Notes on an Important Book — Another 5-Star Review

Posted by Pete J at on (remember remember) the 5th of November:

For anyone interested in how mysticism can be connected up with physics in a practical way, to the benefit of physics, and without any beating around the bush, this book may be a godsend.

The mathematics of quantum mechanics is well beyond the comprehension of most people and for the most part it goes straight over my head. This text book, which seems to be a thorough introduction to this mathematics, complete with challenging exercises, is therefore unlikely to become a popular best-seller. It is also expensive, having the worst word-to-price ratio of any book I’ve ever bought. However, I’m glad I bought it. It is possible even for the non-mathematician to see at least how the various mathematical approaches fit together and why they are needed, while the real heart of the book is the interpretation it places on the mathematics and this is explained economically and in plain English.

Quantum theory is astonishingly successful despite the utter lunacy of its mathematics, but it rules out any hope of our ever being able to conceive of what it describes by the use of everyday ‘classical’ concepts. We don’t have any other kind of concepts, so we cannot conceive of what it describes. Whatever it describes would have to be vastly more weird and wonderful than anything we observe in our everyday world. So what are we to do? Must we accept that the way have to describe Nature must always remain incomprehensible to us?

While explaining why interpretations of quantum mechanics that try to accommodate classical intuitions are impossible, rendering futile any hope of creating a picture in our heads of what lies behind the mathematics, Mohrhoff quotes Dennis Diecks, Professor of the Foundations and Philosophy of the Natural Sciences at Utrecht University.

“However, this is a negative result that only provides a starting-point for what really has to be done: something conceptually new has to be found, different from what we are familiar with. It is clear that this constructive task is a particularly difficult one, in which huge barriers (partly of a psychological nature) have to be overcome.”

Mohrhoff continues, ‘Something conceptually new has been found, and it is presented in this book.’ What is presented is a big idea. ‘What quantum mechanics is trying to tell us’, says Mohrhoff, ‘is that reality is structured from the top down.’ As something to think about this is probably worth the price of the book. It seems possible that as stated this is a one-sided view and that there are two equal and opposite ways of looking at this structure, as might seem more typical for the world-view of the Upanishads, but it hardly matters. What matters is that we can see from The World According to Quantum Mechanics that the ancient psychological, metaphysical and cosmological doctrine endorsed by Sri Aurobindo and his group would dove-tail perfectly with the mathematics of quantum mechanics and allow physics to be reconciled with metaphysics and mysticism.

The book is a vindication of Erwin Schrodinger, who concluded early on that the new physics he was helping to invent implied the truth of the advaita doctrine. With its publication it may not be unreasonable to think that for theoretical physics a paradigm shift may be approaching of even greater magnitude than quantum mechanics.

No need to make the world stranger than it is

Another review at, by Adrian Icazuriaga:

For those who have been following Mohrhoff’s revealing ideas during the last decade (the so called “Pondicherry Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics”), this book adds a few very important points to what is already one of the most comprehensive and consistent interpretations of the fundamental laws of physics that anyone has put forward up to the present date.

He obviously didn’t start this journey one fortunate Monday morning. He is following the steps of people like Bohr, Peres, Mermin and many other physicists who have contributed greatly to one and the same philosophical project: the de-reification of quantum-mechanical correlation laws, and the enormous implications that this carries for our understanding of physical reality.

This book is probably the best synthesis of that long-standing project. Its merit not only lies in taking a few isolated ideas about QM’s probability algorithms and integrate them into an overall consistent view, which would be a huge achievement in itself, but first and foremost, to explain classical mechanics and classical conservation laws as part of (in the limit of) that same fuzzy state of affairs.

In this way, he very cleverly differentiates between what an equation of continuity says and what a local conservation law is, basically “a feature of our calculational tools”. Key concepts like energy and momentum are introduced as underpinning the homogeneity of time and space respectively, instead of being just symbols in an abstract equation. On the other hand, the deceptive idea of force, deeply entrenched in our perception of a physical world, is redefined in a way that permits us to make sense of the Lorentz force law and the gravitational force as not being a mediating agent between causes and effects.

This is a profound, exhaustive and very well organized textbook, which should be of interest to anyone with a previous background in physics or, even better, to anyone who has not yet been contaminated by the mainstream habits and tricks of philosophy of science and crash undergraduate courses in QM. You won’t find here any of the fancy stuff that philosophers like to talk about (backwards causation, many minds, many worlds and many papers), but it will give you enough substance and plenty of material to think about for the next ten or twenty years. At the very least, it will give you the basic tools to approach any other interpretational strategy with the necessary dose of scepticism and awareness. As the author correctly stresses, there is “no need to make the world stranger than it is”.

The style is not as incisive and confrontational as most of Mohrhoff’s shorter works, which is a bit of a disappointment, but understandable giving that this book is aimed at the general public. In years to come, “The World According to Quantum Mechanics” will be taken for what it is: a serious and courageous challenge to our fundamental ideas about the fabric of space and matter.

Quantum fuzziness and the stability of matter

In what follows I elaborate on a couple of arguments I made in The World According To Quantum Mechanics.

Why does a typical material object occupy as much space as it does? Part of the answer is that it is “made” of atoms (as well as molecules), and that an atom occupies a space roughly a tenth of a nanometer across. So why does an atom occupy that much space, despite the fact that it is composed of a very few objects, which either (like an electron) occupy no space at all or (like a nucleus) occupy a space roughly ten femtometers across — four orders of magnitude less than the atom?

To keep the problem as simple as possible, let us consider an atom of hydrogen in its ground state. Before we can profitably do so, however, we need to clarify what it means for a quantum-physical system to be “in” a state. After all, a quantum state is a probability algorithm, and it does not make much sense to say that a quantum system is in a probability algorithm.

We may think of the ground state of a hydrogen atom as an actual state of affairs if we allow that this state of affairs is adequately described in terms of the probability distributions it defines. Specifically, we may think of the position probability distribution defined by the ground state as describing a fuzzy position, and we may think of this fuzzy position as an aspect of that state of affairs. But we need to be clear about (i) when that state of affairs obtains and (ii) how we know that it obtains.

The ground state of atomic hydrogen (qua probability algorithm) is determined by a single outcome: the lowest possible outcome of a measurement of the atom’s energy. Strictly speaking, however, the possession by the atom of a specific energy cannot be observed. What can be observed is transitions between (approximately) stationary states, including transitions to the ground state. We can observe the transition of a hydrogen atom to its ground state, and we can prevent any subsequent transition to an excited state, at least for a limited period. If we do so, we know that the ground state (qua actual state of affairs) obtains, and we know when it obtains: not at any instant of time, but during an undifferentiated time span beginning with the atom’s transition to the ground state.

So why does a hydrogen atom in its ground state occupy as much space as it does? Primarily because the electron’s position relative to the proton is fuzzy. Merely being fuzzy is not enough, though. The relative position between the two particles must also stay fuzzy. For this, the electrostatic attraction between the two particles, which (by itself) would cause their relative position to get sharper (less fuzzy), must be offset by something which (by itself) would cause their relative position to grow more fuzzy. This something is the fuzziness of their relative momentum. A mere equilibrium between these two tendencies, however, also is not enough. The equilibrium has to be stable, and for this Heisenberg’s uncertainty relation is needed. This ensures that a decrease in the fuzziness of a relative position (beyond a certain limit) causes an increase in the fuzziness of the corresponding relative momentum, and vice versa. It thereby ensures that a decrease (or increase) in one tendency causes a decrease (or increase) in the other.

The word “uncertainty”, however, is misleading. Although Heisenberg’s original term Unschärfe carries the statistical sense of this word as well as the sense of “fuzziness”, the latter is appropriate here; for what “fluffs out” atoms is not our subjective uncertainty about the values of the relative positions and momenta of the constituents of atoms but an objective fuzziness of those values.

Humbling experience

The following is a Review by Henning Dekant (Real Name) at (June 29, 2011).

Richard Feynman famously stated “I think it is safe to say that no one understands Quantum Mechanics.”

This book is changing that. Although so far I have only read up to chapter 5, it looks like this unexpected treatise lives up to its preposterous subtitle.

The way Ulrich Mohrhoff introduces QM everything flows from the basic rules of calculating with probabilities and the uncertainty relation. The latter in turn is a logical requirement for stable matter and quite a misnomer in English (surprisingly the original German term “Unschaerferelation” captures its meaning significantly better).

Reading chapter 5 has been a most humbling experience. I studied physics and have always been captivated by the particle wave dualism that the classical two slit experiment embodies so beautifully. Feynman observed that this “experiment has in it the heart of quantum mechanics”. Well, I feel like eating my heart out.

The way this book covers the two slit experiment everything falls into place and makes perfect sense. There is no wave particle dualism, just the naked necessity of a probabilistic regime. It is so simple. Painfully obvious. Easy to grasp with just a minimum of mathematical rigor. It boggles the mind that QM has not been understood this way from the get go. This feels like 20/20 hindsight writ large.

To add insult to injury, this is written as a text book that’ll be easily accessible for an enterprising high school student, because it briefly introduces all necessary mathematical tools along the way. I.e. a physicist can easily skip these parts as they are cleanly separated from the chapters in which the author executes his QM program.

If you’ve been trying to make sense of QM you will hate this book. It’ll make you feel stupid for not having been able to see this all along. Time to eat some humble pie.

I’ll report back once I read the rest.

Excerpt from an interview with Yours Truly

Jime Sayaka has interviewed me at his blog Subversive Thinking. Excerpts:

As a trained physicist, do you think that quantum mechanics provides a theoretical framework to understand phenomena like psi (e.g, telepathy, psychokinesis, etc.) or the nature and origin of consciousness?

No, I don’t think so. The idea that quantum mechanics provides such a framework is based on what philosopher David Chalmers has called the “law of minimization of mystery.” The quantum-mechanical correlations (between measurement outcomes) are mysterious. Nobody knows anything about the mechanism or process by which measurement outcomes influence the probabilities of measurement outcomes. The observed psi correlations are mysterious. The correlations between neural firing patterns in a brain and the subjective, first-person content of consciousness are mysterious. So it’s economical (but also chimerical) to assume that the three mysteries can be reduced to a single mystery.

Some materialist scientists argue that the notion of a causally efficacious consciousness and phenomena like psychokinesis is physically impossible because it violates the law of energy conservation. For example, in psychokinesis, physical energy would be actually created by a non-physical consciousness in order to affect a purely physical world, and the principle of energy conservation precludes such creation of energy. What do you think of this scientific objection against the causal efficacy of consciousness?

A tautology. Energy is only conserved within a closed physical system. To assume the universal validity of the law of energy conservation is to assume that the physical universe is causally closed. If one assumes that the physical universe is causally closed, then nothing nonphysical can influence the goings-on in the physical universe. This begs the question of whether the physical universe is causally closed. I have discussed this in detail in a paper titled “The physics of interactionism,” which appeared in Journal of Consciousness Studies 6 (Nos. 8–9, pp. 165–184) and The Volitional Brain (Imprint Academic, 1999).

However, I am in full agreement with those – not only neuropsychologists but also phenomenologists, mystics, and yogis – who reject the folk psychology of free will. The mystic or yogi discovers behind our ordinary consciousness a subliminal consciousness, whose initial attitude is that of a detached witness. It experiences thoughts, feelings, intentions, actions impersonally and undistorted by any sense of ownership, authorship, or responsibility. Those who go further become increasingly aware of the true origins and determinants of their thoughts, feelings, intentions, and actions. And once they are sufficiently aware of these subliminal controlling influences, they are in a position to accept or reject them, to choose, and for the first time to exercise a genuine free will.

You have argued that, contrary to the common opinions on the matter, there is no such thing as a collapse of the state vector (or wave function). Can you expand on this idea?

Quantum states (state vectors, wave functions, density operators, etc.) are mathematical tools by which we calculate the probabilities of the possible outcomes of a measurement on the basis of the actual outcomes of other measurements. Accordingly, the time t on which a quantum state functionally depends is the time of the measurement to the possible outcomes of which it serves to assign probabilities.

The common mistake is to misconstrue the time dependence of a quantum state as the continuous time dependence of an evolving state. An algorithm for assigning probabilities to possible measurement outcomes on the basis of actual outcomes has two perfectly normal dependences. It depends continuously on the time of measurement: if this changes by a small amount, the assigned probabilities change by small amounts. And it depends discontinuously on the outcomes that constitute the assignment basis: if this changes by the inclusion of an outcome not previously taken into account, so do the assigned probabilities. But think of a quantum state’s dependence on time as the time-dependence of an evolving state, and you have two modes of evolution for the price of one: continuous and predictable between measurements, discontinuous and unpredictable at the time of a measurement (the so-called collapse). Hence the mother of all quantum-theoretical pseudo-questions: what causes the (non-existent) collapse?

You have said that many writers who comment about quantum mechanics (and its putative metaphysical implications) are misguided, because they transmogrify the mathematical tools of a probability calculus into descriptions of actual physical states, events, or processes. What do you mean exactly by it? Does not quantum mechanics tell us something about the ontologically objective reality out there and its actual metaphysical properties?

Let me begin by quoting David Mermin, one of the most level-headed physicists I know. In his May 2009 column in Physics Today he wrote:

When I was an undergraduate learning classical electromagnetism, I was enchanted by the revelation that electromagnetic fields were real. Far from being a clever calculational device for how some charged particles push around other charged particles, they were just as real as the particles themselves, most dramatically in the form of electromagnetic waves, which have energy and momentum of their own and can propagate long after the source that gave rise to them has vanished. That lovely vision of the reality of the classical electromagnetic field ended when I learned as a graduate student that what Maxwell’s equations actually describe are fields of operators on Hilbert space. Those operators are quantum fields, which most people agree are not real but merely spectacularly successful calculational devices. So real classical electromagnetic fields are nothing more (or less) than a simplification in a particular asymptotic regime (the classical limit) of a clever calculational device. In other words, classical electromagnetic fields are another clever calculational device.

“Most people” are the silent majority, who unfortunately are rarely heard by science journalists and quantum physics popularizers. The latter are more likely to listen to a vocal minority, who, instead of having learned from quantum physics that even the reification of some of the calculational tools of classical physics was never more than a sleight-of-hand, are desperately trying to apply the same sleight-of-hand to quantum physics. It beats me how, even in the old days of classical physics, people could pass off calculational tools as physical entities or natural processes. Perhaps it was their hubristic desire to feel potentially omniscient — capable in principle of knowing the furniture of the universe and the laws by which this is governed. Or was it the prestige provided by the carefully cultivated image of physicists as being potentially omniscient?

To answer the second part of your question: Yes, quantum mechanics can be interpreted as telling us something about “the ontologically objective reality out there,” but the reification of calculational tools is definitely not the way to find out what quantum mechanics is trying to tell us about the nature of Nature. On the contrary, it’s the best way to make sure that nobody finds out.

Defenders of a realist interpretation of quantum mechanics have argued that the mathematical axiomatization of the quantum theory doesn’t contain any variables denoting mental/psychological properties or entities (like consciousness, thoughts, experiences or human observers); quantum theory therefore refers to an objectively existing real world. What do you think of this argument?

The axioms that encapsulate the mathematical structure of quantum mechanics are, every one of them, as clear and compelling as axioms ought to be – provided that they are treated as features of a probability calculus. The way the axioms are generally stated, they are anything but clear and compelling. Only one – the Born rule – then refers to probabilities, while the other axioms make it seem as if quantum states were evolving physical states of some kind. I agree that this probability calculus allows us to conceive of an “objectively existing real world” and to make inferences as to its nature. But I repeat that this cannot be done by reifying the probability algorithms we call “quantum states.”

Some contemporary atheist physicists have argued that physics provides empirical evidence that “something can come from nothing” or that the universe was created without any cause at all. For example, in the recent book The Grand Design, Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow have argued that “Because there is a law like gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.” Do you think this conclusion is scientifically correct? Has QM provided an empirical counterexample to the principle “out of nothing nothing comes”?

My only reply to this is a statement by C.D. Broad: “the nonsense written by philosophers on scientific matters is exceeded only by the nonsense written by scientists on philosophy.”

Do you think the Big Bang and the fine-tuning of the universe suggest (or make more probable than not) the existence of a creator or cosmic intelligence?

I don’t think it makes sense to assign probabilities to these things. As to what they suggest – it depends on one’s prior beliefs. I don’t believe in an extracosmic creator, but I see a creative intelligence at work in many places, not just the big bang and fine tuning. I also believe that this intelligence is far superior to the human variety, so that any attempt by us to second guess it is sheer folly.

Materialists have argued that the existence of split-brain patients provide almost a knock-down argument against dualism and in favor of materialism. What do you think of the cases of split-brain patients and their relevance for the mind-body problem?

I’m not competent in this field, but I’m confident that you will find a most competent response in the book First Person Plural: Multiple Personality and the Philosophy of Mind by Stephen E. Braude.

As a trained scientist, do you think there is good scientific evidence for psi phenomena and survival of consciousness?

There is impressive evidence. I don’t care if it’s considered scientific. Evidence is evidence.

Which is your current philosophical position regarding the mind-body problem (e.g. dualism, panexperientialism, etc.)?

Matter and mind are mutually irreducible, but they have a common origin, which is neither material nor mental but a trans-categorial (“ineffable”) Reality, which relates to the world in (at least) two ways: as a substance that constitutes it, and as a consciousness that contains it. In other words, the world exists both by that Reality (this is the origin of matter as we know it) and for that Reality (this is the origin of consciousness as we know it). So dualism is isn’t the last word, but it seems to me to be a necessary stepping stone towards an adequate understanding of the problem and its solution. There is an excellent book on this subject: The Two Sides of Being: A Reassessment of Psychophysical Dualism by Uwe Meixner. (I’ve written a lengthy review of this book, whose two parts can be downloaded from the AntiMatters website.)

Do you think that intelligent design, both in biology or in cosmology, is a viable scientific hypothesis?

I think that intelligence is beyond the purview of science. There is an excellent book on this subject: Is Nature Enough? Meaning and Truth in the Age of Science by John F. Haught (My review of this book is also available at the AntiMatters website.) I am sympathetic to those who see a higher intelligence at work, but not to the politico-religious movement associated with the phrase “intelligent design.”

As I said, I believe in an intelligence that is far superior to human intelligence. The latter first designs and then executes its designs, utilizing pre-existent materials and pre-existent laws. The former doesn’t work that way; it doesn’t first design and then execute, and the only material it uses is the substance (Reality) in which it inheres. It works more like a spontaneously self-realizing vision of what is to be.

You are sympathetic to the epistemology known as “radical constructivism” developed by Ernst von Glasersfeld. Why do you think this epistemological view is superior to or better or preferable than other common epistemic doctrines like epistemological realism?

Everybody has his own views on all but the most trivial subjects. Often we stick to our views and defend them with a tenacity that makes us construct epicycles upon epicycles, but sometimes we reconstruct our working model of reality to incorporate new evidence. It would be ludicrous in the extreme to pretend that one’s present working model is adequate to all the evidence one may yet obtain. The great advantage of radical constructivism is that it takes this into account. (Note that von Glasersfeld doesn’t claim that radical constructivism is right but only that it is part of such a working model.) I believe that only the superior intelligence mentioned before can have an adequate knowledge of reality. (I also believe that evolution will eventually produce a species embodying that superior intelligence.) Our own intelligence can at best grasp limited aspects of this knowledge. The human being, to quote Sri Aurobindo,

is not intended to grasp the whole truth of his being at once, but to move towards it through a succession of experiences and a constant, though not by any means a perfectly continuous self-enlargement. The first business of reason then is to justify and enlighten to him his various experiences and to give him faith and conviction in holding on to his self-enlargings. It justifies to him now this, now that, the experience of the moment, the receding light of the past, the half-seen vision of the future. Its inconstancy, its divisibility against itself, its power of sustaining opposite views are the whole secret of its value. It would not do indeed for it to support too conflicting views in the same individual, except at moments of awakening and transition, but in the collective body of men and in the successions of Time that is its whole business. For so man moves towards the infinity of the Truth by the experience of its variety; so his reason helps him to build, change, destroy what he has built and prepare a new construction, in a word, to progress, grow, enlarge himself in his self-knowledge and world-knowledge and their works.

Mark this in bold red: “Its inconstancy, its divisibility against itself, its power of sustaining opposite views are the whole secret of its value.”

A common objection against radical constructivism is that it leads to skepticism regarding the real, objective world (if it exists) and destroys the traditional philosophical concepts of “truth” and “knowledge.” What do you think of this objection?

I wouldn’t call it an objection. Skepticism is healthy (as long as it also remains skeptical of itself). The correspondence theory of truth is our naïve, lazy, default position. It is not even wrong, to use Wolfgang Pauli’s felicitous phrase, inasmuch as there is no way to prove it either right or wrong.

What books on philosophy, quantum physics, consciousness and related topics would you like to recommend to the readers?

The major works of Sri Aurobindo, all of which can be downloaded here. Also the magnum opus of Jean Gebser: The Ever-Present Origin. Part 1 of this volume (“Foundations of the Aperspectival World”) is subtitled “A contribution to the history of the awakening of consciousness.” Part 2 (“Manifestations of the Aperspectival World”) is subtitled “An attempt at the concretion of the spiritual.” (See also my article “Evolution of consciousness according to Jean Gebser” in AntiMatters.) Then the works of Stephen E. Braude, whom I have already mentioned. Nobody writes with greater competence about paranormal phenomena. Also my own textbook The World According To Quantum Mechanics: Why The Laws Of Physics Make Perfect Sense After All (warning: pricey and intended mainly for students and teachers of quantum mechanics). A non-mathematical overview is available at this site.

Would you like to add something else to end the interview?

I have said that quantum mechanics can be interpreted as telling us something about the nature of Nature, albeit not via the reification of calculational tools. So what does it tell us, and how? My physical interpretation of the mathematical formalism of quantum mechanics distinguishes itself from others in that it does not invoke untestable metaphysical assumptions – such as what happens between measurements – but proceeds directly from the testable calculational rules of quantum mechanics. By analyzing the probabilities that quantum mechanics assigns in various experimental situations, I arrive at the following conclusions:

  • Considered by themselves, out of relation to anything else, the so-called ultimate constituents of matter are identical in the strong sense of numerical identity. They are, each of them, that trans-categorial Reality I mentioned before.
  • By entering into spatial relations with itself, this Reality creates both matter and space, for space is the totality of existing spatial relations, while matter is the corresponding apparent multitude of relata – “apparent” because the relations are self-relations.
  • The world is structured from the top down, by a self-differentiation of this Reality that does not bottom out: if we conceptually partition the world into smaller and smaller regions, we reach a point where the distinctions we make between regions no longer correspond to anything in the physical world.

Note that the belief that quantum states are evolving (and hence instantaneous) states, is incompatible with the last conclusion, for while this implies that the world’s spatial differentiation is incomplete (it does not “go all the way down”), the interpretation of quantum states as evolving (and hence instantaneous) states implies that the world’s temporal differentiation – and thus (via the special theory of relativity) its spatial differentiation – is complete.

Another conclusion:

  • Measurements do not reveal pre-existent values – values that the measured quantities would have possessed even if they had not been measured. Instead, they create their outcomes. Physical quantities have values only if (and only when) they are actually measured.

But if no value exists unless it is measured, then the value-indicating property of a measuring device also needs to be measured in order to have a value, and a vicious regress ensues. To avoid such a regress, some properties must be different. Solving this problem requires (i) a rigorous definition of the elusive term “macroscopic” and (ii) showing that the positions of macroscopic objects form a self-contained system to which independent reality can consistently be attributed. The elusiveness of defining “macroscopic” has often been remarked upon. It is worth pointing out that it was the incomplete spatial differentiation of the physical world that enabled me to rigorously define this word, which in turn made it possible to terminate that regress.

Another thing I said is that nothing is known about the mechanism or process by which measurement outcomes influence the probabilities of measurement outcomes. Let me add this: every conceivable measurement outcome has a probability greater than zero unless it violates a conservation law. Consequently, physics never needs to explain “how Nature does it.” It only needs to explain – via conservation laws – why certain things won’t happen. This is exactly what one would expect if the force at work in the world were an infinite (unlimited) force operating under self-imposed constraints. We therefore have no reason to be surprised by the impossibility of explaining the quantum-mechanical correlations laws, except in terms of final causes. It would be self-contradictory to invoke a mechanism or process to explain the working of an infinite force. What needs explaining is why this force works under the particular constraints that it does, and this I have explained in my book (as well as several papers, which can be downloaded via this page).

That’s just the way it is

qutools quED entanglement demonstrator

George Musser reports (Mar 17, 2011):

Tucked away in a booth in the exhibit tent at the German Physical Society conference, Munich-based start-up company qutools showed off the world’s cheapest kit for seeing quantum entanglement: spooky action at a distance. Though still out of reach of a DIYer (20,000 euros, or $28,000), the kit is cheap enough to become standard equipment in Physics 101 courses, and when you consider what physicists had to go through in the 1970s to see spooky action for the first time, it’s a marvel of miniaturization.

One of the first ever to see spooky action for himself was Alain Aspect of the Institut d’Optique on the outskirts of Paris. His experiments filled entire basement labs, and he had to do them against a backdrop of skepticism or even outright hostility among most of his colleagues.

Quantum pioneer Nicolas Gisin of the University of Geneva thinks understanding will come as physicists gain familiarity with the phenomenon. He says he already notices that his students feel more comfortable with entanglement than his generation does. “Young guys find it fascinating, but are not totally amazed,” he says. “The kids here say, that’s just the way it is.” So kits such as qutools’s hasten the day when we finally figure out what the theory really means, and the crazy becomes the quotidian.

In other words, familiarity breeds the illusion of understanding things.

Quantum mechanics and consciousness

Dave’s question: you seem to mention consciousness only at the very end. Is that right, or do you
weave it into the text throughout, or intermittently?

Response: Consciousness appears only at the end, though definitely as more than just a note. The spiritual implications of quantum physics, on the other hand, appear much earlier, starting with Chapter 18.

Let me try to explain, however briefly and inadequately.

The formalism of quantum physics, like that of classical physics, provides us with calculational tools.

While some of the mathematical expressions of classical physics allow themselves to be reified, this sleight-of-hand (the transmogrification of calculational devices into physical entities, mechanisms, or processes) no longer works in quantum physics.

If one nevertheless tries to do this, one ends up asking a number of pseudo-questions, and one makes it strictly impossible to perceive the ontological implications of the only testable aspect of quantum physics. One attempt to provide (gratuitous) answers to those pseudo-questions is to drag in consciousness (much like the deus ex machina of old).

The formalism of quantum physics is a probability calculus. On the basis of the outcomes of actual measurements, it allows us to calculate the probabilities of the possible outcomes of measurements that may be (or might have been) made. In other words, it correlates measurement outcomes statistically.

If one analyzes the way quantum mechanics assigns probabilities, and if one doesn’t throw up a smokescreen by dragging in consciousness or trying to reify a probability algorithm, one arrives at the following conclusions:

  • Considered by themselves, out of relation to anything else, the so-called ultimate constituents of matter are identical in the strong sense of numerical identity. They are one and the same thing. I call it Ulti­mate Reality and abbre­viate it to UR (mindful of the fact that the prefix “ur-” car­ries the sense of “orig­inal”).
  • By entering into spa­tial rela­tions with itself, UR cre­ates both matter and space, for space is the totality of existing spa­tial rela­tions, while matter is the cor­re­sponding apparent mul­ti­tude of relata — “apparent” because the rela­tions are self–rela­tions.
  • Reality is struc­tured from the top down, by a self-differentiation of UR that does not bottom out. If we con­cep­tu­ally par­ti­tion the world into smaller and smaller regions, we reach a point where the dis­tinc­tions we make between regions no longer cor­re­spond to any­thing in the phys­ical world, and if we go on dividing mate­rial objects, they cease to be distinct.

What (in the context of physics) I call a materialistic framework of thought is one that models reality from the bottom up. What (in the same context) I call a spiritual framework is one that models reality from the top down.

This has nothing to do with consciousness BUT it makes it possible to anchor not only consciousness but also quality and value in the very heart of reality, as aspects of UR.

Within a bottom-up framework of thought, what ultimately exists is a multitude of entities (atoms, fundamental particles, spacetime points, you name them) without intrinsic quality or value. In many traditions this multiplicity is fittingly referred to as “dust.” In such a framework it is obviously hard to give a non-reductive account of quality and value.

In a top-down framework, on the other hand, we can invoke the Vedantic formula UR = Sachchidananda, according to which UR relates to the world (its manifestation) as the substance (sat) that constitutes it, as the consciousness (chit) that contains it, and as an infinite quality/delight that expresses and experiences itself in it.

There is much more that begins to make sense. For one thing, the process by which UR enters into spa­tial rela­tions with itself can now be understood as the transition from the primary poise (vijnana) to the secondary poise (prajnana) of the supermind, to use Sri Aurobindo’s terminology. For another, the laws of physics can be seen as preconditions of the possibility of an evolutionary manifestation of Sachchidananda. If UR wants to go through a cycle of involution and evolution, they have to be precisely what they are.