FMBR Editorial: May, 1988
Science and Inner Knowing, Parts I - IV
William C. Gough
The Foundation's theme for this year is Science and Inner Knowing. Inner knowing is that sense of a direct contact with the ultimate reality which has been the realm of sages and mystics over the centuries. There is hope that there may be a bridge between these two very different approaches to understanding reality. A parallel principle drives both science and mysticism. Both hold the assumption that unity lies at the heart of our universe and that it can be discovered and experienced by man. This principal may be so powerful that it will eventually overcome their many differences.
Under the name of "science" there exist a number of views of reality. Not all are capable of building this bridge. We will not consider the traditional mechanistic model (Newtonian) in which the universe is likened to a machine designed by God. Nor will we consider the evolutionary model of Darwin which says we don't need the designer since everything can happen by chance through natural selection. We will focus upon modern science whose goal is to seek meaningful patterns of relationships that lead to a Grand Unified Theory of the universe.
The scientist relies upon the rigorous and formalized methodology of mathematics to seek the goal of unity. The sages and mystics use the methodology of meditation. To them the laboratory within is as real and familiar as the physical laboratory is to the scientists. Out of their inner search has come a unity model often called the Perennial Wisdom. This consists of certain universal insights that seem to have been passed on and continually rediscovered since the dawn of history. Its teachings underlie every faith by which we live. The oldest known variant of this hidden wisdom is shamanism - a 50,000 year old pragmatic system of working at higher level realities using mind-body techniques that are passed on through direct experiential training.
A key impediment for developing a bridge between science and the view of the Perennial Wisdom may be our ignorance about infinity. The mathematician, Georg Cantor, was able to show that there are degrees of infinity. There are physical and mathematical infinities that are infinite, but none the less conceivable and there must also be an Absolute Infinity which is beyond anything we can conceive. This is the metaphysical infinite - that sea of infinite energy/light -- the Absolute, God, the Cosmos, the Mind, or the Void.
In Part II we will note some of the ways physicists have avoided confronting infinity and review recent theories that attempt to address these limitations. The result is some interesting concepts leading to interpretations of physics that are controversial but appear to be in harmony with the Perennial Wisdom of the ancient sages and mystics.
William Gough, October 1987
Science and Inner Knowing, Part II
In Part I we explored two different approaches to understanding reality -- the sages and mystics' inner knowing of "the unity" achieved through meditative experience and the modern scientists hope through mathematics and experimental verification to demonstrate an underlying unity in the universe. We suggested that a key impediment to developing a bridge between these two approaches may be our understanding of infinity.
To appreciate the impact of our current treatment of infinities in modern physics let us first review what we know about physical matter and space. In principle, a region of space can be emptied of ordinary matter. However in the modern scientific view such a region of vacuum is far from being empty -- it remains filled with electromagnetic fields of energy. Even if the vacuum temperature could be reduced to absolute zero which would remove the thermal (heat) energy, there remains another component of the energy that has a subtler origin. It is an inherent feature of the vacuum and cannot be suppressed.
But how much energy is involved? For the electromagnetic field in "empty space," every wave has what is called a zero point energy below which it cannot go. If you were to add up all the waves in any region of "empty space" you would find they have an infinite amount of energy because an infinite number of waves are possible. However there may be some shortest possible wave length, and then both the total number of waves and thus the energy would be finite. According to general relativity, the gravitational field determines what is meant by "length." If the gravitational field is made up of quantized waves the property of measurement -length - fades out at very short distances - a billionth trillionth trillionth of a centimeter. If you compute the amount of energy that would be in "empty space", using that shortest possible wave length, then it turns out that the energy in one cubic centimeter (about the size of a bouillon cube) would be immensely beyond the total energy of all the known physical matter in the universe. Conformation of this zero point energy was obtained by a Dutch physicist M. J. Sparnaay, through a series of experiments in 1958. The observations are referred to as the "Casimir Effect" since the experiments were based upon a 1948 proposal by B. G. Casimir of the Philips Research Laboratories.
The implications that "empty space" has all this energy are profound. Matter may be only a ripple on this tremendous ocean of energy in which it manifests and has some stability. We know that matter is made up mostly of empty space, and that many kinds of "particles" easily pass through "solid matter." Even the particles themselves according to quantum theory must be conceived of as concentrations of a universal field made up of waves of many kinds. Thus what we call "real things" may be tiny ripples whose meaning requires us to understand the ocean that underlies the ripples.
Most of contemporary physics ignores this ocean of energy. To modern physics, mathematics is truth about matter and the equations are the source of this truth. To develop equations that theorists can calculate and the experimentalists can measure, the theories are purged of infinities. Physicists refer to this neutralization of infinity as "renormalization." For example, an electron produces an electric field whose intensity increases as the particle is approached. At the exact location of the electron, the distance is zero; thus the field's intensity is infinite, which implies an infinite amount of energy and hence mass. Quantum electrodynamic (QED) theory explains this away by assuming that each electron is surrounded by a swarm of "virtual" particles whose effect is to neutralize essentially all of the infinite mass/energy. By definition, virtual particles are invisible; only their effects are apparent in the physical world. One mystery, infinity, has been replaced by another mystery, virtual particles. Similar approaches have been used to purge infinities from the theories for the electroweak and strong forces that are key parts of todays Standard Model of particle physics.
Thus the reality of "empty space" with its vast energy is in effect subtracted off. What is left are the particles - the ripples on the ocean - and a system for computing and getting empirical results about them. Part III will explore attempts by a few scientists to develop an understanding of the underlying ocean. This is where I believe the bridge between science and the inner knowing of "the unity" will emerge.
William Gough, January 1988
Science and Inner Knowing, Part III
As we explore "science and inner knowing", it may be helpful to observe that Zen masters speak of two ways of knowing reality. The first, prajma, is intuitive, immediate knowledge of the world -- a mystical grasping of the world in its unity. This type of knowledge avoids distinguishing between the knower and the known, the subject and object. The second, vijnana, is discursive, analytical knowledge of the world - i.e., rational thought. This type of knowledge can be written down and learned. Both types of knowledge are real, and both are important. Thus when I talk of bridges between science and inner knowing, it is about this second type of knowledge, vijnana - the possible convergence of the mathematical maps of science and the verbal descriptions of sages of a mental/spiritual territory that can only be experienced in ways that neither map can ever express.
In Part II we discussed a scientific map of reality in which matter was viewed as only a ripple on a tremendous ocean of energy in which it manifests and has some stability. The existence of this "infinite" sea of energy has been demonstrated and is known as the Casimer Effect; but is there any evidence that physical matter couples into this vast sea of energy? There may be, based upon a recent Physical Review paper by Dr. Harold Puthoff. His work addressed a question that has puzzled theorists. Why don't the negatively charged electrons which are radiating their energy away as they rapidly circle the nucleus in their tightly-curved orbits eventually spiral into the positively charged nucleus since opposite charges attract? Dr. Puthoff used the analysis techniques of stochastic electrodynamics (SED), which treat quantum field-particle interactions on the basis of classical concepts. He shows that the electron in the so-called ground state (lowest-energy state) of the hydrogen atom indeed does continually radiate its energy away as predicted by classical theory, but it also absorbs energy from the ever-present sea of zero-point energy is which the atom is immersed. The conclusion is that the very stability of matter depends upon this underlying sea of energy of almost inconceivable magnitude.
In Part IV we will look at quantum mechanics and the thinking of Dr. David Bohm, a physicist who has been a leader in efforts to broaden its interpretation. Since Bohm views the upper dimensional space as a field of information, his approach could emerge as a bridge for mapping "inner knowing." However, we should recognize that even after sixty years of schooling in quantum mechanics, physicists typically have a very non-quantum-mechanical notion of reality at the macroscopic level, i.e. the level of typical physical objects. Nevertheless the question of quantum mechanics at the macroscopic level is now actively being debated. Experiments have been proposed and performed on the magnetic flux through a superconducting ring that indicate the presence of a quantum-mechanical feature in a macroscopic system.
William Gough, March 1988
Science and Inner Knowing, Part IV
In Parts II and III, we discussed the current theory of vacuum fluctuations -- the idea that even in an ideal vacuum, there is "zero point" energy of essentially infinite proportions. Although we do not perceive this energy, ordinary events of our physical experience ride on top of it like waves on an ocean. There are physicists who believe this picture is real and think that the underlying structure or "ocean" largely shapes the peculiar phenomena that we know as quantum mechanics.
One important figure seeking to interpret the meaning of these vacuum fluctuations is Dr. David Bohm. To him, the content of what we call "empty space" is very real. According to Bohm, the immense energy of the vacuum fluctuations provide the environment, or ground, for our "ordinary" world. Bohm calls this background "light" since it "illuminates" the phenomena of our world. The three-dimensional world of objects, space and time he calls the "explicate" order. Its source is in the multi- dimensional space - the "implicate" and "super implicate" orders - that provide the all-encompassing background to our experience; physical, psychological, and spiritual. To Bohm the physical meaning of this multi-dimensional space is a field of information.
To discuss information, he asserts that we must consider meaning. Meaning, in turn, cannot ever be fully defined in a way that is independent of context. In this sense, meaning comes close to, and perhaps is, a definition of consciousness, though not necessarily self-aware consciousness. It provides a link between the physical and mental, and perhaps between those levels and the spiritual. Or maybe the latter connection is provided by the super-implicate order, again as a field of information. Or by the whole set of higher orders, taken as a multi-dimensional manifold of information and meaning. Dr. Bohm believes this informational field actively organizes itself yielding a self-organizing "thinking" universe.
For Bohm the content of "empty space" is thus more than "zero point energy." It is "light" which he considers not only energy but also information, i.e., the content, form and structure necessary to create meaning from that which is apprehended. "Light" is the means by which the entire universe unfolds into itself. "Light" exists - it just simply is and transcends the present structure of time and space. It forms the unity or background whose information content has the capacity for immense diversity. All matter is a condensation of "light" into patterns that move back and forth at average speeds which are less than the speed of light. Matter can be considered frozen "light."
The theory of quantum physics developed by Dr. Bohm treats the totality of existence, including matter and consciousness, as an unbroken whole. Thus science is now exploring theories that incorporate the infinite ocean of energy/information/light in which our material reality may be but a ripple upon its surface. Bohm recognizes the link between his ideas and inner knowing. He says: "People who tap into that realm of "light" feel a rare peace and happiness because the mind may have a structure similar to the universe ..." In these ideas of a major thinker on the leading edge of modern scientific thought, we may have the beginning of a true bridge between the mystic with his tools of introspection and meditation, and the scientist with his objectivity, his instruments, and his mathematics. Perhaps there really is hope for a bridge that can make accessible the mysteries of both.
William Gough, April 1988