Consciousness in Physics

by Wes

In science, for the last 200 years the dominant belief underlying the description of the universe has been materialism – the belief that the universe’s basic structure is matter and everything that exists has developed from matter blindly following natural laws of evolution. This includes human consciousness and our inner sense of self, which are seen as illusions created when the brain gets complex enough. But there are real problems with the materialist view that remain ignored or unsolved.

The most well known of these problems comes from quantum mechanics, and it’s called the observer effect. In quantum theory, which has been verified many, many times, the smallest parts of matter, and also light, only exist as waves of probabilities until they are observed or measured. That’s a bit of an oversimplification but it creates a problem for the materialists. If consciousness is an accidental result of a complex brain (an “epiphenomenon”) then why is it seemingly a central causative agent in physics? Recent experiments have made this problem worse as experimenters have shown quantum effects on larger and larger pieces of matter, such as big carbon “buckyballs.”

Another challenge to materialism has come from experiments demonstrating the nonlocal properties of mind; that is, the ability of mind to act on matter at a distance. This is best demonstrated by the ongoing results of the Global Consciousness Project, started at Princeton University. Originated by Robert Jahn and carried on by Roger Nelson, this project uses a Random Event Generator that is based on a quantum event. In essence, a computer looks at the REG at regular intervals to see if the event, which is completely random, has happened. It’s like a quantum coin flip happening many times per second, and over time should be equally heads and tails.

Experiments with individuals, and later with group meditations, showed that they could cause significant deviations in the statistical pattern. In addition, a worldwide network of REGs has shown responses to significant world events including Princess Diana’s funeral and the 9/11 attack.

Enter the “new” theory, which can be simply described as asserting that the material universe is made from consciousness. This viewpoint has been popularized by a Discover magazine article a few years ago titled “Does the Universe Exist if We’re Not Looking?” In it, the author quoted eminent physicist John Wheeler as saying, “We are not bystanders on the cosmic stage, but shapers and creators living in a participatory universe” and Stanford physicist Andre Linde as saying, “I can’t imagine a theory of everything that ignores consciousness.”

Today the challenges to materialism from scientists are becoming hard to ignore. In addition to Wheeler and Linde, theoretical physicist Amit Goswami has written “The Self Aware Universe” which I consider the best complete analysis of physics, consciousness and spirituality that I’ve found. Recently eminent medical doctor and researcher Robert Lanza and astronomer Bob Berman published “Biocentrism” with again the central thesis that the universe is created by consciousness.

This conflict is not new; the deficiencies of materialism have bothered some scientists for the last century. For example, Max Planck, the father of quantum theory has said, “All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force…We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent Mind. This Mind is the matrix of all matter.”

Planck sounds very much like Charles Fillmore who wrote in 1936, “Divine Mind is the one and only reality..Everything in the universe had its origin in Mind… The idea is the most important factor in every act…Men formulate thoughts and thoughts move the world.”

We can see from these quotes that both science and the “perennial” spirituality are converging on a description of reality that centers on consciousness, on Mind.

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