Physics:Quantum mysticism

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Short description: Set of metaphysical beliefs and associated practices

Quantum mysticism, sometimes referred pejoratively to as quantum quackery or quantum woo,[1] is a set of metaphysical beliefs and associated practices that seek to relate consciousness, intelligence, spirituality, or mystical worldviews to the ideas of quantum mechanics and its interpretations.[2][3][4][5][6][7] Quantum mysticism is criticized by non-believers with expert knowledge of quantum mechanics to be pseudoscience[8][9] or quackery.[10][11][12]

Early controversy and resolution

Olav Hammer stated that Werner Heisenberg was so interested in India that he got the nickname "The Buddha". "However," states Hammer, "in Heisenberg's Physics and Philosophy (1959) there is no substantial trace of quantum mysticism;" and adds "In fact, Heisenberg discusses at length and endorses the decidedly non-mystical Copenhagen interpretation." Hammer also states "Schrödinger’s studies of Hindu mysticism never compelled him to pursue the same course as quantum metaphysicists such as David Bohm or Fritjof Capra." Hammer quotes Schrödinger's biographer, Walter J. Moore, according to whom these two interests (quantum physics and Hindu mysticism) were "strangely dissociated".[13]

Despite there being a growing belief of quantum mechanics and mysticism, there is no scientific evidence to support this view. An article titled "'Mysticism' in Quantum Mechanics: The Forgotten Controversy", written by Juan Miguel Marin,[14] discusses the controversy of such debate. One of the first arguments was started by Charles Seife. He said that consciousness was a factor in quantum processes. Another argument was by Eugene Wigner who was thought to be the original person introducing the "mind-body question". Marin argues that none of the resulting theories of Wigner's paper were relevant (2009) due to the fact that "not only was consciousness introduced hypothetically at the birth of quantum physics, but the term 'mystical' was also used by its founders, to argue in favor and against such an introduction."[14] These statements later get argued against by men like Albert Einstein. Einstein, despite not agreeing with mysticism, becomes a staple for mysticism (falsely) by the public. Several people claim that mystical aspects and Einstein did not mingle, but somehow some people seemed to think his theories were in contribution to the belief of mysticism. Marin quotes Einstein saying. "No physicist believes that. Otherwise he wouldn't be a physicist."[14] He debates several arguments about the approval of mysticism, even falsely claiming Bohr to be in support and hold a positive belief in mysticism. According to Marin, "Einstein accused Niels Bohr of mysticism" which he believes to be false while claiming that "Pauli" planted "mystical hypothesis" (2009).[14] As a result of this blame, mysticism was given its common knowledge foundation. Marin focuses on the controversial understanding of mysticism by depicting the relations between Bohr and Einstein. Bohr tries to repeatedly clear his name and the misunderstanding but to no avail, he is at a loss. Marin states, "As early as 1927, we find Bohr rejecting the hypothesis which claims that quantum theory requires a conscious observer."[14] Over time, Bohr gradually changes his view on this topic. "He was certainly sympathetic towards the hypothesis that understanding consciousness might require an extension of quantum theory to accommodate laws other than those of physics".[14] Bohr never flat out states that he agrees with mysticism in the science field, but he gives indication that it may be something worth looking into and could possibly lead to breakthroughs. Another area of controversy brought about by Marin was the concept of Einstein and the "mystical aspect".[14]


In 1961 Eugene Wigner wrote a paper, titled "Remarks on the mind–body question", suggesting that a conscious observer played a fundamental role in quantum mechanics,[15][16]:93 a part of the von Neumann–Wigner interpretation. While his paper would serve as inspiration for later mystical works by others,[15] Wigner's ideas were primarily philosophical and are not considered "in the same ballpark" as the mysticism that would follow.[17] By the late 1970s, Wigner had shifted his position and rejected the role of consciousness in quantum mechanics.[18]

Appropriation by New Age thought

In the early 1970s New Age culture began to incorporate ideas from quantum physics, beginning with books by Arthur Koestler, Lawrence LeShan, and others which suggested purported parapsychological phenomena could be explained by quantum mechanics.[16]:32 In this decade the Fundamental Fysiks Group emerged, a group of physicists who embraced quantum mysticism while engaging in parapsychology, Transcendental Meditation, and various New Age and Eastern mystical practices.[19] Inspired in part by Wigner,[15] Fritjof Capra, a member of the Fundamental Fysiks Group,[19] wrote The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels Between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism (1975),[20] a book espousing New Age quantum physics that gained popularity among the non-scientific public.[16]:32 In 1979 came the publication of The Dancing Wu Li Masters by Gary Zukav,[21] a non-scientist and "the most successful of Capra's followers".[16]:32 The Fundamental Fysiks Group is said to be one of the agents responsible for the "huge amount of pseudoscientific nonsense" surrounding interpretations of quantum mechanics.[22]

Modern usage and examples

In contrast to the mysticism of the early 20th century, today quantum mysticism typically refers to its New Age incarnation that claims to combine ancient mysticism with quantum mechanics.[11] Called a pseudoscience and a "hijacking" of quantum physics, it draws upon "coincidental similarities of language rather than genuine connections" to quantum mechanics.[9] Physicist Murray Gell-Mann coined the phrase "quantum flapdoodle" to refer to the misuse and misapplication of quantum physics to other topics.[23]

An example of such misuse is New Age guru Deepak Chopra's "quantum theory" that aging is caused by the mind, expounded in his books Quantum Healing (1989) and Ageless Body, Timeless Mind (1993).[23] In 1998, Chopra was awarded the parody Ig Nobel Prize in the physics category for "his unique interpretation of quantum physics as it applies to life, liberty, and the pursuit of economic happiness".[24] In 2012, Stuart Hameroff and Deepak Chopra proposed that the "quantum soul" could exist "apart from the body" and "in space-time geometry, outside the brain, distributed nonlocally".[25]

The 2004 film What the Bleep Do We Know!? dealt with a range of New Age ideas in relation to physics. It was produced by the Ramtha School of Enlightenment which was founded by J.Z. Knight, a channeler who said that her teachings were based on a discourse with a 35,000-year-old disembodied entity named Ramtha.[26] Featuring Fundamental Fysiks Group member Fred Alan Wolf,[22] the film misused some aspects of quantum mechanics—including the Heisenberg uncertainty principle and the observer effect—as well as biology and medicine.[27] Numerous critics dismissed the film for its use of pseudoscience.[28][29]

I love that in quantum physics for some reason it's become an excuse to mock all of science. See it's nothing real, nothing true and whatever you think, that's how the world is. So if you think positively you remake the world positively according to this pseudo scientist explanation.
—Barbara Ehrenreich, Royal Society of Arts[30]

See also


  1. Moriarty, Philip (2018-06-12). "The wow and the woo". "If, like me, you were expecting Quantum Sense and Nonsense to be a take on quantum woo that echoes the style and approach of Fashionable Nonsense, then you may be slightly disappointed with Bricmont’s new book." 
  2. Athearn, D. (1994). Scientific Nihilism: On the Loss and Recovery of Physical Explanation (S U N Y Series in Philosophy). Albany, New York: State University Of New York Press.
  3. Edis, T. (2005). Science and Nonbelief. New York: Greenwood Press. 
  4. Stenger, Victor (2003), Has Science Found God? The Latest Results in the Search for Purpose in the Universe, Prometheus Books, pp. 373, ISBN 978-1-59102-018-9, 
  5. Edis, T. (2002). The Ghost in the Universe: God in Light of Modern Science. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books.
  6. Crease, R. P. (1993). The Play of Nature (Indiana Series in the Philosophy of Technology). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
  7. Seager, W. (1999). Theories of Consciousness: An Introduction (Philosophical Issues in Science). New York: Routledge.
  8. Grim, Patrick (1982). Philosophy of Science and the Occult. SUNY Press. p. 87. ISBN 9781438404981. Retrieved 22 July 2014. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 Collins, Tim (2 March 2010). Behind the Lost Symbol. Penguin Group US. p. 87. ISBN 9781101197615. Retrieved 22 July 2014. 
  10. Pigliucci, Massimo (2010-05-15). Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 9780226667874. Retrieved 22 July 2014. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 Stenger, Victor J. (January 1997). "Quantum Quackery". Skeptical Inquirer 21 (1). 
  12. Shermer, Michael (January 2005). "Quantum Quackery". Scientific American. 
  13. Hammer, Olav (1 September 2003). Claiming Knowledge: Strategies of Epistemology from Theosophy to the New Age. BRILL. p. 279. ISBN 90-04-13638-X. 
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 14.4 14.5 14.6 Marin, Juan Miguel (2009-07-01). "'Mysticism' in quantum mechanics: the forgotten controversy". European Journal of Physics 30 (4): 807–822. doi:10.1088/0143-0807/30/4/014. ISSN 0143-0807. Bibcode2009EJPh...30..807M. 
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 Zyga, Lisa (8 June 2009). "Quantum Mysticism: Gone but Not Forgotten". 
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 Leane, Elizabeth (2007). Reading Popular Physics: Disciplinary Skirmishes and Textual Strategies. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.. ISBN 9780754658504. 
  17. Schweber, Silvan (September 2011). "How the Hippies Saved Physics: Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum Revival". Physics Today 64 (9): 59–60. doi:10.1063/PT.3.1261. Bibcode2011PhT....64i..59S. 
  18. Michael Esfeld, (1999), Essay Review: Wigner’s View of Physical Reality, published in Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, 30B, pp. 145–154, Elsevier Science Ltd.
  19. 19.0 19.1 Kaiser, David (2011). How the Hippies Saved Physics: Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum Revival. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 9780393082302. 
  20. Capra, Fritjof (1975). The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels Between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism. Boston: Shambhala Publications. 
  21. Zukav, Gary (1979). The Dancing Wu Li Masters. New York: William Morrow And Company, Inc.. 
  22. 22.0 22.1 Woit, Peter (July–August 2011). "Fun with Fysiks". American Scientist 99 (4): 332. doi:10.1511/2011.91.332. 
  23. 23.0 23.1 Stenger, Victor J. (2009). Quantum Gods: Creation, Chaos and the Search for Cosmic Consciousness. Prometheus Books. p. 8. ISBN 9781615920587. 
  24. The 1998 Ig Nobel Prize Winners
  25. Hameroff, Stuart R.; Chopra, Deepak (2012). "The "quantum soul": a scientific hypothesis". Exploring Frontiers of the Mind-Brain Relationship. New York: Springer. pp. 79-93. doi:10.1007/978-1-4614-0647-1_5. ISBN 978-1-4614-0647-1. "When the blood stops flowing, energy and oxygen depleted and microtubules inactivated or destroyed (e.g., near death experience (NDE)/out-of-body experience (OBE), death), it is conceivable that the quantum information which constitutes consciousness could shift to deeper planes and continue to exist purely in space-time geometry, outside the brain, distributed nonlocally. Movement of consciousness to deeper planes could account for NDEs/OBEs, as well as, conceivably, a soul apart from the body." 
  26. Gorenfeld, John (16 September 2004). ""Bleep" of faith". Salon. 
  27. Hobbs, Bernie (30 June 2005). "What the bleep are they on about?". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 
  28. Wilson, Elizabeth (2005-01-13). "What the Bleep Do We Know?!". American Chemical Society. 
  29. "Britain's best scientific brains give us their verdicts on a film about quantum physics". The Guardian. 16 May 2005. 
  30. Ehrenreich, Barbara (2010). "Smile or Die". Royal Society of Arts. Retrieved April 20, 2018.

Further reading

Publications relating to quantum mysticism
Criticism of quantum mysticism

External links