By Deepak Chopra, M.D., FACP, Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard University, and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, FRCP, Professor of Psychiatry, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina, Menas C. Kafatos, Ph.D., Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics, Director, Center of Excellence, Chapman University
We all take the physical world for granted, with no doubt that it will still be here when we wake up tomorrow morning. But in fact the subatomic particles that construct the physical world aren’t “here” when they assume the state of a wave, and it appears that 96% of the universe is “dark” matter and energy. “Dark” may mean unknowable, since we seem to be talking about matter not based on atoms and energy not based on quantum interactions like electromagnetism.
In the first post we addressed the fact that the source of reality cannot be physical. In fact, it is almost certain to be inconceivable. Our brains are constructs of billions of years of hardware-building, known as evolution. Even if you accept that the brain is a quantum device (please see our first post for an explanation of this notion), what the quanta spit out are thoughts, wishes, hopes, fears, dreams –and science. A seemingly random jumble of processes happening at the very boundary of time and space gives birth to experience. Quarks are allowed to be “spooky,” as quantum physics declares, but not your car, orange juice, and armchair. The physical world, and how we think about it, is limited by time and space. They are the foundation of our home. Asking the brain to understand where reality comes from is like asking a robot to dismantle itself to find out what it’s made of – you won’t have a machine after the dismantling is done, and therefore no answer.
Yet even if the source of reality is inconceivable, the uncanny match between your brain and the world “out there” cannot be doubted. Very well known is how the ring-like structure of benzene was discovered in a dream by Friedrich August Kekulé. More obscure is the fact that using no scientific data, the ancient sages of India made remarkable calculations recorded in the Puranas regarding the age of the universe and the distance to the Sun, to name two out of many. In the Western ancient world, Archimedes made an amazing calculation about the universe’s size in the “Sand Reckoner,” asking how many grains of sand it would take to fill the Greek Kosmos. He had to invent a new number system, since the ancient Greek system was woefully inadequate. When you convert the number of grains of sand that Archimedes found to protons, you come up with the actual number of particles in the universe, known as Eddington’s number. A “coincidence”?
Someone may object, claiming that the physical behavior we are describing is just “self-similarity,” a set of resemblances (the way the spiral shape of a chambered nautilus’s shell resembles the spiral made by the seeds in the center of a sunflower) that can be predicted by a mathematical model like non-linear dynamics (by which one can generate helixes, or spirals, in any system). But that objection already assumes that there is an interconnection between the very large and the very small, up and down at all levels. Also, insights into Nature that came about using the mind alone are hard to comprehend unless there is a cosmic interconnectedness between all things.
The easiest hypothesis is that comparing hardware to hardware and software to software, the human brain is the universe. What made this proposition seem like nonsense in the past doesn’t hold much water anymore. Science used to be fooled by dimension: the brain is small, the universe very large. But that’s like saying that a mountain of chocolate must be different from a Hershey’s kiss just because it’s bigger. The same chocolate unites both; the same behavior of systems unites brain and cosmos. Science was also confirmed in certain prejudices from lack of knowledge. Now, with the sophistication of biology and physics reaching unprecedented levels, we know enough about a cell, an atom, a planet, and a galaxy to see more similarities than differences.
In a word, calling the human brain “the three-pound universe” is no longer a metaphor.
It is perhaps the case that the universe speaks to thinkers at all ages. The voice we hear in our heads sounds human, but why shouldn’t it? All experience is human, and the ultimate translator is the brain, which mysteriously translates raw data from the outside world, which have no color, sound, or texture, into the vivid mental picture we recognize as the “real” world. In truth, the only real world is tangled somewhere in the process of translation.
The brain has been assigned to create reality, and it’s frustrating that we, who use and instruct our brains, can’t figure out how the thing is done. As photons in space, sunlight has no brightness. The same photons have no brightness when they strike the retina and begin their journey to the visual cortex. The brain is totally dark, and yet whatever happens in the visual cortex creates the brightness of light as well as all colors and shapes, all movement, and all distinctions between trees, mountains, clouds, and every other object.
We’ve made a quantum argument for the connections that bind human existence into the life of the universe, but in the end our scheme is based on consciousness. Two theorists are asked where music comes from. One dismantles a piano, splintering it into dust and the dust into particles until he reaches the quantum domain. Aha, he says, here it is; this is where music comes from. The other theorist goes to music school, learns to play the piano, and explores the masterpieces of Bach and Mozart, back to the origins of Western music. Aha, he says; this is where music comes from. Which answer would you believe?
Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 70 books with twenty-one New York Times bestsellers and co-author with Rudolph Tanzi of Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being. (Harmony)
Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard University, and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), co author with Deepak Chopra of Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being.(Harmony)
P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, FRCP, Professor of Psychiatry, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina and a leading physician scientist in the area of mental health, cognitive neuroscience and mind-body medicine.
Menas C. Kafatos, Ph.D., Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics, Director, Center of Excellence,Chapman University, co-author with Deepak Chopra of the forthcoming book, Who Made God and Other Cosmic Riddles. (Harmony)