Thursday, January 3, 2019

A Participatory Universe

The Newtonian and Classical physics that I studied in college was about what were thought to be pre-existing, unchangeable laws of a separately existing universe that objectively existed independent of observation. When quantum physics was discovered and forced its way into the laboratory, it obliterated the notion of an independently existing world forever. Quantum physics forever shattered the idea of there being an objectively existing world, proving that there is no such thing. It is ironic that physics, long considered the most “objective” of all the sciences, in pursuing its dedicated quest to understand the deep nature of the material universe, has dispelled the very notion of an objective universe.

According to quantum theory, the idea of a world independent of our observation is not correct. Our perception of the universe is a part of the universe happening through us that has an instantaneous effect on the universe we are observing. We are not a self-enclosed, encapsulated, independent agent existing apart from the universe. Quantum theory has opened the door to a profoundly new vision of the cosmos, where the observer, the observed, and the act of observation are inseparably united.

Quantum physics has shown that passively observing the universe is impossible. Even something as minuscule as an electron necessitates reaching into the electron’s subatomic world to understand, which changes both the electron and its observers. It is impossible to gain information without changing the state of the system being measured, as we invariably bring about a different world by the very act of trying to determine the state of the world.

Essentially, consciousness has entered into the laboratory, and physicists are not quite sure what to do with it. Observing that consciousness is a part of everything has forced physicists to come to terms with questions of metaphysics, which for most physicists is not what they signed up for. Most physicists think that something as ethereal as consciousness, what has been referred to as “the unwanted stepchild of physics”, has no place in “real” physics. The prevailing mainstream view is that consciousness, or “philosophy,” is not supposed to be studied in a physics department. Anything that isn’t testable and can’t be measured is of no concern to most physicists.

Quantum physics is itself the greatest threat to the underlying metaphysical assumptions of “scientific materialism,” a perspective which assumes that there is an independently existing, objective material world that is separate from the observer. To the overwhelming majority of physicists, the role that consciousness plays in their experiments seems to run against the pure spirit of science – which in their view is always supposed to be impersonal and objective. And yet, like an uninvited, unwelcome guest at dinner, consciousness refuses to go away.

In quantum physics, we are no longer passive witnesses of the universe, but rather, we unavoidably find ourselves in the new role of active participants who give shape to and “create” the very universe we are interacting with. To understand quantum physics is to understand that we live in a participatory universe that we are responsible for
creating entirely.

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