Mysticism in physics

David Lewis in ‘The physicist as mystic’ in Forbidden History’ edited by Douglas Kenyon mentions the questions we have all asked about the universe. ‘A child staring at the clear night sky beholds the wonder of the universe and its mystery. How … can the starry expanse go on and on, never ending? For, if it were to end … there would always be something beyond. And then what about the beginning, and before that, and so on?’

He then tells us what we have been taught. ‘Western scientists have told us that matter gave way to reality, to life, that reality is concrete, which is to say finite … … ‘

He then introduces us to the mystique of physics. He tells us about Einstein. ‘Early in the twentieth century, Albert Einstein amazed the world with his discoveries in the world of astrophysics. With his general theory of relativity, he opened the doors of science to the M-word – Mysticism. He told us that space and time are intertwined, relative co-ordinates in reality that make up the space-time continuum. He also suggested that matter is inseparable from an ever-present quantum energy field, that it is a condensation of that field, and that this ineffable field is the sole reality underlying all appearances.

An ’energy field’? Condensation into matter! Conceivable by ordinary brains?

Then comes quantum theory. ‘Quantum theory evolved beyond Einstein’s landmark discoveries. Physicists, in their quest to define matter’s essential properties, found that the most minute particles in the universe, protons, electrons, photons, and so on – the very fabric of the material universe – transcend three-dimensional reality.’ ‘Electrons … as particles, behave like a large visible object, a baseball … As waves, though, electrons mysteriously shape-shift into vast energy clouds …’

This is confusing! Can an electron be part of an energy field stretching across space, and yet carry its function within an atom? Whether or not an observer determines the nature of a subatomic particle (as suggested by yet another theory), my question yet applies.

David Bohm then claims that electrons are part of an inter-connected whole. ‘In his plasma experiments … Bohm found that individual electrons act as part of an inter-connected whole.’

‘In plasma, a gas compound of electrons and positive ions in high concentration, electrons more or less assume the nature of a self-regulating organism, as if they were inherently intelligent. Bohm found, to his amazement, that the subatomic sea was conscious.’

Where operates this ‘sea’? How is consciousness identified? Can consciousness exist outside a form of life? Or, is this consciousness any different from the aether imputed to be the substrate of all existence?

Curioser and curioser, as someone once said.

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