Quantum mysticism is a set of metaphysical beliefs and associated practices that seek to relate consciousness, intelligence, or mystical world-views to the ideas of quantum mechanics and its interpretations. Quantum mysticism is considered by many scientists and philosophers to be pseudoscience and "quackery".
Origin of the term
The term originally emerged from the founders of quantum theory in the early twentieth century as they debated the interpretations and implications of their nascent theories, which would later evolve into quantum mechanics, and later after World War II, with publications such as those of Schrödinger, and the 1961 paper of Eugene Wigner. The essential qualities of early quantum theory, and the ontological questions that emerged from it, made it difficult to distinguish between philosophical and scientific discussion as quantum theory developed into a strong scientific theory. Some of the leading quantum physicists gave mystical interpretations to their findings. In his book "My view of the world", Schrödinger outlined his mystical and metaphysical view as derived from Hindu Vedanta philosophy.
David Bohm was deeply influenced by Jiddu Krishnamurti, crediting him as a source for understanding the worldview he proposed in his interpretation of Quantum Mechanics that he put forth in Wholeness and the Implicate Order (his first footnote credited Krishnamurti's book Freedom from the Known - a treatise putting forth a distilled rendition of apophatic mysticism), and had a series of in depth dialogues with him that were published in the book The Ending of Time. In On Creativity, he wrote of Krishnamurti, "I got to know Krishnamurti in the early sixties. I became interested around that time in understanding the whole thing more deeply. I felt that he was suggesting that it is possible for a human being to have some kind of contact with this whole [that Bohm postulated in his work]. I don't think he would want to use the word 'God' because of its limited associations."
The Harvard ThD student Miguel Marin noted also the "“lucid mysticism,” a synthesis between rationality and religion" favored by Wolfgang Pauli, that Pauli "speculated that quantum theory could unify the psychological/scientific and philosophical/mystical approaches to consciousness". He further noted:
Among contemporary quantum field theories, the important gauge theories are indebted to the work of [Hermann] Weyl and Pauli. Yet many physicists today would be shocked if they learned how Weyl and Pauli understood the concept ‘field’ when they wrote their classic articles. They were both immersed in mysticism, searching for a way to unify mind and physics. Weyl published a lecture where he concluded by favoring the Christian-mathematical mysticism of Nicholas of Cusa. Moreover, Pauli's published article on Kepler presents him as part of the Western mystical tradition ... For those who do not favor the Copenhagen interpretation and prefer the alternative proposed by David Bohm, I would suggest reading Bohm's many published dialogues on the topic of Eastern mysticism ... Eddington and Schrödinger, like many today, joined forces to find a quantum gravity theory. Did their shared mysticism have a role to play in whatever insights they gained or mistakes they made? I do not know, but I think it's important to find out.—Juan Miguel Marin, "'Mysticism' in Quantum Mechanics: The Forgotten Controversy" in European Journal of Physics 30 (2009), as quoted by Lisa Zyga in "Quantum Mysticism: Gone but Not Forgotten"
Marin noted that Albert Einstein, though he claimed belief in Spinoza's God, remained opposed to some of the novel mystical formulations of Pauli and his colleagues. Wolfgang Pauli was strongly against pseudoscience, severely criticizing unfalsifiable theories, coining, when referring to them, the phrase "not even wrong". Nevertheless, his findings in quantum physics led, in his view, to mystical interpretations.
According to Marin, the opposition to mystical interpretations of quantum mechanics that Einstein and others had stemmed from their adherence to the philosophical school of realism. Yet in the 2007 Nature paper An experimental test of non-local realism, Anton Zeilinger and his colleagues wrote that:
- Most working scientists hold fast to the concept of ‘realism’—a viewpoint according to which an external reality exists independent of observation. But quantum physics has shattered some of our cornerstone beliefs. According to Bell’s theorem, any theory that is based on the joint assumption of realism and locality (meaning that local events cannot be affected by actions in space-like separated regions) is at variance with certain quantum predictions. Experiments with entangled pairs of particles have amply confirmed these quantum predictions, thus rendering local realistic theories untenable. Maintaining realism as a fundamental concept would therefore necessitate the introduction of ‘spooky’ actions that defy locality. Here we show by both theory and experiment that a broad and rather reasonable class of such non-local realistic theories is incompatible with experimentally observable quantum correlations. In the experiment, we measure previously untested correlations between two entangled photons, and show that these correlations violate an inequality proposed by Leggett for non-local realistic theories. Our result suggests that giving up the concept of locality is not sufficient to be consistent with quantum experiments, unless certain intuitive features of realism are abandoned.
Professors Richard Conn Henry and Stephen R. Palmquist, commenting on that paper, stated: "Now we are beginning to see that quantum mechanics might actually exclude any possibility of mind-independent reality and already does exclude any reality that resembles our usual concept of such (Aspect: 'it implies renouncing the kind of realism I would have liked')." They concluded their commentary by adding that in their view, because of these findings, "a theistic view of our existence becomes the only rational alternative to solipsism." Nonlocality is a concept in physics, previously known as action at a distance.
Physicist Roger Penrose wrote in the Shadows of the Mind that consciousness may be a quantum phenomenon. The idea was cuttingly criticised by Stephen Hawking; a summary of his criticisms was added to Penrose's book. Penrose posited that quantum forces affected neural processing via microtubules in his Orchestrated objective reduction model that he developed in collaboration with the anesthesiologist Stuart Hameroff.
A renewed interest in mystical interpretations and the psychological aspects of the new physics arose in the 1970s with physicists such as Fritjof Capra, whose popularly successful book The Tao of Physics explored parallels between quantum physics and principles of Eastern mysticism. The 1980 book Wholeness and the Implicate Order by David Bohm portrays reality as a unity which can be understood in terms of implicate and explicate orders. Steven Weinberg disagreed with Bohm, due to the many "erroneous claims" about physics and quantum theory, in the "science wars". Another well-known contribution was Quantum Reality by physicist Nick Herbert (1985) which dealt mainly with possible interpretations of quantum theory.
The 1979 book The Dancing Wu Li Masters by Gary Zukav (self-confessedly "not a physicist") again included parallels between Eastern mysticism and modern physics. Michael Talbot's The Holographic Universe developed the ideas of David Bohm in relation to the recent Aspect experiment. In 1990, Robert Anton Wilson wrote a book called Quantum Psychology which explains Timothy Leary's Eight Circuit Model of Consciousness in terms of quantum mysticism.
Deepak Chopra's 1988 book Quantum Healing explained a theory of psychosomatic healing using quantum concepts and his Ageless Body, Timeless Mind (1993, a New York Times Bestseller that sold over two million copies worldwide) discusses specific claims of healing, reversal of the aging process and immortality, adopting a "quantum worldview" and prescribing specific practices. In 1998, Chopra was awarded the parody Ig Nobel Prize, in the physics category, for "his unique interpretation of quantum physics as it applies to life, liberty, and the pursuit of economic happiness".
In his The scientist's Conversations with the Teacher, Alexander Zelitchenko introduced the notion of what he called "a subtle matter" and speculated about how the physics of subtle matter may be understood in connection with de Broglie waves.
The 2004 film What the Bleep Do We Know!? dealt with a range of New Age ideas in relation to physics. It was produced by the Ramtha School of Enlightenment, founded by J.Z. Knight, who said that her teachings were based on a discourse with a 35,000-year-old disembodied entity named Ramtha. It made controversial use of some aspects of quantum mechanics—including the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and the observer effect—as well as biology and medicine. Numerous critics dismissed the film for its use of pseudoscience. William Tiller, a scientist interviewed in the film, wrote a reserved defense of it.
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- Zyga, Lisa. "Quantum Mysticism: Gone but Not Forgotten". Phys.org.
- Victor J. Stenger, Has Science Found God?, 2001, chapter 3; "I believe in Spinoza's God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fates and actions of human beings". (Einstein, letter to Rabbi Herbert Goldstein) — see also Religious views of Albert Einstein
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- "Alain Aspect and Anton Zeilinger on Unreality"; apparently intended as an article in: Journal of Scientific Exploration, Issue 21-3; however not appearing on the journal's archive page
- "I confess, that very different from you, I do find sometimes scientific inspiration in mysticism ... but this is counterbalanced by an immediate sense for mathematics."—W. Pauli, from 
- Wilson, Robert Anton - Quantum Psychology 1990
- The 1998 Ig Nobel Prize Winners
- Alexander Zelitchenko (2001). The scientist's Conversations with the Teacher, San Jose, Writers Club Press ISBN 0595194125
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- Wilson, Elizabeth (2005-01-13). "What the Bleep Do We Know?!". American Chemical Society. Retrieved 2007-12-19.
- "Britain's best scientific brains give us their verdicts on a film about quantum physics". theguardian.com. 16 May 2005. Retrieved 12 August 2014.
- Tiller, William A. (2004). "What the Bleep Do We Know: A Personal Perspective". Vision-In- Action (VIA) 2 (4): 16–20.
- Publications relating to quantum mysticism
- Fritjof Capra, The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels Between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism, Shamballa, 1975
- Deepak Chopra, Quantum Healing: Exploring the Frontiers of Mind/Body Medicine ISBN 0-553-34869-8
- Rolf Froboese, The Secret Physics of Coincidence: Quantum phenomena and fate - Can quantum physics explain paranormal phenomena? ISBN 978-3-84823-445-5
- Patrick Grim, Philosophy of science and the occult ISBN 978-0-7914-0204-7
- Lawrence LeShan, The Medium, the Mystic, and the Physicist: Toward a General Theory of the Paranormal, 2003, Helios Press, ISBN 978-1-58115-273-9
- Jack Sarfatti, 1975, Space-Time and Beyond, with Fred Alan Wolf and Bob Toben, E. P. Dutton. ISBN 0-525-47399-8
- Michael Talbot, The Holographic Universe ISBN 0-06-092258-3
- Michael Talbot, Mysticism And The New Physics ISBN 0-14-019328-6
- Michael Talbot, Beyond The Quantum ISBN 0-553-34480-3
- Evan Harris Walker, The Physics of Consciousness: The Quantum Mind and the Meaning of Life ISBN 0-7382-0436-6
- Ken Wilber, Quantum Questions: Mystical Writings of the World's Great Physicists (editor), 1984, rev. ed. 2001: ISBN 1-57062-768-1
- Gary Zukav, The Dancing Wu Li Masters, 1980, ISBN 0-553-26382-X-
- Alexander Zelitchenko, The scientist's Conversations with the Teacher. Science and Esoterics. Conversation No.9. Resolving the scientist's Doubts, Which Resulted in a Scetch of The Physics of Subtle Matter, 2001, ISBN 0-595-19412-5
- Criticism of quantum mysticism
- Richard H. Jones, Science and Mysticism: A Comparative Study of Western Natural Science, Theravada Buddhism, and Advaita Vedanta (Bucknell University Press, 1986), ISBN 978-0-8387-5093-3 (Paperback ed., 2008 ISBN 978-1-4392-0304-0), criticism from both the scientific and mystical points of view
- Richard H. Jones, Piercing the Veil: Comparing Science and Mysticism as Ways of Knowing Reality (Jackson Square Books, 2010), ISBN 978-1-4392-6682-3
- Michael Shermer, "Quantum Quackery", Scientific American, January 2005 [dead link]
- Stenger, Victor (1995), The Unconscious Quantum: Metaphysics in Modern Physics and Cosmology, Prometheus Books, ISBN 978-1-57392-022-3, an anti-mystical point-of-view
- Victor J. Stenger, "Quantum quackery", Skeptical Inquirer, Vol. 21. No. 1, January/February 1997, p. 37ff, criticism of the book "The Self-Aware Universe"