Friday, March 30, 2012

The Cult of Quantum Physics

There is a growing religious movement spawned by an unlikely source; a quantum physicist.  At its forefront is a man who calls himself a "quantum activist" by the name of Dr. Amit Goswami.

Dr. Goswami grew up in India as the son of  a brahmán priest.  He turned his back on pursuing the traditional priesthood, instead choosing the path of science.  Yet eventually that scientific path would render him to be a priest of a different kind.

I stumbled upon Dr. Goswami through a couple documentaries, "What the Bleep Do We Know!?" (which was part very quirky film/part documentary, and contained reference to a few disputed scientific studies) and "The Quantum Activist" (which was mostly compiled clips of Dr. Goswani speaking).

(I'm essentially a n00b to quantum physics, so I apologize in advance for errors in the following discussion.)

There is a curious phenomenon in quantum physics known as the observer effect, or as they sometimes put it: "consciousness causes collapse."  It works like this: unobserved matter is potentially in X number of possible states, but when there is a conscious observer, the matter gets locked into one particular state.  Such a situation is quite a paradox for materialists.  How can mere observation change matter?

Dr. Goswami, who literally wrote the textbook on Quantum Mechanics which is widely used in colleges, has come up with an interesting solution to that paradox:  "Consciousness is the ground of Being."  Or to put it another way, we live in a consciousness-based reality, not a material-based reality.  The material manifestations around us are simply "collapsed consciousness;" conscious possibilities which have been locked into a particular state by an observing consciousness.

Dr. Goswani's position is not without its skeptics, some predating the doctor himself.  One of the most famous objections (if anything within quantum physics can be considered "famous!") is Schrödinger's cat.  In 1935, Erwin Schrödinger proposed a thought experiment in which a cat in a box would live or die based off of the unobserved radioactive decay of an element, thereby implying that the requirement of an observer to lock in a state of matter (in this case, the spontaneous decay of one particular atom) is in some cases, if not all cases, illusory.

Yet Dr. Goswani sidesteps such criticisms by appealing to the cosmic consciousness, non-localized consciousness, or quantum consciousness.  This, he identifies as being one and the same with the mystic concept of God; that God is everything, although he suggests that you don't have to consider such a non-localized, quantum consciousness as God.  Certainly, this God is not a rule-giving, judgement making, and salvation-providing deity.  No, this God is the supple undercurrent of consciousness which provides the basis for all forms of collapsed consciousness, and maintains the interconnectedness of all things outside of space and time.

At least one reproducible experiment seems to support this interconnected, non-localized consciousness.  The set up is this:  Two people meditate in the same room with the intent of trying to connect with one another through their mediation.  After twenty minutes, these two people are then moved into two different rooms, each inside their own Faraday cages to shield electromagnetic communications.  The two people are rigged up to EEG processors to measure brain activity, and then told to mediate again.  Then, one of the test subjects is stimulated with light pulses, which evokes a reaction on the EEG.  The freaky thing is that the other test subject, who was not subjected to the light pulse, exhibited a very similar EEG evocation in both amplitude and phase to the one exhibited by the person who did receive the light pulse.  Control subjects who didn't meditate on each other didn't experience this sympathetic evocation.

So how is it possible that two people meditating on one another could transmit signals to each other, despite being in different locations and being shielded from one another?  Well, Faraday cages can't block out all electromagnetic influences, and there is always the chance that the EEG's themselves, combined with the electrical wiring, served as antenna, of sorts, to transmit that signal.  Yet that does not fully explain everything.  After all, why did meditation make the difference versus the control subjects?  Something connected these two people who had meditated.  Dr. Goswami posits that it is the quantum consciousness which has linked them together.

If we can influence this non-localized consciousness with our own thoughts, then it would seem that we could potentially seize the possibilities, and make manifest any reality we choose.  However, Dr. Goswami suggests that a little humility may be in order.  This quantum consciousness is larger than any of our single consciousnesses, and is subject to the influence of everyone else around.  In most of life, you will have to yield to the quantum consciousness more than it will yield to you.  Yet if groups of people begin to intently focus their consciousness from the level of meditation, as opposed to doing so at the level of ego or rational desires, it may be possible to tap into that quantum consciousness to really make the world a better place.

I have many issues with some of Dr. Goswami's quantum philosophy, including my own prejudices, but I reserve final judgement for now.  Even though the concept of quantum mechanics has been around for well over a century, it is still a burgeoning field, in my opinion.  In no small part, the difficulty lies in dealing with a scale which is only on the fringes of observability.  I compare it to trying to fully develop the Germ Theory of Disease without a microscope.  It's not that it is impossible to make meaningful discoveries or theories based on the observations, but I think that we must temper them as conjectures based on incomplete data.  Beyond that, at least at my present understanding, it seems that the doctor makes several quantum leaps of faith in connecting the dots to develop his philosophy.

Yet I can't deny that Dr. Goswami theories are enticing to ponder, and they do provide some interesting solutions to problems, such as the mind-brain interface.  Dr. Goswani's "cult" following may, in time, prove to be completely justified.  It would be fascinating to discover that science confirms the ideas which mystics have been telling us for several millenniums.  Truth is often stranger than fiction.

For additional information besides the Wikipedia link above, check out Dr. Goswami's website.

21 comments:

  1. Theists, mystics, atheist and more have jumped at quantum insights to make them their own. Everybody jumps at science to back their favorite position -- be that economics, politics, religion, consciousness, nationalism, racism or whatever.

    Yawn.

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  2. @Sabio
    Indeed! On one hand, it is encouraging that people incline towards science. But the problem is exactly that it is a "jump" at science; impulsive, without full measure of contemplation or understanding. It's so tempting to do, too. Obviously, given that such a jump solicits a yawn. ;-)

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  3. I saw those DVD titles on netflix and almost watched them. I may do so now. So, do the observations have to be conscious or can the unconscious observations of recording instruments work just as well?

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  4. @DoOrDoNot
    I watched them on NetFlix. :-) "What the Bleep Do We Know!?" is so quirky, and now that I know some of the studies they reference are disputed, I have a hard time recommending it. Of course, with your psychology background, that might make it all the more interesting! It wasn't bad. It was just weird, but kind of in a good way. "The Quantum Activist" was pretty good overall.

    Anyway, to answer your question, it turns out that unconscious observations affect reality too. In a double-slit experiment, where a single photon of light is shot at two very tiny and close-together slits, a diffraction pattern emerges on the other side of those slits (thus, light behaved wave-like). When they put a momentum measuring device on the other side of the slits, the diffraction pattern vanished (thus light behaved particle-like) if the device was turned on. It a little odd, like the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. Check out:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Double_slit

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  5. It sounds like Dr. Goswami is having a lot of fun. His site seems a little light, doesn't go into things too deep. I kind of like the idea that god can be stripped of the usual dressings, including authority and agency. It still sounds like you can make gods into whatever you feel.

    Other than being a minor, whimsical threat to standard materialism, is there anything new here for spirituality besides a rehashed justification? I do like some of his phrases.

    I tried to find out if there was any radical change in ethics or behaviour because of this and found little (I admit, it was not a rigorous search). How do Goswami's ideas change things really?

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  6. @Andrew
    I think you hit the nail on the head, that, for the most part, this is a rehashed justification; now with "scientific backing!" :-) It is a blending of old mysticism and the new age mysticism (where you make your own reality).

    The "change" is a focus shift. In watching "The Quantum Activist", he seems to promote two ideas:

    1) Take time to let the quantum consciousness speak to you. In other words, don't do, do, do, do. When you are doing, you bring a select thought into reality, but your ideas are more limited. Instead, alternate periods of doing and just simply "being," and during that time of being more options will present themselves from the quantum consciousness.

    2) As hinted at above, we do create reality in a way, but we all need to work together at it, to work for the common good, not the selfish good. (Very old-school philosophy, but with his scientific twist on the backing of influencing the quantum consciousness at a collective and sub-ego level.)

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  7. Alan Sokal seems to have covered, albeit indirectly, somewhat similar ground.

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  8. OK, thanks for the info hicks

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  9. Quantum followers will not start wars like you religious quake do.

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    1. Hi Brian,

      A broad brushing stroke there, does clairvoyance run in your family? :oP I suggest that some Fanatic Quantum nut could start a war just as easily as a Christian one. imo

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  10. Brian, I think you meant "quack", not "quake". If you think that I am a religious quack, you obviously didn't spend much time here, as I am without religion.

    People who call other people names without getting to know them may not start wars, but they do start fights, which is hardly any more acceptable.

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  11. According to the PBR theorem,
    http://www.nature.com/news/quantum-theorem-shakes-foundations-1.9392
    since the quantum wavefunction has been directly measured as a real physical object,
    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v474/n7350/full/nature10120.html
    the vision of the universe no longer could be considered psi-epimestic (merely information contained in the quantum wavefunction). The possible remained alternative is psi-ontics (real objects outside our conciousness).
    Recent studies have shown how quantum decoherence is not due to consciousness. Also it was explained why, at macroscopic level, reality is not so uncertain. Such findings vindicate the deterministic and classical physics theories:
    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=bringing-schrodingers-quantum-cat-to-life
    epistemic theories shared by new agers seem wrong:
    http://www.nature.com/news/a-boost-for-quantum-reality-1.10602
    It is not in our brain. It doesn’t depend on our observation. It doesn’t depend on our willingness. The universe matter is not distantly “interconnected”.Particles are not involved by “spooky actions”in that sense. Particles Interaction is both real and ontic.
    http://phys.org/news/2012-04-quantum-function-reality.html
    http://phys.org/news/2012-05-paper-controversy-nature-quantum-function.html
    All those quantum mystic myths have been widely debunked, but real scientists have never had doubts about that. I’m sorry, but this seems the beginning of the end of the “age of aquarium”. Science looks more fancy than the speculation of many narcisistic new agers. The real “magic power” of mind is intelligence and imagination, which leaded us to the moon and made our dreams true. No “quantum vibrations” connected by the “infinite intelligence” coming from our brain.
    http://www.edn.com/electronics-blogs/measure-of-things/4418902/Quantum-wave-functions-come-alive–May-the-Bohr-Model-rest-in-peace
    Nevertheless, the Law of attraction is good for people who want to satisfy their desire without using their intelligence.
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/vanessa-van-edwards/law-of-attraction_b_2082921.html
    http://www.heatherkappes.com/?page_id=68
    http://youarenotsosmart.com/2010/06/23/confirmation-bias/
    Thus, assuming that the quantum wavefunction is ontic, the Copenhagen interpretation is shifted in favour of the Many Worlds Interpretation (MWI). In MWI you can imagine yourself living by infinite copies of yourself, one for each possible universe, with infinite outcomes. Therefore, if in this universe you are the Dalai Lama, then in another universe you are Adolf Hitler, untile some evil man will born for destroying each universe. In my humble opinion, that’s one more reason to believe that quantum mechanics theory should not be extended to our common macro reality and our human beliefs, otherwise we risk to fall into an absolute relativism and our life could stick to just a random nonsense. That’s why I blame quantum mysticism or, in general, theories which want to merge science and religion. Nevertheless, science is falsifiable, as stated by Karl Popper. Thus, even quantum religions should be forced to review their statements, and that is a nonsense too. That’s why I do not trust too much New Age an other quantum woo beliefs. In a MW model, there are infinite bodies and infinite souls who live all togheter contemporary, one for each universe. In my opinion that is a nonsense even for the vedic religion, because it is impossible to detect one specific soul beeing able to improve the self awareness for ascending to a higher level in the next life/universe. According to a MW quantum mysticism , there’s no need of reincarnation, because for a living creature, all the souls do their experience at the same time for each universe, respectively.
    We should just let scientists doing their own commendable work, without mixing science and religion, and respecting all beliefs without the arrogance to use science for demonstrating which is the right belief.

    Regards.

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    1. Feels that this is the best review regarding quantum wave function..I still cant digest Many Worlds Interpretation (MWI) even though i had a leaning towards david deutsch and now to a small extent towards amit goswami.(I as a layman term i cant digest the fact that another me is tying and reading this article in a parallel universe).But given the number of multiverses propsed by string theory ( 10 raise to 500) infinte replication of almost identical worlds with same physical laws and cosmological constants cant be ruled out.. double slit experiments and wave function collapses and many world interpretations tells us that it is time to move away from clasical newtonian physics and move to to a quasi-mystical yet scientific and realistic worlds of Heisenberg,Plank ,Neils Bhor and infact amit goswami.. God infact plays Dice...

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    2. Thanks for the comment, Rumkumar. I think the problem is that the overwhelming majority of our lives appeals to be ruled by Newtonian physics. At least right now, it takes some effort for the common person to "see" anything at the quantum level. In everyday life, it appears to be more of the exception to the rule. I suspect it will take the development of a common, well distributed and consumer-used technology before we fully can grasp the concepts, and make the most of the potentials.

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  12. Thanks for the information, Anonymous!

    It's hard for science to make us feel all warm and fuzzy inside, and it seems that so many people, scientists sometimes included, are quick to turn any new discovery of knowledge, or even discoveries of unknowns, into proof or meaning of a theological system. I'm afraid this won't be the last time that scien-priests will have to be debunked!

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    1. TWF,it looks like you were just waiting for some anon dude to pop up and be dismissive about the scary questions that quantum physics asks/apparently answers us.Why do we freak out when we try to put science into perspective.Goswami's work is not even a cult,nor does he try to link religion into it.All he does is, he takes a soulful scientific approach in trying make sense of his life.The MV theory can never be scientifically proven with experiementsal setup,ironically it can only at max be one of the possibilities.It wont take much time for me to look up and do some research to "debunk" MV.I think linking or classyfing quantum physics under one big mysticism filled cult umbrella is ridiculous.

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    2. We freak out when some one tries to make sense of the world with a scientifc approach.We just wait for it to be dismissed and debunked.MV can also be debunked with a little bit of time and reasearch,hell it can't even be proved with experimental data,ironically it can/is one of the inifinite possibilities :).But categorising quantum physics under one big mystic cult umbrella is just unacceptable

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    3. Harry Y, it appears that you didn't read my post beyond the title, for I certainly did not categorize "quantum physics under one big mystic cult umbrella." How about reading what I wrote, and then commenting on it? Thanks.

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    4. Yes, sometimes our powers of observation are tainted.

      My mind has encountered many things. These serve both a filters and scaffold for my mind to taste this newest encounter. It can be to me, to my personal realities, no more nor any less than what is constructed by what results from those filters.

      Examples of filters from others and me:

      1. "It's a bird! it's a plane! No, it's Superman!".

      2. For years, I experienced an extreme animosity to the second in command on the TV show "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea" starring Riichard Basehart. It was only after viewing again "The Fly" that I saw its star, David Hedison, and the reason for my intense feelings. Ah! Fear and disgust from the movie cuased me to hate the actor after that. Once seeing the link, i no longer carried the fear or hatred.

      3. An assumption from my filters is that quantum physics, calculus, and our reliance on electron microscopes, etc., is that humans have very limited physical capabilities for collecting, observing, and measuring the world inside and around them. Facts are facts until...

      And so, I recognize the need to adjust my filters, to dampen the resulting presumptions, to listen to the voices/ideas that may not fit in with my filters.

      New particles? Or, instead, new paths of collision? Like in health matters when a symptom is named as a disease because its origin from a pathology was not known.

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  13. Thanks for the comment, bfw. It is funny how our own preconceptions can blind us at times, huh? It's especially worse when those around you carry the same perceptions! :-)

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  14. quantum cult exists not only among the clowns but among the physicists.Many of them,instead the understanding the process declare colqulate! And the quantum mysticism grouth,God still plays dice, though after 1952 the works of D.Bohm and others stimulated the process of the understanding the quantum mysteries.And today the second congress of the Emergent Quantum Mechanics took place.

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