This is the latest in a series about the relationship between the quantum physics revolution and a spiritual worldview. For a general overview, see the Blog Index page.
In the preceding article I discussed the ideas of David Bohm, who is the most spiritual of quantum physicists in my estimation. He provided a relevant cosmology, equivalent to that of the Perennial Philosophy. Now I’ll turn to the vision of Danah Zohar who, in The Quantum Self1, offers her ideas on what quantum physics means for society, and how we should live our lives. So here it starts to get really interesting and, for length considerations, I’ll devote more than one article to her.
In her foreword she relates how she discovered quantum theory at the age of sixteen, and how this “seemed to hold out to me a kind of poetic vision” in answer to life’s big questions. The ideas “all worked like a kind of potion to excite my imagination, and gave me an admittedly somewhat mystical sense that the universe was ‘alive’… I had found the rudiments of a faith that ‘it all meant something’ ”.
As she says, the complex mathematical equations and “apparently unfathomable experimental results” seem to have no relationship to our everyday world, our perceptions and emotions, “never mind to the personal and social problems that occupy so much of our lives”. If that is what we think, then Zohar sets out to persuade us otherwise, offering “well-grounded speculation about the actual physics of human psychology and its moral and spiritual implications”, how to see ourselves as “quantum persons”.
In her first chapter, she says that her book is not intended to be yet another account of quantum physics, rather “a book about how the insights of modern physics can illuminate our understanding of everyday life, can help us better to understand our relationship to ourselves, to others and to the world at large”. Her central theme is about getting beyond “the sense of alienation which follows from a feeling that we conscious human beings are somehow strangers in the universe, merely an accidental by-product of blind evolutionary forces with no particular role to play in the scheme of things and no meaningful relationship to the inexorable forces that drive on the larger world of brute, insensate matter”. She will be “proposing a new, quantum mechanical theory of consciousness, which promises to bring us back into partnership with the universe”, classical physics having “transmuted the living cosmos of Greek and Medieval times, a cosmos filled with purpose and intelligence… into a dead, clockwork machine”. This sounds like music to my ears!
Zohar says that “throughout history we have drawn our conception of ourselves and our place in the universe from the current physical theory of the day”. Classical physics is part of the movement we now call the Enlightenment, and the bleak vision it has provided has variously spawned Marxism, Darwinism, Freudianism, Existentialism, and Modernism in general. The “cost in terms of both personal and cultural uprootedness has been high”. She asks: “If consciousness has no part to play in the universe, as Newtonian physics implies, what relationship can we have to Nature and to matter? We are aliens in an alien world, set apart from, and in opposition to, our material environment. Thus we set out to conquer Nature, to overwhelm her and use her for our own ends, never minding the consequences”.
Einstein’s theory of relativity is the beginning of post-Newtonian physics, but “is not likely to lead to a new world-view… It plays itself out on a cosmological scale and has virtually no application in our everyday, earth-bound world”. Quantum physics, however, is different; it “describes the inner workings of everything we see and, at least physically, are”. She says that in her book she will be “drawing on a great many ways in which quantum theory can provide us with a radically new understanding of various aspects of our experience”, and her overall theme is that “a whole new metaphor for the age, or a new world-view, follows naturally from what quantum physics is telling us about the physical and the human world… Through a new physics of consciousness, it can be applied to the philosophy of the person and the psychology of human relationships”.
In the following articles we’ll see what she has to say.
1. Flamingo, 1991