Quantum mysticism

Quantum mysticism

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Quantum mysticism is a term that has been used to refer to a set of metaphysical
Metaphysics
Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world, although the term is not easily defined. Traditionally, metaphysics attempts to answer two basic questions in the broadest possible terms:...

 beliefs and associated practices that seek to relate consciousness
Consciousness
Consciousness is a term that refers to the relationship between the mind and the world with which it interacts. It has been defined as: subjectivity, awareness, the ability to experience or to feel, wakefulness, having a sense of selfhood, and the executive control system of the mind...

, intelligence or mystical world-views to the ideas of quantum
Quantum
In physics, a quantum is the minimum amount of any physical entity involved in an interaction. Behind this, one finds the fundamental notion that a physical property may be "quantized," referred to as "the hypothesis of quantization". This means that the magnitude can take on only certain discrete...

 mechanics and its interpretations. Many ideas associated with "quantum mysticism" have been criticized as either misinterpretations of quantum mechanics or as pseudoscience
Pseudoscience
Pseudoscience is a claim, belief, or practice which is presented as scientific, but which does not adhere to a valid scientific method, lacks supporting evidence or plausibility, cannot be reliably tested, or otherwise lacks scientific status...

.

The term originally emerged from the founders of quantum theory
Old quantum theory
The old quantum theory was a collection of results from the years 1900–1925 which predate modern quantum mechanics. The theory was never complete or self-consistent, but was a collection of heuristic prescriptions which are now understood to be the first quantum corrections to classical mechanics...

 in the early twentieth century as they debated the interpretations and implications of their nascent theories, which would later evolve into quantum mechanics
Quantum mechanics
Quantum mechanics, also known as quantum physics or quantum theory, is a branch of physics providing a mathematical description of much of the dual particle-like and wave-like behavior and interactions of energy and matter. It departs from classical mechanics primarily at the atomic and subatomic...

. The essential qualities of early quantum theory, and the ontological questions that emerged from it, made a distinction between philosophical and scientific discussion difficult as quantum theory developed into a strong scientific theory
Scientific theory
A scientific theory comprises a collection of concepts, including abstractions of observable phenomena expressed as quantifiable properties, together with rules that express relationships between observations of such concepts...

. Several physicists were inspired by mystical ideas, including Niels Bohr
Niels Bohr
Niels Henrik David Bohr was a Danish physicist who made foundational contributions to understanding atomic structure and quantum mechanics, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1922. Bohr mentored and collaborated with many of the top physicists of the century at his institute in...

, who selected the Chinese "Tai-chi" or "Yin-Yang" symbol
Taijitu
Taijitu is a term which refers to a Chinese symbol for the concept of yin and yang...

 for his coat of arms and his gravestone, or Wolfgang Pauli
Wolfgang Pauli
Wolfgang Ernst Pauli was an Austrian theoretical physicist and one of the pioneers of quantum physics. In 1945, after being nominated by Albert Einstein, he received the Nobel Prize in Physics for his "decisive contribution through his discovery of a new law of Nature, the exclusion principle or...

, who worked with Carl Jung
Carl Jung
Carl Gustav Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist and the founder of Analytical Psychology. Jung is considered the first modern psychiatrist to view the human psyche as "by nature religious" and make it the focus of exploration. Jung is one of the best known researchers in the field of dream analysis and...

 on psychological epistemology and the theory of synchronicity
Synchronicity
Synchronicity is the experience of two or more events that are apparently causally unrelated or unlikely to occur together by chance and that are observed to occur together in a meaningful manner...

, favouring a "lucid mystical" approach, and who was influenced by the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer
Arthur Schopenhauer
Arthur Schopenhauer was a German philosopher known for his pessimism and philosophical clarity. At age 25, he published his doctoral dissertation, On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, which examined the four separate manifestations of reason in the phenomenal...

, who derived ideas from the Hindu Upanishads, as was Erwin Schrödinger
Erwin Schrödinger
Erwin Rudolf Josef Alexander Schrödinger was an Austrian physicist and theoretical biologist who was one of the fathers of quantum mechanics, and is famed for a number of important contributions to physics, especially the Schrödinger equation, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1933...

 whose lectures on "Mind and Matter" appeared in 1958.

Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein was a German-born theoretical physicist who developed the theory of general relativity, effecting a revolution in physics. For this achievement, Einstein is often regarded as the father of modern physics and one of the most prolific intellects in human history...

, though he believed in Spinoza's God
Spinozism
Spinozism is the monist philosophical system of Baruch Spinoza which defines "God" as a singular self-subsistent substance, and both matter and thought as attributes of such...

, remained opposed to some of the novel "mystical" formulations of other physicists. The debate polarised after World War II, although publications such as Schrödinger's, or Eugene Wigner’s 1961 paper, continued to appear, spiritual interpretations of the new physics became rare and were deprecated among the scientific community.

History


In the 1920s, with the inception of early quantum theory
Old quantum theory
The old quantum theory was a collection of results from the years 1900–1925 which predate modern quantum mechanics. The theory was never complete or self-consistent, but was a collection of heuristic prescriptions which are now understood to be the first quantum corrections to classical mechanics...

, some of its founders, including Schrödinger, Heisenberg, Pauli, Bohr and Wigner, took an active interest in the philosophical implications of the emerging quantum theory
Old quantum theory
The old quantum theory was a collection of results from the years 1900–1925 which predate modern quantum mechanics. The theory was never complete or self-consistent, but was a collection of heuristic prescriptions which are now understood to be the first quantum corrections to classical mechanics...

, which changed fundamentals of the understanding of physics, opened gaps in empirical and scientific explanations of actual and perceived reality and involved translation of principles described by mathematics but for which no word exists in spoken languages or concepts.

Physicist Roger Penrose
Roger Penrose
Sir Roger Penrose OM FRS is an English mathematical physicist and Emeritus Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics at the Mathematical Institute, University of Oxford and Emeritus Fellow of Wadham College...

 wrote in 1989 that "deeper understandings are needed before one can be confident of any 'picture of physical reality' that it may seem to lead to" and that a new understanding of consciousness may be indispensable to the emergence of such a picture. Because so little is understood about the nature of consciousness there is a larger range for speculation here (see Quantum mind
Quantum mind
The quantum mind or quantum consciousness hypothesis proposes that classical mechanics cannot explain consciousness, while quantum mechanical phenomena, such as quantum entanglement and superposition, may play an important part in the brain's function, and could form the basis of an explanation of...

 and Quantum mind–body problem)
. Fred Alan Wolf
Fred Alan Wolf
Fred Alan Wolf is an American theoretical physicist specializing in quantum physics and the relationship between physics and consciousness. He is a former physics professor at San Diego State University, and more recently has helped to popularize science on the Discovery Channel...

 is another physicist who has interested himself in the nature of mind. The idea that "consciousness is a quantum phenomenon" was cuttingly criticised by Stephen Hawking
Stephen Hawking
Stephen William Hawking, CH, CBE, FRS, FRSA is an English theoretical physicist and cosmologist, whose scientific books and public appearances have made him an academic celebrity...

: a summary of his criticisms was added to Penrose's book Shadows of the Mind
Shadows of the Mind
Shadows of the Mind: A Search for the Missing Science of Consciousness is a 1994 book by mathematical physicist Roger Penrose, and serves as a followup to his 1989 book The Emperor's New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds and The Laws of Physics....

. Penrose also questioned our perception of time and causality, upon which most of the established formulations of physics are built.

A renewed interest in mystical interpretations and the psychological aspects of the new physics arose in the 1970s with physicists such as Fritjof Capra
Fritjof Capra
Fritjof Capra is an Austrian-born American physicist. He is a founding director of the Center for Ecoliteracy in Berkeley, California, and is on the faculty of Schumacher College....

, whose popularly successful The Tao of Physics
The Tao of Physics
The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels Between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism is a book by physicist Fritjof Capra, published in 1975 by Shambhala Publications of Berkeley, California. It was a bestseller in the United States, and has been published in 43 editions in 23 languages...

explored parallels between quantum physics and principles of Eastern mysticism. The 1980 book Wholeness and the Implicate Order
Wholeness and the Implicate Order
Wholeness and the Implicate Order is a book by theoretical physicist David Bohm. It was originally published 1980 by Routledge, Great Britain.The book gives a detailed description of the implicate and explicate order according to David Bohm.- Chapters :...

by David Bohm
David Bohm
David Joseph Bohm FRS was an American-born British quantum physicist who contributed to theoretical physics, philosophy, neuropsychology, and the Manhattan Project.-Youth and college:...

 portrays reality as a unity which can be understood in terms of implicate and explicate orders
Implicate and explicate order according to David Bohm
According to David Bohm's theory, implicate and explicate orders are characterised by:-David Bohm's challenges to some generally prevailing views:...

. The latter book was strongly criticised by Steven Weinberg
Steven Weinberg
Steven Weinberg is an American theoretical physicist and Nobel laureate in Physics for his contributions with Abdus Salam and Sheldon Glashow to the unification of the weak force and electromagnetic interaction between elementary particles....

, a leading campaigner against the introduction of paradigms and ideas involving or suggesting the substantiality of mind, quasi-spiritual interpretations and other such concepts drawn from outside the purview of physics, in the so-called "Science wars
Science wars
The science wars were a series of intellectual exchanges, between scientific realists and postmodernist critics, about the nature of scientific theory which took place principally in the US in the 1990s...

". Another well-known contribution was Quantum Reality by physicist Nick Herbert
Nick Herbert (physicist)
Nick Herbert is an American physicist and author, best known for his book Quantum Reality.Herbert studied Engineering Physics at the Ohio State University, graduating in 1959. He received a Ph.D. in physics from Stanford University in 1967 for work on nuclear scattering experiments...

 (1985) which dealt mainly with possible interpretations of quantum theory.

The 1979 book, The Dancing Wu Li Masters
The Dancing Wu Li Masters
The Dancing Wu Li Masters by Gary Zukav is a popular new age book from 1979 about mysticist interpretations of quantum physics.The toneless pinyin phrase Wu Li in the title is most accurately rendered 物理 in hanzi in the light of the book's subject matter, but appears to be somewhat of a pun as...

by Gary Zukav
Gary Zukav
Gary Zukav is a spiritual teacher and author of four consecutive New York Times bestsellers. Beginning in 1998, Zukav appeared more than 30 times on The Oprah Winfrey Show to discuss transformation in human consciousness concepts presented in The Seat of the Soul.-Life Story:Gary Zukav was born in...

 (self-confessedly "not a physicist") again included parallels between Eastern mysticism and modern physics. Michael Talbot
Michael Talbot
Michael Coleman Talbot was an American author of several books highlighting parallels between ancient mysticism and quantum mechanics, and espousing a theoretical model of reality that suggests the physical universe is akin to a giant hologram...

's The Holographic Universe developed the ideas of David Bohm
David Bohm
David Joseph Bohm FRS was an American-born British quantum physicist who contributed to theoretical physics, philosophy, neuropsychology, and the Manhattan Project.-Youth and college:...

 in relation to the recent Aspect experiment. In 1990, Robert Anton Wilson
Robert Anton Wilson
Robert Anton Wilson , known to friends as "Bob", was an American author and polymath who became at various times a novelist, philosopher, psychologist, essayist, editor, playwright, poet, futurist, civil libertarian and self-described agnostic mystic...

 wrote a book called Quantum Psychology
Quantum Psychology
Quantum Psychology: How Brain Software Programs You & Your World is a book written by Robert Anton Wilson, originally published in 1990.Some consider Quantum Psychology a follow-up to Wilson's earlier volume Prometheus Rising, mainly for the presence of practical exercises to demonstrate its...

which explains Timothy Leary
Timothy Leary
Timothy Francis Leary was an American psychologist and writer, known for his advocacy of psychedelic drugs. During a time when drugs like LSD and psilocybin were legal, Leary conducted experiments at Harvard University under the Harvard Psilocybin Project, resulting in the Concord Prison...

’s Eight Circuit Model of Consciousness in terms of quantum mysticism.

Deepak Chopra
Deepak Chopra
Deepak Chopra is an Indian medical doctor, public speaker, and writer on subjects such as spirituality, Ayurveda and mind-body medicine. Chopra began his career as an endocrinologist and later shifted his focus to alternative medicine. Chopra now runs his own medical center, with a focus on...

's 1988 book Quantum Healing
Quantum healing
' is a metaphysical claim that the mind can heal the body....

explained a theory of psychosomatic healing using quantum concepts and his Ageless Body, Timeless Mind (1993), a New York Times Bestseller that sold over two million copies worldwide, discusses specific claims of healing, reversal of the aging process and immortality, adopting a "quantum worldview" and prescribing specific practices. In 1998 Deepak Chopra
Deepak Chopra
Deepak Chopra is an Indian medical doctor, public speaker, and writer on subjects such as spirituality, Ayurveda and mind-body medicine. Chopra began his career as an endocrinologist and later shifted his focus to alternative medicine. Chopra now runs his own medical center, with a focus on...

 was awarded the parody Ig Nobel Prize
Ig Nobel Prize
The Ig Nobel Prizes are an American parody of the Nobel Prizes and are given each year in early October for ten unusual or trivial achievements in scientific research. The stated aim of the prizes is to "first make people laugh, and then make them think"...

, in the physics category, for "his unique interpretation of quantum physics as it applies to life, liberty, and the pursuit of economic happiness".

The 2004 film What the Bleep Do We Know!?
What the Bleep Do We Know!?
What the Bleep Do We Know!? is a 2004 film that combines documentary-style interviews, computer-animated graphics, and a narrative that describes the spiritual connection between quantum physics and consciousness...

dealt with a range of New Age ideas in relation to physics. It was produced by the Ramtha School of Enlightenment, founded by J.Z. Knight, who claimed her teachings were based on a discourse with a 35,000-year-old disembodied entity named Ramtha. It made controversial use of some aspects of quantum mechanics—including the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and the observer effect
Observer effect (physics)
In physics, the term observer effect refers to changes that the act of observation will make on the phenomenon being observed. This is often the result of instruments that, by necessity, alter the state of what they measure in some manner...

—as well as biology and medicine. The film was dismissed by numerous critics as pseudoscience
Pseudoscience
Pseudoscience is a claim, belief, or practice which is presented as scientific, but which does not adhere to a valid scientific method, lacks supporting evidence or plausibility, cannot be reliably tested, or otherwise lacks scientific status...

.

Philosophical claims


Writers on quantum mysticism have made such statements as the following;
  • The observer and reality are not separate and mind and body are indivisibly one. While these ideas are commonly accepted, science does not commonly attribute substantiality to mind and consciousness. David Chalmers
    David Chalmers
    David John Chalmers is an Australian philosopher specializing in the area of philosophy of mind and philosophy of language, whose recent work concerns verbal disputes. He is Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Centre for Consciousness at the Australian National University...

    , in The Conscious Mind
    The Conscious Mind
    The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory is a 1996 book by David Chalmers, an Australian philosopher specializing in the area of philosophy of mind...

    (1996), used the idea of the philosophical zombie
    Philosophical zombie
    A philosophical zombie or p-zombie in the philosophy of mind and perception is a hypothetical being that is indistinguishable from a normal human being except in that it lacks conscious experience, qualia, or sentience...

     to argue in the arena of philosophy that a mechanical view of evolution cannot account for the phenomenon of awareness, while Daniel Dennett
    Daniel Dennett
    Daniel Clement Dennett is an American philosopher, writer and cognitive scientist whose research centers on the philosophy of mind, philosophy of science and philosophy of biology, particularly as those fields relate to evolutionary biology and cognitive science. He is currently the Co-director of...

     has attempted to refute this argument and to assert that the mind is an emergent phenomenon of our bodies. The idea that there is an underlying consciousness or intelligence that connects everyone is commonly proposed by "quantum mystics", based on the fact that quantum fields can be interpreted as extending infinitely in space.

See also


  • Buddhism and science
    Buddhism and science
    Buddhism and science have increasingly been discussed as compatible, and Buddhism has increasingly entered into the science and religion dialogue. The case is made that the philosophic and psychological teachings within Buddhism share commonalities with modern scientific and philosophic thought.For...

  • Fundamental Physics Group
  • Interpretation of quantum mechanics
    Interpretation of quantum mechanics
    An interpretation of quantum mechanics is a set of statements which attempt to explain how quantum mechanics informs our understanding of nature. Although quantum mechanics has held up to rigorous and thorough experimental testing, many of these experiments are open to different interpretations...

  • Metaphysics
    Metaphysics
    Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world, although the term is not easily defined. Traditionally, metaphysics attempts to answer two basic questions in the broadest possible terms:...

  • Quantum evolution (alternative)
    Quantum evolution (alternative)
    Quantum evolution is the hypothesis that quantum effects can bias the process of mutation towards adaptive genetic variation. It should not be confused with quantum evolution, a theory related to the modern evolutionary synthesis. The first publication on this subject, which appeared in a peer...

  • Quantum immortality
  • Quantum pseudo-telepathy
    Quantum pseudo-telepathy
    Quantum pseudo-telepathy is a phenomenon in quantum game theory resulting in anomalously high success rates in coordination games between separated players. These high success rates would require communication between the players in a purely classical world; however, the game is set up such that...

  • Parapsychology
    Parapsychology
    The term parapsychology was coined in or around 1889 by philosopher Max Dessoir, and originates from para meaning "alongside", and psychology. The term was adopted by J.B. Rhine in the 1930s as a replacement for the term psychical research...

  • Psi (parapsychology)
    Psi (parapsychology)
    Psi is a term from parapsychology derived from the Greek, ψ psi, 23rd letter of the Greek alphabet; from the Greek ψυχή psyche, "mind, soul".-Etymology:...

  • Schrödinger's cat in popular culture
  • Stuart Wilde
    Stuart Wilde
    Stuart WildeBackground informationBornSeptember 24, 1946 Farnham, EnglandNationalityBritishOccupationWriter, lecturer, essayist, humorist, scriptwriter, lyricist, music producerWriting period1983–presentSubject...

  • Subhash Kak
    Subhash Kak
    Subhash Kak is an Indian American computer scientist, most notable for his controversial Indological publications on history, the philosophy of science, ancient astronomy, and the history of mathematics...



Further reading


Publications relating to quantum mysticism
  • Fritjof Capra
    Fritjof Capra
    Fritjof Capra is an Austrian-born American physicist. He is a founding director of the Center for Ecoliteracy in Berkeley, California, and is on the faculty of Schumacher College....

    , The Tao of Physics
    The Tao of Physics
    The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels Between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism is a book by physicist Fritjof Capra, published in 1975 by Shambhala Publications of Berkeley, California. It was a bestseller in the United States, and has been published in 43 editions in 23 languages...

    : An Exploration of the Parallels Between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism
    , Shamballa, 1975
  • Deepak Chopra
    Deepak Chopra
    Deepak Chopra is an Indian medical doctor, public speaker, and writer on subjects such as spirituality, Ayurveda and mind-body medicine. Chopra began his career as an endocrinologist and later shifted his focus to alternative medicine. Chopra now runs his own medical center, with a focus on...

    , Quantum Healing: Exploring the Frontiers of Mind/Body Medicine ISBN 0-553-34869-8
  • Amit Goswami
    Amit Goswami
    Amit Goswami is a theoretical nuclear physicist and member of The University of Oregon Institute for Theoretical Physics since 1968, teaching physics for 32 years...

    , The Self-Aware Universe
  • Patrick Grim, Philosophy of science and the occult ISBN 978-0791402047
  • Lawrence LeShan
    Lawrence LeShan
    Lawrence LeShan is a psychologist, educator and the author of the best-selling How to Meditate ,Fields, Tracy , Ocala Star-Banner one of the first practical guides to meditation...

    , The Medium, the Mystic, and the Physicist: Toward a General Theory of the Paranormal, 2003, Helios Press, ISBN 978-1581152739
  • Jack Sarfatti
    Jack Sarfatti
    Jack Sarfatti is an American theoretical physicist specializing in the relationship between quantum physics and consciousness...

    , 1975, Space-Time and Beyond, with Fred Alan Wolf
    Fred Alan Wolf
    Fred Alan Wolf is an American theoretical physicist specializing in quantum physics and the relationship between physics and consciousness. He is a former physics professor at San Diego State University, and more recently has helped to popularize science on the Discovery Channel...

     and Bob Toben, E. P. Dutton. ISBN 0-525-47399-8
  • Michael Talbot
    Michael Talbot
    Michael Coleman Talbot was an American author of several books highlighting parallels between ancient mysticism and quantum mechanics, and espousing a theoretical model of reality that suggests the physical universe is akin to a giant hologram...

    , The Holographic Universe ISBN 0-06-092258-3
  • Michael Talbot, Mysticism And The New Physics ISBN 0-14-019328-6
  • Michael Talbot, Beyond The Quantum ISBN 0-553-34480-3
  • Evan Harris Walker
    Evan Harris Walker
    Evan Harris Walker , was an American physicist.Born in Franklin, Indiana, Harris received his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Maryland in 1964...

    , The Physics of Consciousness: The Quantum Mind and the Meaning of Life ISBN 0738204366
  • Ken Wilber
    Ken Wilber
    Kenneth Earl Wilber II is an American author who has written about mysticism, philosophy, ecology, and developmental psychology. His work formulates what he calls Integral Theory. In 1998, he founded the Integral Institute, for teaching and applications of Integral theory.-Biography:Ken Wilber was...

    , Quantum Questions: Mystical Writings of the World's Great Physicists (editor), 1984, rev. ed. 2001: ISBN 1-57062-768-1
  • Gary Zukav
    Gary Zukav
    Gary Zukav is a spiritual teacher and author of four consecutive New York Times bestsellers. Beginning in 1998, Zukav appeared more than 30 times on The Oprah Winfrey Show to discuss transformation in human consciousness concepts presented in The Seat of the Soul.-Life Story:Gary Zukav was born in...

    , The Dancing Wu Li Masters
    The Dancing Wu Li Masters
    The Dancing Wu Li Masters by Gary Zukav is a popular new age book from 1979 about mysticist interpretations of quantum physics.The toneless pinyin phrase Wu Li in the title is most accurately rendered 物理 in hanzi in the light of the book's subject matter, but appears to be somewhat of a pun as...

    , 1980, ISBN 0-553-26382-X


Criticism of quantum mysticism
  • Richard H. Jones, Science and Mysticism: A Comparative Study of Western Natural Science, Theravada Buddhism, and Advaita Vedanta (Bucknell University Press, 1986), ISBN 0108387500931 (Paperback ed., 2008), criticism from both the scientific and mystical points of view
  • Richard H. Jones, Piercing the Veil: Comparing Science and Mysticism as Ways of Knowing Reality (Jackson Square Books, 2010), ISBN 9781439266823
  • Michael Shermer, "Quantum Quackery", Scientific American
    Scientific American
    Scientific American is a popular science magazine. It is notable for its long history of presenting science monthly to an educated but not necessarily scientific public, through its careful attention to the clarity of its text as well as the quality of its specially commissioned color graphics...

    , January 2005 http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?chanID=sa006&articleID=0006F4CB-F090-11BE-AD0683414B7F0000&colID=13
  • Victor J. Stenger
    Victor J. Stenger
    Victor John Stenger is an American particle physicist, outspoken atheist, and author, now active in philosophy and popular religious skepticism....

    , The Unconscious Quantum: Metaphysics in Modern Physics and Cosmology, (Prometheus Books, 1995), ISBN 1-57392-022-3, an anti-mystical point-of-view
  • Victor J. Stenger
    Victor J. Stenger
    Victor John Stenger is an American particle physicist, outspoken atheist, and author, now active in philosophy and popular religious skepticism....

    , "Quantum quackery", Skeptical Inquirer
    Skeptical Inquirer
    The Skeptical Inquirer is a bimonthly American magazine published by the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry with the subtitle: The magazine for science and reason....

    , Vol. 21. No. 1, January/February 1997, p. 37ff, criticism of the book "The Self-Aware Universe"