Quantum mysticism is a set of metaphysical beliefs and associated practices that seek to relate consciousness, intelligence, spirituality, or mystical world-views to the ideas of quantum mechanics and its interpretations. Quantum mysticism is considered by most scientists and philosophers to be pseudoscience or "quackery".
Early controversy and resolution
Quantum mysticism first appeared 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 theories. Others, such as Albert Einstein and Max Planck, objected to such interpretations. Despite the accusation of mysticism from Einstein, Niels Bohr denied the charge, attributing it to misunderstandings. By the second half of the twentieth century, the controversy had run its course—Schrödinger's 1958 lectures are said to "mark the last of a generation that lived with the mysticism controversy"—and today most physicists are realists who do not believe that quantum theory is involved with consciousness.
In 1961 Eugene Wigner wrote a paper suggesting that a conscious observer played a fundamental role in quantum mechanics.:93 A part of the Von Neumann–Wigner interpretation. While his paper would serve as inspiration for later mystical works by others, Wigner's ideas were primarily philosophical in nature and are not considered "in the same ballpark" as the mysticism that would follow.
Appropriation by New Age thought
In the early 1970s New Age culture began to incorporate ideas from quantum physics, beginning with books by Arthur Koestler, Lawrence LeShan and others which suggested that purported parapsychological phenomena could be explained by quantum mechanics.:32 In this decade the Fundamental Fysiks Group emerged, a group of physicists who embraced quantum mysticism while engaging in parapsychology, Transcendental Meditation, and various New Age and Eastern mystical practices. Inspired in part by Wigner, Fritjof Capra, a member of the Fundamental Fysiks Group, wrote The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels Between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism (1975), a book espousing New Age quantum physics that gained popularity among the non-scientific public.:32 In 1979 came the publication of The Dancing Wu Li Masters by Gary Zukav, a non-scientist and "the most successful of Capra's followers".:32
The Fundamental Fysiks Group is said to be one of the agents responsible for the "huge amount of pseudoscientific nonsense" surrounding interpretations of quantum mechanics. Physicist Murray Gell-Mann coined the phrase "quantum flapdoodle" to refer to the misuse and misapplication of quantum physics to other topics.
An example of such misuse is New Age guru Deepak Chopra's "quantum theory" that aging is caused by the mind, expounded in his books Quantum Healing (1989) and Ageless Body, Timeless Mind (1993). 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".
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 which was founded by J.Z. Knight, a channeler who said that her teachings were based on a discourse with a 35,000-year-old disembodied entity named Ramtha. Featuring Fundamental Fysiks Group member Fred Alan Wolf, the film misused 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.
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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"