“A scientific worldview which does not profoundly come to terms with the problem of conscious minds can have no serious pretensions of completeness. Consciousness is part of our universe, so any physical theory which makes no proper place for it falls fundamentally short of providing a genuine description of the world”.
Sir Roger Penrose (1931 – present)
The scientific method is based on the observation, description and experimental investigation of natural phenomena, such that hypotheses and theories can be offered to explain aspects of nature, then further experiments can be conducted and replicated by others to test those theories.
While we tend to think of science as logical and factual, and view it as offering scientific ‘truths’ and explanations of the natural laws, which are unchanging and incontestable, the primary tenet of science is that its claims must be falsifiable. In other words, they must be able to be tested and proved wrong. That’s how science differs from religion, which is based on faith or belief and is not inherently testable or its claims falsifiable. This is arguably one of the strengths of science but also one of its weaknesses. New knowledge and understandings are continually overturning even the most basic concepts of science and yet science seems more reluctant than ever to change its mind. It’s as if it doesn’t want to revise or even overturn if necessary some of the premises on which so much has been built (see: The work of Rupert Sheldrake).
Many of you will know how Copernicus overturned the conventional thought of the time that the earth was the centre of the universe by theorizing that the earth revolves around the sun. It was Galileo who went on to confirm that theory four hundred years ago by providing the evidence (see: Science the New God). Their contribution fundamentally changed our conception of our place in the cosmos, an upheaval in thinking that, in the case of Copernicus, was dubbed the ‘Copernican revolution.’ Science advances by overturning what was once accepted as ‘truth’ by providing evidence for a more complete truth or a substantially revised version.
This is science’s great value, which has helped us to make incredible advances, but it has also created an arrogance that has us making many mistakes. We have forgotten the primary premise of science and lost sight of its transitory nature and as a result we talk in ‘absolutes’, which makes us inflexible in our views until the next revelation comes along. That’s why, as British philosopher Edmund Burke said, “We must all obey the great law of change. It is the most powerful law of nature.” That change, that overturning, may be so startling and unexpected that it is felt to be revolutionary. The evidence noetic scientists are amassing heralds that we are on the cusp of a major revolution not only in our conception of ourselves but in our understanding of how the universe works.
What is Noetic Science?
Noetic derives from the Greek word noesis, which means, in its most basic and literal sense, “understanding,” “thinking,” or “relating to the intellect.” It describes that which is comprehended through reason. The main focus of the noetic sciences is the inner universe rather than the outer universe. Their primary concern is with consciousness, unlike conventional science they are actively concerned with the role that consciousness plays in the dance of life. They believe that many of the unexplained phenomena may well be unveiled by understanding the part that consciousness plays. And so noetic researchers are using the rigour and methods of modern day science, to test the validity and place of consciousness within the context of everyday reality.
Noetic investigations are being carried out across many scientific disciplines. Its investigators use the scientific method to study aspects of nature that are deemed ‘frontier’ because they are considered to be at the cutting-edge of conventional scientific knowledge and so are not always the primary focus of conventional scientific research. The Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS), a research and education organization in California, describes the range of noetic sciences this way:
“Noetic sciences are explorations into the nature and potentials of consciousness using multiple ways of ‘knowing’, including intuition, feeling, reason, and the senses. Noetic sciences explore the ‘inner cosmos’ of the mind (consciousness, soul, spirit) and how it relates to the ‘outer cosmos’ of the physical world.”
This is a broad definition, including as it does research into the mind-body interactions, consciousness, the paranormal (often called psi research), alternative and complementary healing, subtle energy, information imprinting (in/on water or other substances), the human body-field, and other aspects of nature and human biology that are often routinely dismissed by conventional science.
There are a lot of unchartered waters in physics, medicine, biology, healing, and consciousness. For the most part, these unchartered waters, when traversed, reveal anomalies that call into question what we ‘think’ we know. Then we become aware that there are maybe other interpretations that need to be considered. These are the aspects of nature that scientists have caught glimpses of in their experiments or from repeated observations, but that fall so far outside the boundaries of conventional theory that these ‘outliers’ defy belief and so are often not taken seriously or are ignored. In fact, there are so many of these anomalies that it’s impossible to ignore them any longer. Noetic scientists are amongst the researchers who are daring to venture into these unchartered waters to see if we can make greater sense of what the universe is repeatedly telling us, which is not to ignore the part we are playing in life’s unfolding. How can we continue to ignore the impact we are having on reality, when it’s clear to see the impact that reality is having on us. The evidence is showing us that this is a two-way street and until we open our minds we will keep overlooking the obvious and be poorer for it.
What is Quantum Entanglement?
Entanglement explains one of the most fascinating findings of quantum physics – that the universe is ‘non-local.’ Nonlocality means that at a fundamental level of reality, nothing is truly localized and separate. Everything is connected at some level, such that cause and effect begins to have many more implications than we were led to believe from Newton’s laws. Despite the ‘oddness’ of this principle, nonlocality is considered to be the one of most fundamental factors of the universe.
The discovery and subsequent verification of entanglement and nonlocality fostered all kinds of philosophical debates within science, especially about holism and an interconnected universe, where nothing is truly separate and where one part of the universe influences every other part. Albert Einstein called entanglement “spooky action at a distance,” and he was deeply troubled by it.
He thought that entanglement and nonlocality couldn’t possibly be real, for they seemed to overthrow some of the most cherished tenets of classical, Newtonian physics. He believed that entanglement and nonlocality were evidence that quantum theory suffered from some deep flaw, and that someday that flaw would be corrected. But Einstein’s initial concerns were proved wrong: entanglement and nonlocality are indeed core features of the universe and have become two of the cornerstones of quantum theory.
If you have never heard of entanglement and nonlocality, you are not alone. As profound as the discovery of nonlocality was, its verification by experiment barely made a dent in the public’s awareness. Historian of science Robert Nadeau and physicist Menas Kaftos write in their book, The Non-local Universe: The New Physics and Matters of the Mind:
“Although the discovery that physical reality is non-local made the science section of the New York Times, it was not front-page news and received no mention in national news broadcasts. On the few occasions where nonlocality has been discussed in public forums, it is generally described as a piece of esoteric knowledge that has meaning and value only in the community of physicists. The obvious question is, Why has a discovery that many regard as the most momentous in the history of science received such scant attention and stirred so little debate? One possible explanation is that some level of scientific literacy is required to understand what nonlocality has revealed about the character of physical reality. Another is that implications of this discovery have shocked and amazed scientists, and a consensus view of what those implications are has only recently begun to emerge.”
Nonlocality and entanglement show that there is some deeply correlated relationship between the parts and the whole in the universe, so that reductionism can no longer be a truly valid approach to doing science. Reductionism rules in conventional science, especially in biology and medicine. It says that we can take a living or natural system apart, as if it were a machine, study each piece, and by understanding the function of each piece, we can determine how the whole system works. Science has advanced in astonishing ways by taking a reductionist approach, but that approach has its limits. It is especially deficient when it comes to studying complex living systems, such as human beings.
Noetic science focuses on finding out where the connections exist at every level of the universe, including that of human biology and consciousness. Noetic scientists are operating under the assumption, based on the evidence from their experiments, that the universe is a quantum universe and human beings are quantum beings operating within that time and space.
Their claims are still controversial, because most conventional physicists still maintain that quantum effects cannot be detected at the level of our everyday lives. They say that there is a boundary between the subatomic, quantum world and our everyday world of matter. On one side of the equation, quantum physics rules; on the other side, classical physics dominates. Yet, every year there is more and more persuasive evidence that no such clear, definitive boundary exists. The evidence comes not only from the noetic sciences, but from traditional science as well.
For example, conventional physicists have discovered that large organic molecules can be entangled. This is a startling development that flies in the face of traditional physics and biology. And so the debate is heating up as more and more evidence is amassed that we are on the cusp of a momentous scientific revolution, one in which the classical and quantum worlds, for so long seen as separate realms, will indeed prove to be one unified whole.
Consciousness – The Unifying Force?
There are some physicists who, since the dawn of the quantum era, have posited that consciousness is what unifies the two realms of quantum and classical reality. For example, physicist Sir James Jeans said that because of the implications of quantum theory, the “universe begins to look more like a great thought than a great machine.” His statement still reverberates throughout physics because so much of quantum physics comes down to two primary questions: What ultimately connects everything in the universe? And what is it that causes quantum entities to behave differently under observation and experimentation? The answer to both questions appears to be consciousness. As physicist John Wheeler has suggested, we may actually live in a “participatory” universe, where our consciousness influences reality.
Frontier science, such as: neurotheology, P.N.I, epigenetics and noetic science, is uncovering evidence that we have both a quantum and a physical nature. There are not two realities, the classical and the quantum. There is only one ‘unified’ whole. Ultimately, everything in our world is reducible to the quantum realm. Your body, the chair you are sitting on, the computer you are looking at, the wind blowing against the window – they are all made of atoms (light), and atoms are made of subatomic particles, and particles are probabilities, not solid things. And the ultimate ‘measuring’ or ‘detecting’ instrument is consciousness. This is why what we think and feel really matters and has consequences, not just within the confines of our bodies, but within the world.
Particles or Waves?
When is a particle not a particle? When it’s a wave. It’s called complementarity, and more specifically ‘wave-particle duality.’ A subatomic particle, such as an electron, is both wave and particle simultaneously at the deepest level of reality – the quantum realm.
In our everyday world, it can show up only as a particle or a wave and not both, and how it shows up is restricted by the kind of experiment that is being conducted to detect it. It’s strange, but true that if an experimenter is seeking to explore the wave properties of a quantum particle, say an electron, then the electron shows up displaying its wave nature. If the experiment is designed to explore particles, the electron shows up with all the properties and dynamics of a tiny solid thing – a particle. Somehow it’s as if subatomic entities ‘know’ what we are asking and so appear in our world in ways that best accommodate our questions. This is truly mind-boggling and may further underline the role of consciousness in these matters because the energy that the human presence brings to these experiments unquestionably ‘influences’ the outcome.
Einstein quite rightly said that the moment you are observing an experiment you are part of what is taking place and therefore you are influencing the way that the atoms and subatomic particles behave. Particle-wave duality is an aspect of the quantum world that has been tested again and again, and always proved to be correct (see: The double slit experiment explained – made simple).
Two of the founding fathers of quantum mechanics, Neils Borh and Werner Heisenberg were amongst the first to point out that we can’t know everything there is to know about a quantum particle at once. There is a limit to our knowledge. For example, if you know how fast a particle is going (its velocity), you can’t tell with one hundred percent certainty where it is (its position). And vice versa, if you know precisely where it is, you can’t be sure how fast it is moving. By knowing a lot about one aspect of a particle, you sacrifice some knowledge about other aspects of it. This again is at odds with classical, Newtonian physics. Theoretically, in the classical world (our everyday world) Newtonian physics tells us that if we know all the initial conditions of a system, we can reveal everything there is to know about that system as it unfolds in time. The quantum reality paints a very different picture. This difference between our experience and calculation of things in the world of matter, versus what is happening at the quantum level, has been described as the ‘uncertainty principle’. In other words we can never be entirely sure of our position, or our speed because we cannot simultaneously appreciate and experience both.
When a particle is in its ‘natural’ state (meaning it is not being measured or observed via experiments) then it is said to be in a state of ‘superposition’, which means it is in every possible state it can be all at once. That’s why it is said to be in a state of ‘potentiality’. It literally embodies everything possible, in what is often described metaphorically as a fuzzy or ‘smeared’ cloud of probabilities. When the particle suddenly appears in one, definable state, because we have observed it or measured it in some way, then physicists say its ‘wave function’ has collapsed.
What’s a wave function? The simplest way to explain it is that it’s a mathematical description of all the potentials of a quantum system. As its name implies, it focuses on the wave aspects of a quantum entity or system, but it also provides a description of the possible states of the system. Physicists say that the only way to detect a subatomic particle is to ‘collapse’ its wave function. When that happens, the particle goes from a state of superposition (being everything it can be) to taking on specific properties (such as, acting like a wave or like a particle, or is located at a certain position, is moving at a certain speed, and so on). How do you collapse the wave function? By observing the particle! Again, it’s as if quantum entities ‘know’ when we are looking at them. This is a clear demonstration that consciousness plays a pivotal role in these dynamics. There is clearly a conversation taking place.
The debate continues in physics about whether wave functions have some kind of objective reality or whether they are no more than abstract descriptions. Again, could it be that consciousness holds the key? If the scientific community at large was not so resistant to the re-evaluation of the world as we know it and could let go of many of the fixed ideas that currently exist, we could arguably arrive at the answers to these questions more quickly. The revolution that is taking place with many of the cutting-edge sciences is forcing us to see that everything is indeed connected and that we all have a pivotal part in how life unfolds. it’s time for us to live more mindfully and more imaginatively.