|The Self-Aware Universe|
An Interview with Amit Goswami
by Craig Hamilton - What is Enlightment?
WIE: In your book The Self-Aware Universe you speak about the need for a paradigm shift. Could you talk a bit about how you conceive of that shift? From what to what?
Amit Goswami: The current
it that everything is made of matter, and everything can be
to the elementary particles of matter, the basic constituents—building
blocks—of matter. And cause arises from the interactions of these basic
building blocks or elementary particles; elementary particles make
atoms make molecules, molecules make cells, and cells make brain. But
the way, the ultimate cause is always the interactions between the
particles. This is the belief—all cause moves from the elementary
This is what we call "upward causation." So in this view, what human
and I—think of as our free will does not really exist. It is
an epiphenomenon or secondary phenomenon, secondary to the causal power
of matter. And any causal power that we seem to be able to exert on
is just an illusion. This is the current paradigm.
WIE: In your book you refer to this new paradigm as "monistic idealism." And you also suggest that science seems to be verifying what a lot of mystics have said throughout history—that science's current findings seem to be parallel to the essence of the perennial spiritual teaching.
AG: It is the spiritual teaching. It is not just parallel. The idea that consciousness is the ground of being is the basis of all spiritual traditions, as it is for the philosophy of monistic idealism—although I have given it a somewhat new name. The reason for my choice of the name is that, in the West, there is a philosophy called "idealism" which is opposed to the philosophy of "material realism," which holds that only matter is real. Idealism says no, consciousness is the only real thing. But in the West that kind of idealism has usually meant something that is really dualism—that is, consciousness and matter are separate. So, by monistic idealism, I made it clear that, no, I don't mean that dualistic kind of Western idealism, but really a monistic idealism, which has existed in the West, but only in the esoteric spiritual traditions. Whereas in the East this is the mainstream philosophy. In Buddhism, or in Hinduism where it is called Vedanta, or in Taoism, this is the philosophy of everyone. But in the West this is a very esoteric tradition, only known and adhered to by very astute philosophers, the people who have really delved deeply into the nature of reality.
WIE: What you are saying is that modern science, from a completely different angle—not assuming anything about the existence of a spiritual dimension of life—has somehow come back around, and is finding itself in agreement with that view as a result of its own discoveries.
AG: That's right. And this is not entirely unexpected. Starting from the beginning of quantum physics, which began in the year 1900 and then became full-fledged in 1925 when the equations of quantum mechanics were discovered, quantum physics has given us indications that the worldview might change. Staunch materialist physicists have loved to compare the classical worldview and the quantum worldview. Of course, they wouldn't go so far as to abandon the idea that there is only upward causation and that matter is supreme, but the fact remains that they saw in quantum physics some great paradigm changing potential. And then what happened was that, starting in 1982, results started coming in from laboratory experiments in physics. That is the year when, in France, Alain Aspect and his collaborators performed the great experiment that conclusively established the veracity of the spiritual notions, and particularly the notion of transcendence. Should I go into a little bit of detail about Aspect's experiment?
WIE: Yes, please do.
AG: To give a little background, what
happening was that for many years quantum physics had been giving
that there are levels of reality other than the material level. How it
started happening first was that quantum objects—objects in quantum
to be looked upon as waves of possibility. Now, initially people
"Oh, they are just like regular waves." But very soon it was found out
that, no, they are not waves in space and time. They cannot be called
in space and time at all—they have properties which do not jibe with
of ordinary waves. So they began to be recognized as waves in
waves of possibility, and the potential
recognized as transcendent, beyond matter somehow.
WIE: That's fascinating. Would most physicists agree with that interpretation of his experiment?
AG: Well, physicists must agree with
of this experiment. Many times of course, physicists will take the
point of view: they will say, "Well, yeah sure, experiments. But this
between particles really isn't important. We mustn't look into any of
consequences of this transcendent domain—if it can even be interpreted
that way." In other words, they try to minimize the impact of this and
still try to hold on to the idea that matter is supreme.
WIE: So what you are saying is that from your point of view, which a number of others share, it is somehow obvious that one would have to bring in the idea of a transcendent dimension to really understand this.
AG: Yes, it is. Henry Stapp, who is a physicist at the University of California at Berkeley, says this quite explicitly in one of his papers written in 1977, that things outside of space and time affect things inside space and time. There's just no question that that happens in the realm of quantum physics when you are dealing with quantum objects. Now of course, the crux of the matter is, the surprising thing is, that we are always dealing with quantum objects because it turns out that quantum physics is the physics of every object. Whether it's submicroscopic or it's macroscopic, quantum physics is the only physics we've got. So although it's more apparent for photons, for electrons, for the submicroscopic objects, our belief is that all reality,all manifest reality, all matter, is governed by the same laws. And if that is so, then this experiment is telling us that we should change our worldview because we, too, are quantum objects.
WIE: These are fascinating discoveries
which have inspired a lot of people. A number of books have already
to make the link between physics and mysticism. Fritjof Capra's
The Tao of Physics and Gary Zukav's The Dancing Wu Li Masters have both
reached many, many people. In your book, though, you mention that there
was something that you felt had not yet been covered which you feel is
your unique contribution to all this. Could you say something about
you are doing that is different from what has been done before in this
WIE: So there are people corroborating your ideas?
AG: There are people who are now
coming out and
recognizing the same thing, that this view is the correct way to go to
explain quantum physics and also to develop science in the future. In
words, the present science has
not only quantum paradoxes but also has shown real
paradoxical and anomalous phenomena, such as parapsychology, the
creativity. And even traditional subjects, like perception or
evolution, have much to explain that these materialist theories don't
To give you one example, in biology there is what is called the theory
of punctuated equilibrium. What that means is that evolution is not
slow, as Darwin perceived, but there are also rapid epochs of
which are called "punctuation marks." But traditional biology has no
WIE: This brings to mind the subtitle of your book, How Consciousness Creates the Material World. This is obviously quite a radical idea. Could you explain a bit more concretely how this actually happens in your opinion?
AG: Actually, it's the easiest thing to explain, because in quantum physics, as I said earlier, objects are not seen as definite things, as we are used to seeing them. Newton taught us that objects are definite things, they can be seen all the time, moving in definite trajectories. Quantum physics doesn't depict objects that way at all.In quantum physics, objects are seen as possibilities, possibility waves. Right? So then the question arises, what converts possibility into actuality?Because, when we see, we only see actual events. That's starting with us. When you see a chair, you see an actual chair, you don't see a possible chair.
AG: We all hope so. Now this is called the "quantum measurement paradox." It is a paradox because who are we to do this conversion? Because after all, in the materialist paradigm we don't have any causal efficacy. We are nothing but the brain, which is made up of atoms and elementary particles. So how can a brain which is made up of atoms and elementary particles convert a possibility wave that it itself is? It itself is made up of the possibility waves of atoms and elementary particles, so it cannot convert its own possibility wave into actuality. This is called a paradox. Now in the new view, consciousness is the ground of being. So who converts possibility into actuality? Consciousness does, because consciousness does not obey quantum physics. Consciousness is not made of material. Consciousness is transcendent. Do you see the paradigm-changing view right here—how consciousness can be said to create the material world?The material world of quantum physics is just possibility. It is consciousness, through the conversion of possibility into actuality, that creates what we see manifest. In other words, consciousness creates the manifest world.