Observation

In many mystical traditions, the conscious mind is seen as a separate entity, existing in a realm not described by physical law. Some people claim that this idea gains support from the description of the physical world provided by quantum mechanics.

Quantum mechanics is the study of mechanical systems whose dimensions are close to the atomic scale, such as electrons, protons and other subatomic particles. Quantum theory generalizes classical mechanics to provide accurate descriptions for many previously unexplained phenomena. The effects of quantum mechanics become evident at the atomic and subatomic level, and they are typically not observable on macroscopic scales.

Quantum mysticism is the claim that the laws of quantum mechanics incorporate mystical ideas similar to those found in certain religious traditions and beliefs. It is descended from the measurement problem, the seemingly special role which observers play in quantum mechanics. The term quantum mysticism is often used by skeptical scientists to discount the idea that quantum theory supports mystical beliefs.

Quantum mechanics requires interpretation before it describes the experience of an observer. While particles and fields are described by a wavefunction, the results of observations are described by classical information which tells us the result. The information about observation is not in the wavefunction but is additional random data. The wavefunction only gives the probability of getting different outcomes, and the wavefunction only turns into a probability when it is measured.

The nature of observation has often been a point of contention in quantum mechanics because it describes the experiences of observers with different numbers than it uses to describe material objects. With the exception of Louis DeBroglie and Albert Einstein, who believed that quantum mechanics was a statistical approximation to a deeper reality which is deterministic, most of the founders of quantum mechanics believed that this problem is purely philosophical. Eugene Wigner went further, and explicitly identified it as a quantum version of the mind/body problem.

Consciousness causes collapse is the name of an interpretation of quantum mechanics according to which observation by a conscious observer is the cause of wave function collapse. The rules of quantum mechanics are correct but there is only one system which may be treated with quantum mechanics, namely the entire material world. There exist external observers which cannot be treated within quantum mechanics, namely human (and perhaps animal) minds, which perform measurements on the brain causing wave function collapse.

This interpretation attributes the process of wave function collapse to consciousness itself. However, it is not explained by this theory which things have sufficient consciousness to collapse the wave function. The question becomes one of whether the wave function waited to jump for thousands of millions of years until a single celled living creature appeared, or did it have to wait a little longer for some highly qualified measurer with a PhD. It is also not clear whether measuring devices might also be considered conscious.

Recent study of quantum decoherence casts new light onto the problem by reducing the importance of the macroscopic observer originally introduced in the language of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum theory. Modern scientific discourse has evolved to try to quantify how quantum systems fall apart due to their interactions with the surroundings. In this manner a unified view of all quantum interactions can be developed that treats neighboring quantum systems on the same footing.

These counterintuitive aspects of quantum physics were popularized in the 1970s with Fritjof Capra’s The Tao of Physics, in which he explores the parallels between quantum physics and principles in Eastern mystical teachings. This was taken up in the 1980s by Hindutva pseudoscience, which extrapolated on the statements of Vivekananda, claiming that the conclusions of modern science are the very conclusions the Vedanta reached ages ago. It joined together concepts from physics like gravitation, electricity, magnetism and other forces with the mystical Vedantic notion of Prana.

Similarly, the 2004 film What the Bleep Do We Know!? made controversial use of ideas about quantum mechanics, among other sciences, in a New Age context. Theories of Quantum mind have given rise to concepts like Quantum meditation, positing a scientific basis for meditation practices not supported by mainstream science.

In 1998 Deepak Chopra was awarded the parody Nobel Prize in physics for his unique interpretation of quantum physics as it applies to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. He received this honor for such writing that Quantum healing is healing the body and mind from a quantum level. That means from a level which is not manifest at a sensory level. Our bodies ultimately are fields of information, intelligence and energy. Quantum healing involves a shift in the fields of energy information, so as to bring about a correction in an idea that has gone wrong. So quantum healing involves healing one mode of consciousness, mind, to bring about changes in another mode of consciousness, body.

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