7 Scientific Facts That Will Change the Way You View The World. ~ Tim Illencik

Via elephant journal
on May 2, 2012
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Buddhism attracted me in part because of its appreciation for and compatibility with modern scientific understanding.

The Dalai Lama has stated that if a concept such as reincarnation were proven to be impossible by science, Buddhism would need to change.

This mindset is truly unique among religious organizations and is very refreshing. Last month His Holiness won the Templeton Prize, in part for his dedication to merging the realms of science and religion through an open dialogue with the world’s leading scientists.

In light of this event I have put together a list of profound scientific ideas that have had a tremendous impact on the way I view the world.

We are made of stardust.

(Photo: Flickr | Smithsonian Institution)

The elements that we all know were forged in the intense heat of distant stars. When those giants neared the end of their life they exploded in a brilliant supernova, spreading the ingredients for life throughout the universe. Gravity forced that matter together to become galaxies, planets, and eventually, humans.

Every atom in your body was once part of the cosmos. The next time you look up at the night sky you might want to meditate on this fact. You and the universe are one.

You are 99% empty space.

The elements we just referred to are composed of atoms, and those atoms make up your entire body. One percent of every atom is composed of protons, neutrons, and electrons. The other 99% is empty space.

To put this in perspective, imagine at atom the size of a football stadium. Place an orange in the center to represent the approximate size of the nucleus. You would then place pinheads around the stadium to act as electrons. These are the building blocks of our world and yet they contain very little substance.

In fact, if the space was eliminated and the matter condensed the entire human race would fit in a sugar cube. It may not be what the Buddha had in mind when he spoke of emptiness, but it is still a weighty subject for reflection.

>>Your brain is one step ahead.

Stop reading for a second and take a look at your hands. Pick a hand and lift it up any time within the next 15 seconds, but try not to decide which hand until the moment comes.

If a team of scientists were watching you with the proper equipment, they would be able to tell you which hand you were planning on moving seconds before you consciously make the decision. Your conscious mind carries out the wishes of its unconscious counterpart, which seems to be making the choices in advance.

Black holes remember what they consume.

Nothing can escape a black hole, right? Wrong. It was recently proven that black holes ‘leak’ information over time and gradually fade from existence. The phenomenon has been dubbed Hawking Radiation and has been verified in a laboratory setting.

If you had the sudden urge to jump into a black hole (not recommended) you would be instantly crushed by the intense gravity. However, given enough time, every single particle that makes up your body would be expelled from the darkness.

They never did figure out how to put Humpty Dumpty back together, and this would be a million times harder. At least every bit of matter is accounted for though.

Your mind is a universe.

This one isn’t literal, but it’s still amazing. There are an estimated 100 billion galaxies in the known universe, each with 100 billion stars of their own. Try wrapping your head around that.

To make it easier for you, nature has endowed humans with a very capable brain comprised of roughly 100 billion neurons. Yes, you have as many neurons as the Milky Way has stars.

Each neuron makes tens of thousands of connections to other neurons, and messages are sent via electrical impulse. The sight of these cells lighting up during communication would rival the beauty of the night sky.

99% of all the species that ever lived are extinct.

This incredible fact demonstrates the fleeting nature of physical existence. As a culture we have developed a sense of security which stems from our domination of the planet, but we have only been around for a relatively short period of time.

In fact, without these extinction events we would not be here now. There’s really not much else that will have as great an impact on your meditation on interdependence and impermanence.

An observer can alter reality.

(Photo: Flickr | Sergiu Bacioiu)

Quantum mechanics has revolutionized the world of science and challenged our notion of common sense. The famous double-slit experiment revealed that the basic properties of small particles changed if they were observed (by the human brain or some other means), and indicated the dual nature of matter. Electrons fired at a screen with two slits create a diffraction pattern, which would only occur if the particle passed through both slits.

This behavior shows the electron behaving as waves as opposed to solid matter. However, if you use methods of detection to determine which slit the electron travels through (observation), the electron will act as a particle and no diffraction pattern will be created.

Bottom line—a small particle will change states if it senses that it is being watched.

Some of these facts have the unintended effect of making an individual feel insignificant compared to the relative size and lifespan of the cosmos.

However, if you approach them from the right mindset you may find yourself overcome with an ecstatic feeling similar to a religious experience. We are, as has been noted by many others, the universe experiencing itself. I thought the following quote would be a great way to end this article:

“I look up at the night sky, and I know that, yes, we are part of this Universe, we are in this Universe, but perhaps more important than both of those facts is that the Universe is in us. When I reflect on that fact, I look up—many people feel small, because they’re small and the Universe is big, but I feel big, because my atoms came from those stars.” – Neil deGrasse Tyson


Editor: Jennifer Cusano

Tim Illencik is nobody special.  He became interested in Buddhism while learning to practice meditation during his sophomore year in college, and since then he has become a passionate student of religion, philosophy, psychology, and science.  In his spare time Tim enjoys reading, practicing yoga, jogging, and various forms of mindless entertainment.  He recently started a blog dedicated to applying the principles of Buddhism to everyday issues, which you can find at www.practicalbuddhist.com.  You can also connect with Tim on Twitter @tillencikor Facebook.


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36 Responses to “7 Scientific Facts That Will Change the Way You View The World. ~ Tim Illencik”

  1. Alex says:

    The last one is false. The double-slit experiment did provide evidence for the wave-particle duality, but this isn’t the idea scientists refer to when they say “the act of observing affects particles”. If you look up ‘entanglement’, it could help you understand a bit better. Though everything else is true, I believe.

  2. Welcome, Tim. I love this article, and it's great to have you here at elephant. I hope we'll be seeing much more of you.

    I know you'll love these two links, because they show the very close relationship between the ideas in your article and ancient yoga philosophy: Yoga Demystified, and Gita in a Nutshell

    Also closely related: Albert Einstein as Yoga Sage and Bob vs. Buddhism: The Satisfying Conclusion

    Bob W. Associate Publisher
    facebook, twitter, linkedIn

  3. matthewscottwallace says:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wEzRdZGYNvA&fe… So does that mean this video doesn't represent the study?

  4. @Suri_k8 says:

    Great post Tim , very refreshing!

  5. Tim Illencik says:

    Thanks for the comments!

  6. Jill Barth says:

    Great post, welcome!

  7. Just posted to "My Personal Favorites" on Pinterest:


  8. ValCarruthers says:

    Welcome, Tim. Terrific post!

    Just posted to "Popular Lately" on the Elephant Spirituality Homepage.

    Valerie Carruthers
    Please go and "Like" Elephant Spirituality on Facebook

  9. matthewscottwallace says:

    we are all special. including YOU Tim! =) thanks for the article

  10. Waylon says:

    Jay Winston: Particles change their behavior if they are being observed, as opposed to the way particles appear changes depending on how we look at them?That's actually an unfortunately popular new-age pseudo-scientific non-fact, promulgated by the likes of the "What the Bleep Do We Know" movie, which has been denounced by just about all of the scientists whose words were misconstrued and taken out of context in it.

  11. yogijulian says:

    most of this is quite poetic and a nice science-influenced inspirational piece. very well done!

    the one that jumps out as highly problematic though is repeating the old chestnut about quantum physics and thoughts creating reality, as well as electrons somehow being able to "sense."

    i think there are many important distinctions to remember here so as to ground our already mind-boggling attempt to understand quantum phenomena in a way that doesn't make it seem like a "god of the gaps" slit through which to slide magical thinking, philosophical "idealism," pantheism or belief in psychic powers.

    the common misinterpretation is that the double slit experiment either proves or at the very least makes possible supernatural/magical/paranormal phenomena or validates "the secret" -esque notions of how thoughts literally manifest reality.

    the problems of course are that:

    1) the quantum level is super tiny and the anomalies that occur there make absolutely no difference to the macro level at which we live. in other words just because electrons behave in ways that are different from larger particles does not make those larger particles, objects or organisms somehow now immune to the classical laws of physics – none of us is gonna drive a car through a brick wall unscathed by using the power of our minds… nor can we make the outcome of a roll of the dice different by some quantum observational magic.

    2) turns out it doesn't matter if it is a person or a non-conscious machine like a camera making the observation, the electrons behave in the same way.

    3) to say that the electrons "sense" they are being observed is a massive stretch. let's just stop at the fact that quantum phenomena circa the early 20th century revealed that at the subatomic level particles behave in unexpected ways that are so amazing precisely because particles at a larger scale are so much more predictable!

    none of this really adds up to "an observer can affect reality."

  12. integralhack says:

    Nicely done, Tim! I enjoyed the switching of perspectives in the article–sometimes all you need is a new view!

  13. Tim Illencik says:

    Hopefully it doesn't seem like I am implying any kind of mysticism, but the ideas of quantum mechanics are difficult to convey. I came perilously close to becoming a graduate student in Physics and had several years of college training on these topics, so my understanding is not coming from books like "The Tao of Physics".

    1. Agreed, sort of. I was taught that it is TECHNICALLY possible for someone to walk if every particle in their body were in phase with the particles in the wall, though the chances of that happening are so close to zero that it might as well be zero.

    2. I did note that the 'observer' didn't necessarily need to be a concious being. Like you said, studies have shown inanimate detectors cause the same effect.

    3. An unfortunate combination of my limited vocabulary and the craziness of the quantum world. I don't think that electrons 'sense' they are being watched in the way humans 'sense' they are being watched.

  14. Ada says:

    Ernest Holmes & The Science of Mind

  15. integralhack says:

    I for one didn't actually think you thought that the particle "sensed" as humans do. Still, it is amazing in itself that the mere mass (or whatever other causal factors might be there in terms of "presence") of an observing object has such an effect on the particle.

  16. […] Seven Scientific Facts That Will Change the Way You View The World. ~ Tim Illencik […]

  17. Carla says:

    Oh, Tim! You are somebody special. This article made my day. Thank you!

  18. chad says:

    I'm 99% empty space? Not according to my bmi!!

  19. […] yoga. Despite our culture’s almost religious devotion to the pronouncements of science it is just one way of knowing about the world and it is extremely […]

  20. […] The truth is wabi-sabi is inevitable. How one embraces it is what makes the difference in how it is perceived and experienced. […]

  21. […] We are made of space, literally. We are made of exploding star stuff. Our atoms are 99 percent devoid of matter. They are empty. […]

  22. Rev. Genryu says:

    The thing about the Dalai Lama is a bit off by the way, since reincarnation is not a Buddhist teaching at all, though often mistakenly assumed to be one.

  23. Posting this to the "Classic Articles from the past" section of Best of Yoga Philosophy.

    Bob W.

  24. Frank Jude says:


    Here's the conclusion, but I suggest you read the whole essay:

    Quantum mechanics, the centerpiece of modern physics, is misinterpreted as implying that the human mind controls reality and that the universe is one connected whole that cannot be understood by the usual reduction to parts.
    However, no compelling argument or evidence requires that quantum mechanics plays a central role in human consciousness or provides instantaneous, holistic connections across the universe. Modern physics, including quantum mechanics, remains completely materialistic and reductionistic while being consistent with all scientific observations.
    The apparent holistic, nonlocal behavior of quantum phenomena, as exemplified by a particle’s appearing to be in two places at once, can be understood without discarding the commonsense notion of particles following definite paths in space and time or requiring that signals travel faster than the speed of light.
    No superluminal motion or signalling has ever been observed, in agreement with the limit set by the theory of relativity. Furthermore, interpretations of quantum effects need not so uproot classical physics, or common sense, as to render them inoperable on all scales-especially the macroscopic scale on which humans function. Newtonian physics, which successfully describes virtually all macroscopic phenomena, follows smoothly as the many-particle limit of quantum mechanics. And common sense continues to apply on the human scale.

  25. Lorraine says:

    Delightful, Tim! Thank you!

  26. tissueissues says:

    here's another 'fact' for your list… .not only are we made of starstuff but…..

    the stuff that makes us what we are, has all made multiples passes over multiple times thru the guts and out the back end of earthworms!!!!!

  27. Diva says:

    Dude, I love you, that is my kind of spirituality. I say almost the same stuff to my yoga students!

  28. mdc says:

    You are wrong about observation changing reality. Physical interference with a quantum event can collapse the wave function and is doing so presumably everywhere in the universe. Conscious awareness of the event has nothing to do with it. See work by Brian Greene on this.

  29. Brian says:

    Hawking Radiation has not been verified in the laboratory. The experiment that you are referring to may "…one day help resolve the so-called black hole ‘information paradox’ – the question of whether information that falls into a black hole disappears forever.” "…it is still unclear how well Steinhauer's creation models a real black hole."

    Just wanted to put that out there, not trying to be a critic.

  30. Saucey Biscuit says:

    Wonderful post. Nicely written. Proven or not proven, all great food for thought!

  31. Gene Callahan says:

    "If a team of scientists were watching you with the proper equipment, they would be able to tell you which hand you were planning on moving seconds before you consciously make the decision. Your conscious mind carries out the wishes of its unconscious counterpart, which seems to be making the choices in advance."

    This is complete nonsense. That is not what Libet's experiment showed at all. No one could tell you which hand you planned on moving.

  32. fasil says:

    Scientists always make fictions about new discoveris. Twin slit experiment is another example of it. Religion always run behind science to make its point true. It is true that a conscious observation by you or a precision instrument collapse the wave function in twin slit experiment to a matter particle.At the same time we can reverse its effect if we use another instrument to counteract the effect made by photon particles during observation .It acts like two photo chrome plates with one horizontal and other vertical interference. If we keep them at an angle light passes through as the effects are nullified by the counter plate .

  33. Samy says:

    I guess you haven't read through the Holy Qur'aan yet,
    Which opens a plethora of insight into the way the universe works and the real purpose of man's existence.

  34. Perplexed says:

    Do you just enjoy using brainy sounding sentences? Coz despite all of them I still don't see any evidence that the observer effect is not valid.

  35. Doug says:

    Nice article. But a few corrections.

    1. Science never "proves" anything. It disproves things. That which isn't disproved becomes what we call "fact." Never confuse science with proof.

    2. Not all elements were forged in stars. Not hydrogen. Not helium. Not oxygen. It was the heavier elements that were forged in stars.

    3. "Every atom in your body was once part of the cosmos." Was once? Atoms stop being part of the cosmos when they are part of us?