Last updated on 16th Jan. 2018
The post contents below are based on some comments of mine in a recent conversation elsewhere. However, I have signficantly added to those comments, and deleted some parts of the comments.
I have not read Capra's famous book, Tao of Physics. I am given to understand that Capra is quoted as saying in the book: "Thus, the Void of the Eastern mystics can easily be compared to the quantum field of subatomic physics. Like the quantum field, it gives birth to an infinite variety of forms which it sustains and, eventually, reabsorbs."
This seems to be similar to some articles that appeared after Higgs (jointly with Englert) won the 2013 Nobel prize in Physics.
Given below is my contrarian view from extracts from my blog post: Why I shy away from comparisons between Physics theories like Higgs field and deep spiritual philosophy like Vedanta?, https://iami1.wordpress.com/2015/07/27/why-i-shy-away-from-comparisons-between-physics-theories-like-higgs-field-and-deep-spiritual-philosophy-like-vedanta/, dated July 2015 :
Note: I am really out of touch with Quantum Physics and Particle Physics type of stuff though I majored in Physics in college (B.Sc. Physics from Ruia college, Mumbai university) over three decades ago. [I also did about six months of M.Sc. Physics (specializing in Electronics) in Mumbai university, then (1983), before dropping out due to funds problem.]
A view that Higgs field is like Brahman which projects material world is really tricky (from the viewpoint of literal meaning that some physicists/scientists may choose to take to criticize the statement). Yes, Higgs field gives mass to many particles. But can one extend that to say that Higgs field is like Brahman which projects material world? From a literal meaing point of view, that seems to be quite some stretch. Higgs field seems to have very limited or no relation to photons and does not seem to come into the picture for explaining gravity. Material world needs photons (light consists of it, according to accepted Physics of today, if I am not mistaken), and most of us humans experience gravity all the time. I mean, unless a reputed physicist used the phrase that Higgs field is like Brahman which projects material world, many phsicists/scientists will not treat the phrase seriously. I mean, they may treat it as a popular science writer’s over-simplification or extra imagination. Sorry if the words sound harsh, but even if I did not get into a profession related to Physics, the Physics I studied tells me that some physicists/scientists may view it as over-simplification.
BTW the regular wiki page has a DIRECT DISAGREEMENT with the molasses analogy/metaphor mentioned in popular press (See Sarewitz article referencing New York Times article using molasses analogy, http://www.nature.com/news/sometimes-science-must-give-way-to-religion-1.11244). It states, “Various analogies have also been invented to describe the Higgs field and boson, including analogies with well-known symmetry breaking effects such as the rainbow and prism, electric fields, ripples, and resistance of macro objects moving through media, like people moving through crowds or some objects moving through syrup or molasses. However, analogies based on simple resistance to motion are inaccurate as the Higgs field does not work by resisting motion.”
That seems to me to be a strong enough statement not to make serious comparisons between Higgs field and molasses or Hindu scripture, sea of milk (mentioned in Sarewitz article above, but clearly indicating that it is not an accurate characterization and mentioning that it may be as valid (or invalid) an analogy as the molasses one). I mean, those analogies may be fine for casual writing to reach out to lay readers. But it is NOT FINE for serious discussion.
More general discussion about Physics theories and comparison to Vedanta
Now let me stretch my neck out. I think I may open myself up to strong criticism from Physicists who care to read and comment on what I will now say. I think the “holy grail” of Physics, for good part of the 20th century continuing on to today, is a unified field and accompanying unified theory that explains all kinds of forces and all physical phenomena. It was Einstein’s dream and he did not achieve that dream. String theory is said to hold promise as the theory of everything (Physics wise), but I have been hearing about that promise it holds for long, without it having achieved the goal so far.
I don’t think Higgs field even attempts to be that kind of unified field theory. From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unified_field_theory, “In physics, a unified field theory (UFT), occasionally referred to as a uniform field theory, is a type of field theory that allows all that is usually thought of as fundamental forces and elementary particles to be written in terms of a single field. There is no accepted unified field theory, and thus it remains an open line of research. The term was coined by Einstein, who attempted to unify the general theory of relativity with electromagnetism. The “theory of everything” and Grand Unified Theory are closely related to unified field theory, but differ by not requiring the basis of nature to be fields, and often by attempting to explain physical constants of nature.”
Ravi: Classical physics (also referred to as Newtonian Physics, if I recall correctly), seemed to me to be a pretty meaningful set of theories and also seemed to match with human intuition. Take Newton’s laws of motion, for example. I did not find it counter-intuitive.
But Classical Physics could not explain certain phenomena. Einstein, Heisenberg, Planck, Dirac, Schrodinger etc. (with Bohr joining in, if I am not mistaken) came along and Quantum Physics became the big thing as it could explain some of the hitherto unexplained phenomena. And then we had mind-boggling progress in both science and its applications that made a big impact on the world. So today Quantum Physics is a pillar of Physics, with Classical Physics being an approximation of it.
But Quantum physics has so much of counter-intuitive stuff. Speed of light is constant – that’s a postulate (essentially, an assumption), Planck constant with a specific value (6.62606957(29)×10(raised to)-34 J.s), dual wave-particle nature, a special theory of relativity and a general theory of relativity etc. And then the horrendous Mathematics, Quantum physics involves. It is not elegant stuff, if you ask me. It is nowhere near the elegance of Classical physics.
But Quantum physics explained phenomena that classical physics could not. No matter how inelegant and counter-intuitive it was, no matter how horrendous the Math, Quantum Physics won handsomely at explaining some unexplained matters. So it has become the accepted Physics of our day.
Can the laws of material phenomena be so inelegant? Or has science (and its associated math) not got the right theories yet?
In marked contrast, I have found Hindu scripture (Vedanta, and, in my case, to a lesser extent, Bhagavad Geetha) & mystics’ explanations of underlying spiritual rules or laws (like Karma in Hindu, Buddhist & Jain philosophies) and the overall spiritual theory of existence (man being trapped into illusion due to desires that cloud his inner reality which is a changeless eternal truth, one brahman projecting the entire illusive world, essence of all being the same brahman etc.) to be so elegant and intuitive. I say, intuitive, in that it jells with one’s inner being. Something inside says, Yes, that’s right when one reads and contemplates on such scripture/philosophy/revelations/teachings.
Today’s Physics is nowhere near as elegant and as intuitive as deep spiritual explanations of existence, like in Vedanta (I don’t know enough about deep spiritual stuff in other religions/philosophies and so am not mentioning them). So I tend to shy away from comparisons between some (typically inelegant) Physics theory which gains currency/gets validated, and very elegant deep spiritual philosophy like Vedanta.
--- end extracts from my blog post ---
I repeat that I am out of touch with Physics and nowhere near an expert on topics like Higgs field. So I have relied on expert Physicists' views on Higgs field.
With the Higgs field scenario that I talked about above, if I recall correctly, claims were made that the Higgs field is a scientific validation of spiritual concepts/views like that of Brahman, the Absolute One God/Divinity of Vedanta, spawning the material world. Brahman was sought to be equated with Higgs field, and particles that owed their existence to Higgs field were sought to be equated with the material world being spawned by Brahman.
I think that is where Physicists got upset and wrote against those views (claiming that Higgs field theory validated Brahman spiritual concept of Vedanta).
Perhaps the Physicists would not have been so upset with somebody using quantum physics as a rough model to correlate with spiritual theories/revelations like Brahman and Maya of Vedanta. Such a model does not claim to be exact and, very importantly, does not claim to be scientific proof for Vedanta philosophy.
I would like to say that a few years ago I read up on how science views metaphysical or mystical theories (e.g. Vedanta philosophy), and also had a related conversation with a rationalist scientist.
What that told me was that mainstream science has rigorous criteria that it applies to any theory (e.g. it has to be experimentally verifiable through tests and those tests should be able to be repeatedly done) before it is willing to view the theory as a scientifically proven/acceptable theory.
Top mainstream science publications (e.g Science and Nature) act as gatekeepers via their editorial board and reviewers (mainly scientists, I believe) ensuring that only those theories that meet the rigorous criteria of mainstream science are written about in their publications as proven/acceptable scientific theories.
I learned that mainstream science has a strongly opposed view to many metaphysical and mystical theories put forward in a science theory language, and so views them as pseudoscience.
About Quantum mysticism and Amit Goswami
https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Amit_Goswami gives a very interesting quote of Amit Goswami, a physicist, "The current worldview has it that everything is made of matter, and everything can be reduced to the elementary particles of matter, the basic constituents — building blocks — of matter. And cause arises from the interactions of these basic building blocks or elementary particles; elementary particles make atoms, atoms make molecules, molecules make cells, and cells make brain. But all the way, the ultimate cause is always the interactions between the elementary particles. This is the belief — all cause moves from the elementary particles. This is what we call "upward causation." So in this view, what human beings — you and I think of as our free will does not really exist. It is only an epiphenomenon or secondary phenomenon, secondary to the causal power of matter. And any causal power that we seem to be able to exert on matter is just an illusion. This is the current paradigm.
Now, the opposite view is that everything starts with consciousness. That is, consciousness is the ground of all being. In this view, consciousness imposes "downward causation." In other words, our free will is real. When we act in the world we really are acting with causal power. This view does not deny that matter also has causal potency — it does not deny that there is causal power from elementary particles upward, so there is upward causation — but in addition it insists that there is also downward causation. It shows up in our creativity and acts of free will, or when we make moral decisions. In those occasions we are actually witnessing downward causation by consciousness."
--- end wiki quote extract ---
Ravi: I find that the above views of Amit Goswami fit in with my understanding of Vedanta philosophy as expounded in Hindu scripture and as explained/interpreted by contemporary mystical spiritual masters. But can they be viewed as a scientific theory which is acceptable to mainstream scientists of today? That is a vital question when one views it from the scientific perspective.
http://www.amitgoswami.org/ has a paragraph as follows in the context of views of Amit Goswami similar to what is expressed above, "You can call it God if you want, but you don’t have to. Quantum consciousness will do. Nonlocality, tangled hierarchy, and discontinuity: these signatures of quantum consciousness have been independently verified by leading researchers worldwide. This experimental data and its conclusions inform us that it is the mistaken materialist view that is at the center of most of our world’s problems today. To address these problems, we now have a science of spirituality that is fully verifiable and objective."
Ravi: Hmm. A science of spirituality that is fully verifiable and objective! I think that view will not be accepted by most mainstream scientists today, including publications like Science and Nature.
Large extracts from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_mysticism are given below:
Quantum mysticism is a set of metaphysical beliefs and associated practices that seek to relate consciousness, intelligence, spirituality, or mystical world-views to the ideas of quantum mechanics and its interpretations. Quantum mysticism is considered by most scientists and philosophers to be pseudoscience or quackery.
Early controversy and resolution
Quantum mysticism in the sense of consciousness playing a role in quantum theory first appeared in Germany during the 1920s when some of the leading quantum physicists, such as Erwin Schrödinger, leaned toward such interpretations of their theories. Others, such as Albert Einstein and Max Planck, objected to these interpretations. Despite the accusation of mysticism from Einstein, Niels Bohr denied the charge, attributing it to misunderstandings. By the second half of the twentieth century the controversy had run its course—Schrödinger's 1958 lectures are said to "mark the last of a generation that lived with the mysticism controversy"—and today most physicists are realists who do not believe that quantum theory is involved with consciousness.
In 1961 Eugene Wigner wrote a paper, titled Remarks on the mind–body question, suggesting that a conscious observer played a fundamental role in quantum mechanics, a part of the Von Neumann–Wigner interpretation. While his paper would serve as inspiration for later mystical works by others, Wigner's ideas were primarily philosophical and are not considered "in the same ballpark" as the mysticism that would follow.
Appropriation by New Age thought
In the early 1970s New Age culture began to incorporate ideas from quantum physics, beginning with books by Arthur Koestler, Lawrence LeShan, and others which suggested that purported parapsychological phenomena could be explained by quantum mechanics. In this decade the Fundamental Fysiks Group emerged, a group of physicists who embraced quantum mysticism while engaging in parapsychology, Transcendental Meditation, and various New Age and Eastern mystical practices. Inspired in part by Wigner, Fritjof Capra, a member of the Fundamental Fysiks Group, wrote The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels Between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism (1975), a book espousing New Age quantum physics that gained popularity among the non-scientific public. In 1979 came the publication of The Dancing Wu Li Masters by Gary Zukav, a non-scientist and "the most successful of Capra's followers". The Fundamental Fysiks Group is said to be one of the agents responsible for the "huge amount of pseudoscientific nonsense" surrounding interpretations of quantum mechanics.
Modern usage and examples
In contrast to the mysticism of the early twentieth century, today quantum mysticism typically refers to its New Age incarnation that combines ancient mysticism with quantum mechanics. Called a pseudoscience and a "hijacking" of quantum physics, it draws upon "coincidental similarities of language rather than genuine connections" to quantum mechanics. Physicist Murray Gell-Mann coined the phrase "quantum flapdoodle" to refer to the misuse and misapplication of quantum physics to other topics.
An example of such misuse is New Age guru Deepak Chopra's "quantum theory" that aging is caused by the mind, expounded in his books Quantum Healing (1989) and Ageless Body, Timeless Mind (1993). In 1998 Chopra was awarded the parody Ig Nobel Prize in the physics category for "his unique interpretation of quantum physics as it applies to life, liberty, and the pursuit of economic happiness".
The 2004 film What the Bleep Do We Know!? dealt with a range of New Age ideas in relation to physics. It was produced by the Ramtha School of Enlightenment which was founded by J.Z. Knight, a channeler who said that her teachings were based on a discourse with a 35,000-year-old disembodied entity named Ramtha. Featuring Fundamental Fysiks Group member Fred Alan Wolf, the film misused some aspects of quantum mechanics—including the Heisenberg uncertainty principle and the observer effect—as well as biology and medicine. Numerous critics dismissed the film for its use of pseudoscience.
--- end wiki extracts ---
Ravi: Now I am NOT saying that quantum mysticism in general and all the views of Amit Goswami as quoted in this post are wrong. Not at all. In fact, I believe in Vedanta philosophy where consciousness plays the vital role in creation with Brahman, which I believe could be viewed as a super and all-pervasive kind of consciousness, being the power that projects the whole of creation including the material world which is the focus of science. Vedanta philosophy also says that this creation is an illusion (a mega illusion which gives us the impression of being real) and that the only truth is the unchanging (super) consciousness/awareness referred to as Brahman. I believe this Vedanta philosophy to be true especially as my beloved and revered spiritual master, Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba said it is true. But I don't think Vedanta philosophy is a scientific theory which can be proven by the rigorous standards that mainstream science has.
I also don't think that Vedanta philosophy blended into Quantum physics of today will be acceptable as science. That does not mean Vedanta philosophy is false. It is just that it is out of the range of science. As Francis Collins indicates/implies, science is a great tool for investigating and explaining nature, but it cannot go beyond nature into other aspects of life. [To read about those views of Francis Collins, please visit this recent post of mine: About top-notch scientist Dr. Francis Collins and his superb arguments about science being compatible with belief in (Christian) God; My adaptation to multi-faith God, http://ravisiyer.blogspot.in/2018/01/about-top-notch-scientist-dr-francis.html.]
Given below are some comments from my Facebook post, https://www.facebook.com/ravi.s.iyer.7/posts/2061386217411278, associated with this post :
Sandhya Rajendra S Chittar wrote: All current theories in physics are tentative. They can change if evidence or experiments suggest otherwise. Quantum and General Relativity cannot be reconciled as of today. So either or both have to give way to a better one despite both being successfully tested by experiments. We do not as of now have a clear idea what this theory will be. Philosophy is subject to the experiments of life and is more experiential than experimental. So as of now there is no compelling evidence to connect both deeply.
Ravi S. Iyer wrote: Thanks for your valuable view Sandhya Rajendra S Chittar. What is your view of Quantum mysticism in general and the views of Amit Goswami in this regard in particular? I would be glad if you could share your valuable views here.
Sandhya Rajendra S Chittar wrote: I have not read Amit Goswami so cannot comment. I will send you a mail regarding my views later.
Ravi S. Iyer wrote: Sandhya Rajendra S Chittar forwarded a 2015 email of his on this topic, which he was OK with sharing publicly, whose main contents are as follows:
Dating back to Fritjof Capra's The Tao Of Physics, as far back as I can remember, heralded the tendency to support religious/spiritual beliefs (especially of the Orient) with modern (especially quantum) physics.
Quantum Physics, from its very birth, has been weird - riddled with paradoxes, a mathematical basis that still lacks the rigour of most other physics. But what sets it apart, and especially closer to the language of spiritualism - are its concepts, themes, and results which defy common sense perceptions to the extreme - far much more than the other pillar of modern physics, Einstein's Relativity (Special and General). Hence, one is forced to speak of Quantum things in a language that is as vague as that of Spiritualism.
And then, Quantum suffers from another peculiarity. As much as its mathematics is precise, its meaning in conceptual terms (i.e. what do the terms represent, and how do the interact, and what goes on?) is not easy to flesh out, as in most other physics.
It is subject to interpretation.
And lastly, there is this thing called Entanglement - which defies the other pillar (Special Relativity) - where particles remain entangled (can communicate instantly) no matter how far they are apart. This goes against the fundamental tenet of Relativiy - the speed of light is the ultimate barrier which cannot be surpassed by anything in this Universe.
Lo and Behold - one now has all the language available to speak metaphysical within the Quantum context. Particles which are not really particles - but also waves simultaneously. Particles being here, there, and everywhere at the same time. Particles that are in instant touch with each other across the Universe. And then some more.
While all of these weird results have been proven in Physics laboratories the world over, and have a solid theory to back them - there is something crucially amiss. Quantum Theory and General Relativity cannot be put together into a consistent framework. And like Quantum Theory, the results of General Theory, also have been validated beyond doubt.
Truth is stranger than fiction, indeed. Without Quantum, most of the Electronics that we take for granted, and which rules our lives today, would have been impossible. Without General Relativity, GPS would be unthinkable. So, both are right in our experience - but yet, they do not get along at all!!!
Which means one of two things:
1) Either Quantum or General Relativity has to give way.
2) Both are partially correct, but fundamentally incomplete, and require another bedrock as their basis.
This makes it clear that any attempt to base any spiritual philosophy on Science must go the same way. Hence, if Spiritual thought is 100% correct, then it must remain separate from the evolving nature of Scientific truth. Any attempt to link a supposedly proven philosophy with an evolving one - is futile, forever.
In which case - Science and Spiritualism - must remain separate forever.
But there is a more prudent approach. Spiritual Philosophy must also evolve as we do and as does our Science. And only in that case, can the effort of basing Spiritualism on Science be fruitful.
Sandhya Rajendra S Chittar wrote (slightly edited): I recommend this book - Quantum Questions: Mystical Writings of the World's Great Physicists Paperback – 10 Apr 2001 by Ken Wilber (Editor), https://www.amazon.in/Quantum-Questions-Mystical-Writings-Physicists/dp/1570627681/ - to anyone genuinely interested in this topic.
[I thank wikipedia, wikiquote and amitgoswami.org, and have presumed that they will not have any objections to me sharing the above extracts (short extract from amitgoswami.org) from their website on this post which is freely viewable by all, and does not have any financial profit motive whatsoever.]