The Science of Awe ; despite the Correspondences, Physics and Metaphysics Haven't Merged

Article excerpt

Religious mystics report an invisible reality, beyond the world we observe with the five senses. Now, so do modern physicists.

Traditionally, the deeper reality of the natural scientist has been a clockwork universe of dead matter in motion - hardly consistent with what religious mystics have described. But a few physicists now claim that 20th-century discoveries in their field require a new scientific view of reality, more like what religious seers report.

The latest book to claim this connection between 20th-century physics and religious mysticism is "Nature Loves to Hide," by physicist Shimon Malin. I must admit I haven't found previous attempts along this line to be very convincing. But Malin avoids the major errors that have marred other books of this kind and offers the reader a fascinating introduction to the strange world of quantum physics and its wider implications.

One error that Malin avoids is the claim that philosophical and theological conclusions can be deduced from the science itself. Modern physics consists of mathematical equations and prediction- making procedures that are neither theological nor philosophical. Thus, we can draw such conclusions only if someone adds an interpretation to the bare physics and then connects this interpretation with some larger system of thought.

Although Malin argues passionately and persuasively that the bare physics is suggestive of his own mystical vision, he does not make the mistake of implying that his system can be deduced from the theory. "Although quantum mechanics is not a comprehensive world view," he writes, "it is replete with suggestions."

Malin also won my confidence by acknowledging that not all physicists draw the same conclusions from quantum theory, and he summarizes alternatives to his own view.

Unfortunately, some of Malin's predecessors have ignored this lack of agreement and the technical nature of physics itself in order to claim that quantum physics proves matter to be a purely mental phenomenon. To be accurate, they should say that one of several competing interpretations places the transition from the quantum to the everyday realm inside human consciousness. …