Metaconsciousness: Mythology for a Post-Civilized World
I.3 | Contents | I.5
When we move our attention from the microbial scale to the quantum scale, we enter the domain wherein the Myth of Metaconsciousness finds its source, and in which its foundation is most firmly anchored. This is a domain whose implications have been very difficult to understand or assimilate, even by the most advanced thinkers at the leading edge of theoretical physics; and has consequently (in part) been ignored by almost everyone's mythologies, or perceptions of "practical reality." Quantum theory has also been ignored because the micro scale at which quantum effects are observable is almost unimaginably minute in comparison with the macro scale at which virtually all consciously registered human experiences occur. Yet minute though quantum events are, they have been demonstrated with exacting rational and experimental rigor to be ubiquitous, and their presence in the real world bears profound implications for we who live in it.
Contents of this section:
The Mind-Matter Problem
The difficulty that virtually everyone who has encountered it has experienced with quantum theory has to do with a couple of fundamental premises upon which classical epistemology, or the study of the basis and nature of knowledge1 are based. Classical epistemology is rooted in the presumedly self-evident notions that a) reality is objectively whatever it is, regardless of what anyone may think about it, or whether or not it is observed or measured; and b) what goes on in the human mind, such as sensory stimuli, and their interpretation, is hermetically sealed from direct contact or relationship with objective reality. These two premises gave rise to what has been called the mind-matter problem, in which the subjective experience of living humans seems to be forever separated by an impenetrable barrier from the objective reality of the real world. We can view the world "out there" through the "window" of our senses, and evaluate our sensations "in here" within the recesses of our minds; yet we can never, so it seems, actually "touch" the real world, or experience other than a subjective relationship with it. Consequently, our subjective experiences have no effect upon the nature or behavior of objective reality.
The impulse of scientific inquiry has accordingly been to use our native human senses, including their extensions, such as telescopes, microscopes, and other technological instruments of amplification; combined with our rational analytical powers (and their technological extensions), to create within our subjective minds models of objective reality having the verifiable property of direct and reliable correspondence with the actuality of objective reality. This correspondence may be verified by means of rational analysis of carefully controlled and repeatable experiments designed to test various correspondences between the subjective model and the objective reality. A complete model is one with rationally demonstrable one-to-one correspondence with every feature of the objective reality it is attempting to model. Such a model bears the same relationship to reality that a map bears to its corresponding territory; and it may be achieved by accurately modeling every part of which the whole reality is composed.
The value of a complete map of reality is that it would serve as an "aid to navigation" in our otherwise "blind" course through the real world we can experience only subjectively. Therefore, the "Holy Grail," so to speak, of classical physics has been a demonstrably reliable "Theory of Everything" which can provide humans with a complete description of the real world we can never otherwise "touch." In the vocabulary of the myth of metaconsciousness, such a complete theory fits the description of a myth, because it would be a model of objective reality, contained within human minds, not objective reality itself. Such a myth, rationally and experimentally confirmed to accurately describe objective reality, would obviously be an extremely valuable and useful myth indeed. Before the end of the 19th century, such a complete myth was thought to have been virtually within reach (although they didn't call it that), and aspiring graduate physics students were being encouraged at the time to seek in other fields more promising opportunities for original research than were soon likely to be available in physics. The field of physics, they were told, was all but wrapped up.2
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The Beginning of "Quantum Weirdness"
The discovery of quantum theory threw a spanner into these optimistic expectations, by demonstrating with rational, repeatable, experimental rigor that the long-held premises upon which they were based are not supportable. At the macro scale of people and planets it is intuitively sensible to us that objects like the Moon, for example, or the many smaller satellites we humans have placed in orbit about the Earth, may potentially have their orbits changed by either gaining or losing kinetic energy. That is, by using a rocket to give an orbiting satellite additional energy, it is possible to boost it into a higher orbit. Conversely, if the satellite encounters drag from the upper fringes of Earth's atmosphere, it looses energy, and descends to a lower orbit – where it encounters stiffer drag, its orbit decays further, and it eventually plummets to the surface, or more likely burns up like a meteor in the atmosphere. At the macro scale, all these processes are apparently continuous and occur in smooth graduations; and this is familiar and intuitively very sensible to most of us.
At the quantum scale, however.... Well, in 1913 Danish physicist Niels Bohr discovered something very "peculiar" about the atom; which in 1911 New Zealander Ernest Rutherford had demonstrated to be a miniature analog of the Solar System, consisting of a massive nucleus surrounded by swarms of lighter particles, somewhat as Earth is today surrounded by swarms of orbiting satellites. Only... what Bohr discovered was that the particles orbiting an atomic nucleus do not change orbits continuously, as planetary satellites do, but rather in "quantum leaps." That is, when a subatomic particle gains sufficient energy, say by absorbing a photon,3 it too is boosted into a higher orbit – but in a surprisingly "peculiar" fashion. Instead of moving sedately and "sensibly" along a curved trajectory to join its higher orbit, as all "right thinking" people would expect, it leaps instantaneously from its lower orbit to its higher orbit, with no time interval, and without physically traversing the intervening space between orbits. At another time the particle may lose energy, radiate a photon, and again leap instantaneously back to its former orbit, with no lapse of time, and without traversing the space between orbits. The orbits of subatomic particles about their atomic nucleus are invariably spaced in "steps" which occur in multiples related to Planck's constant.4
The so-called "orbit," in other words, of a subatomic "particle" about its nucleus is not, like that of a satellite orbiting Earth, describable by a trajectory that can be plotted through space. In fact, the behavior of "subatomic particles" belongs to a class of actual physical phenomena that cannot be visualized in any way, but can be modeled accurately only in purely mathematical terms. As such, a "subatomic particle" takes the form of a mathematical wave function – which is not a physical wave, like ripples on the surface of a pond, or sound waves. The best description we have of it is as a "probability wave," which delineates a region in space where the "particle" is most likely to be found at any discrete moment. Where it is actually located may be anywhere in the universe – until and unless it is observed, or detected by a metaconscious entity. Observation is said to collapse the wave function, which then manifests as a discrete actual particle with a particular location in space-time. However, where it "came from," and where it is "going," are then complete unknowns, as the "particle," no longer observed, immediately once again dissolves into its inscrutable wave function.
Now if observation has the experimental effect of "collapsing the wave function," and bringing into manifestation, somehow, an observable quantum event, already we're entering a domain which doesn't seem to conform to the classical premise that a human observer can have no effect upon that which is observed (or not) in the real world – because we humans are supposedly "locked away" within our minds, from which we can observe, but cannot interact directly (objectively) with the real world of material phenomena. And this, it developed, was but the beginning of the "quantum weirdness" at intuitive odds with our most fundamental expectations about the nature of reality.
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Heisenberg May Have Slept Here
Just as Einstein in 1905 identified in photons the quantum properties of light, heretofore treated exclusively as a wave phenomenon, so Louis-Victor de Broglie proposed the wave properties of electrons, heretofore treated exclusively as particles, and was confirmed in 1927. Upon closer examination at the quantum scale, it in fact turned out that there is a fundamental ambiguity between the properties of waves and particles – which seems intuitively equivalent to saying that there is a fundamental ambiguity between the properties of elephants and mice! That is, a particle is small and compact, and occupies a point-like locus in space; whereas a wave is dynamic and spread out, and occupies a wide region in space, as sound waves can easily fill a concert hall. Two more dissimilar phenomena can hardly be imagined. What could possibly be ambiguous about the respective properties of particles and waves?
As it turned out, plenty. The year 1927 is also that in which Werner Heisenberg articulated the principle of indeterminacy, or the uncertainty principle, which states in effect that not everything about a quantum event can be known with precision; because quantum events can only be observed by humans in the context of experiments the human observers deliberately arrange. One may set up an experiment, for example, to verify the wave properties of a flux of electrons; and in that case, the electrons will obligingly display their wave properties. Alternatively, one may arrange another experiment to verify the quantum properties of electrons; in which case, sure enough, the quantum properties of electrons will be disclosed. However, according to the uncertainty principle, one can in no way set up an experiment such as to demonstrate simultaneously both the wave and the quantum properties of electrons.
Similarly, one can set up an experiment to measure the momentum of a flux of particles – in which case, the particles' position in space-time will be rendered a complete mystery. Conversely, one may set up an experiment which discloses the particles' geometric position in space-time – in which case their momentum will remain entirely unknown. What it comes to is the discovery of a lengthening list of complementary pairs of properties of material phenomena, both of which are required for a complete description of the phenomenon, yet only one or the other of which may be observed in any experimental situation. Thus Heisenberg's uncertainty principle has also been called the principle of complementarity; and its consequence is that, at the quantum scale, a complete model of objective reality cannot be formulated in the human mind, because all of its properties cannot be simultaneously described. There are unavoidable trade-offs between mutually exclusive complementary pairs of the properties required for a complete description of "objective reality."5
The principle of complementarity has been exhaustively tested and rigorously analyzed over the course of the past 80 years, and many keen minds (including Einstein's) have not welcomed it at all, and have turned it every which way but loose in vain attempts to overturn it. Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr conducted an intermittent debate between 1927 and Einstein's passing in 1955, in which Einstein proposed various thought experiments intended to define circumstances under which two complementary properties of a quantum event could be observed simultaneously. In each instance, Bohr demonstrated the flaw in Einstein's argument.6
One can see the thing from the classicists' point of view; for the principle of complementarity stands on its head the premises upon which classical epistemology had rested since the days of René Descartes (1596 to 1650). Factoring in Heisenberg's principle, they must now be revised, somewhat along these lines: a) reality consists of an unavoidable reciprocity between observer and observed; and b) what goes on in the human mind has a reciprocal relationship with observed reality.
Many people besides Einstein didn't relish the implications of the principle of complementarity; and many took solace in the thought that, anyway, it only applies at the minute scale of quantum events, in relation to the minuscule value of Planck's constant. However, although unimaginably minute, Planck's constant is not zero; and that makes all the difference.
If Planck's constant were zero [write Nadeau & Kafatos], there would be no indeterminacy and we could predict both momentum and position with the utmost accuracy. A particle would have no wave properties and a wave no particle properties – the mathematical map and the corresponding physical landscape would be in perfect accord.7
In the event, however, this is not the case. Moreover, the quantum theory has emerged during the past century as in fact the most complete and perfect description of "objective reality" yet discovered, or formulated in human minds. Einstein argued that quantum theory is not complete, and so may be expected to undergo further evolution as it is refined by more penetrating investigation; and so the principle of complementarity may not be inflexibly true. Einstein's prediction, however, has never been confirmed, and quantum theory as it stands remains the most perfect description of reality so far achieved in human history. Like it or not, we live in a quantum world, and the classical Cartesian paradigm, with its impenetrable barrier between mind and matter, leads us to demonstrably erroneous conclusions.
As to the idea that quantum theory applies only to esoteric subatomic phenomena at the unimaginably minute quantum scale, and so may be ignored in circumstances encountered at human, planetary, and Cosmic scales; the reality is evidently quite the reverse. Quantum events are what Cosmos, and everything and everyone in it, are made of; they constitute the "ground of being" for everything. Every atom, every molecule, every cell, of every biological or non-biological organism on Earth, or off it, is composed of swarms of quantum events in unimaginably complex and multidimensional interactions among countless quantum fields – all the time, everywhere. There is no place, or time, or scale in which quantum events are not vitally instrumental. To ignore this is IGNORANCE writ large.
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Those who don't like complementarity are really going to hate nonlocality. Einstein called it "spooky actions at a distance,"8 which turned out to have been a somewhat slanderous remark. But then, as we have seen, Einstein belonged to a conservative generation, and his monumental pioneering achievements in theoretical physics notwithstanding, was never able to make himself quite at home with the discoveries of the younger set of quantum physicists. In an attempt to demonstrate a means whereby two complementary properties may be simultaneously ascertained, John Bell, a kindred spirit with Einstein, proposed in 1964 the theorem that bears his name. The Bell theorem had its antecedent in one of the thought experiments that had figured in the interminable debate between Bohr and Einstein.
In 1935, a collaboration among Albert Einstein, Boris Podolsky, and Nathan Rosen published a proposition known as the EPR thought experiment, in which two photons are imagined to originate in a single quantum state; which is to say for instance that the polarization of one photon is complementary to that of the other. The EPR thought experiment contrived an imaginary situation in which one of two complementary photons is intercepted and measured by a human observer, and from this measurement the complementary state of the other photon may be deduced. From these data it was argued that both of the mutually exclusive complementary properties of a single photon could be simultaneously known. An assumption of the EPR thought experiment was that nothing done in the process of measuring the state of one photon could possibly disturb the complementary state of the other within the time frame of the measurement, because it was assumed that no signal could pass between them at greater than the speed of light.
Bohr replied that the reality of the complementary properties of a particle could not be derived by inference, but could be claimed only if those properties were directly observed and measured.9 And so the debate went on. What was wanted was an actual experiment that would unambiguously confirm either Einstein's or Bohr's position.
Such actual experiments became possible after 1964 on the basis of Bell's theorem, which assumed the Einsteinian / classical postulates of locality and realism to be correct; namely that a) energetic or information-bearing interactions between particles cannot occur at greater than light-speed (locality); and b) reality is independent of observation (realism). Bell described experimental measurements that can be made which, because quantum theory challenges the validity of both of these postulates, would either verify or falsify these two assumptions, and hence vindicate either Einstein or Bohr.
One of the differences between actual quantum experiments and their corresponding thought experiments is that thought experiments can deal with single (imaginary) quanta, and their complements, while actual experiments, involving human experimentalists and apparatus vastly larger than the scale of individual quanta, must be designed on a more statistical basis. That is, instead of examining the properties of individual quanta, human experimentalists must work with a flux of quanta of the desired type, essentially performing the same experiment on a great many individuals, and analyzing the results statistically.
A number of experiments to test the validity of Bell's theorem were conducted, the first at the University of California, Berkeley, the results of which were published in 1972; followed by others by other teams, always striving for greater refinement and clarity.10 Some were conducted with photons, focusing on correlated polarizations; some with gamma rays and their polarizations; some with electrons and their correlated spin states.... And so on. All such experiments were conducted with the object of testing whether correlations, or their absence, between complementary quanta contradicted or confirmed the postulates of locality and realism.
The most famous – and decisive – of these experiments were conducted respectively by Alain Aspect and colleagues at the University of Paris-Sud, results published in 1982; and by Nicolus Gisin and colleagues at the University of Geneva, results published in 1997.11 Both of these experiments were conducted with correlated photons passing to detectors through polarizing filters.
The flux of photons in a beam of light are randomly polarized individually, and it is not possible to predict the polarization of any particular photon. However, by passing such a beam through a polarizing filter, it is possible to predict the statistical probability of a photon of any particular polarization passing through the filter and being registered by a detector placed behind the filter. If the photon's polarization is parallel with the polarization of the filter, the probability of the photon being registered by the detector is 1, or certain. If the photon's polarization is perpendicular to that of the filter, the probability of the photon passing through the filter and being registered by the detector is 0 (zero). If the photon's polarization lies somewhere between 0° and 90° in relation to the filter's polarization, the probability of the photon passing through the filter and being detected will lie between 1 and 0. If the photon's polarization is 45°, for example, relative to that of the filter, its probability of passing through the filter will be 0.5.
In simplified terms, the Aspect / Gisin photon experiments to test Bell's theorem each involved a beam of light passed through a crystal which had the effect of splitting the beam into two beams, one directed to the "left," the other to the "right," in which the polarization of each photon in each beam was complementary to its counterpart in the opposite beam. That is, both beams, aimed in opposite directions, consisted of a flux of randomly polarized photons, yet each photon in the "left" beam was the complement of its counterpart in the "right" beam.
Quantum theory made very specific predictions about the outcome of such correlation experiments, which were unambiguously contrary to the predictions following from the Einsteinian / classical assumptions of locality and realism. The Einsteinian / classical assumptions predicted that there would be found to be no correlation between the polarization of the photons detected at the terminus of each beam, because there was no way information about the state of complementary photons could be passed between them at the speed of light during the time available for detection. In the Aspect experiment, the terminal detectors were separated by a span of 13 meters, so a light-speed signal would require 40 nanoseconds to travel between them. Aspect's switching mechanism operated within 10 nanoseconds, precluding any possibility that correlations between beams could have been the product of local interactions at the speed of light.12 In the Gisin experiment, the terminal detectors were separated by 11 kilometers, with the purpose of determining whether the correlation between complementary photons was in any way attenuated by distance. In each case, correlation was found to be in perfect accord with the predictions of quantum theory, and there was no attenuation over distance. If perfect correlation between complementary quanta occurs at 11 km, it will occur just as easily across the width of the universe – not at the speed of light, or any multiple thereof, but instantaneously, in "no time."13 Quantum events at the scale of atomic orbits, or that span galaxies, occur alike in "no time," and unite all of Cosmos into a single, indivisible whole. Bohr's position was confirmed, and complementarity and nonlocality were decisively disclosed to be accurately described in a complete quantum theory. Like it or not, we live and have our being in a non-local quantum universe. Get used to it.14
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Yes, but What Does it Mean?
It may mean many things. Following are some constructions I place upon the disclosures above:
The "hallucination we each experience as reality" is not a far-fetched metaphor for humans unaware of inhabiting a non-local quantum universe. Classical epistemology has assumed that "man is the measure of all things," and implies that the scale at which humans happen to experience the universe is intrinsic to the universe as a whole.15 On this scale, things that happen to be smaller than a man are unconsciously assumed to be "intrinsically small," and things that happen to be larger than a man are unconsciously assumed to be "intrinsically large." "Objective Reality" is presumed to conform to what is "visible to human eyes," or ascertainable through human senses (and their extensions) and analysis. In a non-local quantum universe, these presumptions lead to grotesquely skewed perceptions of reality.
Humans have blundered into the human predicament because the maps we have been using – our myths – have borne a highly distorted relationship with the territory of the real world we have been attempting to navigate. Our classical epistemology, to which we tenaciously cling almost universally – even after it has been spectacularly invalidated by the Aspect / Gisin photon experiments – is a philosophical product of our dominator-civilized heritage; and it teaches us erroneously that we are forever hermetically sealed away "in here" in the isolation of our minds from direct contact with the real world "out there." Is it any wonder that we should be almost universally and perpetually at war with a world in which we see ourselves so thoroughly and irrevocably alienated? We stand in desperate need of an alternative mythology!
In quantum theory, validated by rigorous experiment and rational analysis, we now possess a firm rational foundation for just such an alternative mythology. On the basis of what we have learned and verified, it is not at all beyond the pale of reason to imagine that the sum of all quantum fields in Cosmos combine in a metaconscious matrix of information-sharing agents of transcendent richness, diversity, variety, complexity, and liberty; and constitute in ways that may be humanly apprehended, if at all, only in mythological terms, what some have called the ground of all being, and others call the gods.16 In quantum theory, in other words, lie grounds for the myth that we, and all metaconscious entities in Cosmos, are active participants in the moment-by-moment manifestation of "objective reality." We are not after all alienated from the world in which we live, hermetically sealed forever in the recesses of our subjective minds; we – each one of us, and all of us together – are parts complementary to the indivisible whole of "All That Is" which combine in the complete and indescribable "description" of what is.
In the principles of complementarity and nonlocality we have the basis for perceiving the part and the whole, at all scales in Cosmos, as being prototypical of all complementary pairs which can only be mythologically combined in symbolic understandings of what is. Like all complementary pairs, the part and the whole, at any scale, cannot be simultaneously observed, yet are inextricably entwined in reality. We are now at liberty and rationally empowered to view ourselves and all our peers alternatively as either parts or wholes in non-local, instantaneous, and metaconscious relationship with every other part and whole throughout Cosmos.
This also clarifies why mythology is such a vital aspect of our understanding of our place in Cosmos; for since the whole of Cosmos is composed of presumably infinite cascades of complementary parts; and the parts themselves are also wholes composed of infinite cascades of complementary "sub-parts," and so on ad infinitum; and because complementary parts can only be observed alternatively, not together in simultaneity, even though both are essential to an accurate description of the complex in which they combine; "objective reality" can be apprehended by a human (or non-human) finite observer only in mythological terms.
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Additional Contours of the Myth of Metaconsciousness
As mentioned in the Prologue, in discussing metaconsciousness we are not talking about anything "new," but only applying a contemporary lexical innovation to something humans have been speculating about, and discussing, time out of mind. This may seem like not very much; however, a shifted vocabulary can sometimes open the way for patterns of thought which would not otherwise rise into conscious awareness. One may think about the gods, for instance, in entirely different (from "classical") ways, if one interprets their myths in terms of the always / everywhere presence of cascades of non-local quantum events metaconsciously observed.
Through the above considerations, additional contours of the myth of metaconsciousness emerge, which may be summarized as follows:
The "happy ending" for all of this arises – or may arise – when / if significant numbers of humans abandon the classical mythologies that have been so integral to the conduct of dominator civilization. The logical basis for these myths was decisively overturned by the Aspect / Gisin photon experiments, which have been largely ignored until now outside of the esoteric circles in which quantum physicists congregate. If we want to get to the "happy ending," we need (among a number of other things) to change this.
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1. I discussed some of the "peculiarities" at the quantum scale in "Knowledge," August, 1998.
2. Robert Nadeau, Menas Kafatos, The Non-Local Universe: The New Physics and Matters of the Mind, Oxford University Press, 1999, pp. 17-18.
3. Photon is the term Albert Einstein coined to signify a quantum, or "particle" of light – which had previously been observed only as a wave phenomenon. Speaking of the well-established wave phenomenon of light in terms of quanta, or "packets" that behave like particles, was an early step in opening the can of worms which became known as quantum theory.
4. Planck's constant is a very small, yet non-zero number discovered by Max Planck in 1900 to be of enormous significance at the quantum scale. It's value is usually given as 6.626176 × 10-34 joule-seconds.
5. Some of the consequences of this disclosure are explored in II.5. The Myth of Objective Reality.
6. Nadeau & Kafatos, 1999, pp. 65-69.
7. Ibid., p. 32.
8. Ibid., p. 2.
9. Ibid., pp. 67-69.
10. Ibid., p. 77.
11. Ibid., p. 3.
12. Ibid., pp. 78-79.
13. Loc. cit.
14. This has been an attempt at retelling a story related in Nadeau & Kafatos, 1999, pp. 69-74. Quantum theory is notoriously difficult to understand, even for those with formal training and professional standing in it; whereas I am but a rank amateur groping for understanding of matters often beyond my ken. I believe the account given here corrects some significant misunderstandings related in earlier versions of this section; yet I cannot avouch that it is entirely free of error. I will therefore greatly appreciate the informed reader bringing remaining errors to my attention.
15. On the contrary, as discussed in Cosmological Scale Expansion, section II.5, there is evidently no scale intrinsic to the universe as a whole; and no reason the scale of all space-time may not be in a state of constant flux.
16. Nadeau & Kafatos explicitly correct the misperception (p. 79) that the Aspect / Gisin photon experiments demonstrate faster-than-light, or instantaneous communication; because the photon beams used in the experiments, although correlated between beams, were composed of randomly polarized photons, and so were incapable of conveying a message. More generally, however, when an observer, by the act of observing, "collapses the wave function," bringing into manifestation a quantum event, it must be acknowledged that information of some kind is somehow being exchanged at the quantum scale. If all quanta in Cosmos are instantaneously connected in a seamless web of correlated pairs, the implications for the Myth of Metaconsciousness, though intuitive and speculative, are also profound.
17. Grahn, Civilization and Beyond, in The Gods & the Law of Life, Humanity's metaconsciousness, 2004, 2005.
18. James Thurber, The 13 Clocks, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1950, p. 31.
Metaconsciousness: Mythology for a Post-Civilized World
I.3 | Contents | I.5