Abstract 300115-1

New age thinking (if one may call it such) has taken on board the idea that quantum physics has proven that classical Western dualistic thinking about the physical world is inadequate. It is a fact that a number of the founding fathers (sorry, as far as I know, no founding mothers (*)) of quantum physics — Erwin Schrödinger, Niels Bohr, Wolfgang Pauli — were fascinated by Eastern thinking and associated their insights into fundamental physics with what they saw as Eastern philosophical insights into the nature of the world in general.
         However, even the founding fathers were disturbed by the EPR paradox, and if they would have lived long enough, would have been even more disturbed by the Bell theorem (named after John Bell, 1964), which is generally supposed to prove the existence of spooky action at a distance (“quantum nonlocality”, “passion at a distance”). Moreover, the shocking predictions of this theorem are supposed now to have been experimentally confirmed, over and over again. Is this the end of reductionism? Everything is connected … subject and object cannot be distinguished.
         The entangling of subject and object is dramatically brought home by interpretations of quantum mechanics which connect the collapse of the wave-function to an interaction with a conscious observer (subject). The observer is now an essential part of the physics (the moon is *not* there when nobody looks). There are interpretations of quantum mechanics in which Schrödinger’s cat is both alive and dead. There are theories of mind which claim that consciousness itself can only be explained through quantum mechanics. The 100 year old problem of how to interpret quantum mechanics is further from resolution than ever.
         I would like to explain to you Bell’s theorem (don’t worry: without mathematical formulae, without physics even!) and discuss my own picture of a quantum-driven universe which I think does actually fit well to Buddha’s picture of mind, with one exception: it introduces irreducible randomness, which I suspect would have been as unpalatable to Buddha as it is to us today. I will argue that we cannot “understand” quantum physics because it contradicts what our embodied cognition allows us to understand. It violates our built-in “systems of core knowledge”, according to which irreducible randomness does not exist.
References Slides for my presentation (in preparation)  www.slideshare.net/gill1109/bell-43072906
(*) Erwin Schrödinger allegedly obtained his deepest insights in physics at the moment of sexual union with his mistress at the very same sanatorium in the Alps which was the inspiration for Thomas Mann’s “Zauberberg”.
Advertisements