By Anthony Mwase
“What appears to be a stable, tangible, visible, audible world is an illusion. It is dynamic and kaleidoscopic–not really there” – David Bohm, Princeton Physicist
We are so convinced that the world really is as we perceive it: that grass is green; matter is tangible; fire burns; and we bleed when cut. This perception of reality is so consistent that any aberrations from the norm tend to be quickly dismissed and wiped from the psyche.
In science, the belief in an objective reality is even more evident. Scientific research is purportedly an exploration of an external objective reality by a detached passive observer. However, quantum physics and research in psychic phenomena have muddied the waters of reality perception that had been cleared progressively for centuries by the advances of classical Newtonian and Darwinian science.
Classical science had adhered to the idea that ‘the forces by which nature is animated and the respective situation of the beings composing it’ could be comprehended by the actions of a detached observer. However, quantum physics brought with it the understanding that an observer and the observed phenomenon cannot be separated. In fact, the deciding factor in each observation is the observer. Physicists have demonstrated that sub-atomic particles can manifest themselves as either particles or waves. When scientists are not looking at electrons, they propagate as waves, and whenever they design an experiment to observe them, they always appear as particles. Some scientists believe that this switch from waveform to particles is a result of interaction between consciousness and matter – the very implication being that consciousness is an active creator in the reality it perceives. By extension, could it be that what we perceive as static bodies and objects when we look at stones, sticks and each other are actually waveforms of flowing energy reduced to a singular location in the same way consciousness reduces an electron waveform to a particle?
The implications of insights from quantum physics are quite immense and as such, it is replete with theories explaining the nature of the universe – each theory with its adherents and critics. And sometimes what brings a theory to the forefront is not based on whether it is right but instead on the prominence and number of its adherents. In fact Edward G. Boring opined that science is not a picture of truth but a battle of policies in which scientists fight each other out of a need for intellectual self-preservation. The holographic model of the universe is one of those theories that has been churned out by quantum physics. It views the universe as a kaleidoscopic sea of frequencies with matter being the constructive and destructive interference patterns of these interacting energy waves – which basically means that matter is a beat frequency borne out of the interference of larger waveforms. The static nature of matter could be due to the creation of stationary waves as a result of interference pattern in which successive waves take exactly the same position of the one before. Despite its motionless appearance, energy continues to pass through the system. Research on the atoms of our bodies reveals that they are very high frequency oscillators that vibrate at a rate of about 1015 hertz (i.e. cycles per second). It is quite possible that our bodies blink on and off at this frequency but this is not perceived because vibrations beyond 10 hertz are imperceptible to our eyes. The fluorescent lights we use in our houses actually blink on and off at a rate of about 120 hertz but yet they seem to give a constant steady light to us. Could it also be that our bodies blink on and off but this is imperceptible to us because the vibration rate is way above our perceptible range?
As is most often the case, insights from quantum physics tend to get credence and support from the unlikely source of research and investigation of psychic/paranormal phenomena. The possibility that matter is a flux of energy rather than a static entity is best exemplified in the biologist Lyall Watson’s encounter with an Indonesian shaman woman called Tia who made a grove of trees disappear and appear successively right before his eyes a number of times, almost like the trees were being switched on and off like a light. The experience left Watson reeling. Another incident that underscores this possibility is the case of Indridi Indridason, an Icelandic man investigated by leading Icelandic scientists in 1905. When Indridi went into a trance, he had the capacity to dematerialise parts of his body. Right before the eyes of the bewildered scientists, he could make an arm or a hand disappear. Such evidence, which is actually only a tip of the iceberg, can only lead one to start questioning the materiality of matter.
It gets weirder. In 1982, Alain Aspect and a team of physicists were able to demonstrate that instantaneous communication was possible between subatomic particles. Regardless of the distance separating a pair of particles, whether it was 10 feet or 10 miles, a change in the polarisation (vibration direction) of one particle would cause an instantaneous change in the polarisation of its partner. It seemed that the photons were somehow communicating with each other at speeds exceeding the speed of light which was in violation of Einstein’s long-held tenet that no communication was possible at speeds faster than the speed of light. Two deductions were possible – either nonlocal connections existed between the particles, or the separateness of the particles themselves was an illusion. One physicist, David Bohm, a protégé of Einstein, concluded that the separateness of the particles was an illusion. Bohm posited that the reason the subatomic particles are able to maintain instantaneous contact with one another regardless of the distance separating them is not because they are sending some sort of mysterious signal back and forth, but because their separateness is an illusion. He argued that such particles were not individual entities, but were actually extensions of the ‘same fundamental something’ embedded in a deeper level of reality which we are not privy to.
Bohm offered an illustration to better explain his conclusion. He asks us to imagine an aquarium containing a fish. Imagine also that you are unable to see the aquarium directly and your knowledge about it and what it contains comes from two television cameras, one directed at the aquarium’s front and the other directed at its side. As you stare at the two television monitors, you might assume that the fish on each of the screens are separate entities. After all, because the cameras are set at different angles, each of the images will be slightly different. But as you continue to watch the two fish, you will eventually become aware that there is a certain relationship between them. When one turns, the other also makes a slightly different but corresponding turn; when one faces the front, the other always faces toward the side. If you remain unaware of the full scope of the situation, you might even conclude that the fish must be instantaneously communicating with one another, but this is clearly not the case. This, says Bohm, is precisely what is going on between the subatomic particles in Aspect’s experiment. If the apparent separateness of the subatomic particles is illusory, it implies that all of nature is ultimately a seamless interconnected web.
We are so used to seeing ourselves as physical beings separate from the physical world we are moving through – could this be an illusion? Could the very idea of spatial separation be a construct of the brain? Could commonly documented incidents of telepathy, clairvoyance and psychokinesis in paranormal research be shreds in the fabric of reality that point to this illusion? One can never truly know, but it does leave one with a sense of wonder and awe at this mysterious universe.
Just as our perception of matter and space is under assault, so is our idea of time. Physicists such as David Bohm and F. David Peat have asserted that time is a construct of the human brain, and may not exist as we perceive it. We generally perceive time as an independent aspect of reality in which events flow from the past through the present to the future – a metronome that ticks on absolutely regardless of whether anything is happening or not. However, rather than being some independent aspect of reality, time is a synthetic product of our brains and our ability to perceive it is generated by our capacity to contrast sequential events such as the passing of day and night; or the different sequential positions relative to an observer of an object in motion. If the world remained perfectly still or unchanging, the internal clocks in our brains would not be able to ‘create’ time as we know it. Our capacity to ‘create time’ is also demonstrated by the way ‘equal portions of time’ are perceived differently while engaging in either pleasurable or less pleasurable activities. Einstein famously stated, “Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour and it seems like a minute.” Further to that, as is the case with most phenomena, time’s synthetic nature is more discernible when it isn’t working well or as expected. Medical journals tell of a man whose internal clocks went awry – riding in a car, he would perceive the trees and buildings whizzing past him as though his car was travelling at 200 miles per hour; easing up on the accelerator did not change his perception that the world around him had accelerated. Yet to those around him, the man had slowed down – he walked and talked in slow motion. The cause of his time sickness – a brain tumour.
Interesting as they may be, the examples and ideas mentioned above do not really threaten the current view of reality as they do not involve great leaps or variance from our current understanding of time. However, one idea does that and then some. The idea is holographic time: an idea in which the past, present and future all exist in the present in some form that is accessible to us and that each one’s consciousness acts as sort of receiver tuning in to a particular ‘time-bandwidth’ in a way not too dissimilar from a transistor radio. As far as theories go, this one is quite jarring – it is completely discordant with how we understand the flow of time. Yet one episode in August 10, 1901 in which two Oxford professors Anne Moberly and Elaine Jourdain underwent a kind of involuntary teleportation seems to imply that this theory could have some truth to it. Walking through the garden of Petit Trianon at Versailles, the two professors underwent a consciousness temporal displacement in which they experienced their surroundings and landscape spontaneously transform to one of eighteenth century France with all the people they encountered wearing the appurtenant costumes of the time. The two women, shaken by their shared vivid experience, prepared a manuscript about the occurrence and presented it to the British Society for Psychical Research. It is so easy for a mind deeply entrenched in the current paradigm of reality to find explanations to dismiss this episode. One possibility is that, the two professors could have smoked some mad quantities of weed or ingested some other hallucinogen. Their experience could have been some shared hallucination. It is possible, but both women averred that they never ingested anything hallucinogenic prior to the episode. Perhaps, they were beset by ennui and just wanted attention or notoriety. To think that, one must be comfortable with the idea that these otherwise upstanding ladies of repute underwent some lateral personality shifts that caused them to engage in some attention-seeking behaviour of the highest mendacity. But surely, there must have been other ways of seeking attention that would not have been so contrived and beyond ordinary imagination. In contrast to all the rationalisations and stilted explanations that could be devised to explain away the incident, it is possible that maybe, just maybe, their experience though completely dissonant to everyday experience was genuine and real: that the tuners in their minds must have suffered some momentary cross-interference that caused them to tune to the wrong ‘time-channel’. The possibility that this could be true would not only shatter our idea of time but also our adherence to the idea of a world of tangible matter – a reality in which sticks and stones may break bones.
“People like us…know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.” – Albert Einstein
One aspect that makes our perception of reality coherent is consistency – that all of nature abides by a uniform causality: that fire burns, absence of food leads to death by starvation, being stabbed leads to bleeding and possible death. Yet what are we to make of incidences in which this uniform causality is violated. Leonard Feinberg Ph.D. investigated extensively the fire-walking ceremonies in Sri Lanka where Hindu ascetics walked over deep beds of red hot charcoal that could melt aluminium on contact. He tells of a particular fire-walking ceremony that had 80 participants of whom 12 failed. Success in a fire-walking ceremony meant being completely unharmed while failure usually involved death or serious disfigurement. This brings the question – does fire really burn? David Hume once said that “No amount of observations of white swans can allow the inference that all swans are white, but the observation of a single black swan is sufficient to refute that conclusion.” By extension of that logic, no amount of incidents of fire burning flesh can allow the inference that fire burns flesh, yet the occurrence of a single incident in which fire does not burn flesh is enough to refute such a conclusion. Having said that, I am not encouraging anyone to start playing around with hot coals: I am merely showing that our picture of reality is not as consistent as we believe it to be. Likewise, the abilities of Jack Schwarz and Mirin Dajo astounded researchers and scientists and poked holes in the coherent reality in which punctures to the body cause bleeding wounds and scars. Therese Neumann’s inedia also threatened the belief that one cannot live without food because, under a great deal of scrutiny, she was able to live without it or water for 36 years without any discernible loss of weight whatsoever. In light of all this, one can only conclude that there is no such thing as objective reality – the world is not as we perceive it to be. In fact such aberrations from the norm have led some to opine that what we have is not an objective reality – but rather a consensus reality wherein we unconsciously agree that nature shall abide by certain rules.
To conclude, I have to admit that it is with great trepidation that I even share these ruminations and information – it would be so easy for one to say that I have lost my marbles or that I am some gullible fanatic of new age pseudo-science and then dismiss all that has been written herein with a healthy dose of disdain and smug arrogance. However, the offhand dismissal of any new ideas tends to be symptomatic of a mind rigidly attached to fixed belief systems and ideas. The fact is true open-mindedness is a rare commodity in the world today. Even science itself is a prisoner to a pre-established understanding of the universe which precludes its purported adherence to honest inquiry. As a consequence, new ideas in science are not examined on their own merit but instead on how well they fit an established doctrine. The underlying assumption is that current scientific dogma is absolute and unchangeable and any new theory and idea must exist within its confines. At least religion does not try to conceal its rigid attachment to fixed belief systems. Nicolaus Copernicus’ assertion that the earth revolves around the sun and not the other way round was quite disconcerting to 16th century Europe and his ideas were dismissed as the ‘ravings of a mad man’. Time would later prove him right. Therefore rather than cavalier dismissal, I would encourage one to engage in an honest inquiry that allows one to put under scrutiny one’s already formed ideas and opinions. For as implied by Nobel Laureate Ilya Prigogine’s study of dissipative structures wherein perturbations and disturbances to a self-organising system tend to lead to higher and more complex levels of organisation, the discomfiture associated with re-examining one’s current understanding of reality can only lead to a more rounded yet less rigid perception of it. So rather than encounter new ideas with a sense of fear and a spirit of confrontation, one would instead, guided by a spirit of honest inquiry, meet them with sense of wonder and awe to the possibilities that lay within . For as is obviously apparent now, there is so much we don’t know.
- The Holographic Universe – Michael Talbot
- Wholeness and The Implicate Order – David Bohm
- Reality Illusion – Ralph Strauch
- A Holographic View of Reality – David S. Walonick
- Reinventing Medicine – Larry Dossey M.D.
- A Crack in the Cosmic Egg – Joseph Chilton Pearce