One sentence that drives me nuts when I hear it is ‘quantum mechanics tells us that we are all one’. The reason this sentence drives me nuts is because I have come to see that the people who utter that sentence (usually in the context of advancing their own agenda, position or argument or when selling a book or workshop) clearly don’t understand the basics of quantum mechanics, for there is coarseness in such a view, which I will explain shortly.
Taking a step back from my own irritation in order to contemplate why people seem to feel compelled to bolster their argument with quantum mechanics, it became apparent that the mechanism by which this practice occurs is not at all complex. It is that it feels good when science supports a position I believe in; it makes my opinion sound more credible and makes me feel that I am right. However the deeper issue this raises (in my view) is that this practice has often become the philosophical equivalent of eating fast-food at Google drive-through; sure it feels good in the short term and is a quick-fix to my hunger for the validation of my ideas, but in the long term, it causes more problems than its worth because it lacks any meaningful intellectual nutrient content. Basically, it is my contention that a vast majority of the discussion of quantum mechanics tends to consist of people embedding erroneous knowledge into their psyches and using it to justify incorrect and unnecessary perspectives.
Whilst there are many other types of valid knowledge outside scientific understanding about which I will write in the future, the purpose of this post is to empower you with the capacity to gain some insight into the misrepresentation of quantum mechanics that is rife through-out the modern world. The world is magical enough without the need to distort the implications of quantum mechanics…
What is quantum mechanics?
The word ‘quantum’ in the context of quantum mechanics means quantity. Quantum mechanics uses abstract mathematics to describe the way we think the world works when it is broken into very small ‘chunks’ of time and space. A few really important points need be made from the get-go. The first point about which to be clear is that quantum mechanics is a set of equations. Those equations are a human attempt to describe what we think is happening in the material world. One of the equations is below, but before you look at it, be aware that this is the only mathematical statement in this post, so don’t let it dissuade you from reading onward. It is also important to note that the equations of quantum mechanics are complex and highly technical statements that in themselves tell us very little and are comprehensible to only a very small percentage of people.
At this point its worth asking yourself, does the equation above tell you personally anything about whether the world is an interconnected whole or not? If you are in the vast majority of people, then the answer will be ‘no’. This being the case, then we should be clear about what we are really talking about, and in this instance it is that when people purport to tell others ‘what quantum mechanics tells us’, they are really trying to tell you what those equations can be taken to mean, and also what implications can be discerned. The effect of this is that all the talk about whether or not we are interconnected at a quantum level, or whether you can quantum heal your illness by tapping into quantum consciousness, call in quantum wealth or quantum manifest your quantum perfect day are actually all making assumptions about what those equations mean, and also about the nature of consciousness.
And here are four reasons why those assumptions will almost always be wrong:
1. I’ve already mentioned it, but here it is again, quantum mechanics doesn’t tell us anything. Quantum mechanics is a bunch of abstract equations and then people interpret those equations. This is to say, people tell other people what they think a group of highly complex mathematical equations means. The nature of interpretation also creates space for people to distort the essence of quantum mechanics to sell their product or service - which happens often.
2. Quantum mechanics does not present a completely resolved picture of the universe. To put that in other terms; human beings have no f**king idea about what is going on in the quantum realm. There is no finer example of this than the fact there are several competing interpretations of quantum mechanics: The Copenhagen interpretation (the most widespread), the Many Minds/ Many Worlds interpretation, and Bohmian Mechanics to name but three. An interpretation in quantum mechanical terms is the way certain highly intelligent humans interpret equations and fill in the blanks in order to weave together a picture of the universe. The process really is that subjective.
All three interpretations I mentioned point to different pictures of the universe. I’m not going to describe these interpretations here, because they are not relevant to the main point I wish to make, and I want to keep this post as simple as possible. What is important to realise is that almost anyone who says ‘quantum mechanics says…’, will most likely be referring to one of those interpretations and going on from there. Some of what they say may relate to the interpretation they are relying upon (whether they know it or not), but more often that not, it tends to be dodgy. Added to this, they often wont have an idea about just how nuanced the the whole subject area is. If this context is not made clear, then a red flag ought to be raised, and the author’s credentials to make their arguments should be considered before simply accepting what they have to say because it sounds like something that would be nice to believe. Basically, in those situations, avoid the Google drive-through I mentioned at the start of this post, and instead hang out for some organically grown, mindfully prepared, high-quality philosophical deliciousness.
3. At no point in human history have we ever got science completely right, why should we think this time is any different? Or restated, are we so afraid of not knowing our place inside the Great Mystery that we need to pretend that we do? For example, of all the truly clever people that ever lived, Aristotle is definitely somewhere up toward the top of the list. In his day, the Earth was the centre of universe and there were five elements, one of which was ether, and out of which all stars were made. Now whilst there is sophistication, beauty and elegance in his ideas, he was off track with that picture of the universe. We have since learned the Earth orbits the sun, and that we inhabit a very small part of a very large universe with many elements and forces, about which we understand a fairly small amount. Along the way we also worked out that stars are actually super hot balls of plasma that radiate the heat and light necessary for life to happen.
Whilst Aristotle’s thought (quite rightly) still exerts a great influence on modern thinking, the point remains that we have evolved our thinking over time; in terms of both the linear development of knowledge, and non-linear leaps when there have been paradigm shifts. As time passes, we learn more, and new knowledge washes away the old. Why not view humanity’s quest to understand our place in the material world as an on-going project? To do so is to become friends with not knowing.
In the context of quantum mechanics, this means adopting the view that quantum mechanics does not tell us about what the world is, rather it is the best science we have at the moment, and we should be open to the idea that in another thousand years, we will have a very different model of the universe. This is not a cynical perspective for the sake of negativity, rather I invite you to spend some time on Google and look back on our understanding of the universe at thousand year intervals and make the decision for yourself. I can assure that at each of those points in history, most people thought that we had pretty much worked it all out. I feel that the correct way to view quantum mechanics is not that it tells us about the way the universe is, rather it tells us about the way that very small pieces of the universe appear to us at this point in time, which leads me onto my next point…
4. We have more to explore than we have yet explored. It is currently thought that space-time as we currently understand it has meaning down to 10-33 cm (that’s a zero with a decimal point, and then 33 other zeroes before a 1, centimetres); we are currently exploring around the 10-16 cm (that’s a zero with a decimal point, and then 16 other zeroes before a 1, centimetres). It may help to illustrate this by considering that the difference between human size and the elementary particles we currently know of is comparable to that which exists between the particles we are currently studying and the scale of matter that lies at 10-33 cm. Hopefully this illustrates just how vast the scale of matter we have yet to explore really is, as there are many orders of magnitude between 10-16cm and 10-33 cm which may well disclose structures that are currently unknown. Everything we know has a limited domain of validity, consequently it is effectively certain that quantum mechanics also has a limited domain of validity.
So where does that leave me? Am I interconnected at the quantum level or not?
Well this is a tricky question, to be sure. The short answer is that I think that we are. Or stated more accurately, I feel that there is a credible interpretation of quantum mechanics that does indeed support the notion of an undivided universe. I will explain myself in a moment, but before I do, I will first explain what I mean by ‘undivided universe’.
When I use that phrase, what I am really suggesting is a form of holism. To talk of a holistic picture of reality is to suggest that the parts are the abstraction, and the whole is what is real. Framed in a more personal way, the perception of a separate body and mind is just that; a perception. And in this sense, its possible to separate ordinary perception from a deeper response revealed after deep contemplation and the consideration of data. One such deeper response is the holistic view that we are embedded into the whole of the universe, inseparable in any meaningful way. One way to understand this is to see our individual selves like individual patterns on a carpet upon which there is a repeated pattern (such as the garish carpet used in many casinos and clubs upon which poker machines tend to be placed…); the individual patterns cannot be separated from their identity as part of that carpet in any significant way. Indeed, it is only in the context of the carpet that the patterns can be seen as individual elements. In the same way, we are embedded into a holistic universe from which the perception of individuality is indicative of how human beings interact with and perceive the world, rather than revealing that a separate and isolable individual is the Truth of being.
My preferred interpretation of quantum mechanics is Bohmian mechanics. I prefer this interpretation for a number of reasons, only three of which I will mention here. First, it is the only interpretation that is based upon the idea that quantum mechanics, as we understand it, is not the way nature Herself works, rather it is the way we think She works. I think this is an important distinction to make, for to my mind, there is hubris when we assume that we see things as they are rather than simply as we see them. Second, Bohmian mechanics offers us a holistic model, one which mathematically takes account of the whole universe when describing the individual. I will not go into detail here, other than to let you know of the name of the term that describes this is ‘quantum potential’, and that when quantum potential is high, a particle loses its individuality and sinks into the holistic realm, and when it is low, the particle appears to have an individual existence. I will write about quantum potential in a minute because its cool in a nerdy way. The third reason is that it does away with the idea of uncertainty. Many people think Albert Einstein rejected quantum mechanics, and use his one particular quote to support their argument – God doesn’t play dice with the universe. Really, the issue Einstein had was with the principle of uncertainty, and his quote refers to that notion. Einstein’s view was a Bohmian-style of interpretation would make more sense.
The point I wanted to make about quantum potential is that through the mathematics of quantum potential, Bohmian mechanics supports the notion of a holographic universe in which the part is in the whole and whole is in the part. The holographic nature of the universe in this context is a metaphor to describe holism. If one has a hologram and shines light through it, one sees a three-dimensional image. If that hologram were to be shattered, and then light shone through one of the shards, the entire image will still be able to be seen. It may be blurry around the edges, but the point remains that the entire image can be created from any piece of the original holographic medium. In this way Bohm saw that, in the same way that a hologram is encoded into the pieces of the hologram, by using the mathematical term of quantum potential, we could successfully describe a universe in which the whole universe is enfolded into the individual. The fact that this model works precisely as well as the dominant and mainstream Copenhagen Interpretation, and also resolves some of the problems and paradoxes associated with it, such as indeterminacy and the wave-particle duality of light, makes it all the more viable. It is in this way that quantum mechanics can be used to support a holistic worldview.
At this point it is important to recall that all this mathematics is theoretical. We simply don’t have the technology to conduct physical experiments that test all the different interpretations and rule out the ones that are wrong. At this stage, they all are competing for primacy, and each has aspects that are attractive, but also some issues as well. What is certain is that Bohmian mechanics is viewed as the outsider and is not the mainstream position. Personally, I think that this has more to do with history and politics than it does with the science. This is definitely something I will write about later because it is a cracking tale involving WWII, the Manhattan Project and the fear of communism that reverberated throughout the Western world around the mid-20th century. But, time has now passed, the fear of communism and socialism has declined and the idea of a holistic universe is not as terrifying to conservative minds as it was a generation ago. Moreover, we can consider the the different cosmologies presented by the various interpretations of quantum mechanics and choose to embrace the one that makes the most sense. Reaching that conclusion, to me, necessarily includes recognising my own subjective biases as much as possible. In this case, my bias expresses itself in a way whereby when confronted with empirically equivalent interpretations of quantum mechanics, I chose the holistic Bohmian model because it reflects the kind of universe that I have experienced in shamanic and tantric ritual and because it is a model that reflects a good way for me to think about life.
The final two points I wish to raise are these; the first point is that whilst Bohemian mechanics is a credible holistic interpretation of quantum mechanics, the point remains that we really are not in a position to describe with scientific certainty the deepest nature of our universe. And we certainly wont in my lifetime. But, I for one don’t have a problem with that. The second point on the subject of quantum mechanics is to remain mindful when evaluating claims about quantum healing, quantum abundance, or another process or outcome justifying itself with something that quantum mechanics ‘tells us’, is that we know that there is absolutely no credible scientific basis to think that we can, with conscious intention, influence the quantum realm. None. Nada. Zero. Zilch. But why do people think that we need to? What deficiency or hole are such people trying to fill? After over a decade questing into the nature of the universe and being, using both my formal research and other technologies of consciousness I can confidently assert that it definitely makes most sense to see ourselves as wholly embedded and inseparable from the universe, and that is magic enough to provide me with the context to build a meaningful life, one imbued with a sense of purpose and in which I work toward co-creating a human society that harmonises with the wider Earth community.