A friend of mine have just made me aware of the physicist Amit Goswami:
Quantum physics, as well as a number of other modern sciences, he feels, is demonstrating that the essential unity underlying all of reality is a fact which can be experimentally verified. Because of the enormous implications he sees in this scientific confirmation of the spiritual, Goswami is ardently devoted to explaining his theory to as many people as possible in order to help bring about what he feels is a much needed paradigm shift. He feels that because science is now capable of validating mysticism, much that before required a leap of faith can now be empirically proven and, hence, the materialist paradigm which has dominated scientific and philosophical thought for over two hundred years can finally be called into question.
Consider instead the possibility that the entire story only existed as an abstract potential—a cosmic dream among countless other cosmic dreams—until, in that dream, life somehow evolved to the point that a conscious, sentient being came into existence. At that moment, solely because of the conscious observation of that individual, the entire universe, including all of the history leading up to that point, suddenly came into being. Until that moment, nothing had actually ever happened. In that moment, fifteen billion years happened. If this sounds like nothing more than a complicated backdrop for a science fiction story or a secular version of one of the world’s great creation myths, hold on to your hat. According to physicist Amit Goswami, the above description is a scientifically viable explanation of how the universe came into being.
Goswami is convinced, along with a number of others who subscribe to the same view, that the universe, in order to exist, requires a conscious sentient being to be aware of it. Without an observer, he claims, it only exists as a possibility. And as they say in the world of science, Goswami has done his math. Marshalling evidence from recent research in cognitive psychology, biology, parapsychology and quantum physics, and leaning heavily on the ancient mystical traditions of the world, Goswami is building a case for a new paradigm that he calls “monistic idealism,” the view that consciousness, not matter, is the foundation of everything that is.
He is not the only one, Martin Rees:
“In the beginning there were only probabilities. The universe could only come into existence if someone observed it. It does not matter that the observers turned up several billion years later. The universe exists because we are aware of it.”
From the interview (it’s simply filled with Goodies):
WIE: In your book The Self-Aware Universe you speak about the need for a paradigm shift. Could you talk a bit about how you conceive of that shift? From what to what?
Amit Goswami: The current worldview has it that everything is made of matter, and everything can be reduced to the elementary particles of matter, the basic constituents—building blocks—of matter. And cause arises from the interactions of these basic building blocks or elementary particles; elementary particles make atoms, atoms make molecules, molecules make cells, and cells make brain. But all the way, the ultimate cause is always the interactions between the elementary particles. This is the belief—all cause moves from the elementary particles. This is what we call “upward causation.” So in this view, what human beings—you and I—think of as our free will does not really exist. It is only an epiphenomenon or secondary phenomenon, secondary to the causal power of matter. And any causal power that we seem to be able to exert on matter is just an illusion. This is the current paradigm.
Now, the opposite view is that everything starts with consciousness. That is, consciousness is the ground of all being. In this view, consciousness imposes “downward causation.” In other words, our free will is real. When we act in the world we really are acting with causal power. This view does not deny that matter also has causal potency—it does not deny that there is causal power from elementary particles upward, so there is upward causation—but in addition it insists that there is also downward causation. It shows up in our creativity and acts of free will, or when we make moral decisions. In those occasions we are actually witnessing downward causation by consciousness.
WIE: In your book you refer to this new paradigm as “monistic idealism.” And you also suggest that science seems to be verifying what a lot of mystics have said throughout history—that science’s current findings seem to be parallel to the essence of the perennial spiritual teaching.
AG: It is the spiritual teaching. It is not just parallel. The idea that consciousness is the ground of being is the basis of all spiritual traditions, as it is for the philosophy of monistic idealism—although I have given it a somewhat new name. The reason for my choice of the name is that, in the West, there is a philosophy called “idealism” which is opposed to the philosophy of “material realism,” which holds that only matter is real. Idealism says no, consciousness is the only real thing. But in the West that kind of idealism has usually meant something that is really dualism—that is, consciousness and matter are separate. So, by monistic idealism, I made it clear that, no, I don’t mean that dualistic kind of Western idealism, but really a monistic idealism, which has existed in the West, but only in the esoteric spiritual traditions. Whereas in the East this is the mainstream philosophy. In Buddhism, or in Hinduism where it is called Vedanta, or in Taoism, this is the philosophy of everyone. But in the West this is a very esoteric tradition, only known and adhered to by very astute philosophers, the people who have really delved deeply into the nature of reality.
AG: Yes, it is. Henry Stapp, who is a physicist at the University of California at Berkeley, says this quite explicitly in one of his papers written in 1977, that things outside of space and time affect things inside space and time. There’s just no question that that happens in the realm of quantum physics when you are dealing with quantum objects. Now of course, the crux of the matter is, the surprising thing is, that we are always dealing with quantum objects because it turns out that quantum physics is the physics of every object. Whether it’s submicroscopic or it’s macroscopic, quantum physics is the only physics we’ve got. So although it’s more apparent for photons, for electrons, for the submicroscopic objects, our belief is that all reality, all manifest reality, all matter, is governed by the same laws. And if that is so, then this experiment is telling us that we should change our worldview because we, too, are quantum objects.
AG: We all hope so. Now this is called the “quantum measurement paradox.” It is a paradox because who are we to do this conversion? Because after all, in the materialist paradigm we don’t have any causal efficacy. We are nothing but the brain, which is made up of atoms and elementary particles. So how can a brain which is made up of atoms and elementary particles convert a possibility wave that it itself is? It itself is made up of the possibility waves of atoms and elementary particles, so it cannot convert its own possibility wave into actuality. This is called a paradox. Now in the new view, consciousness is the ground of being. So who converts possibility into actuality? Consciousness does, because consciousness does not obey quantum physics. Consciousness is not made of material. Consciousness is transcendent. Do you see the paradigm-changing view right here—how consciousness can be said to create the material world? The material world of quantum physics is just possibility. It is consciousness, through the conversion of possibility into actuality, that creates what we see manifest. In other words, consciousness creates the manifest world.
AG: I mean that literally. This is what quantum physics demands. In fact, in quantum physics this is called “delayed choice.” And I have added to this concept the concept of “self-reference.” Actually the concept of delayed choice is very old. It is due to a very famous physicist named John Wheeler, but Wheeler did not see the entire thing correctly, in my opinion. He left out self-reference. The question always arises, “The universe is supposed to have existed for fifteen billion years, so if it takes consciousness to convert possibility into actuality, then how could the universe be around for so long?” Because there was no consciousness, no sentient being, biological being, carbon based being, in that primordial fireball which is supposed to have created the universe, the big bang. But this other way of looking at things says that the universe remained in possibility until there was self-referential quantum measurement—so that is the new concept. An observer’s looking is essential in order to manifest possibility into actuality, and so only when the observer looks, only then does the entire thing become manifest—including time. So all of past time, in that respect, becomes manifest right at that moment when the first sentient being looks.
It turns out that this idea, in a very clever, very subtle way, has been around in cosmology and astronomy under the guise of a principle called the “anthropic principle.” That is, the idea has been growing among astronomers—cosmologists anyway—that the universe has a purpose. It is so fine-tuned, there are so many coincidences, that it seems very likely that the universe is doing something purposive, as if the universe is growing in such a way that a sentient being will arise at some point.
Connie: We think science and spirituality are mutually exclusive but lately it seems that the two ideas are moving closer together.
Amit: The division happened because of a quirk of history: that classical physics was discovered before quantum physics. If quantum physics had been discovered first we would not have these separations between science and spirituality. Carl Popper coined the phrase “promissory materialism.” Materialism will always remain promissory in those areas of spirit, soul, mind, meaning and what life is all about. Science based on materiality will never make total sense. It fits some questions that have a reductive tendency. Some things we do are materially oriented. If you need a job you learn a skill. But on the other hand if you want to be happy, to think money or work will make us happy is foolhardy. One becomes happy by connecting with wholeness. This wisdom has escaped most scientists.
I am finding a shift among budding scientists who want to find real answers to questions like happiness, soul, reincarnation and the meaning of life. All those questions that science thought it could never answer. It’s clear that if we continue our present direction, the decline of the stock market and business ethics are just a few of the symptoms of the disease, which is leaving spirit, ethics and values out of the equation. If you understand reincarnational philosophy, you’ll know that we come back again and again if we are unethical. No one would ever dare to be unethical. You do come back and you have to answer for those propensities. So there’s no sense in building bad karma, bad propensities.
Amit Goswami: Amit Goswami is a theoretical nuclear physicist and member of The University of Oregon Institute for Theoretical Physics since 1968, teaching physics for 32 years. After a period of distress and frustration in his private and professional life starting at the age 38, his research interests shifted to quantum cosmology, quantum measurement theory, and applications of quantum mechanics to the mind-body problem. He became best known as one of the interviewed scientific experts featured in the 2004 film What the Bleep Do We Know!?. He is the author of six books including the successful textbook, “Quantum Mechanics.” Amit is a pioneer of science within consciousness “science based on the primacy of consciousness” which is developed in his books “The Self-Aware Universe: How Consciousness Creates the Material World” and “Science and Spirituality.” He has also authored “Quantum Creativity” and “A Quantum Physicist’s Guide to Enlightenment,” “The Visionary Window” and “Physics of the Soul,” and the upcoming “Integral Medicine.” Amit gives workshops in the United States, Brazil, Sweden, and India on the subjects of quantum creativity, quantum healing, physics of the soul, and science and spirituality.
Also read-worthy The Universe, Quantum Physics, and Consciousness by Subhash Kak, Ph.D.
I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.
As quoted in The Observer (25 January 1931)
As a man who has devoted his whole life to the most clear headed science, to the study of matter, I can tell you as a result of my research about atoms this much: There is no matter as such. All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter.
Das Wesen der Materie [The Nature of Matter], speech at Florence, Italy (1944) (from Archiv zur Geschichte der Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, Abt. Va, Rep. 11 Planck, Nr. 1797)