"Fearlessness is the first requirement of spirituality. Cowards can never be moral." -- Mahatma Gandhi

Monday, December 27, 2010

Physics, Spirituality and 'the Structure of Consciousness'

Quantum Fluctuations by Kevin Moore
Arthur I. Miller's book, 137: Jung, Pauli, and the Pursuit of a Scientific Obsession, traces the evolution of the relationship between Wolfgang Pauli, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist and Carl Jung, arguably, the West's most influential psychoanalyst. What started as a patient-therapist relationship quickly morphed into a partnership of metaphysical exploration.

The volume immediately caught my eye in my local bookshop not-so-much because of its subject matter - interesting though it may be - but, rather, because of a memorable passage from Gary Zhukav's The Dancing Wu Li Masters, a now-classic treatise on the convergence of modern physics, metaphysics and the world's oldest wisdom traditions.

The memorable passage which had stuck with me from my first reading of the Wu Li Masters was the following passage on the fundamental nature of quantum physics that features the parallel views  Pauli and Jung held on the true nature of 'reality':
"According to quantum mechanics there is no such thing as objectivity. We cannot eliminate ourselves from the picture. We are a part of nature, and when we study nature there is no way around the fact that nature is studying itself. Physics has become a branch of psychology, or perhaps the other way round.
Carl Jung, the Swiss psychologist, wrote:
The psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside, as fate That is to say, when the individual remains undivided and does not become conscious of his inner contradictions, the world must perforce act out the conflict and be torn into opposite halves.
 Jung's friend, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Wolfgang Pauli, put it this way:
From an inner center the psyche seems to move outward, in the sense of an extraversion, into the physical world . . . 
"If these men are correct," Zhukav so memorably wrote, "then physics is the study of the structure of consciousness." [Emphasis added.]

Now why didn't high school physics start with that remarkable proposition rather than with the rote repetition of Galileo's experiments with falling bodies? That would have caught my attention!

The great theoretical physicist, Richard Freeman, reportedly said, "If you think you understand quantum physics, then you don't understand quantum physics. (The bongo-playing polymath also reportedly said, "If you think you understand quantum physics, you've got rocks in your head!")

The quantum world is apparently beyond (and antithetical to) our human comprehension because our language and mere existence in the 'ordinary world' of our conscious existence prohibits us from envisioning the indeterminate and radically interconnect nature of basic reality - a 'proven' reality where everything is composed of discrete 'quanta' of energy, yet where there is no such entity as a separate "thing."

Whether there is, in fact (and I believe there is), a limit beyond which our ordinary consciousness cannot penetrate the "suchness" of what "is" - to use a famous Buddhist description of fundamental reality - it is truly remarkable how the phenemona and explanations of quantum theory echo the conclusions of the world's most ancient wisdom traditions; conclusions which are themselves impossible to fully penetrate with "ordinary" consciousness. Hence, the search for "enlightenment" which has remained a fundamental concern and pursuit of humankind since we first walked out of the mists of time.

Zhukav's assertion that "physics has become the study of the structure of consciousness" is tantalizing because at once it seems to unite the three great streams of humankind's pursuit of knowledge: the sciences (which are all rooted in physics), the social sciences (that are all, in their fundamental aspects, sub-systems of psychology), and the humanities (which highest discipline is metaphysics).

Zhukav concludes his exposition of the 'New Physics' - which admittedly does not cover the most-cutting edge of quantum theory, such as "superstring theory" - by examining the profound implications of Bell's theorem and the work of quantum theorist David Bohm (who was a unique participant in the "dialogues" of Jiddhu Krishnamurti, one of the 20th-century's rare, enlightened masters).

In the closing pages of the Wu Li Masters, Zhukav, initially quoting Bohm, observes:
"Matter is a form of the implicate order as vortex is a form of the water - it is not reducible to smaller parts." Like "matter" and everything else, particles are forms of the implicate order. If this is difficult to grasp, it is because our minds demand to know, "What is the 'implicate order' the implicate order of?"
"A new instrument of thought such as is needed to understand Bohm's physics," Zhukav writes, "would radically alter the consciousness of the observer, reordering it towards the perception of the "unbroken wholeness" of which everything is a form."

The relationship of form with the formless, the reordering and submergence of ordinary human consciousness within universal consciousness, and the description of ultimate reality and our relationship to it, are the elements of all the world's great religious, spiritual and metaphysical traditions. As Zhukav notes, "all eastern religions (psychologies) are compatible in a very fundamental way with Bohm's physics and philosophy. All of them are based upon the experience of a pure, undifferentiated reality which is that which is."

In the end, as the juxtaposition of Jung and Pauli's views illustrate, just as in the beginning of human inquiry, not just physics but all explorations of  'what is' become "a study in the structure of consciousness."

Or, in the words of Rumi, the 11th-century Sufi poet and mystic (as translated by Coleman Barks in The Essential Rumi):
"If you have a body, where is the spirit?
 If you're spirit, where is the body?
 This is not our problem to worry about.
  Both are both. . . .
 Invisible, visible, the world
 does not work without both."

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