The Absolute discovered by Physics
Members of Blavatsky Net,
In this newsletter I will be starting with the most important fundamental concept of Theosophy, called the Absolute. Then I will
trace some developments in modern physics that seem to be reaching a highly parallel conception. This in itself is a bit daunting. Then I will conclude with the relevance of these grand conceptions to how we see ourselves in this universe and our destiny. All of this is rather of an ambitious task but lets begin. (If you cannot read it all - perhaps you will skip to the end where this newsletter returns to Blavatsky.)
Blavatsky says early in her Secret Doctrine:
Before the reader proceeds to the consideration of the Stanzas from the Book of Dzyan which form the basis of the present work, it is
absolutely necessary that he should be made acquainted with the ew fundamental conceptions which underlie and pervade the entire system
of thought to which his attention is invited. ... The Secret Doctrine establishes three fundamental propositions:—
(a) An Omnipresent, Eternal, Boundless, and Immutable PRINCIPLE on which all speculation is impossible, since it transcends the power of
human conception and could only be dwarfed by any human expression or similitude. It is beyond the range and reach of thought —
in the words of Mandukya, “unthinkable and unspeakable.” SDi13-4
That principle, beyond the range and reach of thought, is the "Absolute" of Theosophy.
Is it possible that science could specifically prove the reality of something similar to the Absolute? After all, the absolute is beyond the reach of thought. It would seem a stretch but then science is constantly moving toward the esoteric truths. To this end, I'll
trace a story for you, a story legendary from the past century of physics and now culminating in experiments with mind-boggling results in very recent times.
This scientific issue began with the famous disputes between Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr that lasted for 23 years. As some will know, Einstein thought the quantum mechanics advocated by Bohr was wrong - or more politely - at least incomplete. His most well known statement expressing this view was "God does not play dice", referring to the uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics. The brilliant Bohr, who emphasized measuring the results of experiments, made a reply that is less often stated. He told Einstein, " Quit telling God what to do!"
The argument - rather the very earnest discussion - between Einstein and Bohr culminated in what is now known as the EPR thought
experiment, published in 1935. (From the initials of the collaborators Einstein, Podolsky and Rosen who jointly wrote the paper presenting the thought experiment.)
I will try to sum this up in some very brief words from physics. Quantum physics asserts that there are various pairs of quantities
that cannot both be known simultaneously with total accuracy. The problem is not in the measuring instruments but rather is a fundamental property of nature. For example, we cannot, according to quantum mechanics, measure simultaneously both the location of a particle and also its direction of motion (strictly speaking, its momentum).
But Einstein noticed a theoretical peculiarity in the theories of Bohm. In some cases, two particles are said to be "entangled ". That means they had a connection ( perhaps a particle had divided into two particles) and they always thereafter maintained a certain physical relation, no matter how far apart they became. Einstein's little observation: If one measured the exact momentum of the first particle, that would dictate the momentum of the second particle. One could then directly measure the location of the second particle. Presto - one then knew both the momentum and location of the second particle, thereby violating the theories of Bohr. Therefore quantum mechanics must be at least incomplete, if not outright wrong.
This paper created a stir and Bohr gave his answer. Bohr was considered by physicists to have "won" the argument.
But the EPR thought experiment was a time bomb waiting for further developments. In 1964 John Bell developed "Bell's Theorem"
(not related to the Bell curve of statistics). It presented a way that an empirical test could be conducted that would tell who was right, Einstein or Bohr, in the EPR thought experiment.
Again, this may not seem significant but there are major, major consequences for physical theory, and the conclusions from the empirical experiments come close to the highest abstractions of occult metaphysics. As Henry Stapp would put it, the resulting experiments and conclusions could be the "most profound discovery in all of science". He did not even say "in
physics" but rather "all of science". (Henry P. Stapp, Quantum Physics
and the Physicist's View of Nature: Philosophical Implications of Bell's Theorem", in the World View of Contempary Physics ed. Richard E. Kitchener p40, 1988)
Back to the physics: in 1972 Alain Aspect published results of an experiment that tested Bell's Theorem. Bohr won.
Others followed. They found better ways to make the test. They tested for exotic matters to make their tests as conclusive as possible.
"The most interesting experiment was carried out by a physicist at the University of Geneva, Switzerland, Nicolas Gisin in 1997.
He split a single photon into two "smaller" photons (which meant they were entangled) and sent them down fiber optic cable in
opposite directions. When the photons where about 10 kilometers apart they ran into a detector. Gisin found that even though a
large distance separate the photons, something done to one photon at one end very much affected the photon at the other end. . .
The key problem in the above experiment is "instantaneously". That cannot happen according to relativity theory.
The experiments were proving that our natural conception of the universe was somehow fundamentally in error. Something about reality
was not the way we think it is.
THE ISSUE OF LOCALITY
It appears that the problem is with our conception of "locality". We have a fundamental idea that there are different places in the world around us. There is "here", at my desk for example, and "over there, down the street for example, and " way over there", on another planet for example or half way across the universe. However this idea of "locality" is now false as shown by the experiments that tested Bell's Theorem.
"There is little doubt among physicists that non-locality must now be recognize as a fact of nature." (The Non-Local Universe p81)
Bohr, "won" big time on this issue. But there are implications with this. As the head of the mathematics department at Princeton said to his colleagues "If you aren't worried about this, you have rocks in your head."
For one thing, and sticking for the moment to physics, not only are two photons connected forever, but the entire universe is permanently interconnected in some profound sense. One puts it this way:
"It is also important to realize here that the Aspect and Gisin experiment reveal, as Bernard d'Espagnat has pointed out, a general property Of nature. All particles in the history of the cosmos have interacted with other particles in the manner revealed by the Aspect experiments. Virtually everything in our immediate physical environment is made up of quanta that have been interacting with other quanta in this manner from the big bang to the present. Even the atoms in our bodies are made up of particles that were once
in close proximity to the cosmic fireball, and other particles that interacted at that time in a single quantum state can be found in
the most distant star. Also consider, as the physicist N. David Mermin has shown, that quantum entanglement grows exponentially
with the number of particles involved in the original quantum state and that there is no theoretical limit on the number of these entangled particles. If this is the case, the universe on a very basic level could be a vast web of particles, which remain in constant with one another over any distance in "no time" in the absence of the transfer of energy or information.
(The Non local Universe p81)
If I attempt to put these results simply - and very modestly - in my own words, science is now saying that the concept of separate places (locality) is no longer valid. Non-locality is the nature of nature. All places are in some fundamental sense - the same place. And by the structure of the way nature is, science will never be able to clarify the nature of that unified unknown whole. Very esoteric sounding. Reminiscent of the first fundamental of Theosophy presented above. Dramatic in fact.
Here is the quote from science, based on tests of Bell's Theorem, that strikes me as quite similar to Theosophy.
If non-locality is a property of the entire universe, then we must also conclude that an undivided wholeness exists on the most primary and basic level in all aspects of physical reality. What we are actually dealing with in science per se, however, are manifestations
of this reality, which are invoked or "actualized" in making acts of observation or measurement. Since the reality that exists between the space-like separated regions is a whole whose existence can only be inferred in experiments, as opposed to proven, the
correlations between the particles, or the sum of these parts do not constitute the "invisible" whole. Physical theory
allows us to understand why the correlations occur. But it cannot in principle disclose or describe the actual character of the indivisible whole. (Non Local Universe pp4-5)
Tests of Bell's Theorem have proven that "an undivided wholeness exists on the most primary and basic level in all aspects of physical reality." This sounds like the Absolute of Theosophy. This "undivided wholeness" of modern quantum mechanics appears to correspond to the "Omnipresent, Eternal, Boundless, and Immutable PRINCIPLE" of Theosophy.
Also the physics says "But it cannot in principle disclose or describe the actual character of the indivisible whole." Notice here that it is not a matter of inaccuracies in the physical instruments that may be expected to improve with time. Rather, "in principle" this background unity cannot be measured. Over and over again in Theosophy we note that the Absolute cannot be known or described. In the above, Blavatsky said "all speculation is impossible, since it transcends the power of human conception and could only be dwarfed by any human expression".
So in at least these two ways, modern quantum physics finds a parallel conception to that of Theosophy's absolute. (!)
In this newsletter I have quoted repeatedly from "The Non-Local Universe". I would like to comment on the book itself and some more of its observations. It's authors state: But if this book is ever erroneously placed in the New Age section of a commercial bookstore and purchased by those interested in New Age literature, they will be quite disappointed. (viii)
I tend to agree. The authors are thoroughly based in a materialistic world view. The above quote, for example shows attitude. But then, begrudging confessions from such a source have all the more value in confirming esoteric truths. So it is worth noting.
But there is another conclusion to be drawn here that is firmly grounded in scientific theory and experiment - there is no basis in the scientific description of nature for believing in the radical Cartesian division between mind and world sanctioned by classical physics. It now seems clear that this radical separation between mind and world was a macro-level illusion fostered by limited awareness of the actual character of physical reality and by mathematical idealizations that were extended beyond the realm of their applicability. p 198 And finally, seemingly against their wishes, they are obliged to admit to a similarity between these new concepts of physics and the concept of underlying unity found in Eastern Religion. They note in a section called "Parallels with Eastern metaphysics".
In this discussion of physics and metaphysics, we should probably say something here about the alleged parallels between the holistic vision of physical reality in modern physics and religious traditions featuring holism, or ontological monism, such as Hinduism, Taoism, and Buddhism [ and Theosophy ]. ...
Eastern philosophies can be viewed on the level of personal belief or conviction as more parallel with the holistic vision
of nature featured in modern physical theory. ... Although this discovery may imply that the universe is holistic, physics can
say nothing about the actual character of this whole. (p191)
That, as I pointed out, is the position of Theosophy.
THE ILLUSION OF SEPARATENESS
One might ask how it can be relevant to our daily lives to know that the most fundamental reality cannot be known. There is a relevance. Phyics now speaks of an "undivided wholeness". This is contrary to our ordinary sense of things. We think there is a "this " and a "that" and these are different. But in a fundamental sense they are one. In the same spirit, in the ordinary sense of things in every day life we assume we are separate from our fellow human beings and from other life. Theosophy however teaches that this conception of separateness is an illusion. It is an illusion we must overcome as we progress along the path of spiritual progress.
I am grateful to the above book for finding this remarkable quote from Einstein. It is so Theosophical.
Einstein said: A human being is a part of the whole, called by us the "Universe," a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as SOMETHING SEPARATE FROM THE REST - A KIND OF OPTICAL ILLUSION OF HIS CONSCIOUSNESS. [Capitals added.] This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security. (Albert Einstein, quoted in the New York Post, November 28, 1972, p 12)
Blavatsky makes a number of references to the need to eliminate the concept of separateness. Here is one:
For that purpose, every veil of illusion which creates a sense of personal isolation, a feeling of separateness from THE ALL, must
be torn asunder, or, in other words, the aspirant must gradually discard all sense of selfishness with which we are all more or less affected. A study of the Law of Cosmic Evolution teaches us that the higher the evolution, the more does it tend towards Unity. In fact, Unity is the ultimate possibility of Nature, and those who through vanity and selfishness go against her purposes, cannot but incur the punishment of total annihilation. The Occultist thus recognises that unselfishness and a feeling of universal philanthropy are the inherent law of our being, and all
he does is to attempt to destroy the chains of selfishness forced upon us by Maya.
Again, parting from all that science, here is Blavatsky explaining how the feeling of non-separateness must be embraced in our heart as
we step upon the occult path:
7. None can feel the difference between himself and his fellow- students, such as "I am the wisest," "I am more holy
and pleasing to the teacher, or in my community, than my brother," etc., --and remain an upasaka. His thoughts must be predominantly fixed upon his heart, chasing therefrom every hostile thought to any living being. It (the heart) must be full of the feeling of its non-separateness from the rest of beings as from all in Nature; otherwise no success can follow. From http://blavatsky.net/blavatsky/arts/PracticalOccultism.htm
And finally, perhaps poetry serves us best. Blavatsky renders the poetic version of these thoughts addressed to the aspirant in her
Voice of the Silence:
If through the Hall of Wisdom, thou would'st reach the Vale of Bliss, Disciple, close fast thy senses against the great dire heresy of separateness that weans thee from the rest.
The book I have quoted from is "The Non-Local Universe" by Nadeau and Kafatos. It will be available at Seekerbooks in a short while, as we improve and revamp the website.
If anyone would like to learn more about Bells's Theorem and the saga of Einstein's thought experiment then I recommend "Entanglement" by Amir Aczel. It humanizes the story in an appealing and readable way that makes it quite accessible. It will be available at
Seekerbooks, the webstore for Theosophy Foundation of Georgia.
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