In recent times, quantum theory is cited as proof of various pseudoscientific theories and religious concepts. Hence the term ‘quantum mysticism. Quantum mysticism is a set of metaphysical beliefs and associated practices that seek to relate consciousness, intelligence, spirituality, or mystical worldviews to the ideas of quantum mechanics and its interpretations(1). Terms used are endless viz. Quantum Spirituality, Quantum Consciousness, Quantum Buddhism, Quantum Theology, Quantum Medicine, etc. Another term related to this is Quantum Woo which means the justification of irrational beliefs by unclear reference to quantum physics(2)). Science has earned enormous credibility and it has delivered goods so consistently, that people try to impart a scientific validity to any nonsense to make it credible. However scientifically proven facts and established scientific theories become increasingly irreconcilable with religious concepts and non-scientific explanations. For example, although the theory of biological evolution was attacked vehemently at the beginning, with an accumulation of incontrovertible evidence in support of it over the years, the tempo of that attack has now dwindled to just a whimper. However, in areas where science has not fully elucidated the essence of phenomena, pseudoscience has a field day. Explanation of human consciousness is leading among them. However, even here, pseudoscientific explanations try to garner the support of science to give it credibility. Quantum theory with its counterintuitive concepts and unintelligible theories have given a safe haven for these theories.
Quantum mechanics deals with nature at the atomic and subatomic levels. Classical physics deals with nature at the macroscopic level. As human sense organs’ and perception system’s resolution and sensitivity have evolved to deal with the macroscopic world humans and animals are unable to experience the quantum realm. The human brain evolved over millions of years to ensure our survival in African savannas and not to understand quantum physics.
Hence the famous statement by Richard Feynman “I think I can safely say that nobody really understands quantum mechanics,” Nobel laureate for physics and a pioneer in Quantum Electrodynamics. However, this unintelligibility and weirdness of Quantum physics is a blessing for pseudoscience. The best example is Deepak Chopra, pseudoscience, and alternative medicine guru. He makes use of Quantum theory to justify an idealistic philosophical world view ( no objective reality and everything we know is a construct of mind ) in contrast to the materialistic view. He says
“So an atom, a molecule, a force field, vibration of molecules—these are all human constructs.”
“Actually, there is no tree and there is no sound and there is nobody and there is no mind. There’s only consciousness that’s having an experience. The rest is human constructs”(3).
Here he uses ‘ superposition’ which is the ability of a quantum system to be in multiple states at the same time until it is measured. For example, electrons possess a quantum feature called spin, a type of intrinsic angular momentum. In the presence of a magnetic field, the electron may exist in two possible spin states, usually referred to as spin up and spin down. Each electron, until it is measured, will have a finite chance of being in either state. Only when measured is it observed to be in a specific spin state. In common experience a coin facing up has a definite value: it is ahead or a tail. Even if you don’t look at the coin you trust that it must be ahead or tail. In quantum experience the situation is more unsettling: material properties of things do not exist until they are measured. Until you “look” (measure the particular property) at the coin, as it were, it has no fixed face up. (4) This very common misconception stems from the idea that it takes a conscious measurement or an intelligent observation to collapse a superposition. This is wrong. It is not specifically the act of observation that removes a superposition but interaction with the environment. One atom randomly bouncing off another will therefore do just as much as the most conscious mind experimenting in the atomic realm.”(4 )By the time you start dealing with macroscale objects with millions to quintillions of atoms, all interacting in some way, any quantum behavior is long gone, replaced by more classical Newtonian mechanics.”(5) This is called ‘decoherence’ and is used in many fields of (quantum) physics to describe the disappearance or absence of certain superpositions of quantum states. Decoherence is a consequence of the unavoidable interaction of virtually all macroscopic structures with the environment(6)
There is a recent trend that people try to prove that the founders of their religions anticipated or described quantum phenomena before the discovery of modern theory. This is bunkum, to say the least. Often these attempts are again to prove the primacy of mind over matter. The modern quantum theory did not arise at the beginning of the 20th century due to the accidental appearance of geniuses. It arose as a continuation of the improvement of human knowledge which is a social product. It could not have arisen 2000 years ago even if the people of the caliber of Michael Faraday, Ludwig Boltzmann, Max Plank, or Albert Eisenstein lived those days. This theory arose as an attempt to explain certain experimental findings like electromagnetism, black body radiation, photoelectric effect, etc. These theories don’t enter the mind of a person just by meditating under a tree. How science progresses is immortalized by the words of Isaac Newton. In a letter to Robert Hook Newton said “ If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”
I feel Quantum mysticism is just another miserable attempt to revive idealistic philosophy.
5. The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe
Steven Novella ( p. 269)
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
1 thought on “On Quantum Mysticism”
Good article, thanks. PS I think you meant to say Einstein, not Eisenstein 🙂