Quantum Contemplation.

Via on May 13, 2011

“I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.”

This is a long, and at times wordy post… but I am working towards a point, and I hope you will endure until that point is made!

There is a great deal of literature out there that compares the findings of contemporary physics with that of non-dualistic philosophy, particularly with the contemplative traditions of the world’s religions. Many times these texts seem intent on establishing the case that science is validating the claims of religion. Almost as if contemplative spirituality is validated because science said so. I do not find this sort of comparison to be of any real value. I am much more interested in these two great disciplines’ shared interest in an integrated environment.

Quantum Physics foundation was discovered by Werner Heisenberg. It was Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle that organized Quantum Physics into a scientific discipline. That is not to say that Heisenberg was not standing on the shoulders of some giants, such as Albert Einstein, Erwin Schrodinger, and Max Plank. However, with the inception of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, Quantum Physics began to paint a much different picture of reality than the already accepted views of classical physics or relativity. So while it was the work of Einstein that paved the way for the quantum revolution, it was the work of Heisenberg that established quantum mechanics as a distinct school of thought.

The Uncertainty Principle also bridges the art of physics with that of the contemplative traditions. Heisenberg noticed that in an experiment you can not separate the observed from the observer. Now I am not suggesting that the physicist were speaking about the same sort of thing, but I am suggesting that the contemplatives are speaking of the same principle that Heisenberg discovered with his Uncertainty Principle. Following his conversation with Rabindranath Tagore, Heisenberg said, “After these conversations with Tagore some of the ideas that had seemed so crazy suddenly made much more sense. That was a great help for me.” Simply put, while the physicists’s point of view does not necessarily include the position of the contemplatives, the explanation provided by the contemplatives does include the position held by the scientist.

Contemplatives are describing the human condition in its simplest form. Therefore, their position is pervasive. The contemplatives have long since understood that the observer and the observed are of “one substance.” This is a fact that any Trinitarian Christian can easily appreciate, as this was the revelation of Christ, and the Christian faith is constructed upon this very principle. In principle this insight is in agreement with the Uncertainty Principle, as both are a declaration of the contrived and limited nature of subject/ object interaction.

With the advent of the Uncertainty Principle, the line between observer and observed became blurred. Scientists, being a rational group of people, took some time to get acclimated with this newly discovered atmosphere of non-duality. Sometime later, prominent physicists, such as John Wheeler, began to make suggestions like replacing the term observer with ‘participator’, in order to more adequately explain the role of consciousness in the process of experimentation. This concept of non-duality is not only difficult for scientist to grasp, it is something many of us struggle with this as well. We have a hard time understanding our role in an environment that is not defined by the interaction between two given points. Perhaps this is most observable in our intimate relationships. While, for the physicist this struggle is most evident in their relationship with energy.

At this point, things begin to reach a level of technicality that exceeds my elementary understanding of physics. If I understand correctly, the confusion surrounding energy seems to lie in the fact that you cannot really observe it, but only participate in its expressivity. This nebulous relationship between consciousness and energy is referred to as the wave-particle duality. I believe this strange dynamic was first made evident in the attempts to observe the electron. It seems fairly evident that the wave-particle duality is not a problem presented by nature, but just another reminder that a dualistic system, such as language, is an inadequate medium for describing the non-dual nature of reality. Heisenberg himself said, “Light and matter are both single entities, and the apparent dualities arises in the limitations of our language.” It is not that basic awareness or wisdom cannot reflect the subtle nature of reality. In fact, this pure reflection is the ultimate meaning of participation.

All of our difficulty seems to arise from our attempts to own that experience. We are trying to freeze life through conceptual mediums, and this requires division. Such division is unnatural, and gives rise to a plethora of philosophical quagmires. Heisenberg alluded to this when he said, “There is a fundamental error in separating the parts from the whole.” In the case of physics, you end up with two opposing terms attempting to explain the same thing. If the experimenter measures the position of an electron they will discover a particle or a solid thing. But if they try to ascertain its momentum they will discover a wave or movement. It is a situation which left Heisenberg so baffled that after a long conversation with Neils Bohr, the father of Quantum Mechanics, he asked, “Can nature be so absurd as it appeared to us in these atomic experiments?” The exact nature of the electron seemed to be no exact nature at all!

While once again, physics may not be intentionally describing the same thing that the contemplatives are alluding to, they are tapping into the all pervasive principle of non-duality, which these contemplative lineages have been incubating for centuries. This idea of a ‘participatory universe’ or co-creation is not only alluded to in the Upanishads, but is perhaps the most beautiful and poetic description of this principle ever uttered. The Upanishads says, “Then he realized I am this creation, for I have poured it forth from myself. In this way He became this creation. In verily, he who knows this becomes in this creation a creator.” In addition to the principle of participation, the indefinable nature of energy begins to point towards the notion of spaciousness or possibilities.

The definite nature of the electron cannot be ascertained through traditional experimentation, because you cannot measure both its position and momentum simultaneously. Since measuring movement and location are incompatible modes of experimentation, Quantum Physics speaks only in terms of statistical probabilities. The statistical language of probabilities is a devastating blow to the scientific determinism or hydraulic order imposed upon nature by Newtonian Mechanics. Such language only recognizes the spacious environment of possibilities. This spacious environment has led to several subsequent quantum interpretations of physics such as Hugh Everett and John Wheeler’s “Many Worlds” theory, where it is basically stated that all possible outcomes come to pass.

How does this physics rant apply to my daily life?

Now, lets bring all of this down into our practical experience, into the contemplative realm. The monastic environment of Tibet, up until the communist invasion, resembled the great academic institutions of the West, except instead of producing physicist, they were producing contemplatives. Some of the greatest contemplatives in history came from Tibet. People such as Milarepa, Sakya Pandita, Tsongkhapa, Longchenpa, Patrul Rinpoche, and many others—all recognized the pervasive qualities of the very principles that physicist only began to discover in the late 19th century. While the life blood of Buddhism in Tibet was the Vajrayana, the foundation of all Buddhist practice in Tibet was the Mahayana. The whole of the Mahayana vehicle is communicated by the practice known as the Four Immeasurables.

The Four Immeasurables are comprised of four eternal principles, which are unveiled through four meditations known as equanimity, loving-kindness, compassion, and joy. I have chosen to look at this system of practice, not because I think other systems are lacking in validity, but because the practice of the Four Immeasurables directly confronts three themes that we have already briefly discussed: (1) the observer and the observed, (2) measurement, and (3) possibilities. In this short experiment known as the Four Immeasurables, all of the points explored earlier are laid bare in our daily life.

This contemplative experiment deals with the system of measurement employed by people in order to quantify their surroundings. When the physicist uses a system of measurement in order to discover the exact position of an electron, he finds a particle. But when trying to measure the momentum of an electron, he stumbles upon a wave. Similarly, when we try to measure the exact position of, say our relationships, relative to self (accumulation of personal fears and expectations) we arrive at intrinsic, static, or particle- like conclusions. When we measure the position of some ‘particular’ person in our environment, using our personal expectations and fears as the measuring stick, we see them in a particle-like fashion: as an inherent friend, enemy, or irrelevant bystander. Only instead of calling them particles or waves, we call them friend, enemy, and acquaintance. These are predetermined conclusions we are projecting upon our environment. Our experiment is creating our conclusions. In this way the “observer” interferes with the “observation” by formulating the outcome, via the chosen system of measurement, which in this case are our fears and expectations. The problem is not one of nature, but rather a problem imposed by our chosen system of measurement. When measured by consciousness, the people in our environment who reinforce our preconceived ideas and contribute in a desirable way to our plans are labeled as friends. However, those who do not fit into our static mold, or are seen to be in collision with our aspirations and antagonistic in respect to our fears are labeled as an enemy. In other cases, those who do not seem to fit into our scheme, in either a positive or negative way, are seen as irrelevant bystanders.

Interestingly enough, if we try to measure the momentum of these relationships, much like an electron, they appear to be lacking in solidity or wave like. In other words, when observing the movement of these relationships through space-time they appear just as an electron does, with highs and lows. It is easy to recall people that use to be our close friends, but it has been years since we have spoken with them. We can also easily identify instances where people who were once some of the most obnoxious people in our lives have strangely morphed into some of our closest friends. Perhaps most common are the people whom we know of, but do not have any strong feelings for either way, but over time have become people we either love or despise. This sort of wave like function observed in our relationships is extremely clear in our more intimate relations with friends or loved ones, where we may think the world of them one day, and the next day the mere mention of their name rattles our cage.

Looking a little deeper into the role of the observer in our daily observations, we can also see where relativity begins to creep into the equation. The observer—consciousness—is itself a particle like state. Consciousness is the frozen conceptualized sum total of the conditioned memory. In other words, when we are observing someone or some thing from an ego-centric station or a particular ‘point’ of view, consciousness itself is in particle mode. This particle is the position of ego or frozen sum total of all our conditioned ambitions and apprehensions at this particular time. Consciousness in particle mode is like a snapshot of its movement over time. It is this particular mode of consciousness that enables different observers to produce different observations of the same phenomena, all declaring equal validity. Some people will look upon the people we love with contempt, while others will see those we despise as the best of friends.

The wave like function of consciousness is just as easily observable, although it is seldom accepted. It is in these periods of time that we experience insecurity, as it is at this point that we are unable to ascertain where in the world we are located. In the same way that in physics the wave-particle duality is not an intrinsic problem, but a problem of language. The wave-particle duality of consciousness is not a problem of truth, but of our absolute insistence on defining it in dualistic-conceptual terms.

The only hope of resolving this dilemma is found in transcending the observer and observed dynamic, by recognizing a unified system of life or an integrated organism-environment in which we are ‘participators.’

So it seems obvious that in the observation of life the observer plays a key and problematic role. In fact, it would seem that the observer, at least on a conceptual level, creates the psychological world, in which it inhabits. The self-centered system of measurement, coupled with the unquestioning belief in ‘our’ conclusions, produce outcomes that feed back into the ego-centric system of measurement, creating the illusion of a stationary, hydraulic, and self replicating egotistical environment known as consciousness. The first aspect of the Four Immeasurables, equanimity, looks directly at and challenges all of these points. It is through the practice of equanimity that the rigid structure of consciousness is transcended and the spaciousness of pure being is discovered.

As we continue with the practice of the Four Immeasurables we are primarily participating in the world beyond cause and effect. A word of caution maybe appropriate here, as it is not that cause and effect are discarded. As the conceptual framework is not obliterated, but simply put in its place, as a relative explanation subject to the limitations of language. Cause and effect are also still present as the laws that govern these finite interactions. The disillusionment of the subject-object dynamic or the revelation that the observer is no observer at all, but a participator, is the point where all dualistic constructs begin to crumble, and we wake up in a world of self existing truth. In isness, life is revealed to simply be, which our commentary doesn’t have the capacity to penetrate. In fact, it is this state of essential being that enables thought to remain fresh and precise. In this way, isness could be understood as the ground of being for all “things,” including thought. This isness, in contemplative language, is often referred to as love, and is the second aspect of the Four Immeasurable.

Although on paper or at first glance it may not seem to be the case, the language of statistical probabilities used by the physicists and the love mentioned by the contemplatives are one in the same thing. In principle, they both represent the spacious environment which allows for possibilities or ‘many worlds.’ Both arise out of the recognition of limitations. Love is revealed when the finite limits of intellectualization are discovered. The intellect is incapable of completely grasping nature, and it is this recognition that gives rise to love. In this context, love is not meant in the affectionate sense, but as a spacious state of mind that naturally arises when the limitations of conceptualization are accepted. It is this spaciousness or centerless state of basic awareness that enables the environment to be as it is—free of our incessant need to force the environment to conform to our conceptual mold. Others are allowed to be themselves without having to defend themselves against our self-centered tendency to cling to them, aggressive attempts to push them away, or dismissing them as irrelevant. This spaciousness—love or statistical probability—is little more than the recognition that life is at it is, and that we are not fundamentally set apart from this isness, but are in fact representatives of truth, “begotten, not made, of one substance with the Father.” This phrase, “of one substance” means that as sons or manifestations of truth we are in essence one with truth, or in other words we are not observers, but co-creators. This principle is powerfully put forward in the 82nd Psalm, “I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.”

Within this sort of spacious environment ‘participation’ naturally begins to take place, which in contemplative language is referred to as compassion. Within the practice of equanimity the discovery is made that the observer and the observed are of a single substance. In some sense, this is the death of the observer or the ego, but it is not the end of life. As life continues on without the domineering centralized authority of the observer, participation naturally begins to take place. Looking past the conceptual realm of affairs it is realized that we are manifestations of the infinite, of a single substance, or shared humanity. Through basic intelligence or simple awareness we see past the superficial appearances of things and personalities, and into the essential nature of truth. The recognition of and participation in this shared nature is compassion. It is truth or love recognizing itself through likeness. So, complete participation occurs when the mechanical laws of cause and effect, as established through the imputation of dualistic conceptual mediums, cease to dictate “our” relationships with “other,” and instead wisdom or basic awareness reflects the integrated nature of reality. From this point of view, this unified ground of being serves as the foundation for all interactions. In this way, true participation is similar to dancing, in that when two competent people dance they move in unison to the music, instead of one having to follow the others lead.

Finally we come to joy, the final aspect of the Four Immeasurables. Joy is nothing more than the discovery of mind in its natural state. It is the utter simplicity of being lost in the music. This state of mind is discovered once the alien forces of illusion cease to act upon us. It is not that the underlying energies of such forces as anxiety, stress, or anger are destroyed; rather they are simply put in their rightful place. When the observer or centralized authority dissolved into the integrated whole, there was no longer some entity for these forces to act upon. Hence, joy naturally emerged. Joy is nothing more than the absence of the effects produced by a misunderstanding, namely that we are “particular entities” set apart from life, and charged with the task of arranging it to suit ourselves. In a life where simply living is the end, joy emerges as the true nature of mind.

Physicist David Bohm, explained the underlying principles of Hindu philosophy as such: “Atman (true Self) is the meaning… What is meant would be Brahman (Essential Truth)… This claims that what is meant and the meaning are ultimately one…” In closing we will bring his remarks into a more general language, and hopefully make his remarks, along with this entire article, more accessible. Living is the meaning. We are not a noun, but a verb—we are living. Life is what is meant. Living is the manifestation of life, the two can not be separated. The joy in life is living.

Enjoy the song-lecture thingy! It is an awesome video…

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About Benjamin Riggs

Ben Riggs is the director of the Refuge Meditation Group in Shreveport, LA. Ben writes extensively about Buddhist & Christian spirituality and politics for The Good Men Project, Elephant Journal, The Web of Enlightenment, and is the editor & chief for Henry Harbor--an online magazine concerned with art, culture, spirituality, & politics in the deep South. To keep up with all of his work follow him on Facebook or Twitter. Looking for a real bio? Click here to read my story....

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7 Responses to “Quantum Contemplation.”

  1. Thiago says:

    Not easy to grasp, but joy when grasped.

  2. Francis says:

    "At this point, things begin to reach a level of technicality that exceeds my elementary understanding of physics."
    It's a good thing you mention this, although somewhat superfluous, since your article clearly demonstrates you understand very little about physics indeed, let alone quantum physics.

  3. Francis says:

    That was not meant to be cynical.
    I was just stating the obvious.
    Physics is awe inspiring stuff, but grasping it is hard work – for most of us anyway :-) – especially quantum mechanics.
    It takes more than randomly quoting physicists and throwing in a video with auto-tuned snippets, I'm afraid.

  4. [...] Quantum Contemplation. | elephant journal With the advent of the Uncertainty Principle, the line between observer and observed became blurred. Scientists, being a rational group of people, took some time to get acclimated with this newly discovered atmosphere of non-duality. Sometime later, prominent physicists, such as John Wheeler , began to make suggestions like replacing the term observer with ‘participator’, in order to more adequately explain the role of consciousness in the process of experimentation. This concept of non-duality is not only difficult for scientist to grasp, it is something many of us struggle with this as well. [...]

  5. Benjamin Riggs BenRiggs says:

    It is a great book. Really glad you enjoyed the article. Have a great weekend, Chlsea.

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