New Dimensions interview by Michael Toms with Danah Zohar
Program no. 2508, 1994.
[posted with permission, New Dimensions]
Michael: Danah, Welcome
Michael: You were telling me a fascinating story earlier about how the Quantum Self, the book, came to be. Maybe you could tell that story again for our listeners.
Danah: Yes, I think it's a story that tells us something about the state of consciousness when we're deeply asleep. I had gone into hospital for major surgery and took with me notes to do a book that I would work on while I was in hospital, as I was going to have to be there for two weeks. And when I came out of anesthetic, literally the moment I became conscious again, I had this idea for the Quantum Self in my head and it was not a book I'd thought about before at all.
I had the nurses prop me up in my bed and I just wrote almost non-stop for about 12 hours, a detailed synopsis for the Quantum Self, by which time the anesthetic had fully worn off and I looked at this material I'd written, "my goodness, where did this come from. And how am I going to write this book?"
But it had come deeply from my anesthetized psyche, so something about consciousness, I think, can get very unified and in contact with itself when conscious mind is put out of commission for a while. I found that very interesting.
Michael: This may explain why dreams are often harbingers or messengers of unconscious reality.
Danah: Yes, well many creative people have said that they've got some of their best ideas while they are asleep. Or they go to sleep on a problem and wake up the next morning with the solution. I remember doing this myself when I was an undergraduate at MIT. I would be writing a paper and I'd get stuck on the idea and I'd just go to bed and the next morning the idea was there.
I think it's something that consciousness is noisy and fragmented when we're awake. It becomes increasingly so during the day and when you meditate or go to sleep, consciousness sort of dampens down a bit and the unifying processes that actually generate consciousness, and the quantum dimensions of the brain can then communicate with each other and you get a more holistic sense of what mind is actually in touch with.
Michael: I'm sure many of our listeners are aware of quantum physics and they've heard about waves and particles, and how the observer effects the observed and so forth but how did you make the connection between consciousness and quantum reality? What brought you to that connection?
Danah: Well, I'm both a student and a friend of the physicist David Bohm and it's been since, oh, 50 years ago that Bohm said in his classic book, "Quantum Theory" that he noticed many similarities between quantum processes and the way they behave, and conscious processes and the way they behave and all he said at the time, 50 years ago, was "I wonder if there's something in this. Could there be any real link between quantum activity and conscious activity?" and he just left it at that.
Since when, over the years various people have had a go at a theory of linking the emergence of consciousness to quantum processes in the brain. One of these people is my own husband, who is a psychiatrist with a training in mathematics and physics before he went to medical school. My husband had been working for something like seven years on a theory of quantum activity in the brain and how it relates to the way he was noticing conscious behavior in his psychiatric patients, and that's what happened to me in my sort of anesthetized state when I had the surgery. Suddenly my husband's theory and Bohm's work about quantum physics and the brain, it just came to me in a flash of insight, (that) this has enormous implications for what kind of people we are and what kind of potential we have as human beings.
If this is indeed the case, that consciousness emerges from quantum processes in the brain, it puts conscious mind directly in contact with the quantum realm, it means that in some very real sense we really are quantum people, and I thought, what does this mean?
You know, my God, if we're quantum people we're completely different than we thought we were. It has vast implications and that's what my work has been about ever since.
Michael: Interesting. It occurs to me that, you know, we're trying to duplicate the way the mind works, the way, certainly the way the mind-brain works with computer models and, how would you ... is there something missing that we're talking about the mind as a quantum, based on a quantum model, then we may be missing something with the computer model of the mind, may we not?
Danah: I think we're missing something very critical. We now know that the brain is capable of doing three kinds of thinking. One is logical, rational thinking and serial computers duplicate that very well.
Another is associative thinking, you know linking if I feel hungry I think of an apple, or if I see you I think of a friendly person and in fact of Father Christmas 'cause you look a bit like him. So we associate ideas. Now the new parallel processing computers can do this very well. This is neural network theory and how it's related to parallel processing.
Now Artificial Intelligence and the computer lobbies, say that's all there is to consciousness because that's all they can account for with their machines. But we know in fact from our own intuition and experience, and experience of ourselves, and others, that we can also do creative thinking. Human beings come up with new concepts, come up with new categories, come up with new associations. We're constantly reinventing the scenario.
Now this I put down to quantum processes in the brain and this is something that existing computers cannot duplicate. I leave it open that if we one day invent a quantum computer it might be able to, but our existing serial and parallel computers cannot duplicate creativity, new thinking, new ideas and in fact conscious experience. Computers aren't conscious. They don't have a sense of humor, they don't have the sense of sorrow, and they don't relate the way we do. They can only do what's programmed into them.
Michael: Also, it seems to me that, just as you were talking about coming up with the idea of the book out of your anesthetized state, and coming up with insights through the dream process that somehow our consciousness is not just isolated to the brain. It seems that we're somehow in touch with a larger reality and that certainly would be comparable to ... the quantum model, wouldn't it?
Danah: Well I think this is one of THE most exciting things about the quantum model of consciousness because it actually begins to talk about the sort of origins and the modern nature of consciousness, well beyond the human brain.
Quantum physicists describe something they call the quantum vacuum. The vacuum is very badly named because it isn't empty. It's actually a sea of potential, replete with all possibility.
Michael: Sort of like the Buddhist emptiness.
Danah: It's very like the Buddhist void. I'm glad you brought that up. It's in fact terribly like the Buddhist void. Because the void again is ...
Michael: so wonderfully like the Buddhist void.
Danah: Yes, quite right. The void too is without form, without content, you can't touch it, you can't see it, you can't measure it, you can't smell it, and yet it's the source of all. The quantum vacuum that is described by mainstream quantum physics is in fact very like that.
Now the vacuum is something ... I'll use just one technical term on the whole program, because it's such an important technical term. The quantum vacuum is something that physicists describe as a Bose-Einstein Condensate. Now all of Bose-Einstein condensate is the most ordered and unified structure in the whole of physical nature.
Michael: Our listeners will be familiar with laser beams.
Danah: It's very like a laser beam. In fact a laser beam is a Bose-Einstein condensate, so is a super-fluid, or a super-conductor. This is why a laser beam is so coherent, because it's terribly ordered and terribly unified, and it acts as though there's just one photon of light there, although there are zillions.
Now the important link with human consciousness is that those of us who are saying that human consciousness emerges from quantum processes in the brain say it has to be a Bose-Einstein condensate. For reasons to do with the unity of consciousness and the unity of our perceptions and the unity of our sense of self.
Now if we're right human consciousness is a direct replication of the physics of the quantum vacuum, we both emerge from the vacuum like all things in this world, and also we are like this vacuum. So this tells you something very powerful, I think, about the nature, origins and possibilities of human consciousness.
Michael: Where does that lead?
Danah: Oh, I think it leads to a whole, totally new theory of who we are, why we're here, what we can do.
For instance, take what is the purpose of human life. Something all of us ask. Our standard Western religions had a vision of this. I mean we were here because God created us, and he wanted us to do something in this world. But for most of us, well many of us anyway, those religions have lost their grip. I mean, Newtonian science pretty well destroyed much of their credibility and yet we still seek a kind of spiritual meaning and value in our lives. We still all ask ourselves why am I here. My five year old son asks me this not too long ago. "Mummy why was I created?"
I mean it's just a question that occurs to people. Now if you know from physics that the quantum vacuum is the ground state of existence, the sea of potentiality out of which all things arise, and that everything that exists is a wave on this vacuum, an excitation, physicists call it a perturbation of the vacuum, so you can consider the vacuum like a pond. The pond which is the source of this whole, and each existing thing - the microphone in front of me, the cup of coffee at my right hand, you, me, the trees outside, are all excitations or waves on this pond.
Now this is the way the vacuum evolves, by having these excitations or waves on itself. This is how it sort of reaches out and tries to express its potentialities.
So you and I, and each of the people listening to us right now, is an individual excitation of the quantum vacuum - nobody like any one of us, excitation. Each of us one of the infinite possibilities of the vacuum so as we live our lives and try to get our lives into a deeper, complex meaning and value and sort of put world picture together, we are as it were doing the work of fundamental reality. We are the agents of underlying fundamental reality, which I think gives a whole picture of why we're here, and who we are. It gives us meaning.
The simple things like how we eat our meals, how we raise our children. Whether we use lead-free or non lead-free petrol, etc. I mean all the small decisions we have in making life actually have a sort of larger meaning.
If you see we are in fact these agents of fundamental reality trying to express itself we are the sort of, as one poet it, bees of the invisible. We sort of take the invisible and make it concrete and visible through our conscious activity and our choices.
Michael: ... we have the quantum vacuum, being the ground of being from which everyone emerges, so we could say that something like, say the great traditions like Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Sufism. All of these really are expressions of the totality, but each in its own particular way. At the bottom line they're all related.
Danah: Absolutely. And I find myself that very very powerful because too often our Western religions have wanted to be monotheistic and say "there is one God, one way, one truth, one life, follow me, and you will be saved." Or "do this or we will kill you", or something.
Now the quantum vision of all this shows us reality has infinite potential. That if there is something that you want to call God, this God has infinite faces, and that each of our great traditions is a face of God, or a face of underlying reality.
It's precious, and expresses a vision of the truth but only one side of it. The way to get to the source itself, to God itself is to know as many of these faces as possible and to weave them together in our consciousness. And again that comes back to what we're here for. We're here to understand differences, to appreciate differences and to somehow get differences into dialogue.
Michael: I think of the way Christianity has evolved in the sense that there's a God outside of us that it's us and God kind of thing, it's sort of this either/or or ... the kind of ... the dichotomy of the split between the two and yet if we go back to Jesus's words were he said, "I and the Father are one", there was no split there. It was like one thing, and so in some sense we look at the quantum model we see that that the oneness is there, there's no spit anymore.
Danah: There's something even more powerful in Gnostic Christianity, in the Gospel of Thomas. Jesus says to his disciples, "If you know who you are, you will become as I AM." And I find that a very powerful expression of the Christian tradition that got sort of wiped out by the mainstream church. That Christ was saying he wasn't the special unique son of God, he was a kind of, in touch with a force in the universe, the fundamental underlying ground state. And if each of us knew who we are we too would know that we are in touch with that force. That we too like he are agents of that force as it were, and then we would become like him, we too would become messiahs as it were.
So I think in many of the mystical traditions of the world this insight is there but the mainstream, particularly in the West has tended to sort of overlook them, or be suspicious of them, or frightened of them even.
Michael: You call them heretical.
Danah: All the mystical traditions have always stressed that we –because of the nature of our being– have some direct apperception of fundamental underlying reality and that what we're here for is to be aware of that, and to somehow develop that.
Now I think the same vision uncannily enough is coming out with quantum physics and a quantum model of consciousness. Here science itself is saying to us "we are like underlying reality, and if only we could become more aware of that, we would become in touch with that source, and we would know what we're here to do.
Michael: I"m speaking with Danah Zohar, author the Quantum Self, (and) the Quantum Society ...
Michael: I'd like to go back to the quantum process here for a moment. There was something about the possibility of electrons being conscious. Would you talk a little bit about that, and what that's about?
Danah: Well, I don't mean by that, that electrons are making choices and having crises of consciousness and things like this, like human beings. But the quantum view of consciousness does imply that there is a spectrum of consciousness in the universe. That we human being are perhaps the most fully complexly developed type of consciousness that presently exists in the universe as we know it. But that this consciousness has arisen from simpler forms of consciousness in physical reality.
Now this is why I introduced these Bose-Einstein condensates because it's important to know that Bose-Einstein condensates are made up of bosons, which is one of the two types of fundamental particles in the universe
Michael: the other being fermions.
Danah: Now fermions are particles of matter, physical stuff that you can bump against and touch. And bosons are particles of relationship. All the fundamental forces in the universe: nuclear, strong and weak nuclear, gravitational, electromagnetic are made of bosons. They are boson fields.
Now if consciousness is a Bose-Einstein condensate, consciousness too is one of these boson fields in the physical universe. This being the case we can trace consciousness backward for simple things, like where ever 2 particles of light, photons, meet. And they have done experiments to show that when you emit photons from a source beam and you say emit them one per second, and try to detect them on a (detector) at the other end of the room, you would expect because they go from the source one per second, they would arrive at the detector one per second. But they don't do that. Because they're bosons they're just drawn to each other.
So they arrive in sticky little clusters because they pull each other into relationship as they traverse the distance across the room.
Now this "photon bunching" as physicists call it, is the first step toward the kind of higher order and unity that you find in Bose-Einstein condensates, which are the most ordered and unified structures in the universe. Bose-Einstein condensates are the vacuum and they are, many of us argue, the basis of human consciousness in the brain.
So if this is the case you can see the beginning in this photon bunching just between two simple light particles or between two particles of gravitation, the kind of bunching that in us results in the kind of unified field that is consciousness.
So it puts consciousness more within a spectrum which again I think is large for metaphysical implications because in the old science consciousness had no role to play at all. In Newton's physics mind and body were completely separate. There were no psychological factors in the physical world at all. Indeed, that's what his physics was about, to week them out.
Now this had the implication for us human beings, of who are we then? What are we doing here?
What is our suffering and our joy and our enterprise and our projects? They have no record in this physical universe but in a quantum physical universe where the stuff of mind is the same as the stuff of physical reality, and there's a spectrum of development of consciousness you see us as fully part and parcel of unfolding physical reality.
So instead of being strangers and gypsies on the edge of an alien world, as people said about us in the old physics, we become fully members and partners in this universe.
Michael: I think of the story you related about Abraham and God, where God said "You wouldn't be here if it wasn't for me." Abraham responds, something like, "Well, you wouldn't be known, if it wasn't for me".
Danah: Exactly. Yes, I mean, consciousness in this quantum physical view is playing a creative power in the unfolding of physical reality. And we human beings become kind of co-creators not THE creators, I mean we shouldn't get puffed up with importance and say we're king pins in this, but we are part of the process. A necessary part of the cosmic drum of unfolding reality.
Michael: I'm getting at the idea, we talk about fate, whether it's predestined and that kind of thing. When we start talking about that from a quantum perspective one can start to see that, it's not predestined but yet it involves our participation to create whatever the destiny may be.
Danah: Yes, I mean this again is like the insights of mysticism. In Jewish mysticism, for example, the mystics say that each letter of the Torah, the Jewish Bible, is individual and unique and has a role to play in the drum of the Torah. And each letter therefore has a special mission in the overall unfolding of God's laws and vision, and this quantum view was very like that. Each individual human being is a separate excitation of the quantum vacuum. Each of us is necessary for the unfoldment, no matter how humble we are.
The simplest human being is part of this unfolding drum and it's playing some crucial role in it.
Michael: This brings up the idea of what you call society's invisible people. Those people who are less privileged, those people who are suffering from hunger, privation of whatever kind, that really are, almost invisible to rest of humanity. We tend to repress what might be known about them. We don't really want to know about it. So how does the quantum model relate to someone in this situation.
Danah: I think that you have to see this in the whole context of relationship itself in the quantum model.
In the whole of Western culture, since the Greek vision of atomism we've tended to see ourselves as separate atoms of reality, each of us our own place in space and time.
Newtonian physics emphasized this with Newton's picture of atoms as being like billiard balls that bump into each other, and clash and go their separate ways.
Freud's object relations in Freudian psychology is all about how we are objects to each other, all we can do is bump into each other, clash and go our separate ways. Freud said there's no intimacy, no love possible.
Freud said the commandment to love thy neighbor as thyself is the most impossible commandment ever written because how can you love another person when you cannot even know another person.
Now the quantum vision of this is radically different, because quantum reality is not made up of separate atomistic bits. The particle nature of quantum reality does stay separate and unique. That's why we are individuals.
But all quantum things also have a wave aspect and the wave aspect, just like waves on the surface of a pond, overlap with each other, they get entangled, and quantum physics is telling us that the universe is entangled. That all quantum things - and after all, all things in the universe are quantum things- are entangled and interwoven, and are part of a oneness. So if you and I are quantum selves, we do not as Freud said bump up against each other, and clash when we meet and go our separate ways, our wave aspects literally entangle, literally, form a larger system which is comprised of both of us. So you and I are one, I and anyone I meet become one, in some very important sense. Even people I haven't met in a gentle quantum sense, are interwoven with each other.
So the quantum model is saying well there are no others.
It's not that I love my neighbor as myself, I am my neighbor. I am my brother, I am you, and you are me,
Michael: You related an interesting story that you and your husband had at an Oxford coffee house. Maybe you could tell that story, because it's indicative of what you're talking about.
Danah: Yes, this is what brought up the notion of social outsiders, what I call the ultimate other, in the Quantum Society.
We were sitting in a coffee house, discussing ideas rather like this actually, feeling very sort of good about ourselves and our spiritual vision and eating outdoors in a sort of garden and a tramp came up. A lady. And stood over us, and said "I want that", pointing to our food. And I behaved like any normal middle-class Westerner and said, "no please go away and don't disturb us".
And instead of doing as we said, she grabbed the food. So I went to get the waiter to ask for some help in getting rid of this .. ("cough") "pest", and when I came back the lady was joined by another tramp, a very aggressive man, who smashed my plate and the lady knocked my husband's food off his plate and we got quite upset. And the man said, "good I like to see you posh kind of people get upset. Serves you right".
Now, eventually these tramps were removed from the scene and we were given new food, but it left a tremendous impact on me.
First of all I was just upset and felt threatened, but then I began to reflect. Had these tramps not invaded my peaceful spiritual privacy, I would never had noticed them.
I realized then that these people are all over the streets of Oxford, and I hadn't noticed them except occasionally to put a penny in their hands because that makes me feel good in a nice liberal sort of way. And I just became consumed with awareness that these people too, are part of me. That they were part of the kind of conversation we were having in the garden. That these ultimate social others, whom we wish to keep at a distance because it's uncomfortable to think about them, are also part of our community. They are also interwoven with my wave-front.
They too are part of me. They are my brother. And it changed my whole awareness of these people.
Now there isn't a simple answer that follows from that. It doesn't then follow "well alright I go and embrace them all", because many of them wouldn't even like that. But I think it does, at a deep level, change our perception and if we change our perceptions, we change our values, and if we change our values we will change our social policies about these people.
If we come to see that these so-called outsiders, the so-called underclass, are in fact extensions of ourselves we may build a society that includes them in some way.
Michael: I'm speaking with Danah Zohar, author of the Quantum Self, and the Quantum Society ...
Michael: I'm speaking with Danah Zohar, and we're exploring quantum realities, and how quantum physics may indeed offer us an opportunity to see how the universe works, and in that process, discover how we ourselves work in relationship to the universe and through that, maybe we can live with more complete lives, and be more balanced human beings. There's a lot of possibilities here, as we explore the quantum world-view.
Danah, as you were talking about this experience you had in the Oxford coffee house, I was thinking, again going back to, Jesus's words, or at least words that are attributed to him, where he said, as you do unto the least of these, you do unto me.
Again, Jesus identified with that ground of being, the source of all, saying, you know, this is connected, this is me, just as much as anyone else.
Danah: Yes, I think a lot of Jesus's statements as opposed to the way they were, I think, distorted by the church, come alive through this quantum vision. I mean this whole notion that we are one in the body of Christ, if you think of Christ as this wave-front that we all share, that's interwoven between all of us, and that we share with the underlying quantum vacuum, this Christ becomes a kind of cosmic field, as it were, in which we all participate.
And to the extent that we become aware of our participation in that, and our relationship to each other through that participation, we fully come into our inheritance as human beings, as conscious beings, and that awareness does include, as we're talking about, awareness of the least of us. That they too are part of us. That we are all part of this worn, interwoven reality, and this isn't some kind of new-age chat, I mean this is real, what physics is telling us about the universe: everything in this universe literally is interwoven with every other thing.
We are all part of one large process.
Michael: I think of, for instance, in the Tao, again as the quantum vacuum could be considered, or as Jung's collective unconscious, would be the quantum vacuum.
Danah: Yes. But you see I think these ideas like Jung, or the Tao, or mysticism or something, keep coming up over the millennia because given the nature of consciousness, as a quantum thing which is in touch with the quantum vacuum, we are destined to retell the history of the evolving universe.
So we do in our various myths, our various stories, our various theories, but this is why there is this uncanny resemblance of things coming up in different traditions. It's because it's conscious mind in touch with the source of things which has a direct root in to unfolding physical reality.
Now we structure this, we put it in terms of myths and stories, because that's ... you know as we interpret the experiences we have, we put them in the language of our tradition, but you will find these insights in cultures across human history from as far back as we have recorded history, and I think this is the reason.
Michael: It's kind of ironic isn't it, that here the leading edge of science, namely quantum physics, is challenging science in some ways to reinvent itself in its old form, and to include philosophy and values and ethics and morals and principles, as the science of today is really kind of, it's almost unprincipled.
I recall talking with some one about artificial intelligence, and they were saying that, "well, this is where science is, this is where it's got to go. We've got to find out about gene splicing, and we've got to find out these things, there's nothing else we can do." It's like somehow the principles get set aside, it doesn't matter what the implications are, but rather what's important is the science of exploration. And it's that kind of lack of moral grounding.
Danah: I think this comes back to what we said at the very beginning, about there being three kinds of thinking. We do have logical, rational thinking and there's nothing particularly moral about that. Logical rational thinking is just about seeing how they're connected logically.
And that's the whole computer image of our society and it has been the scientific image of our society. Let's work out what it's all about.
And then there's the associative thinking.
But the quantum thinking is about meanings and relationships, and it gets us into this whole realm of values. If you include in our picture of what we, our science, and our culture are about, the quantum dimension of thinking, then you're thrust back into meaning, and the value of things, and you start raising these more fundamental questions.
And interestingly enough, even in the most conservative physics laboratories at our greatest universities, philosophy has now become a part of physics because quantum physics doesn't make a lot of sense, when it's just in terms of its equations and its predictions. It says bizarre things about the nature of reality, that people can't make sense of.
That there are relationships where there are no causes, and no forces. How can this be.
So philosophical inquiry into the meaning of this physics has in fact become a part of the evolution of the physics itself. Physicists are now having to ask, "why are we doing this? What does it mean?" What do we mean when we say, that things are waves and particles at the same time.
So philosophical questions have become very mainstream again.
Michael: I recall you mentioned David Bohm earlier. Certainly he was very much an advocate of restoring philosophy to science.
Danah: Yes, well Bohm's main thrust of his work in the last twenty years of his life was about the nature of thought. And what thought does to construct our reality, and how we have a limited picture of thought we distort the reality that we then create.
And his main message was, let's go back and look at the nature of thought, and get back to the source of thought. Hence his fascination with dialog as a process for getting to the ground-state of thought. Now if you put that together with the quantum nature of mind, I think you get a very powerful package of where you can see what thought is, where thought originates and why, becoming aware of our thinking processes we actually do literally change the world.
There's a story I'd like to tell, about this quantum physics. Actually I think it's a pretty good story.
Quantum physics is quite old, it was invented at the beginning of this (20th) century, and formalized in the 1920s, so it's about 70 years old. And yet it is called the new physics, and the reason it's called the new physics is that it's only in just now beginning to be understood, that it has vast implications for the way we perceive the world.
People used it, but they didn't understand it.
And the story I want to tell, was told by Niels Bohr, who was one of the founding fathers of quantum physics.
And he didn't understand quantum physics. And he used to tell this story to show how he and his other physicists didn't understand what they'd done.
The story was there was a Talmudic student, who went to 3 lectures by a famous rabbi, and he was so excited by these lectures. He wanted to tell his students about them afterward.
He said "the first lecture, oh it was brilliant, I understood everything.
"The second lecture though, it was even better. Very subtle, very profound, and I didn't understand it at all. But the Rabbi understood everything.
"But the third lecture, oh how can I describe the third lecture. It had such an effect on me. The third lecture was so good even the Rabbi didn't understand it."
And Bohr said he and his fellow scientists were like the Rabbi in the story. They had invented this fantastic new science, but they didn't understand it, nor would they ever.
And it's been sort of discussed quite a bit in the philosophy of science, that when you have a paradigm shift in science, it's only when a new generation of scientists comes along that they can understand the profound philosophical foundations of this paradigm shift. That the old scientists never really understand it.
And I think this is the exciting point we've reached in culture today. We're beginning to understand the foundations of what's happened in science nearly 70 years ago. It's beginning to seep down into the culture and we're beginning to see the philosophical implications of it.
Michael: Interestingly enough, we look around the institutions in our society, many of which are in decay and decline. We can see they've all been functioning under the Newtonian view of the world, the either/or dichotomy, and it will take the quantum model operating within those institutions to revitalize them, or to change them, or to eliminate them and create new ones.
Danah: Yes, I mean one of the jobs that I do on the side is that I actually work as a management consultant, talking about these quantum ideas to companies because Western companies are very involved with working with Eastern companies now, but they don't understand the Eastern mindset at all.
And if you tell a Western company "you got to become more Japanese", the Western manager will get his back up and say "Don't tell me to be Japanese, I'm an American, or I'm a German, "
But if you teach them about the thinking in the new physics, the thinking in the new physics which is both/and, instead of either/or, the thinking which is about possibilities and relationships as opposed to, sort of isolating phenomena and hierarchies and things like that you give our Western managers a glimpse into another whole way of thinking that is very much more like Eastern mind in the first place. So it achieves two things. It first of all changes the mindset of Western companies, and secondly, it gives them a kind of cultural bridge to their colleagues in the East.
I also in Oxford teach these ideas to architecture students at my university because again, architects are looking for some new model of reality, their architecture like so many things has been very Newtonian for a long time. The whole modernist movement in architecture was how to replicate Newton's ideas in concrete.
And they're looking for a new vision now and if you teach them about quantum thinking, and quantum reality and quantum concepts, it gives them a whole new way to look at their world and it brings about a paradigm shift.
Michael: Going to back to David Bohm for a moment, one of his visions was that he used the holographic model as a way of explaining his implicate and explicate order. What do you think of the holographic model of the universe as a way to portray the quantum model.
Danah: The holographic model is fine, though as it's been developed it doesn't still say how this hologram is conscious, so it's still missing the dimension of saying well these quantum processes are actually in the brain, and how consciousness can emerge out of these processes.
But as a model I think it's very profound because it has this holistic picture of how everything in consciousness is related to everything else and Bohm's implicate order actually is essentially the quantum vacuum,
The implicate which we then draw out from, we sort of constantly extract meaning, we constantly extract reality from this pond of potentiality is his implicate order, and the explicate order is the world that we create through thought, through action, through our living.
And this implicate order, as Bohm said, is a constantly unfolding reality. There is no limit to it. But we in the quantum vision of this, become the agents of this unfolding.
Michael: I recall Stephen Hawking suggesting that one day physicists would determine all the formulae that are possible, and then they would possibly understand the mind of God. What about that view?
Danah: Well first of all, complexity theory and quantum theory both imply that there is no final view. I mean the universe is constantly unfolding and we aren't going to reach an Omega point, where suddenly scientists or anybody else has got the whole story. The story is constantly changing.
Quantum physics one day will be looked back upon, I'm sure, as a part of the truth. Already we know there are problems in quantum physics that can't be the last word. This theory of everything that scientists seek is kind of like the holy grail, I think, it keeps them motivated. But I personally don't think they'll ever get there.
As for the mind of God, I feel that if you think about the nature of the relation between human consciousness and the quantum vacuum, you see that we are thoughts in the mind of God, so knowing ourselves is knowing the mind of God as closely as we ever will. But none of us will ever fully know the mind of God because the mind of God is like the Buddhist void, or the quantum vacuum beyond our reach. All we can ever know was a face of it, or many faces if we work hard to immerse ourselves in complexity and diversity, but we're constantly striving to know the mind of God.
You know the Jewish mystic Abraham Heschel said that he thought the most profound way to worship God was through questions, rather than through answers, and this physics is a bit like that. We are constantly seeking and that's the adventure - the seeking.
The traveling, not the arriving.
Michael, Yes, the questions we ask, rather than the answers we seek.
Danah: Exactly, which ties up with dialogue actually, which is one of the reasons Bohm was fascinated by dialogue, because a form conversation that's about learning to raise questions. Whereas the old western debate was about bouncing answers off each other: "I have this point of view, you have that point of view, which of us is right."
Dialogue is about what questions can I ask, what questions can you ask, how can our questions bring a new emergent reality to life that neither of us had thought about. So the whole emphasis now is on the value of asking the right questions, not finding the right answers.
Michael: Were we to bring this reality to politics.
Danah: Or to business.
Michael: I'm speaking with Danah Zohar .....
Michael: Danah, in the Quantum Society you laid out a number of visions that you had for what a quantum society would be like and what it would encompass in the way of how the society functioned and how it interacted with itself and how individuals interacted with one another, and certainly one of the visions was a holistic view that the quantum society would be holistic.
Danah: Yes, well I mean, as I said earlier in our conversation today, Western society, particularly for the last 2,000 years has been modeled on the sort of separate bits of society.
Society consists of the individuals who make it up. This became very strong in Newtonian physics and in Newtonian physics influence on social and political thinking in our culture.
John Locke, the philosopher of individualism in the West, described himself as a mere under-laborer to the incomparable Mr Newton and he saw individuals as the components of society. He didn't think there was a society over and above its individuals.
Now this has reached pretty much its end in our global culture. We can't any longer function as interlocking bits of isolated matter, as it were, we're too much impinging on each other. We need a whole new model of ourselves which can account for, in a positive way, how it is that we impinge on each other. How it is that we really are, literally deeply an interwoven community.
Michael: We have to go beyond the individual-collective dichotomy.
Danah: Absolutely. We've been bouncing back and forth between the two for the last 150 years. I mean Marxism was an attempt to get beyond the sort of individualist ethic, and say "well it's not individuals that are real, it's society that's real. It's the collective that counts."
And we just bounce back and forth between the extremes.
The quantum view of wave-particle where we are both individual particle-like things, and have a wave-like front that reaches out and interweaves with the rest of reality, shows us it's a both/and situation. We are individuals, but we are also members of a further community or society and many of our characteristics come from that relationship to others within our society.
So we need the other. We need the other's differences fully to be ourselves.
Michael: One of the aspects which I thought was very provocative in the Quantum Society, was the aspect of living at the edge. Could you talk about living at the edge.
Danah: Yes, well the edge itself is a concept that comes to us from chaos theory. In chaos theory the edge is defined as the boundary between order and chaos.
Now in our own lives we experience order as a kind of smug acceptance of the given. We take in what we're taught as children, we accept that as true, we take in the traditions of our culture, we accept them as valid, we live within a given reality.
Chaos, we experience as total confusion, disorientation, despair, because none of that makes sense to us.
Now I'm not advocating either the given nor the chaos, we can't live in chaos nor is it creative to live within the given. In these chaotic systems, creativity happens at the edge, it happens at the boundary between order and chaos, when we're poised between the two.
Now in our own lives the edge is where we are at a point of constantly reinventing our tradition. Constantly reinventing our culture, constantly questioning our assumptions, not letting go of them, not letting go of value, not letting go commitment, and conviction, but all the time being aware that my values, my convictions, my commitments, are one possible way, constantly questioning them. Are they a valid way? Is there a better way?
Reinventing, and then we too live at the creative edge.
Now, the thing in my work that points to this is the human brain also lives at the edge. Consciousness is what physicists call a self-organizing system. It takes the disparate elements of the environment, the sort of data of sensory experience and the data of our relational experience and it binds these, into a unity, a pattern.
Consciousness is, physically speaking, a pattern-making process.
But consciousness is at the edge in our brains. If we live only in terms of patterns that we have made in the past, we live a habit-bound life, and we're not creative anymore. We all know people, we all know aspects of ourselves that live entirely in terms of habit. And you can go round like a robot, if you're habit bound. You don't have to think about anything. You just keep doing what you did in the past. So you cease to be creative.
Consciousness is creative because when we come up against new challenges, new relationships, new problems, because consciousness is at the edge it resets its whole sort of agenda. It makes a new pattern, and it can constantly keep doing that. This is where we're creative, and computers aren't. Computers don't live at the edge, they live within their programs.
We don't live within our programs. We're constantly reinventing our programs.
Michael: The important thing is not to get stuck.
Danah: Not to get stuck, that's right, yes.
Michael: There was something John Lilly said, is that when you're coming down off the mountain and you're racing down to the bottom of the valley, it's important to not put on the brakes. Don't put on the brakes.
Danah: This is for ... I think one has to be sensitive to the fact that for many people this is terrifying. To live with the possibility that your beliefs and your values are not the last word, are not certain, are not proven, and not lose your balance, is very difficult, and this edge is about poise.
I think of the image of the tight-roper, in Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra, the tight-roper is walker across a rope stretched between the towers of certainty.
Now in that book the he does fall off. The tight-roper falls off the edge into the abyss.
My work is about how can we keep on that tightrope, without falling off.
And I say that the ultimate answer is to remember and become aware of our source, and the fundamental ground of things. To remember who we are, that we are plugged into the fundamental ground of reality.
So we have a kind of compass. But it's an at-the-edge compass, because we're constantly reinventing our relationship to the source. That's what we're here as conscious beings to do.
Michael: Another aspect of the Quantum Society that you wrote about was, certainly we seem them emerging in the global society, that is the engagement with pluralism and the celebration of diversity.
Danah: Yes, well this comes back very much to this thing we were talking about, about the relationship to the other and in the quantum view that there are no others, and that the vacuum which we all represent is a sea of infinite potential.
Now I as an individual can't express all of my potential. I mean we all know this, this is one of the tragedies of human life, we can only express so much potential now matter how creatively we live.
But you, and the way you live your life, is one of my unexpressed potentials. The Mexican waiter down there at the restaurant I ate my supper at last night is another of my unexpressed potentials. The Chinese cab driver in the downtown streets of San Francisco is another of my unexpressed potentials. Now I need those people to be different from me, if they're to express potentials I haven't expressed.
So pluralism becomes a very positive thing, where I don't just tolerate the diversity of others, I don't tolerate their differences, I actually welcome it, I thrive on it because the others difference is an unexpressed potentiality within myself.
Michael: It's like honoring the naysayer in a collective group, or a group situation, as representing that naysayer in each of us, and to honor that negative comment, because it's something that we need to explore and to recognize and realize it's there.
Danah: Absolutely, yes.
Michael: and not putting it down and saying "oh well, you know you don't agree with the rest of us"
Danah: Yes, with this rather Newtonian, atomistic view that the other is wholly other than myself and that his differences are something that threatens me, we actually deny ourselves a great deal of the richness and diversity of our own experience, because we only can get to that richness and diversity through the expression of others, since each one of us is limited in how much we can express.
Michael: In some ways the other mirrors us back to ourselves.
Danah: Yes, that's right, yes. It shows us the potentiality that we haven't fully realized, and we may develop that one.
Michael: and we don't want to get caught in the comparison game either, in that process.
Danah: No I don't think one should compare. I mean these things are all valid, all unique, all valuable.
Michael: So what do you think, where's the quantum view going to take us. Where's the quantum world view, the quantum model going to take us?
Danah: First of all I hope that it will make us aware of who we are. That's the stage one: to become aware of what we are, who we are, where we come from, what our origins are, how much we're alike other processes in the universe. The role we play in the unfolding of the processes.
The second stage then is to take that beyond into the stage of transformation. Once we become aware of who we are, we come into our inheritance as conscious beings.
And the next stage then is to then use that to transform ourselves and to transform the world. We are here as the batteries as it were of transformation, and we can only do that if we realize that about ourselves, and fully seize our inheritance.
Michael: Danah thanks for being with us today.
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