The Beginnings of Physics
The idea of physics probably began when human beings first began to realize that there were things outside of their worldview that could affect them that they seemed to have no control over. 50,000 years ago, when maybe fire (the first element of physics ) was first discovered, people began to sense the elements themselves: of earth, water, air, fire. These were things that got peopleÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¯Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¿Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â½s imaginations. And in their attempts to control them, I think weÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¯Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¿Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â½re beginning to see the birth of science and the birth of physics in particular. From 1500 BC (the period of the early Greeks) through, maybe 500 AD, weÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¯Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¿Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â½re beginning to see an attempt to control nature and I think this is really the roots of science and physics. ItÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¯Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¿Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â½s in this attempt to control nature that people begin to have a dialogue, a discourse, an argument. In my book, Taking the Quantum Leap, I attempted to bring out this dialogue.
Zeno and Aristotle
In the dialogue between Zeno and Aristotle we have two different points of view which I took up in my book, Taking the Quantum Leap. Zeno and Aristotle were really not contemporaries. They are about 100 - 150 years apart. But nevertheless, I juxtaposition them because they each represented a viewpoint about: What exactly is going on here? What is the nature of nature? Why are we seeing things the way they are? Can we control them? And in doing this and seeking out the nature of nature.
Now their points of view were simply this. Aristotle believed that things were controllable to some extent: that if, somehow, you could control what was happening at the beginning, you could smoothly and gradually watch the outcome evolve. It was a kind of controllable way of looking at nature. On the other hand, Zeno immediately saw paradoxes and pointed out that things didn't necessarily move or change in continuous ways, but possibly in discontinuous jumps. So we have here a battle, if you will, between whether things are continuous or discontinuous, which is essentially the root of tendril of what we call quantum physics. Do things as we observe them in nature change smoothly or continuously? Or do they change abruptly and discontinuously? Which is the way that things actually go?
Discontinuous Quantum Leap
And it turns out that when we are looking at the atomic phenomena realm, the realm where this new field called quantum physics emerges (which is the beginning of the 20th century, not back to the time of the Greeks), we see that things are observed to move in discontinuous ways. Something jumps from here to a new spotÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¯Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¿Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â½a new place without going in between. It's like the Star Trek transporter, it's like a magic trick where the magician holds up something in his hand and says: "Here, I put something in this handÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¯Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¿Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â½" and opens it - and it is gone -and it's now in this hand. Discontinuous quantum leap. And we see this happening at the atomic and sub-atomic level very evidently. And this leads to what is called quantum physics.
Where we come to as a result of quantum physics is exactly the place we didn't want to come to. Because physics, you remember, was invented, as I'm pointing out, as a way of controlling nature. And here we're finding if things discontinuously jump from one thing to another without going in between, we don't have control over nature.
The physics which developed from the Aristotelian point of view, the so-called classical physics, which Newton is the epitome, is a physics of control. It is a physics of continuous motion. It's a physics of if you know where something was, you can predict where it's going to be. This is determinism. This is the whole field by which much of science today runs.
We launch space ships via deterministic models. We predict where the moon is going to be and we make sure that our lander, the orbiter, gets to the moon based on celestial mechanics of Newton, for example, and Keppler. These are all very deterministic models and they work mostly for very large scale things like a moon lander or an automobile or a rocket ship or a planet whirling about the sun, that sort of thing. So the belief was that that same way of thinking, the Aristotelian mode stretched into the 20th century, that that way of thinking would also apply to very small things like atoms and molecules, since it applied to large things like baseballs and automobiles, why won't it apply to small things like atoms and molecules? And that's where we find this quantum jumping beginning to emerge. And it's this jumping which is very disruptive and very hard to pin down. And for that matter, even hard for the scientist who discovered it to believe that it is real. They almost curse themselves for discovering it.
I remember a quote of Irwin Schreddinger, the discoverer of the wave equation of quantum mechanics which predicts that things move probabilistically. He said: "If I knew that my equation was going to lead to all this damned quantum jumping, I would never have invented the equation in the first place!" And there were numerous arguments that were held. About the ultimate nature of matter, whether matter itself, because of the quantum jumping, was really matter or was it something else that could change form like into a wave or could it become wave-like in its properties at some point? So all these are different things developed as a result of losing control of nature. And quantum physics in its attempt to control nature even further ultimately lead to the science of uncontrollability which lead to a principle of physics which is called the principle of indeterminism or the uncertainty principle that was invented by Vernor Heisenberg. So a principle of our inability to control is what results from the quantum physical point of view. And this, to me, is very interesting because when we go to the ancient Greeks, the pre-Greeks, when we go back to the early cave person I was talking about before who was trying to control fire and can't control it, it has to do with magical incantations or somehow use the mind in some way to figure out what is happening, it seems like with quantum physics, we've gone complete circle.
We've come back to that very thing. We can't control nature ultimately at the atomic and sub-atomic levels certainly. Then what can we do? What is ultimately in control? Or what is determining what is going on? And what's actually happening?
So I think this leads possibly to the notion that there is something higher or bigger or larger than just the physical domain in which we can look to or seek to find answers to what is causing or what is determining what is going on in the world.
And this then leads to what you might call a "spirituality."
It's a same spirituality that the ancients came to when they realized that fire seemed to come out of the heavens and they didn't know what was causing it. We might say we're still in the same predicament. We can argue that since we don't know what is causing it, we'll say it is God. But I would say it is more subtle than that. I would say that we don't know what is causing things to happen. It's that we recognize that we can't control things. The ancient mind did not know was happening, but thought it could eventually control and lead to the school of thinking which became the Greeks and then, Newtonian science. We are in a different situation right now. We've gone that gamut. We now understand science reasonably well. We understand nature reasonably well and we see that we can't ultimately control things. Not because we don't understand what's going on, because there is a fundamental indeterminacy in nature itself which is uncontrollable. I think that is where the notion of God really enters into the equation or the notion of Spirit or the notion of something which is outside a pure physicality enters into the mix
Thumbnail sketch of the evolution of Physics
The ancient being that existed 50,000 years ago probably had the feelings of some kind of spirituality uprising within him or her as a result of witnessing uncontrollable fire. They thought it was like pure magic. So from that early beginning, through the history of thought leading to the Greeks leading to the Newtonian scientific revolution of the 17th and 18th centuries, we have a desire to control nature as much as is ultimately possible. And with Newtonian physics, the classical physics of Isaac Newton, the mechanical realities that get built as a result of that kind of thinking, and the Industrial Revolution, we see that we've essentially succeeded. We can control nature and therefore there is no need for God or religion or spirituality. Remember the ancients believed there was a god because they couldn't control fire. Now we find quantum physics coming in to our mix and we find that quantum physics predicts things that the old Newtonian physics can't predict at all: like atomic and sub-atomic behavior, quantum leaping of atoms from one place to another place without going in between. And many other very strange and wonderfully bizarre things. With that inability to control at the sub-atomic level, not because we are ignorant and we don't understand what's involved, but simply because we recognize there's something uncontrollable about nature itself that's involved. We're being led, perhaps, to a new form of spirituality, a new kind of spirituality. Not a spirituality based on prejudice and fear. But a spirituality based on wonder and awe and recognition of how nature really works.
Quantum Physics and God
How does quantum physics lead us to the existence of some kind of spirituality or the possibility of God?
We need to see first of all how classical physics leads us just in the opposite direction, into not having any spirituality or the existence of God.
Classical physics seems to want to get any kind of mind or consciousness of observer or anything spiritual out of the equation all together. It's really basically a materialistic point of view. Quantum physics says that even the material itself is not materialistic: that we can't understand matter itself in a purely materialistic way.
Quantum physics posits that there has to be something else that is outside of the material, that's something that we really can't observe, but its consequences is observable, this thing that we can't observe. And assume that we can't observe in a language of quantum physics is given different names. It's sometimes called PSI, like the Greek letter. Or it's called a quantum wave function or it's called a quantum wave aplitude, or a quantum probability aplitude, or a quantum state vector. It has many different names but it essentially refers to something which is invisible which is a field of possibility rather than an a field of actuality like say for example a magnetic field is a field of actuality. We can see a magnetic field by shaking iron filings around a magnet for example. We can't see the field of possibility out there in space. All we can do is observe its consequences in time. We observe by making a number of experiments. We see that there was some kind of guidance principle through time that's expressing the things we see in nature. But we don't see it like we would see a magnetic field. Nevertheless, we believe this field is real and exists in some way. But it is not a real field that we can tangibly grab onto. So it's the closest thing we can come to as being something called spiritual, or spirituality, or the essence of spirit is this quantum field of possibility. So I would say that quantum physics is really pointing to, or indicating a direction for spirituality to take. It's pointing to where spirituality and science might find a common ground.
Space and Time
Space and time or the way we understand space and time comes about through some understanding of what we see or what we sense around or about us. Because I have been trained in physics and have learned the elements of relativity theory, I have possibly a different view of space and time than most people might.
I see space and time and matter somehow intertwined with each other like a braid. And that you really can't have one without the other. That space implies time and matter implies space. It's like a circle. They can't exist separately. Relativity in predicting the origin of the universe, the so-called big-bang model, says that not space nor time nor matter could have existed prior to the big bang. That even time came into being at the time of this cataclysmic explosion which took place on a scale much smaller than the smallest dot at the end of any period of any sentence that you care to write.
So here we have a universe in which space, time, and matter are all coming into being at the same time. It's then people start to ask me: "What was happening before the universe came into being?" And all I can say is that theoretically there is no such thing as "before time". If we have a start to time, then there cannot be a "before". Because before implies earlier in time. And that's unimaginable for us. So it is very hard to just think about what that could possibly mean. Space and time however, have a different characteristic.
Space might be a way of ultimately distinguishing objects from each other. Without the ability to distinguish one thing from another, there would be no need or reason to have space. Time, on the other hand, seems to have a different kind of meaning. Time seems to imply awareness or consciousness. That is, we wouldn't be able to distinguish one event from another if we didn't have mind. And the ability to distinguish one event from another is what we mean by time. So space tells us how to distinguish one thing from another. Time tells us how to distinguish one event from another. So we have a notion of time through events-distinction and we have a notion of space through thing-distinction. And so both of these concepts are arising out of the need to distinguish or to separate.
In classical physics, nobody every questioned these things because it was assumed that there were separate objects and it was assumed that time was ever existent and one thing happened after another or before another and that's all there was to it.
In quantum physics, things aren't that simple. We have all kinds of strange twists and turns. We have objects which apparently are spatially separated yet when something happens to one of them, it instantly affects the other. Not through something traveling back and forth between the two objects - but instantaneously - as if there were no spatial separation between them at all. So in some sense, quantum non-locality is a denial of the existence of space or points to the illusory or illusionary or illusion-like quality of space. We also have similar things in time. We have the things going backwards and forwards in time in quantum physics. And these would deny the distinction between temporal events.
There is even an experiment that was done in which we couldn't distinguish when an object left a particular device, whether it started in the past or started in the present, and reached a particular goal. The actual appearance of what happened at the goal, the final point, was affected by an interference between the two possibilities of when the object actually left. So the distinction between past and present can lead to an interference indicating that there might be some way that there is no clear distinction between past and present as would seem to be obvious in our classical normal world view.
There's even evidence in the brain that events can be happening in the brain after one becomes conscious of them. In other words one becomes conscious of things which rely upon certain brain events taking place even though those brain events take place after one becomes conscious of them. In other words, we normally would expect the things to take place in the brain first - and then we become conscious. That would seem normal.
But there's evidence to show that we become conscious of something - and later the events that are required to make that consciousness appear, take place. In other words there is backwards causation. Something in the future is affecting what is happening in the present rather than something in the past affecting what's happening in the present. And there is even evidence to show that if you change the future after somebody becomes conscious of something, it affects the way the person becomes conscious of the thing which occurred. So you can alter what is apparently conscious by something that takes place later - which is totally paradoxical. And upsets a lot of people that you can have such things as future causation.
The relationship of physics to consciousness is a deep abiding one. It's been around, I think, from the time of the early 20th century. Even today, it is still being decided in many different conferences. No one really has an adequate answer yet. I'm convinced that consciousness is intimately related with quantum physics. Classical physics will not be enough to explain consciousness, although there are many people who don't agree with that.
There is evidence and some people strongly believe that it's possible that neuro-network theory, which is a kind of fuzzy logic which occurs that can be modeled on a computer, may emulate or resemble what happens in a human brain. And that consciousness is some kind of emergent phenomena as a result of very complex interactions in networks, like the neuro networks of our brain or computer neuro networks. And there are some surprisingly interesting things which come out of that. It's a fascinating field. I'm convinced over that neural network as currently understood through these models can not become self-conscious. That is, it can exhibit what appears to be conscious behavior because we can't predict what it's going to do next based on the inputs that it is given - but it nevertheless is not conscious of itself. I believe that for self-consciousness to arise we need something like what can be discovered in quantum physics. We need to have something which lies outside of this classical domain. And the reason I say that is because there is something very specific in quantum physics that suggests consciousness.
And that is if you remember I had mentioned earlier that in quantum physics we're dealing with things which jump from one place to another place seemingly without going in between. A natural question would be what's causing these jumps to occur? What's making things leap about?
The answer seems to have been - and seems to be - that it's observation of the things which is actually causing the jumps to occur. That there's a disproportionate event that takes place which is not controllable and which the mere act of observation suddenly causes things to suddenly jump into one state of another without going in between. So observation seems to be an action of consciousness because you can't observe something without being conscious of it (you need to have some idea of what you are looking for before you can even observe anything.) It would seem to imply that consciousness can effect matter in some way by merely observing it. So in quantum physics, we have certainly an indication that the observer can effect what is being observed or even change the state of what's being observed. We don't have anything like that in the neuro network model. So it would seem to me that quantum physics is a natural place to look for a theory of consciousness.
The classical worldview is that a thing was at a given state, position, location, and energy before anybody observed it. And observing it didn't affect it in any way whatsoever. But in quantum physics, a state is not in an actual position (energy position, location, charge, state, or whatever you want to talk about.) It's not in an actual state before observation comes into being. And it's only after it's observed that it suddenly enters into one state or another. There are experiments which show that observation can even affect the way in which a system like an atom or a series of atoms would change if they were left to their own devices and left unobserved.
Experiments were done at the National Institute of Standards and Technology by a group of physicists. They captured 5000 atoms of Brillium and put them in a vacuum, irradiated them with radio waves so that they got hot, and then they shined laser light on them. Now normally, when atoms are warm or hot or have energy, when laser light shines on them, it gets scattered. So you can observe through the scattering of the laser light that the atoms indeed are hot or have absorbed radio energy. And it takes approximately a quarter of a second for all. If you start shining radio waves in the midst of these atoms, it takes about 1 quarter of a second for roughly all of them to absorb radio energy. So if you shine laser light through and none of them had absorbed the radio energy, the laser beam would go right through. If all of them had absorbed radio energy, there would be a lot of scattering. IF only 50% of them had absorbed the radio energy, then you would have a 50% scattering pattern. In other words the scattering pattern will tell you how many atoms had absorbed the energy.
Ok, now, if you radiate the atoms and then don't shine the laser light until a quarter of a second later you see that virtually all of them are hot. On the other hand, suppose you decide to shine the laser light in half way along the quarter of a second path. In other words, half of a quarter second, about an eighth of a second, you decide to shine the laser light in and look. What would you expect to find? Well you would expect to find at least half the atoms had absorbed the energy because it takes a quarter of a second for them all, so roughly half. And that's about right. So you get a scattering which tells you about 50% have indeed scattered. So nothing surprising there.
But now the next quarter of a second passes and now what would you expect to find? Well most people would expect to find that by now, all of them had absorbed the energy. But that is not what happens at all. Only 2/3 of them have absorbed the energy. So you don't get them all. By simply looking in one time, you've affected the final result.
Now what happens if you decide to look in not only at 1/8 of a second but at 1/16 and 1/32 and 1/64, and 1/128? The very smallest fractions of a second so that you are looking in so often that you are looking in maybe 256 times in ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¯Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¿Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â½ of a second. Well what happens in this case is rather amazing. If you look in that often, what you find out, that none of the atoms have absorbed any of the radio energy. In other words, by simply watching diligently enough, you've kept the atoms from absorbing the energy - even though the radio energy was on all that time. So what this proves is that a quantum watched pot doesn't boil. So the old adage is true. Quantum pots watched diligently enough won't boil. And that's exactly what happens. And none of the atoms boiled. None of the atoms absorbed any of the energy. Providing one looked, long, rapidly enough along the pathway. So this essentially shows that observation can affect the physical world.
The intent comes in the vigilance of the observation. The fact that you are doing this observation so repeatedly, so often, at a given interval of time, I would call that intent. That, I would call the focus intent of the observer to make the event happen.
So, I would say that this models what we do in our human consciousness when we intend something. The intention might be a similar kind of phenomena, involving the mind rather than the outer world. If you could observe powerfully enough and rapidly enough you could prevent something that would normally evolve from actually happening.
For example, if I take a ball and I drop it. It normally falls to the floor. If I could vigilantly observe the ball with a great enough intent, the ball would freeze and not fall to the floor at all - I'd just be observing it.
That's what this is pointing to. The inability to stop normal action from taking place by simply observing it. Now to stop a ball from falling would require a tremendous amount of observational power. Maybe very rapid observations to an extent that I could never do them rapidly enough. It may require billions upon billions upon billions upon billions of observations per second of the ball in order to freeze it from falling in a gravitational field. When it comes to an atom in a vacuum, it requires much less power or rapidity in order to have an event freeze.
It's not something I am sending to the object. It's merely the fact that I am observing the object which is causing the quantum state of the object to be specifically defined. See, in the atom situation, everytime I observe (you see atoms are quantum things, there's always a probability that an excited atom will radiate energy at a given period of time) there's always a probability that it will do that, or there is always a probability that it'll absorb a given amount of energy in a given period of time. But if I keep observing it, I can actually freeze the atoms from absorbing the energy all together. So they don't even absorb the energy. And because they don't absorb the energy, they're not going to scatter in the laser light. In other words, even though radio energy is coming in, it's only a probability that it will absorb the energy. But if I observe the atom to be in an unobserved state, when I first start the experiment off, and then at a short interval of time later, I observe the same thing. Even though the radio energy has been on, if I observe it fast enough, it's like taking a stop watch, clickety clickity - every time I observe it, I keep clicking it back to the zero point so it never gets a chance to go all the way around. In this case, the atom would be absorbing energy going like this, but if I keep observing it to be where it started from, then it never got a chance, never really absorbs energy. It's hard to imagine any other way. I don't know how to explain it any better than that. It's possible that that's how we get things done.
That when we want something to happen we have that intent, that kind of focus, we diligently with vigilance apply that kind of intent to get a project moving, or get it going or get something started, or keep something going along the line.
A basketball coach may be using that kind of vigilance in order to keep his team playing together or coordinating together in a cohesive fashion. How that a coach observes his players and the team, can affect the whole team. If a coach decides to pick out one player through observation, by constantly looking at the player or berating him in some way, or whatever, that could affect the way the player plays with the whole team.