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.
The controversy surrounding mysticism in quantum physics began in Germany during the 1920s, when some of the leading quantum physicists, such as Erwin Schrödinger and Werner Heisenberg, had leaned toward mystical interpretations of their findings. Others, such as Albert Einstein and Max Planck, objected to such interpretations. Despite accusations of mysticism from Einstein, Niels Bohr had repeatedly denied the charge, attributing it to misunderstandings. During the second half of the twentieth century the controversy died down, and today most physicists are realisists who do not believe that quantum theory is involved with consciousness.
Quantum mysticism has occasionally reappeared, due in part to popular books such as Fritjof Capra's The Tao of Physics and films such as What the Bleep Do We Know?. 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) 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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- 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
- 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"