Quantum common sense

Wave Particle Duality means every elementary particle exhibits properties of both particles and waves.

Image Edited By Web Investigator. Wave Particle Duality means every elementary particle exhibits properties of both particles and waves. Duncan Walker, Getty Images

Despite its confounding reputation, quantum mechanics both guides and helps explain human intuition

by Philip Ball is a British science writer, whose work appears in Nature, New Scientist and Prospect, among others. His latest book is Invisible: The Dangerous Allure of the Unseen (2014).

Quantum theory contradicts common sense. Everyone who has even a modest interest in physics quickly gets this message. The quantum view of reality, we’re often told, is as a madhouse of particles that become waves (and vice versa), and that speak to one another through spooky message that defy normal conceptions of time and space. We think the world is made from solid, discrete objects – trees and dogs and tables – things that have objective properties that we can all agree on; but in quantum mechanics the whole concept of classical objects with well-defined identities seems not to exist. Sounds ridiculous? The much-lauded physicist Richard Feynman thought so, yet he implored us to learn to live with it. ‘I hope you can accept Nature as She is – absurd,’ he said in 1985.

Except that much of the popular picture is wrong. Quantum theory doesn’t actually say that particles can become waves or communicate in spooky ways, and it certainly does not say that classical objects don’t exist. Not only does it not deny the existence of classical objects, it gives a meaningful account of why they do exist. In some important respects, the modern formulation of the theory reveals why common sense looks the way it does. You could say that the classical world is simply what quantum mechanics looks like if you are six feet tall. Our world, and our intuition, are quantum all the way up.

Why, then, is it still so common to find talk of quantum mechanics defying logic and generally messing with reality? We might have to put some of the blame on the Danish physicist Niels Bohr. He was probably the deepest thinker about the meaning of quantum theory among its founding pioneers, and his intuitions were usually right. But during the 1920s and ’30s, Bohr drove a lasting wedge between the quantum and classical worlds. They operate according to quite different principles, he said, and we simply have to accept that.

According to Bohr, what quantum mechanics tells us is not how the world is, but what we’ll find when we make measurements. The mathematical machinery of the theory gives us the probabilities of the various possible outcomes. When we make a measurement, we get just one of those possibilities, but there’s no telling which; nature’s selection is random. The quantum world is probabilistic, whereas the classical world (which is where all of our measurements happen) contains only unique outcomes. Why? That’s just how things are, Bohr answered, and it is fruitless to expect quantum mechanics to supply deeper answers. It tells us (with unflagging reliability) what to expect. What more do you want?

Bohr’s ‘Copenhagen interpretation’ – named after the location of the physics institute he founded in 1921 – didn’t exactly declare a contradiction between classical and quantum physics, but it implied an incompatibility that Bohr patched over with a mantra of what he called ‘complementarity’. The classical and quantum worlds are complementary aspects of reality, he said: there’s common sense and there’s quantum sense, but you can’t have both – at least, not at the same time.

The principle of complementarity seemed a deeply unsatisfying compromise to many physicists, since it not only evaded difficult questions about the nature of reality but essentially forbade them. Still, complementarity had at least the virtue of pinpointing where the problems lay: in understanding what we mean by measurement. It is through measurement that objects become things rather than possibilities – and furthermore, they become things with definite states, positions, velocities and other properties. In other words, that’s how the counterintuitive quantum world gives way to common-sense experience. What we needed to unite the quantum and classical views, then, was a proper theory of measurement. There things languished for a long time…





BY Brendan D. Murphy, Guest Waking Times 

With so many people (many indeed being iconic scientific and historical figures) experiencing what they are supposedly not meant to, according to materialistic thought, the reasonable individual might be forgiven for wondering if there is something more to consciousness than our present “scientific” paradigms would have us believe. Can we go further than questioning the assumed legitimacy of orthodox materialistic theories which reduce consciousness to a mere epiphenomenon (by-product) of physical matter (the brain) and even—heaven forbid—suggest that they are not merely incomplete, but actually types of superstitions in themselves?

Etymologically, the word consciousness derives from the words scire (to know) and cum or con (with). Consciousness is “to know with.” So if you, the persona, cognize (to know or be aware of), who are you cognizing with? Is there more to consciousness than the Freudian ego and unconscious?

Mathematical physicist Roger Penrose has written:

A scientific world-view which does not profoundly come to terms with the problem of conscious minds can have no serious pretensions of [sic] completeness…I would maintain that there is yet no physical, biological, or computational theory that comes very close to explaining our consciousness or intelligence.[i]

Indeed, in the past (and even today?) some scientists had taken the absurd position that consciousness is an illusion. This, while providing a nonsensical reason to ignore the problem of consciousness, obviously fails to sate the curious inquirer’s queries regarding how we got here and what we are doing here as conscious beings. Materialistic philosophy as we know it—derived from the mechanistic worldview—had, more or less since the dawning of the Age of Reason in the 1700s, steadfastly maintained that what we call experience arises solely as a by-product of the brain’s internal workings. No brain, no consciousness.

But is it really that simple? What about functions of consciousness that appear to transcend the cranial boundaries of our heads? The Age of Reason said that these forces had only ever existed in man’s imagination; only reason could show man the truth about the universe. “The trouble was,” according to Colin Wilson, “that man became a thinking pygmy, and the world of the rationalists was a daylight place in which boredom, triviality and ordinariness were ultimate truths.”[ii]

The Age of Reason glorified the rationalist, who, enamoured of his endless linear cogitations, was blinded to faculties of consciousness that actually transcended them: faculties that would have allowed him not to merely philosophize about deeper levels of reality, but actually access them. “This is the great tragedy of modern man,” wrote occultist, philosopher, and composer Dane Rudhyar. “His much acclaimed scientific spirit frees him of the compulsions of subrational and subconscious states of mind, only to bind him to an empty rationalism and a quantitative analytical intellect, both of which actually entomb him in a sarcophagus filled with only the mimicry of life. This sarcophagus is the ‘megalopolis’—the monstrous city.”[iii]

But something stirs in the bowels of the concrete jungle. An international online survey of paranormal experiences had met with an overwhelming response, according to Australian researchers in 2006. The survey, on phenomena that cannot be explained using the current “laws” of science, is by researchers at Monash University in Melbourne. A recent (for the time) Gallup poll revealed that 75% of Americans hold at least one paranormal belief, and a UK newspaper poll showed that 60% of Britons accept the existence of the paranormal, say the researchers. According to the researchers, the survey is not about beliefs or whether parapsychological phenomena exist, rather it is about what people have experienced and the impact it has had on their lives.Some 2,000 people had made contact via the internet within six weeks of the survey beginning. A whopping 96% of respondents claim to have had at least one brush with the paranormal. The exercise seeks to gauge the frequency, effect, and age of onset of unexplained phenomena such as premonitions, out-of-body and near-death episodes, telepathy, and apparitions. Results as of 2006 showed that 70% of respondents believe an unexplained event changed their lives, mostly in a positive way. Some 70% also claim to have seen, heard, or been touched by an animal or person that wasn’t there, 80% report having had a premonition, and almost 50% recalled a previous life.[iv] In May 2000, the New York Times Sunday Magazine published results of a poll conducted by Blum & Weprin Associates; a huge 81% said they believed in life after death.[v]

Virtually all of these beliefs hint at (and require in order to be true) the existence of other realms or dimensions in which consciousness can operate. A 2005 poll taken by the Scottish paranormal society showed that more people are likely to believe in ghosts and the paranormal than have faith in any organized religion. A Gallup survey taken in 2005 showed that about three in four Americans profess at least one paranormal belief.[vi] This is a massive amount of “paranormal” experience and belief—all of it depending on the existence of other levels of reality, without which such experience can only be labeled as delusion and fantasy.

Did you know that the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) has now been amended so that genuinely psychic people are no longer considered “disordered”?[vii]

Intuition and Creativity

Srinivasa Ramanujan (below, left), born in India, 1887–1920, has been called the strangest man in all of mathematics, probably in the entire history of science. Working in isolation from his peers, this genius was single-handedly able to re-derive a hundred years’ worth of Western mathematics. As Michio Kaku reports in Hyperspace, the tragedy of his life is that much of his work was wasted rediscovering known mathematics.[viii] Most interesting to us, Ramanujan said that the goddess Namakkal inspired him in his dreams; in other words, the source of his creative genius was this other realm within his sleep, rather than ordinary waking consciousness…


About the Author

Brendan D. Murphy – Co-founder of Global Freedom Movement and host of GFM RadioBrendan DMurphy is a leading Australian author, researcher, activist, and musician.

This article (Science and the Paranormal – The Question of Consciousness) was originally  published and is copyrighted by Global Freedom Movement and is published here with permission.



The Stars: A Mythopoetic Masterpiece Serenading the Night Sky Through Myths and Stories from Around the World

“Light gives light because it is its nature.”

“I sometimes ask myself whether I would be studying galaxies if they were ugly… I think it may not be irrelevant that galaxies are really very attractive,” Vera Rubin, who confirmed the existence of dark matter, pondered in her most extensive interview. More than a century earlier, trailblazing astronomer Maria Mitchell — Rubin’s formative role model — contemplated the same question after attending a lecture on beauty by Emerson: Mitchell, too, found the splendor of the cosmos inseparable from its allure as an object of scientific investigation, each enhancing rather than distracting or detracting from the other. The great physicist Richard Feynman extolled this interplay in his memorable Ode to a Flower, in which he insisted that “the science knowledge only adds to the excitement, the mystery and the awe of a flower,” and Marina Abramović touched on it in her manifesto for art and life, which asserts that “an artist should stay for long periods of time looking at the stars in the night sky.”

Indeed, for as long as we humans have gazed up into the night sky, our imagination has been captivated equally by aesthetic awe and scientific curiosity — something reflected in our earliest sky myths, the Medieval wonder-sighting of comets, and our 4,000-year history of visualizing the universe.

That dual enchantment is what artist Vija Celmins and writer Eliot Weinbergerbring to life in the limited-edition MoMA book The Stars (public library) — an uncommonly poetic ode to the resplendence of the night sky.

Reminiscent of the poet Mark Strand’s 89 meditations on the clouds, Weinberger’s text is a sort of florilegium composed of lyrical descriptions of the stars drawing on various myths, folk tales, or anthropological sources from different eras and cultures. What emerges is a quintilingual mythopoetic masterpiece, written in English and translated in Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, and Maori, accompanied by three stunning celestial etchings by Celmins, each months in the making.

Etching by Vija Celmins for The Stars – a negative image of the night sky

The whimsical text begins:

The stars: what are they?

They are chunks of ice reflecting the sun;
they are lights afloat on the waters beyond the transparent dome;
they are nails nailed to the sky;
they are holes in the great curtain between us and the sea of light;
they are holes in the hard shell that protects us from the inferno beyond
they are the daughters of the sun;
they are the messengers of the gods;
they are shaped like wheels and are condensations of air with flames
roaring through the spaces between the spokes;
they sit in little chairs;
they are strewn across the sky;
they run errands for lovers…

Double gatefold of Vija Celmins’s negative image of the night sky

all stars move and shine in order to be
most fully what they are — light
gives light because it is its nature…

Complement The Stars with Adrienne Rich’s sublime poem “Planetarium,” Henry Beston on how the beauty of the night sky nourishes the human spirit, and the forgotten woman who pioneered the art of astropoetics in the nineteenth century.



How Does Earth Move Through Space? Now We Know, On Every Scale

An accurate model of how the planets orbit the Sun, which then moves through the galaxy in a different direction-of-motion. Image credit: Rhys Taylor of http://www.rhysy.net/, via his blog at http://astrorhysy.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/and-yet-it-moves-but-not-like-that.html.

by Ethan Siegel, Contributor
On the largest scales, it isn't just the Earth and the Sun that move, but the entire galaxy and local group, as the invisible forces from gravitation in intergalactic space must all be added up together.

NASA, ESA; Acknowledgements: Ming Sun (UAH), and Serge Meunier

On the largest scales, it isn’t just the Earth and the Sun that move, but the entire galaxy and local group, as the invisible forces from gravitation in intergalactic space must all be added up together.

Ask a scientist for our cosmic address, and you’ll get quite a mouthful. Here we are, on planet Earth, which spins on its axis and revolves around the Sun, which orbits in an ellipse around the center of the Milky Way, which is being pulled towards Andromeda within our local group, which is being pushed around inside our cosmic supercluster, Laniakea, by galactic groups, clusters, and cosmic voids, which itself lies in the KBC void amidst the large-scale structure of the Universe. After decades of research, science has finally put together the complete picture, and can quantify exactly how fast we’re moving through space, on every scale.

Within the Solar System, Earth's rotation plays an important role in causing the equator to bulge, in creating night-and-day, and in helping power our magnetic field that protects us from cosmic rays and the solar wind.

Steele Hill / NASA

Within the Solar System, Earth’s rotation plays an important role in causing the equator to bulge, in creating night-and-day, and in helping power our magnetic field that protects us from cosmic rays and the solar wind.

Most likely, as you’re reading this right now, you’re sitting down, perceiving yourself as stationary. Yet we know — at a cosmic level — we’re not so stationary after all. For one, the Earth rotates on its axis, hurtling us through space at nearly 1700 km/hr for someone on the equator. That might sound like a big number, but relative to the other contributions to our motion through the Universe, it’s barely a blip on the cosmic radar. That’s not really all that fast, if we switch to thinking about it in terms of kilometers per second instead. The Earth spinning on its axis gives us a speed of just 0.5 km/s, or less than 0.001% the speed of light. But there are other motions that matter more.

The speed at which planets revolve around the Sun far exceeds the rotation speeds of any of them, even for the fastest ones like Jupiter and Saturn.


The speed at which planets revolve around the Sun far exceeds the rotation speeds of any of them, even for the fastest ones like Jupiter and Saturn.

Much like all the planets in our Solar System, Earth orbits the Sun at a much speedier clip than its rotational speed. In order to keep us in our stable orbit where we are, we need to move at right around 30 km/s. The inner planets — Mercury and Venus — move faster, while the outer worlds like Mars (and beyond) move slower than this. As the planets orbit in the plane of the solar system, they change their direction-of-motion continuously, with Earth returning to its starting point after 365 days. Well, almost to its same exact starting point.

Because even the Sun itself isn’t stationary. Our Milky Way galaxy is huge, massive, and most importantly, is in motion. All the stars, planets, gas clouds, dust grains, black holes, dark matter and more move around inside of it, contributing to and affected by its net gravity. From our vantage point, some 25,000 light years from the galactic center, the Sun speeds around in an ellipse, making a complete revolution once every 220–250 million years or so. It’s estimated that our Sun’s speed is around 200–220 km/s along this journey, which is quite a large number compared both Earth’s rotation speed and its speed-of-revolution around the Sun, which are both inclined at an angle to the Sun’s plane-of-motion around the galaxy.

But the galaxy itself isn’t stationary, but rather moves due to the gravitational attraction of all the overdense matter clumps and, equally, due to the lack of gravitational attraction from all of the underdense regions. Within our local group, we can measure our speed towards the largest, massive galaxy in our cosmic backyard: Andromeda. It appears to be moving towards our Sun at a speed of 301 km/s, which means —when we factor in the motion of the Sun through the Milky Way — that the local group’s two most massive galaxies, Andromeda and the Milky Way, are headed towards each other at a speed of around 109 km/s…




When Neurology Becomes Theology


A neurologist’s perspective on research into consciousness.

Early in my neurology residency, a 50-year-old woman insisted on being hospitalized for protection from the FBI spying on her via the TV set in her bedroom. The woman’s physical examination, lab tests, EEGs, scans, and formal neuropsychological testing revealed nothing unusual. Other than being visibly terrified of the TV monitor in the ward solarium, she had no other psychiatric symptoms or past psychiatric history. Neither did anyone else in her family, though she had no recollection of her mother, who had died when the patient was only 2.

The psychiatry consultant favored the early childhood loss of her mother as a potential cause of a mid-life major depressive reaction. The attending neurologist was suspicious of an as yet undetectable degenerative brain disease, though he couldn’t be more specific. We residents were equally divided between the two possibilities.

Fortunately an intern, a super-sleuth more interested in data than speculation, was able to locate her parents’ death certificates. The patient’s mother had died in a state hospital of Huntington’s disease—a genetic degenerative brain disease. (At that time such illnesses were often kept secret from the rest of the family.) Case solved. The patient was a textbook example of psychotic behavior preceding the cognitive decline and movement disorders characteristic of Huntington’s disease.

WHERE’S THE MIND?: Wilder Penfield spent decades studying how brains produce the experience of consciousness, but concluded “There is no good evidence, in spite of new methods, that the brain alone can carry out the work that the mind does.”Montreal Neurological Institute

As a fledgling neurologist, I’d already seen a wide variety of strange mental states arising out of physical diseases. But on this particular day, I couldn’t wrap my mind around a gene mutation generating an isolated feeling of being spied on by the FBI. How could a localized excess of amino acids in a segment of DNA be transformed into paranoia?

Though I didn’t know it at the time, I had run headlong into the “hard problem of consciousness,” the enigma of how physical brain mechanisms create purely subjective mental states. In the subsequent 50 years, what was once fodder for neurologists’ late night speculations has mushroomed into the pre-eminent question in the philosophy of mind. As an intellectual challenge, there is no equal to wondering how subatomic particles, mindless cells, synapses, and neurotransmitters create the experience of red, the beauty of a sunset, the euphoria of lust, the transcendence of music, or in this case, intractable paranoia.

I couldn’t wrap my mind around a gene mutation generating an isolated feeling of being spied on by the FBI.

Neuroscientists have long known which general areas of the brain and their connections are necessary for the state of consciousness. By observing both the effects of localized and generalized brain insults such as anoxia and anesthesia, none of us seriously doubt that consciousness arises from discrete brain mechanisms. Because these mechanisms are consistent with general biological principles, it’s likely that, with further technical advances, we will uncover how the brain generates consciousness.

However, such knowledge doesn’t translate into an explanation for the what of consciousness—that state of awareness of one’s surroundings and self, the experience of one’s feelings and thoughts. Imagine a hypothetical where you could mix nine parts oxytocin, 17 parts serotonin, and 11 parts dopamine into a solution that would make 100 percent of people feel a sense of infatuation 100 percent of the time. Knowing the precise chemical trigger for the sensation of infatuation (the how) tells you little about the nature of the resulting feeling (the what).

Over my career, I’ve gathered a neurologist’s working knowledge of the physiology of sensations. I realize neuroscientists have identified neural correlates for emotional responses. Yet I remain ignorant of what sensations and responses are at the level of experience. I know the brain creates a sense of self, but that tells me little about the nature of the sensation of “I-ness.” If the self is a brain-generated construct, I’m still left wondering who or what is experiencing the illusion of being me. Similarly, if the feeling of agency is an illusion, as some philosophers of mind insist, that doesn’t help me understand the essence of my experience of willfully typing this sentence.

Slowly, and with much resistance, it’s dawned on me that the pursuit of the nature of consciousness, no matter how cleverly couched in scientific language, is more like metaphysics and theology. It is driven by the same urges that made us dream up gods and demons, souls and afterlife. The human urge to understand ourselves is eternal, and how we frame our musings always depends upon prevailing cultural mythology. In a scientific era, we should expect philosophical and theological ruminations to be couched in the language of physical processes. We argue by inference and analogy, dragging explanations from other areas of science such as quantum physics, complexity, information theory, and math into a subjective domain. Theories of consciousness are how we wish to see ourselves in the world, and how we wish the world might be…





by Dylan Charles, Editor, Waking Times

The shaman’s world is one of allegory, symbolism, metaphor and transcendence into the realms of energy and spirit. Their understanding of the universe and the abundant sentient beings which inhabit it is wildly foreign to the mind of the material scientist. Our best chance, therefore, at bridging the gap between science and spirit may lie in the anthropological study of those tribal cultures whose operating systems permit them to move freely in the metaphysical realms with the assistance of natural hallucinogenic substances.

The shamanic explanation of the origins of life and of the intelligent nature of the plants and animals which inhabit the rainforest are quite unbelievable to most, but a rational approach to understanding their perspective lends extraordinary insight into some of the greatest mysteries of human consciousness.

Author and anthropologist Jeremy Narby set out in the mid 1980’s to do just this, hoping to learn from medicine men of the Amazon jungle about how it is they claim to be able to communicate directly with plants and unseen spirit beings of the forest. In his remarkable must-read book, The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge, his journey of empirical study takes a remarkable twist when he agrees to ingest the potent shamanic plant medicine, Ayahuasca.

Briefly summing up his book in an interview with Deoxy’s Todd Stewart, Narby remarks:

“Research indicates that shamans access an intelligence, which they say is nature’s, and which gives them information that has stunning correspondences with molecular biology.”

Researching this hypothesis, Narby began by examining the very real paradox offered by plant masters of the Amazon, namely that their vast, extensive, and incredibly thorough understanding of the thousands of plants in their environment is the result, not of any kind of scientific study as we know in the West, but rather as the result of direct communication with plants themselves.

“So here are people without electron microscopes who choose, among some 80.000 Amazonian plant species, the leaves of a bush containing a hallucinogenic brain hormone, which they combine with a vine containing substances that inactivate an enzyme of the digestive tract, which would otherwise block the hallucinogenic effect. And they do this to modify their consciousness.


It is as if they knew about the molecular properties of plants and the art of combining them, and when one asks them how thev know these things, thev say their knowledge comes directly from hallucinogenic plants.” ~Jeremy Narby

At face value, the claim may seem ridiculous to the western mind, yet the fact remains that shamanic knowledge, especially regarding the medicinal properties of thousands of plants, is so thorough that it has provided the basis for the modern pharmacological model of medical science. Many of the top-selling and most effective medicines of our age were derived directly from the culturally appropriated knowledge of the people of the rainforest.

Intrigued by this perspective, Narby ultimately agreed to participate in Ayahuasca ceremonies to experience first-hand the connection spoken of by scores of indigenous cultures and medicine traditions. Doing so led him to the conclusion that not only were these people being truthful in their assertion of direct communication with plants is possible, but that their hallucinogenic journeys may provide a means of unlocking and accessing the origins of human knowledge which have been transmitted for eons in the codes within DNA.

“Intelligence comes from the Latin inter-legere, to choose between. There seems to be a capacity to make choices operating inside each cell in our body, down to the level of individual proteins and enzymes. DNA itself is a kind of “text” that functions through a coding system called “genetic code,” which is strikingly similar to codes used by human beings. ” ~Jeremy Narby…


About the Author
Dylan Charles is a student and teacher of Shaolin Kung Fu, Tai Chi and Qi Gong, a practitioner of Yoga and Taoist arts, and an activist and idealist passionately engaged in the struggle for a more sustainable and just world for future generations. He is the editor of WakingTimes.com, the proprietor of OffgridOutpost.com, a grateful father and a man who seeks to enlighten others with the power of inspiring information and action. He may be contacted at wakingtimes@gmail.com.
This article (An Anthropologist’s Theory on Shamanism and the Origins of Knowledge Completely Rewrites Our Understanding of DNA) was originally created and published by Waking Times and is published here under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Dylan Charles and WakingTimes.com. It may be re-posted freely with proper attribution, author bio, and this copyright statement.


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