|The Self-Aware Universe (Cont'd)|
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An Interview with Amit Goswami
WIE: To be honest, when I first saw the subtitle of your book I assumed you were speaking metaphorically. But after reading the book, and speaking with you about it now, I am definitely getting the sense that you mean it much more literally than I had thought. One thing in your book that really stopped me in my tracks was your statement that, according to your interpretation, the entire physical universe only existed in a realm of countless evolving possibilities until at one point, the possibility of a conscious, sentient being arose and that, at that point, instantaneously, the entire known universe came into being, including the fifteen billion years of history leading up to that point. Do you really mean that?
AG: I mean that literally. This is
physics demands. In fact, in quantum physics this is called "delayed
choice." And I have added to this concept the concept of
the concept of delayed choice is very old. It is due to a very famous physicist
named John Wheeler, but Wheeler did not see the entire
correctly, in my opinion. He left out self-reference. The question
arises, "The universe is supposed to have existed for fifteen billion
so if it takes consciousness to convert possibility into actuality,
how could the universe be around for so long?" Because there was no
no sentient being, biological being, carbonbased being, in that
fireball which is supposed to have created the universe, the big
this other way of looking at things says that the universe remained in
possibility until there was self-referential quantum measurement—so
is the new concept. An observer's looking is essential in order to
possibility into actuality, and so only when the observer looks,
then does the entire thing become manifest—including time. So all of
time, in that respect, becomes manifest right at that moment when the
sentient being looks.
WIE: So you feel there's a kind of purposiveness to the way the universe is evolving; that, in a sense, it reaches its fruition in us, in human beings?
AG: Well, human beings may not be the end of it, but certainly they are the first fruition, because here is then the possibility of manifest creativity, creativity in the sentient being itself. The animals are certainly sentient, but they are not creative in the sense that we are. So human beings certainly right now seem to be an epitome, but this may not be the final epitome. I think we have a long way to go and there is a long evolution to occur yet.
WIE: In your book you even go so far as to suggest that the cosmos was created for our sake.
AG: Absolutely. But it means sentient beings, for the sake of all sentient beings. And the universe is us. That's very clear.The universe is self-aware, but it is self-aware through us. We are the meaning of the universe. We are not the geographical center of the universe—Copernicus was right about that—but we are the meaning center of the universe.
WIE: Through us the universe finds its meaning?
AG: Through sentient beings. And that doesn't have to be anthropocentric in the sense of only earthlings. There could be beings, sentient beings on other planets, in other stars—in fact I am convinced that there are—and that's completely consonant with this theory.
WIE: This human-centered—or even sentient-being-centered—stance seems quite radical at a time when so much of modern progressive thought, across disciplines from ecology to feminism to systems theory, is going in the opposite direction. These perspectives point more toward interconnectedness or interrelatedness, in which the significance of any one part of the whole—including one species, such as the human species—is being de-emphasized. Your view seems to hark back to a more traditional, almost biblical kind of idea. How would you respond to proponents of the prevailing "nonhierarchical" paradigm?
AG: It's the difference between the
that we are talking about, monistic idealism, and what is called a kind
of pantheism. That is, these views—which I call "ecological worldviews"
and which Ken Wilber calls the same thing—are actually denigrating God
by seeing God as limited to the immanent reality. On the face of it,
sounds good because everything becomes divine—the rocks, the trees, all
the way to human beings, and they are all equal and they are all
sounds fine, but it certainly does not adhere to what the spiritual
knew. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says to Arjuna, "All these things
in me, but I am not in them." What does he mean by that? What he means
is that "I am not exclusively in them."
WIE: So you would say they have part of the picture but that without this other aspect that you are bringing in, their view is very—
AG: It's very limited. And that's why pantheism is very limited. When Westerners started going to India, they thought it was pantheistic because it has many, many gods. Indian philosophy tends to see God in nature, in many things—they worship rocks sometimes, that kind of thing—so they thought it was pantheistic and only somewhat later did they realize that there is a transcendent dimension. In fact, the transcendent dimension is developed extremely well in Indian philosophy, whereas the transcendent dimension in the West is hidden in the cave of a very few esoteric systems such as the Gnostics and a few great masters like Meister Eckhart. In Jesus' teachings you can see it in the Gospel according to Thomas. But you have to really dig deep to find that thread in the West. In India, in the Upanishads and the Vedanta and the Bhagavad Gita, it is very much explicit. Now, pantheism sounds very good. But it's only part of the story. It's a good way to worship, it's a good way to bring spirituality into your daily life, because it is good to acknowledge that there is spirit in everything. But if we just see the diversity, see the God in everything, but don't see the God which is beyond every particular thing, then we are not realizing our potential. We are not realizing our Self. And so, truly, Self-realization involves seeing this pantheistic aspect of reality, but also seeing the transcendent aspect of reality.
WIE: In addition to being a scientist, you are also a spiritual practitioner. Could you talk a little bit about what brought you to spirituality?
AG: Well, I'm afraid that is a
almost classic, case. The ideal classic case, of course, is the famous
case of the Buddha, who recognized at the age of twenty-nine that all
his pleasure as a prince was really a waste of time because there is
in the world. For me it was not that drastic, but when I was about
the world started to fall apart on me. I lost my research grant, I had
a divorce and I was very lonely. And the professional pleasure that I
to get by writing physics papers stopped being pleasure.
WIE: It's interesting that, while you turned to spirituality because you felt that science wasn't really satisfying your own search for truth, you have nevertheless remained a scientist throughout.
AG: That's true. It's just that my way of doing science changed. What happened to me, the reason that I lost the joy of science, was because I had made it into a professional trip. I lost the ideal way of doing science, which is the spirit of discovery, the curiosity, the spirit of knowing truth. So I was not searching for truth anymore through science, and therefore I had to discover meditation, where I was searching for truth again, truth of reality. What is the nature of reality after all? You see the first tendency was nihilism, nothing exists; I was completely desperate. But meditation very soon told me that no, it's not that desperate. I had an experience. I had a glimpse that reality really does exist. Whatever it was I didn't know, but something exists. So that gave me the prerogative to go back to science and see if I could now do science with new energy and new direction and really investigate truth instead of investigating because of professional glory.
WIE: How then did your newly revived interest in truth, this spiritual core to your life, inform your practice of science?
AG: What happened was that I was not
anymore for the purpose of just publishing papers and doing problems
enabled you to publish papers and get grants. Instead, I was doing the
really important problems. And the really important problems of
are very paradoxical and very anomalous. Well, I'm not saying that
traditional scientists don't have a few important problems.
are a few important problems there too. But one of the problems I
very quickly that would lead me, I just intuited, to questions of
was the quantum measurement problem.
WIE: Could you describe that breakthrough?
AG: Yes, I'd love to. It's so vivid in
You see, the wisdom was in those days—and this was in every sort of
Tao of Physics, The Dancing Wu Li Masters, Fred Alan Wolf's Taking
the Quantum Leap, and some other books too—everywhere the wisdom
that consciousness must be an emergent phenomenon of the brain. And
the fact that some of these people, to their credit, were giving
consciousness causal efficacy, no one could explain how it happened.
was the mystery because, after all, if it's an emergent phenomenon of
brain, then all causal efficacy must ultimately come from the material
elementary particles. So this was a puzzle to me. This was a puzzle to
everybody. And I just couldn't find any way to solve it. David Bohm
about hidden variables, so I toyed with his ideas of an explicate order
and an implicate order, that kind of thing—but this wasn't satisfactory
because in Bohm's theory, again, there is no
efficacy that is given to consciousness. It is all a realist
In other words, it is a theory on which everything can be explained
mathematical equations. There is no freedom of choice, in other words,
in reality. So I was just struggling and struggling because I was
that there is real freedom of choice.
WIE: That's interesting. So that night something really did shift for you in your whole approach. And everything was different after that?
AG: Everything was different.
WIE: Did you then find, in working out the details of what it would mean to do science in this context, that you were able to penetrate much more deeply or that your own scientific thinking was transformed in some way by this experience?
AG: Right. Exactly. What happened was very interesting. I was stuck, as I said, I was stuck with this idea before: "How can consciousness have causal efficacy?" And now that I recognized that consciousness was the ground of being, within months all the problems of quantum measurement theory, the measurement paradoxes, just melted away. I wrote my first paper which was published in 1989, but that was just refinement of the ideas and working out details. The net upshot was that the creativity, which got a second wind on that night in 1985, took about another three years before it started fully expressing itself. But ever since I have been just blessed with ideas after ideas, and lots of problems have been solved—the problem of cognition, perception, biological evolution, mind-body healing. My latest book is called Physics of the Soul. This is a theory of reincarnation, all fully worked out. It has been just a wonderful adventure in creativity.
WIE: So it sounds pretty clear that taking an interest in the spiritual, in your case, had a significant effect on your ability to do science. Looking through the opposite end of the lens, how would you say that being a scientist has affected your spiritual evolution?
AG: Well, I stopped seeing them as separate, so this identification, this wholeness, the integration of the spiritual and the scientific, was very important for me. Mystics often warn people, "Look, don't divide your life into this and that." For me it came naturally becauseI discovered the new way of doing science when I discovered spirit. Spirit was the natural basis of my being, so after that, whatever I do, I don't separate them very much.
WIE: You mentioned a shift in your motivation for doing science—how what was driving you started to turn at a certain point. That's one thing that we've been thinking about a lot as we've been looking into this issue: What is it that really motivates science? And how is that different from what motivates spiritual pursuit? Particularly, there have been some people we have discussed—thinkers like E. F. Schumacher or Huston Smith, for example—who feel that ever since the scientific revolution, when Descartes's and Newton's ideas took hold, the whole approach of science has been to try to dominate or control nature or the world. Such critics question whether science could ever be a genuine vehicle for discovering the deepest truths, because they feel that science is rooted in a desire to know for the wrong reasons. Obviously, in your work you have been very immersed in the scientific world—you know a lot of scientists, you go to conferences, you're surrounded by all of that and also, perhaps, you struggle with that motivation in yourself. Could you speak a little more about your experience of that?
AG: Yes, this is a very, very good
have to understand it very deeply. The problem is that in this pursuit,
this particular pursuit of science, including the books that we
earlier, The Tao of Physics and TheDancing Wu Li Masters,
even when spirituality is recognized within the materialist worldview,
God is seen only in the immanent aspect of divinity. What that means
you have said that there is only one reality. By saying that there
only one reality—material reality—even when you imbue matter with
because you are still dealing with only one level, you are ignoring
the transcendent level. And therefore you are only looking at half
of the pie; you are ignoring the other half. Ken Wilber makes this
very, very well. So what has to be done of course—and that's when the
of science disappears—is to include the other half into science. Now,
my work, I think it was very obscure how this inclusion has to be done.
Although people like Teilhard de Chardin, Aurobindo or Madame
the founder of the Theosophy movement, recognized that such a science
have come, very few could actually see it.
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