Wednesday, August 08, 2007


A Plug for Goswami

And now, from the You've Absolutely GOT To Read This Files: I finished a truly fascinating book this weekend, by quantum physicist Amit Goswami, PhD. It's called The Self-Aware Universe: How Consciousness Creates the Material World, and I wholeheartedly recommend you have a look at it. (I figure anyone with the word "swami" in his name has simply GOT to know a few things!) True, some of the meatier chapters in the middle of the book get a bit heady, but otherwise Goswami does an excellent job of making the basic tenets of quantum physics understandable to laymen (such as myself, and if I can understand it, you can understand it) and demonstrates conclusively the overlap between science and religion. As one who has argued with annoying persistence how science and theology are NOT mutually exclusive, I found Dr. Goswami's book to be both enlightening and entertaining, which is what I've tried to do with my own books, and in that vein I find in Dr. Goswami a kindred spirit. Plus, he has a really terrific sense of humor, which I didn't think quantum physicists had. (If any quantum physicists are out there, I'm kidding.)

His central idea is that science has it all wrong defining reality in terms of the material world. Such a position, often revealed by the adage "Science by virtue of its own methods excludes metaphysics," is based on the deterministic postulates of classical physics, the notion that the movement of all matter can be predicted with 100% certainty provided that you know its position and velocity. Such a worldview, however, as Goswami puts it, is "an overly enthusiastic indulgence in a four-hundred-year-old revel called classical physics that was kicked off by Isaac Newton sometime around 1665. Newton's theories launched us on the course that led to the materialism that dominates Western culture." In other words, however well classical physics works on its own, we have known since the days of Heisenberg and Schrödinger (the beginning of the 20th century) that classical physics is incomplete physics, and thus materialism is hardly the whole picture. (And so the seeming commonsense claim that "everything has a perfectly reasonable explanation" is actually a bunch of hooey.)

That whole picture, rather, is what Goswami calls "monistic idealism," which is a philosophy based on what at first glance appears to be a radical idea: that the fundamental makeup of the universe is not matter but consciousness. The world of things is not simply built upon more (and smaller) things, but is instead based on ideas. This is not some wild speculation, however, but is instead a conclusion drawn from observations based on experiments in quantum physics, proposed to satisfy a number of seeming paradoxes that quantum physics demonstrates (paradoxes in the sense that classical physics can't explain them): that an object can be both a particle and a wave; that an object can be in one place and then suddenly appear in another without actually traveling through the intervening space to get there (the so-called quantum leap); that a quantum object cannot be said to manifest in ordinary space-time reality until it we first observe it (what quantum physicists call coherent superposition collapsing its wave function); and that the manifestation of a quantum object, caused by our observation, simultaneously affects its correlated twin object no matter how far apart the two objects are (the sort of instantaneous reaction in nature that Einstein says is an absolute no-no, since this would imply faster-than-light speed).

To repeat, don't have to be a quantum physicist to understand this stuff. And, like I say, if I can understand it, I figure absolutely anybody else can. PLEASE pop down to Waldenbooks or Barnes & Noble and buy a copy, or else buy one from an internet bookseller like Amazon. I promise you, it's absolutely mind-blowing.

The notion that the universe is the result of consciousness is significant in two ways. First, it demonstrates the insufficiency of purely naturalistic explanation. To say that things are made up of merely smaller things is a bit like saying the world is stacked onto the backs of turtles, each turtle resting on the back of the turtle beneath it. So, what's underneath that turtle at the bottom? Just another turtle? Doesn't that stack of turtles have to end somewhere, and if so, what's at the end if the only thing your philosophy will allow is another turtle?

Second, it supports the claim I have made that the universe cannot be explained without reference to some form of higher intelligence, and by that I mean You-Know-Who. If consciousness constitutes the basic makeup of the universe, it is impossible to explain consciousness other than to say that it is intelligent. Further, intelligence implies that the universe we observe is here for some purpose, and it is hardly unreasonable to suppose that this purpose might have something to do with us. As Goswami puts it, "If this sounds as if we are re-establishing an anthropocentric view of the universe, so be it... The cosmos was created for our sake."

Yep. For our sake, indeed.

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