I wonder if I am becoming addicted; I can’t get enough of quantum physics, which has captured─and simultaneously liberated─my imagination beyond belief. My appetite for what it is revealing feels insatiable. The more I study it, the more I feel as if I am mutating, metamorphosizing, becoming quantum-physicized into a higher state of coherence in my very soul. Words fail me when I try to describe the realm of pure and utter magic that is quantum theory. Unlike a typical addiction─wherein energy gets drained─the more that I enter(tain) the world of quantum physics, the more creative energy makes itself available to me. I feel convinced that what it is revealing to us is of crucial importance for the future of humanity.
Science is the wisdom tradition par excellence of our modern age. Quantum physics, its crowning jewel, can be likened to a genuine spiritual path in that its study becomes a “royal road” beyond both physics and the physical dimension into the realm of meta-physics. Quantum physics’ return to metaphysics was inevitable, for physics began with the Gnostic search for what Einstein calls the “Old One” behind all phenomena. To mainstream physics, however, the word “metaphysics” is now akin to a swear-word, a synonym for “loose thinking,” a code-word for unscientific thought. In modern physics as it is commonly practiced today, being “metaphysical” is used as a derogatory euphemism for condemning a theory which doesn’t fit into the common, agreed-upon consensus framework. It is as if the perspective of contemporary conventional physics wants to “purify” its discipline from the stain of metaphysics. Mainstream physics claims it is not interested in metaphysics, asserting that it makes no metaphysical assumptions, as it is only interested in seeing reality as it is. Yet, hidden within this very viewpoint is, paradoxically, a tacit form of metaphysics. This metaphysics lies in the unexamined assumptions implicit in the perspective that physics makes about the nature of reality, assumptions so implicit as to be not even recognized as assumptions. The spirit of quantum physics, however, challenges the underlying and unexamined metaphysical assumptions of mainstream physics, at the same time providing the doorway for a radical new form of metaphysics to emerge.
Metaphysical considerations are unavoidable if we are truly interested in comprehensive knowledge of the whole and not merely in practical, material concerns. Metaphysics, according to its most common modern definition, has to do with a transcendent realm “beyond” what is perceptible to the senses, which is precisely what quantum physics points towards. The term is related to “mysticism,” which is based on the word “mystery,” implying something hidden. Physicists and metaphysicians are both in the business of wondering about the universe. Contrary to the pejorative associations that the word mysticism has within the modern scientific community, the genuine mystical path is closely akin to the path of science in that mystics accept only that which is revealed through direct, immediate experience. The word “experiment” is etymologically derived from the word “experience.” Mystics are those who experiment with their experience and are therefore empiricists, drawing conclusions in a way that is in the true spirit of science. The discoveries of quantum physics make the insights which were once considered mystical “transparent,” readily available for all of us to see the world through its liberating perspective. We ourselves are an essential part of the mystery that is being unveiled through quantum physics. To the extent that we are interested in truth, or the nature of reality, or God, or who we are, we are all metaphysicians. Quantum physics is hinting at something beyond what we normally think of as physics, reaching beyond even what we consider the physical world. Quantum physics is pointing at the very thing that it itself─and in fact the whole universe─is an expression of.
John Wheeler, is widely considered one of the greatest scientists of the twentieth century, a lover of wisdom, who did work in quantum physics that reached beyond the formalism of physics into the realm of metaphysics in its original philosophical sense. Quantum physics is the most successful scientific theory─as far as its capacity to make accurate theoretical predictions that precisely match with experimental data─of all time; there aren’t even any competitors. The majority of corporately trained and funded physicists are content to take their theory for granted, however, just using it for practical ends, rather than being curious about where it came from and what it indicates about the nature of reality. Thankfully, physicists such as Wheeler are interested in the deeper philosophical meanings and implications of their mysterious theory. Commenting on quantum theory, Wheeler says, “It’s a sausage grinder. We drop our problems in, and turn the crank, and get out the answers. Where did the sausage grinder come from?” It is as if a miraculous object bestowing earth-shaking knowledge has fallen from the heavens, helping us to develop undreamed-of technologies; but no one really knows why it works, what it means or, ultimately, what it is revealing to us. Wheeler is not just interested in the practical aspects of solving equations, making predictions, developing engineering applications and building technologies, but is willing and impelled to contemplate the big questions, such as why is our universe a quantum universe in the first place? He asks, “Why is the quantum there? If you were the Lord, building the universe, what would convince you we couldn’t make a go of it without the quantum?”
The shadow side of “science as a modern-day wisdom tradition” is that it can, and often does take on the qualities of a religion, with all of its taboos and heresies that violate the open-minded spirit of the scientific method. The tenets of science, which can easily resemble a disguised form of religious dogma, call for its adherents’ intellectual and emotional allegiance in a way that borders on the irrational. People who have been indoctrinated into the dictates of this scientific creed, as if hypnotized or under a spell, can find it difficult or even impossible to imagine that the world can be anything other than the way they have been taught that it is, as if no other way of thinking or knowing about things has ever occurred to them. The still-dominant attitude of “scientific materialism”─with its hidden metaphysical belief in an objectively existing world─has erroneously excluded the subjectively experienced mind from the domain of the natural world to the point that “scientific knowledge” has come to be equated with “objective knowledge.” And yet, quantum physics has proven there’s no objective anything. Writer Octavio Paz wonders, “Perhaps tomorrow’s metaphysics, should man feel a need to think metaphysically, will begin as a critique of science, just as in classical antiquity it began as a critique of the gods.”
Sometimes the greatest breakthroughs in science happen because someone has the courage to recognize and speak out loud what others have turned a blind eye towards. The ever-emerging discoveries of quantum physics are thirsting for the next generation of daring thinkers to further unfold its deeper meaning. For daring and gallantry are needed in science, as in battle.
PHYSICS IN TRAUMA
Consciousness has insinuated itself into the quantum physics laboratory, and mainstream physics has had a most interesting reaction: it has changed definitions, created new forms of logic and come up with the most ingeniously absurd theories so as to avoid directly dealing with what it has discovered. Physicist Banesh Hoffmann, an associate of Einstein, writes in his book The Strange Story of the Quantum, “Let us not imagine that scientists accepted these new ideas with cries of joy. They fought them and resisted them as much as they could, inventing all sorts of traps and alternative hypotheses in vain attempts to escape them.” It is as if the physics community is in denial about its own unsettling revelations. When asked about the metaphysical and philosophical implications of quantum theory, for example, their avoidance is captured in their well-known reaction: “Shut up and calculate.” As fascinating as its new discoveries are, the physics community’s unconscious reactions to its discoveries are at least as interesting, if not more so. As a student of the psyche, I can’t help but wonder what is being revealed by their reactions.
Niels Bohr, one of the founding fathers and principal interpreters of quantum physics, famously said, “Anyone not shocked by quantum mechanics has not understood it.” The worldview emerging from quantum physics has completely and utterly overturned and shattered the old, classical mechanistic ideas of how the universe works. It is as if the psyche of physics as a whole is having a nervous breakdown; the old structures upon which its view of the world has been based are melting down. To quote physicist Daniel Greenberger, “Einstein said that if quantum mechanics is right, then the world is crazy. Well, Einstein was right. The world is crazy.” Contemplated psychologically, it is as if the revelations of quantum physics are so shocking and discontinuous with the previously embraced classical perspective that they have induced a form of trauma in the entire physics community, what I call “Quantum Physics-Induced Trauma”─“QPIT.” The physics community’s unconscious reactions to its discoveries have the classic features of a trauma that they are in the process of integrating into their conscious awareness. It is traumatic to realize that the world that we thought we lived in doesn’t exist in the way we thought it did. Abraham Pais, an award-winning physicist who knew Einstein during the last decade of Einstein’s life, writes in his biography of the pre-eminent physicist, “As a personal opinion, it seems to me that making great discoveries can be accompanied by trauma.” When we discover something that so completely changes and rocks our world, we can easily find ourselves disoriented, experiencing a shock that needs to be metabolized, digested and integrated. The physics community’s seemingly unconscious and irrational reactions to the appearance of consciousness on its scene─avoidance, denial, ignoring, rationalization etc.─are a typical response to an overwhelming trauma that cannot be integrated in the ordinary way. The physics community’s trauma is a natural reaction, a sane response to a mind-bending discovery that deconstructs the very foundation of the world they thought they had been inhabiting. The quantum is such a trauma to the classically conditioned mind; to take its revelations into oneself is to drink the transformational nectar of an initially disorienting, but ultimately radically liberating gnosis. Bohr takes the point about being shocked even further when he says, “If you think you can talk about quantum theory without feeling dizzy, you haven’t understood the first thing about it.” And as with any significant trauma, we are asked to assimilate what has been triggered within us.
As is often the case in trauma, there emerges an area of experience that is “off-limits” to talk about. Mention the word “consciousness” to corporately trained conventional physicists, and watch their knee-jerk re-action, as if we have just said a dirty word and broken a taboo. Instead of having a multidisciplinary, holistic vision akin to being modern day renaissance men (and women), the typical physicist of today practices what philosopher José Ortega y Gasset refers to as the “barbarism of specialization.” The visionary Buckminster Fuller referred to this dynamic as becoming “specialized to death” and felt it was in opposition to life. From this compartmentalized point of view, anyone who tries to synthesize knowledge from different disciplines is denounced as a dilettante and accused of speaking about something they are not “licensed,” “qualified,” or “credentialed” to discuss. How amazing that physics, in discovering the miraculous world of the quantum, simultaneously constructs a “don’t-go-there zone” regarding what we are and are not allowed to talk about. From the psychological point of view, the question naturally arises: why is mainstream physics so threatened? It should be pointed out that issues regarding consciousness have not been refuted but merely rejected by those in positions of power and influence, which seems less a scientific process than a political and psychological one. The fact of there being an unspoken elephant in the physics living room, of there being a mysterious secret that cannot be spoken about, are all signs, seen from the family systems theory point of view─which sees the world as a whole interrelated and inseparable system of relationships─of a “dysfunction in the family system” of the physics community.
It is not that physicists are merely disinterested in the appearance of consciousness on their scene; on the contrary, they have become “aggressively disinterested” in the metaphysical implications of their own theory. If we view the physics community as if it were an individual, it has an emotional “charge” (analogous to that of a subatomic particle) and is “reacting against” something in its own discoveries that is being triggered within itself. So often the greatest discoveries in physics are found by following with unbiased and open-minded curiosity the one anomalous thread in the prevailing theory─what to do about consciousness?─that doesn’t seem to fit. Interestingly, the current reaction of the physics community is the polar opposite: it is actively choosing to look away from what is in its closet, from the thread that is protruding through the cracks in its theory. And yet, if this thread is pulled, it could potentially unravel not only the field of physics’ ideas about the world, but physicists’ ideas about themselves as well.
The lineage holders of corporate/academic physics are like “gatekeepers” who quarantine the radical philosophical implications of quantum theory from the rest of us. To quote Einstein, “Restricting the body of knowledge to a small group deadens the philosophical spirit of a people and leads to spiritual poverty.” It is not something solely within the individual psyches of physicists that is resisting the liberating perspectives of quantum theory; it is important to view the physics community within the wider context of the institutional structures in which it operates. From the point of view of the prevailing power structure which funds the overwhelming majority of physics research in the United States─in both corporations and universities─the insights emerging from quantum physics represent a tremendously disruptive knowledge that could easily threaten the status quo. Quantum physics is pointing at the primacy of consciousness for how our moment-by-moment experience manifests, thereby illuminating the immensity of our inherent power to create our world more consciously. If recognized and understood by the general population, the revelations of quantum physics would be naturally used for the liberating purposes for which this knowledge is tailor-made. It is as if the “creator” of quantum physics─the universe itself─designed it in order to free humanity from the shackles of the spiritless, soulless, deadening paradigm of fragmentation (i.e., the Newtonian, classical worldview) that has promulgated limiting and outright false doctrines about the nature of who we are.
The revolution of quantum physics is occurring primarily within the mind, and once its revelations are communicated in readily understood language, metaphors, and symbols so as to be transmitted to an ever-widening circle of people, all bets are off. The liberating ideas of the newly emerging quantum gnosis are not just catchy, but “catching,” in that they are contagious. Once sufficiently ignited and set aflame in the psyche of humanity, the revelations of quantum physics can and most certainly will spread like wildfire, virally and nonlocally propagating themselves through the collective unconscious of our species. A true “Reformation” of the world can be the result.
The overwhelming majority of the field of physics, however, has been co-opted by the corporate powers-that-be to become an instrument for their agenda. For the corporate body politic, the bottom line of generating profits is what’s important, after all. Corporatized physics equates truth with utility, as it is interested in manipulating and gaining control over the seemingly outer world, its focus having to do with issues related to the acquisition of raw power.
Like a compass always pointing north, however, pure physics is solely interested in truth and nothing but the truth, no matter where the quest for truth leads, and is thus deeply grounded in natural philosophy and metaphysics. The real (he)art and soul of physics, however, have become marginalized and devalued by the existing power structure and turned into an alternative and fringe part of physics. This is analogous to what commonly takes place in organized religion, when the radical liberating gnosis of salvation that lies at the esoteric heart of its spiritual doctrines becomes banished as heretical. The original revelations typically become replaced by a distorted version of the original wisdom and then become monopolized by the powers-that-be to support the self-preserving interests of the hierarchical institution of the prevailing church.
There is intense pressure in the mainstream, academic─and corporately funded─physics community to not talk about consciousness. Physicists who come out of the closet and “out” themselves as being interested in consciousness seriously endanger their credibility, reputation, funding for their research, and employment options. To quote author Upton Sinclair, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” Physicists who talk about the mystery of consciousness are condescendingly disparaged, derided as overly-mystical or superstitious, labeled “unprofessional,” seen as having psychological hang-ups and will be snubbed and treated as pariahs by their own community. It is as if in breaking the unspoken vow of silence, speaking about what is not supposed to be spoken about, genuine adepts of the alchemical art of physics attract the unconscious of their colleagues. Ironically, in their dogmatic slumber, the corporatized physicists are actually blocking much-needed developments in their field. In their unwillingness to look at what is presenting itself in their own theory, they are avoiding their moral responsibility to follow the path towards truth, wherever that may lead.
There is a mutually reinforcing dynamic between the corporate physicists’ personal psychological ego issues regarding confronting within themselves the liberating effects of the newly emerging quantum gnosis and the corporate power structure that they are a part of. These two factors─the internal unconscious dynamics operating within the psyche of physicists and the corporate power structure operating in the outside world─collude with and feed into and off of each other in ways both covert and insidious. There is an unconscious incentive-driven blindness intrinsic to being part of the global, corporate institutional power structure. This is to say that individual scientists who are embedded in and part of this structure─be it in corporations or academia─have been unconsciously trained, conditioned and programmed to avoid inquiring in directions that could threaten the power structure they depend upon for their salaries, reputations and funding for their research. This is a universal phenomenon at work within the human psyche through which power and control are exercised, reinforced and maintained at the expense of truth, operating across many different domains throughout the world.
The ultimate goal of science is to come up with an all-embracing “Theory of Everything,” i.e., a single theory which explains the whole universe. It should be pointed out that an unconscious metaphysical assumption about the way the universe exists is implicit in the idea that there can be one theory that covers the whole universe. In excluding consciousness from their Theory of Everything, it is as if corporatized physicists are saying that consciousness is not a phenomenon that is part of the whole universe. Physics thinks of itself as a discipline that is trying to understand the nature of the universe, and yet its practitioners’ unconscious reactions to the implications of their own discoveries are seen as part of the universe that is not worthy of their attention.
In their reaction, physicists are looking away from and turning a blind eye to something within themselves, as if they are avoiding relationship with a part of themselves. In their “schizophrenic” (which literally means “split mind”) reaction, they have fallen into a state of cognitive dissonance within their own minds. In this state of inner dis-association from a part of themselves, they are keeping contradictory viewpoints apart from each other, separated by a watertight partition, a mental firewall. This cognitive dissonance can’t help but propagate itself through the field of physics. Interestingly, from one point of view the behavior of the quantum realm itself seems schizophrenic. From all appearances, many physicists─some of the most educated, brilliant and influential members of our species─are suffering from a psychological malady. If this is the case among some of the brightest among us, what does this tell us about what is happening deep within the collective psyche of humanity?
In their very “looking away” physicists are, ironically, revealing how a psychological factor has entered into the realm of physics. Physics and psychology─“physis and psyche”─are meeting through the backdoor of physicists’ unconscious reactions to their discoveries, which is actually part of their discovery. To quote the great psychologist C. G. Jung, “the no-man’s land between Physics and the Psychology of the Unconscious [is] the most fascinating yet the darkest hunting grounds of our times.” It is as if the psyche and quantum physics are revealing themselves through each other, drawing closer together as both of them, independently of one another and from opposite directions, push forward into transcendental realms. Wolfgang Pauli, another of the founders of quantum physics, writes, “the only acceptable point of view appears to be one that recognizes both sides of reality─the quantitative and the qualitative, the physical and the psychical─as compatible with each other, and can embrace them simultaneously.” The unification of psyche and physis demands us to explore the outer world while simultaneously looking within ourselves, as if one eye is turned outwards and the other inwards. Pauli expresses the opinion that “It would be most satisfactory of all if physis and psyche could be seen as complementary aspects of the same reality.”
Anything that can’t be experimentally measured is of no concern to most physicists. But then, how can consciousness, which is “groundless” while simultaneously being the ground of all measurement, directly measure itself? Consciousness is the only tool we have to examine consciousness. Seemingly caught in an endless dilemma with no exit strategy, it is as if a sentient, self-reflective mirror is reflecting itself as it reflects UPON itself. Quantum physics is like a cosmic mirror pushing the scientific world right to its edge and reflecting back its blind spot. Etymologically, one of the original meanings of the word “mirror” is “holder of the shadow.” Similar to an individual’s personal process, in which the very thing we turn away from is typically where the alchemical “gold” is to be found, in the very thing that physics is turning away from it might have stumbled upon the most significant clue about the ultimate nature of reality. In any case, there is definitely something quite curious and worthy of further contemplation going on within the hallowed halls of physics, particularly within the minds of physicists.
The discoveries of quantum physics throw physicists back upon themselves. To quote physicist Freeman Dyson, “My message is that science is a human activity, and the best way to understand it is to understand the individual human beings who practice it.” Quantum physics’ realizations about the nature of elementary particles are a magic mirror reflecting something back to us not just about nature, but about our nature. It is in this sense that quantum physics becomes indistinguishable from a form of metaphysics. To quote Erwin Schrödinger, one of the founding fathers of quantum physics, “I consider science an integrating part of our endeavor to answer the one great philosophical question which embraces all others, the one that Plotinus expressed by his brief: who are we? And more than that: I consider this not only one of the tasks, but the task, of science, the only one that really counts.” It is difficult to discern where physics ends and metaphysics begins. In our journey into quantum physics, we simply cannot escape metaphysics.