Quantum Physics
& the Nature of Reality

By: Mark Bancroft, MA


Thought.  With thought we are capable of experiencing our present reality, our past reality, and our potential future reality.  Unimpeded by space or time, thought opens the door to time travel and, greater yet, offers the conscious being the experience of I.  I perceive and experience during waking moments an inner, subjective universe while my senses provide the building blocks which create an outer universe.  The ability of consciousness to function in this manner, to create through conscious thought two worlds (inner and outer) is often ignored.  However, it is possible for us to employ the I as an observer and travel back in time to an era where the outer and inner realities as we now experience them did not exist. 

In order to "live" in both an inner and outer world humankind had to first evolve through three major epoch's often referred to as the archaic, magic, and mythic worldviews [Wilber, 1995].  The archaic epoch covers the era up to and including the first hominids.  The archaic worldview is one in which the individual and the physical world are fused, undifferentiated; no experience of I.  The next major worldview (epoch) to emerge was the magical.  Because mind and body were relatively undifferentiated, mental images such as those used in voodoo and ritual magic were used to effect the physical world.  The physical world, in turn, harbored it's own personal intentions.  The third major epoch, mythic, was an era of gods, goddesses, and superstition.  Myths were literal interpretations of reality; gods were not to be questioned.  Moses did part the Red Sea; until the mental-rational worldview began to emerge.  Welcome to the Age of Reason; the fourth major epoch of human evolution. 

Rationality became the dominant mode of consciousness. Myths were no longer reasonable.  "But "No more myths!" came also to mean "No more ascent!"  Since myths were all upward-yearning, "No more myths!" seemed to demand no more upward-yearning of any sort.  Understandably, fed up with a millennium or two of (frustrated) upward-yearning and "pie in the sky" aspirations, Reason threw overboard the transcendental baby with the mythic bath water [Wilber, p.372, 1995]."  René Descartes, in 1612, made this clear by dividing the world into two parts: the inner, subjective world and the outer, objective world.  "Classical science was constructed by the Cartesian (Descartes) method of analyzing the world into parts and arranging those parts according to causal laws.  The resulting deterministic picture of the universe was closely related to the image of nature as a clock [Capra, p.85, 1982]."

Reason demanded evidence, therefore that which could be studied and understood objectively took precedence over questions relating to subjective qualities.  A worldspace once existing in a universe filled with myths and gods evolved into a reality of objective parts.  The work of Isaac Newton established a solid foundation for much of the progress in science since his time. The theories and laws of the universe which emerged worked extremely well for describing the way the universe worked.  Perhaps they could not explain why it worked, but at least they explained what to expect.  Due to the need for objective evidence, consciousness (the I) was not necessary for describing the outer world.  God was to die for in a mechanistic universe there was no need such a being.  Issues of consciousness were neatly placed aside, in a box; until something went wrong which would bestow more than nine decades of chaos upon the scientific community.          

The insulating shell surrounding the mental-rational epoch, once considered solid and impenetrable, began to crack.  In the 1890's a German physicist, Max Planck, began work to explain the workings of blackbody radiation.  By this time light was well understood to function as a wave; therefore, the color of light being emitted from hot objects should directly correspond to the objects temperature.  Such was not the case for as the heat of an object increased the color (light emitted) did not proportionally change.  Max Planck, in 1900, explained the phenomenon by postulating that light is emitted or absorbed in packets of definite size, which he called quanta. Thus light, once considered a wave, was now beginning to be described as a particle, which later became known as a photon.  "Evidence for waves must rule out the possibility of particles; evidence for particles must rule out the possibility of waves.  They couldn't both be right, could they [Gribben, p.85, 1995]?"  This question marks the beginning of quantum physics. 

The mysteriousness of light could not be explained through the mechanistic model of the universe which demanded that things have a definite position or identity.  The mystery of the photon exhibiting both particle and wave characteristics could have been solved by simply equating it a special phenomenon of light which has no mass.  However, by the late 1920's it was clear that electrons, which have a mass of 1/1820ththe neutron, also behave as waves.  In 1987 the particle/wave duality was directly observed through the creation of the double slit experiment. 

The double slit experiment has demonstrated that photons and electrons do exhibit both wave and particle characteristics.  "In the two slit experiment, if the physicist looks for a particle (uses a particle detector), he will find a particle; if he looks for a wave (uses a screen), he will see a wave pattern before him [Zohar & Marshall, p.45, 1994]."  Although matter (electrons) behaving as waves and particles exist outside our ability of reason the evidence of the two-slit experiment could not be ignored.  The message of quantum physics became clear: the world is not made of objects.  The building blocks of the atom were found to exist as both particles and waves depending upon how they were studied.

The standard interpretation of the quantum world is known as the Copenhagen Interpretation.  The theory was completed in 1930 by a group of physicists including: Neils Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, and Max Born.  "The Copenhagen Interpretation held sway for more than 50 years, from 1930 until well into the 1980's, almost unopposed by the vast majority of physicists [Gribben, p.14, 1995]."  The theory maintains that reality exists in the form of probability waves.  Physical objects such as electrons, planets, cars, and trees only "appear" due to a collapse of their probability wave by a conscious observer.  Without an observer all objects would exist solely in the form of a probability wave. 

The wave-particle duality led Werner Heisenberg to develop the Uncertainty Principle which maintains that due to the wavelike characteristic of subatomic entities it is impossible to know both the position and momentum of any quantum object.  Mere observation of either the momentum or position disturbs the quantum particle.  The Uncertainty Principle has been found to hold true at the quantum level; all matter smaller than Planck's Constant does appear to be effected by our observations. 

The extreme subjectivity of the Copenhagen Interpretation and the Uncertainty Principle did not go unopposed.  An alternative was put forth by Albert Einstein, Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen, which is known as the EPR experiment.  This thought experiment set out to demonstrate that the world actually does exist and is governed by hidden variables; a view first put forth by Louis de Broglie in 1925.  Simply because one is ignorant of the hidden variables does not mean the world does not exist; particles are real, they do exist and maintain a definite position and momentum. 

Ironically, the theory of hidden variables was not seriously considered as an alternative to the Copenhagen Interpretation because of an error by mathematician John von Neumann; now referred to as von Neumann's silly mistake.  Von Neumann's work, published in 1932, seemed to give proof that no hidden variable theory could ever describe quantum mechanics.  Although von Neumann's mistake was revealed in 1935 by Grete Hermann, the mistake was ignored.  It was not until 1966 that  von Neumann's mistake was seen and taken seriously.  John Bell rediscovered the mistake and finally proved that hidden variables could describe quantum events if non-locality was included.  Non-locality was proved to rule the quantum world through the experiments done by Alain Aspect which tested the EPR thought experiment.  The profound discovery of Aspect is that any interpretation of quantum reality must include non-locality.   "If you want to believe there is a real world out there, you cannot do without non-locality; if you want to believe that no form of communication takes place faster than the speed of light, you cannot have a real world, independent of the observer [Gribben, p.159, 1995]."

The challenge associated with twentieth century quantum physics is monumental.  Theories and interpretations for explaining quantum events appear mystical, if not whimsical to the outside observer.  Theories such as infinite universes, pilot waves and the need for a conscious observer to create physical reality are indicators that our present worldview is falling apart.  "Today there is a wide measure of agreement…that the stream of knowledge is heading towards a non-mechanical reality; the universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine [Capra, p.86, 1982]."

Strong evidence exists that humankind is currently entering the next great epoch.  The crisis of physics proves that the mental-raitonal worldview is inadequate for describing our observations of reality itself.  Our current language cannot describe that which is observed.  This is an indicator that a new development, a new worldview is asserting itself.  "A new center of sociocultural gravity is slowly emerging- the Vision-logic information society, with an existential or aperspectival worldview, set in a techno-economic base of digital information transfer, and a centauric self that must integrate its matter and body and mind- integrate the physiosphere and biosphere and noosphere- if its behavior is to functionally fit in the new worldspace [Wilber, p.325, 1995]."

Physics, our most 'objective' and rational endeavor to date, is in a crisis state plagued with issues of subjectivity, secondary properties, andconsciousness.  This may serve as a wake-up call for the emerging worldview.  Physics did not set out to create the crisis state it is now in.  It appears that when a new epoch is ready to unfold it will do so with or without our willing consent.  The delivery process will create crisis, chaos, turmoil and disorder when we refuse to let go of our outdated model of reality; when we demand the need for outdated, absolute truths.  Knowing what is taking place at this time can be of tremendous value for physics because we discover just how constricting our present worldview is; a worldview which cannot resolve the supposed mysteries of the quantum world.  Once science is more fully established in the Vision-logic epoch and the outdated worldview is transcended, we can look forward to literally unimaginable advances, discoveries, and breakthroughs within physics and every other area of human interest. 

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Capra, Fritjof.  (1982).  The Turning Point: Science, Society, and the Rising Culture.  New York: Bantam Books.

Gribben, John.  Schrodinger's Kittens and the Search for Reality.  New York: Little, Brown and Company.

Wilber, Ken.  (1995).  Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution.  Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications, Inc.

Zohar, D. & Marshall, I.  The Quantum Society: Mind, Physics, and a New Social Vision.  New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc.

Mark Bancroft, MA, CHT 
Nevada City, CA 

Article: Copyright (C) 1998. Mark Bancroft, MA, CHT, Nevada City, CA, 95959. All rights reserved.