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Amit Goswami:
The Self-Aware Universe


On Religion

To arrive at an understanding of Truth, a mystic usually discovers and employs a particular methodology. The methodologies, or spiritual paths, have both similarities and differences. The differences, which are secondary to the universality of the mystical insight itself, contribute to the differences in the religions founded on the teachings of the mystics. For example, Buddhism developed from the teachings of the Buddha, Judaism from the teachings of Moses, Christianity, from those of Jesus, Islam from those of Mohammed (although strictly speaking, Mohammed is regarded as the last of a whole lineage of prophets, including Moses and Jesus), and Taoism from the teachings of Lao Tzu. This rule, however, is not without exception. Hinduism is not based on the teachings of a particular teacher but instead encompasses many paths, many teachings.

Mysticism involves a search for the truth about ultimate reality, but the function of the religion is somewhat different. The followers of a particular mystic (most often after the mystic’s death) may recognize that the individual search for truth is not for everyone. Most people, lost in the illusion of their ego-separateness and busy in its pursuits, are not motivated to discover the truth themselves. How, then, can the light of the mystic’s realization be shared with these people?

The answer is, by simplifying it. The followers simplify the truth to make it accessible to the average person. Such a person is usually caught up in the demands of daily life. Lacking the time and devotion necessary to understand the subtlety of transcendence, he or she cannot appreciate the importance of direct mystical experience. So, the purveyors of the mystic’s truth replace direct experience of unitive consciousness with the idea of God. Unfortunately, God, the transcendent creator of the immanent world, is recast in the ordinary person’s mind into the dualistic image of a mighty King in Heaven who rules the Earth below. Unavoidably, the mystic’s message is diluted and distorted.

The mystic’s well-meaning followers inadvertently play the role of the devil in an old joke. God and the devil were walking together when God picked up a piece of paper. “What does it say?” the devil inquired. “Truth,” said God serenely. “Give it to me,” said the devil eagerly. “I’ll organize it for you.”

Of course, not all religions introduce the concept of God. In Buddhism, for example, there is no concept of God. On the other hand, in Hinduism there are many gods. Even in these cases, however, the above considerations of religion are evident. Thus we arrive at three universal aspects of all exoteric religions:

  1. All religions start with the premise that there is a wrongness in the way we are. The wrongness is variously called ignorance, original sin, evil, or just suffering.
  2. All religions promise an escape from this wrongness, provided the “way” is followed. The escape is variously called salvation, liberation from the wheel of suffering in the world, enlightenment, or an eternal life in the kingdom of God, heaven.
  3. The way consists of taking refuge in the religion and the community formed by the followers of the religion and following a prescribed code of ethics and social rules. Aside from how the esoteric teaching of transcendence is compromised, it is in the codes of ethics and social rules that the various religions differ from one another.

Notice the essential dualism in the first premise: wrong and right (or evil and good). In contrast, the mystical journey consists in transcending all dualities, including the one of evil and good. Also notice that the second premise is turned by the clergy into carrots and sticks—heaven and hell. Mysticism, on the other hand, does not dichotomize heaven and hell; both are natural concomitants of how we live.

As you can see, when filtered by the world’s religions, the monism of monistic idealism becomes ever more obscure, and dualistic ideas prevail. In the East, thanks to an endless supply of students of mysticism, monistic idealism in its esoteric form has popularly retained at least some passing familiarity and respect. In the West, however, mysticism has had relatively little impact. The dualism of the Judeo-Christian monotheistic religions has dominated the popular psyche, supported by a powerful hierarchy of interpreters. Like mind-body Cartesian dualism, however, the dualism of God and the world does not seem to hold up to scientific scrutiny...

Exposing the illogic of dualistic religions need not result in the monistic philosophy of material realism. As we have seen, an alternative monism is available. In view of the way that quantum physics has demolished material realism, monistic idealism may be the only viable monistic philosophy of reality. The other option is to give up on metaphysics entirely, which for a whlle was the direction in philosophy. The trend now seems to be reversing.

Now we must face the crucial question: Is science compatible with monistic idealism? If not, we must abandon metaphysics when doing science, adding to the looming crisis of faith. If yes, we must reformulate science in accordance with the demands of philosophy. I argue that monistic idealism is not only compatible with quantum physics but even essential to its interpretation. The paradoxes of the new physics disappear when we examine them from the point of view of monistic idealism. Furthermore, quantum physics combined with monistic idealism gives us a powerful paradigm with which we can resolve some of the paradoxes of mysticism, such as the question of transcendence and plurality. This points toward the beginnings of both an idealist science and the revitalisation of religions.

Amit Goswami is a professor of theoretical quantum physics. He is the author of many scientific papers and of 8 books exploring its implications. This article was extrcted from The Self-Aware Universe.

Idealist Metaphysics for Quantum Objects

Quantum objects show the complementary aspects of wave and particle. Is quantum complementarity—the solution of the wave-particle duality—the same as the complementarity of monistic idealism?

The writer George Leonard obviously saw a parallel between the two types of complementarity when he wrote in The Silent Pulse:”Quantum mechanics is the ultimate koan of our times.” Koans are the Zen Buddhists’ tool for breaking through apparent paradoxes to transcendent solutions. Let us compare koans with complementarity. In one koan, Zen aspirant Daibai asked Baso, the Zen master, “What is Buddha?”  Baso answered, “This mind is Buddha.”  Another monk asked the same question. “What is Buddha?” Baso replied, “This mind is not Buddha.”

Now compare this with Bohr’s complementarity. Ask Bohr, “Is the electron a particle?” Sometimes Bohr will reply, “It is.” When you look at the cloud chamber track of an electron, it makes sense to say that an electron is a particle. Looking at the diffraction pattern of electrons, however, Bohr will say, mischievously smoking his pipe: “You must agree that an electron is a wave.” It seems that, like the Zen master Baso, Bohr is of two minds regarding the nature of electrons.

Quantum waves are waves of probability. We need to experiment with many wavicles to see the wave aspect, as in the diffraction pattern. We never, never see the wave aspect of a single quantum object; experimentally, a single wavicle always, always reveals itself as a localized particle. The wave aspect nevertheless persists even for a single wavicle. Does the wave aspect of a single wavicle exis in a transcendental space, since it never manifests in ordinary space? Is Bohr’s idea of complementarity pointing to the same transcendent Bohr’s idea of complementarity pointing to the same transcendent order of reality that the philosophy of monistic idealism proposes?

Bohr never said yes in so many words to such questions, and yet his coat of arms displays the Chinese symbol of yin and yang. (He was knighted in 1947.) Can it be that Bohr understood the complementarity of quantum physics in a way similar to monistic idealism, that he supported an idealist metaphysics for quantum objects?

Between observations, the electron spreads out in accordance with the Schrodinger equation, but probabilistically, in potentia, said Heisenberg, who adopted the word potentia from Aristotle. Where do these potentia exist? Since the electron’s wave collapses immediately upon our observation, potentia could not be within the material domain of space-time; in space-time all objects have to obey the Einsteinian speed limit, remember? Thus the domain of potentia must be outside space-time. Potentia exist in a transcendent domain of reality. Between observations, the electron exists as a possibility form, like a Platonic archetype, in the transcendent domain of potential. (“I dwell in Possibility,” wrote the poet Emily Dickinson. If the electron could talk, this is how it would likely describe itself.)

Electrons are too remote from ordinary personal reality. Suppose we ask, Is the moon there when we are not looking at it? To the extent that the moon is ultimately a quantum object (being composed entirely of quantum objects), we must say no—so says physicist David Mermin. Between observations, the moon also exists as a possibility form in transcendent potentia.

Perhaps the most important, and the most insidious, assumption that we absorb in our childhoods is that of the material world of objects existing out there—independent of subjects, who are the observers. There is circumstantial evidence in favour of such an assumption. Whenever we look at the moon, for example, we find the moon where we expect it along its classically calculated trajectory. Naturally we project that the moon is always there in space-time, even when we are not looking. Quantum physics says no. When we are not looking, the moon’s possibility wave spreads, albeit by a minuscule amount. When we look, the wave collapses instantly; thus the wave could not be in space-time. It makes more sense to adapt an idealist metaphysic assumption: There is no object in space-time without a conscious subject looking at it.

So quantum waves are like Platonic archetypes in the transcendent domain of consciousness, and the particles that manifest upon our observation are the immanent shadows on the cave wall. Consciousness is the agency that collapses the wave of a quantum object, which exists in potentia, making it an immanent particle in the world of manifestation. This is the basic idealist metaphysics proposed for quantum objects in my book, The Self-Aware Universe. Under the illumination of this simple idea, all the famous 'paradoxes of quantum physics' vanish like morning mist.

Note that Heisenberg himself almost came up with the idealist metaphysic when he introduced the concept of potentia. The important new element is that the domain of potentia also exists in consciousness. Nothing is outside consciousness. This monistic view of the world is crucial.

Amit Goswami
, a professor of theoretical quantum physics, has written 8 books exploring its paradigm-shifting implications. This article was extracted from his Self-Aware Universe.



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