through the most advanced science that exists, quantum theory, has informed us that this is not the case for over a century, and spiritual teaching for thousands of years before that. It hasn’t been more than a century since quantum theory proved that no object, however big of small, from subatomic particles to vast galaxies, has any fixed properties. All the properties that create reality, quantum theory, again, tells us are contextual, they depend on the acts of observation. As such, quantum theory has opened the door to a noetic, a mind-based universe. Reality, we would infer, is mind-made.

Qualia are the building blocks of creation. Qualia are rooted in consciousness. Consciousness is the material of creation. Rocks aren’t hard; water isn’t wet; light isn’t bright. These are all qualia created in your consciousness, using the brain as a processing facility.   Although it appears to be a huge leap from traditional quantum theory, it is the next natural step in the evolving science. We must remember, the greatest quantum pioneers knew that consciousness leading us to a participatory view of the cosmos, had to be explained. It cannot simply be set aside as a given, not as long as observers play a key role in transforming invisible fields and waves into visible particles that can be measured.  We aren’t saying that quantum physics must be discarded, not at all. We are only recommended that we move on to exactly where quantum theory points and where Heisenberg, Bohr, Pauli, Born, Schrödinger, Bohm, Wigner, and all the great founders of quantum theory, struggled to move in their understanding of quantum phenomena .

What we are discarding is materialism, the view that matter and energy as understood by pre-quantum physics, are the building blocks of nature. Materialism leaves consciousness out, and thus it totally falsifies the most important fact about reality: we only experience it.  When a scientist performs an experiment to gain objective data, that too is an experience. The whole activity we call science is experiential. The fact that data can be extracted is productive. If you measured the body heat of Romeo and Juliet, that would be productive, too, yet the actual reality of romantic love doesn’t appear as data.

Qualia theory gets at reality through experience, and qualia science can be built up around consciousness, because the same principles that govern the world “out there” also apply to the world “in here.” This must be true, because reality is reality, an undivided wholeness which physics itself implicitly assumes. The universality of the laws of physics that any good physicist takes for granted, points to a universality of reality. And since that reality is an experience in consciousness, we are led by reason to the view of the universality of conscious moments of experience. There aren’t two realities, one for the outer world and one for the inner world. Such dualism was long ago discarded. We can observe, for example, the brain activity when a Romeo is in love with his Juliet. This is more sophisticated data than measuring their body temperature.  Even so, without a bridge that connects data to experience, reality is incomplete. Qualia science is the bridge.  It restores you, the perceiver, to a creative role – you are the conscious agent who shapes reality as you experience it.

Time is your responsibility. Space requires your existence. This sounds radical because we are used to the materialistic bias that puts “out there” separate from and ahead of “in here.”  But that bias is just a metaphysical assumption, a particular, and we claim false, way of looking at undivided wholeness. Yet all experience is made of qualia, and that includes time and space. They do not exist independently of the mind that perceives them.

Having made these declarations, we can now offer the ten basic axioms of Qualia Science. The language is technical in places. In the final post of this series we’ll bring qualia back into everyday life.

Axioms of Qualia Science

1. Science is currently based on measuring all that we observe to describe a “physical” with greater and greater granularity. The physical universe described by current scientific methods exists exclusively as one that our nervous system allows us to perceive it in the form of qualia – defined as all sensations, images, feeling and thoughts experienced in a conscious mind. The mind can be considered the place where electrochemical signals to the brain are interpreted as qualia. A new interpretation of the universe can be based on all being rooted in consciousness. We can attempt to understand this universe “qualia science”.

2. Quantum theory presents us with a radically different view of the universe: Quantum phenomena are not phenomena until registered by an act of observation. Far from being completely detached from the world of phenomena, observers participate in the phenomena they observe. The quantum world is a world of events, not “hard” physical entities, and the role of consciousness in it is fundamental. Moreover, if we look deep enough, we find that the principles that govern the quantum world are just as applicable to how consciousness operates. (In brief, these principles that unite the inner and outer world include the most basic discoveries of the quantum era that began over a century ago: quantization or individualization; coherence, superposition and entanglement; complementarity; contextuality; primacy of process; non-locality; and sufficient reason (i.e., whatever happens must be for a reason), which can all be expanded to consciousness.) We view these principles as applying at all levels of reality, and as such, manifest in the mental processes of everyday life. Therefore, these underlying principles will provide the necessary links between current quantum science and qualia science.

3. All experience, whether of the body or the outside world and universe, consists of qualia. Our world only exists because we perceive it and create it. Thus, all interactions with are experiential and subjective. What we call “objective” in science is that which we can measure within patterns of qualia dictated by mathematical  laws. Quantum Mechanics is a mathematical model for measuring Qualia Mechanics. It’s the map, not the territory.

4. Consciousness is fundamental and indivisible. As such, consciousness can only interact with itself. In life as in science, all experiences and measurements involve consciousness interacting with itself. All reality, all that we experience, is rooted solely in consciousness. Even our nervous system is a product of consciousness that interprets consciousness to create our perceptual “reality”. The nervous system, as qualia, creates qualia as consciousness interacts with itself.

5. Qualia science explores the boundary between our perceptual universe and the actual (pure consciousness), with the goal of crossing over that boundary. The perceptual world is that which our nervous system (or that of other species) experiences. The actual world is pure consciousness encompassing a field of all possibilities. Each possibility emerges as qualia. However, the field of pure consciousness exists prior to qualia.

6. True (actual) reality is the field of all possibilities within consciousness, while “species-specific reality” (e.g., that of humans) is the continuous and dynamic flow of consciousness from the universal field of all possibilities differentiating into matter, energy, worlds, and beings. Qualia science entails capturing what really exists, as opposed to the numbers that are used to measure it in small, frozen slices based on cause and effect. True reality is acausal and non-local. Causality arises as qualia interpret qualia within specific nervous systems.

7. As consciousness interacts with itself, resulting qualia self-organize, (i.e., evolve). Self-organization is based on continuous feedback loops. Every qualia that manifests from existing qualia (e.g., a painting created by Van Gogh) in turn serves to regulate the qualia from which it manifested. In other words, as consciousness flows from the field of all possibilities, qualia emerge in layers of manifestation that make up a self-regulating program based on multifold feedback loops. This program can be a feeling, a human, the planet Earth, or the universe. All are qualia.

8. Birth is the beginning of a particular qualia program (e.g., a particular human being). An individual qualia entity emerges into the world with a potential in qualia that unfolds as life. From birth, our reality is created via the resonance of shared qualia with others in our species and related species. As such, the perceived universe is, in essence, an agreement about qualia (the universe) among qualia (humans). Death is the termination of a particular qualia program. The qualia return to a state of potential forms within consciousness, where they reshuffle and recycle as new living entities.

9. The process of consciousness interacting with itself is most obvious in humans as self-awareness imparting the sense of freewill, choice, and meaning. Self-awareness is the starting point for the next leap in our creative evolution as a species. Qualia science is also made possible by the gift of self-awareness.

10. Qualia science will result in the emergence of new, dynamic, and self-organizing networks of qualia that will reshape the universe as we know it. Of course, quantum mechanics and classical science will always be necessary for new technologies, to measure qualia and to interpret the mathematical laws governing the manifestation of qualia as we perceive them. But qualia science will take us in a new direction that breaks down the barriers between the true reality of a non-local field of all possibilities and the perceptual reality produced by our nervous system. The result will be a more connected and enlightened “human universe”.

The last two words are the most important – “human universe”. It is as alive, intelligent, and conscious as we are. After centuries of looking out into the cold void of space and feeling isolated (if not terrified) to be an accidental creation, humanity can look outward and see the universe as our home and rooted in ourselves. In the last post we will give this exciting new breakthrough a human face.

(To be cont.)

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).

 

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Deepak Chopra: From Quanta to Qualia — What Nature Is Really Telling Us

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).

 

What would it take to make the universe a living thing? What would it take to make it human once again, a secure home for us instead of a cold, meaningless place? What would it take to give God a future? As disconnected as these questions may seem, they are on the minds of some farseeing thinkers. And the deeper one looks, the more it appears that all three issues – a living universe, a human universe, and a universe that holds a place for God – start to merge.  If they actually do merge, nothing will ever be the same again. Not just science but everyday existence will be completely overturned.

There have been great physicists who were deeply religious, such as Sir Isaac Newton, or who had a religious feeling when confronting the universe, such as Albert Einstein, but God isn’t the right place to start with these huge issues. God, in fact, is a red herring. No matter who or what created the universe, it’s here now, and we have to relate to it. How?  One of the oldest ideas, which can be found in every culture, holds that Nature is a mirror.  We relate to it by seeing ourselves, but not passively. Messages are constantly going back and forth about birth and death about constant change and the bond between our life and Nature itself.  To the ancients, a natural disaster – fire, flood, or earthquake – showed that Nature was angry. If Nature was appeased, the harvest was good and the sun shone.

It was unquestioned that the universe meant something, and usually it meant that a loving deity had created a special place for his children.

It’s astonishing how quickly a timeless worldview was utterly destroyed by science. The demolition project that included Darwin, Freud, Einstein and all the other quantum pioneers doesn’t need retracting. We relate to a completely mechanistic universe devoid of purpose, one that operates through random chance, perfectly meshed with evolution operating through random genetic mutations. The mirror has shattered. We no longer see ourselves because there’s nothing meaningful to see, no purpose, no Creator. Even more absurd is the notion that Nature is sending us messages – from the collision of quarks to the collision of galaxies, nothing is happening “out there” to reflect human existence.

It would be ironic if quantum physics demolished its own conclusions, since more than any other science, quantum physics delivered Nature to its present state as random and meaningless.  Solid physical objects became clouds of invisible energy, the certainty of cause-and-effect turned into “probability waves,” and time and space became flexible, to the point that a cubic centimeter of empty space contains enormous virtual energy while the arrow of time can turn on itself and go backward. The reliable world of the five senses was undercut by the quantum world, where nothing known to the five senses holds true. It seems totally impossible that the gap between the two worlds could ever be closed.

Yet it can’t remain open, either. Human life is meaningful, not random. It is filled with purpose, intelligence, creativity, and values like love and compassion. If you start at the quantum level, you can’t get there from here. No one has explained how matter and energy acquired purpose, meaning, and all the rest; we are a species with no foundation. We can only relate to the mindless cosmos with a shrug of the shoulders.  Electrons and hydrogen atoms floating in the bleakness of outer space bear no resemblance to the electrons and hydrogen atoms in your brain. Their random activity somehow turned into the most orderly, intelligent, creative activity in the known universe. How?

Let’s say we want to take this question personally, instead of leaving it to professional scientists. Reality is an interesting topic, but it becomes a fascinating topic when it’s your personal reality. If you knew where your own intelligence came from, why you are alive, where you are going, and what the next leap in your evolution will be, everything would change for you. In their pursuit of a Theory of Everything, the holy grail of modern physics, scientists neglected a Theory of Me, an explanation for why each of us matters.  That, in a nutshell, is what’s at stake.

We are immensely excited by a new science that can fill the gap created by the quantum revolution, which we call qualia science.  The word quantum was plucked from the Latin dictionary to give the strange new world of subatomic physics a tag. In the same way, qualia, which is Latin for qualities,” is a tag for a world that is as far-reaching as quantum physics but pointing in the opposite direction. Quanta are “packets” of energy, an innocuous term that wound up having explosive effects. Qualia are the everyday qualities of experience – light, sound, color, shape, texture – whose explosive effects are barely hinted at.

You experience the world as qualia. It’s the glue that holds the five senses together. The scent of a rose is a qualia (we’ll use singular and plural as the same word), so is it velvety texture and its crimson color.   Looking at everyday experience through the perspective of the brain, psychiatrist and neural theorist Daniel Siegel reduced reality “in here” to SIFT: sensation, image, feeling, thought. No matter what’s happening to you right this minute, your brain is registering either a sensation (I’m hot, this room is stuffy, the bed sheets are soft), an image (the sunset is brilliant, I see my grandmother’s face I my mind’s eye, my keys are on the dining room table),  a feeling (I’m pretty happy, losing my job makes me worried, I love my kids), or a thought (I’m planning a vacation, I just read an interesting article, I wonder what’s for dinner).

Qualia are everywhere. Nothing can happen without them, which means that if you see the universe using a human brain, reality consists of qualia. If there is a reality that exists outside what we perceive, it is inconceivable, literally.  Once you subtract everything you can sense, imagine, feel, or think about, there’s nothing. Because qualia are subjective, they directly attack the objectivity of modern science. Because experience is meaningful, qualia attack the model of random, meaningless Nature. Yet even more is at stake.

Since the only way we know reality is through experience, qualia, not quanta, are the building blocks of Nature.

Quantum physics undercut the notion of solid physical objects while attempting to retain the physical universe. Qualia science says that this is a cheat. The physical universe needs to be tossed out as a frame of reference.

In its most outrageous claim, qualia science declares that only subjectivity is reliable. So-called objective measurements are a disguise for the total fluidity of experience. The universe we carefully measure is merely the reflection of the human nervous system. Even a die-hard materialist (the preferred term is now “physicalist”) like Stephen Hawking, who has no doubt that the universe exists “out there” as a given, admits that science doesn’t describe reality. Science measures things and events to deliver data according to a mathematical scheme. Another physicist, Freeman Dyson, says, “Life may have succeeded against all odds in molding a universe to its purposes.”

There is the key: We have created a human universe. Behind the mask of a cosmic machine whose parts can be calculated and tinkered with, the universe is humanized. There is no other way it can exist, in fact, since nothing “out there” can be experienced except in our own consciousness.  We are following the trail pioneered by the British physicist David Bohm, among others, when he wrote, David Bohm put it, “In some sense man is a microcosm of the universe; therefore what man is, is a clue to the universe.”

The mirror of nature is back, in other words. Strangely, by dismantling the certainty of time, space, physical objects, and cause-and-effect, quantum physics paved the way for a paradigm shift it could never have predicted.  The cosmos has meaning, as we wish to show in the next few posts.

(To be cont.)

 

Deepak Chopra, MD, FACP, is the author of, God: A Story of Revelation (HarperOne).

 

Menas Kafatos, Ph.D., Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics, Chapman University, co author with Deepak Chopra of the forthcoming book, Who Made God and Other Cosmic Riddles. (Harmony)

 

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 the forthcoming book, Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being. (Harmony)

 

 

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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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