Quantum mysticism

Quantum mysticism is a term that has been used to refer to a set of metaphysical beliefs and associated practices that seek to relate consciousness, intelligence or mystical world-views to the ideas of quantum mechanics and its interpretations.[1][2][3][4][5][6] Many ideas associated with "quantum mysticism" have been criticized as either misinterpretations of quantum mechanics or as pseudoscience.[7][8][9]

The term originally emerged from the founders of quantum theory in the early twentieth century as they debated the interpretations and implications of their nascent theories, which would later evolve into quantum mechanics.[2][10] 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. Several physicists were inspired by mystical ideas, including Niels Bohr, who selected the Chinese "Tai-chi" or "Yin-Yang" symbol for his coat of arms[11] and his gravestone, or Wolfgang Pauli, who worked with Carl Jung on psychological epistemology and the theory of synchronicity,[12] favouring a "lucid mystical" approach, and who was influenced by the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, whose derived ideas from the Hindu Upanishads, as was Erwin Schrödinger whose lectures on "Mind and Matter" appeared in 1958.

Albert Einstein though he believed in Spinoza's God[13] remained opposed to some of the novel "mystical" formulations of other physicists. The debate polarised after the 1939-45 war, 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 Anglo-American scientific community.[14]

From the 1970s, though, popular English-language writers began again to compare current interpretations of the physics with various metaphysical ideas. These were soon followed by non-scientifically-trained authors who often displayed less caution in their statements, leading to the emergence of various fashionable practices and beliefs. Many of these latter can currently only be subjectively experienced and are therefore unfalsifiable.




In the 1920s, with the inception of early quantum theory, some of its founders, including Schrödinger,[15] Heisenberg,[16] Pauli,[17] Bohr[18] and Wigner, took an active interest in the philosophical implications of the emerging quantum theory, 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 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 indispensible to the emergence of such a picture.[19] Because so little is understood about the nature of consciousness there is a larger range for speculation here (see Quantum mind and Quantum mind–body problem). Fred Alan Wolf 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: a summary of his criticisms was added to Penrose's book Shadows of the Mind. 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, whose popularly-successful The Tao of Physics explored parallels between quantum physics and principles of Eastern mysticism. The 1980 book Wholeness and the Implicate Order by David Bohm portrays reality as a unity. The latter book was strongly criticised by Steven Weinberg, 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 "physics wars". Another well-known contribution was Quantum Reality by physicist Nick Herbert (1985) which dealt mainly with possible interpretations of quantum theory.

The 1979 book, The Dancing Wu Li Masters by Gary Zukav (self-confessedly "not a physicist") again included parallels between Eastern mysticism and modern physics. Michael Talbot's The Holographic Universe developed the ideas of David Bohm in relation to the recent Aspect experiment. In 1990, Robert Anton Wilson wrote a book called Quantum Psychology which explains Timothy Leary’s Eight Circuit Model of Consciousness in terms of quantum mysticism.[20]

Deepak Chopra's 1988 book Quantum Healing 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 was awarded the parody Ig Nobel Prize, in the physics category, for "his unique interpretation of quantum physics as it applies to life, liberty, and the pursuit of economic happiness".[21]

The 2004 film What the Bleep Do We Know!? 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—as well as biology and medicine.[22] The film was dismissed by numerous critics as pseudoscience.[23][24]

 Philosophical claims

Writers on quantum mysticism have made such statements[25][26][27][28] 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, in The Conscious Mind (1996), used the idea of the philosophical zombie to argue in the arena of philosophy that a mechanical view of evolution cannot account for the phenomenon of awareness, while Daniel Dennett has attempted to refute this argument and to assert that the mind is an emergent phenomenon of our bodies.[29] 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.
  • The body is fundamentally information and energy perceived as solid matter. The information claim stems from the "it from bit" ideas of John Archibald Wheeler which evolved into Digital physics.[30] Quantum field theory states that everything is made of quantum fields that are not to be interpreted as objects, so the term "solid" has no real meaning in this context.

 See also


  1. ^ Athearn, D. (1994). Scientific Nihilism: On the Loss and Recovery of Physical Explanation (S U N Y Series in Philosophy). Albany, New York: State University Of New York Press.
  2. ^ a b Edis, T. (2005). Science and Nonbelief (Greenwood Guides to Science and Religion). New York: Greenwood Press.
  3. ^ Stenger, V. J. (2003). Has Science Found God? The Latest Results in the Search for Purpose in the Universe. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books.
  4. ^ Edis, T. (2002). The Ghost in the Universe: God in Light of Modern Science. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books.
  5. ^ Crease, R. P. (1993). Play of Nature, The (Indiana Series in the Philosophy of Technology). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
  6. ^ Seager, W. (1999). Theories of Consciousness: An Introduction (Philosophical Issues in Science). New York: Routledge.
  7. ^ Pagels, H. R. (1982). The Cosmic Code: Quantum Physics As the Language of Nature. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
  8. ^ Nanda, M. (2003). Prophets Facing Backward: Postmodern Critiques of Science and Hindu Nationalism in India. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press.
  9. ^ Scott, A. C. (2007). The Nonlinear Universe: Chaos, Emergence, Life (The Frontiers Collection). New York: Springer.
  10. ^ Niels Bohr, "Discussion with Einstein," In P.A. Schilpp, ed., Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist, p. 235.
  11. ^ "Bohr crest". University of Copenhagen. 1947-10-17. http://www.nbi.dk/hehi/logo/bohr_crest.png. Retrieved 2007-03-16. 
  12. ^ David Lindorff, Pauli and Jung: The Meeting of Two Great Minds, as reviewed at http://www.amazon.com/Pauli-Jung-Meeting-Great-Minds/dp/0835608379
  13. ^ http://www.spaceandmotion.com/albert-einstein-god-religion-theology.htm, quoting Victor J. Stenger, Has Science Found God?, 2001, chapter 3; "I believe in Spinoza's God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fates and actions of human beings". (Einstein, letter to Rabbi Herbert Goldstein)
  14. ^ http://www.physorg.com/news163670588.html
  15. ^ By Michel Bitbol, Olivier Darrigol, Erwin Schrödinger,Institut autrichien de Paris
  16. ^ from [1] "Quantum theory has led the physicists far away from the simple materialistic views that prevailed in the natural science of the nineteenth century" Werner Heisenberg, Physics and Philosophy, (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, (1962), 128
  17. ^ "I confess, that very different from you, I do find sometimes scientific inspiration in mysticism … but this is counterbalanced by an immediate sense for mathematics." -- W. Pauli, from [2]
  18. ^ John Honner (2005). "Niels Bohr and the Mysticism of Nature". Zygon Journal of Science and Religion 17-3: 243–253. 
  19. ^ Roger Penrose, The Emperor's New Mind, OUP, 1989, p. 374 and passim.
  20. ^ Wilson, Robert Anton - Quantum Psychology 1990
  21. ^ The 1998 Ig Nobel Prize Winners
  22. ^ What the Bleep are they On About?! Australian Broadcasting Corporation
  23. ^ Wilson, Elizabeth (2005-01-13). "What the Bleep Do We Know?!". American Chemical Society. http://pubs.acs.org/cen/reelscience/reviews/whatthe_bleep/. Retrieved 2007-12-19. 
  24. ^ "The minds boggle". The Guardian Unlimited
  25. ^ Chopra, D. (1993). Ageless Body, Timeless Mind: The Quantum Alternative to Growing Old. Harmony. ISBN 0-517-88212-4
  26. ^ Braden, G. (2005). The God Code. Hay House. ISBN 978-1401903008
  27. ^ Talbot, M. (1992). Holographic Universe. Harper Perennial. ISBN 978-0060922580
  28. ^ Braden, G. (2008). The Divine Matrix: Bridging Time, Space, Miracles, and Belief. Hay House. ISBN 978-1401905736
  29. ^ TED Lecture, Dan Dennett on our consciousness, Feb 2003 http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_dennett_on_our_consciousness.html
  30. ^ Tom Siegfried, The Bit and the Pendulum: From Quantum Computing to M Theory - The New Physics of Information, (John Wiley & Sons 8 Feb 2000) ISBN 978-0471321743

 Further reading

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Publications relating to quantum mysticism
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, January 2005 [3]
  • Victor J. Stenger, 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, "Quantum quackery", Skeptical Inquirer, Vol. 21. No. 1, January/February 1997, p. 37ff, criticism of the book "The Self-Aware Universe"