These apparent mandalas are actually 'photographs' of electron  probability clouds within atoms.


 

QUANTUM MYSTERY, MYSTICISM AND THE MADHYAMAKA 

_________________________________________________________________________________________

Nothing exposes the perplexity at the heart of physics more starkly than certain preposterous claims a few outspoken physicists are making concerning how the world really works.  If we take these claims at face value, the stories physicists tell resemble the tales of mystics and madmen.[i]

                                                              

                                                         - Nick Herbert: physicist

 

 

physicists are not the only people who view the world this way.  They are only the newest members of a sizable group; most Hindus and Buddhists also hold similar views.[ii]

                                                                                                                                 - Gary Zukav: physicist

 

 

Some philosophers have gone further and concluded that nothing, including matter and mind intrinsically exist.  If we trace the history of this line of thought back, it seems to have been first formulated in Oriental thought by Siddharta Gautama over two thousand five hundred years ago.[iii] 

 

                                                                                                                                                                             - Laurent Nottale: physicist

  

 

Another convergence has been alleged between modern physics and Eastern philosophy.  The argument goes essentially as follows.  Quantum physics … is deeply mysterious and hard to understand. Eastern mystics have always been deeply mysterious and hard to understand.  Therefore Eastern mystics must have been talking about quantum physics all along.[iv]

                                                                  

                                                             - Richard Dawkins: zoologist

The fact that quantum physics is mysterious has been regularly endorsed by a good few physicists in recent years.  The subject of the physical and philosophical implications of the theories of modern physics, quantum physics in particular, has captured the imagination of a considerable audience and the science sections of major bookstores are replete with expositions expounding the marvels and perplexities of quantum theory, many written by quantum physicists eager to boggle the minds of their readers.  Quantum entities are said to be waves and particles at the same time, they do not exist fully until they are observed, they can be in two places at the same time, and they can hover between existence and non-existence.  These are a few of the bizarre properties that lie at the heart of the quantum realm.

In just about all of these current expositions you can find somewhere an observation similar to Nick Herbert’s indication that the ideas of quantum physics conjure up a scenario worthy of ‘tales of mystics and madmen’.  Herbert goes so far as to give the title ‘Physicists Losing Their Grip’ to one of the chapters of his book Quantum Reality.  At the head of this chapter he quotes two other physicists, Bryce DeWitt and Neill Graham:

No development of modern science has had more profound impact on human thinking than the advent of quantum theory.  Wrenched out of centuries-old thought patterns, physicists of a century ago found themselves compelled to embrace a new metaphysics.  The distress which this reorientation caused continues to the present day.  Basically physicists have suffered a severe loss: their hold on reality.[v]

Herbert agrees with this view and he adds that the fact that physicists have lost their grip ‘one of the best-kept secrets of science’[vi].   More recently the physicists Bruce Rosenblum and Fred Kuttner, in their book Quantum Enigma: Physics encounters consciousness, have made a similarly radical observation regarding the far reaching implications of quantum theory:

…we suspect that something beyond ordinary physics awaits discovery.  Not all physicists would agree.  Many would like to dismiss the enigma, our ‘skeleton in the closet’[vii]

The enigma revealed by quantum physics, which will be outlined shortly, is so baffling that it has given rise to many different interpretations as to what it means for our understanding of the fundamental nature of what we call ‘reality’.  Herbert points out that quantum physicists all use the same mathematical equations but there are no less than eight different interpretations of what these equations tell us about the nature of reality[viii]. 

Herbert is not alone in comparing the strangeness of the world of the quantum to ideas seemingly more suitable for Eastern mystics.  The ideas contained in quantum theory are so strange, when compared to the ideas of ‘classical’ physics which went before, that some physicists are prompted to question the ‘real’ status of reality itself.  In his book Quantum Physics – Illusion or Reality physicist Alastair Rae observes that the facts of quantum physics have led some physicists and philosophers:

To believe that it is the actual human observer’s mind that is the only reality – everything else, including the whole physical universe is an illusion.[ix]

Indeed, as we shall see, the development of quantum physics has been characterised by the seemingly undeniable and astonishing revelation that what was once considered to be a completely external and material structure of reality, independent of the minds of observers, is an illusion.  In this respect at least the discoveries inaugurated by the quantum revolution have converged upon the insights of the Buddhist Madhyamika[x] scholars of two thousand years ago:

These phenomena are like bubbles of foam, like banana trees,

Like illusions, like lightning in the sky,

Like water moons; like mirages.[xi]

The proponents of the Madhyamaka were unified in their extraordinary analysis of the nature of reality which revealed to them the ‘empty’ nature of all phenomena. 

On a superficial level, of course, all material phenomena are almost quite literally empty of material substance.  Today we know that the material world is comprised of atoms which are in turn made up of more fundamental particles.  At the centre of an atom is the nucleus which is made up of protons and neutrons and, according to the usual entry level picture of the atom, electrons orbit the nucleus similar to the way that planets orbit the sun.  We can imagine the amount of space inside an atom by imagining that the nucleus is a pea placed on the centre spot of a football pitch. On this scale the electrons would be like specks of dust circling somewhere in the vicinity of the spectator stands.  Atoms are at least 99.9999 percent empty space; so to compare them to a banana tree, which has a hollow core, is appropriate, although this is not exactly what is meant by the Madhyamika assertion that all phenomena are ‘empty’.

The sense of ‘emptiness’ which is employed within the Madhyamaka is far more subtle, profound and shocking.  According to the Madhyamaka the objects of the everyday world, atoms, components of atoms, and the components of the components of the atoms, to what ever level we wish to try to pursue the issue, are all empty of inherent independent reality; they are imputations of the mind with no separate and independent existence of their own.  We generally assume that the entities that surround us every day are what they are because of being substantial at some level of their existence.  According to the Madhyamika analysis, however, this is not the case.  All the entities which are so familiar to us from our dealings within the everyday world are, like banana trees, devoid of any central core which supports their reality.  They are therefore like bubbles, illusions and mirages and so on.

According to the Madhyamika philosophers, who used advanced insight techniques to see directly into the nature of reality, reality has two levels of revelation, one of which is hidden behind the other.  The first level of reality is the everyday, conventional, face which it presents to the untrained, unsuspecting ‘ordinary’[xii] person going about everyday business.  This is the face of reality which includes cups, tables, chairs, houses, roads, cars, people and jobs and so on. The entities of the usual everyday material world are generally taken for granted as being completely real; in simplistic terms the first face of reality is the face which presents the immutable appearance of a solid material world of physical substances and processes, all of which are assumed to be real.

Behind this familiar appearance, however, the Madhyamika investigators into the nature of reality discovered a shocking truth; none of it is really there in the way that we generally assume that it is:

 

Phenomena as they appear and resound

Are neither established nor real …

Since they keep changing in all possible and various manners

Just like appearances in magical illusions.

 

They are without nature, just like space,

But since they come about due to mere dependent origination,

They are not utterly nonexistent,

Similar to cause and effect in dreams.[xiii]

 

The appearance of the phenomena of the everyday world is not questioned by the Madhyamika philosophical analysis; the fact that the objects and processes which make up our lives are significant aspects of embodied existence is not in question.  We get up in the morning, have showers and breakfast and then get ready for the day; buses come and go, we might catch one to go to work and so on.  To claim that all this is illusory in the sense of being utterly and completely nonexistent would, quite clearly, be ridiculous.  It is for this reason that the second verse asserts that everyday phenomena ‘are not utterly nonexistent’.  At the end of the first verse we are told that it is the manner of their existence which renders them illusory.  They are like ‘magical illusions’.

This might not seem to be, on the face of it, too earth shattering.  Most people know that cups, for instance, are made of smaller entities called atoms.  It is these smaller ‘real’ things that are supposed to make up the bigger things which are also supposed to be ‘real’.  In general it is assumed that at some level there is an end to the unreality and we meet a final ground of reality which guarantees the reality of everything above it, so to speak.  Atoms, for instance, are made up of electrons, protons and neutrons; and then electrons, protons and neutrons are made up of ….  Well it is here that we hit the problems of quantum theory which provides one of the central concerns of this book. 

According to the Madhyamika analysis there is no end to the dissolution of the material world into unreality.  And this quite clearly means, as the Madhyamika philosophers continually point out, that the world, or reality, is nothing like you think it is when you wake up in the morning, have a shower, breakfast and think about the bus. In fact, reality, or the lack of it, is so completely different from how we all think the world is that it is really worth thinking about deeply. The implications of the perspective upon reality which emerges from the interface of quantum physics and the Madhyamaka, which is thoroughly demonstrated within this book, are so revolutionary that, when they are fully comprehended, and experienced, the way back to the old illusion of the supposedly safe solid reality of the everyday world should be very difficult.  

In case you are thinking that the claims made by the Madhyamaka are simply too outlandish to be worth considering it is necessary to ponder the same claims made by scientists working within the leading edge of our modern understanding concerning the material world.  Jim Baggot, in his recent book A Beginner’s Guide to Reality, sets out to find something that he can definitely say is real; he seeks to locate a definite reality within different spheres of human knowledge: sociological, philosophical and, finally, the physical realm of physics, and his conclusion is that:

We must now come to terms with the fact that there is no hard evidence for this common sense reality to be gained from the entire history of human thought.  There is simply nothing we can point to, hang our hats on and say this is real.[xiv]

This is the remarkable situation that has resulted from the experimental findings and theoretical investigations of modern physics; a basis for reality has dissolved into a nebulous realm of uncertainty; and, as we shall see, this claim is reiterated in various forms by many quantum physicists.

As we shall discover, the Madhyamika philosophers have no problem making sense of this situation.  Quantum physicists, however, are in complete disarray regarding the implications of the discoveries of quantum theory.   The quantum gravity physicist Lee Smolin says that:   

I have worked on projects in quantum gravity where everything went smoothly until the collaborators discovered one day over dinner that we had radically different understandings of the meaning of quantum theory.  Everything went smoothly again after we had calmed down and realised that how we thought about the theory had no effect on the calculations we were doing.[xv]          

 He reiterates this observation for emphasis:

 
It is true that there is only one mathematical formulism of quantum theory.  So physicists have no problem in going ahead and using the theory even though they do not agree about what it means.[xvi]

 
And this lack of consensus concerning the nature of reality at the quantum level is by no means a recent state of affairs in the history of quantum theory:

 
The founders of quantum theory, such as Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg and Schrödinger did not agree 

There is now no more agreement about what quantum theory really means…[xvii]           

           

This is an astonishing situation.  Quantum theory has proved to be remarkable in the extraordinary accuracy of predictions and measurements at an unimaginably small scale. Physicist Robert Oerter describes the accuracy required as that ‘you would need to shoot a gun and hit a Coke can – if the can were on the moon’[xviii].  Richard Feynman, one of the most significant physicists of the twentieth century, compared the accuracy of quantum experiments to measuring the distance between New York and Los Angeles to the precision of the width of one human hair!  

 All the gadgets of the modern world, radios, televisions, cd-players, computers, scanners, printers, game-boys, the list is endless, all depend on our knowledge of the functioning of the quantum realm and yet the founding fathers of quantum physics, and their descendents, were, and still are, completely in the dark as to what really is going on beyond the probabilistic predictive mathematics; they certainly do not know what ‘exists’ at the quantum level.  Quantum physicists are still not in agreement about what it all means.  Some physicists who rely on the theory do not believe it; Lee Smolin, for instance, says of the uncertainty principle, which states that it is not possible to know a particle’s precise position and momentum at the same time, that:

 …the mind rebels: it is hard to work one’s way through to the logical consequences of a principle like the uncertainty principle when one’s first response is simply to disbelieve it.  I myself do not really believe it, and I do not think that I am the only physicist who feels this way.  But I persist in using it because it is a necessary part of the only theory I know that explains the main observed facts about atoms, molecules and elementary particles.[xix]  

 The physicist Jim Al-Khalili, when discussing the details of the double slit experiment, which is described shortly, tells his readers that:

 
You may not like it but then, as I have stated before, that it is a quite natural reaction and, indeed, reflects your developing maturity in coming to terms with the unavoidably counter-intuitive nature of the subject.  You are not meant to be comfortable with the conclusions of quantum physics.[xx]

 In a recent book Quantum Paradoxes (2005) the respected quantum physicists Yakir Aharanov and Daniel Rohrlick refer to an observation attributed to Richard Feynman, one of the most significant physicists of the twentieth century Feynman.  He said that once Einstein’s theory of relativity was made public it was not long until many people understood it.  In contrast, Feynman said that nobody understood quantum physics:

 

…you get down a blind alley from which nobody escapes.  Nobody knows how it can be like that.[xxi]

 

Feynman made this observation in 1965; Aharanov and Rohrlick are writing 40 years later and, according to them, very little has changed.  They refer to a Woody Allen joke in which someone goes to a psychiatrist to complain that his brother thought himself to be a chicken.  The psychiatrist suggests that the man should commit his brother to an insane asylum; the man replies ‘Are you crazy we need the eggs!’  Aharanov and Rohrlick observe that:

 

Quantum Mechanics is crazy – but we need the eggs!’[xxii]

 
When the ideas of quantum physics are viewed from the perspective of our ingrained familiarity with the way that the everyday world appears to function they appear to be completely insane; but they work!

 There is a significant consensus within the community of quantum physicists that it is very difficult to comprehend how the quantum dimension of reality can function the way that it does and yet, at the same time, give rise to the appearance of the world that ordinary beings experience every day.  The two domains appear to be dramatically opposed to each other.  At the quantum level reality seems to be composed of an immaterial mathematical entity called a wavefunction within which all the possibilities, actualized or not, for experience are encoded.  The world we actually experience, of course, is comprised of definite entities: tables, chairs, roads, rooms, people and so on.  To use a Tibetan formulation for the notion of dichotomy, the domains of quantum behaviour and experience of the everyday world are ‘phenomena that have the character of mutual abandonment’[xxiii], which is to say that there appears to be no meeting point.

 
Because of the widely believed, but hugely mistaken, cultural tendency to assume that scientists generally know what they are talking about on all issues, it is vital to survey the extraordinary confusion and perplexity which is endemic within the scientific community regarding the issue of the nature of reality revealed by quantum physics.  According to the discoverer of black holes, Roger Penrose:

 Quantum theory was not wished upon us by theorists.  It was (for the most part) with the greatest reluctance that they found themselves driven to this strange and, in many ways, philosophically unsatisfying view of a world.”[xxiv] 

 
Penrose continuously reiterates that he finds quantum theory completely unsatisfying:

 Taken at its face value, the theory seems to lead to a philosophical standpoint that many (including myself) find deeply unsatisfying.  At best, and taking its descriptions at their most literal, it provides us with a very strange view of the world indeed.  At worst, and taking literally the proclamations of some of its most famous protagonists, it provides us with no view of the world at all.[xxv]

 

He tells the following story:

 

I cannot resist quoting a remark that was made to me by Professor Bob Wald, of the University of Chicago, at a dinner party some years ago: If you really believe in quantum physics, then you can’t take it seriously.[xxvi]

 

It seems that the truth comes out at the dinner table!   One of the founding fathers, Werner Heisenberg, this time after dinner, lamented:

 

Can nature possibly be as absurd as it seems to us in these atomic experiments?[xxvii]

 

Aephraim M. Steinberg, writing in 2004, points out that:

 

For all of our apparent understanding of quantum mechanics, our ability to calculate remarkable things using this theory, and the regularity with which experiment has borne out these predictions, at the turn of the twenty first century it seems as if there are as many puzzles on the road to a true understanding of quantum theory as there were at the start previous century.[xxviii]

 

Although this evaluation of the current state of affairs is widespread within the community of physicists, it is not shared by all.  Indeed, the extent of dissent between physicists is astonishing. For instance one no-nonsense physicist, Victor Stenger, a staunch defender of the anti quantum-mysticism point of view, confidently asserts that:

 

The most economical conclusion to be drawn from the complete library of scientific data is that we are material beings composed of atoms and molecules, ordered by the largely-chance processes of self-organization and evolution to become capable of the complex behaviour associated with the notions of life and mind. The data provide us with no reason to postulate undetectable vital or spiritual, transcendent forces. Matter is sufficient to explain everything discovered thus far by the most powerful scientific instruments.[xxix]

 

We may take this solidly materialist perspective as providing a provisional definition of quantum-mysticism[xxx] by its opposition.  A view of reality can be said to be an example of quantum-mysticism if it proposes that ‘matter’ is not sufficient to explain ‘everything discovered thus far’.  The picture of reality that unmistakably underlies Stenger’s depiction is that of a definitely existing independent world of material particles, ‘atoms and molecules’.  This world is quite evidently supposed to be an external, independently existing structure of materiality which clubs together, so to speak, to produce the ‘complex behaviour’ of ‘life and mind’.  The picture is quite clear; it is the naturalistic picture of the material world which generally informs the perceptions within the everyday life of most people.  Stenger is adamant that ‘matter is sufficient to explain everything’ so presumably he must know what ‘matter’ is. 

 

Quantum physicist Henry Stapp, however, completely disagrees with Stenger’s assessment:

 
One might try to interpret the ‘matter’ occurring in this formula as the ‘matter’ that occurs in classical physics.  But this kind of ‘matter’ does not exist in nature.[xxxi]

 How can it be that practitioners of the same intellectual and experimental discipline are committed to absolutely antithetical opinions concerning the inner nature of the very heart of the subject they are investigating?  The first physicist offers the matter of fact assertion that all is as we think it is, the material world exists outside of our experience more or less in conformance to the way our experience leads us to picture it, the second contradicts and says that the type of matter referred to by the first does not exist!

 
This is a conundrum which we should really take seriously.  If we are to accept that our knowledge of what constitutes reality should be mediated by the experts who study the area of knowledge we are concerned with, then surely we should expect that there is at least a modicum of agreement.  If the experts cannot come to any kind of consensus on the issue of the nature of reality then the only possible conclusion we can draw is that the people who are supposed to in charge of the deepest secrets concerning the nature of reality have not got a clue about the implications of their domain of expertise for our understanding of reality.  The modern world therefore, for all its spectacular advances in ‘material’ manipulation of the world, has no idea what so ever what the ‘matter’ it manipulates actually is, or isn’t.  Is this situation not astonishing?  Is it acceptable?

Quantum physics attributes the fundamental description of unobserved reality to a mathematical equation called the wavefunction, but as Michio Kaku, a quantum physicist who has achieved some fame through his books and radio and television appearances, says ‘no one knows what is doing the waving.’[xxxii]  This situation led Gary Zukav, in his book 1979 work The Dancing Wu Li Masters, to ask:

 

Is it possible for a physicist to predict something, calculate equations which describe it, and still not know what he is talking about?[xxxiii]

 

Today, nearly forty years later, the answer remains yes.

 The central issue that provokes passionate controversy amongst scientists and other interested parties is the suggestion that human consciousness is in some way implicated at the quantum level.  This implication came as an enormous shock to physicists in the early part of the twentieth century.  Up until that point it was thought that science was purely concerned with the nature of an external ‘material’ world; a world that had always been assumed to exist independently of consciousness.  Indeed the primary view of consciousness within mainstream Western thinking generally was that it was a production of the material world; although how this trick was achieved no-one had a clue.   In quantum experiments, however, it turned out that the way reality presented itself depended on conscious decisions made by the experimenters. 

 The most widely known example of this seeming dependence of an experimental outcome on the consciousness of the experimenters is provided by the experiments which demonstrate the famous wave-particle duality of matter.  For those not acquainted with the bizarre world of quantum reality the following outline of the experiment will serve as an introduction.  According to Feynman this experiment is ‘designed to contain all of the mystery of quantum mechanics.’[xxxiv]  Jim Al-Khalili refers to the behavior displayed in this experiment as ‘nature’s conjuring trick’[xxxv], a very apt rubric.

 When light is shone through two narrow slits onto a screen beyond the slits (see diagram), the light rays, which are electromagnetic waves, interact with each other to produce a pattern of light and dark strips.  This happens because the light waves which meet from the different slits are either in phase, in which case they reinforce each other, or they are out of phase, in which case they cancel each other out; areas where the light waves are in phase are bright, and where they cancel dark areas are produced.

  

Fig 1.1

 

Light waves pass through the slits and interfere on the other side, where they meet in phase they reinforce and were they are out of phase they cancel each other.  In this way a pattern of light and dark stripes is produced on the right hand screen.   But this picture does not tell the whole story.  Although light is made up of electromagnetic waves, it is, when considered form another point of view, composed of particles.  These particles, which can be thought of as tiny (extremely tiny) pieces of electromagnetic vibration, are indivisible.  Even now there is no problem, we can think that some of the particles go through the top slit, others through the bottom, and then they interact to produce the light and dark pattern on the other side.

 Now we set up the conjuring trick; we send the particles, each one of which should be an indivisible wave-particle through the slits one at a time.  Because we are sending light particles through the apparatus one at a time it would seem reasonable to suppose that the particles would go through either the top slit or the bottom slit.  It also seems reasonable to suppose that there will be no other wave-particles on the other side to interact with, so we would not expect to get the repeated light and dark stripes which should only occur because of the interaction of wave-particles, some of which go through the top slit whilst the others pass through the bottom.  There should be just two stripes, one for each slit.

This, however, does not happen.  The light and dark interference pattern still remains just as it was when a lot of wave-particles were going through the slits all together.  How can this be?  What is the wave-particle doing?  Although the wave-particle does have a wave aspect it is also supposed be an indivisible particle which should travel like a particle, which means it should go through just one of the slits.  The fact of the interference pattern, however, suggests that single particles are dividing up and passing through both slits.

 

Now suppose we decide to really find out what is going on; we change the experiment so that we place detectors at each slit to see which slit the wave-particles travel through. As soon as we do this the interference stripes disappear.  It seems as if the act of looking at one of the slits to see what is happening changes the way that the wave-particles behave.  It actually appears that when we do not look the wave-particle divides itself up, in a way that it should not be able to, in order to go through both slits.  As soon as we look, however, it changes its behavior so that it goes through just one of the slits.  It appears to ‘know’ when we are looking.  When we look, then, we find that it is a particle.  But when we do not look, it becomes something else.  And this something else seems to be able to do the impossible.  It divides itself up, whilst still remaining one indivisible thing, and then comes back together on the other side.  Jim Al-Khalili likens this to a skier going around a tree on both sides. 

 

Fig 1.2

 

This not only happens with light wave-particles, it also happens with electrons, protons, atoms, and molecules, all of which have a wave aspect.  When there is no way of knowing which path the light particles take the interference pattern appears, which seems to suggest that they take both paths, even though this should be impossible because the particle aspect should be indivisible.  When we know, however, which path is taken, the interference pattern disappears. 

 

The remarkable implication of this evidence is that conscious interference in the experiment has a direct effect at the quantum level.    In their recent book Quantum Enigma - Physics Encounters Consciousness, Bruce Rosenblum remark, with regard to this experiment that:

 

Physics had encountered consciousness and but did not yet realize it.[xxxvi]       

 

This apparent appearance of consciousness as a significant feature of the quantum realm is central to the conflicting perspectives upon the interpretation of what quantum physics really means.  In general most physicists have been very reluctant to accept the evidence of their own experiments.  In their book Rosenblum and Kuttner relate how they were ridiculed for their interest in the implications of the appearance of consciousness as a significant aspect of the quantum level:

 

When we spoke of our interest in the issues of consciousness raised at the two conferences, I was heckled by some senior faculty: ‘You guys are taking physics back to the Dark Ages!’ And: ‘Spend your time doing good physics, not this nonsense!’[xxxvii]

 

The issue of the significance of consciousness in the physical world has polarized the community of quantum physicists into a minority who takes the evidence seriously and therefore believe that consciousness is involved, and the majority who treat such ideas with contempt. 

 

Rosenblum and Kuttner, however, are adamant that the ‘confrontation’ with consciousness cannot be avoided.  They refer to the fact that at the quantum level physics has run up against the issue of the nature of consciousness as physics’ ‘skeleton in the closet.’  Although most physicists have been, and still are, uncomfortable with this conclusion because of the far reaching implications, Rosenblum and Kuttner, however, are emphatic about their interpretation of the evidence:

 

Consciousness and the quantum enigma are not just two mysteries; they are the two mysteries; first, our physical demonstration of the quantum enigma, faces us with the fundamental mystery of the objective world ‘out there;’ the second, conscious awareness, faces us with the fundamental mystery of the subjective, mental world ‘in here.’  Quantum mechanics seems to connect the two.[xxxviii]

 

The evidence is now stacking up in favour of this view.  The delicacy of quantum experiments which are now being performed is extraordinary.  Nature is now being questioned as to whether consciousness is significant in the construction of reality with increasing sophistication and precision, and the results are actually suggesting that an extraordinary second quantum revolution, a revolution within which our ideas about reality must be completely overhauled, if not overturned even, is on the horizon.  Today there seems to be the beginnings of a movement away from a materialism which dogmatically asserts that there must be an external reality which is independent of consciousness, in the direction of the view that consciousness is implicated at the quantum level.  The extraordinary nature of the quantum experimental results indicating that the attributes of reality are created by consciousness cannot be overemphasised. 

This movement away from ‘naturalistic’ materialism is the result of increasingly subtle experiments whose results cannot be explained in any other way.  In a recent article in the New Scientist a physicist writes that:

 

… we now have to face the possibility that there is nothing inherently real about the properties of an object that we measure.  In other words measuring those properties is what brings them into existence.[xxxix]

 
The recently performed experiments that have demonstrated lack of inherent reality of the measured properties involve testing a special formula at the quantum level; if the ‘numbers add up’ then ‘we have to abandon the idea of an objective reality’.[xl]  When the experiments were performed the numbers did add up and the conclusion that has to be drawn, according to one of the quantum physicists involved, is that:

 

Rather than passively observing it, we in fact create reality.[xli]

 

The conclusion that the properties of matter are not inherently real immediately maps us into the domain of one of the central discourses of the Madhyamaka:

 

Phenomena are empty of a certain mode of existence called ‘inherent existence’, ‘objective existence’, or ‘natural existence’[xlii]

 

The insight into the lack of ‘inherent existence,’ or svabhava in Sanskrit, is one of the most important conclusions arrived at by the Madhyamaka so we are immediately confronted with a remarkably precise confluence of perspectives between quantum physics and the Madhyamaka; a meeting of viewpoints which concerns the innermost nature of reality.  However, as we shall discover, the resonances go much further.  The Yogacara[xliii] phase of the Madhyamaka analysis, for instance, asserts that it is the mind that is instrumental in bringing phenomena into existence:

 

Nothing, such as atoms and so on, exist externally,

As anything other than cognition.[xliv]

 

It appears as if the quantum experiments being performed today are uncovering aspects of reality that were clearly known to the Madhyamika practitioners at least two thousand years ago.

 

This connection between modern physics and the Madhyamaka has been indicated by several physicists and philosophers.  In his recent book Physics and Philosophy the physicist Bernard d’Espagnat, having reached the conclusion that physics is incapable of ever unveiling the nature of a ‘veiled’ reality which is generally conceived of as existing separately and independently of consciousness suggests that insights into nature of reality might very well come from other directions amongst which he cites mysticism[xlv].  In particular he refers to Buddhist thought which:

 

…rejects the notion of a ‘ground of things’ and even lays stress on the opposite notion, the one of an ‘absence of foundation’ or ‘emptiness.’ [xlvi]

 

The concept of ‘sunyata’, usually translated as ‘Emptiness’, although it does not imply ‘nothingness’ in the sense of absolute vacuity, lies at the core of the Madhyamaka, the most rigorous, precise and profound conceptual and philosophical analysis of the nature of reality ever undertaken.  And, as we shall see, d’Espagnat is correct in his intuition regarding the possibility that the Madhyamaka may have something to offer for the task of interpreting the implications of quantum physics.  This stunning philosophical analysis of the nature of reality can actually begin to unravel the interpretative conflicts and confusions within quantum philosophy.

 
As has been mentioned previously Herbert listed eight different interpretations of the nature of reality in the light of quantum theory.  Rosenblum and Kuttner, in their more recent work, give nine.  The precise details are not necessary here, but briefly, and simplistically, described they are:

  •  Copenhagen: Quantum theory is a convenient way of speaking about reality as we experience it.  The entities described are weird but as we don’t see them we need not worry about this.  The only reality worth bothering with is everyday reality, which we definitely know is real.  This is the ‘interpretation’ that one of the founding fathers of quantum theory, Neils Bohr, bullied some of his colleagues into believing.
  • Extreme Copenhagen: The viewpoint developed by Bohr’s son and his colleague Ole Ulfbeck.  According to this view quantum theory is a convenient fiction.  In actuality atoms and their quantum components do not exist.
  • Decoherence: The everyday world of big objects overwhelms the vulnerable tiny world of the quantum realm and forces it to behave properly.
  • Many Worlds: At every moment in time countless numbers of new realities are springing into existence.  An inhabitant of one universe at one moment in time is, unknowingly and unceremoniously, rent into countless quantumly cloned copies in the next.  These copies are relentless projected into the multitude of new ‘parallel’ realities constantly being created by the quantum process of reality, or realities.
  • Transactional: Reality is produced by a two way quantum interaction which takes place both forwards and backwards in time.
  • Bohm: David Bohm is usually described as a maverick physicist because of his unconventional views.  In his early phase he suggested that quantum particles were guided by quantum waves.  Later he suggested that reality consisted of a complex interlinking network of enfolded ‘orders’ of consciousness.  This later suggestion will form an important part of later parts of this work.
  • Ghiraldi, Rimini and Weber: Quantum waves are unstable and because of this every hundred million years or so a wave will turn into particle and this causes other waves to also turn into particles.
  • Ithaca: Only quantum correlations are real.
  • Quantum Logic: We need a new logic to describe things.

To this list we must add a tenth, which is the interpretation that Rosenblum and Kuttner seem to be, reluctantly, championing:

  • Consciousness creates reality: This is the viewpoint that will form one of     the central themes of this book.
 

And lastly we must add the final conclusion of the Madhyamika analysis:

 

  • Emptiness: ‘Reality’ does not have a substantial core of reality.  To understand this viewpoint, which constitutes the central philosophy of the Madhyamaka, you will have to continue reading this book. 

 

Emptiness does not mean nothingness; it indicates that all phenomena are ‘empty’ of an ‘inner core’ of reality which is generally imputed to them at a deep level of the process of perception.  Phenomena are ‘empty’ of ‘inherent existence’ (svabhava in Sanskrit), ‘ultimate existence’ or ‘true existence,’ there are various synonyms for this notion.  When the elements of the everyday world are rigorously analysed they are found to lack a solid inner core or essence.  One reason for this is because everything in the universe depends on other causes and conditions; there is nothing, therefore, anywhere to be found which exists solely because of its own independent essence:

 

…all phenomena originate from infinite interdependent causes and conditions and thus lack any intrinsic nature …[xlvii]

 

No matter how far back we try to trace the chain of causality we will not find an ‘inherently real’ final cause, or set of causes. 

 

Despite the fact that there is nothing what so ever that can be found that has an intrinsic nature, or own-nature, however, the tendency to attribute independent inherent natures to phenomena seems to be built into the very process of perception.  This means that the idea of objects existing in their own right is instinctively superimposed on all everyday objects.  There is, in other words, a mistake incorporated into the very heart of perception; objects which in reality are ‘empty’ of inherent existence are routinely experienced as if they were inherently existent.  

 

It is important to be aware that this perceptual and conceptual mistake of imputing, or superimposing, inherent existence, which resides deep within the process of experience, is not a simple blunder which can be put right easily; the idea that a Zen master simply needs to utter some Zen koan[xlviii], such that one should not ‘mistake the finger for the moon’ or some such, in order for a whole new way of perception to instantaneously emerge is really ‘pop’ Buddhism which is to a large degree misleading. For most people it requires the use of the sophisticated techniques of analysis and practice of the Madhyamaka for developing the necessary insight. The mistaken mode of perception lies deep beneath surface levels of consciousness and because of this the Madhyamaka has had to develop very subtle analyses in order to demonstrate the operation of emptiness in the everyday world.  The conceptual techniques of the Madhyamaka deconstruct the usual mode of perception in order to reveal a whole new dimension within reality.  It is like looking at a magic eye picture, to begin with there is nothing there but, when the focus is adjusted correctly, suddenly a whole new way of seeing snaps into place.

 

The fact that phenomena cannot have an inner core of independent reality follows from the fact that there is nothing which does not depend on something else:

 

Since there is no phenomenon

That is not dependently originating,

There is no phenomenon

That is not empty.[xlix]

                       

This argument from dependent origination, the fact that everything comes into manifestation in dependence on other phenomena, is called the King of Reasonings by the Madhyamaka.  This is because it is a simple, yet irrefutable, demonstration of the central assertion that there is nothing in the entire universe, or multiverse, of reality that is not ‘empty’ of inherent existence.  This means that the kind of absolutely independent features of reality which have always been assumed to exist by science in general, and  physics in particular,  actually do not exist.

 

The current mainstream worldview that still remains fundamental to the basic operating guidelines of Western thought, including physics, is what the quantum physicist David Bohm called the ‘mechanistic order’[l]; a paradigm which clearly derives from the basic attitude of pre-quantum, classical, physics:

 

…physics has become almost totally committed to the notion that the order of the universe is basically mechanistic.  The most common form of this notion is that the world is assumed to be constituted of separately existent, indivisible and unchangeable ‘elementary particles’’, which are the fundamental ‘building blocks of the universe. [li]

 

  Professor Amit Goswami depicts this fundamental viewpoint as follows:

 
The current worldview has it that everything is made of matter, and everything can be reduced to 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 the brain.  But all the way, the ultimate cause is always the interactions between elementary particles.  This is the belief – all cause moves from the elementary particles.[lii]

 
The latest suggestion involves a new ‘particle’ called an ‘unparticle!’[liii]  Both Goswami and Bohm indicate that, although in theory this view of reality should have been overturned at the beginning of the twentieth century with the dawn of quantum physics, in practice it still lingers as an ingrained way of viewing reality.  Both Goswami and Bohm, along with many significant others we shall meet, suggest that evidence is now pointing towards the necessity of a more holistic and integrated approach.

 
In general the majority of physicists have displayed a marked distaste for indulging in speculation concerning the philosophical foundations of quantum theory, and speculations involving notions of the significance of consciousness have often been greeted with not a little derision.  Physicist
Jim Baggot, however, in his book beyond measure, says quantum physics always leads back to philosophy.[liv]  This is because after over a century of controversy concerning the implications of the theory there is still a great deal of perplexity within the physics community.

 
The Western physicists and philosophers who have maintained their belief in the fundamental significance of consciousness for the understanding of the functioning of reality have done so in the face of aggressive criticism.  The dismissive and long suffering tone of the opening quote from Richard Dawkins is quite obvious.  The materialist camp were so sure of their ground, despite its lack of solidity, that they felt quite at liberty to adopt a condescending demeanour when admonishing proponents of the ‘primacy of consciousness’ or ‘quantum mysticism’ perspectives.

 

The implications of the proposal that consciousness gets tangled up in the quantum level is often considered to be so outlandish that many physicists just dismiss the evidence out of prejudice.  The world cannot be like this!  But the greatly admired physicist John Wheeler wrote in 1978 that:

 

The universe does not ‘exist, out there,’ independent of all acts of observation.  Instead, it is in some strange sense a participatory universe.[lv]

 

Clearly this observation indicates that Wheeler thought that there is no independent reality separate from observation.  Indeed Wheeler also wrote that:

 

…no phenomenon is a phenomenon until it is an observed phenomenon.[lvi]

 

But despite these views Wheeler himself was very cagey about the role of consciousness.  Probably Wheeler would not have been happy to have his views extended into the realms of mystical philosophy.  But there are physicists, building on Wheeler’s insights, who clearly see the inevitable consequences; Paul Davies for instance:

 

…life and mind are fundamental properties of the universe[lvii]

 

The similarity of Wheeler’s views to those expressed by a Tibetan Buddhist meditation master is clear:

 

If we are ordinary beings, all objects appear to us to exist inherently.  Objects seem to be independent of our mind and independent of other phenomena.  The universe appears to consist of discrete objects that have existence from their own side.  These objects appear to exist in themselves as stars, planets, mountains, people, and so forth, ‘waiting’ to be discovered by conscious beings. Normally it does not occur to us that we are involved in any way in the existence of these phenomena.  Instead, each object appears to have an existence completely independent of us and all other objects.[lviii]

 

The implications in this quote, of course, are that objects do not exist inherently, and that we are involved in the existence of seemingly independent objects, a view which accords with the latest experiment findings of physics and which accords with Wheeler’s perspective.

 

The remarkable interconnections between the perspectives of quantum theory and the Madhyamaka that have been indicated so far, which only scratch the surface, raise the question as to their significance. Are the apparent connections between modern quantum physics and the Madhyamaka more than random insignificant coincidences?  This book will show that the answer is a resounding yes. The investigations carried out will demonstrate conclusively a remarkable and deep connection between the Madhyamaka analysis and the current discoveries within quantum physics.  And at the interface between the two we will discover a remarkable interpenetration which lends depth to both perspectives.  The Madhyamaka philosophical analysis of the nature of reality explains why the conundrums of quantum physics must exist; and the scientific formulations of quantum theory give a remarkable basis for understanding the perspective of the Madhyamaka. 

 

This interpenetration and interconnection is by no means surprising because both perspectives are, in different ways, concerned with uncovering insights into the nature of ultimate reality.  The task of quantum physics is clearly the ‘objective’ description of the functioning of the physical world at its most fundamental level.  The central concern of the Madhyamaka, on the other hand, is the transformation of consciousness in order to perceive non-dualistically and directly the ultimate nature of all levels of reality; and this transformation is dependent on a thorough and precise knowledge of the physical dimension of experience.  As Jose Ignacio Cabezon points out:

 

Buddhism is not simply a ‘philosophical view’ or a ‘mind science,’ … the truth of Buddhist doctrine both implies and is dependent upon facts related to the material world.[lix]

 

Unlike most ‘spiritual’ traditions the Madhyamaka clearly expects its analysis of the material world to be in conformance with scientific reality.  It does not claim to deal with some nebulous independent realm which can claim special status because it deals with ‘ultimate meaning and moral value.’[lx]  Rather it views reality as interdependent on all levels and therefore there can be no absolute separation between the physical and non-physical.  And it will become clear that the philosophical and metaphysical tools of the Madhyamaka provide an avenue for developing a picture of what is going on at the quantum level.  

 

As we have seen the phenomenon which lies at the heart of the controversy regarding the nature of reality in the light of quantum theory is that of the relevance of consciousness in the functioning of the quantum realm.  This issue resides more specifically within the interpretation of a quantum technicality termed the ‘collapse of the wave-function’.  A wave-function is a mathematical entity that reflects the functioning of reality whilst it is unobserved.  This mathematical entity is required because unobserved reality cannot be described in a manner which is consistent with observed reality. 

 

Whilst observed reality is determinate and definite in its manifestation to experience, unobserved reality can only be described as a set of probability tendencies.  The wavefunction therefore contains the probabilities of the possibilities that various definite observed realities will occur.  Before an observation is made the wavefunction is made up of a set of probabilities which, from the classical, pre-quantum, point of view, does not have physical reality; it is comprised of all the possibilities that have a kind of semi-reality, all at the same time, within the wavefunction.  It is the transition between the pre-observed wavefunction and the actual observed manifestation of one definite actuality from the set of possibilities which make up the wavefunction which is called the ‘collapse of the wavefunction.’

 

The actual ‘real’ nature of the wave-function is still somewhat indeterminate, but it is clear that it is not a completely ‘real’ and ‘physical’ entity if we use these terms as they were employed in ‘classical’ physics.  In fact the phenomenon of the wave-function throws light upon the problematic status of the concepts of reality and physicality within quantum theory.  The problem is: what does it mean to be not completely real?   Physical reality only seems to manifest from the probabilities within the wave-function when a measurement takes place.  And a measurement, of course, usually requires a conscious observer.  In his 1989 book The Emperor’s New Mind Roger Penrose mused:

 

Is the presence of a conscious being necessary for a ‘measurement’ actually to take place?  I think that only a small minority of quantum physicists would affirm such a view.[lxi]

 

The point is that it certainly appears as if consciousness is required for the wavefunction to ‘collapse’.  Most physicists, however, do not want to accept this implication.  This is an example of the remarkable reluctance on the part of physicists to accept the implications of their own theories, a reluctance that continues to this day.

 

Jim Al-Khalili, for instance, writing twenty years after Penrose, admonishes his readers:

 

…hardly anyone still takes seriously the notion of consciousness being a requirement for collapse of the wave function.[lxii]

 

This assertion, however, is not entirely true.  In his 1994 book Shadows of the Mind, Penrose, a physicist not to be taken lightly, had begun to question his confidence that consciousness had no real significance within the quantum realm and he wrote that:

 

At the large end of things, the place where ‘the buck stops’ is provided by our conscious perceptions.[lxiii]

 

And Penrose made this observation despite the fact that he clearly stated elsewhere that he found this implication ‘philosophically unsatisfying.’

 

It is quite true that there were, at that time, very few quantum physicists who would have strongly endorsed the idea that consciousness was required for a transition of wavefunctions from potentiality to reality; but, as Rosenblum and Kuttner point out in regard to the attitude of mainstream physics since the 1950’s:

 

In physics departments a conforming mind-set increasingly meant that an untenured faculty member might endanger a career by serious interest in the fundamentals of quantum physics.  Even today it is best to explore the meaning of quantum mechanics while also working a ‘day job’ on a mainstream physics topic.[lxiv]

 

The implication clearly being that, for some unexamined reason, serious investigation into the possible meaning of the quantum revolution was institutionally discouraged.  Almost certainly the unexamined reason was simply that the implications of quantum theory, when pushed to their inevitability, were simply too radical for classical minds.

 

Of course, there were physicists who did hold the view of the primacy of consciousness.  Most notably, of course, the first significant exposition of the possible connections between aspects of modern physics and the worldviews proposed by the ‘mystical’ philosophies of the East was Fritjov Capra’s The Tao of Physics published in 1975, fifteen years before Penrose’s musings on the role of consciousness within quantum theory.  Capra had no doubts concerning the role of consciousness at the quantum level; the following observation clearly foreshadows Penrose’s later speculations:

 

At the atomic level ‘objects’ can only be understood in terms of the interaction between the processes of preparation and measurement.  The end of this chain of processes lies always in the consciousness of the human observer.[lxv]

 

It was this implication of the significance of consciousness within the quantum realm that provided Capra with the impetus for the comparison of the theory with philosophical perspectives from the East; a comparison which brought an avalanche of vituperative criticism upon his head.

 

Capra’s critics have demonstrated a deep distaste for his suggested connections; the physicist Jeremy Bernstein, for instance, certainly pulled no punches:


Thus I agree with Capra when he writes, “Science does not need mysticism and mysticism does not need science but man needs both.”  What no one needs, in my opinion, is this superficial and profoundly misleading book.[lxvi]


The main criticism is aimed at Capra’s method which Bernstein refers to as:

 
his use of what seems to me to be accidental similarities of language as if these were somehow evidence of deeply rooted connections.[lxvii]

 
Capra defends against this charge by pointing to the consistency with which the parallels occur.  Initially, he tells us, he was of the same opinion regarding the weak cogency of the parallels:

 

And I said that it may seem that these parallels are superficial, and, as far as I remember, I said that one could draw parallels to Marxist philosophy or to any kind of philosophy on the basis of a similarity of words.[lxviii]

 
The weight of consistency with which the parallels occur, however, persuaded him otherwise.  His detractors, however, remain unconvinced.  Recently the physicist Peter Woit in his book Not Even Wrong, a critique of the current state of string theory, indicates his outrage that The Tao of Physics, along with Gary Zukav’s The Dancing Wu Li Masters and ‘other books of the same genre’ still grace the shelves of major bookstores.  Such titles, according to Woit, are part of ‘an embarrassing new age cult.’[lxix] 

 A striking aspect of the critical literature concerning the quantum mysticism viewpoint is its acerbic nature.  Detractors of this perspective tend to be passionately exasperated, not to say contemptuous, when attempting to keep the unruly worldview under control.  Capra has remarked about Bernstein’s comments:

 

When you read his review, you notice immediately that his reaction to my book is very emotional, and parts of the review are very aggressive.[lxx]

 The same aggression can be detected in the opening quote from Richard Dawkins who lampoons the proponents of the connection between quantum physics and Eastern thought:

 

Eastern mystics have always been deeply mysterious and hard to understand.  Therefore Eastern mystics must have been talking about ‘quantum physics all along.[lxxi]

 
This mode of sarcastic contempt can be found in many anti-quantum mysticism works. 

 Works such as Tao of Physics are written at a very general and impressionistic level but there are works which engage the subject in a much more rigorous manner.  In particular the works of Alan Wallace, focusing in particular on the significance of the interrelationship between the Madhyamaka and modern science, are meticulously argued and cogent.  His book Choosing Reality (2003) still remains one of the most thoughtful and intelligent investigations into the epistemological and metaphysical interconnections and implications between Madhyamaka and modern Western science.  In the year of the writing this current manuscript Wallace has published Hidden Dimensions - The Unification of Physics and Consciousness (2007) which investigates, from a similar but less detailed perspective to this work, the significance of the current discoveries of physics to our understanding of consciousness, viewed through the lens of the Madhyamaka. 

 
Buddhism and Science is a collection of essays, edited by Wallace, which was inspired by the interdisciplinary dialogues, organised by the Mind and Life institute[lxxii], between Buddhist practitioners (including the Dalai Lama) and philosophers, physicists and cognitive scientists.  The depth of the analysis found in these thoughtful essays goes far beyond anything targeted by critics of the quantum mysticism perspective.  It appears that those who wish to undermine the significant and philosophically scrupulous appraisal of the interconnections between the areas of science and Buddhism rarely take on the task of demonstrating their objections to any serious philosophical examination of the field.

 
A major reason, however, for the exasperation of physicists and philosophers who seem to have pledged themselves to valiantly resist the ‘mystical’ encroachment of consciousness into the realm of the physical can be found in the absurd and outlandish claims made by a group of new age type gurus who have jumped onto the quantum band wagon with various more or less pseudo-mystical claims on the basis of their interpretations of quantum mystery. 

 
The early works on this theme: Capra’s Tao of Physics, Gary Zukav’s The Dancing Wu Li Masters (1991) were, as far as they dealt with the connection of quantum physics to the phenomenon of consciousness, fairly accurate.  From the point of view of the overwhelmingly materialist perspective within the physical sciences, however, both books were considered unacceptable because they treated consciousness seriously on its own terms.  In 1993 the quantum physicist Amit Goswami published his excellent book The Self Aware Universe with its spectacular claim that quantum physics proves that reality must be nothing other than consciousness; matter is an illusion generated by mind.  According to this work all of the current problems of interpretation within quantum theory can be defused by the idealist view that reality is a play of consciousness.  In the main this book is exceptionally well argued and cogent, but, unfortunately, it was the harbinger of increasingly speculative sorties into the territory.

 
In 1996 Fred Alan Wolf, another physicist with mystical leanings published The Spiritual Universe: How quantum physics proves the existence of the soul.   In 2001 Goswami added yet another title to the growing list of books announcing the dawning of the age of quantum spirituality: The Quantum Book of Life, Death, Reincarnation and Immortality.  And more recently Goswami, Wolf and others have upped the stakes in this area of controversy with their involvement with the production of the cult film What the Bleep Do We Know.  This film is the cinematic figurehead for a movement promoting the message that anyone can transform their life once they get on the quantum bandwagon.  It also helps if you buy lots of products from the what-the-bleep new age internet store.  It is unfortunate that the what-the-bleep enterprise seems tailor made to cheapen and infantilise a serious and important topic.  Wolf for instance gives lecture tours in the guise of Dr. Quantum; there is even a new what-the-bleep book with a cartoon of him as a kind of quantum superman.  

 

The film has rightly drawn considerable critical hostility because of its naïve and simplistic message that anyone can transform reality once they grasp the nature of the quantum ground within the universal consciousness; the film implies that an individual can easily learn to manipulate the material world through conscious manipulation of the quantum ground.  This claim has led one critic to challenge Goswami to leap out of a 20th floor window and change material reality on the way down so that he landed unharmed; an easy, but justified, criticism which highlights the obviously deep problem which confronts anyone who wishes to claim that the material world is created by consciousness. 

 The extreme advocates of the implications of quantum weirdness are spectacularly reckless in the sweeping claims that they make.  Fred Alan Wolf for instance, promoting his CD Dr Quantum Speaks – A Users Guide to your Universe, which is part of the material offered to devotees of the What The Bleep bandwagon, is quite brazen with his quantum optimism:

 

Matter can move backward and forward in time. Objects may be in two places at once. Simply looking at an event can alter it instantaneously." Quantum physics is an astounding (and mind-boggling) field of science—but can you actually use it to change your life? The answer, teaches Dr. Quantum, is absolutely yes.[lxxiii]

 

This is followed by quite blatant new age salesmanship:

 
Your Mind is a Quantum Engine—Are You Ready to Fire It Up? … Prepare to Unlock Your Own Quantum Superpowers…[lxxiv]

 
In the face of such absurdity it is no wonder that scientists and commentators committed to a rigorous scientific paradigm lose patience. 

 
In his book The Unconscious Quantum, for instance, Victor J. Stenger is quite blunt about his view of these sorts of claims.  The latest findings of physicists, he says, are increasingly difficult for non-physicists to understand:

 
And this lack of understanding in the public mind is made worse by the misleading claims of persuasive lecturers and popular authors, whose interest is mainly to capitalize on trendy ideas rather than to consider scientific evidence objectively.[lxxv]

 
The extraordinary lack of restraint which new age quantum prophets are currently indulging in provokes opponents such as Professor Victor Stenger, and others of his persuasion like Dawkins, to extend their distaste to any kind of philosophical investigation into the possibility of finding a meeting ground between science and the investigations into the nature of reality carried out by Eastern philosophers.  Stenger, for instance, is completely dismissive of any such enterprise:

 
The term quantum, taken out of its original scientific context, has become the mantra of this new metaphysics, which purports to find a convergence between the picture of reality presented by physics and the worldview of traditional Eastern mysticism.[lxxvi]

 
And, it has to be admitted, there does seem to be a good deal of opportunism and exaggeration within the cultish appropriation of ideas from quantum physics.  However, the fact that a group of authors and entrepreneurs are pushing the quantum bandwagon into the realms of insanity should not deter more serious investigation from being undertaken.

 
There are more than a few significant physicists who entertain the implication of the primacy of consciousness.  Amongst those who entertain a strong emphasis, in various guises, are
Andrei Linde, Roger Penrose, Eugene Wigner, Henry Stapp, Bernard D’Espagnat, Amit Goswami (of course), David Bohm to name just a few.  Bruce Rosenblum and Fred Kuttner, who should also be added to the list, are both  respectable physicists who have worked in industry, have explicitly written their book Quantum Enigma – Physics Encounters Consciousness in order to undermine the excesses that new age mystical cults such as the What the Bleep brigade are currently indulging in:

… we argue that it is a social responsibility of the physics community to openly present physics’ mysterious encounter with consciousness, the quantum enigma.  Only by so doing can we challenge the purveyors of pseudoscience who use the mysteries of quantum mechanics to promote their quantum nonsense.[lxxvii]

Rosenblum and Kuttner clearly demonstrate, using some of the same arguments as Goswami, that consciousness must be implicated by quantum physics. 

 But they take great pains to distance themselves from any association with the outlandish What the Bleep perspective.  In fact in their summing up they seem to undermine the insights of their own work.  Quantum physics, they say:

 
hints at the existence of something beyond what we usually consider physics – beyond what we usually consider the ‘physical world.’  But that’s the extent of it!  Physics can certainly suggest directions for speculation.  We should, however, be careful – in dealing with the mysteries of quantum mechanisms, we walk the edge of a slippery slope.[lxxviii]

 

And the slippery slope is, of course, exemplified by the What the Bleep film ‘with its implication of a quantum connection with the channelling of a 35,000-year-old Atlantis god named Ramtha and other such nonsense[lxxix].’

 The correct antidote to this kind of nonsense, according to Rosenblum and Kuttner, is for the physics community to come clean about the ‘skeleton in the closet’ which is the inevitable intrusion of consciousness into the quantum realm.  In this way, it is supposed, it will be possible to keep a lid on wild speculation.  And, according to them, an important feature of the policing of interpretations and speculations requires some way of determining when boundaries have been breached:

 A touchstone test for such misuse is the presentation of these ideas with the implication that the notions promulgated are derived from quantum physics rather than merely suggested by it.[lxxx]

 

This assessment of misuse leaves wide latitude for exploration of the implications of quantum mystery; and it certainly does not rule out looking to Eastern philosophies for a comparison of perspective.  And the fact that a bunch of new-age entrepreneurs, for want of a better word, have decided to take a leaf out of the book of the millionaire Christian tele-evangelists and do the same with the implications of quantum theory should not stop serious investigation into what Rosenblum and Kuttner call the ‘directions for speculation’ which physics suggests; and, as they state quite clearly:

 
There is no way to interpret quantum theory without in some way addressing consciousness.[lxxxi]

 

As we have seen this is a viewpoint which has support amongst more than a few significant physicists.  Andre Linde, for instance, asks:

 

Is it possible that consciousness, like space-time, has its own intrinsic degrees of freedom and that neglecting these will lead to a description of the universe that is fundamentally incomplete? What if our perceptions are as real [as] (or maybe, in a certain sense, are even more real) than material objects?[lxxxii]

 

The direction that physics is pointing us is towards consciousness as a fundamental category and requirement of reality.  This represents a fundamental link to the insights of the Madhyamaka.

 

The Yogacara phase of the Madhyamaka and the current revelations within quantum physics both indicate that consciousness is the primary constituent of reality.  According to the Yogacara perspective:

 
        Therefore, all these various appearances,

        Do not exist as sensory objects which are other than consciousness.

        Their arising is like the appearance of self-knowledge.

All appearances, from individual particles to vast forms, are mind.

…nothing exists externally and separately [lxxxiii] 

 

The Yogacara phase of the Madhyamaka analysis of reality contains an effective logical demonstration that all our experience must be the nature of mind, or consciousness.  It therefore clearly complements the findings of quantum physics by providing a logical demonstration which elucidates the empirical findings of quantum physics.

 
For the Yogacara perspective the external world, which seems to be composed of matter, is a projection by mind of seemingly externally independent and separate entities; a projection based on the web of experiential appearances which sentient beings have become accustomed with over vast stretches of time.  Because of our inescapable familiarity with the solidity of what appears to be an external world, the deep rooted conception develops that there must be external entities that correspond to the repeated experience of solidity.  It is this view that is logically demolished by Madhyamaka reasoning:

 
Finding no perceiving subject and no thing perceived

And understanding that the triple world is merely consciousness,

The Bodhisattvas[lxxxiv], … abide in wisdom,

Knowing that the mind alone is ultimate reality.[lxxxv]

 
The actual demonstration depends, in part, upon the logical process of determining exactly where and how the perceiver and the perceived can be isolated as separate entities which are independent of each other.  The result is the realisation that neither entity actually exists independently of the other.[lxxxvi]   These logical conclusions on the part of the Yogacara philosophical analysis predates and adumbrates Bohr’s conclusion from quantum evidence that:

 

Now, the quantum postulate implies that any observation of atomic phenomena will involve an interaction with the agency of observation not to be neglected.  Accordingly, an independent reality in the ordinary physical sense can neither be ascribed to the phenomena nor the agencies of observation.[lxxxvii]

 But whereas Bohr’s observation relates to the microscopic world, the Madhyamaka assertion regarding the lack of separation between perceiver and perceived applies to all levels of reality.  The Madhyamaka analysis actually reveals the quantum nature of the macroscopic world; it is able, therefore, to address the important issue of the quantum split between microscopic and macroscopic. 

 

The advent of quantum theory introduced a split in our physical picture of reality between, on the one hand, the everyday world of seemingly independent and inherently existent entities and causal processes they participate in and, on the other, the underlying quantum realm of the probabilistic wavefunction.  In order for a quantum process to manifest into a full experienced reality it is necessary for a conscious observer to be involved.  The boundary between these two modes of reality, therefore, is provided by the apparent dependency or lack of dependency on consciousness.  Our familiar everyday reality is apparently essentially independent of mind whilst the manifestation from the quantum realm seems to depend on mind.   

 

This quantum schism of reality is mirrored within the Madhyamaka by the doctrine of the two truths.  The term ‘truth’ in this context indicates not a logical truth but an experiential manner of engaging with reality.  Each ‘truth’ may be thought of as an mode of experiential engagement with reality which conditions the manner in which reality reveals itself within experience:

 

Thus, two kinds of world are seen:

The one of yogins and the one of common people.

Here, the world of common people

Is invalidated by the world of Yogins.[lxxxviii]

 

The first truth, or perspective, is that of ‘conventional’ or ‘seeming’ reality.  This is the everyday engagement with reality which is experienced by ordinary beings that have not undertaken and completed the deep and transformative investigation into the ‘real’ nature of reality.  The experiences which are generated within the perspective of conventional or seeming reality, which are termed conventional ‘truths’, are said to be truths only for a ‘concealer of suchness’.[lxxxix]  ‘Suchness’ is a Madhyamika term for the direct experience of the ultimate nature which manifests to awareness when the true nature of the seeming truths of conventional reality is realised or perceived.  Conventional ‘truths’, therefore, are only truths for an ‘ignorant consciousness’[xc] which is a consciousness which is constrained to experience phenomena through the deep belief in ‘inherent existence’ – the notion that entities exist as they appear to, independently of consciousness. 

 

Conventional experience of reality therefore grasps phenomena as existing in their own right, with their own self nature, independent of the mind.  For ordinary beings the appearance of macroscopic reality is a ‘seeming’ reality that obscures the actual ultimate nature in which all phenomena are dependent on the mind and are therefore illusion-like.  The ultimate nature on the other hand is revealed when the fact that all phenomena are ‘empty’ of such ‘inherent existence’ is grasped. The actual nature of the experience of reality through the perspective of emptiness is said to be beyond words but the practice of the techniques of the Madhyamaka can be used to move towards a deepening understanding of the ultimate nature of reality.  Ultimately, of course, the end point is to directly perceive phenomena from the ultimate perspective.  

 

This division of reality into two perspectives maps directly onto the dichotomy between the quantum level of indeterminate nature and the experiential macroscopic level of the everyday world.  The profound understanding that all phenomena have no determinate core of substantial reality is repeatedly demonstrated within the Madhyamaka analysis.  The seeming reality of the everyday world is taken as the ground from which the analysis begins; thorough analysis, however, reveals repeated signs that point towards the ultimate nature – emptiness.  As we have seen this is not to say that there is absolutely nothing; but rather there is nothing substantial to be found in the manifestation of the seeming play of appearances. 

In order to appreciate the deep and mutually enriching interpenetration between the two truths of the Madhyamaka and the quantum split within reality it is necessary to understand the connection between the quantum wavefunction and the experience of consciousness.  The details of this connection as it is suggested by various significant physicists will be covered in great, and rigorous, detail during the course of this book.  What follows, in the final stages of this introductory chapter, is merely an outline.  The reader is asked to bear in mind, however, that the following outline is scrupulously demonstrated with both logical analysis and experimental and experiential evidence during the course of this work.

The problem of the nature of consciousness is often considered by Western philosophers to be of unparalleled difficulty. Perhaps one reason that the great majority of physicists are uncomfortable with the intrusion of consciousness into their material paradise is simply that Western thought is completely in a mess when it comes to dealing with the subject of consciousness.  According to Susan Blackmore, one of the leading lights in the field of consciousness studies ‘consciousness remains a mystery’.[xci]  This is a strange thing to say because obviously the term ‘consciousness’ appears on many of the pages of her book, presumably with the assumption that the reader will not be befuddled by the mysteriousness of the term.  If the term ‘consciousness’ really were such a mystery then the reader should surely stare blankly at the term wondering what on earth it meant.  But, of course, this is preposterous; we do know what the essential ground for the term ‘consciousness’ is; it is the quality of inner awareness that is a basic accompaniment, to greater or lesser degree, of our waking and dreaming life.  So where’s the mystery?

Consciousness is thought to be a mystery because it is resilient to an objective characterisation that explains its relationship to matter.  Despite the complete lack of any evidence, it is generally thought in Western academic circles that consciousness must be a clever product of mindless matter.  The idea that consciousness could possibly have an independent significant role in the creation of the material world is therefore simply rejected out of hand.  The extraordinary mistakenness of this dogmatic presupposition will be exposed in detail in later chapters.  For the moment we may note that this unsupported presupposition is being cogently challenged by not a few significant physicists. 

The evidence is now increasingly suggesting that, far from being a pointless excrescence produced by mindless materiality, consciousness is the first order direct experience of the quantum nature of reality; it is the subjective aspect of the wavefunction.  Quantum physicist Nick Herbert explains the situation as follows:

…every quantum system has both an ‘inside’ and an ‘outside’, and … consciousness in humans as well as other sentient beings is identical to the inner experience of some quantum system.  A quantum system’s outside behaviour is described by quantum theory, it’s inside experience is the subject matter of a new ‘inner physics’ yet to be developed.[xcii]

 In other words there are ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ aspects to wavefunctions.  The objective aspect of a wavefunction is described by quantum physics as containing the objective probabilities that encode the likelihoods of possibilities for manifestation into an actual experienced reality.  The subjective aspect of a wavefunction is the direct experiential continuum of the individualised wavefunction for the consciousness of an individual sentient being.

 
This perspective offers a significant account of the problem of the ‘collapse of the wavefunction.’  This collapse refers to the way in which the objective, or global, wavefunction of reality suddenly jumps into a definite outcome.  The question which needs to be answered is what causes the appearance of the collapse.   The answer is simply that the appearance of the collapse occurs when there is a resonant interaction between the subjective wavefunction, or wavefunctions, and the objective wavefunction such that a determinate experience of a definite reality emerges from the possibilities contained within both the subjective and objective wavefunctions.  As we shall see this viewpoint emerges quite naturally from the all the evidence that we currently have regarding quantum physics and it is also contained within the Yogacara phase of the Madhyamika philosophical analysis.      

 
The details of the necessary logical development of what we shall call the Quantum-Yogacara metaphysical description of the functioning of the process of reality makes up a significant part of this book.  The exposition takes as its basis both quantum theory and the interpretations offered by some of the most insightful quantum physicists who have attempted a rigorous philosophical analysis.  The details obviously must wait but for the moment it is useful to consider how this view deals with one of the most problematic issues for a worldview which takes consciousness as the most significant aspect of experience – the appearance of the material world. 

 The fact that the seemingly external realm of materiality appears to be immutably solid in demeanour is often cited as a reason why it is virtually lunatic to suppose that it could be nothing other than consciousness in some kind of solidified form.  Where would the ineluctable regularity of not only the sheer physicality of materiality, but also the laws of physics, come from?  The answer is quite simple; the experience of materiality and the associated laws are very deeply etched into both the subjective and objective wavefunctions, so deeply etched that the probability of the experience of materiality as we know it might as well be one hundred percent.  For all practical purposes, our experiences of the external world might as well, from a conventional point of view, be experiences of an external material world.  From an ultimate perspective, however, it is a different matter.

 According to the Quantum-Yogacara perspective an individuated consciousness is the direct experience of the qualitative dimension of the functioning of the wavefunction for the continuum of a sentient being.  For an ordinary being this experiential wavefunction will be continuously ‘collapsing’ into momentary experiences of a definite external world.  This process happens so quickly that the spaces between the collapses are not noticed; in the same way that the individual frames of a movie are not seen.  The Buddhist perspective, however, involves the understanding of the possibility of taking control of the nature of inner awareness, which is the direct domain of the individual subjective wavefunction.  This is accomplished through the use of advanced techniques of meditation and manipulation of consciousness.

 Through the use of such techniques it is possible to train the subjective wavefunction of consciousness so that the nature of the experience of even the apparently objective world can be altered.  This possibility is clearly implicated by The Quantum-Yogacara view of the process of reality.  The idea that it would be a simple matter for ordinary beings to alter physical reality, as the What The Bleep brigade claim, is not made by the Madhyamaka, only highly realized enlightened practitioners would have such capabilities.  As Alan Wallace points out:

 
Buddhism makes the astonishing claim that people who have directly realized emptiness may alter not only their own reality but also the reality of others.  In certain circumstances such contemplatives may manipulate the five elements in ways that can be witnesses by people who do not share the same insight.  … Such contemplatives claim to have realized the nature and potentials of consciousness far beyond anything known to contemporary science.[xciii]

 
As we shall see, these potentialities are only to be expected if the worldview that emerges at the interface of quantum physics and the Madhyamaka is, as this book demonstrates, correct.  Practitioners with extremely advanced experience of the techniques of Madhyamika meditation would develop mastery and control of their own inner wavefunction of consciousness, including its form, and therefore quality, and its tendency to resonate and thereby ‘collapse’ due interactions with surrounding wavefunctions.  Sufficiently developed capacities in this direction might easily accomplish dramatic effects completely beyond the understanding of those with no knowledge or insight into the direct awareness of the fundamental realm of the wavefunction.

 According to the Madhyamaka the embodied mind of sentient beings can be trained to directly perceive the ultimate nature of reality.  Such a mind is the mind of a Buddha, a fully awakened being; and the mind of a Buddha is omniscient, knowing the nature of all objects, and the potentialities for all manifestation.  The Ornament of Sutras says:

 Buddhahood is all phenomena,

But it is no phenomenon whatsoever.[xciv]

 In other words the mind of a Buddha, or fully enlightened being, does not collapse the wavefunction.  Buddhahood contains an awareness of all possibilities; therefore it embraces ‘all phenomena’.  However to produce a phenomenon the wavefunction must collapse into a definite manifestation; it therefore follows that Buddhahood is ‘no phenomenon whatsoever’.  As the sutra says:

 
The state and the activity of the Buddhas

Is nothing but sketching a colourful painting onto the sky.[xcv]

 



[i] Quantum Reality p16

[ii] Dancing Wu Li Masters p?

[iii] The Quantum and the Lotus

[iv] Dawkins – The Great Convergence in The Devil’s Chaplin

[v] Quantum Reality p15

[vi] ibid

[vii] Quantum Enigma p87

[viii] See later

[ix] QP Illusion or Reality p3

[x] A madhyamika is a follower or proponent of the central philosophy of Mahayana Buddhism – the Madhyamaka or Middle Way philosophy - see later. 

[xi] Sun of Wisdom p59 (note – banana trees have no central core).

[xii] This includes everyone who has not undertaken an extraordinary inner path of transformation in order to perceive reality as it really is; which is just about everyone!

[xiii] Straight form the Heart p27 – Asvaghosa.

[xiv] Beginners Guide p228 – it is absolutely astonishing that the following description of Baggot’s perspective was published by the new scientist: ‘[the book’s] realist honesty shines through like a beacon through the fog of contemporary mystical speculations.’ Back cover of The Meaning of Quantum Theory – now republished as ‘beyond measure’.

 

 

[xv] Lee Smolin - Three Roads To Quantum Gravity p34

[xvi] Three Roads  p34

[xvii] Three Roads

[xviii] The Theory of Almost Everything p130

[xix] Three Roads p36

[xx] Jim Al-Khalili – Quantum: a guide for the perplexed p85

[xxi] Quantum Paradoxes p1

[xxii] ibid

[xxiii] Meditation on Emptiness p412

[xxiv] Penrose – New Cloths p295

[xxv] Shadows p237

[xxvi] Shadows p309

[xxvii] Theory of Almost Everything p49

[xxviii] Science and Ultimate Reality p221

[xxix] The Unconscious Quantum

[xxx] Despite the fact that this term is clearly derogatory it captures the kind of contempt that scientists and philosophers who are opposed to any idea that the notion of ‘matter’ is in serious trouble exemplify towards the idea that quantum theory has deeply radical implications for our understanding of reality.  It is useful as a vague catch-all category to begin with.  We will later discover that what is thought by materialists to be mysticism turns out to be the only possible rationalism. 

[xxxi] Stapp – Why Classical Mechanics cannot naturally accommodate consciousness

[xxxii] Kaku – Hyperspace.

[xxxiii] Zukav – Dancing Wu Li Masters p121

[xxxiv] Quantum electrodynamics p130

[xxxv] Perplexed p???

[xxxvi] Quantum Enigma p67

[xxxvii] Enigma p154

[xxxviii] Enigma p179

[xxxix] New Scientist 23rd June 2007 Michael Brooks – Reality Check

[xl] ibid

[xli] Vlatko Vedral – New Scientist

[xlii] Meditation on Emptiness p 9

[xliii] Practitioners of Yoga – the distinctions between schools of Madhyamaka are not relevant here.  They will be covered later.

[xliv] Transcending Ego p19

[xlv] Physics and Philosophy p433

[xlvi] Physics and Philosophy p440

[xlvii] Centre p120

[xlviii] A paradoxical formulation uttered by a Zen master in order to open the wisdom eye of a student.  Usually this technique is applied after the necessary preparatory training. 

[xlix] Centre of Sunlight Sky p257

[l] Wholeness

[li] Wholeness p219

[lii] Interview with Amit Goswami

[liii] New Scientist 25Jan2008

[liv] Beyond measure p98

[lv] Tests of Time p491

[lvi] Tests of Time p492

[lvii] Goldilocks Enigma p262

[lviii] Heart of Wisdom ?

[lix] Buddhism and Science p61

[lx] Quoted in The God Delusion p78 – Stephen Jay Gould termed the acronym NOMA – non overlapping magisterial – the idea that science and religion are independent discourses.

[lxi] Perplexed p294

[lxii] Perplexed p148

[lxiii] Shadows of the Mind p309

[lxiv] Quantum Enigma p139

[lxv] Tao of Physics p152

[lxvi] Internet document

[lxvii] Internet document.

[lxviii] The Tao of Physics Revisited – in Holographic Paradigm p 219

[lxix] Not Even Wrong p??

[lxx] Holographic Paradigm p224

[lxxi] Dawkins – The Great Convergence in The Devil’s Chaplin

[lxxii] Mind and Life institute – explain.

[lxxiii] Internet promotion

[lxxiv] Internet promotion

[lxxv] Quantum Quackary

[lxxvi] The Unconscious Quantum

[lxxvii] Quantum Enigma website

[lxxviii] Q Enigma p154

[lxxix] Q. Enigma p?

[lxxx] Quantum Enigma p152

[lxxxi] Q Enigma p156

[lxxxii] Science & Ultimate Reality p451

[lxxxiii] Transcending Ego p22

[lxxxiv] Bodhisattvas are realized beings who correctly perceive the nature of reality.

[lxxxv] Chandrakirti - Into to Middle Way p74

[lxxxvi] Readers to are eager to examine this demonstration can find it beginning page xxx.

[lxxxvii] Tests of Time p393

[lxxxviii] Centre of Sunlit p79 – Yogins = realized beings.

[lxxxix] Meditation on Emptiness p405

[xc] ibid

[xci] Blackmore p7

[xcii] Internet essay – Quantum Tantra

[xciii] Hidden Dimensions p103.

[xciv] Centre of Sunlit Sky p332

[xcv] Centre of Sunlit Sky p332