AN ANTHOLOGY OF THOUGHT & EMOTION... Un'antologia di pensieri & emozioni

Saturday, 20 May 2017


Mysteries of the Mind

Oliver Sacks, the brain and God

Oliver Sacks, the celebrated neurologic storyteller who died at the end of August at age 82, once described himself as “strongly atheist by disposition.”

Sacks could write sensitively about religion, including a recent article on the role of the Sabbath in his own life, but in writing about mystical experiences, he typically repaired to his professional lexicon, referring to them as hallucinations – seemingly authentic visual and auditory experiences traceable not to any external reality, but only to the brain itself. Sacks had witnessed in many of his patients the depths of human longing, including a deep hunger for God, but to him they revealed truths only about our own psyches.

The notion that God represents but a chimera, a projection of inner human needs, goes back at least to the 19th-century philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach, who wrote that our longing for God reveals nothing more than a desire to make gods of ourselves.

More recently, some philosophers and scientists have suggested that belief in God is nothing more than a delusion that springs from our need to discern patterns and even intentions in otherwise purposeless events taking place around us. Belief in God, they say, offers a refuge from the world’s cold incomprehensibility.

In a 2012 article in the Atlantic, “Seeing God in the Third Millennium,” Sacks prefaces his discussion of religious epiphanies with accounts of two epileptic patients. The first, the great Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky, describes in his own words how, in the aura of a seizure:
I felt the heaven was going down upon the earth and that it engulfed me. I have really touched God… . I don’t know if this felicity lasts for seconds, hours, or months, but believe me, for all the joys that life may bring, I would not exchange this one.
The second patient Sacks describes is a bus conductor who, at the onset of a seizure:
“was suddenly overcome with a feeling of bliss. He felt that he was literally in heaven. He collected the fares correctly, telling his passengers at the same time how pleased he was to be in heaven… . He remained in this state of exaltation, hearing divining and angelic voices, for two days.”
Three years later, however, the man experienced a series of three seizures on successive days, during which his mind cleared. “During this episode,” Sacks reports, “he lost his faith.”
Oliver sacks
To Sacks as to others, the fact that such experiences are associated with unusual electrical activity in the brain constitutes powerful evidence that epiphanies are grounded in neurological physiology. Experiences of God are not useless, because they can tell us a great deal about how the mind works. But they are, at least scientifically speaking, false. This and similar assertions have been advanced in the form of claims that subjects who don a “God helmet,” a device that produces low-level stimulation of the brain’s temporal lobe, experience similarly uncanny sensations.

While in no way directly refuting this line of argument, it is worth noting that the tradition of mystical experience is a remarkably rich and venerable one. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is reported to have been told by an angel that the Holy Spirit was upon her, and Francis of Assisi described a mystical experience of brotherhood with earthly creatures, extending even to the sun and moon. More recently, Mother Teresa wrote of the experience of “sharing in the passion of Jesus,” and Thomas Merton described his sudden realization one day on the streets of Louisville that “I loved all those people.”

When we encounter mystical experiences, we come to a fork in the road. One path, the one toward which Sacks points, is to explain them away in neurological or even psychopathological terms.

What the mystic experiences is an unusual pattern of neuronal discharge, a peculiar imbalance in neurotransmitters, or the expression of a deep unmet longing for purpose in life. When it comes to God and experiences of the transcendent, the higher must be understood in terms of the lower, and all real explanations must finally come to rest in our neurologic equipment.

The other path leads in a radically different direction. We could, to paraphrase William James, insist that the harmonic reveries of a Bach or Mozart represent nothing more than the dragging of catgut across horses’ hairs, but doing so fails to respect something strikingly real and moving in the experience of such works. Admittedly, such sublime experiences depend on the drawing of a bow or the striking of a key, but even once the acoustic and neurologic explanations have been fully rendered, there is a residuum – the experience of the transcendent – that has not been adequately accounted for.

Which is more likely – that everything we experience can be fully explained in terms of the apparatuses of perception, feeling, and intellection, or that there are realities around us that we do not fully grasp? The mystics in our midst might remind us that we are an infinitesimally small part of a planet that makes up an infinitesimally small part of a solar system that makes up an infinitesimally small part of a galaxy that makes up an infinitesimally small part of a universe that may itself be an infinitesimally small part of an infinite number of multiverses.

From a mystic’s point of view, even our own bodies might appear complex beyond our imagining. Each adult human being consists of some 70 trillion cells, each one of which contains about 10,000 times as many molecules as the Milky Way has stars, and whose atoms in total number approximately 100 trillion. Even the most fundamental biochemical reaction in the body, the splitting of glucose to yield molecules of water, carbon dioxide and energy, occurs no fewer than septillions (10 followed by 24 zeroes) of times over the course of a single day.

Whether the mind is diseased or healthy, it seems exceedingly likely that there is more going on in the world, and even inside our own minds, than we are aware of. It is not unreasonable to predict that some aspects of it will forever exceed our grasp.

In telling the stories of patients whose afflictions reveal a glimpse of this complexity, Oliver Sacks was a master at evoking a sense of wonder. How strange, then, that this exceptionally imaginative human being seems to have eschewed all nonscientific explanations of the transcendent phenomena he so brilliantly described.

Friday, 19 May 2017


Moses Maimonides
My topic is Maimonides’ (1138 – 1204) theory of monotheism, as developed in his various works throughout his life. The theory of monotheism had an extremely important place in Maimonides’ thought. It was fundamental for him both as a Jew and as a philosopher. In the course of our discussion, I will ask which aspects of his theory of monotheism are Biblical or Talmudic, and which are philosophic or Aristotelian – or, if you will, which aspects are Hebrew and which Greek. To be sure, it is not always easy to identify which aspects are Hebrew and which Greek, and, even if the Hebrew and Greek aspects are duly identified, it is often a difficult task to disentangle them.

Maimonides’ Monotheism: Between the Bible and Aristotle
by Warren Zev Harvey

I. The Commentary on the Mishnah

Commentary on the Mishnah
Maimonides’ first important statement regarding monotheism appears in his first major work, his Commentary on the Mishnah, written in Arabic and completed in 1168, when he was 30 years old. The work was begun in Fez, Morocco, and completed in Fustat, Egypt. The statement regarding monotheism is found in his Introduction to Sanhedrin, ch. 10 (“Pereq Ḥeleq”). He sets down there his celebrated “Thirteen Principles” of Judaism.

The First Principle of the “Thirteen Principles” is God’s existence. The Second Principle is God’s Oneness or Unity. According to this Second Principle, “the Cause of All is One.” In other words, all created things have only one Cause, which is God. Maimonides phrases the Second Principle as follows:
The Second Principle is God’s Oneness [waẖdah] ... It affirms that the Cause of All is One. However, He is not like the “one” of a genus, nor the “one” of a species, nor “one” in the sense of a compound individual which is divisible into many ones, nor “one” in the sense of a simple body that is one in number but infinitely divisible. Rather, One by virtue of a Oneness to which no other oneness is similar in any way. This Second Principle is taught by the text, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One!” [Deuteronomy 6:4]¹
God is One in the sense that He is unique. He is the Cause of all created things, but wholly different from them. He has nothing in common with them. Not only is God wholly different from all created pluralities, He is also wholly different from all created unities. He is a One that is different from all ones. He cannot be numbered and cannot be divided. His is “a Oneness to which no other oneness is similar in any way.” His Oneness means incomparability. It may be understood only by the via negativa. It is not like the oneness of an individual (for example, Socrates); it is not like the oneness of a species (for example, humanity); and it is not like the oneness of a genus (for example, animal). The word “one” is thus a homonym. It is used absolutely equivocally with regard to God and created things. Its meaning in the sentence “God is One” is wholly different from its meaning in the sentences, “Socrates is one individual,” or “There is one human species,” or “All animals belong to one genus.” This strict monotheism is taught, according to Maimonides, by the Biblical verse, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One!” I.e., the Lord is incomparable.

Deuteronomy 6:4 is the only verse in the Pentateuch that asserts God’s Oneness explicitly. It is the primary statement of monotheism in Judaism, and has a prominent and cherished place in Jewish liturgy, literature, and thought. According to Maimonides’ interpretation of it here in his definition the Second Principle, the verse teaches God’s incomparability. It is unclear, however, precisely what the word “one” in this verse means literally in its original Biblical context. The verse is part of Moses’ charge to the Israelites before they enter the promised Land. He addresses them as follows:
This is the commandment, the statutes, and the ordinances, which the Lord your God commanded...that ye might do them in the Land... Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One! And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words which I command thee this day shall be upon thy heart, and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children... [Deuteronomy 6:1 – 7].
God’s being called “One” seems here to be connected to two things: the observance of the commandments and the love of God. God is presented as the Commander, and the people of Israel are urged to obey Him out of love. It is possible that according to its literal sense the text means that God is the one legitimate Commander or the one legitimate object of love. In any case, there is nothing explicit in it about the metaphysical concept of Oneness.

The metaphysical framework for Maimonides’ discussion of God’s Oneness is provided by Aristotle.² In his Metaphysics, V, 6, 1015b-1017a, Aristotle discusses different meanings of the word “one.” He mentions “one” in the sense of a simple or compound individual, “one” in the sense of a species, “one” in the sense of a genus, “one” in the sense of indivisibility, etc. He mentions, in other words, the same senses of “one” to which Maimonides refers in his Commentary on the Mishnah. Maimonides in effect asserts that God’s Oneness is different from all the sorts of oneness mentioned in Aristotle’s discussion.

In sum, in Maimonides’ Second Principle, God’s Oneness is defined as incomparability. Maimonides uses Aristotelian terms and concepts, but his definition is non-Aristotelian.

When Aristotle himself speaks about the oneness of the Prime Mover, he speaks in terms of incorporeality not incomparability. In Metaphysics, XII, 8, 1073a – 1074b, Aristotle discusses the unmoved movers of the various celestial spheres. He conjectures that there may be as many as 47 or 55 unmoved movers. However, he concludes that the one cosmos has only one Prime Mover. The Prime Mover is defined by him as being eternal, indivisible, and incorporeal; and since it is incorporeal, it is One. The close connection between incorporeality and oneness is fundamental for Aristotle. According to him, matter is a necessary condition of plurality or numerability in a species, and thus incorporeality is a sufficient condition of oneness (ibid., 1074a 31 – 35). If the Prime Mover is incorporeal, the Prime Mover is one. Aristotle dramatically cites Homer’s Iliad, II, 204: “The rule of many is not good; let one be the ruler!” (ibid., 10, 1076a 4)³ Nonetheless, while it is true that the One Prime Mover is incorporeal, it is also true that all the other unmoved movers are incorporeal. Thus, there might be 47 or 55 incorporeal beings. The Prime Mover is therefore not incomparable.

Aristotle’s connection between unity and incorporeality made a deep impression on Maimonides. Indeed, God’s incorporeality is so important for Maimonides that he does not merely consider it a subordinate clause of the Principle of God’s Oneness, but he counts it as an independent Principle. In his Thirteen Principles of Judaism, the Third Principle is God’s incorporeality. He defines it as follows:
The Third Principle is the denial of God’s corporeality [nafy jismāniyya]. It affirms that the One is neither a body nor a power in a body, and suffers no accidents of a body... Therefore, our Sages...said: “[on high there is] no sitting, no standing, no separation, and no composition” [BT Ḥagigah 15a]... The Prophet Isaiah said: “To whom then will ye liken Me, that I should be equal?” [Isaiah 40:25]; but if He were a body, He would be like other bodies... This Third Principle is taught by the text, “Ye saw no figure” [Deuteronomy 4:15].
Whereas Maimonides’ explanation of the Principle of Oneness by means of God’s incomparability is not Aristotelian, his explanation of it by means of God’s incorporeality is Aristotelian. The explanation of God’s Oneness in terms of incomparability may be called in a loose way “Hebrew” or “Biblical.” It would seem, then, that there are two different thrusts in Maimonides’ approach to God’s Oneness: a Hebrew thrust that emphasizes incomparability, and a Greek thrust that emphasizes incorporeality. We may thus speak about two explanations of monotheism according to Maimonides. There is a Biblical monotheism based on God’s incomparability, and there is an Aristotelian monotheism based on God’s incorporeality.

Moreover, it might be argued that the Hebrew explanation of God’s Oneness in terms of incomparability is absent in Aristotle – for the Aristotelian Prime Mover is indeed comparable, that is, it is in some sense similar to the scores of other unmoved movers of the various celestial spheres. That incorporeality is not exclusive to God is indicated also in Maimonides’ Talmudic proof-text for incorporeality: “on high there is no sitting, no standing, no separation, and no composition.” This dictum manifestly applies to all beings “on high,” not only to God, and it was in fact said originally not about God but about the angel Metatron, who nonetheless was given permission to sit. In other words, Maimonides’ Talmudic proof-text for God’s incorporeality implicitly denies His incomparability, for it compares Him to other supernal beings. God is comparable to Metatron and other angels.

Similarly, it might be claimed that the Aristotelian explanation of God’s Oneness in terms of incorporeality is absent in the Bible – that is, the explicit concept of “incorporeality” is not found in the Bible in general, and not found in it with reference to God in particular. This is not surprising since, as a rule, Greek philosophic concepts like “incorporeality” have no analogues in the Bible. The Biblical proof-text from Deuteronomy 4:15 (“Ye saw no figure”), in its literal meaning, does not contain an explicit reference to incorporeality, and neither does the Talmudic proof-text (“on high there is no sitting, no standing, no separation, and no composition”), which, as just mentioned, was said in reference to the angel Metatron, who is nowhere said to be incorporeal, and who is described in the cited text as sitting. As for the Biblical proof-text from Isaiah 40:25 (“To whom then will ye liken Me, that I should be equal?), it expresses incomparability, not incorporeality.

Thus, we can sum up Maimonides’ position on monotheism in his Commentary on the Mishnah, as follows. Maimonides’ monotheism has two explanations. The first explanation is God’s incomparability, which is found in the Bible and not in Aristotle. This explanation is given in Maimonides’ Second Principle of Judaism. The second explanation is God’s incorporeality, which is found in Aristotle and not in the Bible. This explanation is given in Maimonides’ Third Principle of Judaism.

II. The Book of the Commandments
Sefer Hamitzvot: Book of the Commandments
Let us move on now to Maimonides’ second great book, The Book of the Commandments. In his Book of the Commandments, written in Arabic in 1169 in Fustat, Egypt, Maimonides lists and defines the 613 commandments of the Law of Moses. Positive Commandment no. 2 concerns God’s Oneness. He writes:
The Second Commandment...concerns knowledge of God’s Oneness [al-tawhid]. It is that we know that the [Cause] of the One. This is His dictum... “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One” [Deutertonomy 6:4]... [God] did not take us out of slavery and bestow upon us loving-kindness and goodness, except that we attain to the knowledge of His Oneness.
In this passage from the Book of Commandments, Maimonides lists monotheism, that is, the knowledge of God’s Oneness, as a positive commandment. It is the second positive commandment of the Law. The first is to know God’s existence.

Maimonides further affirms that God’s liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery was only for the sake of their undertaking monotheistic religion. Monotheism was the telos of the Exodus. Maimonides does not in this passage try to define monotheism, and mentions neither incomparability nor incorporeality.

III. Mishneh Torah

Let us turn now to Maimonides’ third great work, his comprehensive 14-volume Code of Jewish Law, the Mishneh Torah (“The Repetition of the Law”). The Mishneh Torah was written in Hebrew and completed in 1178 in Fustat, Egypt. In the Mishneh Torah, Maimonides again codifies the commandment of monotheism, that is, the commandment to know God’s Oneness. It appears in the Book of Knowledge, Hilkhot Yedode ha-Torah (“The Laws of the Foundations of the Law”) 1:7 – 8:
God is One. He is not two or more than two, but One, and none of the ones found in the world is similar to His Oneness [yiẖud] - not “one” in respect to species...nor “one” in respect to body... If there were many Gods, they would have bodies, because multiple beings...are not distinct... except due to accidents that obtain to bodies. If the Maker had a body, He would be limited and finite, for it is impossible to be a body and not be limited... Now, the power of our not that of a body, but is unlimited..., for the celestial sphere revolves eternally... Therefore, He must be One. Knowledge of this is a positive commandment, as it is said, “The Lord our God, the Lord is One!” [Deuteronomy 6:4]. It is stated explicitly in the Law and in the Prophets that the Holy One, blessed be He, is not a body, as it is said, “the Lord is God in heaven above and upon the earth beneath” [Deuteronomy 4:39], and a body cannot be in two places. It is said, “Ye saw no figure” [ibid., v. 15]. And it is said, “To whom then will ye liken Me, that I should be equal?” [Isaiah 40:25]; but if He were He a body, he would be like other bodies.
As in his Book of the Commandments, Maimonides codifies here Deuteronomy 6:4 as the commandment to know God’s Oneness: “the Lord Our God, the Lord is One!” He phrases here the commandment to know God’s Oneness in a manner very reminiscent of the way he had phrased the Second and Third of the Thirteen Principles of Judaism in his Commentary on the Mishnah. He again refers to Aristotle’s discussion of different sorts of oneness (e.g., in respect to species, in respect to body), and asserts that God’s Oneness is incomparable to any other (“none of the ones found in the world is similar to His Oneness”). He again refers to Aristotle’s rule that plurality or numerability in a species presupposes corporeality: objects cannot be numbered unless they are corporeal, and thus if God is incorporeal He cannot be numbered. In addition, he refers here to the Aristotelian physical proof of the Prime Mover (Physics, VIII, 5 – 6, 256a-260a; cf. Metaphysics, XII, 6 – 7, 1071b – 1073a), which he reasonably takes to be a proof also for the Oneness of God. According to the Aristotelian physical proof of the Prime Mover, the eternal motion of the celestial sphere can be caused only by an infinite power, and an infinite power cannot be in a finite body; thus, the Prime Mover is not a finite body but incorporeal; and if it is incorporeal, it must be One.

This passage from the Mishneh Torah is Hebrew in its affirmation of the incomparability of God’s Oneness. However, it is patently Aristotelian in its multiple references to the Stagirite’s writings and in its explanation of God’s Oneness by means of His incorporeality. Three Biblical verses are also cited as testimony to God’s incorporeality: Deuteronomy 4:15 (“Ye saw no figure”) and Isaiah 4:15 (“to whom then will ye liken Me, that I will be equal”), which were cited in the Commentary on the Mishnah; and Deuteronomy 4:39 (“the Lord is God in heaven above and upon the earth beneath”), which is resourcefully cited here for the first time. Although Maimonides calls these Biblical allusions to incorporeality “explicit,” they are so only after having been deftly interpreted by him. As mentioned above, Isaiah 40:25, read literally, expresses incomparability, not incorporeality.

There is some ambiguity here regarding Deuteronomy 6:4, the verse constituting the commandment to know God’s Oneness. In the paragraph on the Second Principle in the Commentary on the Mishnah, it was unequivocal that the verse refers to incomparability. Here, however, it is quoted after the discussion of incorporeality, and it might be thought that it refers to incorporeality. Nonetheless, the word “this” (in the phrase “Knowledge of this is a positive commandment”) should probably be parsed as referring back to the first sentence (“God is One”).

In Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Yesode ha-Torah 2:10, in the chapter treating of the angels, i.e., the separate intellects, Maimonides again finds occasion to speak of God’s Oneness. He defines God’s Oneness in terms of His being pure Intellect. Although this interpretation of Oneness seems to depend on Aristotle’s concept of incorporeality and suggests a comparison between God and the angels, Maimonides states explicitly that God’s Oneness is different from that of the angels and thus incomparable.

In the Mishneh Torah, as in the Commentary on the Mishnah, Maimonides’ conception of God’s Oneness is both Hebrew and Greek, focusing on both incomparability and incorporeality, and intertwining the two. God is One means both that God is incomparable and that He is incorporeal.

IV. The Guide for the Perplexed 
The Guide for the Perplexed
We now move on to Maimonides’ fourth major book, his philosophic masterpiece, The Guide for the Perplexed (Dalālat al-Ḥā'irīn). The Guide was written in Arabic and completed in about 1190 in Fustat, Egypt. Not surprisingly, the subject of monotheism is discussed often in it, and so is that of incorporeality.

In Guide, I, 68, a chapter parallel to Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Yesode ha-Torah 2:10, Maimonides defines God as pure Intellect, and explains His Oneness by means of the Aristotelian concept of incorporeality. Unlike in Hilkhot Yesode ha-Torah 2:10, he explicitly affirms that God’s Oneness is comparable to that all other intellects, including the human one.¹⁰ However, in Guide, I, 59, the chapter treating of the via negativa, he asserts on the contrary that God is absolutely incomparable.¹¹

 In Guide, I, 72, Maimonides, like Aristotle in Metaphysics, XII, 8, 1073a – 1074b, argues from the oneness of the universe to the Oneness of God. If the universe is “one being,” then it has One God; and that One God is incorporeal.¹²

In Guide, II, 1 – 2, Maimonides presents several physical and metaphysical demonstrations that, according to him, are required in order to establish “God’s existence, incorporeality, and oneness.” It is striking that “incorporeality” is mentioned here together with “existence” and “oneness,” and it is especially striking that it is mentioned before “oneness.”¹³ Here the Aristotelian doctrine of God’s incorporeality has moved into the very center of Jewish theology, as presented by Maimonides.

This central presence of the doctrine of God’s incorporeality in Maimonides’ theological demonstrations may lead one to suppose that the Aristotelian notion of God’s incorporeality is more essential to his monotheism than the Biblical notion of God’s incomparability. Nonetheless, there is a decisive statement in Guide, II, 4, that contradicts that supposition. Maimonides writes there:
It cannot be true that the intellect that moves the highest sphere should be identical with the Necessary of Existence, for it has something in common with the other intellects... namely, the act of causing bodies to move.¹⁴
According to this statement, the Prime Mover cannot be God, because it is comparable to the other unmoved movers, but God is incomparable. The Prime Mover, although incorporeal, is not incomparable, and thus cannot be God. God is transcendent with respect to the Prime Mover, and with respect to the entire created universe. According to this significant text from Guide, II, 4, therefore, Maimonides prefers the Biblical concept of God’s incomparability over the Aristotelian concept of His incorporeality.

However, Maimonides’ view is not entirely clear. With regard to the question of whether the Prime Mover is God or is a created being, there was a lively debate among philosophers in the Arabic Aristotelian tradition. Averroes is known for defending the orthodox Aristotelian position that the Prime Mover is God. Avicenna is known for arguing that the Prime Mover is not God but a created being. While Maimonides, in certain crucial passages, agrees with Avicenna, there are other passages in which he seems to agree with the orthodox Aristotelians and Averroes. Students of Maimonides’ philosophy have disagreed about his final position. In any case, in the Guide and in his other works, the subject of the identity or non-identity of the Prime Mover and God is presented as a difficult and enigmatic problem that requires investigation and analysis.¹⁵

As far as I understand Maimonides, he ultimately prefers Oneness as incomparability over Oneness as incorporeality. I consider decisive his statement in Guide, II, 4, that God is not the Prime Mover. Maimonides, as I understand him, considered incorporeality to be an important pedagogical concept that enables one to form a more profound concept of incomparability. Incorporeality is a means to incomparability. The monotheism of Guide, I, 68, is a kind of heuristic prolegomenon to the monotheism of Guide, I, 59.

The most curious thing about Maimonides’ discussion of God’s Oneness in the Guide of the Perplexed concerns Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One!” This majestic verse, which contains the lofty commandment of monotheism, is cited only once in the entire book, and in a context that is odd, to say the least.¹⁶ Let us examine Maimonides one discussion of Deuteronomy 6:4 in the Guide.

In Guide, III, 45, Maimonides explains the relationship between God and the angels, that is, the separate intellects or unmoved movers. God is incorporeal and One, and the angels are incorporeal and many. The angels are intermediaries between God and the prophets: they receive an emanation from God, and the prophets receive an emanation from them. Thus, belief in the existence of the angels is a premise of belief in prophecy. Maimonides writes as follows:
It has been proved that there is a Being that is neither a body nor a force in a body, who is the true Deity, and He is One; and there are also other beings, namely, the angels, that are also separate from matter and not bodies, and His existence overflows upon them...; and they bestow true prophetic revelation upon the prophets...
In order to fortify belief in this fundamental principle [namely, that of the existence of angels], God commanded that the image of two angels [that is, the two cherubim] be made over the ark in the Temple [Exodus 25:18-20]... If there had been an image of only one cherub, it might have been misleading; for it could have been thought that this was the image of the Deity... As, however, two cherubim were made and the explicit statement enounced, “The Lord our God, the Lord is One” [Deuteronomy 6:4], the truth of the opinion affirming the existence of angels was established, and also the fact that they are many. Thus, a precaution was taken against the error that they are the Deity. The Deity, however, is One, and He has created this multiplicity.¹⁷
This curious passage seems to go out of its way to emphasize the similarity or comparability between God and the angels: both are incorporeal and the difference between them is only one of number and ontological rank. God is One and the source of the overflow, while the angels are many and the receivers of the overflow. However, God and the angels can be properly and justifiably compared since both are incorporeal beings. Maimonides seems almost to be saying that it was necessary to affirm “The Lord our God, the Lord is One” only because people tended to confuse God and the angels. The interpretation of God’s Oneness in terms of incorporeality would indeed seem to lead to the confusion between God and the angels. God, Metatron, the two cherubim, and the other angels are all incorporeal. This reading of Deuteronomy 6:4, which compromises God’s incomparability, is in sharp contrast to the reading of the verse in the Commentary on the Mishnah, which had unequivocally affirmed it.

In Guide, I, 55, Maimonides contrasts God’s incorporeality and His incomparability, and writes with regard to His incomparability:
One must...of necessity deny...[God’s] being similar to any existing thing. Everyone has already been aware of this. Clear statements are made in the books of the Prophets negating the conception that He is like any thing. He says, “To whom then will ye liken Me, that I should be equal?” [Isaiah 40:25]. He says, “To whom then will ye liken God, or what likeness will ye compare unto Him?” [ibid., v. 18]. He says, “There is none like unto Thee, O Lord” [Jeremiah 10:6]. This occurs frequently.¹⁸
Here Maimonides, addressing himself to God’s incomparability, cites Isaiah 40:25, a verse that had been cited by him both in his Commentary on the Mishnah and his Mishneh Torah. He also cites Isaiah 40:18 and Jeremiah 10:6, and claims that similar verses occur “frequently.”

According to Maimonides’ discussions in the Guide for the Perplexed, it would seem that Deuteronomy 6:4 (“The Lord our God, the Lord is One”) teaches us that God is One and not Many, while Isaiah 40:25 (“To whom will ye liken Me?”) teaches us that God is One and not comparable. Moses’ great proclamation of monotheism is thus interpreted according to the Aristotelian concept, while Isaiah and Jeremiah are left to represent the Hebrew concept. If so, Maimonides may be saying that the purest monotheism is not to be found in Moses or Aristotle, but in Isaiah and Jeremiah.¹⁹ It was Isaiah who said, “To whom will ye liken God?” And it was Jeremiah who said, “There is none like unto the Lord.”

V. Conclusion

In conclusion, Maimonides’ God is the One Cause of the universe. He is uniquely One – radically different from all created beings, whether they be corporeal or incorporeal, or whether they be pluralities or unities. Like Aristotle’s God, He is eternal, simple, and indivisible; and like Isaiah’s God, He is incomparable.

Dear friends, let me please leave you with one question. What is the difference between a monotheism based on God’s incorporeality and one based on His incomparability? What are the ramifications? What are the consequences for our lives? What is the practical moral or religious difference?

What is the moral or religious difference between the One God who we can call Perfect, who is changeless, timeless, rational, and unswayed by passions or whims; and the One God we cannot call anything, who is known by Negation alone, who is completely Other, completely transcendent?

What is the moral or religious difference between Aristotle’s Greek monotheism and Isaiah’s Hebrew monotheism? If we can answer this question, then perhaps we can understand why Maimonides found it was necessary to base his own carefully conceived monotheism not on Aristotle alone and not on Isaiah alone, but on both the Philosopher and the Prophet. 
page from a 14th-century manuscript of the Guide. The figure seated on the chair with Stars of David is thought to be Aristotle

1) Maimonides, Perush ha-Mishnah, Arabic text and Hebrew translation, Rabbi J. Qafih, (Jerusalem: Mosad Harav Kook, 1968), Seder Neziqin, p. 211. English translation in I. Twersky, A Maimonides Reader (New York: Behrman House, 1972), 417–418.
2) See H.A. Wolfson, “Maimonides on the Unity and Incorporeality of God,” Jewish Quarterly Review 56 (1965), 112–136; reprinted in Wolfson, Studies in the History of Philosophy and Religion (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1973– 977), vol. 2, 433–357.
3) See Averroes’ comment, ad loc., “Nature imitates Art”; translated in Charles Genequand, Ibn Rushd’s Metaphysics (Leiden: Brill, 1984), 210.
4) Perush ha-Mishnah, loc. cit. English translation, A Maimonides Reader, p. 418.
5) See BT Ḥagigah 15a: “[Elisha ben Abuyah] saw permission was granted to Metatron to sit... Said he: It is taught...that on high there is no sitting, no standing, no separation, and no composition. Perchance there are...two Authorities!” This text explicitly raises the problem of distinguishing between God and angels. Cf. Rabbi Joseph Kaspi, Commentary on Moreh ha-Nebukhim, S. Werbluner (ed.), (Frankfurt am Main: Bach, 1848), I, 61, p. 64: “It is a great wonder that He, may He be blessed, is separate...from the Intelligences, even from the highest one, called Metatron... such that the tetragrammaton is predicated of Him alone.” According to Kaspi, Metatron is the Prime Mover, i.e., the first created being.
6) Maimonides, Sefer ha-Misvot, Arabic text and Hebrew translation, Rabbi J. Qafih, (Jerusalem: Mosad Harav Kook, 1971), 58. A complete English translation is available at this link:
7) Maimonides, The Book of Knowledge, Hebrew text and English translation by M. Hyamson, (Jerusalem 1962), 34b.
8) An analogous ambiguity obtains in Yesode ha-Torah 1:6, p. 34b, where the word “this” (in the phrase “Knowledge of this is a positive commandment”) should probably be parsed as referring not to the Aristotelian physical proof of the Prime Mover (1:5) but to the existence of the Necessary Existent (1:1).
9) P. 36b: “the Creator and His life are not two as is the case with the life of living bodies or the life of the angels.”
10) Maimonides, The Guide for the Perplexed (translated by S. Pines; Chicago: University of Chicago, 1963), 163 – 166. Cf. p. 165: “the...unity of the intellect...does not hold good with reference to the Creator only, but also with reference to every intellect.” Arabic text, ed., S. Munk and I. Joel, Jerusalem: Junovitch, 1931. A PDF downloadable copy of the Guide is available at this link:
11) Guide, pp. 137– 43.
12) Guide, pp. 184–187.
13) Guide, II, Introduction, p. 235. Cf. I, 71, p. 182, where “oneness” precedes “incorporeality.”
14) Guide, pp. 258–259. On p. 257, Maimonides notes that according to Aristotle there are 50 unmoved movers, while according to the view current in his own time there are 10.
15) On the views of Avicenna, Averroes, and Maimonides on this subject, see Pines, Translator’s Introduction, Guide, pp. cxiv–cxv. See my “The Mishneh Torah as a Key to the Secrets of the Guide,” in Me’ah She'arim: Studies in Memory of I. Twersky, E. Fleischer, et al. (eds.), (Jerusalem: Magnes, 2001), 17–19; and my “Maimonides’ Avicennianism,” Maimonidean Studies 5 (2008), 116– 17. See also Kaspi’s discussion of Maimonides’ interpretation of Metatron (above, note 5).
16) See Leo Strauss, Introduction to Pines’ translation of the Guide, pp. xlvii-xlviii: “To our very great amazement, Maimonides does not quote this verse a single time in any of the chapters devoted to Unity. He quotes it a single time in the Guide.”
17) Guide, p. 577.
18) Guide, p. 128.
19) See Strauss, Introduction to Guide, p. xlviii: “As Maimonides indicates, the meaning of ’the Lord is one’ is primarily that there is no one or nothing similar or equal to Him and only derivatively that He is absolutely simple...He develops the notion of God’s incomparability...on the basis of quotations from Isaiah and Jeremiah as distinguished from the Torah.”

Video of above paper

Tuesday, 16 May 2017


Here's a stimulating article extracted from my old blog Kinkazzo Burning, and written by renowned scientist Victor J. Stenger (1935 – 2014), entitled:
by Victor J. Stenger
All the choir of heaven and furniture of earth, in a word all those bodies which compose the mighty frame of the world, have not any substance without the mind . . . . so long as they are not actually perceived by me, or do not exist in my mind, or that of any other created spirit, they must either have no existence at all, or else subsist in the mind of some Eternal Spirit. ~Bishop Berkeley

Science and Ego

As scientific instruments have probed farther into the reaches of space and time, and deeper into sensory realms beyond the puny range of human experience, humanity has gradually receded from their view. Where our unaided eyes perceive humans as the center of existence, telescopes and microscopes reveal no special role for their inventors in the grand scheme of things. So vast is the universe we see with our instruments, and so small is humankind, we are forced to conclude that the earth could explode tomorrow and the rest of the universe would hardly take note.

The insignificance of humanity is almost impossible for most humans to accept. It was bad enough when, in the sixteenth century, Copernicus suggested that the earth may not be the center of the universe. It became worse when, in the nineteenth century, Darwin proposed that we are an accidental mammalian species and not some unique creation of God. And this painful message was only reinforced when, in the twentieth century, astronomers declared that the sun is but one of ten billion trillion stars in a universe at least a hundred billion trillion kilometers in extent, and geologists showed that recorded history is but a blink of time: a microsecond in the second of earth’s existence.

The most economical conclusion to be drawn from the complete library of scientific data is that we are material beings composed of atoms and molecules, ordered by the largely-chance processes of self-organization and evolution to become capable of the complex behavior associated with the notions of life and mind. The data provide us with no reason to postulate undetectable vital or spiritual, transcendent forces. Matter is sufficient to explain everything discovered thus far by the most powerful scientific instruments.

But what about you and me? Simple, everyday observation tells us that we are individually mortal and that our bodies must someday lose their abilities to move, act, and think as we dissolve back into the earth from which we arose. Still, we find it very difficult to accept inside, what the data outside say about our individual selfhood. The message of our senses and instruments conflicts too profoundly with what our inner voices insist.

Humans, for evolutionary reasons, or no reason at all, possess egos that listen largely to their own counsel, most often ignoring other conflicting messages. These egos are so massive that they are the foci toward which all other bodies gravitate. The ego can hardly conceive of a universe in which it is not an active participant. Ask yourself: Can you imagine a universe without you? As much as I try to be objective, to accept the judgment of reason, I still find it very difficult to develop that image. From the time of its first murmurs, science’s message of humanity’s insignificance has been resisted by powerful forces within Church and State. Religion is always ready to affirm the inner message and provide comforting promises of subgodhood and immortality. And the State has always found religion useful in keeping the populace in line, to provide divine justification for its actions. And so, while science may have triumphed in some intellectual circles, and while few deny science’s remarkable power and utility, most modern humans simply ignore the unwelcome implications of scientific discovery. The alternative, soothing message of the feel-good religions of today, from modern evangelical Christianity to the cults of the New Age, is far more appealing: You are the image of God, if not God himself. You are one with the entirety of existence. Your physical death means nothing! You will live on beyond death, as an inseparable component of the essence of existence. Still, some other sense, a spark of reason, hints that this may be a hopeless delusion. It seems that the objective outer message of our senses cannot but conflict with the subjective inner message of ego. They cannot both be correct. How can wedecide between the two? Can the two views be made compatible? Ego has shown no signs of changing for thousands of years, while science is characterized by progress, flexibility, and the continual discarding of old ideas to make room for new discoveries. Scientists readily admit that their conclusions are tentative. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if science could only finally confirm what our inner voices have been telling us all along - that we really are immortal personalities with a meaningful, if not leading role in the cosmos?

A host of recent authors have proclaimed that this revolution in scientific thought has in fact occurred, that the new physics of the twentieth century has discovered that human consciousness, not matter, is the fundamental substance of the universe. This notion has struck a responsive chord. But is that chord being played on the fine strings of a heavenly harp, or is it simply the stroking of the last bits of straw grasped at by an ego incapable of accepting reality?


For more than a decade now, gurus of the New Age and preachers of the New Christianity have been telling us that developments in twentieth century physics and astronomy – quantum mechanics, big bang cosmology, the so-called “anthropic” coincidences, and the new sciences of chaos and complexity – are leading toward a convergence of the differing views of the universe provided by the outer voices of science and the inner voices of ego. They proclaim that the discoveries of modern physics imply a central role for human consciousness, and for a universe created with them in mind. In their view, human beings are not tiny, negligible points in space and time but an integrated part of a greater, cosmic whole – elements of an infinite field that spreads throughout all of space and time.

In some New Age writings, our bodies are said to exist in symbiotic relation to Gaia, goddess earth, and through Gaia to the rest of the universe. And, our minds are said to be tuned into a greater cosmic mind that reaches inside to the smallest particle, outside to the farthest galaxy, back to an infinite past, and ahead to an eternal future. In New Christian thought, our spirits tune into the cosmic mind of Jesus. The phrase “mind of God” has become fashionable in books and magazine articles that attempt to link modern science to religion, as science is interpreted as the process of discovering the laws that God laid down in creating the universe. A huge literature has been generated, as modern Christian writers and the secular media attempt to reconcile science and religion.

In reality, most of the arguments being heard are not new. They encompass elements that are as old as history, and probably pre-history. They hark back to the idealistic philosophy of ancient India, to Plato and Pythagoras, and to the deism of the Enlightenment. But today’s cosmic mind has been re-packaged by an appeal to twentieth century science for its authority.

The new wrinkle on venerable Eastern and Platonic/Christian mysticism exploits certain interpretations of quantum mechanics, the revolutionary theory of physics that was developed early in this century. Traditional religious myths, East and West, call on scripture or the utterances of charismatic leaders as their authorities. By contrast, the new mythology is supposedly grounded on up-to-date scientific knowledge. Since the seventeenth century, a materialistic, reductionist view of the universe had formed the foundation of the scientific revolution. Now this is to be cast aside by a new spiritual, holistic science.

The Development of Quantum Mechanics

Quantum mechanics was developed early in the twentieth century to explain certain anomalous phenomena associated with light and atoms. By the 1930s, its mathematical structure had evolved almost to the point where it exists today as the major theoretical tool of physics and chemistry. Calculations using the mathematical formalism of quantum mechanics have been tested against countless laboratory measurements for almost a century, without a single failure.

Quantum mechanics is often associated with “uncertainty.” Nevertheless, it is capable of calculations to a high degree of precision. For example, the magnetic moment of an electron, which measures the strength of the electron’s magnetic field, is calculated in quantum electrodynamics, an extension of quantum mechanics, to be 1.00115965246. Its measured value at this writing is 1.001159652193 ± 0.0000000010. Thus, the calculation is correct to at least one part in ten billion. We have neither measured nor calculated the earth’s magnetic field with anything approaching this accuracy.

Among its many applications, quantum mechanical calculations have made possible lasers, transistors, computer chips, superconductors, plastics, thousands of new chemicals, and nuclear power. Today's high speed computers are products of quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics lies at the heart of physics, chemistry, biology, and life itself. It may provide the key to understanding the origin of the universe, showing how everything can have come from nothing.

While the methods of quantum mechanics have proven their utility, no consensus exists even to this day on what quantum mechanics “really means.” Some argue that the question itself is meaningless, that the mathematics speaks for itself. Descriptions of quantum mechanics are conventionally cast in terms of the Copenhagen interpretation. This interpretation was primarily the offspring of Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg who, along with Erwin Schrödinger (who did not support Copenhagen), were the revered primary inventors of quantum mechanics. Today an evolved Copenhagen remains the consensus view among most physicists, who see no reason to change a theory that has worked well over a great period of time and has never been demonstrated to be incorrect - by either experimental facts or mathematical proof.

As we will see, however, the Copenhagen interpretation contains more than the minimum number of assumptions that is needed to provide a foundation for quantum mechanics as it is actually practiced by scientists. Copenhagen includes the added assertion that quantum mechanics is complete; Bohr and his colleagues of the Copenhagen school claimed that no theoretical structure can be found that is capable of making predictions about observable phenomena that does not fit within the framework of quantum mechanics. This was not meant to imply that quantum mechanics can now explain everything; just that any new theories must not contain elements that violate the basic precepts of quantum mechanics.

This assertion is disputed by the proponents of so-called hidden variables theories. They seek a deeper theory that lies beyond conventional quantum mechanics. We will be investigating these issues in great detail later.

On the Fringes

While the mathematical formulation and methods for the practical application of quantum mechanics have remained largely unchanged and unchallenged for six decades, the deeper philosophical significance of quantum mechanics has continued to be debated. On the fringes of this debate we find numerous popular articles and books that promote a stupendous notion: Our egos could be right after all. Humans and human consciousness may indeed constitute the fundamental essence of reality. If you were to judge by the space occupied by this genre on the shelves of popular book stores, you would conclude that it has become mainstream science.

On the contrary, the pragmatic, mainstream physicist’s attitude toward the new quantum metaphysics has generally been to ignore it, figuring it will simply die away like any other popular fad. Most physicists prefer to leave deliberations on the “deeper significance” of quantum mechanics to the philosophers who make their livings discoursing on the meanings of words, and never seem to settle anything anyway. Physicists like to think of themselves as people of action, not words.

Unfortunately, arguments over words have a much greater impact on human life than most physicists prefer were the case. Words are not benign. Words generate action. Words sell products, inspire devotion, incite riots, and start wars.

Words also help physicists get the large sums of money needed to build their action-toys. As a practicing researcher in high energy particle physics and astrophysics for over thirty years, I spend much of my time writing proposals, progress reports, technical notes, and scientific papers. I attend several international conferences each year where I listen to speakers, present my own work, and exchange ideas in hallway and dining table conversations – all utilizing the medium of words. Often these discourses are philosophical in nature, addressing the meaning of the research being conducted and its value to science and society.

The jargon of quantum mechanics has inspired some people to extract mystical messages that were never intended to be there. In particular, deep meaning has been found in the unfortunate way physicists often describe the process of measurement. Sometimes they make it sound as though the conscious act of observation, by itself, creates the quantity that is being measured.

You will frequently read the statement that physical objects do not possess a certain property until that property is measured: An electron in an atom has no position until that position is determined by measurement; a photon has no polarization until it passes though the polarizing sheet that is used to measure polarization.

The source of this strange assertion is the practical fact that physical notions, such as position and polarization, are operationally defined in terms of the apparatus that makes the measurement of the associated quantity. These measurements are performed according to a well-prescribed procedure that can then be repeated independently by someone else. This is what gives science its claim on objectivity. Thus distance (the quantity of space) is what you (or anyone else) measure with a meter stick. Time is what you (or anyone else) measure with a clock. Polarization is what you (or anyone else) measure with a polarimeter. All these operational quantities were defined by human beings. Is there any reason to assume that any has an intrinsic reality that exists in the absence of its measurement? As we will see, there is ample reason to assume at least some aspect of reality when the results obtained are predictable and repeatable.

The idea that properties are brought into being by the act of their measurement clashes with our intuitive notion that the universe possesses an objective reality independent of the observer. Surely, as Einstein insisted, the moon is still there when no one is looking.

But many authors have construed quantum mechanics, with its strict use of operational terms, to imply a central role for the human mind in affecting the very nature of reality itself. Let me give a sampling of some of the expressions of this viewpoint.

Physician Robert Lanza has written 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 future – as “a part of every mind existing in space and time.” In Lanza’s view, quantum mechanics tells us that all human minds are united in one mind and “the entities of the universe – electrons, photons, galaxies, and the like – are floating in a field of mind that cannot be limited within a restricted space or period”[1] Physicist Fritjof Capra has long been an influential proponent of mystical interpretations of quantum mechanics. He first expressed his ideas in 1975 in The Tao of Physics, which drew strained parallels between modern physics and Eastern mysticism.[2] Quantum mechanics, in Capra’s view “reveals the basic oneness of the universe” in a manner that harmonizes with the Hindu notion of Brahmin, the “unifying thread in the cosmic web, the ultimate ground of being: ‘He on whom the sky, the earth, and the atmosphere are woven (Mondaka Upanishad, 2.2.5)’ ”

Capra’s film Mindwalk, which showed in major theaters in 1992 and is available in video stores, gives considerable insight into his hopes for the potential social and philosophical impact of this new perspective. So let me take some space to review it. Mindwalk, written by Capra and directed by his brother Bernt, was based on The Tao of Physics and a later book, The Turning Point.[3]

In the film, an American politician, played by the fine actor Sam Waterston, comes to France after losing his bid to be President. There, he and his friend, an expatriate poet played by John Heard, wander into the spectacular fortress of Mont St. Michel in the English Channel. Soon they meet a disillusioned physicist, played by Liv Ullman, and for the rest of the film the two men roam around the fortress, slack-jawed with astonishment at the profound ideas Ullman pours forth: The world is in trouble from overpopulation and pollution. Americans eat too much red meat. Wow! The presidential candidate had not heard about this before.

The problem, according to Ullman, is a crisis in perspective. Humanity still follows the mechanistic reductionism of Descartes and Newton, viewing the world as being like the old clock in the fortress tower. However, a new, holistic physics called systems theory, in which the universe is seen as one interconnected whole, has now overthrown evil reductionism. If humanity will only adopt this revolutionary perspective and realize that we are all one with each other, the earth, and the cosmos, then the planet will be saved from self-destruction. What a magnificent thought, the politician gushes. Why don’t you come back to America with me, Professor, and join my staff? Let’s put these new ideas to work for humanity.

Finally, outside the fortress on the spit of land that joins it to the mainland, Ullman is asked to explain life. She says, “Life is self-organization.” Poet Heard is so overwhelmed by this deep concept that he flops down in the sand, repeating the line over and over: “Life is self-organization, life is self-organization. . .”

Unfortunately, this is the only hint of the most far-reaching idea that appears in Capra’s The Turning Point. There he suggested that all material systems, from humans to animals, plants, the earth, and the cosmos itself, are part of one gigantic mind. Holistic physics provided him with a model for the vague notion of cosmic consciousness: We are all one with the cosmos, speaking to each others’ minds with extrasensory perception (ESP), able to break down the barriers of space and time and the laws of physics. We can achieve anything, perform miracles, if we just think we can. Capra’s ideas have taken hold within the New Age movement in America.

Marilyn Ferguson in her 1980 New Age bible, The Aquarian Conspiracy, said that new scientific knowledge has revised “the very data base on which we have built our assumptions, institutions, our lives.” Promising far more than “the old reductionist view,” the new scientific perspective “reveals a rich, creative, dynamic, interconnected reality.”[4]

Capra has not been alone in claiming parallels between the new physics and Eastern mysticism. In The Dancing Wu Li Masters, Gary Zukav says physicists “are dancing with Kali, the Divine Mother of Hindu mythology.” Zukav sees the new physics as suggesting that “there really may be no such thing as ‘separate parts’ in our world.”[5]

In a chapter called “The Dancing Moo-Shoo Masters” from his recent book The God Particle, Nobel prize-winning physicist Leon Lederman has spoofed the notion that physics has any connection with the philosophies of the ancient Orient. He calls Capra’s and Zukav’s conclusions “bizarre.”[6]

The idea of a cosmic field of mind merging physics with Hindu mysticism has also been promoted by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and his Transcendental Meditation (TM) movement. Trained at one point as a physicist, the Maharishi also claims modern physics as his authority. In newspaper ads placed around the country in the 1980s, the Maharishi very specifically associated his version of cosmic consciousness with the GUT (Grand Unified Theory) field of particle physics that was in fashion at that time.

Unfortunately, reality intervened. Theoretical particle physicists, applying the simplest version of GUT, made a very firm, testable prediction that the proton was unstable with a very long but measurable lifetime. After a series of accurate, multimillion dollar experiments, proton decay was not found at the expected level.[7] As a result of this and other precision tests, Grand Unified Theories have fallen out of fashion and the Maharishi’s association of the GUT field with the cosmic mind has been discarded.[8]

At this writing, GUT has been replaced as the Maharishi’s cosmic field by the currently more trendy superstringsIf superstring theory is found wanting, as I suspect it will, I am sure the Yogi will find some other physics fashion to exploit. He can always claim, like another Yogi named Berra, that he never said half the things he said. One of the Maharishi’s disciples, Dr. Deepak Chopra, is perhaps the most successful of a growing group of authors who have appropriated the quantum as the foundation for alternative, non-medical methods of healing based on the belief that mind can overcome the limitations set by the laws of physics and biology. Chopra’s 1989 book was entitled Quantum Healing: Exploring the Frontiers of Mind/Body Medicine.[9]

His latest best-seller is called, Ageless Body, Timeless Mind: The Quantum Alternative to Growing Old.[10] Placing the word “quantum” in the title of a book may not guarantee it for the best seller list, but it’s worth a try.

In Spring, 1994, Chopra visited Honolulu to give all-day seminars on “Quantum Healing.” At the time, an English department colleague of mine assured me that Chopra has “helped a lot of people” with his holistic methods.[11]

Of course, promising a halt to aging is a dangerous thing. Let’s see what Chopra looks like in ten years. He already looks older in the photograph on the dust jacket of the latest book compared to the earlier one. Hopefully Chopra will not suffer the fate of Dr. Stuart M. Berger, author of Forever Young, who died at age 40 weighing 365 pounds after falling off his diet of steamed broccoli.[12]

In a similar vein, Johns Hopkins University psychiatrist Patricia Newton uses the quantum as basis for what she says is an Afrocentric approach to healing. In a talk presented before a medical conference in 1993, Newton said that traditional healers “are able to tap that other realm of negative entropy – that superquantum velocity and frequency of electromagnetic energy and bring them as conduits down to our level. It’s not magic. It’s not mumbo jumbo. You will see the dawn of the 21st century, the new medical quantum physics really distributing these energies and what they are doing.”[13] Shirley MacLaine could not have put it better.

I do not deny a certain limited value in the traditional healing methods from many cultures. Surely, over the ages, useful treatments for a host of aches and pains were discovered by trial-and-error. It appears that many of these methods trigger the well-established placebo effect and perhaps other mechanisms by which the human body heals itself. No doubt Western medicine can improve its methods for treating the “whole person.” I simply wonder what it all has to with the quantum.

In The Tao of Physics, Fritjov Capra also made a strong association between the unbroken wholeness he saw in Eastern philosophy and a similar-sounding theory of physics that also was once quite the vogue, but has now dropped from sight. Few of today’s graduate students in physics would even recognize the name of this faded concept: bootstrap theory.

Dating from the 1960s, when Capra worked as a theoretical physicist in Berkeley, bootstrap theory speculated that all the properties of physical systems could be derived from a set of equations whose input assumptions were little more than some general rules of mathematical smoothness (“analyticity”) and self-consistency.

While this was a nice thought, and it once gave Capra a vague basis for his speculations, bootstrap theory simply did not work. It failed to describe the data while the conventionally reductionist theories of quarks and leptons, now referred to as the Standard Model, eventually did. For that purely pragmatic reason, not for any lack of popular or aesthetic appeal, bootstrap theory no longer appears in physics textbooks. Being a failure, bootstrap theory does not provide a very convincing model for Capra’s holistic universe. By its vividly-contrasting success, the quark-lepton model provides every reason to continue to look to reductionist ideas to provide the framework for understanding the physical world. However, let me caution the reader against making the connection between reductionism and Newtonian determinism that is found in so much New Age literature. A non-deterministic but still reductionistic universe is perfectly possible.

ESP and Quantum Mechanics

Many authors, including Capra and the others mentioned above, have argued that socalled psychic, or psi phenomena provide an empirical basis for a connection between the human mind and the cosmos. They refer to the numerous reports of experiences that people label as psychic: premonitions, out-of-body and near-death experiences, miraculous cures, stigmata, poltergeists, “mystical” experiences, past-life regression, ESP, remote viewing, and others. These are taken, in sum, as a strong indication that the mind is something beyond matter, that it has the ability to overcome the laws that rule the behavior of normal material objects.[14]

Einstein once said that he would not believe in ESP unless it was observed to fall off with distance. This view was based on the well-established physical principle of energy conservation. If a mind is radiating some form of “psychic energy” in all directions, then that energy should spread out over an area that increases with the square of the distance from the source.[15]

Since the 1930s, unsuccessful attempts have been made by parapsychologists to measure a distance effect for ESP.16 In most sciences, the failure of an experiment to confirm a theoretical prediction is taken as a strike against the theory. However, those whose personal beliefs are unshakable by facts will always find a way to rationalize such failures.

One way to explain the absence of an ESP distance effect is to argue that the psi signal is some type of encoded message akin to a radio broadcast. Such messages can be transmitted without degradation over large distances – though they still have a finite range. This is not implausible in itself. However, Einstein’s point was that the observation of a distance effect would have been a strong point in favor of ESP and perhaps converted him into a believer. This did not happen.

With the failure of distance experiments to produce an effect, some psi believers began to develop the idea that ESP was a non-physical phenomenon, unbound by limitations of space, time, or energy. Instead of interpreting the lack of a distance effect as a failure of the ESP hypothesis, they took it as positive evidence that ESP is not a phenomenon akin to electromagnetic radiation. If ESP violates conventional principles of physics, then perhaps it goes beyond conventional physics toward a broader, allencompassing theory of mind and the universe. Perhaps, but the absence of evidence for ESP can prove little one way or the other.

In 1974, American physicist Jack Sarfatti was working in London with the distinguished quantum theorist David Bohm. Before his death in 1992, Bohm was the central figure in quantum mysticism. His name will appear often on these pages, in both this later role and his earlier one as a major contributor to the development of quantum physics.

Bohm, Sarfatti, and the prominent author Arthur Koestler were among those present on June 21, 1974 when the famous Israeli psychic, spoon-bender Uri Geller, gave a demonstration of his powers in London. Geller succeeded in bending a metallic disc and triggering a strong burst from a Geiger counter held in his hand.[17]

The next day, the performance with the Geiger counter was repeated before Koestler and author Arthur C. Clarke, among others. According to a press release put out by Sarfatti that was widely distributed, Koestler was “visibly shaken” and reported a strong sensation simultaneous with the burst. The previously skeptical Clark was also impressed and challenged magicians to “put up or shut up” in duplicating Geller’s feat. At the time, Sarfatti said that Geller had demonstrated “genuine psycho-energetic ability” under “relatively well-controlled and repeatable experimental conditions.” Both Koestler and Clarke became prominent in promoting the possibility of paranormal phenomena. Before he died, Koestler endowed a chair in parapsychology at Edinburgh University. Clarke, who has been an influential science popularizer and science fiction writer for decades, has been surprisingly un-skeptical of psychic phenomena in a series of British TV programs that are occasionally replayed on U. S. cable TV.

As for Geller’s London demonstrations, plausible explanations can be found that do not rely on the invocation of supernatural forces. Martin Gardner has pointed out that Geller could have simply hidden a small amount of harmless radioactive substance, such as a radium watch dial, on his body to cause the Geiger counter to read a higher level of radiation.[18] Geller’s performances are accompanied by much writhing and twisting that offers him ample opportunity to put a magician skills to use.

Sarfatti tells me he no longer believes that Geller has the power to affect physical objects with his mind. Apparently this happened after magician James Randi duplicated Geller’s tricks for Sarfatti.[19]

For thousands of years people have told stories and related personal anecdotes that have convinced them that the mind has special powers that reach beyond the world of matter. Despite this, science has yet to accept the reality of psi as a fact. Beyond anecdotal tales and magician’s tricks, which have little scientific value except as data for studies of anecdotal tales and magician’s tricks, psychic phenomena have a history of scientific and semi-scientific investigations dating back to the mid-nineteenth century. I have previously written about these studies, and the claims made that they support the existence of psychic phenomena, in my book Physics and Psychics: The Search for a World Beyond the Senses. [20]

My conclusion agrees with that of a 1987 inquiry by the National Research Council (NRC) of the U. S. National Academy of Sciences: After a century and a half of study, “the best scientific evidence does not justify the conclusion that ESP – that is, gathering information about objects or thoughts without the intervention of known sensory mechanisms – exists.”[21]

Unsurprisingly, the parapsychological community emphatically disagrees with this conclusion.[22] They continue to insist that the sum total of observations over these years is a strong indication that “something must be there” beyond the reach of conventional, materialist science. The subject refuses to die, as each discredited claim is replaced by new ones from a different variation of psi experiment.

In one way, parapsychology does mimic conventional science: Most attention is focussed on the latest fashions. One current parapsychological fashion in the ganzfeld experiment in which a subject in a sensory-deprived state attempts to read the mind of another. Recently, strong positive, replicable results have been claimed.[23] However, leading experts still find these experiments flawed and no single experiment is by itself convincing.[24] Work is continuing, especially in Edinburgh where a major effort is underway to see if previous results can be replicated. It remains to be seen whether these and other ganzfeld experiments will yield results any more reliable than those of their predecessors in psi science, or simply follow precedent and fade away as the next psi fashion moves into their place.

Significant results in recent years have also been claimed in experiments that study whether humans (and in some cases, animals and even cockroaches) can affect the output of random event generators (REG experiments, or sometimes RNG, for random number generator). These touch especially on our subject because quantum fluctuations are sometimes used to produce the random events that form the data base. Thus any significant deviation from expectations would be direct evidence for a quantum-mind connection, provided all experimental artifacts could be ruled out. Although hundreds of REG experiments have been reported,[25] the largest data samples have been collected by Helmut Schmidt [26] and by the group headed by Robert Jahn at the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Center (PEAR).[27] Both projects claim significant deviations from expectation at a level than cannot be explained by statistical fluctuations or experimental artifacts.

Still, the two sets of experiments do not agree quantitatively, and so cannot claim to independently replicate each other. In fact, you could even argue that since they quantitatively disagree, they thereby disconfirm each other. Schmidt reports that 0.5 percent of his hits are above expectations, while the PEAR result is 0.02 percent high. In either case, the effect claimed is small and becomes noticeable only after a huge number of trials. Also, it is not clear whether PEAR even replicates itself, because the size of the effect from their early trials disagrees with that of later trials.

I discussed the status of the REG experiments through 1990 in Physics and Psychics.[28] At that time, critics had found a number of deficiencies in the experimental protocols and noted that most of the PEAR effect was essentially due to a single operator, who just happened to be the first subject as well as a primary member of the research team.[29]

The PEAR group remains very active and claims to have answered its critics. However, its members continue to report results in a cumulative fashion and it is not clear from their papers that these are not affected by biases that may have been introduced in the early, developmental phases of the experiment.

History is full of reports of exciting new results obtained in the preliminary stages of scientific experiments, only to see the effects go away as the experiments are improved. Two examples that come immediately to mind are the ESP work by Joseph Banks Rhine at Duke University in the 1930s and the recent reports on Cold Fusion. One severe criticism of the PEAR protocols is that experimenters also act as operators and their results are included anonymously in the cumulative data sample. While the experimenter-operators are subjected to the same controls as the others, this still strikes most observers as an unwise procedure that leaves them open to the suspicion, however unfair, that they have somehow “cooked up” the effect. Indeed, as mentioned, the results are less significant when the experimenter data are removed, though they are still claimed to be significant.

This is not to say that any cheating has occurred, but given the history of ESP research, this must remain an economical explanation until it ruled out to the highest degree. Normal scientific protocols in which the experimenters are kept from having any influence on the specific outcome of an experiment are strongly called for in this case. The researchers can still serve as subjects to test out the equipment and experimental procedures, but their data runs should be excluded from the samples used to test for an effect.

Even if the PEAR experimental protocols are assumed to be adequate, the significance of the result remains arguable. Using standard (“classical”) statistical tests, probabilities of the order of 10-4 for the result being simply due to statistical error have been reported.[30] As well as I can tell from reading the papers, this is intended to mean that only one experiment in ten thousand similar ones would have given the same deviation, or a greater one, as the result of normal statistical fluctuations.

This type of measure of significance, called the significance level, is widely used, including within my own field of particle physics. However, statistics experts argue that it is not always appropriate, depending as it does on hypothetical, nonexistent experiments. Some recommend that other techniques, including but not limited to those referred to as Bayesian, should be used to determine the level of significance of an experimental result.[31] In a Bayesian analysis, different a priori hypotheses are tested against the data.

A Bayesian analysis of the PEAR data has been done by PEAR researcher York Dobyns. The result was a range of significance, depending on assumptions, that included “no-effect” as a strong possibility.[32] Dobyns used this result to argue that the classical (significance-level) method should be taken as more reliable in this situation than the Bayesian method, because it is insensitive to assumptions.

However, astronomer William Jefferys has responded that the classical method involves hidden and less well-formulated assumptions, and that Bayesian methods at least put their’s up-front.[33] The Bayesian analysis of PEAR data suggest that the classical result is too optimistic by a factor of at least ten and perhaps hundreds. A significance level of 10-4 merits attention, although any effect must certainly be independently confirmed when one is claiming an important new result. Any lower significance level, say 10-3, should not create a stir. In the hundreds of experiments done yearly, statistical fluctuations will produce many artifactual effects at the 0.1 percent significance level.

I conclude that, as with the ganzfeld experiments, we are forced by scientific method to adopt a skeptical, wait-and-see attitude toward the random event generator experiments. Under normal standards, no one has a right to claim evidence for a quantum-mind connection based on these results, though this has been done [34]. Even weak claims will be blown out of proportion in the public media. Experiments of such momentous implication must be independently replicated at the same quantitative level, with believable statistics and far tighter experimental procedures, before they can be used to support the mystical belief in a cosmic mind.

Most parapsychologists believe the evidence for psi is strong enough to conclude that the phenomena are real. I think they are dead wrong. In my mind, all these years of searching with no convincing evidence should be taken as a clear indication that psi does not exist. So parapsychologists and I disagree on this. Nevertheless, no conscientious parapsychologist can deny that a broad scientific consensus has yet to be assembled in support of their position.

Still, the average person is likely to wonder how so many observations of mysterious phenomena reported in thousands of books, articles, and newspaper stories over many years could be wrong. Movies and TV continue to exploit the public’s thirst for such tales, with programmers paying token lip-service, at best, to the very real doubts that exist in every case where evidence for psychic forces is claimed. Many of the stories used have already been proven to be hoaxes or downright fabrications. But they are rarely reported as such in the popular media, in what can only be described as scandalous behavior on the part of the authors and producers of these fables.

Undoubtedly, some narratives are honest reports of unusual happenings and simply misinterpreted as requiring the intervention of magical forces beyond the familiar world of matter. People tend to look for mysterious explanations when the improbable occurs; they are more interesting; more comforting than the mundane. But with billions of people in the world, improbable events occur somewhere on a daily basis. When the critical, skeptical methods of conventional science are applied to the observations labelled as psychic, and when those data are sufficiently clear to form a judgment, more economical explanations not involving extraordinary new hypotheses have so far always been found.

The average person is not scientifically trained and generally unaware of a primary rule of scientific discovery: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

To demonstrate an extraordinary claim, like the miracle of ESP, extraordinary evidence must be obtained. Only after every alternate, mundane explanation has been ruled out with the highest degree of certainty can one begin to entertain hypotheses that introduce new elements that go beyond current science. So far, the evidence for psi phenomena has been ordinary at best.

Still people continue trying to make something of nothing. In recent years, some proponents of psi phenomena have interpreted quantum mechanics as providing a basis for instantaneous (“nonlocal”) psychic communication across the universe. As physicist Amit Goswami has put it:
“The farther away the point, the less intense is the signal reaching it. In contrast, nonlocal communication exhibits no such attenuation. Since the evidence indicates that there is no distance attenuation of distant viewing , distant viewing must be nonlocal.[35] Thus it is logical to conclude that psychic phenomena, such as distant viewing and out-of-body experiences, are examples of the nonlocal operation of consciousness.

“Any attempt to dismiss a phenomenon that is not understood merely by explaining it as hallucination becomes irrelevant when a coherent scientific theory can be applied. Quantum mechanics undergirds such a theory by providing crucial support for the case of nonlocality of consciousness; it provides an empirical challenge to the dogma of locality as a universal limiting principle.”[36]
Here, I take up Goswami’s challenge.

As we see from this quotation, quantum mechanics offers believers in ESP a hypothetical basis for their continued insistence that something must exist beyond the world of conventional physics. That something is usually associated with human consciousness, which is assumed to possess qualities than cannot be explained from purely material, physical considerations.

Arthur Koestler once remarked that “the apparent absurdities of quantum physics . . . make the apparent absurdities of parapsychology a little less preposterous and more digestible.” [37] Again, quantum mechanics provides the metaphor. A “quantum mechanics of consciousness” has been proposed in which consciousness is represented by the quantum mechanical wave function.[38]

Recently, quantum physicist Henry Stapp has written a paper, published in the prestigious journal Physical Review, suggesting that a new version of quantum mechanics can account for the REG results through an interaction between consciousness and the quantum wave function.[39] I will come back to this, and many other claims, later.

The quantum-consciousness connection, and its association with mystical notions of wholeness, provide a metaphor that believers in the existence of psychic powers use to lay a veneer of scientific respectability over ideas that require a drastic revision in our existing models of reality.[40] However, as we will see, that veneer is so thin as to be invisible. Quantum physics is supported by solid experimental evidence, but psi phenomena are not and the admitted absurdities of parapsychology remain absurd.

Aether and Spirit

The cosmic mind, viewed from the paranormal perspective, is some sort of invisible field that pervades the universe. Human minds are supposedly linked to this field, able to excite it and receive excitations from it. This is far from a new idea. In fact, a very similar notion developed in the nineteenth century, for much the same purpose. As science gradually became established, people sought ways that it might be reconciled with their traditional beliefs, or even used to buttress those beliefs. In the nineteenth century, some scientists associated spiritual or psychic forces with the aether that was thought to fill all space and provide the medium for the transmission of light from distant stars. Going beyond physics, these scientists suggested that the aether provided the mechanism by which humans connected to a imagined world beyond matter – the world of the spirit.

The belief in a universal, cosmic fluid pervading space has even older roots. To the ancient Greeks, aether was the rarified air breathed by the gods on Olympus. Aristotle used this term for the celestial element, the stuff of the heavens, and said it was subject to different tendencies than the stuff of earth. That is, aether was not bound by the same laws as ordinary matter.

When Newton was prompted to explain the nature of gravity, he replied that gravity might be transmitted by the invisible aether.[41] He further suggested that the aether also may be responsible for electricity, magnetism, light, radiant heat, and the motion of living things that he, like his contemporaries, thought was the consequence of some source beyond inanimate matter.

Today, with knowledge not available to Newton, we can account for life as a purely material phenomenon with no need to invoke any special life-force. Despite this, and the complete absence of scientific support for the existence of immaterial, vital forces, we still hear of ch’i, ki, prana, and psychic energy – usually in association with alternative healing. Again the ego is doing the thinking, assuming that something special must account for the wonder of its own existence.

Newton had envisioned matter and light as particulate in nature, though they appear continuous to the human eye. Gravity, however, seemed to be something else, acting invisibly – holistically – over the entire universe. (It should be noted, though, that the gravitational force falls off inversely with the square of distance, unlike the imagined psychic fields.)

In the mid-nineteenth century, the mathematical concept of the field was developed to describe the apparent continuity of matter, light, and gravity. A field has a value at each point in space, in contrast to the properties of a particle which are localized to an infinitesimal region of space.

Pressure and density in a fluid are two examples of how the field concept is successfully applied in practice. Although matter is discontinuous at the atomic and molecular level, these “matter fields” provide for an accurate description of the behavior of solids, liquids, and gases because, on the everyday scale, matter appears continuous to a very good approximation.

As the phenomena of electricity and magnetism became better understood, they also were described in terms of fields. Then, in 1867, James Clerk Maxwell had one of those rare insights that punctuate the history of science. He discovered that the equations uniting electricity with magnetism called for the propagation of electromagnetic waves in a vacuum, Furthermore, these waves moved at the speed of light.

Waves were already very familiar phenomena in physics. In (apparently) continuous media such as air, pressure and density propagate as sound waves when the media are excited. For Maxwell’s electromagnetic waves, the question arose: What’s doing the waving? The analogy was drawn that all of space out to the most distant stars was filled with an elastic medium – the aether – whose excitation produced the phenomenon of light.

Electromagnetic waves beyond the narrow spectrum of visible light were predicted, soon observed, and put to use in “wireless telegraphy.” One of the early workers was the English physicist Oliver Lodge. While making major contributions to physics and engineering, Lodge joined William Crookes, Alfred Russel Wallace (codiscoverer of evolution) and other notable nineteenth century scientists in extending their horizons to search for phenomena that transcended the world of matter. If wireless telegraphy was possible, why not wireless telepathy? If electrical circuits could generate and detect ethereal waves, why not the human brain?

Coincidentally, certain people who claimed to possess the ability to communicate with other minds, living and dead, had just appeared on the scene. They were called spiritualist mediums a century ago; today their spiritualist descendants are known as psychics or channellers.

Unfortunately, most scientists lack the specific skills needed to distinguish fact from illusion in the world of magic. The universe does not lie; people lie. And so Lodge and other nineteenth century psychical researchers unwittingly allowed themselves to be fooled by the tricks of professional fortune-tellers and sleight-of-hand artists posing as spiritualists. They permitted their wishes and dreams to govern their senses and reason. Lodge, desperately wanting to believe in life after death, had written passionately about imagined communications with his son Raymond, killed in Flanders in 1915. Sadly, he accepted the wildest claims of mediums and skilled stage magicians.[42]

Spiritualism offered scientists like Lodge a way to reconcile science with a belief in immortality. The resurrection of the complete body had always been the primary tenet of Christianity. If only Jesus’s soul had gone to heaven, why would his body have been missing from the tomb? The Catholic Church has insisted that the Virgin Mary’s body also ascended, atom by atom, to heaven. As for the rest of humanity, our bodies had to await the Day of Judgment for our complete resurrection.

By the nineteenth century, however, it had become clear that it was absurd to think of all the atoms of a human body reassembling on Judgment Day. Our atoms are being replaced moment-by-moment anyway. So the idea of a “spiritual body,” separate and distinct from matter, was developed.[43] Lodge proposed that the aether was the substance of spirit. As he put it:
“The body of matter which we see and handle is in no case the whole body; it must have an etheric counterpart to hold it together, and it is this etheric counterpart which in the case of living bodies is, I suspect, truly animated. In my view, life and mind are never directly associated with matter; and they are only indirectly enabled to act upon it through their more direct connection with an etheric vehicle which constitutes their real instrument, an ether body which does not interact with them and does not operate on matter. . . .An etheric body we possess now, independent of accidents that may happen to its sensory aggregate of associated matter, and that etheric body we shall continue to possess, long after the material portion is discarded. The only difficulty of realizing this is because nothing etheric affects our present senses.”[44]
Few of the faithful today realize that the notion of a separate “spirit” and “body” was a fairly recent development in Christian thinking, though it goes back ages in India and Greece. That is not to say that the idea of a spirit or soul is new to Christianity, but simply that the sharp distinction between body and spirit, or body and mind, now commonplace in Christian thinking was a modern innovation that cannot be found in the scriptures or early teachings of the Church.

Relativity and Quantum Mechanics

Near the turn of the century, Michelson and Morley sought to find experimental evidence for the electromagnetic, or “luminiferous,” aether and succeeded in showing instead that it did not appear to exist. Shortly thereafter, in 1905, Einstein developed his theory of relativity which demonstrated that the concept of an aether was mathematically and logically inconsistent with Maxwell’s equations of electromagnetism. Einstein concluded that electromagnetic waves, including light, could not be the vibrations of an aether. Still, Oliver Lodge remained firm in his belief that a universal cosmic fluid existed that could be excited by the human mind. To Lodge, the aether was a necessity, the cosmic glue without which “there can hardly be a material universe at all.”[45]

Lodge was similarly unhappy with what he was hearing quantum physicists, like Planck and Bohr, say about the fundamentally discrete, quantized, nature of all phenomena. He deplored “the modern tendency . . . to emphasize the discontinuous or atomic character of everything.”[46] But progress passed him by, as evidence accumulated that matter is composed of discrete atoms, that electricity is the flow of electrons, and that light is a current of particles called photons.

By the time Oliver Lodge died in 1940, both the luminiferous aether and material continuity were already long in their graves. Today the electromagnetic aether is no longer a candidate for the stuff of spirit. The aether simply does not exist. In its place, even more ephemeral aether fields have been imagined as sources for spiritual quintessence – the field of the quantum wave function, the “quantum potential,” or perhaps, as Danah Zohar suggests, the vacuum itself.[47]

Like Lodge, Ernst Mach, and many other capable physicists of the early century, Einstein was uncomfortable with quantum mechanics, calling it “spooky.” In 1935, he and two collaborators, Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen, wrote a paper arguing that quantum mechanics was incomplete because it does not provide for a description of what they called “physical reality.”[48]

Einstein and his collaborators pointed out that, following conventional quantum mechanics, an experiment performed at one point in space seems to immediately determine the outcome of another experiment performed at a different point, even when the separation between these points is such as to require a signal moving faster than light to carry information from one to the other in the elapsed time interval. In fact, a signal must move at infinite speed to connect two simultaneous events separated any distance, even one as small as an atomic diameter. This distance could also be billions of light years, if all events past and future are to be connected.

Yet quantum mechanics seems to allow for just such an instantaneous correlation between separated events. This has provided a scientific basis, at least in some minds, for the notion that the universe is one simultaneously-connected whole. Einstein referred to this quantum connectivity as a “spooky action at a distance,” noting that it was incompatible with his claim that no signals can move faster than light.

Like so many of the strange effects of quantum mechanics, this apparent paradox, which we will be examining in great detail, is a consequence of the waveparticle duality in which physical systems seem to behave either like waves or particles, depending on which type of property you are trying to measure. Again the distinction is between the discrete, localized properties of a particle and the continuous, distributed properties of a wave field.

Now it is not commonly appreciated that instantaneous correlations between separated events were already present in pre-relativistic, pre-quantum physics. Prior to Einstein, no limit existed on the speeds of bodies. Furthermore, classical waves, even those moving at finite speed that you stimulate by tossing a pebble in a lake, can produce correlations between separated phenomena. You can imagine such a wave carrying information in the modulation of its amplitude or frequency, just as with sound and radio waves.

As a radio wave propagates outward, all the information carried by the waveform spreads through space. At any given time, two separated receivers on the wave front obtain that identical information; they simultaneously hear the same program. The two receivers can be said to be correlated, but that relationship is not a causal one in which an action at the place of one receiver generates a result at the place of the other receiver. Observers at the receiver positions cannot instantaneously signal each other unless that signal can move at infinite speed.

So, independent of quantum mechanics, observations at separated points in space can still be correlated. This correlation, however, does not imply superluminal signalling nor any other miracle; no physical law is violated. Two points in space can receive the same information when that information originates from the same point. Quantum mechanics, on the other hand, has suggested to some that measurements made at one point in space can instantaneously affect the outcome of measurements at another point. This notion, which was expressed in the Goswami quotation above, is termed nonlocality. It implies some sort of superluminal signalling, in violation of Einstein’s assertion that nothng can go faster than light. As we will see in the following chapters, the consequences of nonlocal communication are so profound as to turn most of our concepts of space and time on their heads. Indeed, the realization by Einstein that motions at infinite speed made it impossible to assign points in space and time a unique reality led him to assert that a maximum speed, the speed of light, exists.

In 1964 John S. Bell, stimulated by the ideas of David Bohm, showed how it was possible to experimentally test the spooky way quantum mechanics seemed to allow for superluminal action at a distance.[49] Bohm, following a largely forgotten suggestion of de Broglie a quarter century earlier, had proposed an alternative interpretation of quantum mechanics in which yet-undetected entities were responsible for the wave-like behavior of particles.[50] Following convention, I will call these entities hidden variables, though the term is not particularly enlightening.

Bell showed the way to experimentally decide between the most important class of hidden variables, those that are both “local” and “real” as are the variables of classical physics, and the conventional interpretation of quantum mechanics. Local variables do not violate Einstein’s relativity and involve no superluminal signalling. Real variables, in this context, are like the familiar variables of classical physics, being simultaneously measurable and behaving in predictable ways.

Now, after a series of precise experiments, the issue has been decided: Hidden variables that are both local and real are ruled out.[51] Real, nonlocal hidden variables, such as those introduced by de Broglie and Bohm, remain possible alternatives to the conventional interpretation of quantum mechanics.

But nonlocality implies superluminal connections at some level, and at least an apparent violation of relativity. Since experiment has yet shown any such violation, a more economical interpretation of the results on experimental tests of Bell’s theorem is simply that no hidden variables exist. Popular literature, however, would lead you to think that nonlocality is a demonstrated fact of nature. As I will explain in great detail in these pages, nonlocality exists only in theory. No superluminal motion or communication has ever been observed.

Experiment, not theory, will decide whether nonlocality is indeed a fact of nature. So far, it is not known to be a fact. Those quantum interpretations that incorporate nonlocality claim, with a certain illogic, that the superluminal transfer of information is still impossible. However, I fail to see how nonlocality can imply anything meaningful other than communication, or other motion, faster than the speed of light.

The New Holism

With experiment ruling out local hidden variables, a new holism has begun to develop. For example, Bohm’s nonlocal quantum potential, which we will describe later, seems to imply an interconnectedness between separated phenomena that does not exist in reductionist physics. In the new holism, a revised quantum mechanics provides the mechanism by which signals can move faster than light, making possible the instantaneous connections across the universe.[52]

However, the nonlocality of hidden variables, or other variations on nonlocal, causal mechanisms underlying quantum mechanics, is a nonlocality within that specific interpretation and not necessarily within quantum mechanics itself as a theory that describes the results of observations.

If the apparent empirical violation of Bell’s theorem is to be construed as evidence for nonlocality in nature, which is by no means demonstrated, then that nonlocality is contained in hidden variables or other structures that play no role in quantum mechanics as it is currently practiced. Any theory of hidden variables is thus a new theory, a sub-quantum theory that must lie deeper than quantum theory.

This has not discouraged many authors from finding other mystical messages within the conventional Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics. They conclude that we can never adequately describe, in scientific terms, the “irreducible whole.” This obscure concept has been related to the “being-in-itself” of that master of obscurity, philosopher Martin Heidigger.

For example, in their book The Conscious Universe, astrophysicist Menas Kafatos and philosopher Robert Nadeau associate being-in-itself with the quantum wave function:
“If the universe were, for example, completely described by the wave function . . . . One could then conclude that Being, in its physical analogue at least, had been ‘revealed’ in the wave function. We could then assume that any sense we have of profound unity with the cosmos or any sense of mystical oneness with the cosmos, has a direct analogue in physical reality. In other words, this experience of unity with the cosmos could be presumed to correlate with the action of the deterministic wave function which determines not only the locations of quanta on our brain but also the direction in which they are moving.”[53]
However, let me add a cautionary note. The vision of the new holists is not so appealing as it may first appear. The field of cosmic mind, whether aether, wave function, or quantum potential, is completely deterministic. In whatever manifestation, holistic physics possesses the very Newtonian, mechanistic character that is so decried by New Age authors.

In the view of quantum holism, though we humans are proscribed by the uncertainty principle from ever being able to predict the exact outcome of events, those events are predetermined nevertheless. In a holistic universe, everything is intimately and instantaneously connected to every event past and future, here on earth and far out in space, with no room for chance or choice.

I ask myself:– Do I really want to be one with the universe, so intimately intertwined with all of existence that my individual existence is meaningless? I find I much prefer the notion that I am a temporary bit of organized matter. At least I am my own bit of matter. Every thought and action that results from the remarkable interactions of my personal bag of atoms belongs to me alone. And so these thoughts and actions carry far greater value than if they belonged to some cosmic mind that I cannot even dimly perceive.

The mystical holist trades the real, pulsating life of the outer world for what he perceives as an inner world of peace. But that peace is the peace of a prison. Science has always provided the means for breaking us free from the prisons of ignorance and superstition. I hope to convince you that science has not suddenly reversed its course and become yet another set of shackles for humanity to carry. On the contrary, science continues to provide the key that unlocks all of our chains so that our bodies and minds are free to roam the universe.
Victor J. Stenger

1. Lanza1992, pp. 24-26. For my response, see Stenger 1993.
2. Capra 1975.
3. Capra 1982.
4. Ferguson 1980, p. 145.
5. Zukav 1979, p. 314.
6. Lederman 1993.
7. GUT predicted that the average proton lifetime was of the order of 10 years. The current experimental limit is greater than 10 years.
8. Technically, only one particular GUT was falsified so all possible GUTs are not ruled out. But when the simplest model failed, theorists started looking elsewhere.
9. Chopra 1989.
10. Chopra 1993.
11. For a critical review of Chopra’s ideas, see Butler 1992, pp. 110-118.
12. Newsweek, March 23, 1994, p. 81.
13. Patricia Newton, talk before the 98th Annual Meeting of the National Medical Association, San Antonio, Texas, 1993. Quotation provided by Bernard Ortiz de Montellano (private communication).
14. Palmer 1986.
15. A focussed beam will fall off less rapidly, but still will be expected to decrease in intensity as one moves away from the source. The more focussed, the lower the decrease, but also the less likely that the beam will intercept a receiver. For a discussion of Einstein’s view on ESP, see Gardner 1981, pp. 151-157.
16. Rhine 1954. For a more recent attempt, see Dunne 1992.
17. See Science News 106, July 20, 1974, p. 8. See also Gardner 1981, p. 94, for his 30 recounting of the events. In a private communication with me, Sarfatti has confirmed the accuracy of these reports.
18. Gardner 1981, p. 94.
19. See Randi 1973, 1985 and Gardner 1981, note 7, p. 104.
20. Stenger 1990. Uri Geller filed three lawsuits against me in 1992. All were settled in my favor.
21. Druckman 1987.
22. See, for example, Palmer 1989, p. 10.
23. Bem 1994.
24. Blackmore1994, Hyman 1994.
25. Druckman 1987, p. 185.
26. Schmidt 1969, 1992, 1993.
27. Jahn 1986, 1987, 1991, 1992; Dunne 1992.
28. Stenger 1990, pp. 180-184. Other critiques can be found in Hansel 1989, Druckman 1987 pp. 184-190, and Alcock 1990.
29. Alcock 1990, pp. 6, 107.
30. Dunne 1992.
31. For a nice introduction to Bayesian methods of inference, and its connection to Occam’s razor, see Jefferys 1992a.
32. Dobyns 1992.
33. Jefferys 1992b.
34. Jahn 1986, Stapp 1994.
35. Distant viewing, or remote viewing, is a formerly fashionable version of ESP. Like all other previous ESP fashions, it has been thoroughly debunked.
36. Goswami 1993, p. 136.
37. See, for example, Oteri 1975. The Koestler quotation can be found on p. 268. See also, Puharich, 1979.
38. Jahn 1981, 1986; Schmidt 1969, 1993.
39. Stapp 1994.
40. For a review of the early history of quantum theory and ESP, see Gardner, 1981. This article originally appeared in the New York Review of Books, May 17, 1979. The reprint also contains letters reacting to the review and Gardner’s response to these. Also, see Stenger, 1990, pp. 246-250 for my review of Evan Harris Walker’s quantum theory of psychokinesis given in Puharich 1979.
41. For a history of the idea of the aether, see Cushing 1989, pp. 272-311.
42. For further discussion and references, see Stenger 1990, Chapter 7.
43. Lamont 1990.
44. Lodge 1929, p. 14.
45. Lodge 1920.
46. Lodge 1914, p. 21.
47. Zohar 1990, p. 225.
48. Einstein 1935.
49. Bell 1964.
50. Bohm 1952.
51. Aspect 1982.
52. See, for example, Talbot 1991.
53. Kafatos 1990, p. 124.