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Thread: Buddhist Teachings on Emptiness Solve the Mystery of Quantum Physics

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    Buddhist Teachings on Emptiness Solve the Mystery of Quantum Physics

    I have recently written a new paper that shows how the Buddhist teachings on emptiness can solve the mystery of quantum mechanics. The paper is called “A Direct Experiential Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics” and it can be found at Note that this paper is written specifically for the non-physicist and does not use any mathematics.

    What is significant about this solution to the mystery of quantum physics is that it is a direct interpretation of the formulation of quantum mechanics, and does not require the insertion of additional ad hoc hypothetical conditions to the main formulation. These additional ad hoc conditions—like infinite parallel universes, hidden variables, a microscopic-macroscopic divide, spontaneous collapse of the wave function, and so on—plague almost all other attempted interpretations of quantum mechanics, and they are generally inserted, by hand, in order to force the formulation of quantum mechanics to fit into some preconceived notion of what our reality should be like. And yet, even with these ad hoc additions, there remain unresolved conceptual problems in these other interpretations of quantum mechanics.

    These hypothetical ad hoc conditions are not required in a direct experiential interpretation of quantum mechanics. All that is required is an acceptance of the fact that our science is a science of our experience, and an acceptance that the conscious observer necessarily has a role to play. What this direct experiential interpretation of quantum mechanics tells us about our reality is that there is actually no mind-matter dichotomy, and that, instead, the Buddhist teachings on emptiness are correct.

    A significant effect of this direct interpretation of quantum mechanics is that it again proves Ajahn Brahm correct regarding the central role of consciousness in our reality. Ajahn Brahm is absolutely right in saying that “we must abandon the superstition of materialism.” (See

    To emphasize this point, I shall reproduce, here, the section of my paper that directly deals with this “superstition of materialism,” a section entitled “The Case Against Materialism”:

    The Case Against Materialism

    The case against pure materialism, and against the claim that consciousness must be derived from matter, is actually very strong. In the first place, there is no actual scientific evidence that consciousness arises from matter. All we have is evidence that the content of consciousness is linked in some way to the functioning of the physical brain, but that hardly amounts to concrete scientific evidence that the material brain must be the source of consciousness. A link between two things does not necessarily imply that one created the other.

    Such a rash conclusion would perhaps be akin to the thinking of a primitive man should he stumble upon a modern television set. This primitive man, who has never encountered a television set before, notices that the picture on the monitor is linked to the control panel on the television. When he fiddles with this control panel, the picture on the screen changes, in the same way that we notice our consciousness being affected by any change or damage to our physical brain. However, if we then insist that this is proof that consciousness must be derived from the physical brain, that would be akin to the primitive man insisting that the picture on the monitor must be derived from the physical parts of the control panel itself. That would be totally illogical and unscientific. That is why we actually have no concrete scientific evidence that consciousness is derived from matter.

    The very insistence that consciousness is derived from matter is, in fact, a curiosity in itself. This is because we have no conceivable idea how such a thing can be possible. In most cases of scientific ignorance concerning the cause of a phenomenon, what we do not know is which one of a whole range of possible causes is the correct one. This is definitely not the case with regards to how consciousness may be derived from matter. Here, we do not know of even a single mechanism how consciousness can possibly arise from matter! That is why philosopher David Chalmers calls this problem the “hard problem.” This fact alone makes it curious why so many scientists dogmatically insist that consciousness must, somehow or other, be derived from matter!

    Now we have yet another strong reason to doubt this dogmatic claim that consciousness must be derived from matter, and that comes from the very formulation of quantum mechanics. Right from the onset we can see that quantum mechanics pivots around the observer. The formulation provides rules for what the conscious observer finds and not rules for the behaviour of matter directly.

    A direct experiential interpretation of quantum mechanics, without ad hoc additions, inserted by hand, tells us that, in fact, particles are dependently originated. Crucially, this dependent arising of the object requires the act of measurement or observation by the conscious observer. Using Heisenberg’s terminology, we can say that physical particles only make the transition from the ‘possible’ to the ‘actual’ upon the act of measurement by the observer. How then can the reverse also be possible? In other words, how then can physical particles also be considered to be the cause of the mind of the observer? It would be like claiming that we can lift ourselves up from the ground by pulling on our own bootstraps. This is the fundamental incompatibility, and it needs to be recognized.

    In other words, mind and consciousness cannot be derived purely from matter. It is quantum mechanics that tells us that this is impossible, since there is no inherently existing elementary particle that is not dependently arisen. And given that one of the factors required for its dependent arising as an actual particle is the mind that apprehends it, how can this entity, or collection of such entities, be what the mind is purely derived from, in the first place? That would be totally illogical.

    It is the denial of this fact that consciousness cannot be purely derived from matter—a fact that is inherent in the very formulation of quantum mechanics—that has led to all sorts of ad hoc additions, inserted by hand, in order to try to make the original formulation somehow fit into some hypothetical scheme that negates the observer. The large number of repeated attempts at reaching a logically consistent interpretation of quantum mechanics, through ad hoc additions—like infinite parallel universes, hidden variables, spontaneous wave function collapses, collapses due to consistent histories, and so on—are essentially attempts at salvaging the idea of materialism. The fact that all these attempts have still not succeeded, after more than a century of persistent attempts at getting rid of the observer, is very telling!

    Should physicists continue with this endeavour to remove the observer from quantum mechanics? Apart from not adopting the principle of Occam’s razor, there is, of course, no problem with trying, if one so wishes. Still, it is perhaps time to recognize that such attempts may be futile. This is because the very formulation of quantum mechanics revolves around the observer.

    As mentioned, quantum mechanics does not directly provide rules for the behaviour of particles per se. Quantum mechanics, instead, only provides rules for the results of measurements by the observer. So all these persistent attempts at trying to get rid of the conscious observer, from quantum mechanics, may be destined to fail, simply because the observer is an intrinsic part of the quantum mechanics formulation. There is no point in denying this fact just to cling on to materialism. In other words, quantum mechanics is directly pointing to the fact that materialism is probably an incorrect idea.

    Given that the theory of relativity is also telling us that our science is actually a science of our experience, and not a science of the material world “out there” independent of us as observers, it is surely reasonable now to end our dogmatic insistence that consciousness is derived from matter. At the very least, as scientists, we need to admit that we actually do not know that consciousness is derived purely from matter.
    Last edited by Kenneth Chan; 5th-March-2017 at 04:09 AM.

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