Consciousness and the End of the War Between Science and Religion – Deepak Chopra


Nothing gets as vicious as fighting for a lost cause. If the proverbial Martian landed in a flying saucer today and saw how religionists war against scientists, he would be surprised at the vehemence on both sides. What is the war about? Fact beat out faith long ago. When Darwin’s theory of evolution replaced Genesis to explain the appearance of human beings, which was in the middle of the 19th century, the trend away from faith was already old. The world had been remade as material, governed by natural laws, random in its effects, and immune to divine intervention. Not just science but thousands of unanswered prayers did their part to dethrone God.

I am not drawn to lost causes, and therefore I’d like to guide the debate away from religion. And since religion is the primary form of spirituality in most people’s lives, we’ll have to step away from spirituality, too, at least at first. There should be renewed admiration for science’s attempts to answer the fundamental mysteries. These are well known by now:

* How did the universe come about?
* What caused life to emerge from a soup of inorganic chemicals?
* Can evolution explain all of human development?
* What are the basic forces in Nature?
* How does the brain produce intelligence?
* What place do human beings occupy in the cosmos?

Many observers have linked these questions to spirituality, too. Facts tell us how life came about, but faith still wants to know why. But what strikes me is how useless these big questions easily become. You and I live our lives without asking them. We may be philosophically curious; we may even have enough leisure time to reflect upon the big picture. For all that, the big questions are posed, by and large, by professors who are paid to pose them. Religion and science occupy different kinds of ivory towers, but until they come down to earth, neither one meets the practical needs of life.

Science comes down to earth as technology, religion comes down to earth as comfort. But viewed together, they fall short of a common factor that guides every moment of daily life: consciousness. The future of spirituality will converge with the future of science when we actually know how and why we think, what makes us alive to the outer and inner worlds, and how we came to be so rich in creativity. Being alive is inconceivable without being conscious. “I think, therefore I am” is fundamentally true, but Descartes’ maxim should be expanded to include feeling, intuition, a sense of self, and our drive to understand who we are.

The practical application of consciousness seems remote compared to technology. Would you rather be enlightened or own an iPad? In modern society, the choice is all too obvious. But it’s a false choice, because people don’t realize that the things they most cherish and desire are born in consciousness: love, happiness, freedom from fear, the absence of depression, and a vision of the future. We achieve all these things when consciousness is healthy, open, alert, and expansive. We lose them when consciousness is cramped, constricted, confused, and detached from its source.

I receive Google alerts every day telling me that one skeptic or another calls these considerations “woo.” It’s not my role to defeat skepticism, which amounts in practice to a conspiracy for the suppression of curiosity. Science advances through data and experiments, but those in turn depend upon theory. Theory is the flashlight that tells an experimenter where to look, and without it, he wanders at random. His data don’t fit into a worldview. I consider myself scientific at heart, and so I depend upon a theory as well. Its basic premises are as follows:

* We live in a universe that exhibits intelligence, self-regulation, and creativity.
* Consciousness preceded the brain. It created life and went on to create the brain itself.
* Consciousness is primary in the world; matter is secondary.
* Evolution is conscious and therefore creative. It isn’t random.
* At the source of creation one finds a field of pure awareness.
* Pure awareness is the source of every manifest quality in the universe.

Scientists don’t use most of the terms that are central to my theory — which isn’t mine, actually, but was born and sustained through the world’s wisdom traditions. In the name of objectivity, science leaves consciousness out of its equations and is fiercely proud for doing so. In doing that, a scientist is pretending not to be part of life, as if thinking, feeling, creating, loving, and enmeshing oneself in the complexities of the inner world were all irrelevant.

In fact, nothing could be more relevant. While the general public sees atheists mounting windy charge against superstitious believers, neither side is moving forward. The future lies with anyone who seriously delves into consciousness. Why? Because with physics arriving at the quantum world, neuroscience at the most minuscule operations of brain cells, and biology at the finest fabrics of DNA, all three have hit a wall. At the finest level, Nature is too complex to unravel through such weak ideas as randomness, materialism, and unconscious mechanics. Nature behaves, and as we know from ourselves, behavior is tricky. Science has tons of data about phenomena that don’t fit any explanation. For example:

* How does an observer cause light to change from acting like a wave to acting like a particle?
* How can a group of ordinary people cause a random number generator to turn out more ones than zeros simply by wanting it to?
* How do millions of monarch butterflies migrate to the same mountainous regions of Mexico when they’ve never been there before and were not born there?
* How do twins connect at a distance, so that one knows immediately when the other has been hurt or dies?
* Where in the brain does the self live? Why do I feel like myself and no one else?

These are alluring mysteries, like trailing bits of yarn that lead back to a big tangled ball. This forum, with its open-minded questioning, can help in the untangling. Yet it spells doom if anyone, either believer or skeptic, falls back upon the tired and dishonest ploys that fill the debate today, such as:

* I already know the answer in advance, which makes you automatically wrong.
* I disdain your beliefs.
* You’re a fraud with dishonest motives.
* I only want to make you look bad.
* You don’t know as much science as I do, or perhaps not at all.
* Speculative thinking is foolish, superstitious, or both.
* I’m here to win, not to find out the truth.

Will the “God Particle” Replace God? – Deepak Chopra


If you went to church in the 18th century, you would have heard God described as a celestial clockmaker who had wound up the universe and left it to run itself. Today, the wind-up is the Big Bang and the clock’s parts are subatomic particles. But the problem of creating matter out of emptiness remains the same.

How does matter form from the immaterial? What gives particles their mass, and how do they stick together? The physicists at the CERN facility in Europe are busy using the massive multibillion-dollar Large Hadron Collider to try to answer those questions by hunting for the elusive Higgs boson, the so-called “God particle.”

The search takes place between the visible and the invisible. The hypothetical Higgs boson is a virtual particle, which means it can be coaxed to enter spacetime for the tiniest flash of a millisecond. It operates at the Planck scale, which is millions of times smaller than the nucleus of an atom.

The excitement over finding the Higgs particle is that physical science will have uncovered the mechanism for how the tangible world arises from the intangible. That’s as close to the divine act of creation as physics can get. Yet there’s an irony in basing the solid physical universe on — nothing. Could this in fact be where materialism destroys itself from within? The Higgs boson may be the key to unlocking the mystery of creation by affirming very different things than materialism dreams of.

Assuming that the particle allows itself to be discovered, the second step is the exploration of the invisible domain. It is literally nothing, and yet everything comes from it. Centuries ago the wisdom traditions of the world compared creation on a small scale to creation on a massive scale. The great sages noted that our minds are nothing, too. Before a thought appears, there is emptiness and silence. And yet once the mind produces its creations, they are potent, meaningful, and coherent.

Creation doesn’t move from the invisible to the visible with random particles like foam on the surface of the sea. They look random in the Large Hadron Collider, but the scientists running the machine, who are themselves part of creation, don’t have bodies that fly apart into a cloud of particles. Rather, our bodies, like the human brain and DNA itself, are exquisitely ordered creations, the farthest thing from random events.

Physical forces cannot explain such exquisite order, much less the meaning we derive from it, which is why God came into being. The God particle delivers the tiniest bits of the clock but not the maker. I do not mean that an actual person in the sky made the universe. Keeping strictly with the scientific worldview, the maker must be impersonal, intelligent, universal, invisible, yet manifest in the visible world. The only viable candidate is consciousness.

The Higgs boson particle represents a tiny stepping stone toward a theory of creation that rests upon consciousness as the primal stuff of the cosmos. Many theorists are already getting there; it’s been several decades since the concept of a self-aware universe has been in play.

Someday it will be commonplace to concede that the intangible, immaterial domain of quantum physics is conscious. In that world of virtual particles, non-locality, and indeterminacy, things don’t exist with shape, hardness, or color. Their existence is a fleeting display of tendencies, and the superposition of possibilities. It will be a major realization for science to recognize that all of these tendencies and qualities are tendencies of consciousness.

The third step to a full comprehension of the universe will be connecting the consciousness, which is the ground of the cosmos, to our individual experience of consciousness. Our ground of existence is the same as the ground state of the universe. This is the message of Vedanta: Atman is Brahman. Individual consciousness fully awakened is the same as the essential nature of the entire cosmos. Somehow our consciousness participates and is integral to the creation of the universe. Sadly, by the time we realize our true creative role, our ignorant actions might have already destroyed our planetary home.

The creative function of consciousness in quantum mechanics was originally outlined in the Copenhagen Interpretation which says that an observer is required in order to collapse the wave function into a single occurrence and produce a measurable outcome. Without a conscious observer, the wave function remains a superposition of eigenstates that are not real in a measurable way.

The Many Worlds theory of quantum mechanics seeks to avoid the need for an observer and the collapse of the wave function by positing enough parallel universes to contain all possible states of the wave function. But in the end, to solve the measurement problem without an observer, a measuring apparatus is needed that is physical yet when analyzed quantum mechanically would not itself be a wave function, or superposition of eigenstates. No one can explain what kind of matter that would be.

The Transactional Interpretation describes quantum interactions in terms of a standing wave formed by retarded (forward-in-time) and advanced (backward-in-time) waves. Here it is assumed that the interaction with the measurement device somehow activates the emission of a possibility wave going backward in time. This is a way to avoid the need of an observer, but like the Many Worlds theory it too implies a dualistic universe that takes us outside of the rules of quantum measurement. Again, the equipment that measures the wave function would have to be made out of matter that does not obey quantum physics with the superposition of possibilities.

A more promising theory of quantum mechanics is David Bohm’s paradigm of Implicate and Explicate Order where primacy is given to wholeness over the parts which include space, time, particles, and quantum states. In this view, the parts unfold from the whole.

Sir Roger Penrose and Stuart Hameroff, PhD. have evolved the Orchestrated objective reduction model (Orch OR) and this I find to be the most progressive theory to bridge universal consciousness and individual consciousness. Penrose starts with the position that consciousness is fundamentally non-algorithmic and therefore incapable of being duplicated by a computer or machine. He proposes that consciousness could be explained through quantum theory with a new type of wave function collapse in the brain.

Hameroff’s expertise in the field of neurophysiology provided a likely quantum link in the microtubules in the neurons. Instead of the conventional view is that consciousness emerges from complex computation among brain neurons, they propose that consciousness involves sequences of quantum computations in microtubules inside brain neurons, not between them in the dendrites and synapses. The quantum computations in the brain are also ripples in fundamental space-time geometry, the most basic level of the universe.

Penrose suggests that quantum wave function collapse happens by itself above the Planck scale. He postulates that each quantum superposition has its own space-time curvature and these bits of curved space-time form a kind of blister in space-time maintaining superposition. But when it gets larger, beyond the Planck scale, gravity’s influence makes it unstable and it collapses. That is the objective reduction or collapse of the wave function into a measurable particle.

This theory approaches the perspective of Vedanta, where Brahman the all-inclusive consciousness is the self-interacting dynamic of observer, observed and process of observation. This process of self-interaction gives rise to all diversity and phenomenon while it remains unaffected by it. As science continues to probe the exotic and extreme reaches of physics we can take some comfort that we are actually coming closer to understanding what is most intimate to us, our own consciousness, our self. The tangible springs from the intangible, and that intangible is what we are and what we call God.

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