Co-written with Menas Kafatos, Ph.D., and Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D.
The universe is evolving -- on that almost all physicists agree -- but in what direction? As we saw in two earlier posts, the world "out there" is neither static in time nor constant in time. Quantum theory undermined every quality of the physical universe that classical physics studies, replacing them with an ever-shifting reality based on invisible probability waves and quantum fields.
True reality consists of infinite possibilities that are realized only as we observe them. Consciousness allows us to do so. Quantum physics has opened the door to consciousness; now it needs to look beyond its boundaries to integrate the central role of consciousness. In doing so, it will have to go beyond its own boundaries and posit a reality that it itself was hinting at from the very early days of development of quantum mechanics: The participatory nature of reality. To take it further, a hint about the next breakthrough comes in a quotation from the British physicist David Bohm: "In some sense man is a microcosm of the universe; therefore what man is, is a clue to the universe." Humans have always looked to nature as a mirror of ourselves. If we really are a microcosm, then the macrocosm, the universe at large, must be seen in terms of what makes us most human: consciousness. It is the same consciousness that quantum mechanics tells us operates through the acts of observation in quantum measurements.
The simplest and most elegant explanation for why human beings can think, feel and experience the world is that the universe consists of consciousness at the most fundamental level. Any other explanation that leaves consciousness out leads to strange views of the universe, views that ultimately lead to contradictions and a host of new problems. This is the line we'd like to explore next.
Beyond looking outward at the vastness of quantum fields, the next and natural place to examine consciousness is personal and intimately close: individual awareness. For all of us, the world and everything that happens in it is experienced subjectively. In quantum theory each quantum is a tiny chunk of energy. In subjective experience each tiny chunk of unitary experience is a qualia (the Latin word from which we get the word "quality" -- we will use the same term for singular and plural). Our five senses are designed to turn the raw data of physics into a living reality, which they do via sight, sound, touch, taste and smell.
These are the qualia that create the world "in here." The lush redness of a rose is a qualia, as is its luxurious scent. The smoothness of silk and the roughness of beach sand are also qualia. The reason that qualia are so important isn't just that we need the five senses. The only reality we can possibly know is the qualia interpreted for us by our brains. There is no way to know that reality exists outside qualia. Qualia are units of perception, and reality is a perceptual collage. If it is anything else, we will never know it. The inner world also contains thoughts, feelings, images and sensations. They are qualia, as well. There is no difference, as far as the visual cortex is concerned, between seeing a red rose and imagining it. The qualia of red is present in both.
At first this may seem too obvious to matter. The rose is red, and I see it as red. A camera does the same thing, mechanically transferring a specific wavelength of light on to a chemically reactive film or digitized screen. This implies that perception is a given, a passive process. That is far from the case. Perception is a conscious act. Far from being passive, perception creates reality. Sir John Eccles, a famous British neurologist, declared, "I want you to realize that there exists no color in the natural world, and no sound -- nothing of this kind; no textures, no patterns, no beauty, no scent."
The only reason that a rose is red is that you have a human nervous system that registers a frequency of electromagnetic radiation or light as a certain experience that we call "red." Perception is tied to acts of observation, and we humans take for granted what it is. But would it be the same for other species? It is likely that perception is species-specific. However, we have no way of knowing how a bumblebee, a porpoise or a dog experiences the world, even in as basic a thing as color. This reversal, making perception the whole key to reality, is where we believe physics -- and all science -- needs to progress.
At first qualia seem counterintuitive. We are used to making the world "out there" a fixed, reliable point of reference. But for over a century science, through the most advanced science that exists, quantum theory, has informed us that this is not the case, and spiritual teaching for thousands of years before that. It hasn't been more than a century since quantum theory proved that no object, however big of small, from subatomic particles to vast galaxies, has any fixed properties. Quantum theory tells us that all the properties that create reality are contextual; they depend on the acts of observation. As such, quantum theory has opened the door to a noetic, mind-based universe. Reality, we would infer, is mind-made.
Qualia are the building blocks of creation. Qualia are rooted in consciousness. Consciousness is the material of creation. Rocks aren't hard; water isn't wet; light isn't bright. These are all qualia created in your consciousness, using the brain as a processing facility. Although it appears to be a huge leap from traditional quantum theory, it is the next natural step in the evolving science. We must remember that the greatest quantum pioneers knew that consciousness, leading us to a participatory view of the cosmos, had to be explained. It cannot simply be set aside as a given, not as long as observers play a key role in transforming invisible fields and waves into visible particles that can be measured. We aren't saying that quantum physics must be discarded, not at all. We are only recommended that we move on to exactly where quantum theory points and where Heisenberg, Bohr, Pauli, Born, Schrödinger, Bohm, Wigner and all the great founders of quantum theory struggled to move in their understanding of quantum phenomena.
What we are discarding is materialism, the view that matter and energy, as understood by pre-quantum physics, are the building blocks of nature. Materialism leaves consciousness out and thus it totally falsifies the most important fact about reality: We only experience it. When a scientist performs an experiment to gain objective data, that, too, is an experience. The whole activity we call science is experiential. The fact that data can be extracted is productive. If you measured the body heat of Romeo and Juliet, that would be productive, too, yet the actual reality of romantic love doesn't appear as data.
Qualia theory gets at reality through experience, and qualia science can be built up around consciousness, because the same principles that govern the world "out there" also apply to the world "in here." This must be true, because reality is reality, an undivided wholeness that physics itself implicitly assumes. The universality of the laws of physics, which any good physicist takes for granted, points to a universality of reality. And because that reality is an experience in consciousness, we are led by reason to the view of the universality of conscious moments of experience. There aren't two realities, one for the outer world and one for the inner world. Such dualism was long ago discarded. We can observe, for example, the brain activity when a Romeo is in love with his Juliet. This is more sophisticated data than measuring their body temperature. Even so, without a bridge that connects data to experience, reality is incomplete. Qualia science is the bridge. It restores you, the perceiver, to a creative role; you are the conscious agent who shapes reality as you experience it.
Time is your responsibility. Space requires your existence. This sounds radical because we are used to the materialistic bias that puts "out there" separate from and ahead of "in here." But that bias is just a metaphysical assumption, a particular (and we claim false) way of looking at undivided wholeness. Yet all experience is made of qualia, and that includes time and space. They do not exist independently of the mind that perceives them.
Having made these declarations, we can now offer the 10 basic axioms of qualia science. The language is technical in places. In the final post of this series, we'll bring qualia back into everyday life.
Axioms of Qualia Science
1. Science is currently based on measuring all that we observe to describe a "physical" with greater and greater granularity. The physical universe described by current scientific methods exists exclusively as one that our nervous system allows us to perceive it in the form of qualia -- defined as all sensations, images, feeling and thoughts experienced in a conscious mind. The mind can be considered the place where electrochemical signals to the brain are interpreted as qualia. A new interpretation of the universe can be based on all being rooted in consciousness. We can attempt to understand this universe "qualia science."
2. Quantum theory presents us with a radically different view of the universe: Quantum phenomena are not phenomena until registered by an act of observation. Far from being completely detached from the world of phenomena, observers participate in the phenomena they observe. The quantum world is a world of events, not "hard" physical entities, and the role of consciousness in it is fundamental. Moreover, if we look deep enough, we find that the principles that govern the quantum world are just as applicable to how consciousness operates. (In brief, these principles that unite the inner and outer world include the most basic discoveries of the quantum era that began over a century ago: quantization or individualization; coherence, superposition and entanglement; complementarity; contextuality; primacy of process; non-locality; and sufficient reason [i.e., whatever happens must be for a reason], which can all be expanded to consciousness.) We view these principles as applying at all levels of reality, and as such, they manifest in the mental processes of everyday life. Therefore, these underlying principles will provide the necessary links between current quantum science and qualia science.
3. All experience, whether of the body or the outside world and universe, consists of qualia. Our world only exists because we perceive it and create it. Thus, all interactions with it are experiential and subjective. What we call "objective" in science is what we can measure within patterns of qualia dictated by mathematical laws. Quantum mechanics is a mathematical model for measuring qualia mechanics. It's the map, not the territory.
4. Consciousness is fundamental and indivisible. As such, consciousness can only interact with itself. In life as in science, all experiences and measurements involve consciousness interacting with itself. All reality, all that we experience, is rooted solely in consciousness. Even our nervous system is a product of consciousness interpreting consciousness to create our perceptual "reality." The nervous system, as qualia, creates qualia as consciousness interacts with itself.
5. Qualia science explores the boundary between our perceptual universe and the actual (pure consciousness), with the goal of crossing over that boundary. The perceptual world is what our nervous system (or that of other species) experiences. The actual world is pure consciousness encompassing a field of all possibilities. Each possibility emerges as qualia. However, the field of pure consciousness exists prior to qualia.
6. True (actual) reality is the field of all possibilities within consciousness, while "species-specific reality" (e.g., that of humans) is the continuous and dynamic flow of consciousness from the universal field of all possibilities differentiating into matter, energy, worlds and beings. Qualia science entails capturing what really exists, as opposed to the numbers that are used to measure it in small, frozen slices based on cause and effect. True reality is acausal and non-local. Causality arises as qualia interpret qualia within specific nervous systems.
7. As consciousness interacts with itself, resulting qualia self-organize, (i.e., evolve). Self-organization is based on continuous feedback loops. Every qualia that manifests from existing qualia (e.g., a painting created by Van Gogh) in turn serves to regulate the qualia from which it manifested. In other words, as consciousness flows from the field of all possibilities, qualia emerge in layers of manifestation that make up a self-regulating program based on multifold feedback loops. This program can be a feeling, a human, the planet Earth, or the universe. All are qualia.
8. Birth is the beginning of a particular qualia program (e.g., a particular human being). An individual qualia entity emerges into the world with a potential in qualia that unfolds as life. From birth, our reality is created via the resonance of shared qualia with others in our species and related species. As such, the perceived universe is, in essence, an agreement about qualia (the universe) among qualia (humans). Death is the termination of a particular qualia program. The qualia return to a state of potential forms within consciousness, where they reshuffle and recycle as new living entities.
9. The process of consciousness interacting with itself is most obvious in humans as self-awareness imparting the sense of free will, choice and meaning. Self-awareness is the starting point for the next leap in our creative evolution as a species. Qualia science is also made possible by the gift of self-awareness.
10. Qualia science will result in the emergence of new, dynamic and self-organizing networks of qualia that will reshape the universe as we know it. Of course, quantum mechanics and classical science will always be necessary for new technologies, to measure qualia and to interpret the mathematical laws governing the manifestation of qualia as we perceive them. But qualia science will take us in a new direction that breaks down the barriers between the true reality of a non-local field of all possibilities and the perceptual reality produced by our nervous system. The result will be a more connected and enlightened "human universe."
The last two words are the most important: "human universe." It is as alive, intelligent and conscious as we are. After centuries of looking out into the cold void of space and feeling isolated (if not terrified) to be an accidental creation, humanity can look outward and see the universe as our home and rooted in ourselves. In the last post we will give this exciting new breakthrough a human face.
To be continued...
Menas Kafatos, Ph.D., is Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics at Chapman University. Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., is Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard University and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). For more on Deepak Chopra, visit deepakchopra com.