By Deepak Chopra, MD and Ruth E. Kastner, PhD
If you ask a scientist to talk about quantum mechanics, it’s predictable that the first thing he or she is likely to say is that this is the most successful theory in the history of science. At the minutest level of Nature, the overall behavior of subatomic particles such as electrons, photons, and quarks is amazingly predictable thanks to quantum theory. But strangely enough, this triumph has had almost no effect on our ordinary lives. And that’s not just because the quantum domain is so tiny, billions of times smaller than anything we can see with the naked eye.
The real reason is that the everyday world is isolated from the quantum world. An apple falling from a tree gives the non-scientist a handle for understanding gravity’s universal action. No such clear image comes to mind when we think of quantum processes. The strange behavior of subatomic particles doesn’t translate into how objects behave all around us. For decades quantum theory has tried to build a bridge between daily existence (described by classical physics) and the shadowy, seemingly alien world that nevertheless gives rise to everything in existence (described by quantum physics).
It’s no easy task, and even physicists who realize that all matter boils down to invisible clouds of probability still go to work driving a car, which behaves like a normal tangible object, not a cloud. How are we to understand quantum reality as our reality, too? A single word may hold the key: interaction. In the classical world (i.e., everyday reality) everything is built from small units interacting to form something larger. Society is built from the interactions of individuals; thoughts are built from the interaction of neurons in the brain; even a sand dune cannot form unless grains of sand interact with each other. As a fact of Nature, nothing is more obvious. The Mona Lisa is a work of genius, but it wouldn’t exist if molecules of paint didn’t interact with the canvas, causing the two to adhere. When Da Vinci tinkered with this process, his masterwork, The Last Supper, started to flake and crumble only a few years after its completion.
Is there a quantum clue hidden here? A historically overlooked approach called the Transactional Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics (TIQM) can shed new light on how everyday reality comes into existence. TIQM’s different way of understanding quantum theory was initially proposed in the Eighties by John G. Cramer at the University of Washington. In his interpretation, the transfer of tiny quantum objects is a two-way process, like a business transaction. In fact, the processes closely resembles a real-estate deal. The seller offers property, and one or more buyers responds by indicating an interest and a proposed bid. A negotiation then ensues, and one buyer is selected, receiving the property for the agreed upon price.
In quantum terms TIQM’s principles follow the same pattern:
- The offer: An ‘offer wave’ is emitted by an atom
- Interested buys: A confirmation of the offer wave comes from one or more possible absorbers for the particle (usually other atoms).
- The deal is closed: A particle is transferred from the emitter to the chosen absorber.
For the moment we’ll leave aside the technicalities, which are about how quantum behavior can act like either a particle or a wave. TIQM will be of value only if it can solve various problems, kinks, or glitches in quantum mechanics. Let’s turn to the famous puzzle known as ‘Schrödinger’s Cat.’ This unfortunate cat has been placed in a box with an unstable atom that may or may not send off a radioactive particle within one hour. If it does, the radioactive particle will set off a Geiger counter hooked up to a hammer that smashes a vial of poison gas and kills the cat. If the particle isn’t emitted, nothing happens, and the cat lives. The puzzle consists in the dual possibilities of the atom that serves as the trigger. It stays suspended with both possibilities—giving off a radioactive particle or not—simultaneously coexisting. This is known as “superposition” in quantum theory.
As soon as someone opens the box, they will see only one outcome, either a dead or live cat. But before the box is opened, if the atom holds both outcomes at the same time (superposition), then (according to the usual story) so must the cat, which makes it alive and dead at the same time. What is going wrong here? Obviously the real world, where cats are either alive or dead, hasn’t been bridged in any satisfactory way with the quantum world, where A and B, instead of being either/or, can be either/and—this is what superposition comes down to.
It turns out that there is probably a lot more going on that hasn’t been taken into account in the usual approaches to quantum reality. Specifically, whenever a quantum particle is emitted (offered), it prompts responses from prospective absorbers (buyers), as described in steps 2 and 3 of TIQM. The prospective absorbers in the Geiger counter respond to the atom’s offer, and it turns out that this leads to a real ‘collapse’ of its potential states—the particle is either conveyed to the Geiger counter within the hour or it isn’t. There is no need for any paradoxical superposition that persists during the hour, affecting the other objects in the experiment, including the worried cat.
The way Schrödinger’s Cat is usually interpreted overlooks the absorber response, and when we include it, we can understand why cats are never trapped in dicey superpositions. If a seller tries to offer something and it isn’t noticed or responded to by anyone, no deal can be concluded. This is what has been afflicting our understanding of quantum theory for so long: Conventional approaches take into account only what is being offered, not the responses to that offer. Therefore, the superposition seems as though it must continue through all parts of the experiment and into the realm of ordinary experience. It is as if a person trying to sell their home engages a realtor who is unable to drum up any interest, and so that realtor engages an advertiser who also fails to generate any interest—if this goes on, we end up with a whole string of people engaged in trying to sell a property that can never be transferred, because there is no response from any prospective buyer.
TIQM’s solution is to include responses to an offered quantum particle in the mix. ‘Bidding’ responses have a specific representation in quantum theory—it has been in the background there all along in a mathematical sense when calculating a result. TIQM says that there really is active participation by prospective buyers of quantum particle offers. This is what explains why we always have a definite result whenever we do a measurement. So why has TIQM been neglected? Because it includes one strange feature: The responses of prospective absorbers, which correspond to the negotiation stage in a real-estate transaction, seem to go backward in time (technically known as reverse causation). While an offer proceeds in the usual time sense, the confirming responses apparently proceed toward the past. This strikes many researchers as too high a price to pay for a solution to Schrödinger’s Cat. Interestingly, however, the TIQM interpretation precisely matches the mathematical formula that must be used to calculate the probabilities of outcomes in quantum theory.
If we take the mathematics of the theory in its most straightforward sense, the situation is even more surprising than the apparent backward-in-time behavior of the responses. It turns out the quantum offers and responding confirmations have a multi-dimensional quality that makes them too big to fit into the ordinary, spacetime world. So it appears that quantum negotiations aren’t actually going forward and backward in time at all. Rather, they are happening in a subtle, multi-dimensional realm that lies beyond spacetime. The events that we see in the everyday world of space and time arise only at the final stage, from the concluded transactions (closed deals) in this underlying Quantumland.
At first blush we seem to have defeated our original purpose. We didn’t set out just to rescue Schrödinger’s Cat, but to build a bridge from quantum reality to everyday reality. Now it seems that the two worlds are farther apart than ever. But that’s not so. If TIQM’s insight is correct, quantum particles are interacting in much the same way that everything in the classical world interacts, sending messages across the border between one world and the other. A connection has been made which may turn out to be the connection that seals the deal. A package mailed in China manages to cross borders that separate languages, races, nations, customs, and beliefs. Along the way, these barriers are subtly affected: there is much going on behind the scenes, even though to the naked eye nothing is happening except the passage of a wrapped parcel from location A to location B.
When you buy a Ming vase from Shanghai, you and the seller are interacting in subtle ways that go much deeper than a business transaction. In the same way, quantum transactions happen according to the customs of Quantumland, while negotiating for a new home follows the familiar customs of our land. Yet the concept of “transaction” is recognized in both places. The implications are amazingly far-reaching, but we’ll focus on only one. If quantum transactions are multi-dimensional, expanding beyond linear time, they also expand the usual notions of cause and effect, not to mention space and everything that interacts in space. In other words, our reality is far larger than it appears.
A quantum offer ripples throughout Quantumland, permeating every dimensional level. Could the same thing be happening when we perform an action or have a thought? Surprisingly, it appears that physics can accommodate just such a possibility. If this is right, human beings will be ready to escape our self-imprisonment in spacetime to explore the multi-dimensional domain that is our true home.
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 13th Disciple: A Spiritual Adventure.
Ruth Kastner has an M.S. in physics and Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Maryland, College Park. She is a recipient of two National Science Foundation grants for research into the interpretation of quantum theory. Her latest book is Understanding Our Unseen Reality: Solving Quantum Riddles
Do you love yourself just as you are? The way that people answer this question reveals a great deal about their upbringing. Well-loved children absorb from their parents a sense of self-worth that lasts a lifetime. But receiving mixed messages as a child is more common. These messages include the following:
I love you as long as you love me.
I love you as long as you are being good.
I love you as much as you deserve.
I love you, but don’t ask for too much or you’ll be spoiled.
You may remember such mixed messages from your childhood or not, but they all place conditions on how much parents love their children. Conditioned love is the norm, quite likely, even though unconditional love is the ideal. Can you change your inner image of how much you are loved and lovable? I believe so.
The path to unconditional love involves two things. The first is finding the place inside you where unconditional love exists. The second is removing the obstacles that block you from remaining in this place. They two are connected, because you can’t turn conditioned love into unconditional love by an act of transformation. It won’t work. But the world’s wisdom traditions speak of pure consciousness as containing bliss, joy, and ecstasy. It’s by contacting this quality, known as Ananda in the Indian spiritual tradition, that you culture an appreciation of how to love yourself.
Getting to the source of love isn’t difficult. It can be achieved through meditation. Any contemplative technique, in fact, including Hatha Yoga, that centers you in a calm, peaceful place, will connect you with the source. Yet lightly touching this place doesn’t keep you there, because old memories, habits, and beliefs pull your attention back to somewhere else.
It takes time and patient to accomplish any transformation, and this is no exception. The first and most important step is to take an attitude of self-compassion, being as kind to yourself as you are to those you cherish in your life. Starting today, you can begin to follow some dos and don’ts.
To be kind to yourself, DO
Smile at your reflection in the mirror.
Let others compliment you.
Bask in other people’s approval when it comes your way.
Be gentle with yourself over small mistakes.
Value who you are and stand up for yourself.
Get to know yourself like a friend.
Be easy about your personal quirks.
Be as natural as possible, not worrying if you are pleasing or displeasing others.
Speak your truth when you know you should.
The do list is centered on relating to yourself with a kinder attitude. The don’t list is about removing self-judgments that, because in the end, all lack of self-love is rooted in judging yourself.
To keep away from self-judgment, DON’T
Brush away compliments.
Reject other people’s appreciation.
Belittle yourself, even with self-deprecating humor.
Dwell on your faults as a topic of conversation.
Rationalize away the times when someone else hurts you.
Accept indifference from people who supposedly love you.
Associate with others who you can see have low self-esteem.
Silently swallow bad treatment when you know you should speak up.
If you wake up to them, the reflections of how you feel about yourself exist all around you. Even negative reflections are incredibly useful if you take them as guides for change. Are there people in your life who take you for granted when they shouldn’t? Rather than trying to change them, see this as a reflection of how much you value yourself—in this case, not enough.
You might even want to print out the following checklist, and over the next week check off each time something on the list happens to you. The list contains typical reflections in everyone’s life, both positive and negative.
How My Situation Reflects My Sense of Self
___ Someone appreciated me.
___ I liked the person I saw in the mirror.
___ I received a sincere compliment.
___ I felt proud of something I did for myself.
___ I felt as if I belonged.
___ Someone expressed love for me in a meaningful way.
___ I felt lovable.
___ I felt well loved.
___ The beauty of the life I’m living really hit me.
___ I felt like a unique person; there’s no one in the world quite like me.
___ Someone criticized me to my face.
___ I frowned at myself in the mirror.
___ I felt guilty or embarrassed by something I remembered from long ago.
___ I put myself down while talking to someone else.
___ I felt unwanted, an outsider.
___ I received what felt like an empty word or gesture of love.
___ I felt unlovable.
___ I sat through someone else’s litany of complaints.
___ Something pointless about my life really hit me.
___ I felt bored by my existence and the people I keep seeing every day.
Most people would resist these two lists because they’re too afraid of what they’ll find. Or they might think that noticing negative reflections is another sign of low self-esteem. It’s not. You are taking a major step toward self-compassion by looking around and being truthful with yourself. Being kind to yourself requires a decision to embrace change. Self-judgment keeps us from loving who we are right this moment. Every step you take to walk away from negative reflection is a step in the direction of unconditional love.
Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 80 books with twenty-two New York Times bestsellers. Join me at The Chopra Center’s Second Annual Global Meditation on July 11, 2015.
Compassion is changing before our eyes. A religious concept associated with Jesus and Buddha (known as “the Compassionate One”) is being researched today through brain scans and positive psychology. In positive psychology your aim is to reach a state of well-being. The actions of a compassionate person, being kind and sympathetic, turn out to bring personal benefits as well. This is one way that a spiritual value acquires practical, everyday value.
As part of a compassionate lifestyle, a person:
- Lets go of judgment
- Is more accepting of others
- Appreciates how other people feel
- Tries to help in difficult situations
- Acts as a sympathetic listener
- Renounces anger and aggression
- Works to maintain a harmonious, peaceful atmosphere at home and at work.
The reason a compassionate lifestyle leads to greater psychological well-being may be that the act of giving is equally or more pleasurable than receiving. A brain-imaging study led by neuroscientists at the National Institutes of Health showed that the “pleasure centers” in the brain—the parts that are active when we experience things like dessert, money, and sex—are equally active vicariously. We feel pleasure, for example, when we observe someone giving money to charity as if we were receiving the money ourselves. A complementary study at the University of British Columbia showed that even in children as young as two, giving treats to others increased the givers’ happiness more than receiving treats themselves.
In a description written from the viewpoint of positive psychology, compassion is “an evolved part of human nature, rooted in our brain and biology.” In other words, as human beings evolved, we became more aware of the good that results from empathy and kindness. We developed an alternative to selfishness. Studies have suggested that compassion is indeed an evolved part of human nature, vital to good health and even to the survival of our species. Compassion motivated 26.5 percent of Americans to volunteer in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
A recent study found that the pupils of infants’ eyes widened when they saw someone in need—a sign of concern—but their pupils would shrink when they could help that person—or when they saw someone else help, suggesting that they felt better. (Babies as young as four or five months will try to help their mothers pick up something dropped on the floor.) They seem to care primarily for the other person and not themselves. It was calming to see the person’s suffering being alleviated, whether or not they were the ones who did it.
In the same vein, research by David Rand at Harvard University shows that adults’ and children’s first impulse is to help others, not to compete with them. Other research by Dale Miller at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business backs this up. Compassion involves feeling what someone else is feeling, which forms an invisible bond. But the bond is more than mental or emotional. Research in positive psychology suggests that connecting with others in a meaningful way helps us enjoy better physical health and speeds up recovery from disease; it may even lengthen our lifespan.
These physiological findings go back almost 30 years to experiments at Harvard where people watched a film on the charitable work of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who devoted her life to the poorest children in India. As they watched, the viewers’ heart rate and blood pressure changed in a positive direction.
More sophisticated measurements are available to us now. New research at UCLA and the University of North Carolina evaluated the levels of cellular inflammation in people who describe themselves as “very happy.” Inflammation is suspected to be at the root of cancer and other diseases and is generally high in people who live under a lot of stress. We might expect that inflammation would be lower for people with higher levels of happiness. But there was an important distinction. People who were happy because they lived a life of pleasure (also known as “hedonic happiness”) had high inflammation levels, while people who were happy because they lived a life of purpose or meaning (also known as “eudaimonic happiness”) had low inflammation levels. A life of meaning and purpose is one focused less on satisfying oneself and more on others. It is often a life rich in compassion and altruism.
As for longevity, a compassionate lifestyle may be beneficial because it provides a buffer against stress. A recent study conducted on a large population (more than 800 samples) led at the University at Buffalo found that stress was linked to higher mortality rates, but not among those who helped others.
In sum, the spiritual value of compassion has been shown to extend to mind and body as well. It’s in our nature to be sympathetic and kind to others while doing great good to ourselves at the same time.
Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 80 books with twenty-two New York Times bestsellers. He invites you to join him in The Chopra Center’s Second Annual Global Meditation on July 11, 2015.
The fear of death always comes at or near the top of people’s worst fears. Some psychologists believe that this is such a potent fear, we push it down into the subconscious in order to avoid it. Yet from its hiding place the fear remains active, re-emerging in times like the death of a loved one, making grief even more painful and anxious. Avoiding the fear of death clearly isn’t the best tactic. One reason that Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s famous five stages of dying became so popular is that she gave us a rational framework for handling a once-taboo subject.
Rationality is one of the two ways a person can overcome their own personal fear of death. The starting point for most rationalists, particularly scientists, is to assume in the absence of data from the afterlife that our consciousness is extinguished at the moment of death. In a short video on the subject of “What happens after we die?” physicist Brian Greene takes the position, when you’re gone, you’re gone.
But this isn’t really scientific or very rational. The rational position is that in the absence of evidence on either side of the question, no conclusion can be reached. Greene offers some consolation, however, by referring to Einstein’s famous quote, “The distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.” To a physicist, time is static and eternal, which means that the life each person is living now remains intact inside the framework of spacetime. As consolation goes, this is small potatoes, however, since the illusion of being born, living for an entire lifespan, and then dying is how the everyday world works.
Socrates was condemned to commit suicide by drinking a cup of hemlock and, according to Plato, exhibited remarkable calm at the end, even refusing the escape plan to leave Athens proposed by his distraught friends. He explained his calm in rational terms, saying that if we have taken a step every day towards the destination of death, why should the last step frighten us any more than the previous ones? But this seems like cold comfort, too. If the edge of a cliff is a hundred steps away, the last one will be frightening no matter how calm the earlier 99 steps are.
The rational way to approach the fear of death will never be enough, because of the emotional component. But if you can subdue and dissipate the emotional component, rational arguments do apply. Every culture has reported the kind of near-death experiences that have gained wide media coverage over the last forty years. Hundreds of children have been studied carefully who report remembering their past lives, which supports reincarnation. If this evidence isn’t conclusive, it’s not nonsense either. Being completely skeptical about the afterlife in the absence of solid evidence isn’t rational, because as I just pointed out, the question is entirely open-ended. There is no proof of the extinction of consciousness, even though that’s the standard skeptical argument. The notion that the mind dies when the body dies is a strong materialist belief, but there’s no hard evidence to support it.
The second way to overcome the fear of death, if rationality can’t do the job on its own, is psychological. Every night we go to bed and the mind is extinguished for seven or eight hours. Sleep is a non-experience. We don’t fear this non-experience. It isn’t even classified as the scary unknown, because we’ve all gone through the extinction of consciousness thousands of times. Yes, one might object, but sleep is temporary, and this knowledge reassures us. But does anyone actually refer to this knowledge when they get in bed every night? What seems more likely is something much more basic: Sleep poses no anxiety because it is a psychological area where fear never gained a toehold.
If that’s true, then the key to overcoming the fear of death has nothing to do with convincing yourself that there’s nothing to be afraid of. Instead, fear of death should be approached as fear, period. The fact that death is the specific object makes no difference. This is more or less the Buddha’s answer. He teaches that a person must solve the entire issue of pain, including fear, not the specific examples of pain. The world’s wisdom traditions seem to agree that fear ends when you locate the place that is without fear, and such a place is inside everyone.
So the goal isn’t to wrestle with the fear of death until you feel calm about it. The goal is to find the place where fear of death is irrelevant. As long as we identify ourselves with the cycle of birth and death, we will be gripped by fear that nothing exists beyond the grave. For most people, terms like “the cycle of birth and death” sound esoteric and alien. But there’s no need for any terminology or indeed any thinking about death.
The simple fact is that when you get to the place where fear of death doesn’t exist, you notice that you no longer have the fear, just as when you find your car keys, you have no fear that you lost them anymore. Now that meditation is quite familiar to almost everyone, it should be fairly easy to accept that meditation takes you to the place you want to reach, a deep sense of self that is untouched by fear. The experience is what counts. Along with the absence of fear, meditation sharpens one’s ability to stay in the present moment. This is another great help, because what makes death so frightening is the anticipation of it.
In a short space I can only sketch in the outlines of getting past this deep fear, but at least it’s worthwhile to point people in the right direction. Forget the claims that science or skepticism has proven that death brings total extinction. They haven’t, and besides, whatever the experience of dying will be like, everyone should do their best not to be afraid. A life free of fear is a desirable goal on its own.
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 13th Disciple: A Spiritual Adventure.