What is Quantum Physics

There is no field in modern science that is misunderstood or misinterpreted more than any other. Two reasons should be mentioned: First, quantum physics deals with the microscopic world, atoms and subatomic particles; it is a world inaccessible to our direct perceptions, to human experience as such. And as much as we like to but our logic and commonsense which are derived from shared human experiences cannot be extended to the realm of atomic phenomena. Even the physicist cannot imagine what an atom looks like. The second reason that has led to much misinterpretation is the desperation of modern man to find meaning, excitement, mystery and surreal phenomena to compensate for the lack of essence in his/her life. Thus, the field is open to people like Deepak Chopra who are the kind to take advantage of the mystery and stick exotic words such as quantum next to whatever it is they sell so to make it sound both cool and healing. But if we are really after knowing the mystery, then wouldn’t we be fooling ourselves if we sufficed to superficial interpretations or one night stands with what may be a glimpse of an ultimate reality!

Of quantum mechanics (or quantum physics) it is said “Quantum physics is not something to understand; it is something to do.” Physicists do quantum mechanics all the time; in fact, almost all electronic equipment owe their lives to the quantum physics done by physicists; doing it involves solving equations and calculating probabilities; but this doesn’t entail a deep understanding of the meaning of these equations. Rarely can physicists say that they have truly understood quantum physics. We may even define quantum physics as the subject that when we think we have understood it we suddenly realize we haven’t. This is not because we are stupid or quantum physics is too hard; both are true to some extent, but the problem has to do with what it is that we call understanding.

To understand is to reduce something new to something that we already understand, and to do so until we arrive at simple, elementary facts that are self-evident from experience. But if the subject matter is one which is altogether alien to experience as such, then understanding, in the sense we know it, is not possible. In light of an understanding of understanding we can say that quantum physics is only understood in terms of abstract mathematics; the only elementary concepts to which the object of the quantum world can be reduced are abstract mathematical objects. But I have developed a new way of introducing quantum physics which involves reflections on why we cannot understand it. In short, we can indirectly understand the quantum world by understanding what it is not rather than what it is. Now let us try.

Physics is an attempt at understanding the natural order. It used to be part of what is known as natural philosophy. The natural order, the object of inquiry, is the world that know through experience. In this experience we encounter different kinds of phenomena: Some are mechanical; they have to do with motion of massive objects, like projectiles, motion of the stars and planets. Some are electromagnetic in nature, like light, electricity, magnets, etc. Some others are thermodynamic in nature, dealing with phenomena such as heat and cold and transfer of energy. Three main sub-fields of physics were developed to study these phenomena: Mechanics, Electromagnetism, and Thermodynamics.

As experimental technologies advanced scientists focused on the study of the origin of phenomena such as electricity, magnetism, and heat. The guiding idea here, and in all of modern science, was that the behavior of the whole is exclusively determined by the behavior of the parts. This is the assumption behind all modern sciences, the assumption that broke in quantum physics. Thus, physicists started studying the smaller constituents of the macroscopic phenomena. Eventually they arrived at elementary particles such as electrons and photons, but they noticed that in the new realm of microscopic phenomena things are very strange. Our everyday logic does not hold anymore. Below I mention a few of the new mysteries.

1. Particles of matter which were expected to be point-like stuff confined in space strangely appear to be in many places at once.

2. It turned out that material particles can sometime behave as point-like particles and sometimes as waves spread in space, depending on where we put them.

3. Wave phenomena, such as light, can sometimes behave as point-like material particles.

4. Particles seem to know a way of communication that transcends space and time.

5. It is possible to have two distinct particles each at opposite ends of our universe that are intrinsically correlated in their behavior. No matter how far apart we put them they still remain, and behave as, one whole system and not two separate things.

6. When we are not looking at a quantum object it behaves totally different from when we are looking at it (notice that to see something really means to bounce light off of it and see the reflected light.)

7. It appears that observation is not a passive position; it is an active and creative act. By observing a quantum phenomena we actually make it happen. Thus, it is in principle impossible to speak of nature in the absence of observation.

8) The quantum realm is a realm of interconnectedness. There is are only wholes and not parts. There is a deep unity that even the strongest technologies cannot break. Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, the cornerstone of quantum mechanics, is a mathematical expression of this indestructible unity.

Double Slit Experiment is one the most famous experiments that exposes the strangest features, and hence the deepest principles, of the quantum world.

Werner Heisenberg, the first founder of quantum mechanics, then known as Matrix Mechanics, says in his Physics and Philosophy “What we observe as nature is not nature herself but nature as exposed to our methods of inquiry.” This idea is the juice of quantum physics. Let me encrypt this saying into a more philosophical and concise proposition: The object and the knowledge of object are one and the same

I mentioned a few of the strange features of the quantum world but it becomes even stranger than that. In my book Nondual Perspective on Quantum Physics I have explained these features in detail but I will mention some metaphysical implications of it here. It has to do with understanding our commonsense:

Look at a glass of water in front of you. The glass has a distance from you; it has a certain speed (hopefully zero.) It has an apparent size and shape that changes as you move relative to the glass. Though we may view the glass from an infinite number of perspectives, we know that it is one and the same glass. According to our commonsense our perspective changes but the glass does not.

But we have more assumptions: We assume that the glass has an independent shape and size, specific position in space and place in time irrespective of our presence. On the other hand, we know that the color and the lighting by which we see the glass is not a property of the glass itself. Color is understood to be a moment of subjective experience; in reality there are only wavelengths and frequencies which represent different energies; it is our brain that translates these different energies into different colors. In other words, there are certain properties that we attribute to the glass itself and certain others that we attribute to our perceptions. This reflection is crucial in understanding quantum mechanics.

We may speak of primary and secondary qualities: Primary qualities are those that belong (according to our commonsense) to the object itself; they are always present in the object whether we are present or not, whether we experience them or not. Examples are actual shape and size, position and velocity, etc. Secondary qualities are those that arise only when the object is being experienced by a subject; they arise in the subject but only in the presence of the object and only insofar as the object is present. Examples are apparent shape and size, color and shade, etc. For instance, notice that color is not in the glass itself; color of the glass is something that happens during seeing of the glass.To be more precise, the secondary qualities belong to the overlap of object and experience: I won’t see the green glass if I do not look at the green glass and I see it only as long as I am looking at it. 

Having a clear sense of the distinction between the two qualities we can now define the whole of the quantum realm as a realm where some primary qualities are pushed over into the of secondary qualities. If our commonsense breaks in the face of quantum phenomena it is because what we had previously taken to be the primary qualities of natural objects turn out to be their secondary qualities!

Abstract science background electromagnetic radioactive core

To take this understanding to the quantum realm we first have to got back to the glass: One of the most important primary qualities of a glass that was always taken for granted is its state of motion. We know from commonsense that the glass has a fixed position and speed in space and at each moment of time. Even when we not present with the glass we never doubt that it is somewhere, that it has a position in space and a velocity; this is because we take the state of motion to be the primary quality of objects. Consciousness of place is most fundamental to our commonsense and understanding: Everything has a place whether we know of it or not, at least we think. We attribute our lack of knowledge about the place, or position, of an object to our ignorance rather than the object itself. Try to imagine an object that has no place! I do not mean an object that is constantly moving, but an object that has no place at all, whether in real space or imagined space. It is impossible. We cannot imagine or conceive of objects without imagining them in their primary qualities though we may do so dispensing with their secondary qualities.

The fundamental paradigm shift in the case of quantum physics is that the state of motion of a particle which was previously assumed to be a primary quality turns out to be a secondary quality, a property present in the observation rather than in the object itself. The place and the velocity of elementary particles are unknown prior to observation, not because we do not know them, but because they do not have properties such as position and velocity. To speak of the position or velocity of a particle in the absence of observation is like to speak of circular triangle.

When we measure the position of an electron and get a numerical value we do not see the electron hiding somewhere; instead, the very process of measurement forces the electron to take a position in space. In other words, measurement of position creates the measured position. Prior to measurement the electron is described as being present everywhere at once, but the act of measurements makes the electron to instantaneously collapse into a point in space. This instantaneous, atemporal, collapse is known as the collapse of the wave function.

See that we cannot imagine what happens during the measurement process because we cannot imagine the quantum objects under investigation. As I mentioned above, in order to imagine something there must be something that we imagine; but now that all the imaginable properties of quantum objects have turned out to be only secondary properties, properties that do not preexist the observation, then in the absence of observation there is nothing to imagine.

An analogy may help: If I compare the faculty of imagination with the our hands, then trying to imagine the quantum world is like using our hands to listen to music. Sound is not a tactile object; it is something heard and not touched. Thus, no amount of moving or stretching our hands will help us hear a sound. Instead, we must listen. In the same way the quantum realm lies forever beyond imagination because the objects and processes of this realm have more intrinsic properties through which they can be imagined or grasped.

Now I must add that quantum physics is the most experimentally verified scientific theory in the whole history of civilization. It is as solid as it can get, and its best proof is the myriad of tools and devices that we use today on a daily basis, all of which were born out of the findings of quantum physics: Transistors which exist in all electronics, GPS, microwave, your car, cellphone, TV, computer and internet, etc.

There are more details about the mysteries of quantum physics, its philosophical implications, and its astonishing similarities to the world described my mystics. In my book Nondual Perspectives on Quantum Physics I have first introduced the strange features of the quantum world in a non-technical language and then compared it to philosophical and mystical traditions of the East and the West such as Advaita Vedanta Metaphysics and Transcendental Phenomenology. The conclusion is that physics and metaphysics, physicists and mystics, one through discursive thought and the other through direct intuition, have both described a world that appears to be one and the same, and this similarity is more than ever present in our time.

Glowing blue synapses in space

The world of the mystic speaks of One, a nondual ground from which all diversities arise. The world of the physicist is a world fundamentally interconnected and whose fluctuations appears as the multitude of phenomena. The Nondual Perspectives on Quantum Physics finds and recounts the one conclusion at the heart of modern physics and traditional metaphysics:

The manifest arises from the vibrations of the unmanifest

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00N5DL1R0/

Frontcover

37 thoughts on “What is Quantum Physics

    1. I must correct myself; there is no physical aspect at all. There is spiritual and then there is less spiritual. One of the implications of quantum physics is that there is no physical reality at the bottom of things.

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      1. Much of what you’re describing here in the comment sound very much to me like the Kabbalistic concept of “emanations” or “sephirot” and such…

        Why is it supposed that the “ONE”, non-dualistic spiritual “source” of everything would even have produced so many other “less spiritual” levels of reality in the first place? Why would “pure spirit” emanate illusions of physicality, just so that these illusory beings (us) would need to turn around and find whatever means of recognizing that illusion, in order to “reunite” with the pure, spiritual source…?

        In other words, why would such a concept of “god” decide to do all this in the first place?

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      2. Thanks for your comment; the question is very important within metaphysics and has a very interesting resolution: When we ask this question we expect an answer in the form “because.” The question presupposes origin and teleology, that something preceding something else is the cause and motivation. Human consciousness grasps based on motivation, reason, interest, etc. This question of why would the One do this cannot be answered in human consciousness, in principle. Say the One itself came to us and answered it; we can ask again, ad infinitum, but why? The answer to this question produces the question again, and this arises from the very logical structure of human understanding.
        But the question is resolved when one leaves the sphere of natural experience and enters transcendental experience which is no more a human consciousness. Within that consciousness to question does not arise to begin with, and it doesn’t a meaning there anymore because the basic the manifold is gone; there is no One and its productions anymore. There is no reality and illusion. There is an unembodied consciousness coinciding with totality.
        The experience of world and lesser realities are present only within human mode of consciousness; all the questions of where we came from, where we go, why and how disappear in the transcendental mode of consciousness. There experience is such that it has not come from anywhere or going anywhere since there is nowhere to go; there is no before or after, etc.
        The concept of personal god and creation in main religions are the relative aspects of transcendental consciousness which appear as they do only within human consciousness.
        In other words, the philosophical questions, and question as such, belong to the mind and not to reality itself. Question arises from perspective and not from that which is perceived.
        I do not mean at all to say this question is not important; but it is not solvable. However, one can directly see the meaninglessness of question from the transcendetal mode of consciousness which some call awakened state, etc.

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      3. Your answer makes a lot of sense, in a sort of “alter-sense” kind of way… I do think I understand the centrality of how the experience of “transcendent consciousness” is to all of what you just said.

        The problem is that despite how real, and convincing, and seemingly beyond description such mystical experiences might be, this nonetheless does not make them true….

        The irony of it all is that if you were to manage to somehow stay in that “awakened state”, not having to eventually return back to so-called “human consciousness”, and just stayed there, riding the infinite plane, living beyond “why” and “who” and all these “illusory” concepts, would that really be bliss? Would that really be “love”? Would that truly be “heaven”, or would the person I am actually talking to right now, having a meaningful conversation with, actually cease to exist?

        I would simply suggest the possibility that if this “One” was provoked in a certain way, you might actually find this “One” revealing itself to a have a nature that is quite a long ways from “transcendent” indeed….

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      4. A few points; a truth of an experience is in experience itself. I am not quite sure what it means to say an experience is true or not. You may imply if the experience corresponds to an objective reality! In this case there is not way of testing it because we never step outside experience. This holds also for our natural experience; we can never prove if there actually exists an outside world. The very idea of outside world is itself something provided within experience. But I personally consider reality to be experience itself since we can never really speak of what exists apart from experience.
        Regarding transcendental experience it is an impersonal mode of consciousness; I or you cease to exist as beings, also the world ceases to exist as something extended. But it is not that they go in and out of existence; they do not exist in the first place, at least in the natural sense we understand them. There remains pure flow of experiencing, not a knower or known remains but only knowing. This includes love and other sentiments which belong to the natural sphere. All get flushed away; only absolute detachment remains.
        Many people understand this to be a religious experience or something related to God; but religious experience and god also belong to the world which is already gone in transcendental experience. It is a reproducible experience unlike spiritual experiences.
        Knowledge must be based on experience; if we cannot experience something, then it is speculative metaphysics. Transcendental experience is something that we can experience and from which we derive knowledge. I would say it is very similar to platonic philosophy. This world being a projection of a higher world. This can be experienced and known by anyone who wishes. We think in terms of the known world, thus we cannot think the transcendental experience; it is something we can directly see. If you are interested I suggest this link:

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      5. “Knowledge must be based on experience; if we cannot experience something, then it is speculative metaphysics. Transcendental experience is something that we can experience and from which we derive knowledge.”

        This I find very interesting, because in a certain sense, I very much agree! Without experience, of some form or another, there is no way to acquire knowledge. But when you start talking of “transcendent experience”, then, it sort of contradicts itself in a way, because in that case, “knowledge” itself is something you can’t really define anymore, because there is no definite “you” left, to know objective, describable “truth”. You “transcend” all of it, and so in the end, nothing you’re saying really means anything anyway. The man who shoves his head in his pillow and manages to block out all thought, all “self”, all “other”, all everything, is thusly achieving the same degree of transcendence as the most lofty experience by the most “advanced” yogi, etc.

        It is simply death, being rebranded and passed off as “enlightenment”, or transcendence…..

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      6. Well, I disagree with you here. You cannot form of an idea of whether knowledge means anything or not in transcendence unless you experience it. Speaking about an experience that you have not had, and generalizing it to include all yogis and thousands of years of tradition, is naive and irrational. However, I would be a hypocrite if I blamed you; I had the same arrogance toward anything transcendental or spiritual or religious. This is the common dogmatism. Only direct experience change that, and only and only transcendental experience can show you what I am trying to convey. I cannot do or say anything that can ever change it unless you see it.
        Regarding knowledge. When you speak of knowledge in transcendental experience you are using your common understanding of knowledge, natural knowledge, consisting of a knower with an object transcendent to his/her consciousness. Transcendental knowledge is unitive knowledge, in the sense that it is a knowing in being. A knowing in which the subject and object have become one. For sure, this knowledge is inexpressible in terms of natural knowledge; why? Because to express and understand means to reduce to more basic concepts which still lie within natural experience. example is when you try to express color to a blind person who has never seen color.
        There are residues of transcendental consciousness within our natural consciousness, hence inexpressible experiences. For instance, you have an intuitive grasp of what it means to be; but no one has ever been able to define being. Same goes for time, etc.
        Only responsible and radical objectivity and empiricism can open us toward transcendental experience.
        If you can rise and claim the experiences of thousands of mystics during thousands of years to be nothing but their misunderstanding or stupidity, thinking of your intelligence superior to all of them, then you must be incapable of self-reflection and self-analysis.
        I can only quote from Bertrand Russell here:
        “The problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubt.”

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      7. I guess I should’ve added that yes, I myself have had “mystical experiences”. I do believe in “higher” spiritual realms, and that in many respects that are not something that can begin to be approached or described in typical scientific terms.

        Basically what I’m driving at here is that after such personal experiences, and just more overall experience in “everyday life”, I’ve been brought to the conclusion that these experiences and realms, are experiences that are actually being facilitated by other spiritual beings which are in the end only working to deceive you into believing that you can become god yourself.

        It’s the same lie from the Beginning, from the Garden…

        Liked by 1 person

      8. I do very much agree with you about the delusion that one can become God. This is a misunderstanding; it is true that many mystics have somehow said something like “I am God.” But their I is different. When one experiences that nondual consciousness, the I is no more there. In other words, there is only That, or god, or whatever name we assigned it.
        Of spiritual experiences there are different levels. Transcendental experience is a post-spiritual experience. I too had mystical experiences, some even during tests of psychedelics; but I still considered them to be subjective, products of brain chemistry, etc. But there is an experience which is altogether in a different level. It is not even of the same kind.
        My point here is not to convince you at all of the radical nature of this experience; it is impossible unless one sees. But the idea is that a new experience can change all our views and ideas about what reality is or what experience means. Until we undergo that experience we cannot possibly foresee its impact.
        A mark of most spiritual experiences is that their are subjective, at the level of feeling. But transcenental experience is a seeing of the highest degree of self-evidence. In the face of that experience we realize that all we knew were mere opinions. The best description of it is in the link I sent you yesterday if you had the chance to read.
        Best of luck

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      9. “But transcenental experience is a seeing of the highest degree of self-evidence”

        (I have to confess, statements like that do very much sound to me a lot like a description of “becoming god”! Albeit, like you said, in the pantheistic sense, not in the personal-God sense…)

        Liked by 1 person

      10. I suppose it would be prudent to also simply add that in the end, I do find your writing and research to be incredibly thought-provoking, and in a host of ways it is easy to see that you are smarter than I am. I realize that leaving comments like this immediately pose a danger of sounding “dogmatic” and close-minded, judgmental, etc. I hope to avoid that, because I do wish to at least be sure to clarify that I don’t blame anyone for being captivated by various sorts of mystical experiences, or the types of gnostic philosophies which inevitably seem to flow out of them. I do not find such people “stupid” at all! On the contrary, I find these people to be courageous enough to look beyond the mundane and the status quo in the quest for the meaning behind everything. I have a great respect for that. It is because I admire and care about such people that I feel compelled to speak out about the darker sides of the spiritual realm which I have come to understand….. Blessings, hope no hard feelings.

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      11. We are both seekers. Your skepticism is a necessary aspect of the way. When I had a glimpse of that T-experience I realized I would have never had it if I had believed or accepted anything from others. It came to me because I consistently, thoughout all my life, refused to believe anything that I don’t see myself directly. WE should only accept what is most self-evident to us. This is all we need.
        Best,
        🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  1. dear Toomajj ,madame writers dream still believes in some God apart from her.since she has lot of faith in your words you may have to devote more articles on how we are not different from God.

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    1. Partha, our identity with god is not at our human and personal level. It is a tricky subject because can lead to egotism since we are as humans egocentric. This identity is something to be established in direct perception rather than in reading or conviction. And when we see our identity with Him we are no more; we are annihilated. It is not our human self or personality that is identical with God; we are identical with Him because there is only God and we are nothing. Until we are annihilated in God it is best for us to see ourselves, as Ramakrishna says, as servants and God as master. He Himself is the inner guide and will direct His followers as He wills. Who am I to tell people how they should perceive God! God appears to the devotee as the devotee pleases.

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      1. dear heart the first part of answer reflected my egotism and second part corrected the course with the end words striking me at center.
        reverence to the purity with which you have given me the reply.
        thanks.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. An excellent article – except for the last comment. Even there, I understand the trickiness of which uo speak. Taking one’s personal ego into the realm of identity with God is dangerous. The best statement is the last ‘God appears to the devotee as the devotee pleases.”

    Much more must be written about this difficult aspect of faulty conceptions of God. Nothing is harder than that. Also, Tomaj, check this new finding out online.

    http://phys.org/news/2015-02-big-quantum-equation-universe.html

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Kenneth. I read something about it. I no more really takes scientific discoveries seriously. Two reasons: First the always change; especially about the universe they are all without exception hypothesis. It is pointless to follow them. Second is because I see the universe of science as a theoretical construct and not real. But please keep this between us; or else they expel me from the physics department 😉

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      1. Yes, the price is now zero. I bought it a month ago for around $4. You may make twenty cents from my purchase. That is the problem with Amazon. They set the price. There are better places to place a book, as the author deserves to make something from all there work an education that goes into its production.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I know that it is free to rent for those with kindle prime but didn’t know it is 0 regardless; I check it out. But you’re right about amazon. I must explore other possibilities for other books.

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  3. “It appears that observation is not a passive position; it is an active and creative act. By observing a quantum phenomena we actually make it happen.”

    This is a really interesting riddle that I don’t think we fully grasp and understand yet. I call it the universe is not indifferent to you and perceptions become reality. It’s difficult to convince people of this truth in the simplest areas of life, let alone quantum physics.

    Liked by 1 person

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