How modern ideas in Quantum Physics are merging with the Mystery Tradition & Ancient Wisdom
[Note that this paper draws on the work of Quantum Physicist David Bohm: interested readers
can find details of a chat page on David Bohm below.]
The concept of the mind of man as viewed from the more dramatic of the psycho-physiologists, the concepts of the structure of the universe as viewed from the experimental edge of quantum physics and the concepts of the Qabbalah and the Otz Chiíim as presented by the studies of the SRIA, are beginning to merge. How close they are now to each other is concealed partly by the differences in language and partly because each rarely looks closely at what the other is saying. In particular, of course, modern science hardly glances in the direction of the esoteric. I wish, for a few moments, tha we should look carefully in the other direction.
Let us deal first with the mind or, more accurately,
the memory. In the early part of this century it was assumed that memory
had a specific location in the brain, as a book may have a specific location
on a library shelf, and some experimental evidence with eleptics seemed
to bear this out.
A Californian Professor called Lashley tried to establish the location of memory by experimentation. He taught rats to run through a maze for their food, then cut out different parts of their brains. He found they still remembered how to run through the maze. No matter what part of their brains or even how much he removed, they remembered all that they had learned. A graduate student and then assistant, Karl Pribram, established with Lashley that there was, quite definitely, no no specific location in the brain for memory.
Pribram went on to become a professor and important innovative thinker. He noted that no patient ever came out of surgery, in which part of the brain was removed, with a selective memory loss. No head injury victim who suffered brain damage ever forgot half of his family or half of a novel he had read.
Pribram was at a complete loss to understand this until, in 1956, he read and article about the first holographic picture. In a flash he understood. To understands what he understood, we need to go into brief detail about a hologram.
A Hologram and how it is made.
Before you look at the diagram I want you to visualise something
with me. Close your eyes and imagine that you are standing besidea pool of absolutely
still water. You are holding one pebble in your left hand and two pebbles in
your left hand - the other way round if you want, it doesnít matter. Toss one
of the two pebbles in the water and visualise the splash. See in particular
the waves rippling out in concentric circles from the point where the pebble
entered the water. Imagine the water still completely still again. Now toss
the two remaining pebbles into the water simulaneously, so that they land a
little way apart. Note that there are two sets of concentric waves spreading
out to eventuall cross, forming as they do an intricate pattern of crests and
troughs of wavelets. The scientific term for the crossing of waves is ëinterferenceí.
When I use the term ëinterferenceí in a moment I shall be using it with this
precise and specific meaning.
Interfence, with this precise scientific, occurs when waves of anything converge. We do not normally notice interference in light waves, but a hologram uses a laser, where a beam is intensified and directed, and interference is measurable.Now look at the diagram below.A laser shines directly towards a photographic plate. However, between the laser and the plate is a beam splitter. Most readers will have noticed the mirror effect of a partially silvered window, in a toilet attendentís window, for example, enabling a watch to kept through the window, against vandalism or loitering. At the same time, it still functions as a mirror. A beam splitter in the production of a hologram works ion much the same principle. Part of the beams continues in a straight line and falls on the photographic plate. The other part of the beam is mirrored at 90 degrees, bounced subject of the hologram and is reflected onto the plate. The resulting pattern of interference is photographed. By shining a laser onto the negative at exactly the same angle as the original laser, a 3D image of the subject is produced and, as the viewer walks around it, the angles of what is seen change with the viewer. The appearance of somthing real is produced.
There are several properties of a hologram which are not immediately obvious and which were unknown to me a year ago. I suspect that many of you may not be aware of them either.
The Problems of Quantum Physics
Quantum Physics challenges established scientific ideas. The most significant challenge involes the fact that sub-atomic partices sometimes bahave as waves and not as separate entities at all, hence the name quanta for these things which are sometimes nothing. Evidence tends to suggest that observimg these quanta causes them to change their behaviour. Moreover, John Paternoster observes that he always argued that, in terms of quanta, a particle is a cross section through a ëwaveí - that they are the same in space but differentiated by time. As an analogy, imagine yourself at a bowling alley, about to roll a ball. You sprinkle the alley with talcum powder, so that the ball leaves a track, then you roll the ball. While you watch the ball it is a ball and leaves a trail where it rolls through the talcum powder. When you blink or otherwise stop watching the ball for a moment, the trail becomes the zig-zag pattern of a wave. As soon as you start watching the ball again, it is a ball, leaving a single trail. Continuing the analogy, you place a sheet of plywood across the alley, with two ball sized holes in it. Attached to each hole there is an alarm, that lights up or rings a bell when a ball passes through. You roll one ball and both bells ring simultaneously.
A less striking problem, but more important to this paper is that, under specific circumstances, two electrons, moving apart at the speed of light, behave as if they are in touch. If Einsteins formula for the Genaral Theory of Relativity is correct, then they canít be in touch, because nothing can move faster than light. Bohm suggests a very far reaching alternative solution, and it underlies something very important.
Imagine you have an aquarium tank with one fish in
it and two TV cameras recording its movements from two different angles
- one at the side of the tank, the other at the end - and two separate
monitors in another room. It will appear from the two monitors that you
are watching two different fish, apparantly in contact and communicating
and moving together. Only in the context of the aquarium can they be understood
as one fish.
Just as the two fish are one in the context of the aquarium, Bohm suggests that the two particles are one wave at a higher level.
WHOLENESS AND THE IMPLICATE ORDER
I have struggled with the book by David Bohm setting out his ideas (and
I do mean struggled) and have read a more accessible introduction to his
work.Bohm urges the replacement of the current paradigm, on which
scientific experiment and argument are based, with something more easily
changed. He suggests that we need a conditional world view he calls an
This would be seen as a sort of temporary world vierw that can be changed
more readily when it is overtaken by experimental results which donít fit. This, he argues, is not the case with the current paradigm, which scientists spend much time defending and causes them to question experimental results or summarily reject ideas which do not fit the paradigm. proposes, as a general new insight an Undivided Wholeness:
The new form of insight can perhaps best be called Undivided Wholeness
in Flowing Movement. This view implies that
flow is, in some sense, prior to that of the things that can be seen to form and dissolve in this flow. This flux of aware-
ness is not precisely definable, and yet is evidently prior to the definableforms of thoughts and ideas which can be seen
to form and dissolve in the flux,like ripples, waves and vortices in a flowing stream. As happens with such patterns of
movement in a stream, some thoughts recur and persist in a more orless stable way, while others are evanescent. The
proposal for a new general form of insight is that all matter is of thisnature: that is, there is a universal flux that cannot
be defined explicitly but canonly be known implicitly, as explicitly definable forms and shapes, some stable and some
unstable, that can be abstracted from the universal flux. In this flow, mind and matter are not separate substances.
Rather they are different aspectsof one whole and unbroken movement. 1
Contrast this with the ideas set out by Dion Fortune in her book Cosmic Doctrine. She talks of vortices and swirling in different language, and it is clear that she does not use the expression atom in a current scientific sense. There are, however, close parallels between the stream of consiousness refeerred to by Bohm and the explanation given on pages 36 &37 (SIL Trading edition, 1995) Remember that both are trying explain the inexplicable and that Dion Fortune was trying to explain it (or her sources were) in terms of a pre-Einstein understanding of physics.
Bohm thinks that there is no question that thought (which he sees as a movement towards becoming, involving the relation of data to memory) is distinct from intellegence. Moreover, he is clear that the latter not only is not but could not be contained within the purely mechanistic functions of the brain. He says:
There is a great deal of evidence indicating that thought is basically
a material process. For example, it has been observed
in a wide variety of contextsthat thought is inseperable from the electrical and chemical activity in the brain and nervous
system ... Would one say that intellegence is a similar process,though perhaps more subtle?
It is implied in the view that we are suggesting here that this is not so. Ifintellegence to be an unconsitioned act of per-
ception, its ground cannot be instructures such as cells, molecules, atoms, elementary particles etc. Ultimately, anything
that is determined by the laws of such structures must be in thefield of what can be known, i.e. stored up in memory ... The
actual operation of intellegence is thus beyond the possibility of being determined or conditioned in any knowable law. So,
we see that the ground of intellegencemust be in the undetermined and unknown flux, that is also the ground of all definable
forms of matter.2
I would ask you to dwell for a moment on this statement. What this Professor of Theoretical Physics - a quantum scientist - is saying is what the Western Mystery Tradition has always maintened: that intellegence resides in an imperishable part of us which is a part of whole of the creative force underlying the universe (in relious terms, our souls) and not part of mortal bodies. Bohm is just one of a growing number of quantum scientists who are starting to think along these lines. Fritjof Capra has said:
Quantum theory thus reveals the basic oneness of the universe. It shows
hat we cannot decompose the world into independent-
ly existingsmallest units. As we penetrate into matter, nature does not show us anyisolated basic building blocks but rather
a complicated set of relationsbetween the quantum particles.These relations always include the observer in an essential way. 3
Bohmís insistence that the mind and perceptions are part of continuum with all things has some esoteric implications. I am not sure that SRIA looks for scientific evidence to support the contentions of ancient wisdom, of alchemical allergory of what Alestair Crowley called magick with a K, but the evidence is there.
You will possibly recall the childrenís game in which a subject - even a willing adult - sits in a chair and four individuals try to lift her or him with ome finger each, placed behind the knees and under the armpits. They find it impossible and each uses one hand to press down on the subjectís head for a full. They then use one finger each again and are quite able to raise the subject. Clearly the subject has not changed in essence. What has changed is the four peopleís perception of the subject. Bohmís work suggests that, since a continuum exists between the subject and the experimenters, changing the perspective of the participants may change the hologram (or at least their view of it, even though the reality is unchanged at the implicate level.
The Roman Catholic Church makes the distinction between
the ësubstanceí of the Bread and Wine at the Mass - what it is - and the
ëaccidentsí - what it appears to be. It is a distinction not popular with
Protestants of a fundamentalist bent, but Bohmís line of reasoning is suggestive.
If it is possible to modify the ëaccidentsí without changing the ësubstanceí
- and the example quoted, indeed the whole chain of thought, points that
way - there can be no why it is not possible to change the substance without
changing the accidents, as the Church has traditionally claimed to be the
case. Bear in mind that Bohmís theory suggests, experimental evidence hints
and occult teaching insists, that the former is true.
Aleister Crowley says that:
Magic is the art and science of causing change in accordance with the will 4
If he is right and such changes are possible, then Professor Bohmís argument that the mind is part of the same continuum as everything else (in creation, though he does no quite say that), even things like rocks, which are generally assumed to have no conciousness, suggests that the way in which we perceive their accidents can indeed change them.
This would explain why telepathy, distant viewing,
divining, psycho-kinetics and a hundred other psychic phenomena are real.
It would also explain why the saint, the guru and the true adept are able
to change the world and produce what appear to be miracles.
Bohm makes the point that he is not calling for a new paradigm, but something less permanent: a ëstatement of how things appear to be on the basis of present knowledge that he calls an insight. On this basis it is much easier to compare Qabbalistic ideas with his Implicate Order, or concept of the Universe as a Hologram, since the Otz Chi im goes into considerable detail not included in Bohmís insight. The importance is that, despite differences of language, nothing in Bohmís insight contradicts outright Qabbalistic teaching, the latter simply covers in detail areas not covered by his thinking.
It is worth considering the implications of the emerald tablet (whatever the origins, it undoubtably sums up traditional western esoteric thinking):
Verum est ... quod superius est sicut quod infernius et quod infernius estsicut quod superius, ad perpetrando miracula rei inius.
(The truth is that what is above is like to what is below and what is belowis
like to what is above, to accomplish the miracles
of the one thing)
The significance to things occult is obvious - as David Conway remarks: The miracles of magick are governed by this principle, although far from being miraculous, they are merely the results of applying certain natural though occult laws. 5
The Qabbalistic theory of creation holds that an
awareness of the All flows (or flashes like a lightning streak) through
a series of developing stages, becoming more substantial and ever closer
to the material world, until it reaches full manifestation. The whole of
therefore, composed of essentially the same self-awareness of God. This is precisely what David Bohm is saying though, of course, he does not actually mention either God or Creation.
In terms of the Otz Chi im - and I say this only allegorically at this point - the pure, brilliant white light of Kether is the ëlaserí, falling through Chochmah and Binah, which provide the beams for two holograms. The neams are split at Geburah and Chesed, part of each beam falling on both aspects of a balanced image in Tiphareth. The beams fall on two negatives at Hod and Netzach and the two negatives are reflected to Yesod, where the pure white light falling down the middle pillar projects the two realities - space and time - to Malkuth. We see a ëcreated realityí from Malkuth, but time and space are no more than illusions. In the deeper reality of Yesod, we can only see the interference patters underlying the hologram.
Before you study the diagram below, I need to make
As a final thought, if I can be allowed a smirk, there is oe more implication. While it is possible that the mystery tradition represents no more than insights into the nature of reality, developed in the far past by our ancestors who lived a different kind of life, it does have an alternative explanation. It could imply that the ëancient wisdomí we study was created by individuals with the kind of scientific knowledge that suggests long development - perhaps, as I suggested in a paper last year, in an earlier civilisation, now lost.
Bohn, David; Wholeness and the Implicate Order; London, Routledge & Kegan Paul; 1980
Capra, Fritjof; The Tao of Physics; London, Wildwood House; 1975
Conway, David; Magic: An Occult Primer; London, Jonathon Cape; 1972
Crowley, Aleister; Magick in Theory and Practice; Secaucus N.J., Castle Books; 1991
Fortune, Dion; Cosmic Doctrine; London, SIL Trading; 1995
Talbot, Michael; The Holographic Universe; London, Harper-Collins; 1996
David Bohm chat page - click this link: <http://thinkg.net/TT>