Conversations With Great Thinkers

12. Physics

by L. James Hammond
L. James Hammond 2017
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1. Physics and the Occult  There is a striking agreement between modern physics and modern philosophy/psychology. To summarize modern physics is to review the ideas we’ve discussed earlier in this book; instead of calling this chapter “Physics,” I could have called it “Summary of the Previous Chapters.”

In an earlier chapter, I wrote,

Mind and matter overlap; there is no ‘pure spirit’, divorced from matter, and there is no ‘dead matter’, lacking all spirit and energy. The whole universe is suffused with energy, with a kind of consciousness.1

This conclusion was based on philosophy and psychology, but it agrees with the conclusions of physics. Einstein’s famous equation, e=mc2, says that there is enormous energy in all matter. “Mass is only a form of energy.... Even the tiniest, the very tiniest particle of matter has within it a tremendous amount of concentrated energy.”2

But Einstein’s theory isn’t the only way in which modern science confirms what I wrote earlier; quantum mechanics also confirms it.

The astounding discovery awaiting newcomers to physics is that the evidence gathered in the development of quantum mechanics indicates that subatomic ‘particles’ constantly appear to be making decisions! More than that, the decisions they seem to make are based on decisions made elsewhere. Subatomic particles seem to know instantaneously what decisions are made elsewhere, and elsewhere can be as far away as another galaxy! ....“The central mystery of quantum theory,” wrote Henry Stapp, “is, How does information get around so quick?” ....The philosophical implication of quantum mechanics is that all of the things in our universe (including us) that appear to exist independently are actually parts of one all-encompassing organic pattern, and that no parts of that pattern are ever really separate from it or from each other.3

Stapp’s question, “How does information get around so quick?” is also a key question in occult studies. If someone is killed in a car accident in New York, and their mother, who is in California, senses that something is wrong with them, the question arises, “How does information get around so quick?” One wonders if physicists like Stapp realized that students of the occult were asking the same questions they were asking. Physics is merging with philosophy/psychology, just as Western thought is merging with Eastern thought. Are we on the brink of a grand synthesis — a philosophy that will unite the sciences and the humanities, West and East?

How does information get around so quick — in the world of subatomic particles, and in the human world? It seems that particles and people can exert some sort of influence from a distance (action-at-a-distance). Newton was a rational thinker who sought clear causes and effects, hence he angrily rejected the possibility of action-at-a-distance:

That one body may act upon another at a distance through a vacuum without the mediation of anything else, by and through which their action and force may be conveyed from one to another, is to me so great an absurdity that, I believe, no man who has in philosophic matters a competent faculty of thinking could ever fall into it.4

One might say, “Newton rejects action-at-a-distance, yet his own theory of gravity is all about action-at-a-distance. If the moon’s gravitational pull causes tides, for example, isn’t that action-at-a-distance?” Newton used the theory of aether to explain how gravity works, to make it seem that gravity didn’t act on a distant object, but rather on adjacent aether; thus, the theory of aether transforms gravity from action-at-a-distance to a force of contact.4B

Newton tried to show that the whole universe was like a pool table, with objects influencing each other by their momentum and contact. Now, however, physicists are finding that a ball on one pool table can influence a ball on a different table, without coming into contact with it. Newton’s mechanical worldview is breaking down, and the old concept of action-at-a-distance is coming back into favor.

How does information get around so quick? How can particles “know” what other particles are doing? Some physicists are reaching for Jung’s concept of synchronicity.5 Physicists are unable to explain quantum phenomena in physical terms, Newtonian terms, so they’re reaching out to psychology, to the occult, for explanations. They’re reaching out to an “acausal” principle (synchronicity). They’re moving away from the bedrock of rational-scientific thinking: causality. (Wouldn’t Newton be horrified?) Niels Bohr said that quantum mechanics entails, “the necessity of a final renunciation of the classical ideal of causality and a radical revision of our attitude toward the problem of physical reality.”6 Newton’s world is crumbling!

Here’s an experiment that troubles Newtonians: two paired particles, with opposite spin, are sent in opposite directions. The spin of one of the particles is changed. The other particle’s spin also changes, at the same instant, without any apparent cause.

Somehow the particle traveling in area B “knows” that its twin in area A is spinning right instead of up and so it spins left instead of down. In other words, what we did in area A... affected what happened in area B. This strange phenomenon is known as the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen (EPR) effect.... Physicists realized that this peculiar situation raises a critical question: “How can two of anything communicate so quickly?”7

Experiments like this inspired Bell’s Theorem. Bell’s Theorem is a mathematical proof, first published in 1964; it demonstrates that action-at-a-distance is possible, and that “our commonsense ideas about the world are profoundly deficient.”8

Bell’s Theorem develops the EPR effect into a mathematical proof, applicable to the macroscopic world as well as the microscopic world. One prominent physicist said, “Bell’s Theorem is the most profound discovery of science.”9 Bell’s Theorem was confirmed and refined by the Clauser-Freedman experiment (1972) and by the Aspect experiment (1982). Bell’s Theorem suggests communication between particles that is “superluminal” — that is, faster than the speed of light. Bell’s Theorem suggests that the principle of local causes (also known as “locality”) is false, and action-at-a-distance is possible.

Bell’s Theorem is not only difficult for Newton to swallow, it’s also difficult for modern physicists to swallow; doubtless Einstein would be uncomfortable with Bell’s Theorem, as he was with the EPR effect. But Bell’s Theorem wouldn’t be difficult for alchemists or Jungians to swallow; alchemists would say, “nothing new, just another example of action-at-a-distance,” and Jungians would say, “nothing new, just another example of synchronicity.”

Can any particles communicate at a distance, or only particles that were once intimately connected? A similar question arises in the study of the occult: can any two people communicate telepathically, or only people who were once intimately connected, such as a mother and her child? Gary Zukav speculates that

when “separate parts” interact with each other, they (their wave functions) become correlated (through the exchange of conventional signals).... Unless this correlation is disrupted by other external forces, the wave functions representing these “separate parts” remain correlated forever.10

Could this reasoning provide a basis for astrology? Could a particular planet become “correlated” to a person at the time of his birth, as a result of its position, its proximity to the earth? Could there be correlations between many seemingly-separate things? “If the Big Bang theory is correct, the entire universe is initially correlated.”11 Is anything really separate, or is everything part of one inter-connected world?

According to James Frazer, the famous student of primitive religion, primitive man believed that “things which have once been in contact with each other continue to act on each other at a distance after the physical contact has been severed.”12 Frazer was a rational thinker, so he dismissed this belief as a primitive superstition, but now we find that primitive thinking is strikingly similar to modern science and modern philosophy. Like the modern physicist, primitive man believed that the world was an organic whole, a whole in which all parts were connected. Many primitive beliefs that were once dismissed as superstition now appear to be based on a deep understanding of reality.

2. One Inter-Connected World  Earlier we quoted Zukav’s remark that, “all of the things in our universe (including us) that appear to exist independently are actually parts of one all-encompassing organic pattern.” This reminds us of the Hermetic philosophy. One of the basic tenets of the Hermetics is that the world is one (unus mundus), the world is an organic whole, and each part of the world is connected to every other part. What the Hermetics refer to as “occult correspondences” is closely related to what Jung refers to as “acausal connections” and “synchronicity.” Jung is part of the Hermetic Tradition.

When physicists first became familiar with the baffling and irrational world of quantum mechanics, they fell into despair. These men were scientists, rational thinkers; Hermes Trismegistus was no friend of theirs, and neither was Carl Jung. Heisenberg said,

I remember discussions with Bohr [in 1927] which went through many hours till very late at night and ended almost in despair; and when at the end of the discussion I went alone for a walk in the neighboring park I repeated to myself again and again the question: Can nature possibly be as absurd as it seemed to us in these atomic experiments?13

The world of quantum mechanics may be new, strange, and irrational, but it isn’t pessimistic, any more than Jung is pessimistic, any more than Eastern thought is pessimistic. There’s no reason why quantum mechanics should throw us into despair, except that it alters our worldview, it shakes the ground under our feet (if we’re rational thinkers). Doubtless Newton’s worldview was unsettling when it first appeared. Even in the Romantic period, intellectuals were depressed by Newton’s cold determinism, and one Romantic lamented that the world lay in pieces at his feet; he hoped that these separate and disconnected pieces could be put back together again. Now they have. If the world is “one all-encompassing organic pattern,” then we’re connected to nature, connected to the universe, and even death can’t sever this connection. The new worldview should raise our spirits, not throw us into despair. A world that’s full of mysteries is more exciting than a mechanical, Newtonian world. Paranormal phenomena are like an unexplored continent. Shouldn’t we rejoice that in this old world of ours there are still unexplored continents?

3. Beginner’s Mind  Zukav says that a scientist should accept reality as he sees it, even if that lands him in contradiction and nonsense; he says that a scientist must have “a beginner’s mind.... a childlike ability to see the world as it is, and not as it appears according to what we know about it.”

A beginner’s mind is valuable in art as well as science. The English painter Turner was once criticized for painting a ship that had no portholes. Turner responded, “I paint what I see, not what I know.” Impressionism is about trusting what you see, painting what you see, even if it contradicts what you know. Turner knew that ships have portholes, but he didn’t see them, and he wanted to paint what he saw — this is the Impressionist creed. We know that ocean and atmosphere are different, but when we look out to sea, they sometimes appear indistinguishable, hence Impressionist painters sometimes depict them as one.

Scientists and artists must trust what they see, though it contradicts what they “know”, what they think is possible. An artist must trust what he sees in his own soul, as well as what he sees in the outside world. The novelist Henry Miller said, “I obey only my own instincts and intuition.... Often I put down things which I do not understand myself, secure in the knowledge that later they will become clear and meaningful to me.”14

People are often blind to occult phenomena because they clash with our worldview, because we regard them as impossible. If a psychic communicates with the dead, we say, “that’s impossible, he must be a fraud.” An intellectual should use the word “impossible” very rarely, if at all. Zukav quotes Suzuki (a Zen writer): “in the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”15 The Philosophy of Today sees the world as full of possibilities, and full of mysteries.

4. Dancing Energy  Classical physics, Newton’s physics, saw the world existing “out there,”, independently of us. But modern physics says there’s no ultimate substance, and nothing exists without us perceiving it. Our position has changed from spectator of the world to creator of the world. (Like other new ideas in physics, this is an old idea in philosophy. Has modern physics given us any new ideas? Hasn’t it just confirmed the ideas we had already?)

Depending on which experiment we choose to perform, we can demonstrate light’s particle nature, or its wave nature. In other words, the nature of light depends on our choice of experiment. Or rather, we can’t know the nature of light in itself (as Kant would say, “we can’t know the thing-in-itself”), we only know about our interaction with light.

Since particle-like behavior and wave-like behavior are the only properties that we ascribe to light, and since these properties now are recognized to belong... not to light itself, but to our interaction with light, then it appears that light has no properties independent of us! To say that something has no properties is the same as saying that it does not exist. The next step in this logic is inescapable. Without us, light does not exist.16

Each of us creates the world, each of us creates light, each of us says “Let there be light!” Without us, there is no light, no world. As Berkeley would say, if a tree falls in a forest, and no one is there to hear, it makes no sound.

A quantum is a quantity of something. A quantity of what? We don’t know. Quantum mechanics is a science that ‘doesn’t know what it’s talking about.’ (Is this true of every science?) But even though physicists don’t know what a quantum is, quantum mechanics helps physicists to make sense of appearances, so they regard it as useful.

If we try to determine the ultimate stuff of the universe, we never succeed. Democritus and his school said that the ultimate stuff was the atom, the “uncuttable” thing. But later thinkers asked, “what is the atom made of?” and they found that the atom wasn’t really uncuttable, it was made of subatomic particles. But subatomic particles have proven to be very elusive. We can’t seem to find the ultimate stuff of the universe.17

Modern physics tells us that mass changes into energy, and energy into mass — they’re interchangeable. “According to particle physics, the world is fundamentally dancing energy; energy that is everywhere and incessantly assuming first this form and then that.”18 This sounds much like Eastern philosophy; the physical world is only clothing that god (or energy) puts on — ever-changing, ever-new. There is no ultimate substance, and nothing that exists independently. The physical world is “not a structure built out of independently existing unanalyzable entities, but rather a web of relationships between elements whose meanings arise wholly from their relationships to the whole.”19 Nothing is independent, everything is mutual.

In an earlier chapter, I discussed the idea that the mind, the ego, the “I”, has no permanent, independent existence, it’s part of the whole.20 A tree isn’t an independent thing, you and I aren’t independent things, everything is part of the whole. Here again, modern physics has confirmed the ideas of philosophy in a most interesting and forceful way, but one can’t say that modern physics changes our ideas, or leads us to new ideas.

5. Time  Modern physics has changed our view of time, and here again, there is a striking parallel between physics and philosophy. Einstein’s theory of relativity views time differently than Newton viewed it, and quantum mechanics also views time in an un-Newtonian way. In Newtonian physics, time is one-dimensional, it moves forward. According to modern physics, however, “it is preferable, and more useful, to think in terms of a static, nonmoving picture of space and time.... Events do not develop, they just are.”21

Jung also viewed time in an un-Newtonian way. Jung felt that both the past and the future exist in the present, in the unconscious. Jung felt that, in the unconscious, time doesn’t flow in a Newtonian way, it doesn’t flow from A to B to C.22 Shakespeare was a Hermetic thinker who viewed time in an un-Newtonian way. In Macbeth, for example, the plot doesn’t unfold from A to B to C; rather, the atmosphere of evil is present at the start, pervading both the natural world and the human world. The witches anticipate the future. As in the theory of relativity, “events do not develop, they just are.” Shakespeare Time is different from Newton Time, and similar to Jung Time, Einstein Time, Quantum Time.23

Just as Kant, Jung and other philosophical thinkers have long argued that space and time aren’t absolute, so too modern physics argues that space and time aren’t absolute. Particles that are spatially separate have been seen to communicate with each other, just as the future has been found embedded in the present. As Stapp wrote, “Everything we know about Nature is in accord with the idea that the fundamental process of Nature lies outside space-time.”24

On numerous points, modern physics agrees with the Eastern worldview, the Hermetic worldview, the Jungian worldview, and the primitive worldview. A grand synthesis is within our reach.

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1. Ch. 1, #15. A similar argument can be found in ch. 3, #19. back
2. Gary Zukav, The Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics, “Special Nonsense” back
3. ibid, “Living?” back
4. ibid, “Einstein Doesn’t Like It” back
4B. See “An Interview with Einstein,” by I. Bernard Cohen, Scientific American, July 1955, p. 71 back
5. ibid, “Living?” back
6. ibid, “The Role of ‘I’” back
7. ibid back
8. ibid, “The End of Science” back
9. ibid, quoting Henry Stapp back
10. ibid, “The End of Science” back
11. ibid back
12. The Golden Bough, vol. 1, ch. 3, #1 back
13. Zukav, “The Role of ‘I’” back
14. ibid, p. 133 back
15. ibid, “Beginner’s Mind” back
16. ibid back
17. Nietzsche applauded Boscovich (an 18th-century scientist) for exploding the notion that atoms are the ultimate substance: “Boscovich has taught us to abjure the belief in the last part of the earth that ‘stood fast’ — the belief in ‘substance,’ in ‘matter,’ in the earth-residuum and particle-atom: it is the greatest triumph over the senses that has been gained on earth so far.”(Beyond Good and Evil, #12) Did Nietzsche anticipate the revolution in physics, as he anticipated the revolution in psychology? back
18. Zukav, “The Particle Zoo” back
19. ibid, “What Happens”. This view has a parallel in literary criticism — specifically, in Wilson Knight’s interpretation of Shakespeare. “Einstein’s relativity theory,” Knight wrote, “served to shift emphasis from individual entities to their observable ‘relationships’; just as, in my early essays on Hamlet, I tried... to see that hero not merely as an isolated ‘character’ rigidly conceived, but in direct and living relation to his own dramatic environment.... The belief in rigid particles with predictable motions has been replaced by concepts of form, pattern and symmetry.... For ‘particles’ put ‘characters’ and we have a clear Shakespearean analogy.” (The Wheel of Fire, Preface, pp. viii, ix, x) back
20. see ch. 2, #14 back
21. ibid, “Special Nonsense”, p. 168. The physicist de Broglie put it thus: “in space-time, everything which for each of us constitutes the past, the present, and the future is given in block.... Each observer, as his time passes, discovers, so to speak, new slices of space-time which appear to him as successive aspects of the material world, though in reality the ensemble of events constituting space-time exist prior to his knowledge of them.”(ibid, “The Dance”, p. 245) back
22. “There are indications,” Jung said, “that at least a part of the psyche is not subject to the laws of space and time. Scientific proof of that has been provided by the well-known J. B. Rhine experiments.”(Memories, Dreams, Reflections, ch. 11) back
23. For more on Jung’s view of time, and Shakespeare’s view of time, see ch. 7, #36. Many Shakespeare critics have been baffled by the lack of sequence in Shakespeare. Perhaps the only critic who understood “Shakespeare Time” and Shakespeare’s worldview is G. Wilson Knight. back
24. Zukav, “The End of Science”, p. 328 back