Is Quantum Physics a Sort of Idealism?
Idealists in philosophy are people who believe that true being rests in an invisible realm of ideas and not in the visible world of things. In Western philosophy, such schools of thinking go back to Plato, who believed that all visible things are copies of ideas that exist somewhere in some invisible, transcendent part of the world. I am sure you will notice the similarity of Plato’s views with quantum theory and its thesis that all material structures are actualizations of invisible forms. So, because it seeks the essential reality in an invisible part of the world, without any doubt, quantum theory is a form of idealism!
Augustine of Hippo also believed in the existence of a realm of immutable forms. He thought that such forms are needed to maintain the uninterrupted and reliable essence of things. He also believed that these forms don’t exist somewhere on this globe or in the visible universe, but in the mind of God. If he were around today, he would probably think that, through the forms of the cosmic potentiality, divine thoughts are flowing into the human reality. So let’s face it: In the context of ancient spiritual teaching, the nonempirical reality is the liaison reality where the physical becomes spiritual, and the spiritual turns physical.
The concept of forms as principle of being wasn’t a European invention; it’s been used all over the world. For example, it is found in Buddhist philosophy. When Buddhists speak of Alayavijnana, they mean a storehouse in which the memories of all human beings—of their thoughts, feelings, wishes, and deeds—are stored as possibilities or seeds.
If everything that is empirical is an actualization of potentiality waves, then this principle must also apply to the appearance of consciousness in this world and to its contents. Thus, we can think that the cosmic potentiality is the source not only of the material things in this world but also of the principles of our mind. This is the basis of our ability to understand the external world.
One of the important abilities that our brain has acquired in the course of its evolution is its sensitivity to light waves. It has done that by developing eyes with which we can see. It is possible to think that the brain has also evolved some sensitivity to potentiality waves by evolving “eyes,” or neuronal structures, that can receive signals out of the cosmic field and, in turn, take forms of our consciousness back into the cosmic field. In the first half of the twentieth century, Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung developed a theory of the human mind that is based on precisely principles of this kind.
Jung described empirical evidence for the thesis that our mind can be affected by a field of invisible forms, which he called the archetypes. These forms can actualize spontaneously in our mind and influence “our imagination, perception, and thinking.” He called them typical modes of apprehension, or psychic organs present in all of us. He thought that they motivate and guide our mind and give meaning to life. He called the realm where these forms exist the collective unconscious: “A psychic system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals. . . . It consists of pre-existent forms, the archetypes, which can only become conscious secondarily.” Thus, the equivalent of the nonempirical realm of the physical reality is the unconscious in the reality of our mind, and the archetypes are a specific class of inner images of the kind that Gerald Hüther has described.
Like the inner images in molecules, Jung’s archetypes are nonempirical entities because they “have never been in consciousness” before. In addition, the collective unconscious is a realm of wholeness. As Jung describes it, beyond the narrow confines of our personal psyche the collective unconscious is “a boundless expanse full of unprecedented uncertainty, with apparently no inside and no outside, no above and no below, no here and no there, no mine and no thine, no good and no bad.” Jung was a scientist, but this is more than a scientific description of a “psychic organ.” This is the account of an idealist and mystic describing his contact with the divine, a realm of wholeness, “where I am indivisibly this and that; where I experience the other in myself and the other-than-myself experiences me.” All things are connected in this psychic realm, as they are connected in the physical realm of the cosmic potentiality: “There I am utterly one with the world, so much a part of it that I forget all too easily who I really am.”
Take a second and think about this: The visible world around us exists because an underlying field of invisible forms defines the potential of the world. And now we find that you and I, too, can exist only because an underlying field of invisible forms defines our potential. Identical in all human beings at all times and in all places, these forms, archetypes, or ideas are universal: Why should it be outrageous to take this as a sign that the forms of our thinking also belong to some cosmic field? Is it such a long shot to think that Jung’s realm of forms and the realm of forms of quantum physics are one and the same realm of the cosmic potentiality—a medium of spirit where our scientific, philosophical, and spiritual convictions are integrated in the nondual order of the One?
To many scientists such thoughts are upsetting. The view is widespread that science shouldn’t get involved with such issues. It should be useful and technical, not inspiring; logical, but mindless. However, we should have the courage for an enlightened and liberated science that does more than serve stockholder equity. We must make an effort to understand the nature of all levels of physical reality: the empirical and nonempirical, the material and spiritual.
In the first few years of this century, France was rocked by an aggressive controversy involving the question of the evolution of life. I am sure that you are aware of such public fights in the United States between a religious public and a school of atheist scientists who love to stir the pot. Interestingly, the same conflicts in France are typically between an atheistic public and scientists who see more in the physical world than its visible surface has to offer. In this situation a group of scientists decided to go public with a “European manifesto.” In 2006, it was published by Le Monde, one of the large French daily papers. “Religious or metaphysical ways of thinking,” the manifesto begins, “should not, a priori, interfere in the ordinary practice of science. However, we also consider that it is legitimate, indeed necessary, to reflect, a posteriori, on the philosophical, ethical and metaphysical implications of scientific discoveries and theories.”
In the eighteenth century the idealist philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel developed the theory that the “Absolute” or “the self-motivated Spirit” is the basis of reality and everything that exists is an actualization of spirit. Hegel’s philosophy is called absolute idealism. It got its name because spirit is the source of everything and creates everything; thinking and being, subject and object, the real and the ideal, the human and the divine—all are One. It opens up amazing perspectives: Your consciousness isn’t your own, but the consciousness of the cosmic spirit; your thinking isn’t your own, but the thinking of the cosmic spirit who is thinking in you; your potential isn’t your own, but the cosmic potential to which you are connected. “Man knows of god only,” Hegel writes in his Phenomenology of Spirit, “insofar as god knows of himself in man; this knowledge is god’s self-consciousness.”
At first sight it seems incredible that someone should come up with such ideas, but Hegel wasn’t the first to express them. Thousands of years before him, the Indian sages invented the tale of the pots filled with water and placed in the sun. When the sun is shining on a million pots of water, it is in each one of them. But there is only one sun! In the same way, consciousness is in all of us, but there is only one consciousness. As Hegel describes it, “The spirit of human beings, to know of god is only the spirit of god himself.” In addition, Hegel believed that God evolved with us in our history and in all cosmic processes of becoming. “The truth is the whole. The whole, however, is nothing but the essential being, which is perfecting itself in its evolution.” If God’s mind is in ours, it follows that his “words can be in our mouth,” as the Bible describes it in Jeremiah 1:9.
If reality is an “undivided wholeness,” as David Bohm, one of the pioneers of quantum physics, believed, everything that comes out of the wholeness belongs to it, including our consciousness. Basically, this is the argument that physicist Menas Kafatos and science historian Robert Nadeau used to support the view that the universe is conscious. From the perspective of contemporary psychology Brian Lancaster has summarized this view in the following way: “Consciousness amounts to a fundamental property, irreducible to other features of the universe such as energy or matter.”
When we were born into this world, we were ejected out of the wholeness, and the experience was traumatic. The world of an embryo in the mother’s womb is the archaic world of wholeness. There is no inside and no outside: The growing baby and its surroundings are one. In the moment of its birth, when it is ejected out of the wholeness, the first thing that the newborn baby does it is let out a horrified cry. The biblical story of the eviction from paradise is a symbolic account of this existentialist crisis. But, contrary to popular accounts, paradise isn’t a garden of sensual pleasures, but the invisible and mindlike realm of reality.
We have a need to be in touch with the wholeness, and there is a price to be paid when the need is neglected. “My experiences from psychosomatic therapy,” writes psychotherapist and successful author Hanne Seemann, “have taught me that human beings who reside exclusively in the material and rational domain, will sooner or later develop psychosomatic irregularities, because their soul cannot bear this.”
The longing for the wholeness is the source of our spiritual needs and the basis of all mystical experiences. Plotinus has given a touching account of such an experience: “Often when I wake up out of my body to myself and step out of the otherness into myself, I behold a most wonderful beauty. It is then that I believe in the strongest to belong to the greater destiny, and bring about with my force the perfect life, and have become One Thing with the Divine.”
If the universe is One, all is out of the One, the One is in all, and the cosmic spirit is in ours. This is the message of the quantum phenomena, and it is Hegel’s message: The cosmic spirit itself is thinking in us, becoming conscious of itself.
In the Gospel of Thomas we read in logion 117: “His disciples said to him: ‘On what day will the Kingdom come?’ And Jesus said: ‘It will not come when you are looking outward for it. They will not say; “Behold it is there!” or; “Behold, it is that one!” Rather, the Kingdom of the Father is spread out upon the earth and men do not see it.’”
So, where is the kingdom? It is the nonempirical realm of the cosmic potentiality, and it is in you.