Fear seems to be part of the human condition and is very much part of modern society. From mild conditions like worrying about what one should eat or how to avoid criticism, to serious conditions of being a prisoner of long-lasting phobias, fear is approached as a condition that can be traced to the physical brain. Examining Wikipedia we read:
Many experiments have been done to find out how the brain interprets stimuli and how animals develop fear responses. The emotion, fear, has been hard-wired into almost every individual, due to its vital role in the survival of the individual. Researchers have found that fear is established unconsciously and that the (region of the brain called) amygdala is involved with fear conditioning. By understanding how fear is developed within individuals, it may be possible to treat human mental disorders such as anxiety, phobia, and posttraumatic stress disorder.
Assigning fear to the brain is part of the truth. Measurements of neural correlates of fear through, for example, neuroimaging can give scientific insights.
In this essay, we would like to explore insights obtained from quantum physics and how they are tied not only to perennial philosophies but how such understanding might give us additional insights that apply to our everyday lives. Following this path has the advantage to explore universal principles and how they apply to individual conscious awareness and all experience, including fear. A lot of material in this essay can be found in the book Living the Living Presence, translated into Korean and Greek.
Modern quantum physics has opened the door to the role of the observer in the physical universe. In the words of the great physicist John Archibald Wheeler, we live in “a Participatory Universe”. What though constitutes consciousness, its nature, how it works, even how to define it, have remained open and challenging issues in, among others, physics, brain science and psychology. As well-known author, clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA Daniel J. Siegel has pointed out, in his recent book Mind (Norton, 2017), there is not even agreement among the experts, psychologists and brain scientists don’t even agree what the mind is. The usual approach by many contemporary scientists from a variety of fields, as Siegel points out, is to state that the mind is what the brain does. That of course shifts the whole issue to something physical that we can study and, hopefully by studying the “hardware” (the brain) we will learn one day about the “software” (the mind) if we want to use a crude analogy. But as anyone knows from computer science, the study of electric circuits in the computer, although insightful in itself, tells us precious little about programs, in fact many different programs, that run on the same platform.
Mind cannot be located in any particular part of the physical body, including the physical brain. Some modern brain scientists point to this fact in recent works and they state that the mind is non-local. It is not bound by the physical body. This recent modern view actually makes sense in the quantum universe. As so-called “physical” particles can be bound to each other non-locally, across infinite distances, then why shouldn’t the more subtle mind not extend to everywhere, perhaps beyond space and time? When we examine the brain, there is no “seat of the mind”. At most, we find that when certain experiences take place, then certain parts of the brain light up in brain imaging. These are the physical correlates of experiences. The experiences though cannot be located and cannot even be examined as objects. Qualities of experience are called qualia. The experience of color red, a thought, the experience of time, they are all qualia. I our recent bestselling book You Are the Universe (Harmony/Random House, 2017), Deepak Chopra and I examine how qualia may be the fundamental constituents of the universe, a universe which is tied to conscious awareness. This view implies that the mind is fundamental, that observation confers reality, which is the view of the Copenhagen Interpretation, the most accepted view of quantum mechanics.
Now let’s go further and ask the question, what about states of mind, like fear? Can we gain some insights from modern physics and see if they can provide some assistance? Today we may say that the nature of the mind and experiences associate with it, if you would like the field of conscious awareness itself, is the last frontier of science. Neuroscience has made great progress in specific functions in the physical brain and its structure but says precious little if anything about the deeper issues, such as the nature of the individual self, the interaction between observer and observed, and the body-mind problem. The question arises, are there any common elements between quantum physics and philosophy which could provide a true dialogue between these great systems of human experience? We believe the answer is yes.
The alternative to mind is what the brain does, in fact perhaps its complementary dual, is that the mind is fundamental, an aspect of consciousness that includes states of experience. Perhaps the complementary truth is that consciousness cannot be studied as an object, and although tied to the physical realm, it is beyond the physical realm and forms the underlying foundation of the universe.
In this view, conscious experiences point to a deep field of conscious awareness. Perhaps then the mind states are states of this field. Yet, deep, underlying awareness, although it cannot be objectified, it can be experienced. One may be tempted to place experience in a totally subjective realm and beyond the reach of science. Our own view is that we have to extend as far as science can go, realizing that ancient spiritual wisdoms offer complementary truths. Then qualia would be the fundamental building blocks of the universe, not particles, atoms or physical objects. It is all experiences, in the universal Mind!
The Quantum Universe
Quantum mechanics is not just theory. If it were, then only theoreticians and philosophers would be interested. However, quantum mechanics is very practical. The general, foundational laws of quantum mechanics apply in the entire physical universe and here we can state that in fact they apply everywhere. Quantum mechanics as manifest in many practical devices and technologies is creating substantial portion of wealth in societies. The same general laws are found in our daily activities. Quantum mechanics is responsible for about half of the world’s GNP. And it makes the Sun shine, photosynthesis work. Quantum mechanical laws apply to life, they apply to mind. They make technology flourish. The smart phones work because of quantum mechanics. Quantum phenomena, such as entanglement, will have applications in the future quantum computers and may even provide full proof security in satellite communications. If we identify Nature, with the grand total of physical, biological, mental, social, spiritual realities, in fact all realities, then what we are interested are the general laws that apply to Nature. These laws are most obvious in quantum phenomena, this is why quantum mechanics is so useful. In fact, the laws of Nature that are based on quantum mechanics foremost apply in our everyday lives. In fact they apply to art. They apply to psychology. Listen carefully: They apply everywhere!
Based on these laws of the quantum universe, it is time to realize that our current ways of thinking are outmoded as they are based on the classical world of the senses. The world of the senses is a very limited world. Interconnectedness, non-locality, complementary truths forming the whole, a reality where the observer is most important, limits of boundaries, these are all aspects of the new quantum paradigm we are talking about. We don’t have two worlds, the world of the quantum and the world of everyday life. We have one and only one world.
All quantum phenomena are based on a small number of principles or what we may call Laws. Three Natural Laws operate in everything we experience, feel, encounter and describe in the universe:
The first is the law of Integrated Polarity (the scientific term is Complementarity in quantum mechanics). This law states the opposites form pairs providing unity in diversity. The logical statements are “Yes and/or No”, rather than “Yes or No”. The second law is Recursion (or Universality): Ancient Hermetic tradition and many spiritual traditions state “As here, so elsewhere”. “In Heaven as on Earth”. The third law is Flow (the scientific term is Creative Interactivity): Everything flows. In quantum mechanics, one does not talk about fixed objects. Quantum field theory tells us everything flows, everything vibrates. And these interactions, these vibrations, affect everything, near and far away. Every living being, every object in the universe interacts with something else. Through interactions, we exist as humans, we experience relations, happiness and love. It is the same with every living being.
Quantum mechanics states some other amazing things. First and foremost, reality, whatever that means, is based on the wave nature of quanta. Quantum mechanics does not give us definite, unique answers, what gives us is possibilities of happenings. “Particles” are entangled, everything in the universe is entangled with everything else.
Quantum mechanics also tells us that Reality is not fixed and external, it is not there until an observation takes place. Quanta don’t even have properties until they are observed! Our universe is participatory. Not only do we observe, we are active participants in what we call “reality”. We make choices, we have the freedom to ask, design experiments and “find out”. But because the quantum world is fundamentally probabilistic, Nature also has the freedom to answer back in ways we cannot predict, we can only calculate probabilities of potential outcomes. So we have a complementary situation, freedom on the part of the observer, and freedom on the part of Nature: We can say that “True Freedom drives the world”! Classical physics was fully deterministic with no room for free will and agency. That world does not exist, it is only a very crude approximation.
So in science, the central problem today of quantum mechanics is the so called “measurement problem”, which points to the paradoxical “observer effect”. It is a big mystery because quantum mechanics says that a particle, an electron doesn’t even exist. We assume objects are there when we are not observing them but we have no way to prove it. Of course if a particular observer is not there, we have others. So what if we start taking all the observers out of the picture? Perhaps all observers are really one Observer. We are not talking about human observers. That would be too man-centered world. We are talking about all observers in the universe that include humans.
This quantum mechanical view of the centrality of observation agrees with religious mysticism, with Buddhism, it agrees with contemplative traditions of Vedanta, which they refer to the witness consciousness. In this view, the observer is not a specific human observer. It’s the observing at itself, the process of observation. So today in quantum mechanics we say there is no real you, in the sense of a material substance; you are only a process (Third Law). Heraclitus taught that you cannot step in the same water twice. So there is something there and at the same time it’s not there. This is quantum mechanics. Observations, bring objects into reality. So, it’s interesting that quantum mechanics which was supposed to be about particles, is actually a theory of the mind, as physicist Henry P. Stapp states. Today quantum mechanics is a theory of how mind brings out reality!
The emptiness and the fullness are complementary truths. The quantum vacuum is “empty” but it is also as “full” as it can be because all potentialities of outcomes exist in it. If you think emptiness is all there is, you are wrong. If you think fullness is all there is, you are wrong! They are both there as complementary truths, not identical of course, not irrevocably opposites, but complementing each other and each being unique in specific applications.
Because the universe is participatory, observations always imply some sort of boundary: Boundaries are created by observing constraints, ultimately by our own minds. But then a natural question arises: How does the quantum world which is non-local and entangled appear classical, full of separation, filled with distinct objects? We have to find the answer to the role of the mind: Veiling by the mind hides underlying awareness and clouds experience. In the ancient Indian monistic (Advaita) Vedanta and Kashmir Shaivism systems, this veiling is called maya.
Who Am I?
In the end, what really matters is to ask the ultimate and most basic question. “Who Am I?” Am I just a body destined to one day die? Or am I something much more? Well, I’m surely made of a human body, and I do have a mind. And I seem to live in space and I have the experience of time. But is that all we are?
The so-called body is made of roughly one hundred trillion cells. The majority of these cells in our body are not even human cells. They’re bacteria; they are alien cells. They outnumber human cells 10 to 1, in other words 10 to 1 are alien cells compared to human cells. So we may say that this body is an alien colony. Our body is an alien planet of a hundred trillion cells of bacteria, viruses, spores, etc. Yet, all these cells work harmoniously together. And they give us, somehow, the sense of a specific human being. If these cells didn’t work together, if they were just slightly off and didn’t work together, we’d die.
But what is it that it’s always the same? When you look into the mirror every morning, you don’t see 100 trillion cells working together, even though that’s what your body really is. You see a face, the same eyes, the hair, all forming a familiar “you”. It’s awareness of your own existence. And that’s the message of spiritual paths. This awareness has three aspects, you (the subject), that (the object, which actually could be you in self-awareness) and the relationship between the two, the most fundamental of which can be expressed as “I Am That”. It is a triad. In fact, the number three shows up all over Nature: Three fundamental Laws; subject-object identification; in the Orthodox tradition, the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit; in the Hindu pantheon, Brahma (the Creator), Vishnu (the Maintainer) and Shiva (the One who dissolves). There are also three universal powers of Awareness: Will, Knowledge and Action. To act requires a knowledge and a will, knowledge requires the will (to know).
Everything in the universe is created, maintained and ultimately disappears. These are three cosmic functions. We find them in thoughts, in life processes, in cells, in planets and stars, everywhere. There are two other functions, one is hiding of the true nature of anything. And, finally, revelation, recognizing the true nature of one’s being.
We can immediately see that this is in agreement with the second Law, these cycles of time apply at all levels, but there is no universal “one arrow of time”. This was already known from Einstein’s theories of relativity. Time (and space) are observer-dependent. In fact Chapman quantum physicist Yakir Aharonov has developed a two-vector time quantum theory, in total agreement with quantum predictions.
We see that time is closely tied to experiences of consciousness, although conscious awareness itself is beyond time. Some great beings, all actually said the same thing. Buddha understood the meaning of time. So before the beginning there was an end, there was another… And after this end, there will be a new beginning. In Hindu cosmology, cycles of time go on forever, and in fact the universe itself at some point comes to an end, dissolved into the great Void, from which the next one emerges to start a new cycle. In today’s cosmology, a lot of cosmologists believe that the universe goes on and on and on, more or less like Buddhists and Vedantists say.
The time that exists is the Present. The past is a memory coming into awareness from specific experiences (and residing in Awareness, downloaded to human mind, always as experience, such as recollection of images, thoughts, etc.); the future has not happened. At best, we anticipate the future based on the past (again an experience). Only the Present, the eternal Now exists. We will see further down how we can access that ever-present Now.
But then a question arises, why do we humans believe there is a beginning and an end to everything? Why do we live in the past or the future, which really don’t exist, and not the Present? Obviously because our own human bodies are born and ultimately die. But is this a time evolution or just a series of processes in Awareness? This is the basic issue that all humans face, the demise of our physical bodies. In Buddhism, in Patanjali’s system of yoga, one encounters the afflictions or kleshas. In Patanjali’s system they are: Ignorance (of our true nature). Egoism. Attachments. Aversions. And, fear. All fears ultimately reduce to fear of the annihilation of individual existence, the ego which is based on the physical body with which the mind identifies. However, if we knew of our true nature, which is eternal Being, we would not be captives of fear.
In our everyday life, when we dream, time and space break down. So what is it about this particular reality that is so great if our own bodies are doomed to dissolve? However, the great teachings of all traditions say go beyond the appearance of finite time. So I would say that today science and ancient teachings converge to the same point, and both agree that time is in the mind. Who Am I is a being not in space and time.
What is then the underlying “stuff” of Reality? First and foremost, it is existence or Being. Before existence, there was more existence. We cannot take existence away from existence. The second aspect is the ability to be conscious of (self, others, objects). The third aspect is completeness-in-itself. Awareness is truly complete, it does not require anything else. It is the ground of all existence. And that Completeness we may call bliss, full contentment.
The great philosopher Socrates said: “One thing I know, is that I don’t know anything”. We think we know but do we really? When we don’t even have an answer to “Who Am I?” Socrates taught that we have to start from the admission of our own finite mind. As another great Hellene philosopher Heraclitus taught, “everything flows, nothing remains still”. This is of course the same teaching as Buddha, with the Way of Tao, the teachings of the great seers of India as found in Advaita (monistic) Vedanta and Shaivism of Kashmir and in total agreement with quantum mechanics: The process, the flow is what is real. Existence is always changing. In quantum theory we call it integrated polarity, the opposites make the whole. The being is not inert, it is made of opposites. It is process, always flowing.
In fact the higher wisdom is always there. It is just that we have forgotten it. So enlightenment is not going to some faraway place and reaching nirvana. Enlightenment is not forgetting who we really are! Could it be that reality is actually much simpler than it appears? In quantum mechanics we call it the veil that hides the quantum reality and gives the appearance of a world of the senses, consisting of separate objects. If I put on a veil, it hides my face. We are all playing different roles, and we get caught up in our roles and believe the masks. But underneath each mask there is the same unlimited Awareness, the triadic Being, Consciousness and Bliss. And that is the answer to the question “Who Am I?”
Living the Living Presence
The basic elements for the integrated system briefly described in this essay is to take this knowledge from science and philosophy and turn it into practical knowledge for everyday life. Living the Living Presence is exactly that. The Living Presence is the reality that quantum mechanics has revealed, in agreement with spiritual and contemplative practices. The Presence is Being, always in existence, the eternal Now. But it is not inert, it is fully alive. In fact, it is the very conscious Awareness in all of us.
The last part of this triadic system, Living the Living Presence, is Living. The living part is being aware of the Living Presence in our lives. Fundamental conscious Awareness is the underlying total Reality. Nothing exists without this Awareness, which is not subject to the boundaries of space or time. Mind and all the experiences that arise in the mind creates the apparent reality we see and we take as granted. The field exists and manifests through our own experiences in everyday life. This universal field is full of the living force, the living Awareness. We do have freedom that is tied to quantum reality, the freedom to move away from fear.
This is what we may call the Living Presence. It also must be what we experience all the time, our own individual lives. The Living Presence includes our everyday lives, is not separate from them. If we consciously live the Living Presence, our lives become the very abode of eternal happiness. This blissful existence is not far, far away in some transcendent realm. Living the Living Presence gives us tools to tackle fear and the afflictions of the mind. Living the Living Presence is the antidote of fear.
Provenance: Invited submission.
Menas C. Kafatos, Ph.D., is the Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor of Computational Physics, and Director of the Center of Excellence of Earth Systems Modeling and Observations at Chapman University; Outstanding Visiting Scientist, Division of Environmental Science & Ecological Engineering, Advisor BK21 Plus Eco-Leader Education Center, Korea University; Affiliated Researcher, National Observatory of Athens, Hellas; Executive Director of the Nalanda Institute for Consciousness Studies and Research. He is a quantum physicist, cosmologist, natural hazards and climate change researcher and works extensively on the quantum physics and the nature of the mind, cosmic Awareness and topics bridging science to metaphysics and philosophy. He holds lectures and seminars for individuals and organizations on the natural laws that apply everywhere, the foundations of the universe, for well-being and success. His thesis advisor was the renowned M.I.T. professor Philip Morrison who studied under J. Robert Oppenheimer. He is the author of 315+ articles, author or editor of 17 books, including The Conscious Universe (Springer), Looking In, Seeing Out (Theosophical Publishing House), and co-author with Deepak Chopra of the New York Times bestselling book, You Are the Universe (Harmony, 2017). He maintains a Huffington Post blog. You can learn more at http://www.menaskafatos.com