Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Thoughts of October 30th: Late Tuesday Night & Early Wednesday Morning

I just realized that the Dr. Quantum cartoon character I first saw in The Holographic Universe Series made by Stephen Davis is from a movie/ documentary that came out in 2004 called "What the Bleep Do We Know?"

I am currently downloading "What the Bleep Do We Know" to add to my long mental to-do list of things I want and have to do to further truly understand the science that is now merging with spirituality and are independently corroborating Dolores Cannon's work.

Areas that I have noticed that are independently confirming Dolores Cannon's work:

- Dr. Bruce Lipton's work:
    - Books:
        - The Biology of Belief- Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter, & Miracles
        - Spontaneous Evolution- Our Positive Future (and a Way to Get There from Here)

    - The Power of Beliefs chapter in Anthony "Tony" Robbins' "Awaken the Giant Within"
            - Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), placebo effect, nocebo effect demonstration at Football game at Monterey Park

    - A whole host of articles, interviews, and videos on his website:
    - Interviews on Coast to Coast AM                                         
    - The Biology of Perception Documentary:

- The field of Quantum Physics/ Mechanics
    - The Fabric of the Cosmos with Brian Greene Documentary Series and Accompanying Book
    - The Quantum Universe documentary
    - The Holographic Universe 5-part Documentary Series (I do not agree with EVERYTHING Stephen Davis says but for the most part, I do)
        - Butterflies are Free to Fly e-book
    - Through the Wormhole episodes- Is there a Sixth Sense? & Is There Life After Death?
    - Dr. Amit Goswami's work
        - The Self-Aware Universe
        - Physics of the Soul
        - What the Bleep Do We Know Documentary (2004)
        - The Quantum Activist Documentary (2009)
    - The Work of Many other Quantum Physicists and Consciousness Experts as seen in The Holographic Universe Series
        - Dr. Stuart Hameroff as seen in the article of "Finding Spirit in the Fabric of Space & Time"
        - Michael Talbot's book, The Holographic Universe- The Revolutionary Theory of Reality
        - The book: Consciousness Beyond Life The Science of the Near-Death Experience by Pim Van Lommel
        - The book: Life After Life by Raymond Moody
        - The book: Evidence of the Afterlife The Science of Near-Death Experiences by Jeffrey Long and Paul Perry

- Other healers besides Dolores Cannon that are doing amazing work all over the world- Healers that are using energy to heal like Dr. Bruce Lipton has said over and over again on his interviews on Coast to Coast AM
        - Ex: Dell Morris, Quantum Touch Practitioners, Chi Gong Master Hong Liu, Chi Gong Master Krista Cantrell, Qigong Master Healer Darcie Gustine 

- Ancient Aliens TV show and Coast to Coast AM Radio Talk Show
        - Striking similarities between material with that of Dolores Cannon's book, "Legacy From the Stars"

BTW, "What the Bleep Do We Know" has finished downloading. It's so satisfying to understand how all these areas are connecting up to each other. I wish this was my school major or my career for three or four days a week like how the nursing career is meant to be. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Scientific Proof of the Existence of God- An Interview with Amit Goswami by Craig Hamilton


Before you read any further, stop and close your eyes for a moment. Now consider the following question: for the moment your eyes were closed, did the world still exist even though you weren't conscious of it? How do you know? If this sounds like the kind of unanswerable brain teaser your Philosophy 101 professor used to employ to stretch your philosophical imagination, you might be surprised to discover that there are actually physicists at reputable universities who believe they have answered this question—and their answer, believe it or not, is no.

Now consider something even more intriguing. Imagine for a moment the entire history of the universe. According to all the data scientists have been able to gather, it exploded into existence some fifteen billion years ago, setting the stage for a cosmic dance of energy and light that continues to this day. Now imagine the history of planet Earth. An amorphous cloud of dust emerging out of that primordial fireball, it slowly coalesced into a solid orb, found its way into gravitational orbit around the sun, and through a complex interaction of light and gases over billions of years, generated an atmosphere and a biosphere capable of not only giving birth to, but sustaining and proliferating, life.

Now imagine that none of the above ever happened. 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.

A professor of physics at the University of Oregon and a member of its Institute of Theoretical Science, Dr. Goswami is part of a growing body of renegade scientists who in recent years have ventured into the domain of the spiritual in an attempt both to interpret the seemingly inexplicable findings of their experiments and to validate their intuitions about the existence of a spiritual dimension of life. The culmination of Goswami's own work is his book The Self-Aware Universe: How Consciousness Creates the Material World. Rooted in an interpretation of the experimental data of quantum physics (the physics of elementary particles), the book weaves together a myriad of findings and theories in fields from artificial intelligence to astronomy to Hindu mysticism in an attempt to show that the discoveries of modern science are in perfect accord with the deepest mystical truths.

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.

Interviewing Amit Goswami was a mind-bending and concept-challenging experience. Listening to him explain many ideas with which he seemed perfectly at home, required, for me, such a suspension of disbelief that I at times found myself having to stretch far beyond anything I had previously considered. (Goswami is also a great fan of science fiction whose first book, The Cosmic Dancers, was a look at science fiction through the eyes of a physicist.)

But whether or not one ultimately accepts some of his more esoteric theories, one has to respect the creativity and passion with which he is willing to inquire. Goswami is clearly willing to take risks with his ideas and is fervently dedicated to sharing his investigation with audiences around the world. He speaks widely at conferences and other forums about the exciting discoveries of the new science and their significance, not only for the way science is done, but for society as a whole. In India, the country of his birth, he is actively involved in a growing organized movement to bridge the gap between science and spirituality, through which he is helping to pioneer a graduate institute in "consciousness studies" based on the premise that consciousness is the ground of all being.

Goswami is considered by some to be a pioneer in his field. By attempting to bring material realism to its knees and to integrate all fields of knowledge in a single unified paradigm, he hopes to pave the way for a new holistic worldview in which spirit is put first. In fact, as far as we know, he is the only new paradigm scientist who is taking a clear stand against the relativism so popular among new age thinkers. At a time when the decay of human values and the erosion of any sense of meaning has reached epidemic scale, it is hard to imagine what could be more important than this.

And yet, for all the important and valuable work he seems to be doing, in the end we are left with serious reservations as to whether Goswami's approach will ultimately lead to the kind of transformation he hopes for. Thinkers such as Huston Smith and E. F. Schumacher have pointed to what they feel is an arrogance, or at least, a kind of naiveté, on the part of scientists who believe they can expand the reach of their discipline to somehow include or explain the spiritual dimension of life. Such critics suggest that the very attempt to scientifically validate the spiritual is itself a product of the same materialistic impulses it intends to uproot and, because of this, is ultimately only capable of reducing spirit, God and the transcendent to mere objects of scientific fascination.

Is science capable of proving the reality of the transcendent dimension of life? Or would science better serve the spiritual potential of the human race by acknowledging the inherent limits of its domain? The following interview confronts us with these questions.


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.

WIE: What you are saying is that modern science, from a completely different angle—not assuming anything about the existence of a spiritual dimension of life—has somehow come back around, and is finding itself in agreement with that view as a result of its own discoveries.

AG: That's right. And this is not entirely unexpected. Starting from the beginning of quantum physics, which began in the year 1900 and then became full-fledged in 1925 when the equations of quantum mechanics were discovered, quantum physics has given us indications that the worldview might change. Staunch materialist physicists have loved to compare the classical worldview and the quantum worldview. Of course, they wouldn't go so far as to abandon the idea that there is only upward causation and that matter is supreme, but the fact remains that they saw in quantum physics some great paradigm changing potential. And then what happened was that, starting in 1982, results started coming in from laboratory experiments in physics. That is the year when, in France, Alain Aspect and his collaborators performed the great experiment that conclusively established the veracity of the spiritual notions, and particularly the notion of transcendence. Should I go into a little bit of detail about Aspect's experiment?

WIE: Yes, please do.

AG: To give a little background, what had been happening was that for many years quantum physics had been giving indications that there are levels of reality other than the material level. How it started happening first was that quantum objects—objects in quantum physics—began to be looked upon as waves of possibility. Now, initially people thought, "Oh, they are just like regular waves." But very soon it was found out that, no, they are not waves in space and time. They cannot be called waves in space and time at all—they have properties which do not jibe with those of ordinary waves. So they began to be recognized as waves in potential, waves of possibility, and the potential was recognized as transcendent, beyond matter somehow.

But the fact that there is transcendent potential was not very clear for a long time. Then Aspect's experiment verified that this is not just theory, there really is transcendent potential, objects really do have connections outside of space and time—outside of space and time! What happens in this experiment is that an atom emits two quanta of light, called photons, going opposite ways, and somehow these photons affect one another's behavior at a distance, without exchanging any signals through space. Notice that: without exchanging any signals through space but instantly affecting each other. Instantaneously.

Now Einstein showed long ago that two objects can never affect each other instantly in space and time because everything must travel with a maximum speed limit, and that speed limit is the speed of light. So any influence must travel, if it travels through space, taking a finite time. This is called the idea of "locality." Every signal is supposed to be local in the sense that it must take a finite time to travel through space. And yet, Aspect's photons—the photons emitted by the atom in Aspect's experiment—influence one another, at a distance, without exchanging signals because they are doing it instantaneously—they are doing it faster than the speed of light. And therefore it follows that the influence could not have traveled through space. Instead the influence must belong to a domain of reality that we must recognize as the transcendent domain of reality.

WIE: That's fascinating. Would most physicists agree with that interpretation of his experiment?

AG: Well, physicists must agree with this interpretation of this experiment. Many times of course, physicists will take the following point of view: they will say, "Well, yeah sure, experiments. But this relationship between particles really isn't important. We mustn't look into any of the consequences of this transcendent domain—if it can even be interpreted that way." In other words, they try to minimize the impact of this and still try to hold on to the idea that matter is supreme.

But in their heart they know, as is very evidenced. In 1984 or '85, at the American Physical Society meeting at which I was present, it is said that one physicist was heard saying to another physicist that, after Aspect's experiment, anyone who does not believe that something is really strange about the world must have rocks in his head.

WIE: So what you are saying is that from your point of view, which a number of others share, it is somehow obvious that one would have to bring in the idea of a transcendent dimension to really understand this.

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.

WIE: These are fascinating discoveries which have inspired a lot of people. A number of books have already attempted to make the link between physics and mysticism. Fritjof Capra's The Tao of Physics and Gary Zukav's The Dancing Wu Li Masters have both reached many, many people. In your book, though, you mention that there was something that you felt had not yet been covered which you feel is your unique contribution to all this. Could you say something about what you are doing that is different from what has been done before in this area?

AG: I'm glad that you asked that question. This should be clarified and I will try to explicate it as clearly as I can. The early work, like The Tao of Physics, has been very important for the history of science. However, these early works, in spite of supporting the spiritual aspect of human beings, all basically held on to the material view of the world nevertheless. In other words, they did not challenge the material realists' view that everything is made up of matter. That view was never put to any challenge by any of these early books. In fact, my book was the first one which challenged it squarely and which was still based on a rigorous explication in scientific terms. In other words, the idea that consciousness is the ground of being, of course, has existed in psychology, as transpersonal psychology, but outside of transpersonal psychology no tradition of science and no scientist has seen it so clearly.

It was my good fortune to recognize it within quantum physics, to recognize that all the paradoxes of quantum physics can be solved if we accept consciousness as the ground of being. So that was my unique contribution and, of course, this has paradigm-shifting potential because now we can truly integrate science and spirituality. In other words, with Capra and Zukav—although their books are very good—because they held on to a fundamentally materialist paradigm, the paradigm is not shifting, nor is there any real reconciliation between spirituality and science. Because if everything is ultimately material, all causal efficacy must come from matter. So consciousness is recognized, spirituality is recognized, but only as causal epiphenomena, or secondary phenomena. And an epiphenomenal consciousness is not very good. I mean, it's not doing anything. So, although these books acknowledge our spirituality, the spirituality is ultimately coming from some sort of material interaction.

But that's not the spirituality that Jesus talked about. That's not the spirituality that Eastern mystics were so ecstatic about. That's not the spirituality where a mystic recognizes and says, "I now know what reality is like, and this takes away all the unhappiness that one ever had. This is infinite, this is joy, this is consciousness." This kind of exuberant statement that mystics make could not be made on the basis of epiphenomenal consciousness. It can be made only when one recognizes the ground of being itself, when one recognizes directly that One is All.

Now, an epiphenomenal human being would not have any such cognition. It would not make any sense to recognize that you are All. So that is what I am saying. So long as science remains on the basis of the materialist worldview, however much you try to accommodate spiritual experiences in terms of parallels or in terms of chemicals in the brain or what have you, you are not really giving up the old paradigm. You are giving up the old paradigm and fully reconciling with spirituality only when you establish science on the basis of the fundamental spiritual notion that consciousness is the ground of all being. That is what I have done in my book, and that is the beginning. But already there are some other books that are recognizing this too.

WIE: So there are people corroborating your ideas?

AG: There are people who are now coming out and recognizing the same thing, that this view is the correct way to go to explain quantum physics and also to develop science in the future. In other words, the present science has shown not only quantum paradoxes but also has shown real incompetence in explaining paradoxical and anomalous phenomena, such as parapsychology, the paranormal—even creativity. And even traditional subjects, like perception or biological evolution, have much to explain that these materialist theories don't explain. To give you one example, in biology there is what is called the theory of punctuated equilibrium. What that means is that evolution is not only slow, as Darwin perceived, but there are also rapid epochs of evolution, which are called "punctuation marks." But traditional biology has no explanation for this.

However, if we do science on the basis of consciousness, on the primacy of consciousness, then we can see in this phenomenon creativity, real creativity of consciousness. In other words, we can truly see that consciousness is operating creatively even in biology, even in the evolution of species. And so we can now fill up these gaps that conventional biology cannot explain with ideas which are essentially spiritual ideas, such as consciousness as the creator of the world.

WIE: This brings to mind the subtitle of your book, How Consciousness Creates the Material World. This is obviously quite a radical idea. Could you explain a bit more concretely how this actually happens in your opinion?

AG: Actually, it's the easiest thing to explain, because in quantum physics, as I said earlier, objects are not seen as definite things, as we are used to seeing them. Newton taught us that objects are definite things, they can be seen all the time, moving in definite trajectories. Quantum physics doesn't depict objects that way at all. In quantum physics, objects are seen as possibilities, possibility waves. Right? So then the question arises, what converts possibility into actuality? Because, when we see, we only see actual events. That's starting with us. When you see a chair, you see an actual chair, you don't see a possible chair.

WIE: Right—I hope so.

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. 

WIE: To be honest, when I first saw the subtitle of your book I assumed you were speaking metaphorically. But after reading the book, and speaking with you about it now, I am definitely getting the sense that you mean it much more literally than I had thought. One thing in your book that really stopped me in my tracks was your statement that, according to your interpretation, the entire physical universe only existed in a realm of countless evolving possibilities until at one point, the possibility of a conscious, sentient being arose and that, at that point, instantaneously, the entire known universe came into being, including the fifteen billion years of history leading up to that point. Do you really mean that?

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, carbonbased 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.

WIE: So you feel there's a kind of purposiveness to the way the universe is evolving; that, in a sense, it reaches its fruition in us, in human beings?

AG: Well, human beings may not be the end of it, but certainly they are the first fruition, because here is then the possibility of manifest creativity, creativity in the sentient being itself. The animals are certainly sentient, but they are not creative in the sense that we are. So human beings certainly right now seem to be an epitome, but this may not be the final epitome. I think we have a long way to go and there is a long evolution to occur yet.

WIE: In your book you even go so far as to suggest that the cosmos was created for our sake.

AG: Absolutely. But it means sentient beings, for the sake of all sentient beings. And the universe is us. That's very clear. The universe is self-aware, but it is self-aware through us. We are the meaning of the universe. We are not the geographical center of the universe—Copernicus was right about that—but we are the meaning center of the universe.

WIE: Through us the universe finds its meaning?

AG: Through sentient beings. And that doesn't have to be anthropocentric in the sense of only earthlings. There could be beings, sentient beings on other planets, in other stars—in fact I am convinced that there are—and that's completely consonant with this theory.

WIE: This human-centered—or even sentient-being-centered—stance seems quite radical at a time when so much of modern progressive thought, across disciplines from ecology to feminism to systems theory, is going in the opposite direction. These perspectives point more toward interconnectedness or interrelatedness, in which the significance of any one part of the whole—including one species, such as the human species—is being de-emphasized. Your view seems to hark back to a more traditional, almost biblical kind of idea. How would you respond to proponents of the prevailing "nonhierarchical" paradigm?

AG: It's the difference between the perennial philosophy that we are talking about, monistic idealism, and what is called a kind of pantheism. That is, these views—which I call "ecological worldviews" and which Ken Wilber calls the same thing—are actually denigrating God by seeing God as limited to the immanent reality. On the face of it, this sounds good because everything becomes divine—the rocks, the trees, all the way to human beings, and they are all equal and they are all divinity—it sounds fine, but it certainly does not adhere to what the spiritual teachers knew. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says to Arjuna, "All these things are in me, but I am not in them." What does he mean by that? What he means is that "I am not exclusively in them."

So there is evolution, in other words, in the manifest reality. Evolution happens. That means that the amoeba is, of course, a manifestation of consciousness, and so is the human being. But they are not in the same stage. Evolutionarily, yes, we are ahead of the amoeba. And these theories, these ecological-worldview people, they don't see that. They don't rightly understand what evolution is because they are ignoring the transcendent dimension, they are ignoring the purposiveness of the universe, the creative play. Ken Wilber makes this point very, very well in his book Sex, Ecology, Spirituality.

WIE: So you would say they have part of the picture but that without this other aspect that you are bringing in, their view is very—

AG: It's very limited. And that's why pantheism is very limited. When Westerners started going to India, they thought it was pantheistic because it has many, many gods. Indian philosophy tends to see God in nature, in many things—they worship rocks sometimes, that kind of thing—so they thought it was pantheistic and only somewhat later did they realize that there is a transcendent dimension. In fact, the transcendent dimension is developed extremely well in Indian philosophy, whereas the transcendent dimension in the West is hidden in the cave of a very few esoteric systems such as the Gnostics and a few great masters like Meister Eckhart. In Jesus' teachings you can see it in the Gospel according to Thomas. But you have to really dig deep to find that thread in the West. In India, in the Upanishads and the Vedanta and the Bhagavad Gita, it is very much explicit. Now, pantheism sounds very good. But it's only part of the story. It's a good way to worship, it's a good way to bring spirituality into your daily life, because it is good to acknowledge that there is spirit in everything. But if we just see the diversity, see the God in everything, but don't see the God which is beyond every particular thing, then we are not realizing our potential. We are not realizing our Self. And so, truly, Self-realization involves seeing this pantheistic aspect of reality, but also seeing the transcendent aspect of reality.

WIE: In addition to being a scientist, you are also a spiritual practitioner. Could you talk a little bit about what brought you to spirituality?

AG: Well, I'm afraid that is a pretty usual, almost classic, case. The ideal classic case, of course, is the famous case of the Buddha, who recognized at the age of twenty-nine that all of his pleasure as a prince was really a waste of time because there is suffering in the world. For me it was not that drastic, but when I was about thirty-seven the world started to fall apart on me. I lost my research grant, I had a divorce and I was very lonely. And the professional pleasure that I used to get by writing physics papers stopped being pleasure.

I remember one time when I was at a conference and all day I had been going around, beating my own drums and arguing with people. Then in the evening when I was alone, I felt so lonely. And I realized that I had heartburn, and I had already exhausted a full bottle of Tums and still it would not go away. I discovered suffering; I discovered suffering literally. And it is that discovery of suffering that brought me to spirituality, because I couldn't think of anything else. I couldn't think of any other way—although I had given up the idea of God entirely and had been a materialist physicist for quite some time. In fact, when my young children asked me one time, "Are you an atheist?" I said something like, "Yeah." And, "Is there a God?" And I said, "No, I don't believe in God." That kind of thing was quite common for me to say. But in that era, around thirty-seven, that particular world—where God didn't exist and where the meaning of life came just from brain-pursuits of glory in a profession—just did not satisfy me and did not bring happiness. In fact it was full of suffering. So I came to meditation. I wanted to see if there was any way of at least finding some solace, if not happiness. And eventually great joy came out of it, but that took time. And also, I must mention that I got married too, and the challenge of love was a very important one. In other words, I very soon discovered after I got married for the second time that love is very different than what I thought it was. So I discovered with my wife the meaning of love, and that was a big contribution also to my own spirituality.

WIE: It's interesting that, while you turned to spirituality because you felt that science wasn't really satisfying your own search for truth, you have nevertheless remained a scientist throughout.

AG: That's true. It's just that my way of doing science changed. What happened to me, the reason that I lost the joy of science, was because I had made it into a professional trip. I lost the ideal way of doing science, which is the spirit of discovery, the curiosity, the spirit of knowing truth. So I was not searching for truth anymore through science, and therefore I had to discover meditation, where I was searching for truth again, truth of reality. What is the nature of reality after all? You see the first tendency was nihilism, nothing exists; I was completely desperate. But meditation very soon told me that no, it's not that desperate. I had an experience. I had a glimpse that reality really does exist. Whatever it was I didn't know, but something exists. So that gave me the prerogative to go back to science and see if I could now do science with new energy and new direction and really investigate truth instead of investigating because of professional glory.

WIE: How then did your newly revived interest in truth, this spiritual core to your life, inform your practice of science?

AG: What happened was that I was not doing science anymore for the purpose of just publishing papers and doing problems which enabled you to publish papers and get grants. Instead, I was doing the really important problems. And the really important problems of today are very paradoxical and very anomalous. Well, I'm not saying that traditional scientists don't have a few important problems. There are a few important problems there too. But one of the problems I discovered very quickly that would lead me, I just intuited, to questions of reality was the quantum measurement problem.

You see, the quantum measurement problem is supposed to be a problem which forever derails people from any professional achievement because it's a very difficult problem. People have tried it for decades and have not been able to solve it. But I thought, "I have nothing to lose and I am going to investigate only truth, so why not see?" Quantum physics was something I knew very well. I had researched quantum physics all my life, so why not do the quantum measurement problem? So that's how I came to ask this question, "What agency converts possibility into actuality?" And it still took me from 1975 to 1985 until, through a mystical breakthrough, I came to recognize this.

WIE: Could you describe that breakthrough?

AG: Yes, I'd love to. It's so vivid in my mind. You see, the wisdom was in those days—and this was in every sort of book, The Tao of Physics, The Dancing Wu Li Masters, Fred Alan Wolf's Taking the Quantum Leap, and some other books too—everywhere the wisdom was that consciousness must be an emergent phenomenon of the brain. And despite the fact that some of these people, to their credit, were giving consciousness causal efficacy, no one could explain how it happened. That was the mystery because, after all, if it's an emergent phenomenon of the brain, then all causal efficacy must ultimately come from the material elementary particles. So this was a puzzle to me. This was a puzzle to everybody. And I just couldn't find any way to solve it. David Bohm talked about hidden variables, so I toyed with his ideas of an explicate order and an implicate order, that kind of thing—but this wasn't satisfactory because in Bohm's theory, again, there is no causal efficacy that is given to consciousness. It is all a realist theory. In other words, it is a theory on which everything can be explained through mathematical equations. There is no freedom of choice, in other words, in reality. So I was just struggling and struggling because I was convinced that there is real freedom of choice.

So then one time—and this is where the breakthrough happened—my wife and I were in Ventura, California and a mystic friend, Joel Morwood, came down from Los Angeles, and we all went to hear Krishnamurti. And Krishnamurti, of course, is extremely impressive, a very great mystic. So we heard him and then we came back home. We had dinner and we were talking, and I was giving Joel a spiel about my latest ideas of the quantum theory of consciousness and Joel just challenged me. He said, "Can consciousness be explained?" And I tried to wriggle my way through that but he wouldn't listen. He said, "You are putting on scientific blinders. You don't realize that consciousness is the ground of all being." He didn't use that particular word, but he said something like, "There is nothing but God." And something flipped inside of me which I cannot quite explain. This is the ultimate cognition, that I had at that very moment. There was a complete about-turn in my psyche and I just realized that consciousness is the ground of all being. I remember staying up that night, looking at the sky and having a real mystical feeling about what the world is, and the complete conviction that this is the way the world is, this is the way that reality is, and one can do science. You see, the prevalent notion—even among people like David Bohm—was, "How can you ever do science without assuming that there is reality and material and all this? How can you do science if you let consciousness do things which are 'arbitrary'?" But I became completely convinced—there has not been a shred of doubt ever since—that one can do science on this basis. Not only that, one can solve the problems of today's science. And that is what is turning out. Of course all the problems did not get solved right on that night. That night was the beginning of a new way of doing science.

WIE: That's interesting. So that night something really did shift for you in your whole approach. And everything was different after that?

AG: Everything was different.

WIE: Did you then find, in working out the details of what it would mean to do science in this context, that you were able to penetrate much more deeply or that your own scientific thinking was transformed in some way by this experience?

AG: Right. Exactly. What happened was very interesting. I was stuck, as I said, I was stuck with this idea before: "How can consciousness have causal efficacy?" And now that I recognized that consciousness was the ground of being, within months all the problems of quantum measurement theory, the measurement paradoxes, just melted away. I wrote my first paper which was published in 1989, but that was just refinement of the ideas and working out details. The net upshot was that the creativity, which got a second wind on that night in 1985, took about another three years before it started fully expressing itself. But ever since I have been just blessed with ideas after ideas, and lots of problems have been solved—the problem of cognition, perception, biological evolution, mind-body healing. My latest book is called Physics of the Soul. This is a theory of reincarnation, all fully worked out. It has been just a wonderful adventure in creativity.

WIE: So it sounds pretty clear that taking an interest in the spiritual, in your case, had a significant effect on your ability to do science. Looking through the opposite end of the lens, how would you say that being a scientist has affected your spiritual evolution?

AG: Well, I stopped seeing them as separate, so this identification, this wholeness, the integration of the spiritual and the scientific, was very important for me. Mystics often warn people, "Look, don't divide your life into this and that." For me it came naturally because I discovered the new way of doing science when I discovered spirit. Spirit was the natural basis of my being, so after that, whatever I do, I don't separate them very much.

WIE: You mentioned a shift in your motivation for doing science—how what was driving you started to turn at a certain point. That's one thing that we've been thinking about a lot as we've been looking into this issue: What is it that really motivates science? And how is that different from what motivates spiritual pursuit? Particularly, there have been some people we have discussed—thinkers like E. F. Schumacher or Huston Smith, for example—who feel that ever since the scientific revolution, when Descartes's and Newton's ideas took hold, the whole approach of science has been to try to dominate or control nature or the world. Such critics question whether science could ever be a genuine vehicle for discovering the deepest truths, because they feel that science is rooted in a desire to know for the wrong reasons. Obviously, in your work you have been very immersed in the scientific world—you know a lot of scientists, you go to conferences, you're surrounded by all of that and also, perhaps, you struggle with that motivation in yourself. Could you speak a little more about your experience of that?

AG: Yes, this is a very, very good question; we have to understand it very deeply.

The problem is that in this pursuit, this particular pursuit of science, including the books that we mentioned earlier, The Tao of Physics and The Dancing Wu Li Masters, even when spirituality is recognized within the materialist worldview, God is seen only in the immanent aspect of divinity. What that means is: you have said that there is only one reality. By saying that there is only one reality—material reality—even when you imbue matter with spirituality, because you are still dealing with only one level, you are ignoring the transcendent level. And therefore you are only looking at half of the pie; you are ignoring the other half. Ken Wilber makes this point very, very well. So what has to be done of course—and that's when the stigma of science disappears—is to include the other half into science. Now, before my work, I think it was very obscure how this inclusion has to be done. Although people like Teilhard de Chardin, Aurobindo or Madame Blavatsky, the founder of the Theosophy movement, recognized that such a science could have come, very few could actually see it.

So what I have done is to give actual flesh to all these visions that took place early in the century. And when you do that, when you recognize that science can be based on the primacy of consciousness, then this deficiency isn't there anymore. In other words then, the stigma that science is only separateness goes away. The materialist science is a separatist science. The new science, though, says that the material part of the world does exist, the separative movement is part of reality also, but it is not the only part of reality. There is separation, and then there is integration. So in my book The Self-Aware Universe I talk about the hero's journey for the entire scientific endeavor. I said that, well, four hundred years ago, with Galileo, Copernicus, Newton and others, we started the separatist sail and we went on a separate journey of separateness, but that's only the first part of the hero's journey. Then the hero discovers and the hero returns. It is the hero's return that we are now witnessing through this new paradigm.                                                                              "

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Finding Spirit in the Fabric of Space & Time


[Note: This version of “Finding Spirit in the Fabric of Space Time” has been edited and expanded by Stuart Hameroff to present his ideas in more technical, scientific detail. The original edit by Tom Huston is available in EnlightenNext magazine, Issue 46, Spring/Summer 2010.]

Over the past thirty-five years, the mysterious connection between quantum physics and human consciousness has steadily become a central tenet of East-meets-West spirituality. Somehow, people have managed to find an irresistibly compelling relationship between the intangible world of subatomic particles and the immaterial realms of consciousness and spirit. It began with Fritjof Capra’s Tao of Physics in 1975, shifted into high gear with Gary Zukav’s Dancing Wu Li Masters in 1979, and fired up the afterburners throughout the eighties and nineties—with the help of Deepak Chopra—until the idea became nearly impossible to avoid. Upon entering a Seattle bookstore one fateful afternoon in the summer of 1997, I encountered no fewer than three publications exploring the relationship between mind and matter through the lens of quantum physics: The Self-Aware Universe by Amit Goswami, The Spiritual Universe by Fred Alan Wolf, and Issue 11 of this magazine, whose cover posed the question “Can Science Enlighten Us?”

I eagerly bought the first two, but after skimming through the magazine, I decided to leave it on the rack. Already a firm believer in the physics-equals-mysticism idea, I found EnlightenNext’sspecial brand of playful skepticism off-putting. Why did they doubt, when the evidence was so clear? It was obvious that the deeper dimensions of consciousness and the deeper dimensions of matter converged in the mysterious realm of quantum physics. Right?

Not necessarily. I soon realized that just because the nature of consciousness is mysterious and the nature of quantum physics is also mysterious, it doesn’t mean that both mysteries are ultimately the same thing. By the time the enormously popular film What the Bleep Do We Know!? hit the scene in 2004, launching the physics-and-consciousness idea into a whole new quantum orbital, I was working as an editor for EnlightenNext and took it upon myself to review the movie with a newfound appreciation of the many subtleties involved. As it turned out, as far as I and my fellow editors were concerned, the supposedly perfect marriage between quantum physics and consciousness was probably little more than wishful New Age thinking. And when it came to the more serious scientific suggestions that physics had something to say about consciousness, we generally found the arguments less than persuasive.

But that was before we met Stuart Hameroff.

Although he holds the title of Professor Emeritus of Anesthesiology and Psychology at the University of Arizona and spends much of his time in surgery at the University of Arizona Medical Center, Hameroff is best known for his work in the arena of consciousness studies. In 1994, he founded the Toward a Science of Consciousness conference series, bringing together the world’s leading experts on consciousness every two years in Tucson, Arizona, to explore various shades of something called the “hard problem”—how and why subjective mind appears to arise from objective matter. And for nearly twenty years, Hameroff has collaborated with Oxford mathematical physicist Sir Roger Penrose to develop (and defend) a quantum-physics-based theory of consciousness that is impressive, original, and ambitious, to say the least. The theory is a fusion of Hameroff’s and Penrose’s distinctly different areas of expertise: Hameroff’s studies of tiny structures called “microtubules” within human brain cells and Penrose’s work on the relationship between quantum physics, gravity, and the geometry of space and time. In some sense, their work could be considered a “grand unified theory” of quantum physics and consciousness—a theory somewhat more sophisticated than anything you’re likely to find in the spiritual section of your local bookstore. After interviewing Hameroff, I found myself questioning my previous dismissal of what I’ve come to call “quantum mysticism.” And I’m sure others will find his arguments equally illuminating.

That said, consider yourself warned: The interview that follows is not an easy read. In fact, it may require more than one careful reading before the different threads that Hameroff lays out begin to stitch themselves together in your mind. But the payoff is worth the effort. I’m not sure if I agree with all of Hameroff’s conclusions—and he himself insists that his theory has yet to be proven—but I do know that his arguments for a relationship between quantum physics and consciousness are among the most persuasive I’ve ever heard.


ENLIGHTENNEXT: You’re best known as one of the world’s leading proponents of a quantum-physics-based theory of the mind. How did you first become interested in the mystery of consciousness?

STUART HAMEROFF: I got interested while in college in the late 1960s. Studying mostly science and math, I took a course called Philosophy of Mind and was intrigued with how difficult was the problem of explaining how conscious experience arises from the pinkish-gray meat we call the brain. And I remained interested through medical school, being drawn toward fields having to do with consciousness—psychiatry, neurology, neurosurgery. But one day, while doing a research project in a cancer lab in the early 1970s, I was looking at cells dividing—mitosis—under a microscope, observing how the DNA-containing chromosomes were separated and pulled apart into perfectly equal mirror images of each other. The tiny strands and little machines moving the chromosomes were called microtubules and centrioles (which were themselves composed of microtubules). The dance of the chromosomes had to be perfect, because if they divided unequally, abnormal cancer cells could result.
Most of my research colleagues followed the trail of the chromosomes and went into gene-based research. But for some reason, I became fixated on how these little molecular machines knew exactly what to do and how they were choreographed. I wondered how they were organized and guided, and whether there was some intelligence, if not consciousness, at that level. Around the same time, it was discovered that these same microtubules existed in all cells—especially neurons—as major components of the cell skeleton, or structural scaffolding. Being highly asymmetrical, brain neurons are just full of microtubules. So it occurred to me that microtubules, which seemed to display some kind of intelligence or consciousness in cell division, might have something to do with consciousness in brain neurons. Maybe in addition to being the cell’s structural support, microtubules were also the cell’s on-board computer.

After medical school in Philadelphia I gave brief consideration to a full-time research career, but decided to take a clinical internship in Tucson, Arizona, to figure out what I wanted to do next. I was leaning toward neurology, but then met the chairman of anesthesiology at the new University of Arizona medical school hospital who was in need of residents for his fledgling program. He was a Boston-trained Texan named Burnell Brown, and he showed me around the operating rooms at the new hospital, explaining how anesthesiology was important, paid well, and could be fun. As he came to know my interests, he told me that if I really wanted to understand consciousness, I should figure out how anesthesia works, because anesthesia selectively erases consciousness while sparing other brain functions. He also showed me a paper written by a colleague of his in 1968, suggesting that if you apply the gases used in anesthesia to microtubules, they depolymerize—they fall apart. So there was a theory that anesthesia worked by causing brain microtubules to fall apart. It turns out, fortunately, that that’s not true. You need about five times the amount of anesthesia for microtubule depolymerization than you need to cause somebody to lose consciousness. But it showed that anesthetics do affect microtubules, which further suggested that microtubules might have something to do with consciousness.

EN: What, exactly, is a microtubule?

SH: First and foremost microtubules are the rigid structural support defining the shape of all animal cells, but continually moving and rearranging. The rearrangements account for all cell growth, development, movement, synaptic regulation—pretty important stuff. Each microtubule is a molecular assembly, a cylindrical polymer composed of many versions of a single, peanut-shaped protein called tubulin. Each of these tubulins can flex into alternative conformational shapes, and can also have genetic and other types of diversity, but are overall similar. The tubulin proteins self-assemble into hollow cylinders whose walls are elegant lattices which are both hexagonal and helical, the helical winding patterns having beautiful Fibonacci geometry. I became somewhat obsessed, enchanted really, with the structure of microtubules. These self-assembling and unassuming cylinders somehow accounted for cell growth, movement, and function. Their actions reminded me of the “Indian rope trick” where the Fakir tosses up a rope, climbs it, and then disappears. Except there’s no Fakir, just self-assembling proteins forming the cytoskeleton, the bone-like structural support or scaffolding, inside all animal cells. Like a building assembling itself, brick by brick. And the more asymmetrical a cell is, the more it needs the structural support. So neurons with their long axons and dendrites have lots of microtubules. If you look inside a single neuron, you see hundreds of microtubules composed of something like one hundred million tubulin protein subunits. You could say that neurons are actually made of microtubules. So I just figured that if microtubules were organizing complex activities during rudimentary cell division, then they might be doing something similar in brain neurons related to consciousness.

EN: Interesting! Most people think that consciousness arises from activity between brain cells, or neurons, but you’re saying, well, no, it may actually be these extraordinarily tiny structures within neurons that provide the real physical basis for consciousness.

SH: Yes, exactly. Most views consider the brain-as-computer, with neuronal firings acting as “bits.” Neurons are seen as simple fundamental components of brain information processing, able to perform simple logic functions. But I began to think the mechanisms for consciousness went deeper. A couple of other things helped lead me in this direction. The first was that I looked at single-celled organisms like paramecia. A paramecium is one cell and therefore has no neurons or synapses. But it swims around, finds food, avoids obstacles and predators, finds a mate, has sex, and can learn. It seems to have some intelligence. Not necessarily consciousness, but the single-celled creature definitely has cognitive functions—“cognition” meaning sensory processing, control of behavior, and so forth. It has intelligence and yet no neurons nor synapses. It does, however, have microtubules, and organelles called cilia composed of microtubules which act as both sensors and motors. This suggested to me that a paramecium might use its microtubules to process information and organize its behavior. And if paramecia did so, why wouldn’t neurons?

The second thing was that, around the time I learned about microtubules, I also began to read about computer switching matrices, lattices, and networks. The structure of microtubules consisted of a cylindrical lattice of tubulin proteins. Each of these could switch between different conformational states, and be programmed by genetics and other factors, and be influenced by lattice neighbors, like gates and switches in computers. This was more support for the notion that microtubules might be acting not only as bone-like support, but also as molecular-scale computers, the intelligence system inside cells.

EN: So you basically started to realize that there’s actually a lot more activity—and maybe even conscious activity—going on inside the brain than most people imagine?

SH: That’s right—I saw more intelligence at a deeper level inside neurons, specifically in microtubule computation. Most views saw the brain as a computer with one hundred billion simple, dumb neurons interacting together to produce something intelligent and conscious. I thought each neuron at the level of its microtubules had significant information processing and intelligence. I had a hunch that microtubules were “Nature’s computers.”
So I started working with engineer and physicist colleagues to model and simulate tubulin states in microtubule lattices. We assumed each tubulin could be in two alternative states correlating with its dipole, and that neighboring dipoles interacted, or computed according to rules set by the microtubule geometry—very much like cellular automata, self-organizing computers. We also assumed the computational interactions were synchronized by coherent excitations on the scale of nanoseconds. Based on these assumptions, I worked with my colleagues Rich Watt, Steen Rasmussen, Jack Tuszynski, et al., and showed that microtubules were well suited to be efficient computational devices. Based on about ten million tubulins per neuron and nanosecond-range computations, we calculated that microtubules within each neuron in the brain could perform roughly 1016 operations per second. That was twenty years ago. Recent evidence has shown slightly slower coherent microtubule excitations of about one-hundred nanoseconds, and ten times more tubulin per neuron, so a revised estimate would be about 1015 operations per second per neuron for microtubule information processing. So instead of each neuron registering as a single bit in the computer of the brain—a one or a zero, firing or not firing—there was another layer of microtubule processing deeper inside each neuron, raising the potential computational complexity of the brain tremendously.

This was in the 1980s and early 90s, and I was going to a lot of artificial intelligence and neural network conferences where they were trying to model and simulate the brain as many simple neuronal switches. The Singularity people are still trying to do that. Considering brain computation strictly at the level of neuronal synaptic interactions, they estimate one hundred billion neurons per brain, each with up to one thousand synapses per neuron, and up to one-hundred operations per second per synapse. This gives roughly 1016 operations per second for the entire brain. Using Moore’s law for the minaturization and speedup of computer components, they were forecasting brain equivalence—and hence consciousness—in a few decades.

That 1016 was familiar. It was what we had calculated for one neuron at the microtubule level. I was saying, “No. Each of your simple switches is incredibly complicated. You have to take into account this added computational complexity. Each neuron has 1016 operations per second. The computational capacity of the brain is squared!” They didn’t like that very much. If correct, it pushed their goal of simulating a human brain way down the road. So I became kind of unpopular among that crowd.

But then one day someone said to me, “Okay, let’s say you’re right. Let’s say each neuron has all this enormous added computation going on. How would that explain conscious experience? How would that explain why we have feelings, why we see red, why we feel pain? How does that explain consciousness?” And I realized I didn’t have an answer to that, which brings us to what the Australian philosopher David Chalmers famously dubbed the “hard problem” of consciousness research.

EN: The question of how we get mind out of matter.

SH: Exactly.


SH: Fortunately, someone suggested that I read a book by the English mathematical physicist Sir Roger Penrose called The Emperor’s New Mind. So I did, and it was really amazing. The book’s title was intended as a slap in the face to artificial intelligence theorists because they maintained that if you had sufficiently complex computation in a computer, it would be conscious. But Roger argued—in a somewhat obscure mathematical direction called Gödel’s theorem—that consciousness involves something noncomputable, that understanding, or awareness, is not a computation. Something else is involved. So after ruling out the idea that consciousness was strictly a computation, Penrose then offered a mechanism for consciousness that involved something so far out of left field that most people considered it—and still consider it—rather bizarre. And that has to do with quantum physics, and in particular, quantum gravity.

Reading The Emperor’s New Mind, I was floored with the breadth and subtlety of Penrose’s knowledge, much of which I didn’t understand. I did know that anesthetic gases exert their effects by quantum forces, so consciousness having something to do with quantum physics made sense to me. And I had this gut feeling that he was onto something. He at least had a mechanism for consciousness. It was based on a particular type of quantum computation in the brain having something to do with quantum gravity—the fabric of spacetime geometry. I learned that quantum computation required information, e.g., “bits” of 1 or 0, to exist for a time in quantum ‘superposition’ of coexisting possibilities—quantum bits, or “qubits” of both 1 and 0. After interacting/computing the qubits then reduce, or collapse to bits, e.g., 1 or 0 as the answer. Roger was proposing a new explanation for the reduction, or collapse based on quantum gravity, and associated with consciousness. But on the brain side, he didn’t have a strong candidate for a qubit, suggesting possibly superpositions of neurons both firing and not firing.

I said to myself, well, maybe tubulins are qubits and microtubules are the quantum computers Penrose is looking for. So I wrote to him and we soon met in his office at Oxford.

Roger is a gentle, unassuming man, despite being incredibly brilliant and highly acclaimed. He mentioned he was going to a consciousness conference at Cambridge, and had me do almost all the talking. So I just started talking about microtubules and showed him the 1987 book I’d written on the subject. He listened intently, asked questions and was particularly taken by the Fibonacci geometry of the microtubule lattice. After several hours, he finally said, “Well, that’s very interesting.” I said goodbye and didn’t think anything was going to come of it. But about two weeks later, I was having dinner with some friends in London and they said, “Guess what? We were at this conference at Cambridge and Roger Penrose was talking about you and your microtubule stuff.” Soon after that, I received an invitation to a conference in Sweden that Roger was attending, and we struck up a friendship and decided to start developing a formal model of consciousness based on his theory of quantum gravity and the possibility of quantum computation in microtubules in the brain. I also invited him to speak at the first Tucson conference, Toward a Science of Consciousness in 1994.

EN: Pretend I don’t know anything about quantum physics. Could you explain what a quantum superposition is? And how it relates to consciousness or microtubules?

SH: Quantum means, literally, the smallest fundamental unit of energy, like a photon—an indivisible unit of light. But behavior at the quantum level is bizarre. It’s so bizarre, it’s like another world. In fact reality seems to be divided into two different worlds—the classical world and the quantum world. The classical world is our everyday familiar world, in which Newton’s laws of motion, electromagnetism and other basic physics pretty much describe everything very well. If you throw a ball, its trajectory, speed, location and so forth can be easily predicted. But as we go to smaller scales—let’s say, for argument’s sake, atoms and smaller—we enter a world where completely different physical laws apply, and predictions become a lot more difficult. For example, at the quantum level particles can be in two or more places or states at the same time. Instead of being either here or there, particles can be both here and there simultaneously, more like smeared-out waves than particles, and governed by a quantum wave function. And when pairs of superpositioned particles are separated, they remain somehow connected. This is called entanglement, or what Einstein called “spooky action at a distance.” But we don’t see this other world. And some say that’s because quantum superpositions collapse, or reduce to classical systems—the wave function collapses—only when consciously observed.

EN: This means that a human observer is required to collapse a state of superposition?

SH: In one interpretation of quantum physics, yes. The Danish physicist Niels Bohr popularized this model, which became known as the Copenhagen interpretation. Early experiments seemed to show that if a machine measured a quantum system, the results in the machine remained in superposition until observed by a conscious human, that consciousness “collapsed the wave function.” This put consciousness outside science, but allowed Bohr and others to continue experiments without worrying about any deeper meaning for reality or consciousness.

If you take Copenhagen to its extreme, you might suppose that if you’re sitting in a room and there’s a picture hanging behind you, then the picture may be smeared out in multiple places at once until you turn around and look at it. In other words, anything unobserved would be in a wave-like state of quantum superposition. That idea is pretty bizarre, however, and Erwin Schrödinger, another early quantum physics pioneer, thought it was downright silly. So he came up with his famous thought experiment, called Schrödinger’s Cat, to try to demonstrate how nonsensical it was.

But the question raised by Schrödinger’s thought experiment remains: How big can a quantum superposition get? Can isolated quantum systems be amplified so that something as large as a cat can be in two states simultaneously? There’s still no answer to that, but the question has led physicists to come up with alternatives to the Copenhagen interpretation—different models of wave function collapse that don’t necessarily require a conscious observer.


EN: And you prefer one of these alternatives to the Copenhagen interpretation?

SH: Well, yes, Roger’s theory is one of the alternatives—the only one incorporating consciousness. The others include the multiple-worlds view in which each possibility in a superposition branches off to form a whole new universe. Despite the mess of an infinite number of overlapping universes, this is actually a popular view among physicists. Another view is Bohm’s interpretation that pilot waves guide quantum particles in choosing their classical states and paths. And then there’s decoherence, in which any interaction with the classical environment disrupts quantum states—quantum systems must remain isolated from the classical environment somehow. But what about quantum systems which are isolated from environment, and may grow or evolve to a larger scale?
Roger proposed that in such cases, if decoherence can be avoided long enough, the wave function eventually proceeds to a certain point at which it self-collapses, or reduces due to an intrinsic, objective threshold in the fabric of spacetime itself, what Roger called objective reduction, or OR.

To understand this, go back to the multiple-worlds view. Every superposition is considered a separation in the underlying structure of spacetime, or fabric of the universe, with each branch of the separation evolving separately—resulting in two different universes. The universe divides like a living cell into two nearly identical copies. Roger agreed that superpositions are indeed separations in the underlying spacetime fabric, or geometry of the universe. He pointed out that Einstein’s general relativity meant that matter was equivalent to curvature in spacetime, so that a particle in two places is the same as simultaneous spacetime curvatures in opposite directions—a bubble in the underlying fabric of reality. But in Roger’s view these separations, or bubbles, are unstable—even if decoherence is avoided. Rather than evolve to form a new universe, the spacetime separations eventually reach an objective threshold for self-collapse, or quantum state reduction, and choose one bit of reality or the other. And when that happens, he argued, this self-collapse—OR—resulted in a moment, a fundamental unit or quantum, of conscious awareness.

The objective threshold for Roger’s OR self-collapse and consciousness was given by a very simple equation, very similar to the equation relating wavelength and frequency in photons in the electromagnetic spectrum. The wavelength of a photon is inversely related to its frequency by a constant—the speed of light. So the shorter the wavelength of a photon, the higher will be its frequency and energy. High energy X-rays have shorter wavelength and higher frequency compared to visible photons or microwaves. For fundamental units, or quanta of consciousness, Roger used a similar equation related to quantum indeterminacy, E= h/t. E is the size of the superposition, as well as the energy and intensity of the conscious moment, and t is its wavelength, or duration. h is Planck’s constant, putting it all in the quantum realm, or more precisely on the edge between the quantum and classical worlds. So the larger the superposition E, the shorter the t, or wavelength, and the faster the system will reach OR threshold for self-collapse and a conscious moment. And the larger the E, the greater also is the intensity of the conscious experience. This gives a quantum of consciousness, or actually an entire spectrum of quanta-conscious moments.

Penrose turned the Copenhagen interpretation around. Conscious observation doesn’t cause quantum wave-function collapse, as the Copenhagen interpretation says. Rather, he suggested consciousness is the wave function collapse, or at least one particular kind of collapse. It’s a quantum collapse that gives off fundamental units of conscious awareness, just like an electron orbital shift gives off a photon of light. And like photons, quanta of consciousness come in a spectrum of different intensities, frequencies and qualities.

EN: Wow! In this interpretation of quantum physics, superpositions naturally collapse themselves? And those collapses somehow produce consciousness?

SH: Yes, if decoherence or measurement doesn’t occur first. And that’s a fairly tricky thing, otherwise we’d have consciousness all over the place. If E is very small, t will be very long. So if an electron with a very small E in superposition were isolated from environment, it would have a conscious moment only after a very long time t—something like ten million years. And it would be a very low intensity experience—rather dull. A large superposition E, if isolated, would reach threshold quickly with a high intensity experience. We think the brain has evolved to isolate large superpositions E, but otherwise it’s very difficult to isolate large superpositions. So consciousness can happen whenever E=h/t, but in the universe it is fairly rare.

So how does it happen in the brain? That was kind of my job to figure out when Roger and I began to formalize our model in the mid-90s. I showed how synaptic inputs could tune, or ‘orchestrate’ OR-mediated quantum computations in microtubules, hence our theory became known as orchestrated objective reduction, ‘Orch OR’. There was the obvious issue of decoherence in the warm brain which I suggested was avoided by coherent biochemical pumping, microtubule resonances, ordered water and actin gelation encasing microtubules. Over the years we’ve had a lot of criticism about this, but recent evidence has clearly shown quantum coherence in warm biological systems. Another biological issue was how a quantum state isolated in microtubules in one neuron could extend to those in other neurons, for which I suggested gap junctions—window-like connections between neurons. In recent years, gap junctions have been shown to mediate gamma synchrony EEG, the best measurable correlate of consciousness. We also addressed how tubulin states could be regulated by weak quantum forces, be isolated from environment yet interact with it causally, and how it all fit in modern neuroscience.

So we had a reasonable story for how OR events—Orch OR—could happen in microtubules throughout wide regions of the brain. And when these collapses happen again and again, you get a series of conscious moments that is your experience of a stream of consciousness. So consciousness consists of a series of discrete events, yet is experienced as continuous. This is kind of like a movie appearing to be continuous yet being composed of individual frames, only with a movie you have an outside observer. In Orch OR, the frame itself has the observer built into it. The conscious moment and the quantum wave-function self-collapse are one and the same—a ripple in the fundamental level of the universe.

What is fundamental spacetime geometry? If we were to shrink smaller and smaller, much smaller than atoms, the medium of spacetime would appear smooth and featureless until we eventually reached the incredibly tiny Planck scale—the basement level of the universe—where patterns and webs of information exist. What it might look like is approached theoretically through geometry arising from string theory, twistors, spin networks or quantum gravity. Roger is one of the world’s experts in these areas, and he suggested that information embedded at this level, and repeating holographically, contained mathematical truth, as well as perhaps other Platonic values. Roger suggested that pure form and truth arise from information intrinsically encoded in the universe. This led to his noncomputability.

When superpositions decohere, or are measured as in standard quantum physics, the quantum possibilities collapse or choose a definite state randomly—like flipping a coin. But when decoherence and measurement are avoided and OR conscious threshold is reached, Penrose suggested that the choices of definite states—the conscious choices we make, or perceptions we experience—are not chosen randomly from among possibilities, but are influenced, or guided, by Platonic information embedded in spacetime geometry. He called this influence noncomputable because the Platonic influences were outside the system, built into the universe. Consciousness does sometimes involve choices or perceptions which appear to be noncomputable, e.g., intuition, instinct, divine guidance, enlightenment, or “following the way of the Tao.”

EN: So according to Penrose, gravitational effects at the quantum level are causing wave functions to collapse automatically, emitting little bursts of consciousness that somehow result in our own continuous, moment-to-moment experience of being conscious, aware, and alive?

SH: That’s right. I don’t know how familiar you are with the early-twentieth-century mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, but his thinking was very much along these lines as well. He said that consciousness was a sequence of what he called “occasions of experience occurring in a wider field of proto-conscious experience.” In his view, the universe isn’t made of things or particles. It’s a process. It’s made up of events. In the early nineties, physicist Abner Shimony pointed out that Whitehead’s occasions of experience are very much like quantum wave-function collapses, or quantum state reductions, so our view seems pretty consistent with Whitehead’s. But what about his “wider field of proto-conscious experience”?

When Roger and I first came out with our theory, we didn’t directly address the hard problem—why we have conscious experience. But when the Journal of Consciousness Studies did a special “hard problem” issue in 1996, we took a stab at it. And we basically followed Whitehead, saying that the “wider field of proto-conscious experience” was the fabric of the universe at the Planck scale—quantum gravity, or fundamental spacetime geometry—and that OR events were “occasions,” or ripples, occurring in that wider field. Fundamental properties of matter such as spin, mass, and charge are irreducible components of the universe that are somehow embedded in this Planck-scale geometry. So Roger and I proposed that the primary components of consciousness, of awareness, or at least their precursors—are also fundamental, irreducible, and built into the basic structure of the universe. After all, why should precursors to matter be present at that level but not the precursors to mind?

EN: Good question. You’re saying it’s possible that at least some basic level of consciousness may be as fundamental to the universe as the laws of physics?

SH: Yes. The laws of physics must include consciousness, or its precursors. I wouldn’t say the universe is conscious, just like I wouldn’t say the universe is entirely yellow, or purple, or wet or whatever. But under the right conditions, any of these can be true for small regions of the universe. The un-collapsed, still-superpositioned precursors of consciousness are somewhat like dreams. When OR occurs, the universe—at least a tiny portion of it—wakes up.


EN: We began by talking about microtubules, so please tie these together for me. How do these quantum wave-function collapses relate to what is happening with the microtubules in the brain?

SH: Well, the best measurable correlate of consciousness is a type of EEG—that is, electroencephalography, or brain-wave measurement—called gamma synchrony at around forty times per second, discovered in the 1980s in Germany by Wolf Singer. Typically with EEG you get a mess of squiggly lines, but if you break them down into frequency ranges you get various types of waves—delta, theta, alpha, and beta. These indicate electrical waves in the brain ranging from zero up to about thirty hertz, or thirty waves per second. But Singer discovered a higher, perfectly coherent frequency that came to be known as gamma synchrony, which ranged from thirty to ninety hertz, or even higher, though forty hertz is typical. Gamma synchrony is the best marker we have for consciousness in the brain. This suggests that conscious moments, or Whitehead “occasions,” occur roughly forty times per second.

EN: You’re saying that by monitoring someone’s brain with an EEG, researchers have been able to isolate a certain frequency of activity that only correlates with conscious experiences?

SH: There has to be a critical amount of it, but yes. And it can occur in different parts of the brain, kind of moving around. For example, if somebody smells a rose, they have this gamma synchrony in the olfactory cortex, the part of the brain dealing with smell. If you’re having visual consciousness, you’re going to have gamma synchrony in visual cortex, and in frontal cortex. For sexual pleasure, there is gamma synchrony in a part of the brain called nucleus accumbens, and so on. Gamma synchrony goes away with general anesthesia while other brain neuronal activities continue.

So Roger and I proposed that gamma synchrony correlates with OR quantum-state self-collapses happening roughly forty times per second among coherent, organized networks of the brain’s microtubules. Using E=h/t, we set time t as twenty-five milliseconds, the time duration for forty events per second, and calculated E in terms of superpositioned microtubule subunits. We came up with roughly nanograms of superpositioned tubulins, occupying roughly one hundred thousand neurons worth of microtubules, a number which matched other estimates for consciousness coming from conventional approaches.

Now, I should note that the frequency of conscious events can vary. In heightened or altered states, we seem to be having more conscious moments per second, which would mean that our perception of the outside world would be slower. For example, in a car accident when the car is spinning, people often report that time seems to slow down and the outside world appears to be moving half as fast as it usually does. This could be because their rate of gamma synchrony is changing from around forty hertz to eighty hertz. And similarly, someone once asked the great basketball player Michael Jordan in his prime how he was able to outperform the other team so well. He said when he’s playing well, it’s like the other team is in slow motion. So maybe Michael Jordan was experiencing sixty, seventy, or eighty conscious moments per second and the opponents were only experiencing something like forty.

We also see it in meditation. Buddhist texts describe flickering in pure awareness which have actually been counted—something like six and a half million in a day, which comes out to be in the gamma synchrony range. A few years ago, the Dalai Lama sent some monks to a lab in Wisconsin. They found that while meditating, the monks had the highest gamma synchrony ever recorded. They were actually operating at about eighty to one-hundred hertz, with control subjects at forty. And even at baseline, before they would meditate, the monks showed an unusually high rate of gamma synchrony. Years of meditating had changed their brains so that they were just normally in this higher-frequency gamma range. That suggests they’re having a richer and more intense conscious experience more frequently than the average person. You could perhaps also say they were having higher energy, frequency and intensity OR conscious moments, or quanta. They go deeper into the quantum world.


EN: Okay, I have a question about this. If consciousness is arising as a certain frequency of quantum collapses in the brain, then your model could still be considered materialistic, right? Consciousness is still ultimately a byproduct of brain activity, just pushed down to the level of what you’re calling quantum spacetime?

SH: Hang on a second! Material means “matter.” Matter derives from something more fundamental, which is quantum spacetime geometry, twenty-five orders of magnitude smaller than atoms. So this goes way below the scale of matter. Matter is … immaterial.

EN: Can you elaborate?

SH: Basically, if you think of mind and matter and the relation between them, there are a number of different philosophies to choose from. First you have dualism, where mind and matter don’t relate; there’s a brick wall between them. Next, you have ordinary materialism, the conventional view that says that matter creates mind. Then you have idealism and various mystical approaches, which say that mind creates matter. And there’s panpsychism in which mind and matter are the same. But in my opinion, none of these work. They all have problems. So the final choice, I think, is what’s called neutral monism, which has been put forth by such figures as Bertrand Russell, William James, and Baruch Spinoza in Western philosophy, and various nondual positions in Eastern philosophy. Neutral monism says that there’s one common underlying entity that gives rise to, on the one hand, matter, and on the other hand, mind. In our model, that underlying entity that gives rise to both matter and mind is quantum spacetime geometry. If you have a superposition which decoheres, you get matter. If you have a superposition which avoids decoherence and evolves to reach threshold for a conscious event/quantum, you get both matter and mind. In the Vedic traditions, you could call spacetime geometry Brahman, the underlying ground of being. You can call it whatever you like—spirit, the cosmos, quantum gravity—whatever it is that gives rise to both mind and matter and underlies all of reality.

EN: So you’re saying that based on your model, reality could be seen as being fundamentally spiritual?

SH: First let me say that Roger doesn’t relate his work to spirituality. But I personally have nothing to lose, so I figure, why not? I recently wrote a blog about this topic after speaking at an atheist conference, which I called “Being the Skunk at an Atheist Convention.” Richard Dawkins, Patricia Churchland and other atheists were there bashing religion. I said I didn’t hold with any organized religion, but that based on what we know of quantum physics and consciousness, we have to take seriously the scientific possibility of spirituality. Needless to say, they didn’t like that very much. In defining spirituality I mentioned three things. The first was an interconnection among living beings, and the universe as a whole, and I said that this could be possible through quantum entanglement, the intimate connection between quantum particles seemingly beyond the limitations of space and time. The second was some kind of divine guidance or cosmic wisdom influencing our choices due to Platonic values embedded in fundamental spacetime geometry. And finally, there was the possibility of consciousness persisting outside of the body, or after death.
About ten years ago, several studies about near-death and out-of-body experiences came out of Europe. Both involved several hundred patients who had cardiac arrests, and they found around seventeen percent of the patients had these near-death or out-of-body experiences. Then the BBC did a show about it called “The Day I Died,” in which they asked the researchers who did the studies if they could explain these experiences scientifically. And they replied, “We have no idea. Why don’t you ask Penrose and Hameroff ?” Anyway, Roger declined comment, but I said, well, under normal conditions, consciousness is happening at the level of spacetime geometry in and around the microtubules in the brain. However, when the blood and oxygen stop flowing and quantum coherence in brain microtubules stops, then the Planck scale quantum information isn’t destroyed. It continues to exist at the Planck scale, and can leak out or dissipate but remain entangled as a certain pattern, at least temporarily. So if the patient is revived, the quantum pattern gets drawn back into the microtubules inside the brain, and the patient reports having had a near-death or out-of-body experience. If the patient actually dies, then it’s conceivable that the quantum information can remain entangled in some sort of afterlife state. And perhaps the information can get pulled back into a new creature, a zygote or embryo, in which case you’d have something like reincarnation.

Now, I’m not offering any proof that this happens. I’m just providing a plausibility argument. I’m saying here’s how it could happen based on the Orch OR model.

EN: Let’s see if I’ve got the gist of your theory straight. Essentially, you’re saying that at least some basic degree of consciousness is woven into the fabric of spacetime itself, and it’s the coherent quantum activity among the microtubules in our brain that allows us to amplify or strengthen the basic universal consciousness that’s already there?

SH: Yes. Or simply to gain access to it, connect to it, become one with it. Quantum processes in brain microtubules make this connection in a way that also involves cognition, computation, and intelligence.

Most people think that consciousness emerged over eons as a byproduct of random mutations and the inherent complexity of natural selection, but I look at it the other way around. I think the fundamental field of proto-conscious experience has been embedded all along—since the big bang—in the Planck scale, and that biology evolved and adapted in order to access and connect to it. When someone meditates or becomes enlightened, they’re moving more deeply into that quantum realm. If you meditate and attain what people call nothingness, it isn’t actually nothingness. I think it’s spacetime geometry with its Platonic wisdom. You move more deeply into the basic fabric of the universe and actually become more consciously a part of it.
In fact, the Kabbalah says that we have this world of wisdom and light and then we have the world of aggravation and strife, and that consciousness dances on the edge between the two worlds. I think that’s very close to what’s happening, with the classical world being filled with aggravation and strife, and quantum spacetime geometry being filled with wisdom and light. OR is a process literally “on the edge” between quantum and classical worlds, converting quantum possibilities to classical reality. Spiritual practices allow you to dive deep and become immersed in the quantum Platonic world of spacetime geometry. You could call it God if you wanted to.

I should add that our theory has many, many critics. One argument against us has been that the brain is too warm for quantum effects, and that decoherence would prevent superpositions from reaching threshold for consciousness. But evidence in the past few years has shown that quantum coherence and superposition play major roles in living systems at warm temperatures, for example photosynthesis in plants. If plants can avoid decoherence, the brain is likely to have evolved a similar capability. So I’m betting on our side. If the quantum consciousness hypothesis is proven, it will give credence to the spiritual dimension of life. It will undermine materialism and atheism. I think it will rightfully justify faith and hope.                    "