F. DAVID PEAT
F. DAVID PEAT
Based on an address at a conference held at Temple University, May 4-6, 1989.
During a conference, held at Temple University, Philadelphia May 4-6, 1989, we were asked to entertain the possibility that science should move into a new area, specifically into the study of consciousness and its relationship with matter. We were asked to consider a variety of questions: Does consciousness have an effect at the quantum level? Does it, for example, act to ‘collapse the wave function’? We were asked if the mind possesses extra-sensory powers, if it can gather information in ways that preclude normal interactions. We were asked if mind can influence matter by, for example, catalyzing material and energetic transformations. Some participants believe that science must inevitably move into the study of consciousness. Others agree that theoretical speculations about the ultimate nature of sub-atomic world make it necessary to take into account the effects of consciousness.
The writings of the founders of twentieth-century physics attest to a serious interest in deeper questions that took them far beyond the confines of conventional physics. Wolfgang Pauli maintained a lifelong interest in the work of Carl Jung and introduced Heisenberg and others to Jungian ideas. Planck, Schrödinger, Eddington, and Jeans were concerned with questions of consciousness, unity, and the ultimate nature of reality. Going back to the time of Kepler, it is clear that scientists were fully aware of the sacred nature of their task and did not regard the contemplation of the universe as a neutral activity.
And I do also beseech my Reader… he would praise and admire the Wisdome and Greatnesse of the Creator, which I discover to him by a more narrow explication of the World’s Form, the Disquisition of Causes, and the Detection of the Errours of Sight.
Kepler, Introduction to Mars
An exclusively materialistic attitude which denies the importance of spirt would be entirely foreign to many of the great historical figures in science. The very motivation to understand and celebrate the universe, the underlying energy to question, the aesthetic force of the deepest mathematics and the most imaginative theories attest to this hidden, transcendental nature of science. A full understanding of the universe must surely include the astonishing fact of its celebration and contemplation by consciousness and of our own existence.
A new surge in science is vitally needed today and one that will go into a variety of outstanding questions about the interrelationship between mind and matter, the possible role of information in structuring nature, and the general need for a deeper understanding of the universe. These questions are far reaching. Indeed I would suggest that they go far beyond what I would call the surface phenomena of the mind-matter relationship and point to a fundamental investigation of the whole nature of reality and our position within the universe. But at this point I must confess a prejudice. I am not particularly interested in what I would call the ‘surface phenomena’ of consciousness research such as ESP, telekinesis, precognition and the like. If such effects do exist and can be demonstrated to the satisfaction of the scientific community, they may indeed be of considerable interest in themselves. But I would contend that they are no more than the exterior manifestations of something far deeper. Indeed the meditative traditions of East and West suggest that so-called paranormal powers are not of deep significance in themselves but are simply steps on a more important path. There is, however, the danger that a practitioner will become caught up in, or attempt to exploit, such ‘powers.’ Strict warnings against mystical dilettantism have always been issued.
I would therefore like to raise the question of the spirit and perspective in which this new science is undertaken. It is vitally important that we should begin in the right way. Is consciousness, for example, to become an object for science, and mind placed under the microscope? The science of the past two hundred years placed objectivity in the highest position. The orthodox scientist claims to stand outside the subject of study and to eliminate any taint of human value from his or her study. Science, it is believed, should be objective and value free. There is little room for love and compassion when it comes to a study of the material world. But there is always the danger that such an attitude distorts our thought and perception, particularly when our own consciousness is taken as an object of study.
Objectivity has the effect of distancing. It implies a division between the observer and what is observed, a separation in time and space. It is this division which is of concern in the present enterprise. The science of the past two hundred years has brought with it a degree of fragmentation in the way the world is perceived. Our own century has experienced a profound loss in our sense of meaning at being in the world. Objectivity brings with it an infinite loneliness, a loneliness of separation from the rest of the universe. Objectivity stresses the significance of the individual and our control and dominance over nature.
By contrast a new surge in science involving the study of consciousness and matter should acknowledge the existential fact of our being in the universe and should accommodate a sense of wholeness, celebration, joy and wonder at nature, it should act to heal our division from nature and from our own bodies.
A new science may draw for its insights on other disciplines such as art, literature, music, religion, and native sciences. But clearly to be given the name of science it must combine a passion for truth and rigor, it must question unceasingly, its ultimate goal must be understanding in the widest sense.
Our present fragmented approach to the world cannot continue, the stakes have become too high. Neither can our uncritical acceptance of scientific objectivity and the virtue of unrestricted scientific and technological progress continue. Societies and technologies are running into problems that appear to lie beyond their abilities to resolve. If science is to consider the human dimension, then it must do so in the right spirit. Indeed it is premature at this juncture to talk of new experiments or novel theoretical explanations without, at the same time, investigating the metaphysics that underlies the whole enterprise.
For this reason I would like to question an assumption that seems to underlie some of the work I have seen on consciousness and its interrelationship to matter. A number of papers and discussions are based on the suggestion that the interrelationships between mind and matter involve some sort of influence or interaction. Mind, for example, is said to move an object or cause a change in matter. A mental act is supposed to influence the output of a random number generator. Mind is said to be a transmitter or a receiver of information at a distance. Mind, it is hypothesized, emits influences and the will, or self, causes changes in the world. Some physicists even believe that consciousness can bring about the ‘collapse the wave function.’ In short, consciousness and matter, mind and body are conceived of as separate entities that are connected in some way by a new and subtle interaction, the one exerting causal influences on the other.
While it is not inconceivable that an undiscovered interaction may exist between mind and matter, I would suggest that the deeper understanding of the whole question points in an entirely different direction. Indeed, the very concepts of interaction, influence, force, cause, signal, and transmission have been imported wholesale and uncritically from a paradigm that is based on a more restricted view of the material world. It is clearly inappropriate to the present study.
The notion of a signal that propagates from one body to another, or of an interaction influencing an event is predicated upon the idea of separability and locality. It assumes that individual systems are well defined and spatially isolated one from the other so that a signal can pass between them. Process and change are the direct result of such causal interactions. But this view is entirely incompatible with, for example, the insights of quantum theory that speak of an undivided wholeness between all parts of an experiment. Influences and interactions, on the other hand, imply division in which a force acts between two isolated and well-defined objects. Change and process, according to this latter view, is essentially mechanical in nature.
By ‘mechanical’ I mean any approach that is based upon the notion of a reality that can be defined locally and in which causes operate though the mediation of forces and fields such that the larger the amplitude of the field the greater is the effect of this force. Scientists may, of course, chose to postulate new and exotic forces yet, nonetheless, they would generally conform to this mechanistic description. An exception to this critique is the quantum potential introduced by David Bohm, (Bohm and Hiley, 1987) which does not operate in a mechanical fashion since its effects do not fall off with distance or with the intensity of the potential. A system governed by Bohm’s quantum potential is more organic than mechanical. It is essentially holistic in nature and can only be analyzed into relatively independent parts under limiting conditions.
The example of quantum theory, and of Bohm’s quantum potential, suggests that alternative ways exist to discuss process and change that do not rely upon the ideas of separation and interaction. Bohm has also argued that a major area of incompatibility between relativity and quantum theory arises through the privileged position given to the concept of a signal in the former theory (Bohm 1971). This is entirely incompatible with the quantum theory. The idea of a signal assumes that systems are localizable in space and time and can be connected by means of some interaction that propagates between them. But this idea is entirely at odds with that of the quantum theory which stresses the essential wholeness of things. The indivisibility of the quantum of action means that it is impossible to analyze and separate a quantum system from the apparatus that observes it. Together they form and irreducible whole.
By contrast causality, of its very nature, implies division. It suggests a separation in time and space that can only be bridged by force. The causal paradigm elevates the importance of the individual in nature, its implications are control and dominance with the overvaluation of ego and will. Cause and influence become a one-way traffic from the mover to the moved. They are predicated on a world that is fragmented and separated and on individuals who are isolated in their brains and bodies. Such a worldview is totally at odds with the new spirit implied by a study of consciousness and matter.
The question, therefore, is one of discovering a new language and new metaphors in which to discuss the universe and our relationship to it. This is, in fact, not new to science. At the time of Newton, scholars were still dealing in ‘sympathies’ and ‘correspondences’ and with the idea of balance or harmony in the whole of nature. The ancient maxim ‘as above so below’ expresses the essential harmony that extends throughout the universe so that an individual body becomes a microcosm in which the greater whole is reflected. A variety of symbolic systems were devised to express this harmony.
Today such views would generally be dismissed as unscientific although C.G. Jung has pointed to the remarkable insights and metaphors between psychology and alchemy. Both the medieval alchemists and the sages of ancient China expressed, in symbolic terms, the processes of sublimation, transformation and refinement of matter that mirrored the internal transformation of the self. Jung, working in consultation with Wolfgang Pauli, also developed the idea of ‘synchronicity,’ his ‘acausal connecting principle’ which attempts to deal with the origin of meaningful patterns in nature (Jung 1973).
Jung’s ideas were taken seriously not only by Pauli himself but by a number of the physicist’s colleagues. It is unfortunate, therefore, that the current, popular, view of synchronicity focuses on bizarre coincidences while ignoring its deeper significance. Synchronicity directly addresses the question of meaning in the universe, the flexible boundary between inner and outer, and the subjective and objective. It deals in those numinous patterns that appear simultaneously within the worlds of matter and mind without the need for positing direct causal relationships between them. It suggests the existence of physical and mental correlations that have no direct causal basis (Peat 1987).
Such a concept would not have appeared alien to the thinkers of the Middle Ages who dealt in sympathies and correspondences, or indeed to the many other cultures and civilizations whose daily lives were and are predicated on a strong belief in the harmony of nature. Synchronicity suggests that an understanding of harmony be given a place within the scientific worldview.
The sinologist Richard Wilhelm has told the story of a Chinese rainmaker who was asked how he had causes the rain to fall in a certain village. The rainmaker replied that he did not make rain. Rather, the drought-ridden village had been in a state of disharmony which had affected the rainmaker when he arrived. The wise man therefore retired to the hut provided for him and brought himself to order. Since the rainmaker was not separate from the society and environment around him, a general harmony was restored and the rain fell as it is its nature so to do (see Peat 1987).
Recently I witnessed a similar event, a ceremony at a medicine wheel attended by native representatives from all over North America. At the start of the ceremony a Mayan Indian was involved in parting the clouds so as to leave a patch of clear sky above. Sure enough as he rotated his stick in the air the clouds moved, not all in one direction, but to the east, west, north and south.
At the time I wondered, how could this individual possibly be moving the clouds? The idea seemed nonsense. Or did the connection work in the other direction so that the moving clouds were rotating the Mayan’s stick? But then it seemed to me that clouds, stick and Mayan were caught up in a greater dance, one that involved all of us who were present. In this dance there was no actor and no thing acted upon, rather it was a harmonious flowing that passed unimpeded through cloud, wind, rock, mind, and body. The ceremony at the medicine wheel had not been created by my native hosts alone, but was a dance in which we had all been enjoined.
Can these ways of thinking about pattern, connection, process, and change be incorporated into a scientific paradigm that would be more appropriate for a discussion of consciousness and matter? I believe that this is not only possible but desirable.
At this point I would like to refer to the significance of Bell’s Theorem (Bell 1987). John Bell’s remarkable result indicates that non-local correlations exist within quantum systems that cannot be explained on a mechanistic, causal basis. The Bell experiment, that has been carried out by Alain Aspect in Paris as well as by other groups, involves a pair of photons, or electrons whose combined state is correlated and which are then allowed to separate to a macroscopic distance. Careful experiments show that a remarkable degree of correlation is maintained between the two particles even when no interaction, signal or force passes between them.
Of course there is nothing unusual in objects remaining correlated even when they are far apart. Two synchronized clocks will continue to read the same time when they are at opposite ends of the continent. But the Bell correlations are not of this nature, they exceed anything that can be explained on the basis of a ‘local reality’ or a ‘classical theory’ of physics involving mechanical fields, interactions, or signals. Suppose, for example, that photons and electrons possessed individual properties and could be well defined each in their own regions. They would each carry ‘cards of identity’ as it were. Changes of state would then be produced by interactions, forces, signals, or other causes. But Bell’s result clearly demonstrates that such ‘local systems’ could never display the degree of correlation that is exhibited experimentally and appears to be unique to the sub-atomic world.
Bell’s result shows that quantum systems are correlated in ways that lie outside any appeal to mechanical connection or to a locally defined reality. They have therefore been called non-local correlations which implies that entirely new categories are required for thinking about space and time in the quantum context. This is not to say that some new mechanical interaction operates outside the confines of space and time, but rather that the ideas of connection and correlation must be thought about in new ways. In this context Jung’s notion of an acausal connection does not seem entirely inappropriate. Or to put it another way, an acausal connection may manifest itself in the form of non-local correlations that appear to lie outside the normal confines of space and time.
Bell’s theorem has been used by a number of writers to explain supposed mental effects and interactions by proposing that such mental interactions are in some way ‘non-local’ and can make instantaneous or faster-than-light connections. But this is to misinterpret the meaning of Bell’s result which denies that any force or interaction whatsoever passes between the two particles. (Again an exception may be made in the case of Bohm’s unusual and holistic quantum potential.)
While Bell’s theorem specifically deals with quantum events occurring at the sub-atomic level it does provide a powerful metaphor since the idea of non-locality goes beyond Bell’s particular result and suggests that patterns and processes within nature can be looked at in new ways. Thinking in terms of non-local correlations and acausal connections implies a more connected and holistic way of viewing the universe and one in which explanations based on the ideas of influence and interaction become less inevitable. Indeed it is my belief that non-locality, with its inherent connectedness, may be a more natural way of thinking about the universe.
This idea may well harmonize with the native American view of things. Indigenous people talk to trees, some of them talk to rocks. In the forest they experience skanagoah or the ‘great presence,’ an electrifying awareness of unity and balance. To suggest that some energy, influence, or signal passes between tree and native person would be to miss the essence of the experience. It is best expressed therefore as a sort of active, dynamical harmony. Apela Colorado, a modern academic suggests that no direct passage of energy of force is involved. Her great-grandfather expressed this harmony with animals and plants in the following way:
We have to understand the nature. That is why we have to talk to them. We don’t pray to them, we talk to them because they breathe the same air we do. We are put here with them. We are also a part of the plant life. We are always growing, we have to have strong roots. (Colorado 1988)
When there is no inherent separation between a person and a tree there is no need to propose a connection between them.
New ways of thinking along similar lines are coming from many areas. Medicine, for example, has in the past been firmly based on causative models in which a disease is caused by an invading organism and cured by the action of a drug. Today, however, increasing understanding of the immune system has led some doctors to become interested in the question of the meaning of a person’s life and its role in the movement towards health. In such a view, causative chains play a secondary role within a larger system that extends from the body-mind to the family and society at large as an organic whole.
Some linguists are also rejecting what they feel to be a mechanical view of their subject, including the ‘transport theory of language’ in which words are used to transport a ‘cargo’ of meaning between individuals. Rather than language being seen in terms of an interaction or signal between an active speaker and a passive listener the emphasis is placed upon how meaning unfolds out of the whole activity of discourse and upon the creativity involved in the building of ‘mental spaces’ by both parties (Ford and Peat 1988). Meaning in this sense does not lie exclusively in individual words but is non-local, belonging to the whole language, the conversation, its context, the memories and attitudes of the speakers and indeed to the whole society.
There are also indications of new metaphors from the physical sciences. The mathematician Roger Penrose, for example, has been exploring the structure of what could be called non-local spaces. The building blocks of these spaces, called twistors, are non-local in nature. Points and local regions are then built up as secondary objects generated by congruences of the more basic non-local twistors. In Penrose’s approach space-time and the elementary particles are to be generated together out of a common non-local starting point. Only in the limit can localized bodies and the interactions between them recovered. (Penrose and Rindler 1986)
Non-linear systems, with their regions of stability and instability, limit cycles and chaos, bifurcation points and fractal behavior, are providing a rich new source of metaphors for what could be termed a non-mechanical view of nature. Non-linear systems are not generally separable yet, under certain conditions they can throw out quasi-independent entities—like vortices in a river—that are nonetheless dependent upon an underlying dynamics. What appear at one level to be independent objects interacting together will, on deeper examination, turn out to be a manifestation of the one underlying non-linear dynamics. Non-linear systems can be so extraordinarily sensitive to the slightest influence that a vanishingly small change in one part of the system can produce an overwhelming change in another. Such systems must be treated as a whole and do not always lend themselves to fragmentation and discussion in terms of interactions.
The new approach I am proposing is based upon a belief in the harmony of nature that extends from the subtle to the manifest, from the material to the mental. It is to be discussed in terms of correlations that are non-local and connections that are acausal—although the more conventional explanations in terms of interactions and influences would also play a role. Harmony has been advocated as a fundamental activity in nature by everyone from Laozi to native people all over the world. The Native American, for example, believes in a basic harmony amongst stones, plants, and animals and that they are placed on earth to aid in maintaining this harmony.
Such a belief carries with it an awesome responsibility. It demands an extraordinary quality of mind and a perception that is based on love and respect for all things. The essence of such a life does not lie in the desire for constant action, in instigating change to correct some perceived mistake, in the search for solutions to problems, but upon a gentle and constant movement towards harmony (Peat 1988). Such a movement may be as much internal as external. It could be compared to the delicate tuning of an automobile which results in the release of great power, or in the very fine adjustment of a television set which allows the signal to pass through the circuit unimpeded.
A further metaphor is of a highly complex system in which its individual phases are subject to fine adjustments. By making a series of small adjustments globally across the system it becomes possible to lock these phases together so that the whole system becomes involved cooperatively in some new activity. Such a system may be quite resistant to any local, forceful intervention, however tiny changes that are made in a cooperative or non-local way can result in entirely new behavior. Take, for example, the edge of a pond in which a series of ripples are constantly forming and dying away. If the phases of these very small disturbances could be coordinated exactly all around the edge of the pond, then they would interfere constructively and propagate towards the center of the pond where they would create a large splash. By operating in a sensitive yet gentle way it becomes possible to facilitate a system to produce large effects. The emphasis, however, would be on the understanding and maintenance of balance.
Similar effects may also operate within the human body and brain. For example, vanishingly small but non-locally coordinated effects operating within a neural network could produce interesting effects. One could envision that memories are stored, non-locally, in this way. That ripples of activity interfere constructively, spreading inward to some center of activity within the brain, spread out again and are then focused into some new region.
The hypothesis advanced here is that such gentle, non-local processes are operating very generally within nature. Certain individuals may be able to bring themselves into harmony with such natural flows and participate in them. But clearly the emphasis would not be on intention or acts of will but upon openness, freedom from emotional and conceptual blocks and a sense of deep respect for the natural world.
The word ‘love’ comes to mind. It has, I understand, been used by Mae-Wan Ho in the context of biology. I would suggest that a love of nature is exactly what is demanded in this new field of research. Love is a dissolution of boundaries, an acceptance, a harmonious merging and, at the same time, a deep sense of energy. Love does not seek to control or dominate but respects the integrity of the other. Love cannot be tapped on demand; it comes of its own accord and floods the organism with a feeling of wellbeing and sensitivity.
A new spirit is required for a new science; one that does not seek to dominate or control, that does not impose its views on nature but is tempered by respect, the desire for harmony, and compassion for all things. Such an activity must retain the scientific passion for truth and understanding while, at the same time seeking to celebrate nature and restore the harmony of the planet, society and each individual.
A science that proposes to investigate harmony and maintain balance must clearly be sensitive to its own methods, values and ethics—particularly when the scientist becomes his or her own object of study. Discovering the basis and methodology of this new science will prove extraordinarily difficult and requires a profound shift in thinking. Current science is based upon the notion of reproducibility and statistical analysis, and upon analysis in terms of cause and effect. Little value is given to an individual event—the Big Bang excepted. How then is science to deal with the personal experience and the value of a numinous event? How will it be possible to combine rigor and subjectivity? These are profoundly difficult issues.
On the other hand, art, poetry and literature are concerned with truth and the balance between objectivity and subjectivity. Aesthetics and internal value may play a vital role, yet great art still possesses rigor and honesty. Both art and literature are concerned with the possibility of a multiplicity of interpretations yet who could have been more rigorous in his investigation of subjective reality and the nature of memory and time than Marcel Proust? Will it therefore be possible to draw upon the discipline and values of the arts when moving into a study of the human position in the universe?
In conclusion, therefore, a new science is proposed in which harmony and balance play a leading role and in which ethics and compassion are placed side by side with truth and understanding. A variety of approaches have been suggested in this article such as realizing the limitation of the notions of interaction, signal and local reality in favor of ‘acausal connections’ and non-local correlations. A balance between objectivity and subjectivity has been proposed and it has also been suggested that the ethics, compassion and methodology of the investigator are of vital importance. Human values can no longer be eliminated from an investigation of consciousness and our own role in nature.
Bell, J.S. (1987) Speakable and Unspeakable in Quantum Mechanics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Bohm, D. (1971) Quantum Theory as an Indication of a New Order in Physics, Foundations of Quantum Mechanics. Proceedings of the International School of Physics ‘Enrico Fermi’ ed. B. d’Espagnat. New York: Academic Press
Bohm, D. and Hiley, B. (1987) ‘The Ontological Significance of the Quantum Potential Model.’ Phys Reports 144, 321
Colorado, A. (1988) ‘Bridging Native and Western Science.’ Convergence XXI (2/3), 49.
Ford, A. and Peat, F. D. (1988) ‘The Role of Language in Science.’ Foundations of Physics 18(12), 1233.
Jung, C.G. (1973) Synchronicity, trans R.F.C. Hull. Bollingen Series. Princeton: Princteon University Press
Peat, F.D. (1987) Synchronicity: The Bridge Between Matter and Mind. New York: Bantam Books
Peat, F.D. (1988). Peat on ‘Chaos and a Creative Suspension of Action.’ Creativity Research Journal 1, 131.
Penrose, R. and Rindler, W. (1986) ‘Spinors and Space-Time’ Volume 2. Cambridge University Press. See also L.P. Hughston and R.S. Ward. Advances in Twistor Theory. London: Pitman, 1979. A more popular account of twistor theory is given in chapters 7-10 of Superstrings and the Search for the Theory of Everything. F.D. Peat. Chicago-New York: Contemporary Books, 1988.