The Myth of Quantum Consciousness

By Stenger, Victor J. | The Humanist, May-June 1993 | Go to article overview

The Myth of Quantum Consciousness


Stenger, Victor J., The Humanist


A new myth is burrowing its o modern thinking. The notion is spreading the principles embodied in quantum mechanics imply a central role for the human mind in determining the very nature of the universe. Not surprisingly, this idea can be found in New Age periodicals and in many books on the metaphysical shelves of bookstores. But it also can appear where you least expect it--even in the pages of that bastion of rational thinking, The Humanist.

In an article in the November/December 1992 issue entitied "The Wise Silence," Robert Lanza says that, according to the current quantum mechanical view of reality, "We are all the ephemeral forms of a consciousness greater than ourselves." The mind of each human being on earth is instantaneously connected to each other--past, present, and futures "a part of every mind existing in space and time."

To my ear, these sound very much like the ideas of physicist and New Age guru Fritjof Capra, as expressed most recently in the film Mindwalk. They also resonate with the cosmic consciousness" promoted by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and his Transcendental Meditation movement. Like Lanza, these sages claim modern physics as their authority The maharishi associates cosmic consciousness with the grand unified field of particle physics. Maharishi University "quantum physicist" John Hagelin, Natural Law Party candidate for U.S. president in the recent election, has spoken frequently about quantum consciousness.

In Lanza's interpretation, quantum mechanics tells us that all human minds are united in one mind and "the entities of the universe--electrons, protons, galaxies, and the like--are floating in a field of mind that cannot be limited within a restricted space or period."

Unlike traditional myths, which call upon scripture or the utterances of charismatic leaders as their authorities, this latest version of ancient Hindu idealism is supposedly based on up-to-date scientific knowledge. The assertion is made that quantum mechanics has ruled invalid the materialistic, reductionist view of the universe, introduced by Newton in the seventeenth century, which formed the foundation of the scientific revolution. Now, materialism is replaced by a new spiritualism, and reductionism is cast aside by a new holism.

The myth of quantum consciousness sits well with many whose egos have made it impossible for them to accept the insignificant place science perceives for humanity, as modern instruments probe the farthest reaches of space and time. It was bad enough when Copernicus said that we were not at the center of the universe. It was worse when Darwin announced that we were not angels. But it became intolerable when astronomers declared that the earth is but one of a hundred billion trillion other planets, and when geologists demonstrated that recorded history is but a blink of time--a microsecond of the second of Earths existence.

In a land where self-gratification has reached heights never dreamed of in ancient Rome, where selfe-steem is more important than being able to read, and where self-help requires no more effort than putting on a cassette, the myth of quantum consciousness is just what the shrink ordered.

But, alas, quantum consciousness has about as much substance as the aether from which it is composed. Early in this century, quantum mechanics and Einsteins relativity destroyed the notion of a holistic universe that had seemed within the realm of possibility in the century just past. First, Einstein did away with the aether, shattering the doctrine that we all move about inside a universal, cosmic fluid whose excitations connect us simultaneously to one another and to the rest of the universe. Second, Einstein and other physicists proved that matter and light were composed of particles, wiping away the notion of universal continuity. Atomic theory and quantum mechanics demonstrated that everything, even space and time, exists in discrete bits--quanta. …

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