CHOPRA FOUNDATION NEWS

  • Naïve Realism, Or the Strange Case of Physics and Fake Philosophers

    Posted on: August 11, 2014 | Comments: 0

    By Deepak Chopra, MD naive realismIn a most unexpected way, physics has started to criticize its own sense of reality. Noted figures are speaking out against other noted figures, and heads are being knocked. A prime example: In the blog section of Scientific American, the highly respected South African physicist and cosmologist George Ellis says, quite bluntly, “The belief that all of reality can be fully comprehended in terms of physics and the equations of physics is a fantasy.” In the same vein, the esteemed British physicist Sir Martin Rees made a headline in 2010 that read “We shouldn’t attach any weight to what Hawking says about God.”

     

    Stephen Hawking has been quoted around the world for saying that God isn’t necessary to our understanding of creation. Lord Rees, former president of the Royal Society and sometimes labeled “Britain’s greatest scientist,” expressed himself pointedly: “I know Stephen Hawking well enough to know that he has read very little philosophy and even less theology, so I don’t think we should attach any weight to his views on this topic.”

  • Is a Mind-Element Needed to Interpret Quantum Mechanics? Do physically undetermined choices enter into the evolution of the physical universe? Part 3

    Posted on: August 4, 2014 | Comments: 0

     

    By Deepak Chopra, MD and Henry Stapp, PhD

     

    dropOur previous two posts on the role of mind in nature have argued that rational analysis of the empirical evidence entails that the world is not only influenced by ideas, but consists of them. Of course, the everyday experience of a physical reality made of things that seem solid can be very compelling, especially when combined with the classically held understanding of subatomic particles orbiting around one another like small planets. This view, which everyone is familiar with, supports the existence of a real external world independent of mind.  When you stub your toe on a rock, you don’t feel it’s like stubbing your toe on an idea.  Indeed, as Erwin Schrödinger, a principal founder of quantum mechanics, remarked; “It comes naturally for the simple man of today to think of a dualistic relationship between mind and matter as an extremely obvious idea. … But a more careful consideration  …[leads to the conclusion] that surrender of the notion of the real external world, alien as it seems to everyday thinking, is absolutely essential.”

     

    Schrödinger knew, based on empirical evidence that at the basic level a subatomic particle doesn’t behave like a tiny planet but like a smear of possibilities. Our experience of the solidity of day-to-day reality–for example the hardness of a rock–is mathematically explained in terms of the rock’s elementary particles being just such smears of possibilities. Schrödinger had a huge advantage over the preceding German idealist philosophers like Hegel, who posited that reality was more like an idea than a thing. They had arrived at this conclusion on the basis of logic alone, without the critical empirical evidence. That evidence was supplied by experiments done during the 20th century.

     

    Empirical evidence ought to be persuasive to scientists, but mainstream opinion in science is often governed more by socio-political forces and personalities than by rational thinking based on the data. Nowhere is this more evident than in present-day neuroscience, where in spite of the strong evidence for quantum effects in biological systems and in the brain, workers doggedly adhere to the physicalism that Francis Crick called for decades ago (i.e., reducing all the mind to physical processes in the brain and nothing more).

     

    To rationally settle this issue one needs an adequate conceptual framework. Finding one is not easy, however. That’s because the dynamics involved is described in three different incompatible languages. The empirical data is expressed in terms of the concepts of classical physics, while the mathematical machinery needed to explain the detailed structure of that data is couched in the very different mathematical language of quantum physics. Then there is the question of the possible physical effects of our thoughts, ideas, and feelings, which are described in a third language, the language of psychology. According to classical physics, mental events can be left out of the determination of physical properties. But according to orthodox quantum mechanics, our mental intentions play an essential role in the determination of brain behavior.

    Such a mismatch could be compared to investigators showing up at the scene of a wreck by the highway where a car has landed in a snow bank. One investigator, being a classic physicalist, says that the cause of the wreck was a sudden swerve of the car’s tires on the icy road. Another investigator, a quantum physicist, produces a set of calculations derived from Schrödinger’s equation that pinpoints the statistical probability of the car winding up where it landed. A third investigator, a psychologist, points to the driver’s recent divorce, which led him to heavy drinking as emotional compensation. Three different descriptions are derived from the same event. Without a doubt, no matter which alternative you choose, the simple matter of physical cause and effect is no longer so simple.

     

    The crucial question is whether the choices that you and I make in daily life are determined by purely mathematical rules. John von Neumann’s 1932 book, The Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics, says no: The orthodox interpretation of quantum mechanics requires the observer’s “ego” to enter into the unfolding of reality in a way that lies outside and beyond the known mathematics. In everyday life we certainly feel that the things we do, think, and say aren’t fixed by the laws of physics. According to classical mechanics, however, these feelings are illusions, whereas in orthodox quantum mechanics these feelings represent an awareness of the true nature of reality.

    There are, of course, non-orthodox formulations of quantum mechanics, but they fail to meet the demands of its founders that the theory encompass the realities we know actually exist, namely our conscious experiences. (Who falls in love as a result of gravity, thermodynamics, and Newton’s laws of motion?) The main alternatives to the orthodox approach not only fail to bring our conscious experiences into their foundational structure, but they fail to explain rationally how a person’s known experiences can arise from physically described reality–the physical description contains no hint of their existence. There is no scientific virtue in avoiding all mention of our personal experience when science is supposed to be based on empirical (i.e., experienced) evidence. The offered alternatives actually tend to extol the fact that they lack any mention of consciousness in their foundations, instead of recognizing this as a likely fatal flaw. Yet that flaw is built into a theory based essentially on the concepts of classical mechanics, from which all connections to our experiences have been systematically removed.

     

    Possible explanations of reality keep proliferating–with some truth it’s been said that there are as many quantum theories as quantum physicists. Actually, there are probably more theories than theorists, because when you confront a physicist who holds an unorthodox view, he soon changes to another view, recognizing that his prior view is not completely defined. As he shifts to ever new positions, the discussion goes nowhere.

     

    But one can classify the existing theories as idealist, materialist, and dualist. Orthodox quantum mechanics is the prime dualist theory. But, as we have argued in the previous two articles, it essentially reduces to idealism when you analyze it. If we must choose between idealistic monism or physicalistic monism then it must be idealism. At the end of the day, the only realities that we really know exist are our ideas. That’s the basic point behind all idealisms. Even physical descriptions, as far as we can know them, are inventions of the human mind.

    This last point is worth elaborating upon.

     

    The scientific description of reality is essentially mathematical. To reduce Nature to a set of regular, universal “principles,” Newton applied mathematics to things located in a four-dimensional space-time filled with an infinity of points. (Imagine any location you’ve ever been in your life located on a three-dimensional chess board, with the addition of time as a fourth dimension.) The basic idea of classical (Newtonian-type) mechanics is that every fundamental property can be located at such a real place: these real points are where the basic realities of Nature reside. But how well does this idea fare when we demand compatibility with the quantum empirical facts, which are fundamentally incompatible with the basic concepts of classical physics?

     

    In classical mechanics a “really existing” 4-D continuum of points provides the places for the assumed-to-exist real particles to be. In quantum mechanics we again use a 4-D continuum of locations, but as we’ve discussed, these are locations only of possibilities. In the switch from classical to quantum, the points of the 4-D continuum lose their status as the places where real things can be, becoming places where potentialities exist for experiences of seemingly real things to appear if an observer looks for them there. This is the crucial shift made by the founders of quantum mechanics and by von Neumann in order to cope rationally with the mysterious twentieth-century empirical findings.  In so doing, space-time points were reduced to parts of an idea-like reality.

     

    The persuasiveness of seeing the universe as mind-like isn’t new, and skeptics find themselves scoffing at the thoughts of some of the most distinguished physicists of the modern era. “I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness.” (Planck quoted in the Observer, 25 January 1931). The usual ploy among skeptics is to dismiss anyone who talks this way as a bad thinker or else a once-notable scientist who has lost it. But in truth the shoddiest thinking is among physicalists themselves, because their thinking is rooted in the classical concepts that have been found to be grossly incompatible with twentieth century empirical findings.

     

    Equally strong are statements from the eminent British astronomer and physicist Sir Arthur Eddington: “The universe is of the nature of a thought or sensation in a universal Mind.” “To put the conclusion crudely – the stuff of the world is mind-stuff”. “It is difficult for the matter-of-fact physicist to accept the view that the substratum of everything is of mental character. But no one can deny that mind is the first and most direct thing in our experience, and all else is remote inference – inference either intuitive or deliberate.” (Eddington, 1928, The Nature of the Physical World, Chapter 13)

     

    In 1961 Erwin Schrödinger wrote in the same vein and at length.

    “… it comes naturally to the simple man of today to think of a dualistic relationship between mind and matter as an extremely obvious idea. … But a more careful consideration should make us less ready to admit this interaction of events in two spheres—-if they really are different spheres; for the … causal determination of matter by mind …would necessarily have to disrupt the autonomy of material events, while the …causal influence on mind or bodies or their equivalent, for example light…is absolutely unintelligible to us; in short, we simply cannot see how material events can be transformed into sensation or thought, however many text-books… go on talking nonsense on the subject.

    “These shortcomings can hardly be avoided except by abandoning dualism. This has been proposed often enough, and it is odd that it has usually been done on a materialistic basis.   ….But it strikes me that …surrender of the notion of the real external world, alien as it seems to everyday thinking, is absolutely essential.

    “…If we decide to have only one world, it has got to be the psychic one, since that exists anyway (cogitate—-est). And to suppose that there is interaction between the two spheres involves something of a magical ghostly sort; or rather the supposition itself makes them into a single thing.” (Schrödinger, My View of the World, pp. 61 -63)

     

    Einstein arrives at essentially the same conclusion about the mental character of the reality implicit in standard quantum theory. This is something he complains about, however, as when he says that “What I dislike about this kind of argumentation is the basic positivistic attitude, which from my point of view is untenable, and which seems to me to come to the same thing as Berkeley’s esse est percipi.” [To be is to be perceived.] (Einstein: Philosopher-Physicist, Schilpp, p. 669)

     

    But despite his opposition to such a view, it is undeniable that our observations are the basis of science. Einstein was never able to incorporate quantum phenomena into his classical physics-type view of Nature. When the absolutely unavoidable facts of non-locality (i.e., faster-than-light effects) are included in what must be explained, the physicalist ontology advocated by Einstein (the view that the universe of physical objects exists in and of itself) collapses. One is invited to consider instead the alternative proposed by von Neumann’s rationally coherent orthodox quantum mechanical conception.  As we’ve seen, this conception both physical and psychological, but the universe presents an overarching reality that is fundamentally mental in character.

     

    Photo credit: www.veooz.com

    Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 80 books with twenty-two New York Times bestsellers including” Super Brain,” co-authored with Rudi Tanzi, PhD. He serves as the founder of The Chopra Foundation and co-founder of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing. Join him at The Chopra Foundation Sages and Scientists Symposium 2014. www.choprafoundation.org

    Henry Stapp is a theoretical physicist at the University of California’s Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, specializing in the conceptual and mathematical foundations of quantum theory, and in particular in the quantum aspects of the relationship between our streams of conscious experience and the physical processes occurring in our brains.   Stapp worked closely with Werner Heisenberg, Wolfgang Pauli, and John Wheeler, and is author of two books on the quantum mechanical foundation of the connection between mind and matter: “Mind, Matter, and Quantum Mechanics;” and “Mindful Universe: Quantum Mechanics and the Participating Observer.” These works lay the foundation for a science-based approach to the question of human free will. His new book “On the Nature of Things: Human presence in the world of atoms” will be available soon. He thanks his son, Henry Pierce Stapp IV, for help in the presentation of ideas appearing in this series of articles.

     

     

     

     

  • Is a Mind-Element Needed to Interpret Quantum Mechanics? Do physically undetermined choices enter into the evolution of the physical universe? Part 2

    Posted on: July 28, 2014 | Comments: 0

    By Deepak Chopra, MD and Henry Stapp, PhD

    dropThe time is ripe for a theory of cosmic mind to be seen by all scientists, not as a speculative notion that conflicts with basic scientific principles, but as a necessary part of a rational science- based understanding of ourselves and nature. The earlier idea, cemented into science by the work of Isaac Newton, was that mind belongs to subjective reality “in here” while physics deals with objective physical reality “out there” and that latter by itself was the proper subject of physical science. The undoing of this separation is one of the fascinating sagas of modern quantum theory. Yet even if you are an outsider to the intricate mathematics of quantum mechanics, you can sympathize with the frustration of scientists who use their minds every day without really knowing what the mind is or where it came from.

    Some physicists attempted to bypass the thorny issue of mind by dividing Nature into two physical realms, the microscopic (the small scale where quantum mechanics has been triumphant) and the macroscopic (the large scale where everyday objects obey the laws of classical physics). The microscopic description is designed to include all of the micro-physical elements from which all physical things are made. To assert that this description fails for large things and is replaced by another needs careful explaining. The standard answer, in brief, is that the macro-description is not a description of physical reality itself, but is rather a description of our perceptions of that reality, and that the laws of nature entail that the act of perceiving it not only informs us, but also alters the world itself in a way that brings it into concordance with our collective experience. These alterations are the famous quantum “collapses”.

    But these reactions of the world of physically described micro-elements to our acts of perceiving mean that the micro-physical (quantum) part of nature is more mind-like in its behavior than matter-like. When new information is acquired, or appears in an observer’s stream of consciousness, the world of micro elements makes a sudden global jump to a new structure compatible with the new information. But that kind of jump is how “ideas” behave: they suddenly acquire a new form compatible with the new information. Thus the physically described micro-structure is fundamentally “idea-like” in character.

    This sudden jump is “global”: it extends in principle over all of physical space at an instant of time. The behavior of the micro world is therefore more “idea-like” than matter-like also in this global sense. In the standard interpretation of quantum mechanics this sudden change in the physical state is due to an action made by “nature”. It is as if the global micro-world is an idea in nature’s mind, and that nature, in response to the observer’s probing of the physical world, changes her mind.
    A second problem pertains to another “instantaneous” aspect of quantum mechanics. Within that theory one can consider a class of well defined and often actually performed experiments in which two experimenters working in far-apart labs can each arrange to have last minute choices made as to which of two alternative possible measurements will be made in their respective labs. It can rationally argued that these choices of what to measure can be considered “free”, in the sense of not depending upon the system being measured. The two experiments are performed at the same time in the two far-apart labs. Then it can then be proved that the truth of these empirically verified predictions of quantum mechanics cannot be reconciled with the demand that, for each of the two regions, the outcome there cannot depend on the free choice made at essentially the same instant in the faraway region about which experiment will be performed in that faraway region.

    This conclusion is incompatible with the idea that the physically described systems are essentially matter-like, with the velocity of transfer of information therefore limited to less than or equal to the speed of light. Once again the behavior of the quantum mechanical features of the physically described world is incompatible with the idea that that those physical features reside, in and are carried by, matter. These features behave is as if they were ideas in a globally cognizant mind that can instantly know, when choosing an empirical outcome in one region, which experiment is being performed at essentially the same instant in very far away region.

    There is, of course, strong resistance in science to jumping from these “as ifs” to the serious alternative of building a contemporary-science-based theory of nature on a conjunction personal minds carrying our conscious experiences and an objective mind carrying the quantum mechanically described properties, with the detailed properties of these minds specifically tailored to explain empirical data. Such a theory is, in fact, apart from choice of words, what quantum mechanics already is!

    Another problem with dividing Nature into microscopic quantum-physics parts and macroscopic classical-physics parts is that classical physics assumes the observer is passive. As you watch snow fall or a tree grow, your observation supposedly doesn’t influence those processes. Yet this seemingly simple assumption has a hidden dimension. How do you know that snow is falling or a tree is growing? Through your mind, which delivers the only version of reality that human beings can possibly know and experience. Trees and snow, along with everything else in the perceived macroscopic world, exist as experiences created mentally, although we don’t know how. We know only that the idea that our perceptions match an unperceived reality is unprovable. So unless physics includes a theory of mind it can’t declare some reality “out there” is somehow connected to our experience “in here.”

    The dual aspect of quantum behavior, both physical and psychological, is included in the orthodox interpretation of quantum mechanics devised by the brilliant Hungarian-American theorist John von Neumann. The fact that the known physical laws for the physical state of the particles can’t explain how they behave is critical here. Something beyond the physical state is involved.

    Von Neumann’s quantum mechanics is explicitly dualistic. But the trouble with a conception of nature composed of two fundamentally different parts is the resulting impossibility of understanding the connection between the parts. The fact that in orthodox quantum mechanics the physical part turns out to be basically idea-like converts the nominal dualism into an idealistic monism. This conclusion, which has been reached by many if not most of the greatest philosophers of the past, but which had been hard to reconcile with science, now appears to be entailed by the orthodox principles of quantum physics.

    (To be cont.)

    Photo credit: www.veooz.com

    Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 80 books with twenty-two New York Times bestsellers including” Super Brain,” co-authored with Rudi Tanzi, PhD. He serves as the founder of The Chopra Foundation and co-founder of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing. Join him at The Chopra Foundation Sages and Scientists Symposium 2014. www.choprafoundation.org

    Henry Stapp is a theoretical physicist at the University of California’s Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, specializing in the conceptual and mathematical foundations of quantum theory, and in particular in the quantum aspects of the relationship between our streams of conscious experience and the physical processes occurring in our brains. Stapp worked closely with Werner Heisenberg, Wolfgang Pauli, and John Wheeler, and is author of two books on the quantum mechanical foundation of the connection between mind and matter: “Mind, Matter, and Quantum Mechanics;” and “Mindful Universe: Quantum Mechanics and the Participating Observer.” These works lay the foundation for a science-based approach to the question of human free will.

  • Is a Mind-Element Needed to Interpret Quantum Mechanics? Do Physically Undetermined Choices Enter into the Evolution of the Physical Universe?

    Posted on: July 15, 2014 | Comments: 0

    By Deepak Chopra, MD and Henry Stapp, PhD  

    Pick at random any TV show about the universe, and the visuals will be dominated by a black void sprinkled with billions of galaxies. Such images give the impression of a vast emptiness foreign to human existence. Our bodies would perish within minutes of stepping into outer space; our minds struggle to grasp cosmic riddles that extend beyond the limits of time and space. But visual images are misleading, because they miss the most crucial element in the universe, an element that suddenly and unexpectedly humanizes it.

    This crucial element is mind.

    Over a century ago, the quantum revolution opened the way for cosmic mind. The founders of quantum mechanics needed to account for huge differences between their mathematical model of the universe, which is composed of fields of potentialities, and the universe as we perceive it, which is composed of solid objects and events that actually happen. To achieve a reconciliation the founders assumed that reality was composed of two parts, mind and matter, which interacted with each other according to some new laws that they specified. This departure from the prior (classical-physicalist) assumption that mind was a mere side-effect of brain activity was such a startling proposal that it basically split physics in two, with one camp (the physicalists) insisting that matter alone, plus an element of quantum chance, determines every physical property of the universe, and the other camp embracing mind as the key to certain otherwise unexplained mysteries. For several decades now the first, physicalist approach has been ascendant in the minds of many working physicists. But the advance of neuroscience, coupled with the difficulty of accounting in purely mechanical terms for complex behaviors of living organisms, has ignited renewed interest in the possibility that our minds may not be the useless and causally ineffectual appendages that the classical-physicalist dogma has proclaimed them to be.

    In what way does the universe display mind-like behavior? Once you admit that this is a legitimate question, the answers are many. Too many, one might say, because there is no consensus about what mind is, and so speculation can run wild. Some thinkers point to the incredible fine-tuning of the various constants that must mesh in order for spacetime, matter, and energy to exist: how did this fine-tuning come about? Other thinkers point to the inability of randomness to account for the emergence of DNA and life on Earth. Still others cut the Gordian knot and declare that the human mind is enough to support the existence of cosmic mind–every person is the cosmic mind writ small (or it could be the other way around: universal mind is the human mind writ large).

  • Getting Zombies Excited (It Takes a Million-Dollar Challenge)

    Posted on: July 9, 2014 | Comments: 0

    By Deepak Chopra, MD

    390 - Zombie Front   In science, problems get solved faster when the pot begins to boil. Dormant questions need motivation, which is why I posed a million-dollar challenge to anyone in the materialist camp who could demonstrate how matter turns into mind. (Please see the two preceding posts, which set up this provocative issue.) In the wake of the challenge, a stir was indeed created. The general public isn’t aware that 99% of neuroscientists, biologists, and physicists interested in the mind-brain problem assume without question that the brain creates the mind. This is one of those assumptions that, once exploded, seems ridiculous in hindsight. It’s not exploded yet, but we’re getting closer. Consider what it means to say that your brain creates your mind. Somewhere in the fabric of time, floating molecules of hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon, the basic elements in organic chemistry, organized a complex clump of molecules that learned to think, to take in the three-dimensional world, and finally to become aware of what they were doing. This seems like a totally untenable position to me, and to a growing body of scientists who are adopting a far different view, that mind came first, bringing with it the organizing power to evolve the structure of the human brain.

Committed to Creating a Peaceful, Just Sustainable, Happier and Healthy World.

STAY CONNECTED! News, Video, Updates and More.

* = required field

MISSION

The Chopra Foundation's Mission is to participate with individuals and organizations in creating a critical mass for a peaceful, just, sustainable, happier and healthy world through scientifically and experientially exploring non-dual consciousness as the ground of existence and applying this understanding in the enhancement of health, business, leadership and conflict resolution.

The Chopra Foundation is a 501 (c) (3) organization.