Is there such a thing as higher consciousness? For a tiny fraction of the population who believe they have experienced God directly, this is a spiritual question with a definite answer. But for most people the question is hypothetical. Every spiritual tradition has asserted that there is a hidden reality which can be uncovered through transcending -- or going beyond -- the five senses. There are elaborate directions for accomplishing this leap, in the form of prayer, meditation, renunciation, and faith -- the religious history of humankind has never stopped directing its aspirations to a higher plane. But everyday life consumes our attention, and in a skeptical age the erosion of belief makes higher consciousness seem very far away if not irrelevant.
On a separate track, or so it seems, quantum physics has altered the universe in radical ways. Solid matter has been reduced to invisible waves existing in a field of mathematical probabilities. Time and space form a background in which relativistic quantum fields float, completely different from the reliable time ticked off by clocks, and the space enclosed inside rooms where solid objects find a place. Yet as with the higher dimensions aspired to by religion, quantum space remains hidden from the five senses. For the vast majority of physicists, quantum reality is about intricate mathematical constructs and experiments that validate them using billion-dollar particle accelerators.
Standing back a little, the resulting picture is quite startling. The two most important ways of explaining creation, science and spirituality, both depend on a hidden dimension. Without this dimension there would be no human existence. Shouldn't that knowledge revolutionize our lives, here and now? Somehow it doesn't. A missing link needs to be filled in. Otherwise, the world we inhabit will be disconnected from its source, as it largely is right now.
One proposition, which we strongly endorse, is that the missing link is consciousness. Because so many people relegate spirituality to faith, assuming that nothing about God or the soul can be proved, let's set that aside for the moment. The link has to be scientific. We must thread a path from quantum theory to higher consciousness. This takes some hard thinking, but a huge reward awaits. Hidden reality will reveal itself for what it actually is. Higher consciousness may well become an everyday experience.
To begin, quantum theory, which has been called the most successful scientific theory in history, unequivocally states that we live in a participatory universe -- what we consider as an independent, external reality is in fact tied to how we observe it. The late physicist John Wheeler of Princeton and the University of Texas campaigned for the importance of our participation, pushing against the notion that the universe was simply "out there," like a bakeshop, he said, that we look at with our noses pressed against the window.
Yet how strange to think that when a physicist makes observations and measurements, the quanta that constitute everything in the cosmos change; indeed, it is meaningless to talk of their properties without presupposing an observer. The universe is tied to conscious acts of observation all the way from the most elementary particles to vast galaxies. Moreover, quantum theory assigns a primary role to the quantum vacuum, the emptiness that precedes observable phenomena like atoms and molecules. Unlike the common sense notion of empty space, the quantum vacuum is abundantly full of dynamic potential. Wheeler, besides coining the term "participatory universe," also held that the quantum vacuum is primary in all physics, a view that has gained wide acceptance. The quantum vacuum is a vast plenum (fullness) of spacetime "foam," beyond which time, space -- and physics -- come to an end.
Cosmology, which is based on the other most successful theory we have, Einstein's general relativity, states that the universe emerged from this plenum of quantum foam at the time of the Big Bang and has been evolving ever since, for some 13.5 billion years. Everything we consider real, either to our senses or to scientific investigation, first passed through the so-called Planck era (a state so minuscule, brief, and turbulent that it cannot be penetrated -- it's a mathematical formulation that describes the limit of what we can know) and entered the phase of general expansion that created matter, energy, stars, galaxies, and biological life.
With a definite limit set on space and time, science has to wrestle with the fact that the human brain operates in space and time. But this doesn't need to be discouraging. If the universe is in fact participatory, then the human brain must be participating on the quantum level. Why is this so? Because the quantum foam, which is the source of every particle in existence and its oppositely charged anti-particle, must be the brain's source, too. It isn't tenable to posit a universe where quantum reality is divorced from everyday reality. The micro and macro worlds derive from the same origin, not just billions of years ago, but at this very minute -- reality bubbles up from the quantum vacuum continuously.
The quantum foam allows entangled quanta to emerge from it, while the vast majority of them fall back onto it. Thus the creation, maintenance, and re-absorption of virtual particles occur at all times and at all space points. Our senses force us to see one sunrise at a time, one birthday party at a time, one person at a time. Yet without a doubt reality isn't confined to linear experience in space and time. One can even say that beyond our confined perceptions, the Big Bang is happening everywhere at once, in an eternal now. Creation is a single process, and we are totally immersed in it.
This is where the missing link is most urgent. Physics needs the quantum vacuum for various reasons, most of them mathematical, but everyday life seems to chug along quite nicely without it. However, since everything in existence depends upon the quantum vacuum, including all living beings, our belief that we live outside it must be false. There's no logical escape from this fact, so the burden lies with changing our sense of reality -- the "going beyond" that supposedly belongs to saints and mystics actually applies to everyone (perhaps saints and mystics are just the ones who caught on first).
Here a subtle point arises. The strangeness of the quantum world, which approaches legendary status, grew out of its contradictions with prevailing theories of long standing. (For example, the accepted idea of cause-and-effect isn't consistent with the quantum possibility of time and causation going backwards.) Yet no matter what model you use to explain reality, the map is never the territory. Whatever secrets it reveals, reality remains what it is, unanswerable, irrefutable, and inconceivable.
This, too, doesn't have to be a discouraging thought. It's liberating to realize that we are part of this inconceivable reality, navigating through it with all kinds of questions yet sustained by it no matter how wrong, limited, or misguided our answers may be. Participating in the quantum field makes a serious difference in how life can be led. For it turns out that all the spooky phenomena in the quantum world are perfectly human and familiar -- once you stop comparing them to old, worn-out explanations.
In the next post we'll restore the missing link by an act of destruction and creation, knocking down the perceptions that limit everyday life and replacing them with perceptions that allow hidden reality to come alive.
(To be cont.)
Deepak Chopra, MD, FACP, is the author of more than 75 books with twenty-two New York Times bestsellers.
Menas C. Kafatos is the Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor of Computational Physics at Chapman University. He is a quantum physicist, cosmologist, climate change researcher and works extensively on consciousness and the above fields. His doctoral thesis advisor was the notable M.I.T. professor Philip Morrison who studied under J. Robert Oppenheimer. Kafatos' studies involved quantum physicists Hans Bethe, Victor Weisskopf and cosmologist Thomas Gold. He is co-author with Deepak Chopra of the forthcoming book, Who Made God and Other Cosmic Riddles. (Harmony)