Bob Bates —
Over a century ago physicist Max Planck, functionally an intellectual mentor of Albert Einstein in making scientific breakthroughs with prodigious consequences, reflected on what he was uncovering. Planck asserted, “All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particles of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. … We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter.”
Conceptions of forces, matter, and the mind date back ages, but what was new here was the scientific technology that permitted penetrating the atom and glimpsing forces in action that held together the vast fabric of our universe, from the minuscule through the microscope to the massive through the telescope.
Physicist, cosmologist, astrobiologist, and multiple award-winning science writer Paul Davies writes, “The rise of science served to extend the range of nature’s marvels, so that today we have discovered order from the deepest recesses of the atom to the most distant galaxies.” Probably the most significant development was that of quantum physics in the 1920s, revealing the interchangeability of energy and matter, the tension between wave and particle, and the omnipresent potential for dynamic change and emergent manifestations, whether visible or unseen in our world. Responsible for what we take for granted nowadays, in our society awash in amazing electronic devices, are the brilliant pioneers of quantum mechanics: Erwin Schrodinger, Werner Heisenberg, Niels Bohr, Enrico Fermi, Wolfgang Pauli, Paul Dirac, George Gamow, and others.
Schrodinger coined the term entanglement to describe cosmic connections and relationships that “are instantaneous, operating outside the usual flow of time,” and are independent of distance. He emphasized, “I would not call that one but rather the characteristic trait of quantum mechanics.” Einstein’s famous formula, E = mc2, designates the universality of the equivalence and interchangeability of energy and matter. Combining Schrodinger’s and Einstein’s insights gives us a cosmos that, from its formative beginnings, is unitive or holistically integrated. The astrophysical term for this is a nonlocal universe, comprised of “an undivided wholeness” wherein, paradoxically to our senses, energy/matter exists interconnectedly everywhere. Utilizing such breakthrough conceptions, physicists initiated experiments designed to reveal heretofore unrevealed features of the universe.
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The journey of science is long and winding. In his 1962 groundbreaking study of how the scientific establishment over centuries has resisted incorporating new viewpoints and findings, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn documented the difficulties and delays new scientific discoveries have faced among peers. In the case of quantum mechanics, in the 1920s-30s its implications were so revolutionary to the received point of view that the wider scientific community balked at acceptance. From the European turmoil in the ’30s into World War II, progress was further delayed. Thus the impetus to carry on was bequeathed to the next generation of scientists, who recognized that implications of quantum mechanics “demanded a radical reformation of the most fundamental aspects of reality,” as Paul Davies puts it.
During World War II, applications of quantum mechanics were developed, eventually leading to communications technology done by the Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET). During the 1960s these applications led to protocols fundamental to the development of the World Wide Web, or Internet. With this, technology and profit motives then drove accelerated applications, evident today in the abundance of products now available to the public.
In another arena, the 1970s saw the birth of chaos theory, discoveries in how natural forces operate. Observations and studies in meteorology (weather analyses and predictions) had offered insights here. Broadening developments led to new understandings producing an accepted paradigm of nature’s scales, patterns, and order within turbulence that seeks to stabilize itself. What appear to be random acts of nature, when more deeply examined, are revealed as dynamics subject to natural “laws” of forces and energies “working out” emergent stabilizing balances.
The continuing discoveries of universal designs and patterns that seemed to “have a mind of their own” prompted a number of established scientists to see as operative a natural “intelligence” or “mind” or “deeper consciousness” embedded in the dynamics of the cosmos. This prompted a more open expression of new insights, extending Max Planck’s thesis that consciousness and an intelligent mind provide “the matrix of all matter,” and Schrodinger’s conclusion that we are part and parcel of an interconnected-yet-undivided, integrated unitive wholeness.
From the perspective of western philosophy, the concept of the universality of mind developed out of endeavors to overcome the perceived alienation of man from nature, which had found substance in Western thought with the influence of 17th century philosopher-scientist Rene Descartes. Further, features of the 18th century Enlightenment served to reduce concepts of divinity to the domain of superstition.
Few modern day scientists will admit to incorporating philosophic or religious beliefs in their conceptions of reality, but some established and well-respected scientists see a merging of science, philosophy, and religion in their main conclusions. Some contexts from different scientific disciplines and belief systems follow.
Paul Davies observes, “We who are children of the universe—animated stardust—can reflect on the nature of that same universe, even to the extent of glimpsing the rules on which it runs. … Through conscious beings the universe has generated self-awareness, which can be no trivial detail, no minor byproduct of mindless, purposeless forces. We are truly meant to be here.” Worldwide esteemed physicist Freeman Dyson added that, assessing how the energy-based universe operates, it is as if “intelligence is to some extent inherent in every atom,” and seems to have an intuitive direction.
Anthropologist Jeremy Narby observed that every living organism “has a dual nature: it stands for itself and it is also a message sent from all previous generations to all future generations … the essential feature of life which makes biological evolution possible.”
Historian of science Robert Nadeau and physicist colleague Menas Kafatos surmised that from such physical reality of “an undivided wholeness” the inference could be drawn that mind may well have been “intertwined in everything since the dawn of time and space,” and furthermore that human consciousness is thus “emergent from and seamlessly connected with the entire cosmos.” This means “in our world there is an intimate connection between mind and nature.”
Physicists Russell Targ and Harold Puthoff at Stanford Research Institute initiated mind research over 40 years ago and see mind as operative within natural forces, some of which science does not yet comprehend. Dean Radin, Lab Director at the Institute of Noetic Sciences in California, focuses on exploring dimensions beyond physical phenomena—the ill-defined spheres of metaphysics—conducting research on how human minds are part of universal entangled dynamics.
In the arena of religion, the Dalai Lama, who has had an enthusiastic interest in science since early childhood, observes, “In Buddhism mind is primary and pervades all things,” and understanding of consciousness plays a “key role in determining the course of human happiness and sufferings” in dealing with questions of ethics and spirituality. The role of consciousness is critical in that “with the law of karma an intentional act will reap certain fruits” and it appears, for all intents and purposes, “the fate of the evolutionary stage we are in is entangled with the karma of the beings inhabiting it.” Esteemed historian of religions Huston Smith similarly observed, “Wholeness comes first, multiplicity later; the many derive from the one,” and our awareness of aspects of our civilization are recognizing this on a scientific as well as a religious basis from all that has come before and uncertainties as to where we are headed.
Twenty-five years ago, theoretical physicist Amit Goswami posited that “everything exists in and is manipulated from Consciousness, the ground of all being” and “nonlocality serves as the unitary interconnectedness framework of deeper reality.” Within this “the self is not a thing but a relationship between conscious experience and the immediate environment … and our choices set the context for our action; thus the possibility of a new context arises each time we choose.” And thus, the importance of the role of “free will.”
In world religions and depth psychology, the principle Goswami cites operates as co-creativity on humans’ part. The concept of the creative Source is a unitive consciousness known by various terms: the atman, the Buddha, the Christ consciousness, cosmic or transpersonal consciousness—all of which have no boundaries of separation in their true teachings and applications. Goswami offers as an example the concept of heaven “is not a place; it is an experience of living vitally in quantum nonlocality.” We individually construct an internally-but-in-coherence-with-unitive-consciousness world we wish to live in and then act to create it. In such a consciousness, boundaries blur and disappear, becoming a reciprocity of nowhere and now here, held to be fundamental to the potentials of quantum reality, penetrative philosophy, and the core of enlightened religious traditions.
Physicists John Briggs and David Peat explore the dynamics of chaos theory in our natural world. They define chaos as underlying interconnectedness that exists in apparently random events, but which are manifestations of natural forces and unseen-but-detectable patterns of nature. These include what we call birth and death, creation and destruction, and the unpredictable emergence of “a flux of patterns enlivened with sudden turns, strange mirrors, subtle and surprising relationships, and the fascinating unknowns of life.” They define consciousness as, literally, con-science-ness: a holistically knowing together. Their definition of self is “a movement of interconnection fluctuating somewhere between the sensations of solitary, unique experiences and the in-flowing of social human consciousness, which we all share.” The key personal practical application of this is to engage these dynamics, flow with them, and work collaboratively with others, seeking imaginative new solutions to persistent common problems, thereby creating a better world. As eminent astrophysicist and cosmologist John Archibald Wheeler expressed it, “We live in a participatory universe,” and it is incumbent upon each of us as humans to engage in participating in ways we are capable of to enhance the progress of our world.
Among the general public, probably the least known brilliant multi-disciplinary theoretician is octogenarian Ervin Laszlo. He is recognized internationally for his accomplishments as a teenage concert pianist in Hungary, and in adulthood for his considerable contributions in the fields of physics, biology, psychology, systems theory, astrophysics, quantum relativity, and sociopolitical issues. Laszlo’s focus since the 1960s has been on the “big mysteries” of creation, the structure of the functioning universe, life processes, and consciousness. Laszlo, too, sees the primary field of the cosmos as integrating deeper dimensions of reality, vitalizing and propelling a holistic, living universal organism. Within this cosmic framework all actions of energy, awareness, and expressions of consciousness, and forms and formats of information are “recorded” and “stored” and available in their potential to serve as re-inputs into the grand scale of systems-within-systems-within-systems which progressively build an ever-changing nonlocal wholeness of interconnecting, interacting, and interdependent “parts.” The key principle in this evolutionary process is coherence, which dynamically and subtly “enables the evolution of higher forms of structure and complexity, accompanied by higher forms of mind and consciousness.” Such coherence functions as life-affirming and vital over many parameters.
Since original creation, what Laszlo terms the “megaverse” has continuously stored its energies and forces across all dimensions, preserving living memories and patterns of the ceaseless oscillations composing the whole of the cosmos. In this way the universe, self-aware and self-organizing, “relentlessly generates, conserves, and integrates experience,” forming continuities across space-time, and through such processes yields new and higher life forms and emergent higher consciousness. Simplistically, think of the universe as a giant, living organism guided toward positive advancements by a supra-consciousness.
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So, how does all this relate to you and me and friend and neighbor? Consider what physicist and philosopher Danah Zohar wrote over a quarter of a century ago. “We are all individuals, but individuals within a greater unity, a unity that defines each of us in terms of others and gives each of us a stake in community. … Understanding the full reality of the extent to which we are all physically interwoven requires a revolution in our way of perceiving ourselves and our relation to others. … When we apply quantum concepts to the nature of the self [we have to] alter our notions of space and time [and reality] … and accept that this touches each and every one of us at the core of our personhood.”
As contemplative author Duane Elgin writes, “We have reached a point where we realize there is no place to go where we are separate from the ever-generative womb of the loving universe.” Such a perspective implies an inherent responsibility to try to live our lives in harmonious relationship with one another and all of life. Zohar appropriately personalizes this, stating “All relationship is an effort … so I am interwoven with you only to the extent that I commit myself to that task.” This applies in terms of the everyday dynamics of psychology, sociology, environmental concerns, politics, and religion—no exceptions if we are to make cooperative progress.
As we have learned, the quantum universe is literally a “sea of potential,” a sea in which each of us swim, frolic, and sometimes struggle to just stay afloat. But with our human capacity for thought, genuine communication, and wise choices and actions, each of us can contribute to the betterment of the whole. As Wheeler inferred, life is designed to be fully participated in by anyone and everyone.
This essay barely scratches the surface of an extensive body of scientific endeavors and discoveries. While much remains a mystery or puzzle with many missing pieces, a lot has been established as either fact or sound theory upon which a range of experimental findings have been independently replicated or functional models have been constructed. The fields of subatomic physics and theoretical and applied astrophysics continue their quest for adding to our knowledge of how our universe is constructed and operates. The extent to which mind and consciousness can be integrally incorporated into this remains to be seen.
The cosmic window opens to seen and unseen dimensions we are just beginning to better comprehend. The mirror of life reflects our place in everyday being, Does it seem a valid integration of these suggests that our “homework” lesson is to strive to live in harmonious relationships with the cosmos and one another?
John Briggs and David Peat, Seven Life Lessons of Chaos, 1998
Paul Davies, God and the New Physics, 1983 and The Mind of God, 1992
George Gamow, Thirty Years That Shook Physics:The Story of Quantum Theory, 1966
James Gleick, Chaos: Making of a New Science, 1987
Amit Goswami, The Self-aware Universe: How Chaos Creates the Material World, 1993
Dalai Lama, The Universe in a Single Atom, 2005
Ervin Laszlo, Science and the Akashic Field: An Integral Theory of Everything, 2004; and Science and the Reenchantment of the Cosmos, 2006
Robert Nadeau and Menas Kafatos, The Non-Local Universe, 1999
Jeremy Narby, Intelligence In Nature, 2005
Dean Radin, Entangled Minds, 2006
Erwin Schrodinger, Mind and Matter, 1958
Danah Zohar, The Quantum Self, 1990