GOD IS NOT DEAD
what Quantum Physics tells us about our origins and how we should live
By Amit Goswami
Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc. Copyright © 2008 Amit Goswami, PhD
All rights reserved.
The Scientific Rediscovery of God
The concept of a higher power, popularly called God, is millennia old. The idea is that we experience phenomena that cannot be explained on the basis of material, worldly causes alone; the only explanation possible is that the phenomena are caused by intervention from God. This divine intervention is called downward causation.
This concept conjures up an image of God as a mighty emperor sitting on a throne up in heaven and doling out acts of downward causation: acts of creation, different laws of movement for heavenly and earthly bodies, miracle healings for devotees, judgment of the virtuous and the sinners, and so forth. Support for this naïve, outdated picture is implicit in pop religions even today, especially popular Christianity.
Scientists take advantage of the naïveté of the populist God supporters to pooh-pooh this description as dualism that is philosophically untenable, impossible. God is dishing out downward causation, intervening in our world now and then, here and there? Hah! That's impossible, they assert. How does a nonmaterial God interact with things in a material world? Two entities of different kinds cannot interact without a mediator signal. But the exchange of a signal involves energy. Alas! The energy of the physical world alone is always conserved or is a constant. But that would be impossible if the world were involved in any interaction with an otherworldly God! Case closed.
The populists of Christianity strike back against this argument of science with attacks on one of the most vulnerable theories of materialist science—the theory of evolution called (neo-) Darwinism. But these populists, known as creationists and intelligent design theorists, do not deliver any credible alternative to neo-Darwinism, let alone to dualism.
Serious proponents of the God hypothesis respond to the criticism of dualism by stating that God is everything there is, that God is both otherworldly ("transcendent") and worldly ("immanent"). This philosophy is called monistic idealism or perennial philosophy. Here "transcendent" means being outside this world but able to affect what is inside this world. Downward causation is exerted by a transcendent God.
But scientists, equally seriously, have questioned this sophisticated concept, disputing this definition of transcendence. How can something be otherworldly and yet be the cause of anything in this world? This concept also smacks of dualism, they insist.
Scientists long ago attempted to show that the phenomena of the world can be understood without the God hypothesis. René Descartes intuited the idea of a clockwork universe in which a supreme being caused the universe to exist as a system of bodies in motion, providing a fixed and constant amount of motion according to the laws of physics, mechanics, and geometry, and then did not subsequently intervene in any way. Galileo Galilei discovered the two-pronged approach of theory and experiment that we call science. Isaac Newton discovered the laws of physics behind the clockwork deterministic universe, laws that apply to heavenly and earthly bodies alike. Then Charles Darwin discovered an evolutionary alternative to Biblical ideas of life's creation that fits the fossil data to some extent.
These and other phenomenal successes of a Godless science have prompted the following hypothesis: All things consist of elementary particles of matter and their interactions. Everything in the world can be understood from this one hypothesis. Elementary particles form conglomerates called atoms. Atoms form bigger conglomerates called molecules. Molecules form cells; some of these cells (the neurons) form the conglomerate we call the brain. And the brain comes up with our ideas. These ideas include God, an idea that may be due to the arousal of a spot in the midbrain. In this philosophy called scientific materialism or material monism or simply materialism, cause rises upward from the elementary particles. All causes are due to "upward causation" producing all effects, including our God experiences (figure 1-1).
But the esoteric spiritual traditions say that God is beyond the brain. God is the source of our essence, the higher consciousness or Spirit in us. The question is: Does the upward causation model really explain us and our consciousness, including higher consciousness?
Is Consciousness a Hard Question?
Currently, some philosophers have begun to call consciousness "the hard question" of science (Chalmers, 1995). Of course, such a designation depends on the context one chooses.
One context is neurophysiology, brain science, which considers that the brain generates all of our subjective experiences. Neurophysiologists posit that consciousness is an illusory ornamental epiphenomenon (secondary phenomenon) of the complex material box that we call the brain. In other words, just as the liver secretes bile, so the brain secretes consciousness.
This reminds me of a Zen story. A man meets a family of four (parents and two grown children), all of whom are enlightened. This is his opportunity to find out if enlightenment is hard or easy to attain. So he asks the father, who replies, "Enlightenment is very tough." He asks the mother, who replies, "Enlightenment is very easy." He asks the son, who replies, "It is neither difficult nor easy." Finally, he asks the daughter, who says, "Enlightenment is easy if you make it easy; it is difficult if you make it difficult."
If you think of consciousness as an epiphenomenon (secondary effect) of the brain, consciousness is a hard question indeed; you are making it hard. Consider that an objective model always seeks an answer to the question in terms of objects. Thus neurophysiologists seek to understand consciousness in terms of other objects: brain, neurons, etc. The underlying assumption is that consciousness is an object. But consciousness is also a subject—that which does the looking at and thinking about object(s). This subject-aspect of consciousness exposes one weakness of the neurophysiological brain-based model.
The truth is that consciousness is not only a hard question, but also an impossible question for materialists. This is because even pop religions, simplistic as their view of downward causation may be, have always been clear about one thing: that we have free will, and that without our free will to choose God, His power of downward causation would be in vain. If we are choosing God, defined as the highest good, we are choosing values and ethics. But we need free will to be able to make that choice.
But if we have free will, there must be a source of causality outside of the material universe. So the proponents of upward causation vigorously dispute the concept of free will. If we have free will, then the behaviorist's depiction of us as the products of psychosocial conditioning does not work so well. They challenge the concept. Like our consciousness, our free will must also be an illusory epiphenomenon of the brain. Insisting that we are behaviorally determined machines or walking zombies, their science not only undermines God and religion but also values and ethics, the very foundations of our societies and cultures.
So is there God and downward causation? Is consciousness an epiphenomenon of matter? Do we have free will? Is the dictum of the upward causation model final? Or is there new scientific evidence to suggest otherwise?
Yes, there is evidence. A revolution in physics took place at the beginning of the last century with the discoveries of quantum physics. The message of quantum physics is: Yes, there is a God. You can call it quantum consciousness, if you like. Some people call it by a more objective phrase, quantum vacuum field, or following Eastern wisdom, akashic field (Laszlo, 2004). But a rose by any other name retains its fragrance.
Quantum Physics: The Basics
The essence of quantum physics is difficult for scientists to understand; but in my experience, nonscientists have an easier time comprehending it. There are books that explain the scientists' difficulty at length. Here we can present only a quick overview.
Quantum physics is a physical science that was discovered to explain the nature and behavior of matter and energy on the scale of atoms and subatomic particles, but now is believed to hold for all matter. Scientists can describe subatomic particles only in terms of how they interact. That's how the quantum theory started, as a way to explain the mechanics of very small things. But quantum physics is now also the basis for our understanding of very large objects, such as stars and galaxies, and cosmological events, such as the Big Bang.
The foundations of quantum physics date from the early 1800s. However, what we know as quantum physics started with the work of Max Planck in 1900. The mathematics of quantum physics was discovered by Werner Heisenberg and Erwin Schrödinger in the mid 1920s.
In his quantum theory, Planck hypothesized that energy exists in units in the same way as matter, not as a constant electromagnetic wave, as had been formerly believed. He postulated that energy is quantized—consisting of discrete units. The existence of these units—Planck named the unit quantum—became the first great discovery of quantum theory.
Central to the theory of quantum physics is that all matter exhibits the properties of both particles (localized objects such as tiny pellets) and waves (disturbances or variations that propagate progressively from point to point). This central concept, that particles and waves are two aspects of a material object, is called wave-particle duality. It is also universally agreed that waves of quantum objects are waves of possibility.
Various interpretations have been proposed to explain this duality and other subtleties of quantum physics. One that dominated for years is known as the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum theory. This term actually refers to several interpretations, some quite at odds.
The Copenhagen interpretation is usually understood as stating that every quantum object is described by its wave function, which is a mathematical function used to determine the probability for that object to be found in any location when it is measured.
Each measurement causes a change in the state of matter from a wave of possibility to a particle of actuality. This change is known as the collapse of the wave function. In simple terms, this is the reduction of all the possibilities of the wave aspect into one temporary certainty of the particle aspect.
Unfortunately, neither the quantum mathematics nor the Copenhagen interpretation can give a satisfactory explanation of the event of collapse. But quantum physicists have been unable to eliminate the concept of collapse from the theory. The truth is, an understanding of collapse requires consciousness (von Neumann, 1955). If we follow this thinking, it means that without consciousness there is no collapse, no material particles, no materiality.
OK, so there are the bare basics of quantum physics. Now, back to the application.
Quantum Physics and Consciousness
To be sure, the mathematics of quantum physics is deterministic and based on the upward causation model. Yet it predicts objects and their movements not as determined events (as in Newtonian physics) but as possibilities—waves of possibility mathematically described by this wave function as mentioned above. The probabilities for these possibilities can be calculated with quantum mathematics, enabling us to develop a very successful predictive science for a large number of objects and/or events. This is the part of quantum physics that does not embarrass materialists.
Unfortunately, there is a very embarrassing aspect to quantum physics—the collapse event: a proper understanding of it revives God within science. When we look at a quantum object, we don't experience it as a bundle of possibilities, but as an actual localized event, much like a Newtonian particle. And yet, as mentioned above, quantum physics does not have any mechanism or mathematics to explain this "collapse" of possibilities into a single event of actual manifest experience. In fact, quantum physics flatly declares that there is a limit to the mathematics-based certainty of physics. There cannot be any mathematics that would allow us to connect the deterministic quantum possibilities with the actuality of a single observed event. So then, how do the quantum possibilities become an actuality of experience simply through the interaction of our consciousness, by simply us observing them (figure 1-2)? How do we explain this mysterious "observer effect"?
In quantum language, the neurophysiologists' upward causation model translates like this: possible movements of elementary particles make up possible movements of atoms, which make up possible movements of molecules, which make up possible movements of cells, which make up possible brain states and make up consciousness. Consciousness itself, then, is a conglomerate of possibilities; call it a wave of possibility. How can a wave of possibility collapse another wave of possibility by interacting with it? If you couple possibility with possibility, all you get is a bigger possibility, not an actuality.
Suppose you imagine a possible influx of money in your bank account. Couple that with all the possible cars that you can imagine. Will this exercise ever actualize a car in your garage?
Face it. In the neurophysiological epiphenomenal model of consciousness, the assertion that our looking at something can change possibility into actuality is a logical paradox. And a paradox is a reliable indicator that the neurophysiological model of our consciousness is faulty or incomplete at best.
The paradox remains until you recognize two things. First, that quantum possibilities are possibilities of consciousness itself, which is the ground of all being. This takes us back to the philosophy of monistic idealism. Second, that our looking is tantamount to choosing, from among all the quantum possibilities, the one unique facet that becomes our experienced actuality.
To clarify the situation, let's examine how gestalt pictures are perceived—what appears at first to be one picture is actually two pictures. You may have seen the one that depicts both a young woman and an old woman, which the artist calls "My Wife and My Mother-in-Law." Another one depicts both a vase and two faces (figure 1-3). You notice that you are not affecting the picture when you shift from one perception to the other. Both possibilities are already within you. You are just making a choice between them by choosing your perspective. In this way, a transcendent consciousness can exert downward causation without dualism.
The strict materialist can still object: how can reality be so subjective that each of us observers can choose our own realities from quantum possibilities? How can there be any consensus reality in that case? Without consensus reality, how can there be science?
Surprise, surprise. We don't choose in our ordinary state of individual consciousness that we call the ego, the subjective aspect of ourselves that the behaviorist studies and that is the result of conditioning. Instead, we choose from an unconditioned, objective state of unitive consciousness, the non-ordinary state where we are one, a state we can readily identify with God (Bass, 1971; Goswami, 1989, 1993; Blood, 1993, 2001; also see chapter 5).
The Quantum Signatures of God
Here, then, are the crucial points that are worth repeating. We experience a quantum object, but only when we choose a particular facet of its possibility wave; only then, the quantum possibilities of an object transform into an actual event of our experience. And in the state from which we choose, we are all one: we are in God-consciousness. Our exercise of choice, the event quantum physicists call the collapse of the quantum possibility wave, is God's exercise of the power of downward causation. And the way God's downward causation works is this: for many objects and many events, the choice is made in such a way that objective predictions of quantum probability hold; yet, in individual events, the scope of creative subjectivity is retained.
In this way, the first and foremost scientific evidence for the existence of God is the vast array of evidence that supports the validity of quantum physics (which hardly anybody doubts) and the validity of our particular interpretation of quantum physics (for which there are some doubters). (Continues...)
Excerpted from GOD IS NOT DEAD by Amit Goswami. Copyright © 2008 Amit Goswami, PhD. Excerpted by permission of Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc..
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