When spirituality and physics started to be linked, many scientists called it the use of metaphor. It couldn’t literally be true that there was a Tao of Physics that linked quantum mechanics to ancient Chinese philosophy. At best there might be a weak link–God and the new physics–the way one might say God and DNA. With a little imagination, the two could be joined, but there was no possibility that God could intrude into hard science. There might be a gene for faith (so the speculation went), yet physics is couched almost purely in the language of mathematics, and no matter how you cut it, God isn’t numbers.
In the past decade the picture has radically altered. It’s no longer a matter of metaphors. Some problems in physics are beyond mathematics–the universe is no longer a numbers game, either. If that’s true, then God and the cosmos stand on a level playing field. The day may not be far off when God is the new physics. For that day to arrive, both sides of the traditional religion versus science stand-off must change their value systems and beliefs.
Religion must step down from fixed dogmatic views that long ago were shattered by science, such as the creation myth in Genesis. Images of God must be jettisoned next, since a bearded patriarch sitting above the clouds has never been anything but a metaphor. Finally, and hardest of all, religion must abandon its claim to the supernatural. As long as there is one reality for science (Nature) and another for religion (the mystical supernatural), a unified understanding of reality will be unreachable.
Science has cherished beliefs it must give up also. The first is exactly the same as for religion. The belief that all spiritual experience is supernatural and therefore invalid prevents a full understanding of the universe and our place in it. The division between objective and subjective, along with rational versus irrational, must be abandoned, because it’s a false duality. All experience is subjective, including the experience of doing science.
Having gotten this far, as quite a number of spiritual seekers and scientists both have, there is a goal that unifies the two sides even further. This is the search for a single explanation that encompasses reality as a whole. Physics realizes that Nature can’t be comprehended within the accepted bubble of time and space. Too many advanced theories (such as superstrings, the multiverse, and eternal inflation) point toward ultimate answers lying beyond the quantum horizon. At the same time, religion can’t convince us that rationality is the enemy of faith. God must be subject to rational understanding just as much as quarks and the Higgs boson.
If the two camps agree that a unified understanding of reality is their shared goal, only two possibilities exist. Either the unified theory is materialist or it isn’t. If it’s materialist, which is the preferred route for 99% of scientists, we have a long, long wait ahead of us. Materialism promises to explain how life began, the relationship between mind and matter, the origin of consciousness, where thoughts come from, how memory works, and the process whereby the firing of neurons in the brain creates the three-dimensional world, even though the basic elements of that world (sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell) quite obviously don’t exist in or among neurons.
Despite the self-evident failure of materialism, belief systems have a way of holding on for many decades past their expiration date, and there is stubborn resistance in science to any other mode of explanation beyond the tried and true. Do neurologists really believe that by jiggling brain chemicals one arrives at Shakespeare and Mozart? Yes. Do cosmologists believe that they can delve into the pre-created domain before the Big Bang, even though the human brain is obviously bound to linear time and finite space? Yes. These and other false trails are likely to seduce investigators for awhile.
But a loose cadre of scientists, seekers, philosophers, and open-minded thinkers have already arrived at an agreement that a unified understanding of reality will never be materialist (or physicalist, to use the preferred term). What will work instead? Something else. The best candidate for “something else” is consciousness, but that’s not really an answer so much as an open door. How to explore consciousness using a method as valid as the current scientific method raises all kinds of contentious issues. It is almost as difficult to explain how mind turned into matter as how matter turned into mind.
Yet in that “almost” lies the edge of the wedge. If you take all the toughest questions and filter them through a consciousness-based universe, the answers are at times inconceivable, but there’s one great advantage over materialism. In a purely physical cosmos, the most difficult questions lead to answers that make no sense whatever. Molecules can’t think, end of story. Therefore, if there is a cosmic intelligence that exists beyond time and space, which under the old terminology was called God, it is the most likely basis for the universe and our place in it. God is the new physics, because every other alternative has either failed or is getting ready to.
Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 80 books with twenty-two New York Times bestsellers. He serves as the founder of The Chopra Foundation and co-founder of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing. His latest book is The Future of God