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The Zen of Quantum Physics

Ever since I can remember, I have been fascinated with two topics, Zen, and quantum physics. Along the way, there have been many things that have caught my fancy, from writers, filmmakers, philosophers, and psychologists. But I always come back to Zen and physics, especially quantum physics.

I don’t pretend that this essay is original, many have written on the topic with much more authority than me. Even though I have no scientific background, I will try and delve a little more deeply than books like The Secret with the topical quotes from ‘international coaches and speakers’ like (I am paraphrasing) “new discoveries in quantum physics prove that our thoughts create our realities” or from Ig Nobel prize winner Deepak Chopra for this brilliant piece of writing, which I found on Wikipedia,

“Quantum healing is healing the body-mind from a quantum level. That means from a level which is not manifest at a sensory level. Our bodies ultimately are fields of information, intelligence, and energy. Quantum healing involves a shift in the fields of energy information, so as to bring about a correction in an idea that has gone wrong. So quantum healing involves healing one mode of consciousness, mind, to bring about changes in another mode of consciousness, body.”

I think he was really burning the midnight oil, (and maybe some other substances) when he wrote that one. It is extremely easy to fall into ridiculous clichés when discussing these topics, but by doing so they lose all their mystery. Somehow, the subatomic world of quarks, photons, and electrons is as wonderful as the Big Bang and Black Holes, Haikus and the Bodhidharma.

While classical physics and even Relativity are understandable, if vaguely sometimes, the quantum mysteries are still mysteries for even the physicists themselves, and that I find very appealing. The key mystery for each human being is the origin and destiny of their own essence and what is our essence other than our consciousness? Consciousness, personal and impersonal, is the key to Zen. To become enlightened is to leave your personal consciousness and enter the universal consciousness. You realize you are not a pinky, but part of an entire body. Easy to conceptualize but very, very difficult to feel completely.

In quantum theory, subatomic particles exist in probability waves and are only defined when “something conscious” observes them. Otherwise, they are everywhere and nowhere. This may be a simplification, but it captures the essence of the enigma. The famous phrase from Einstein about God not rolling the dice comes from this mystery. Einstein wanted a deterministic universe, but unfortunately, he didn’t get it. Schrodinger summed it up in his famous thought experiment about whether the cat is dead or alive. The thought experiment helps us to focus on the mystery of state. What state is the cat in before someone observes? It’s not clear.

Schrödinger, one of the founders of quantum theory, wrote:

“One can even set up quite ridiculous cases. A cat is penned up in a steel chamber, along with the following device (which must be secured against direct interference by the cat): in a Geiger counter, there is a tiny bit of radioactive substance, so small that perhaps in the course of the hour, one of the atoms decays, but also, with equal probability, perhaps none; if it happens, the counter tube discharges, and through a relay releases a hammer that shatters a small flask of hydrocyanic acid. If one has left this entire system to itself for an hour, one would say that the cat still lives if meanwhile no atom has decayed. The psi-function of the entire system would express this by having in it the living and dead cat (pardon the expression) mixed or smeared out in equal parts.

It is typical of these cases that an indeterminacy originally restricted to the atomic domain becomes transformed into macroscopic indeterminacy, which can then be resolved by direct observation. That prevents us from so naively accepting as valid a “blurred model” for representing reality. In itself, it would not embody anything unclear or contradictory. There is a difference between a shaky or out-of-focus photograph and a snapshot of clouds and fog banks”

Image Wikipedia

Basically, the cat is neither alive nor dead till someone observes it. I love the last sentence. It captures the essence of quantum theory. The theory is clear, but the laws are ‘murky’ as Schrodinger puts it.

Applied quantum theory works wonderfully; it has enabled much technological advancement from microchips to lasers. There is no debate about whether it works or not. It is real. Most scientists spend their time on the practical applications and leave the “spooky” part to others. What has fascinated me is the idea that our consciousness plays an active role in creating reality. No one imagines the world will end when they die. It clearly continues once our consciousness disappears in death (I will assume here it does).

As a young history student, I was always fascinated by Calvin’s concept of pre-destination. I found it disturbing that we had no choice in the final outcome. God was all knowing, hence he knew before he created us whether we would be saved or not. In a sense, Einstein was a Calvinist, and the Niels Bohr, the principal figure in quantum theory, was a Catholic. The Catholic Church disputed the predestination theory, arguing the sacraments allowed a person to ‘choose’. A photon can be a particle, or it can be a wave. What converts it from wave to particle is some ways appears to be conscious observation.

The riddle of Zen is a different one. By ‘being’ the conscious observer, we ‘lose our consciousness’. The greatest obstacle to enlightenment is the ego. Zen also has its own thought experiments, Koans in the Rinzai tradition. A Koan is something that one meditates on, with the hope that at some point, the conscious egoic mind tires and breaks down and the truth hits you, but not through the thinking mind. The most famous Koan and the first one given to many students is Mu.

“A monk asked Zhaozhou, a Chinese Zen master (known as J?sh? in Japanese): “Has a dog Buddha-nature or not?”, Zhaozhou answered: “Wú” (in Japanese, Mu).”

Students will spend weeks, months, even years looking for “Mu”. But they will never find it with logic, they must transcend the logic.

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One of the great axioms of Buddhism is Form is Emptiness, and Emptiness is Form. Try to imagine a circle drawn perfectly on a white piece of paper, in black ink. What is inside the black line is the form, the black line is the emptiness. Not easy? Does it remind you of the cat being alive and dead? To feel alive and enlightened I must fully realize that I don’t exist. Niels Bohr said, “If quantum mechanics hasn’t profoundly shocked you, you haven’t understood it yet.”

Einstein said, “I can’t accept quantum mechanics because it involves spooky actions at a distance.” For example, two electrons from the same hydrogen atom fly out into space in different directions and they are millions of light years apart. Each has a ‘spin’, up or down let’s say. One must be up, and the other down, but we don’t know which is which until we measure. And once we measure one, the other one “somehow knows”. Einstein’s spooky action. Communication faster than the speed of light, or maybe some sort of movement back in time as some have suggested.

I wish I could offer the great unifying theory of Zen and Quantum Physics, but that would be like finally sleeping with my great unrequited love, and at this point, I prefer to maintain the mystery and keep her at a “spooky distance.”


Read Robert’s blog CACTUS LAND BLOG

About the Author:

Robert Bonomo is a 42-year-old novelist and internet marketer. He has lived and worked in Madrid, New York, Buenos Aires, San Francisco, Valencia, Miami, and Kamchatka among a few other not so remarkable places. He has worked as a land surveyor, car salesman, spice salesman, transportation salesman, English teacher with a few other not mentionalbe gigs in between.

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I wouldn’t call this a synchronicity but it was convenient…

The day after I did my spoken piece about Carl Jung, it just so happened that “synchronicity” was the next topic for updating at I wouldn’t call that a synchronicity because the podcast also dealt with Jung’s views on UFOs. But heck, it was convenient. I was totally primed to update the entry because I’d been talking about it the day before, browsing through my PhD thesis, and so on.

I like the way the written entry came out (tweeted above). The podcast, however, sounded a bit rambly the next day. However, I won’t let that stop me. Practice makes perfect and I’ll keep extemporizing until I get good at it. One thing’s for certain, talking into a mic live has given me a whole new appreciation for people like Don Lemon, Nancy Grace, and many others. We don’t realize how good they are until we try it ourselves!

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“Science, Technology, and Magic” by Umberto Eco

Stuff Jeff Reads

Image Source: Wikipedia Image Source: Wikipedia

I have to admit that this essay, included in the book Turning Back the Clock: Hot Wars and Media Populism, was not what I expected from the title. I expected an analysis on the similarities between the three, but actually it is an exploration of science is different than technology and magic, which Eco asserts are similar in nature. Honestly, I always considered magic and science to be more alike.

Eco begins his argument by pointing out that technology is not the same as science, but is merely a product of science.

Science is different. The mass media confuse with technology and transmit this confusion to their users, who think that everything scientific is technological, effectively unaware of the dimension proper to science, I mean to say that science of which technology is an application and a consequence but not the primary substance.

Technology gives you…

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Critique of a definition of the unconscious, and implications

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In the news – Top 5 alternative stories has no affiliation with these stories, their authors nor the websites they appear on

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In the news has no affiliation with these stories, their authors nor the websites they appear on

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George Stroumboulopoulos (CBC) – A “Frankenstein” doctor?

60x60_video_icon_white.gifThis is one of the more interesting videos to come our way. The link appeared at Think Free in a dialogue about the idea of Free Will. The women in this video say that their lives were orchestrated in a way that they found chilling and morally deficient.

Identical Twins Separated at Birth