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About the Author
Fred Alan Wolf earned his Ph.D. in theoretical physics from UCLA and has taught at San Diego State University as well as the University of London, the University of Paris, the HahnMeitner Institute for Nuclear Physics in Berlin, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In addition to being featured in What the Bleep, Fred Alan Wolf is a frequent radio guest and has appeared on television programs such as the Discovery Channel's The Know Zone (as the resident physicist) and PBS's Closer to Truth. He is also a member of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Collegium of Scholars, winner of the National Book Award, and the author of nine books including Mind into Matter, Matter into Feeling, and The Spiritual Universe.
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Dr. Quantum's Little Book of Big Ideas
Where Science Meets Spirit
By Fred Alan Wolf
Moment Point PressCopyright © 2005 Fred Alan Wolf
All rights reserved.
Asking yourself the deeper questions opens up new ways of being in the world. It brings in a breath of fresh air. It makes life more joyful. The real trick to life is not to be in the know, but to be in the mystery.
I remember a particular day when I was playing in the front hallway of my apartment building. I was barely eight years old. I stood at the top of the stairwell and looked down wondering if I could fly down the nineteen or twenty stairs reaching to the ground floor from our first-floor apartment. Without thinking, I skidded down the stairwell with my feet only barely touching the leading edges of each step. I was on the ground floor in a flash, and I had not slid down the banister, nor had I placed my feet on any of the steps.
When I grew older and remembered what I had done that day, I realized it was impossible. My feet just were not long enough to go from one step edge to the next without my falling flat on my face. Was this just a dream of super powers, or had I actually skidded down those stairs?
So why is understanding the quantum universe important? Because it excites a feeling of delightful deliciousness — life takes on a new vision. First you find out why it is that you may think the way you think and what conditions have arisen to make you feel that way, and then you can find out how to change them. Quantum physics offers new ways of thinking and new ways of being in the world, which I think improve the various things you do, whether it's taking a walk, talking to somebody, or driving your car. To anything you may basically feel is not enjoyable for you, it can add an aura of joy, because the new metaphors provide fresh ways of thinking and approaching every aspect of your life.
Quantum physics is also important because it contributes to the amazing spectrum of new technologies. I don't think there's a device around that doesn't have a little computer in it somewhere, and that is quantum physics in action. The whole digital age is impossible without quantum physics. And, quantum physics' effect on biology and medicine is enormous. The biggest scientific problem facing our twenty-first-century culture is the relationship of mind to body. With all of the new medicines coming out, and the new insights we're gathering about what constitutes health, quantum physics may just be what we need to really grasp how ancient spiritual views of the body and modern scientific views prove that consciousness can alter reality, and so all illnesses may become as outdated as smallpox is today.
Quantum physics ...
consists of a well-defined set of rules which work in a universal way. Yet what it predicts about the world is not how the world appears. It predicts, among other things, strange overlaps of reality, parallel realities, and objects being in two or more places at the same time.
provides new metaphors to understand life's experiences.
can change your life!
The movement of life may at times seem chaotic, but it is not. It moves like a gigantic wave and we are caught atop it. If we try to direct the wave, we'll find ourselves in constant battle with it. If we learn merely to survive in the wave's wake, we become victims of it. But we do have another option: We can grasp the rules of the wave's movement and learn to surf it skillfully.
To attempt to become spiritually enlightened without realizing the world of mythology within us is a serious mistake. People who attempt this often find themselves "in battle with the devil" or "in fear of evil."
the power of myth
When that first curtain opened to God's Magic Theater, a great void appeared. And then, according to one myth called Science, the void exploded into the Big Bang. Following another myth called the Bible, in the beginning there was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. These seemingly very different points of view—these myths called the Big Bang and the Word—appear entirely irreconcilable: one deals with the physical universe of matter and energy and the other with the mental universe of mind and information. But, could these two views actually be saying the same thing? Could it be that in some way what we describe about the universe—how we exploit it to derive meaning from it, how we determine what it is, and what it is doing—establishes the very universe we speak and write about? Does the act of learning something, turning our experiences into meaningful symbols of discourse, create both the physical thing being observed and the laws of order it seems to obey?
The answers to these and other questions will come from a harmonizing of the relationship between the "in here" world of information, meaning, and knowledge with the "out there" world of matter, energy, and existence. This reconcilement is precisely what I mean by a new alchemy.
Perhaps we could move closer to proving the existence of mind by asking: Does matter influence mind?
Well, we can observe matter influencing matter when a dropped egg hits the floor—certainly the floor drastically affects the egg. And when we take a mind-altering substance such as alcohol or a pain-numbing drug, we feel its effect on our ability to be alert or feel pain. So, we tend to believe that matter influences mind. We could say, therefore, that mind and matter exert a force on one another. But since mind cannot be scientifically discovered, this force cannot be found strictly via the fields of physics or physiology or even psychology. No, we need a new field, the field of new alchemy, which incorporates the overlapping insights gained from all three of these fields; which seeks to reveal the secret connection between matter and mind—seeks to reveal the force that we intuitively believe real.
We all seem to know what we mean when we say that an event has occurred. We mean that something happened. We also mean (although we don't usually say so) that someone has observed the event. We take it for granted that events could have occurred, even though no one was there to observe them. After all, that proverbial tree we come across, lying on its side in the forest, must have fallen with a great crash of sound as it thumped the ground in its grand descent. Events such as sound-wave production must happen regardless of the presence or absence of beings with ears or other organs that can sense these events. Right?
Such a viewpoint is quite natural and is called objectivism. This philosophy states that all reality arises objectively, externally, and independently of the mind. Knowledge of this reality comes from reliably based observations of objects and events—things that happen to these objects. But suppose science proved that objectivism was wrong. Then what? It would mean that all reality is not objective; that reality has to have a subjective quality to it (called mind); and that mind has to affect and possibly even change what we sense as objectively "out there." In brief, it would mean that there is no absolute "out there" unless there is a mind "in here" that perceives it.
The observer effect says that there is no reality until that reality is perceived. This profound insight tells us that we alter every object in the world simply by paying attention to it. In this alteration, both the object of our attention and the mind of the observer change. Because we usually don't pay attention to ourselves in the perception process, our immediate experience usually won't seem to indicate that our actions of perception changed anything. However, if we construct a careful history of our perceptions, they often show us that our way of perceiving indeed changes the course of our personal histories.
Thus the world is really not as it seems. It certainly seems to be "out there" independent of us, independent of the choices we might make. Yet quantum physics destroys that idea. What is "out there" depends on what we choose to look for.
Reality is not just the physical world; it's the relationship of the mind with the physical world that creates the perception of reality. There is no reality without a perception of reality.
Would you be here, exist in physical form, if no one observed you? In a real sense, the answer is no.
Mere observation is enough to alter the history of anything or anyone, even a whole country.
By observing, each observer separates into a self and a thing. Often that thing is one's own face, body, or personality/belief structure.
The very notions of heaven being separate from earth, mind separate from body, free-will separate from determinism, life separate from death, and in fact all duality, all opposites, wherein we pose an inside and outside, a boundary line, a nation, an island, a membrane, a distinction—all and more, are not primary facts.
Yet, we unconsciously strive to keep this secret buried inside ourselves. We unwittingly work at maintaining the status quo. We unconsciously choose to live under the illusion that everything is as we see it. This is not only a fundamental truth for you and me, it is the deep secret of the universe's existence: Hide from one's essential self. It is God's great trick; and it only works because we agree to believe the trick. If we can stop believing it for one minute, one second, even one millisecond, and allow our consciousness to become aware that we have stopped, we will see the trick revealed.
At some point in our lives, somehow, somewhere, just for an instant, the unveiling of the great mystery comes to pass. God, the magician, raises the curtain, reveals the trick just slightly, and we glimpse the illusion. But, we don't shout, Wow! No gasps of wonderment fill the theater. Something becomes distinguishable from nothing in a single creative act, but we trick ourselves into not seeing. And so it goes. No applause fills the air. We sit back, watch the show, breathe a sigh of relief, and say unconsciously, "We'll never figure this one out, might as well just accept it."
Distinctions are not real. They are fleeting whispers of an all-pervading, subtle, non-expressive potential reality. The world is not made of separate things. Mind is not separate from matter. And you are not separate from any other being, animal, vegetable, living, dead, or seemingly inanimate matter. The kingdom of heaven and the island of hell lie in you. In you lies everything you have always wanted to know. A vast potential urging itself to arise and become something lies in you. In you, like a coiled serpent waiting to spring forth from your deepest shadows, lies every creative moment that exists, has ever been, and will ever be.
This has been, is, and will always be, the secret of creativity: breaking free of separation.
Within your own mind and body lies a majestic story filled with drama, pathos, humor, intelligence, fantasy, and fact. It is no less than the story of the entire universe, particularly its own creation, transformation, and ultimate purpose. And while most stories require a separated listener and a storyteller, in your story the listener and the storyteller are one. The way in which you go about telling a story to yourself—a story that includes you—actually points out that without you there wouldn't be a universe! This story called you unfolds into a panorama of life, literally a you-niverse. And it involves the sacred transmutation of mind into matter.
Why do we have this essential quality of being that we all feel and can speak of, and resonate with, with a single word called "I"? Everyone seems to have this very definite sense of I-ness, even though I can't necessarily go inside of your body and feel your Iness. My speculative thought about it is that what I'm feeling as my I-ness is exactly the same as what you feel as your I-ness—that there really isn't any separation there. I-ness is the one quality which, although it appears to divide us, is actually unifying. It's a unity of our common experience.
We walk around with the unconscious ideas that we've been taught, which define us as separate, distinct: "I am this; I am not that. I am good at this; I am not good at that. I am wonderful; I am terrible." These ideas have been ingrained in us since childhood and are reinforced by others, often family members, who have known us for a long time. But, they don't know us! They only know what they choose to see and think about us. And we don't know them! We only know what we choose to think and see about them.
These are the story lines of our existence. They are not mere wisps of non-inert energy. They are weighty. We embody them, so to speak, and after a long while we carry them with us as if we are walking around with a mass on our shoulders. We have each bought and sold ourselves on certain stories and in our discomfort they bring us a sense of comfort. Any idea or thought that runs counter to our stories, even if it could improve our emotional or financial situation, we quickly push down into a safe, comfortable zone of unthinkability. We have learned, without thinking, how to transform information into matter. In order to break free, in order to have a new experience, a shamanic awakening, a new vision, we have to break free of the illusion that we are separate from anything else—in particular, that we are separate from what we desire. This has been, is, and will always be, the secret of creativity: breaking free of separation. If we don't do that, we don't create.
Matter arises from mind—a vast field of influence commonly envisioned as the Mind of God.
There really is only one Mind, and the thoughts that you're having, while they may seem very personal to you and very self-contained within your own head at the moment, those thoughts are being thought everywhere by everybody at some time in some form. Not necessarily in the same way that you're thinking now, but they're part of a collective consciousness—or of the One Mind.
What is "my self"? Why do I even recognize myself as an individual separate from other individuals? Well, let's look at it this way. If I am a member of a tribe, my concept of self is different than if I am, say, a member of a closed family unit. My behavior, in turn, depends on how I see myself. For example, soldiers fighting in a war view themselves as part of a larger unit; and they behave quite differently toward those outside of their unit, particularly enemies, than they would if they were village people greeting strangers. Thus, how we become aware of the world around us is to a large extent dependent on how we think about our individuality in relation to our environment.
Think about what group or "tribe" you most identify with and how this identification determines your thoughts, beliefs, and behavior. What happens when you change your tribal affinity? A new "you" emerges.
Everyone you see "out there" in life or in your dreams is just a mirror of your own unmasked self. Each is "you," although each wears a different mask/persona, each deals with his or her own karma, seeks his or her own dharma, vows to do, to live, and to play out the role assigned to him or her by the cosmic screen actors' guild.
Our thoughts are representative of the universe's thoughts.
The principle of complementarity says that when you look at something a certain way, that's what you see; when you look at it another way, you see something different.
So, just because you see things one way doesn't mean that's the way they really are. You can see them another way—it may be a very different way from the first way—but it doesn't mean that the second way is the way they really are either! As Walt Whitman said, "Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes." Each of us is large, containing multitudes! We are not just confined to our bodies.
Only in the great multiplicity of life can we see the One.
principle of complementarity
The principle of complementarity says that the physical universe can never be known independent of an observer's choices of what to observe. Moreover, these choices fall into two distinct, or complementary, sets of observations called "observables." Observation of one observable always precludes the possibility of simultaneous observation of its complement. For example, the observation of the location and the observation of the motion of a subatomic particle form complementary observables. Hence the observation of one renders the other indeterminate or uncertain. So the more objective we are in our observations, the more difficulty we will have in dealing with spirit, and the more likely we will become drawn into the material world. Conversely, as we become more spiritually awakened, the less concern we will feel for our material existence.
By choosing to see the world one way, complementary ways of experiencing become hidden or inaccessible. While these hidden views no longer appear to the mind as objective qualities visible in the world as things, and remembered in the mind as memories, they remain part of the unconscious mind-world as possibilities. Upon a change of choice that brings forward the complementary way of experiencing, these previous hidden views become apparent—"out there"—while the previous qualities vanish in the physical world but remain as the contents of memory. A magician uses this trick to fool us into seeing a thing as it was prior to his sleight of hand.
Our choices—no matter how logical and meaningful they may appear—are among sets of what physicists call "complementary variables." These variables literally have magical and far-reaching consequences, actually altering past, future, and present moments of our lives. Yet because of the illusory normalcy of these observations, we appear to be controlled by them and not the other way around.
Excerpted from Dr. Quantum's Little Book of Big Ideas by Fred Alan Wolf. Copyright © 2005 Fred Alan Wolf. Excerpted by permission of Moment Point Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
A Mini Intro to a Little Book
More mind-bending titles by Fred Alan Wolf from Moment Point Press
About the Author