Science, Consciousness & Reality

Everything we call real is made of things that cannot be regarded as real. 

- Niels Bohr

Those who are not shocked when they first come across quantum theory cannot possibly have understood it. 

- Niels Bohr

If you are not completely confused by quantum mechanics, you do not understand it.

- John Wheeler

If [quantum theory] is correct, it signifies the end of physics as a science. 

- Albert Einstein

I do not like [quantum mechanics], and I am sorry I ever had anything to do with it. 

- Erwin Schrödinger

Quantum mechanics makes absolutely no sense. 

- Roger Penrose

It is safe to say that nobody understands quantum mechanics. 

- Richard Feynman

One only need look at the words of the great masters of modern science to get the sense that pushing the limits of the methodology of science has brought us to the limits of rational, reductionist thinking itself. Science tries to model reality using a variety of languages including common language and the language of mathematics to reach a consistent description that reflects reality. Yet, at the fringes of science, we find that our methodology is breaking down. We are getting results that are the exact opposite of what science desires – order. Instead, we are reaching inescapable and nonsensible, counter-intuitive contradictions. If science is an attempt to describe reality, then at the fringes of fundamental research, we are failing to find consistent and elegant descriptions. With quantum physics, scientists have abandoned attempts to assign intuition to reality, instead accepting that if we can find an adequate and consistent mathematical model that can be used to calculate empirically measured values, no matter how counter-intuitive, that is sufficient.

Because technology and the world we create is so tightly bound to this whole line of scientific enquiry and way of seeing reality, it is of the utmost important to gain clarity about its fundamental nature. Our thoughts and ideas drive change in the world and we are discovering, to our horrors, that the ways in which we have changed the world may no longer be one we want to live in. Because thoughts and feelings drive behavior and behavior drive change, there has never been a more critical time to re-examine the way we think about reality.

 


We begin with language

Language, consciousness and reality are inextricably intertwined. We use language to build this reality and language conditions the way we see reality in very deep ways which we are usually not cognizant of. Studying language and shedding some insight onto it therefore gives us a doorway into this important and subtle topic.

If you can read this in realtime, you already know language intrinsically. It means that you have already mastered language after decades of intense study and social conditioning. All adult expert users of language know how to use language effortlessly but most are not consciously aware of how their minds and brains allow for this effortlessness. For it is through our amazing ability to learn that enable us to effectively move conscious skills into the realm of the unconscious, where behavior can be automatized for the utmost efficiency required for realtime linguistic behaviors such as reading, writing and listening or speaking.

1. l  e t  t  e  r  s  m  a  k  e  u  p  w  o  r  d  s.

2. Words make up sentences.

3. Sentences make up paragraphs. Sentences make up paragraphs. Sentences make up paragraphs. Sentences make up paragraphs. Sentences make up paragraphs. Sentences make up paragraphs. Sentences make up paragraphs. Sentences make up paragraphs. Sentences make up paragraphs. Sentences make up paragraphs.

4. Paragraphs make up stories. Paragraphs make up stories. Paragraphs make up stories. Paragraphs make up stories. Paragraphs make up stories. Paragraphs make up stories. Paragraphs make up stories. Paragraphs make up stories. Paragraphs make up stories. Paragraphs make up stories. Paragraphs make up stories. Paragraphs make up stories. Paragraphs make up stories. Paragraphs make up stories. Paragraphs make up stories. Paragraphs make up stories. 

4. Paragraphs make up stories. Paragraphs make up stories. Paragraphs make up stories. Paragraphs make up stories. Paragraphs make up stories. Paragraphs make up stories. Paragraphs make up stories. Paragraphs make up stories. Paragraphs make up stories. Paragraphs make up stories. Paragraphs make up stories. Paragraphs make up stories. Paragraphs make up stories. Paragraphs make up stories. Paragraphs make up stories. Paragraphs make up stories. 

4. Paragraphs make up stories. Paragraphs make up stories. Paragraphs make up stories. Paragraphs make up stories. Paragraphs make up stories. Paragraphs make up stories. Paragraphs make up stories. Paragraphs make up stories. Paragraphs make up stories. Paragraphs make up stories. Paragraphs make up stories. Paragraphs make up stories. Paragraphs make up stories. Paragraphs make up stories. Paragraphs make up stories. Paragraphs make up stories. 

lego3

Figure 1: Words are building blocks (source blog)

Our linguistic system of social communication is a recursive structure with multiple levels: letters, words, sentences, paragraphs. Words are abstractions; each one is a building blocks and a container with limited, yet almost endless combinatorical potentiality with other words. Meaning is conveyed in the combination of words. It is this power of lexical juxtapositions placing a familiar word in a new context that gives language its expressive power. Children learning a language must master each of these consecutive levels of linguistic structure to master the full use of language. When we have, then we are brought into the full conceptual-linguistic world of the adult, the one which serves as the social glue for society. From our humble beginnings, we end up here as sophisticated language users, building towering conceptual worlds that we inhabit for the most of the rest of our adult lives.

lego words2

The beauty of the building blocks of language is that the same words, rearranged in different order gives us completely different meaning.

  • The beauty of order gives us language
  • Order beauty in the same building
  • The beauty of word meaning
  • Beauty is mean
  • Language is meaning
  • Words rearranged, gives us the building blocks of language
  • Beauty of language
  • Completely rearranged building blocks

Language as sequential classification

  • Dualism is
  • Dualism is the
  • Dualism is the framework
  • Dualism is the framework of
  • Dualism is the framework of the
  • Dualism is the framework of the ordinary,
  • Dualism is the framework of the ordinary,  everyday
  • Dualism is the framework of the ordinary,  everyday mind

When reading this sentence for example, we concatenate each word in realtime, adding one word after another. Since each word is a category, the real time creation or reading of words, sentences and paragraphs is the realtime fine grain creation of categories of the world.   We believe that both our own selves as well as the world around us is real and independently existent. By independently existing, we mean that you and I exist, even when we don’t experience  each other.

If we are to explain the contradictions that seem to abound at the fringes of scientific research, insight must be sought into this very fundamental nature of classification inherent in language itself.

Language as storytelling

All language is storytelling, whether it is our normal speaking language,  or the language of mathematics or technical science. In every such field, we are using symbols to try to paint a compelling mental image that can transport  us to another world.

sto·ry

 noun \ˈstȯr-ē\
plural stories
archaic

  • :  an account of incidents or events
  • :  a statement regarding the facts pertinent to a situation in question
  •  c :  anecdote; especially :  an amusing one
  • :  a fictional narrative shorter than a novel; specifically : short story
  •  b :  the intrigue or plot of a narrative or dramatic work

4  a widely circulated rumor
5  lie, falsehood
6  legend, romance
7 a news article or broadcast
8  matter, situation

Whenever we use language, it is important to realize that this is what we are doing – storytelling. Stories come in every conceivable shape and form. I can tell you I am feeling happy this morning, or I can tell you I feel like eating a salad. I can describe a story about my past, or share a story about my future visions. Language has this ability to capture some small, fragment of this total, multi-dimensional reality that confronts us at each moment of our life and focus our attention on it. Every user of language knows this. It is what makes language language.

Yet with the dawn of a modern science which is couched in obtuse mathematical language, there has resulted a growing separation and alienation within the public consciousness. There are many who do not understand the complexities of this language and failing to do so has important consequences. It closes off a very important way of seeing reality to a large portion of the world. Indeed, this lack of access to the conceptual universe, the imagery painted by scientific language contributes to the failure of people to exercise their power in a democracy.When we see the apathetic response to climate chaos through this lense, it gives us new insights of the psychological mechanisms at play. Framing our present global scale ecological problems that stem from unpredicted consequences of technology  in this way allows us to explore the root of the problem effectively.

When we see a large object falling towards us, we can perceive it and act quickly to move out of harms way. However, we cannot see a molecule of CO2, we cannot see how it acts to warm the atmosphere, nor can we see the countless causal relations a warming atmosphere has on all aspects of nature. Neither can we see a genetically modified gene of Bt-corn when we eat it in our lunch. Nature is interwoven with itself from the macroscopic to the microscopic level. As human beings, we are only able to directly interact with nature at one of very many existing levels. Our inability to directly sense the consequences of our technological actions or to sense in a time frame at which events unfold leaves us at a distinct disadvantage. Science opens the door to the invisible world happening all around us. That which we cannot see directly, we measure and we interpret into patterns and render all that measured data into  models that provide us a conceptual means to peer into the otherwise invisible. Without a sufficient level of scientific understanding, there is simply no way to see these patterns which are uncovered through the scientific process.

The modern human being may possess two qualities which enables him/her to easily dismiss the warnings of scientists about the state of the world:

  1. lacking scientific education, the modern human being is completely closed off to the conceptual world which makes the invisible visible
  2. in a constant battle to survive – to spend most of one’s waking time simply finding money for food and to maintain shelter for oneself and ones family, the small, incremental contribution one makes to harming the planetary ecology is trivialized; economy is artificially prioritized far ahead of ecology because within the harmful dominant social framework, the easiest survival pathway is found in performing ecologically harmful economic activities.

No matter what stories we tell ourselves, however, all of them, in some sense contribute to the problem in different ways.

Dualism and Nondualism

It is important for each individual to discover just how it is that language helps to create duality.  By it’s very nature, the creation of a word also intrinsically creates its opposite. For instance, as soon as we create the concept or word “cat”, we automatically have objects which are not cats. This comes back to the idea that words are categories. Each word defines a category in the world. This is at what gives rise to both the power and the limitation of words. For the world is NOT made up of categories. It is whole, undivided. Hence all sophisticated language users wear rose-tinted glasses when they look upon the world. With our constant use of words, there co-emerges an artificial conditioning of categories into the world. In essence, as modern language users, we impose divisions onto an indivisible world; we impose duality onto the nondual.

So the dream world which we all inhabit, whether it is the rural farmer with no education or the quantum physicist, is this conditioned, dualistic lense. When we look into the world, we see categories where there are none. We use language to create stories with these categories. So we create the story that we ourselves exist – the personal “I” and we also create the story that everything we “see out there” exists. We have become so adept at telling these stories, that we take them for real.

Quantum physics is a very special branch of science that is beginning to see the limitations of this entire storytelling approach to seeing reality. But even though quantum physics explicates these limitations, all scientist, even most quantum physicists still cannot help but adopt the dualistic view in their ordinary, day-to-day mundane view of the world. This is because the dualistic view of reality, resulting from decades of language training is conditioning at the very deepest level of the human pysche. It creates a storytelling paradigm, a world of conceptual imagery that is exceedingly difficult to break out from.

What the field of quantum mechanics has done is push the boundaries of science right up against  its own boundaries. This is why science is suffering a kind of existential crisis at the moment. Science, no matter impressive as a way to lead us to new discoveries, is not an isolated activity. Scientists are living, breathing human beings and science is an activity that is very much part of the world. In order to solve the perplexing problems it now confronts, it must reach beyond its traditional boundaries. As long as scientists confine themselves to an artificial area which they feel they must stay exactly within, they will never resolve the arising contradictions. To think out of the box, they have to transcend the boundaries of their own subconscious box. It is therefore not surprising that quantum physics is becoming entangled with neuroscience, in its search to answer the Hard Problem of Neuroscience and that is in turn entangled with language.

As Neils Bohrs said, if we are not shocked by the conclusions of quantum mechanics, then we haven’t understood it. This is because quantum mechanics essentially contradicts our ordinary, mundane experience of reality. It turns it upside down. It denies objective reality. It denies both observer and the observed as having any real, autonomous existence. In this radical sense, we cannot help but notice the uncanny simliarity between the claims of quantum physics and the experience reported by meditation masters. Advanced meditators use a language to describe their experience of reality that is very close to that of modern quantum physics. It would appear that modern science is beginning to converge to the same results as ancient meditation practice. One might even say that science is finally catching up to practices that some historians claim date back thousands of years. At the heart of dualism is a materialistic view of reality – a story or narrative that has been passed down to us through our families, our culture and our educational institutions. But the knowledge of modern quantum physics began a trend which has only gotten more and more vocal. Today, quantum physicists tell a story for different than the one we have learned in school. The world is made, not of solid eternal atoms, but of waves that coalesce into particles at the time of an observable event but then return to a non-observable wave after the event. Quantum physicist understand the world as literally an ocean of forms which do not exist except in a virtual sense. Yet, these virtual forms are real because they can effect observable reality. On a personal level, our inner world of thoughts and feelings are also examples of these virtual forms. These forms are invisible yet very real to the person thinking and feeling them. They are also invisible to any person outside of us until we choose to manifest those invisible forms into reality through an energetic action such as speech or muscular movement of some sort.

The Science And Non Duality Conference (SAND)

In the above workshop, Deepak Chopra facilitates a discussion with a genetic researcher, a quantum physicist and a chemist to probe the question of consciousness and reality

Mind and Life Institute

Amit Goswani – The Quantum Activist

Rupert Sheldrake – Heretic or New Galileo?