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Quantum Mechanics and Consciousness

There was a thought-provoking piece on the Huffington Post last week by someone named Robert Lanza drawing attention to experiments in quantum mechanics and how the results suggest that consciousness itself has a major effect on the physical universe. The central idea is that we’re more than just physical entities, and that the universe might not be the cold, mechanistic beast that modern science tends to assume it is.

We’re trapped in an outdated paradigm. A few more equations, we’re told, and we’ll know it all — any day now. There’s no adventure left, no lost gardens in far away lands. But we all intuitively know there’s more to existence than our science books grant. It’s the same nostalgic yearning that gives religion its persistent power over humanity.

Whether or not we all intuitively know there’s more to existence than materialism is certainly a suspect claim, but we can at least speak for ourselves. I for one have always felt that there is more to my existence than meets the eye, that every experience has some deeper, more profound significance within a grander metaphysical reality. Yet after studying philosophy and deciding to take a skeptical approach to all claims, I had to abandon intuition as a legitimate factor in determining whether or not something is true.

Yes, it feels true that the consciousness which is currently aware of the thought-processes in my brain existed prior to my birth and will continue after my death, but I have no solid empirical reason for thinking so. Yes, it feels true that dreams are more than just random thoughts floating around the brain during a particular stage of sleep, but I have no good reason to believe that they have any kind of deeper meaning. And with regard to other people, it definitely feels true that I’ve known some of them in past lives or alternate realities, but with no scientific reason to believe that such things are even possible I can’t justifiably assume that I have.

And yet it’s looking like we might be beginning to open the door to a whole new realm of science which can at least put these ideas to the test. Quantum mechanics is the study of the universe at its smallest, most fundamental level, and it’s providing us with some terribly fascinating experimental results.

We assume there’s a universe “out there” separate from what we are, and that we play no role in its appearance. Yet since the 1920s, experiments have shown just the opposite; results do depend on whether anyone is observing. This is most vividly illustrated by the famous two-hole experiment. When you watch a particle go through the holes, it behaves like a bullet, passing through one hole or the other. But if no one observes the particle, it exhibits the behavior of a wave and can pass through both holes at the same time.

Going purely by the scientific models we’ve developed over the past few centuries, there is no reason to believe that a subatomic particle will behave differently based on whether or not someone is watching it, but that’s what these experiments seem to show. When not observed, an object exists as ‘waves of probability’ which collapse into solid objects when observed. If you throw a frisbee into a field and turn around, that frisbee potentially exists all over the field, but as soon as you turn back around it collapses into a particular location.

It’s a long way from that to putting ideas like reincarnation or dream-realities to the test, but it does open the door. If consciousness is as fundamental to reality as quantum experiments suggest, it calls for a fresh look at ideas such as pansychism and hyperdualism.

Our current scientific models are based on a set of assumptions that might not be true, such as the idea that something nonphysical (consciousness) can have a causative effect on something physical (the universe). But we certainly know that there’s a hell of a lot we don’t know. Less than 5% of the universe is made up of atoms—the only kind of material we’re familiar with. 23% of the universe is dark matter, the nature of which we can only speculate about. But a whopping 72% of the universe is dark energy—the force that drives the universe’s accelerated rate of expansion—and we don’t even have a clue as to what the nature of this might be.

Seeing as how 95% of the universe is a big fat question mark, it’s a little more than arrogant of scientists to dismiss the idea of a consciousness-driven universe out of hand. These phenomena may have nothing to do with consciousness, but thanks to the results from our first experimental journeys into the realm of quantum mechanics, I believe there’s at least enough of a justification to hypothesize that they do. For all we know, thought is driving the expansion of the universe, and the reason its expansion is accelerating is because more life-forms are constantly springing up throughout the cosmos.

At any rate, it’s fun to speculate about this kind of stuff but I’m a long way from establishing a Church of the Universal Consciousness. I’m still too devoted to skepticism to accept the existence of anything that might be justifiably called “God” but it’s worth considering that there are scientific reasons to at least entertain the possibility.

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