In my last post here, I talked about the crazy coincidences and miracles in our lives when we feel like something energetic happened, but we can’t explain it. I call these things our coincidences or our “triple sinks.” And I had a big helping of them this spring. Believing that I had experienced miracles, and believing in science, I felt there had to be an explanation somewhere in scientific theory. So down the rabbit hole I went.
My poor friends, y’all. It was all I could talk about.
As I entered the rabbit hole, the first scientist I stumbled upon was a quantum physicist named Amit Goswami, PhD. Let me just say, I love this dude. He’s like your wise Indian grandfather. Born in the 1930’s, Dr. Goswami grew up in India in a very religious household. His father was a religious Brahman guru who had disciples that would come by the house. For some reason, I imagine his father in a loin cloth. I like to think that all religious gurus can rock a good loin cloth.
Goswami, however, rebelled against this and left for University in Calcutta, determined to be a scientist. He became a physicist and moved to America to teach in the 1960’s. After teaching at Case Western University, he ended up as a professor in the Theoretical Quantum Physics Department at the University of Oregon. He is the author of one of the most popular introductory quantum mechanics textbooks used at colleges in the world.
When Goswami got to the University of Oregon, he was an atheist and a materialist. He held the dominant view of many scientists. However, over time, he found that the science brought him back to the very spiritual understanding of the world that he had fled when he left home. The science turned on him. But unlike most scientists, Goswami embraced it and now lectures on science and spirituality. I highly recommend his book, The Self Aware Universe.
Alas, for the physicists working in the field in the early 20th century, the discoveries didn’t sit quite as well as they did with the son of a religious guru. What they uncovered was radical. And it went against the scientific theory about the nature of reality that had held favor for 2000 years.
Since the times of Aristotle and Newton up until today, scientists have sought to define an objective reality with rules and regulations. They attempted to discover and define the laws of nature and the cosmos. In this effort, they focused on understanding matter, the building block of all things, and attempted to quantify the smallest matter—particles like electrons, protons and neutrons. In school, we learned that: particles make atoms; different atoms make different elements; combined elements make molecules; molecules make cells; cells make brain and body. We were taught that matter was the foundation of existence—from the ground up.
Hence, we learned that reality was objective, measurable and subject to very strict laws, like gravity and the Chicago Cubs never going to the World Series. The rules were in all that math that we didn’t understand. Or at least I didn’t understand, with my round D+ in Calculus 2.
This idea of an objective, definable world, built from the ground up with tiny particles is called “Materialism.” Materialism holds that matter is the fundamental substance in nature, and that everything, including your thoughts and consciousness, are results of matters’ interactions. So the romantic love that you feel for your spouse (or used to feel before you lived together for 15 years) is actually just a hit of oxytocin neurotransmitter in your brain. The matter causes the feeling. So when you renew your vows, pledge your undying love to oxytocin.
Materialism has been the dominant view of Western scientific thought since Ancient Greece. It’s the view of classic, Newtonian physics. It is objective. If a tree falls in the woods, it falls in the woods. Period. And scientists have loved this view, because it creates certainty. Human beings like certainty. It implies safety, because if we can figure out the rules we can protect ourselves. And figuring out rules makes us feel smart. We love to feel smart. More feel-good neurotransmitters for feeling smart!
The rich irony, of course, is that in their quest to confirm Materialism by looking for smaller and smaller things, the scientists dug too deep. Specifically, when they got down to understanding one of the smallest pieces of matter, the electron, the roof came off. (nerd alert) Kinda like the dwarves in the Lord of the Rings, they dug too deep and found something they didn’t want to find.
Bear with your nerdy author here for a second if you’ve seen the Lord of the Rings. In the Lord of the Rings, the heroes of the story find themselves underground in the empty mines of Moria, a place previously occupied by dwarves. We are told that the dwarves are gone because they dug too deep and unlocked a mythical force that they could not contain, which presumably consumed them. Minutes later, an ancient demon appears and battles the wizard-leader of the heroes, Gandalf. Gandalf and the demon fall down what is likely one of the huge pits that was dug too deep by the dwarves. The heroes presume Gandalf is dead and travel onward.
In the next movie, Gandalf re-appears and tells a story of battling the demon in a place outside space-time and defeating him. But this new Gandalf has totally changed in appearance. His hair has turned white, as have his clothes. He looks like he’s seen a ghost. Because he has. He has transcended the material world.
Well, that’s what happened to many of the physicists in the early 20th century as they came to understand the nature of electrons. I visualize them all white-faced and bearded. As my groovy yardman says, they “got their lids flipped!”
Heisenberg wrote of this time, “The violent reaction on the recent development of modern physics can only be understood when one realizes that here the foundations of physics have started moving; and that this motion has caused the feeling that the ground would be cut from science entirely.”
“Cut from science ENTIRELY.”
It was big time sh*t.
And as a result, many of the top physicists of the day working in this area became religious mystics.
In my next post, I’ll talk about how the rug got pulled out from under Materialism. You’d never know it considering the education we received sixty-something years later. But people thought that the sun went around the earth for a really long time after it was proved not to, also.
And what does this mean to you? Well, if the foundation of everything is not matter, it means that you’re more than a bag of bones bound for the graveyard (or a bag of ashes in some pretty urn with horses on it.)
So cheer up!
And until next time, joy and laughter to you. And triple sinks.