By Deepak Chopra, M.D., FACP and Menas Kafatos, Ph.D., Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics, Chapman University
The “God particle” seems to be well and truly with us. The award on October 3 of the Nobel Prize in physics that focused on the Higgs boson – the technical term for the God particle – capped a decades-long search that has cost billions of dollars. In the first post we discussed why the discovery of the elusive, fleeting Higgs boson is two-edged. It represents a triumph in human curiosity and our drive to understand the universe. At the same time, however, a huge stumbling block hasn’t been overcome. In fact, the Higgs boson may indicate that creation (whether God exists or not) is becoming ever more mysterious.
The mammoth collider at CERN Switzerland blasted the Higgs boson out of the invisible quantum field so that it could be observed, at the faintest level of measurement and then only for precious milliseconds. But this was enough to disclose the finest level of the subatomic realm so far known to be real. The problem with getting this close to the source of creation is that space, time, gravity, matter, and energy have become more and more ambiguous, as if the quantum revolution hadn’t already done enough in that department. With the probability that so-called “dark” matter and energy may account for 96% of the universe – along with another probability, that “dark” stuff doesn’t obey the same laws as visible mater and energy – the picture of creation is undergoing radical revision.
Stephen Hawking added to the ambiguity, in his last book, The Grand Design, by siding with those who have basically given up on a Theory of Everything and are settling for a piecemeal patchwork or mosaic of theories, each pertaining to distinct regions of creation while never being synthesized into one grand design. If God exists, the deity must be smiling. For behind the high fives and hoopla over the Higgs boson, there’s a growing doubt that we are anywhere near to understanding the nature of reality. These doubts arise from two major sources.
First, there’s broad agreement that science doesn’t comprehensively describe reality to begin with. Over a century ago the pioneers of quantum theory dismantled the common-sense notion that the world “out there” consists of hard, solid, tangible things. As one of the greatest of these pioneers, Werner Heisenberg, noted, “The atoms or elementary particles themselves are not real; they form a world of potentialities or possibilities rather than one of things or facts.” No one has ever refuted this claim, and when you add into the mixture the Uncertainty Principle, which says that quantum objects can be located only by the probability that they will appear at a certain place (only after it is observed does a particle actually settle into a measurable position), the solid, tangible world is radically undermined.
The result is one of the greatest unsolved mysteries in science: How does the shadowy, invisible quantum domain transition into the familiar, reassuring world we perceive through the five senses? Something almost inconceivable is taking place, and to parallel this mystery, there is a second one. How did atoms and molecules give rise (if they did) to the thinking brain? The glucose that feeds your brain isn’t very different from the sucrose in a sugar cube, but a sugar cube can’t read this sentence, while your brain can. The starting point for solving these two mysteries was neatly summarized by the illustrious British neurologist Sir John Eccles: “I want you to realize that there exists no color in the natural world, and no sound – nothing of this kind; no textures, no patterns, no beauty, no scent.”
Until very recently the two mysteries we’ve described (leaving out others that are more technical, such as the debate over Einstein’s cosmological constant) were essentially shrugged off by working physicists, who are content to accept the ordinary, common-sense world when they drive their cars, and who delve into the quantum domain as if it were a separate reality, which it isn’t.
The second reason that physics might be very far from understanding creation can be traced to the failure, now decades old, to mesh the two greatest achievements of twentieth-century physics – Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. It’s highly embarrassing that two such spectacular intellectual discoveries don’t agree with each other. We won’t go into the technical reasons for the disagreement. It’s enough to say that trying to make them mesh has led theorists to the very brink of creation, to the boundary in spacetime where space and time emerge from a pre-created state. (One reason for celebrating the Higgs boson is that it represents a minuscule but vital step toward the pre-created state).
So the popular sentiment that we are near the big answers to big questions is hardly shared by many theoretical physicists who know more about their own theories. There is certainly a camp that believes the only way forward is to build more powerful particle accelerators to probe finer and finer fabrics of Nature, while another camp sees a way forward beyond the Standard Model and supersymmetry, through string theory, which offers a possible mathematical mode for the pre-created state (mathematics becomes the only guide left, since imagining the quantum vacuum, which precedes time and space, is mentally impossible).
Speaking for ourselves, we side with a small but farseeing group who turn for answers to consciousness, working from an unassailable fact: Reality, as far as humans are concerned, consists of the things we experience. Even the most arcane activity of physicists – and the Higgs boson is extremely arcane – are experiences; so is mathematics – if the laws of mathematics exist outside our experience, we will never know that or be able to prove it. For decades consciousness has been dismissed by “real” scientists as simply a given. But Max Planck, the founder of quantum physics, was as real a scientist as you can get, and he said this: “I regard consciousness as fundamental. We cannot get behind consciousness. ”
This belief that mind is inescapable, that so-called “objective” science must one day come to grips with subjectivity, was shared by any number of quantum pioneers but got put on the shelf while the thrust of physics remained physical. The vast majority of physicists continue to work and think as if mind shouldn’t be part of their equations. As long as such a belief persists, despite its self-contradiction (can the mind really ignore the mind?) there will be more elementary particles for expensive machines to blast out of the vacuum state. At the same time, God will rest comfortably that creation’s greatest mysteries haven’t been revealed. At some point, perhaps in the near future, science will finally accept, and awards will soon follow, that the mind cannot be left out of the picture that the mind studies.