September 3, 2004
Our book group is now reading The Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics, by Gary Zukav. An extremely interesting book, especially if you have a philosophical bent, as I do. Modern physics is getting closer and closer to philosophy/psychology. I find myself taking page after page of notes, trying to capture all that the book has to offer. Many passages are relevant to discussions of the occult, and to Jung’s idea of synchronicity. Many passages remind one of Kant’s argument that we can’t know the thing-in-itself, we can only know appearances. And many passages remind one of Berkeley’s argument that the world is our perception of the world, the world has no existence apart from a perceiver. After we finish The Dancing Wu Li Masters, we’re going to read Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury.
A few months ago, before I read about modern physics, I wrote, “Mind and matter overlap; there is no ‘pure spirit’, divorced from matter, and there is no ‘dead matter’, lacking all spirit and energy. The whole universe is suffused with energy, with a kind of consciousness.”1 I wrote this without knowing anything about modern science, I wrote this based on my study of psychology and philosophy, based on my study of Jung and of occult phenomena.
Now I find that what I wrote agrees with modern physics. Einstein’s famous equation, e=mc2, says that there is enormous energy in all matter. (How pleased Einstein would be if he knew that his conclusion agreed with mine! “At last I can rest assured that my theory is true!”) Zukav:
But Einstein’s theory isn’t the only way in which modern science confirms what I wrote several months ago; quantum mechanics also confirms what I wrote.
Stapp’s question, “How does information get around so quick?”, is also a key question in occult studies. If I’m killed in a car accident in New York, and my mother, who is in California, senses that something is wrong with me, the question arises, “How does information get around so quick?” One wonders if physicists like Stapp realized that students of the occult were asking the same questions they were asking. Physics is merging with psychology/philosophy, just as Western thought is merging with Eastern thought. Are we on the brink of a grand synthesis — a philosophy that will unite the sciences and the humanities, West and East?
How does information get around so quick — in the world of subatomic particles, and in the human world? It seems that particles and people can exert some sort of influence from a distance (action-at-a-distance). Newton was a rational thinker who sought clear causes and effects, hence he angrily rejected the possibility of action-at-a-distance:
How does information get around so quick? How can particles “know” what other particles are doing? In a footnote, we read “An explanation other than ‘knowing’ might be synchronicity, Jung’s acausal connecting principle.”5 Physicists are unable to explain quantum phenomena in physical terms, Newtonian terms, so they’re reaching out to psychology, to the occult, for explanations. They’re reaching out to an “acausal” principle (synchronicity). They’re moving away from the bedrock of scientific-rational thinking: causality. (Wouldn’t Newton be horrified?) Niels Bohr said that quantum mechanics entails, “the necessity of a final renunciation of the classical ideal of causality and a radical revision of our attitude toward the problem of physical reality.”6 Newton’s world is crumbling!
Zukav has a keen interest in Bell’s Theorem. Bell’s Theorem is a mathematical proof, first published in 1964; it demonstrates that action-at-a-distance is possible, and that “our commonsense ideas about the world are profoundly deficient.”7 Bell’s Theorem is based on the following experiment: two paired particles, with opposite spin, are sent in opposite directions. The spin of one of the particles is changed. The other particle’s spin also changes, at the same instant, without any apparent cause. “Somehow the particle traveling in area B ‘knows’ that its twin in area A is spinning right instead of up and so it spins left instead of down. In other words, what we did in area A... affected what happened in area B. This strange phenomenon is known as the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen (EPR) effect.... Physicists realized that this peculiar situation raises a critical question: ‘How can two of anything communicate so quickly?’”8
Bell’s Theorem develops the EPR effect into a mathematical proof, applicable to the macroscopic world as well as the microscopic world. Zukav agrees with Stapp that “Bell’s Theorem is the most profound discovery of science.”9 Bell’s Theorem was confirmed and refined by the Clauser-Freedman experiment (1972) and by the Aspect experiment (1982).10 Bell’s Theorem suggests communication between particles that is “superluminal” — that is, faster than the speed of light. Bell’s Theorem suggests that the principle of local causes (also known as “locality”) is false, and action-at-a-distance is possible. Bell’s Theorem is not only difficult for Newton to swallow, it’s also difficult for modern physicists to swallow; doubtless Einstein would be uncomfortable with Bell’s Theorem, as he was with the EPR effect. But Bell’s Theorem wouldn’t be difficult for alchemists or Hermetists to swallow, and Jungians would say, “nothing new, just another example of synchronicity.”
Can any particles communicate at a distance, or only particles that were once intimately connected? A similar question arises in the study of the occult: can any two people communicate telepathically, or only people who were once intimately connected, such as a mother and her child? Zukav speculates that “when ‘separate parts’ interact with each other, they (their wave functions) become correlated (through the exchange of conventional signals).... Unless this correlation is disrupted by other external forces, the wave functions representing these ‘separate parts’ remain correlated forever.”11 Could this reasoning provide a basis for astrology? Could a particular planet become “correlated” to a person at the time of his birth, as a result of its position, its proximity to the earth? Could there be correlations between many seemingly-separate things? “If the Big Bang theory is correct, the entire universe is initially correlated.”12 Is anything really separate, or is everything part of one inter-connected world?
When Zukav says, “all of the things in our universe (including us) that appear to exist independently are actually parts of one all-encompassing organic pattern,” we’re reminded of Neoplatonism, and other pre-modern philosophies. According to Neoplatonism, “Every human being, beast, plant or mineral is influenced... by one or more of the celestial bodies. It is the influence of Mars which distinguishes a wolf from a lion (the latter being a solar animal).”13 Of course, Newton would have laughed at the notion that a planet could influence an animal. “Action-at-a-distance! Preposterous!”
The idea of an inter-connected universe is part of the alchemical tradition, the Hermetic tradition. When I discussed the Hermetic Tradition in Phlit, about ten months ago, I insisted that the idea of an inter-connected universe had a bright future, that it agreed with Jung’s worldview and with the Oriental worldview, and I concluded, “Thrice-great Hermes is not dead yet.” Now I realize that modern physics supports this ancient idea: “all of the things in our universe (including us) that appear to exist independently are actually parts of one all-encompassing organic pattern.”
When physicists first became familiar with the baffling and irrational world of quantum mechanics, they fell into a deep funk. These men were scientists, rational thinkers; Hermes Trismegistus was no friend of theirs, and neither was Carl Jung. Heisenberg said,
In an earlier issue of Phlit, I said that I had been accused of contradicting myself. I admitted that my book “wasn’t entirely consistent. But I felt that the book was true — true to myself, true to our time — and I felt that readers shouldn’t demand consistency from a philosopher.” I said that modern philosophy was torn between respect for the East (“accept yourself, accept the world”), and respect for the West (“strive to improve yourself, strive to improve the world”). I mentioned how other historical epochs had divided loyalties, and contradictory values; the Baroque, for example, was torn between respect for antiquity and respect for Christianity. I argued that contradiction is embedded in philosophy, and in the humanities as a whole.
Now I find that contradiction is also embedded in modern physics; physicists have been forced to accept contradiction, and regard it as all-but-inevitable. “Quantum theory boldly states,” Zukav writes, “that something can be this and that (a wave and a particle).”16 Zukav discusses Quantum Field Theory, and says that it’s a major branch of modern physics. But it’s also a contradiction-in-terms, since “quantum” means “a small piece of something” while “field” means “a whole area of something.”17 Quantum Field Theory, says Zukav, is “a successful physical theory” but also “a paradox.”
Zukav praises Einstein for his ability to accept contradiction — his ability to accept reality as he sees it, to trust what he sees and what he thinks, even if that entails contradiction. “In 1905, the accepted and proven theory of light was that light was a wave phenomenon. In spite of this, Einstein published his famous paper proposing that light was a particle phenomenon.”18 And he didn’t try to overthrow the idea that light was a wave phenomenon. As Heisenberg wrote, “[Einstein] was not able to dispute the complete contradiction between this wave picture and the idea of the light quanta; nor did he even attempt to remove the inconsistency of this interpretation. He simply took the contradiction as something which would probably be understood much later.”19 As Whitman said, “Do I contradict myself? Very well then... I contradict myself. I am large... I contain multitudes.”
Zukav says that a scientist should accept reality as he sees it, even if that lands him in contradiction and nonsense; he says that a scientist must have “a beginner’s mind.... a childlike ability to see the world as it is, and not as it appears according to what we know about it.” Zukav mentions Andersen’s story, “The Emperor’s New Clothes”: “When the emperor rode naked through the streets, only a child proclaimed him to be without clothes, while the rest of his subjects forced themselves to believe, because they had been told so, that he wore his finest new clothing.”20
One is reminded of the English painter Turner. When Turner’s painting of a ship was criticized for having no portholes, Turner said, “I paint what I see, not what I know.” Impressionism is about trusting what you see, even if it contradicts what you know. Turner knew that ships have portholes, but he didn’t see them, and he wanted to paint what he saw — this is the Impressionist creed. We know that ocean and atmosphere are different, but when we look out to sea, they sometimes appear indistinguishable, hence Impressionist painters sometimes depict them as indistinguishable.
People are often blind to occult phenomena because they clash with our worldview, because we regard them as impossible. “A good way to make a stranger turn and look at you is to stare intently at his back. All of us know this, but we often discredit what we know when it contradicts what we have been taught is possible.”21 We have been taught that the dead can’t communicate with the living, hence if a psychic like John Edward communicates with the dead on TV, we insist that he must be tricking people, he must be a fraud. A student of the occult should regard everything as possible. Zukav quotes Suzuki (a Zen writer): “in the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”22
Does modern physics allow us to explain occult phenomena in physical terms? Louis de Broglie argued that “matter has waves which ‘correspond’ to it.... Subsequent experiments were to reveal that not only subatomic particles, but atoms and molecules as well have associated matter waves.... Theoretically, in fact, everything has a wavelength — baseballs, automobiles, and even people.”23 Could this explain why information “gets around so quick”? Could this explain why, if I have a car accident in New York, my mother immediately senses it in California? Does each of us emit waves? Is each of us a kind of TV station, broadcasting the latest news, through invisible waves, to people who tune in to our station?
Classical physics, Newton’s physics, saw the world existing “out there”, independently of us. But modern physics says there’s no ultimate substance, and nothing exists without us perceiving it. Our position has changed from spectator of the world to creator of the world. (Like other new ideas in physics, this is an old idea in philosophy. Has modern physics given us any new ideas? Hasn’t it just confirmed the ideas we had already?)
Depending on which experiment we choose to perform, we can demonstrate light’s particle nature, or its wave nature. In other words, the nature of light depends on our choice of experiment. Or rather, we can’t know the nature of light in itself (as Kant would say, “we can’t know the thing-in-itself”), we only know about our interaction with light.
A quantum is a quantity of something. A quantity of what? We don’t know. Quantum mechanics is a science that ‘doesn’t know what it’s talking about.’ (Is this true of every science?) But as long as quantum mechanics helps physicists to make sense of appearances, they regard it as useful. If we try to determine the ultimate stuff of the universe, we never succeed:
Mass changes into energy, and energy into mass — they’re interchangeable. “According to particle physics, the world is fundamentally dancing energy; energy that is everywhere and incessantly assuming first this form and then that.”27 This sounds much like Eastern philosophy; the physical world is only clothing that god (or energy) puts on — ever-changing, ever-new. There is no ultimate substance, and nothing that exists independently. The physical world is “not a structure built out of independently existing unanalyzable entities, but rather a web of relationships between elements whose meanings arise wholly from their relationships to the whole.”28
In an earlier issue of Phlit, I discussed the idea that the mind, the ego, the “I”, has no permanent, independent existence, it’s part of the whole. A tree isn’t an independent thing, you and I aren’t independent things, everything is part of the whole:
Modern physics has changed our view of time, and here again, there is a striking parallel between physics and philosophy. Einstein’s theory of relativity views time differently than Newton viewed it, and quantum mechanics also views time in an un-Newtonian way. Let’s look first at Einstein’s view of time, and how it differs from Newton’s:
Quantum mechanics views time much as Einstein viewed it; at the subatomic level, “the forward flow of time loses its significance.”30
Jung also viewed time in an un-Newtonian way. Jung felt that both the past and the future exist in the present, in the unconscious. Jung felt that, in the unconscious, time doesn’t flow in a Newtonian way, it doesn’t flow from A to B to C.31 The unconscious sometimes anticipates a future event, though there’s no reason, no cause, to expect that event. A few weeks ago, I was cycling behind my daughter, and the thought that she was going to fall flashed through my mind. A few seconds later, she was on the pavement, crying.
Shakespeare also viewed time in an un-Newtonian way. In Macbeth, for example, the plot doesn’t unfold from A to B to C; rather, the atmosphere of evil is present at the start, pervading both the natural world and the human world. The witches anticipate the future. As in the theory of relativity, “events do not develop, they just are.”32 Many Shakespeare critics have been baffled by this lack of sequence. One critic who understood “Shakespeare Time” was G. Wilson Knight: “A Shakespearean tragedy,” Knight wrote, “is set spatially as well as temporally in the mind. By this I mean that there are throughout the play a set of correspondences which relate to each other independently of the time-sequence which is the story: such [are] the death-theme in Hamlet, the nightmare evil of Macbeth. This I have sometimes called the play’s ‘atmosphere’.”33 Shakespeare Time is different from Newton Time, and similar to Jung Time, Einstein Time, and Quantum Time.
Just as Kant, Jung and other philosophical thinkers have long argued that space and time aren’t absolute, so too modern physics argues that space and time aren’t absolute. Particles that are spatially separate have been seen to communicate with each other (Bell’s Theorem), just as the future has been found embedded in the present. As Stapp wrote, “Everything we know about Nature is in accord with the idea that the fundamental process of Nature lies outside space-time.”34
Whenever I read about a theory, such as one of the theories in modern physics, I compare it with my own theory — my theory of decadence and renaissance. My theory traces the rise and decline of civilizations to fluctuations in life- and death-instincts. Zukav summarizes modern physics with the phrase “patterns of organic energy.” Likewise, my theory of history could be described as “patterns of organic energy.”
Modern physics sees the world in terms of relationships, not independent entities. Likewise, my theory of history sees Michelangelo, Shakespeare, etc. not as independent, but as part of their society, part of the renaissance spirit of their era. Modern physics stretches the term “organic” to include matter that was once regarded as inanimate, dead. Likewise, my theory stretches the term “organic” to include societies, even though, according to a narrow biological definition, a society isn’t an organism.35
Unlike Newton’s physics, quantum mechanics doesn’t try to predict exactly what a particle is going to do; instead, quantum mechanics talks about probabilities and potentials. Likewise, my theory says there’s a probability of decadence or renaissance at a certain time, but doesn’t try to predict what form this will take. My theory is about potential; as Heisenberg said, potential is more than possibility, but less than reality.36
Quantum mechanics is about quanta — that is, quantities of something. But physicists can’t answer the question, “quantity of what?” Likewise, my theory is about life- and death-instincts (the fluctuations of shared life- and death-instincts), but I can’t answer the question, What exactly is a life-instinct (or death-instinct)? Is it something physical and material, or something spiritual and immaterial? Or is it psychoid (to use Jung’s term), partaking of both the physical and the spiritual?
According to my theory of history, there is a kind of symmetry between the life-instinct and the death-instinct; when one is strong, the other is weak. Hegel’s dialectic applies to the life- and death-instincts; an extreme of the death-instinct turns into its opposite, the life-instinct. In modern physics, the closest parallel to these ideas are the conservation laws and the laws of symmetry. An example of a conservation law is the conservation law of mass-energy, which says that “the total amount of mass-energy in the universe always has been and always will be the same.”37 Zukav says that the conservation laws (of which there are about twelve) are derived from the laws of symmetry, which he calls “the ultimate principles... governing the physical world.”38 Just as I compared the life- and death-instincts to the Chinese concept of yin-yang, so Zukav says, “the concept of yin-yang, which is really a very old law of symmetry, is yet another way of saying that the physical universe is a whole which seeks balance within itself.”39
|1.|| Conversations With Great Thinkers, ch. 1, #20; see also ch. 5, #15. back|
|2.|| The Dancing Wu Li Masters, “Special Nonsense,” paperback edition, p. 174 back|
|3.|| ibid, “Living?”, p. 51, 52, 69 back|
|4.|| ibid, “Einstein Doesn’t Like It”, p. 25 back|
|5.|| ibid, “Living?”, p. 69 back|
|6.|| ibid, “The Role of ‘I’”, p. 126 back|
|7.|| ibid, “The End of Science”, p. 323 back|
|8.|| ibid, 317, 318 back|
|9.|| ibid, p. 326 back|
|10.|| I discussed the Aspect experiment in an earlier issue of Phlit. back|
|11.|| ibid, “The End of Science”, p. 329 back|
|12.|| ibid, p. 329, footnote back|
|13.|| see Panofsky, Studies in Iconology: Humanistic Themes in the Art of the Renaissance, ch. 5, Harper Torchbooks, p. 133 back|
|14.|| Zukav, “The Role of ‘I’”, p. 109 back|
|15.|| I haven’t been able to trace this quote. Help! back|
|16.|| Zukav, “The Particle Zoo”, p. 223 back|
|17.|| Zukav, “The Particle Zoo”, p. 223 back|
|18.|| Zukav, “Beginner’s Mind”, p. 133 back|
|19.|| ibid, p. 134 back|
|20.|| ibid, p. 132 back|
|21.|| ibid, “The Role of ‘I’”, p. 125 back|
|22.|| ibid, “Beginner’s Mind”, p. 132. I’ve changed the quotation from “any possibilities” to “many possibilities” since I suspect that “any possibilities” is a mistake. back|
|23.|| ibid, “The Role of ‘I’”, p. 107, 109 back|
|24.|| ibid, p. 105 back|
|25.|| ibid, “The Particle Zoo”, p. 215 back|
|26.|| “The present state of high-energy theory is similar to Ptolemaic astronomy before its collapse under the pressure of the new Copernican world view. The discovery of new particles and new quantum numbers... is analogous to the addition of epicycles piled on an already unwieldy theoretical structure.”(ibid, p. 217, footnote) back|
|27.|| ibid, p. 216 back|
|28.|| ibid, “What Happens”, p. 80. This view has a parallel in literary criticism — specifically, in Wilson Knight’s interpretation of Shakespeare. “Einstein’s relativity theory,” Knight wrote, “served to shift emphasis from individual entities to their observable ‘relationships’; just as, in my early essays on Hamlet, I tried... to see that hero not merely as an isolated ‘character’ rigidly conceived, but in direct and living relation to his own dramatic environment.... The belief in rigid particles with predictable motions has been replaced by concepts of form, pattern and symmetry.... For ‘particles’ put ‘characters’ and we have a clear Shakespearean analogy.”(The Wheel of Fire, Preface, pp. viii, ix, x) back|
|29.|| ibid, “Special Nonsense”, p. 168. The physicist de Broglie put it thus: “in space-time, everything which for each of us constitutes the past, the present, and the future is given in block.... Each observer, as his time passes, discovers, so to speak, new slices of space-time which appear to him as successive aspects of the material world, though in reality the ensemble of events constituting space-time exist prior to his knowledge of them.”(“The Dance”, p. 245) back|
|30.|| ibid, “The Dance”, p. 247 back|
|31.|| “There are indications,” Jung said, “that at least a part of the psyche is not subject to the laws of space and time. Scientific proof of that has been provided by the well-known J. B. Rhine experiments.”(Memories, Dreams, Reflections, ch. 11) back|
|32.|| Zukav, “Special Nonsense”, p. 168 back|
|33.|| The Wheel of Fire, “On the Principles of Shakespeare Interpretation”, p. 3 back|
|34.|| Zukav, “The End of Science”, p. 328 back|
|35.|| This aspect of my theory is derived from Hegel. back|
|36.|| Heisenberg said that a probability wave “meant a tendency for something. It was a quantitative version of the old concept of ‘potentia’ in Aristotelian philosophy. It introduced something standing in the middle between the idea of an event and the actual event, a strange kind of physical reality just in the middle between possibility and reality.”(Zukav, “Living?”, p. 72) back|
|37.|| Zukav, “Special Nonsense”, p. 176 back|
|38.|| Zukav, “Special Nonsense”, p. 177 back|