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The Spiritual Universe
How Quantum Physics Proves the Existence of the Soul
An Interview with author Fred Alan Wolf
By Julie Knowles

In The Spiritual Universe,
Fred Alan Wolf explores the existence of the soul from the standpoint of a scientist. He reveals why he believes the mind/body question so central to spiritual philosophy is illuminated by the discoveries of modern theoretical physics. In this interview Fred addresses his theories in particular, but also the eternal mysteries of humankind: matter, soul, spirit, self, and consciousness. 


JK: What led you in this direction - away from the traditional methodology of your scientific training and towards a more integrative exploration of the universe? 

FAW: This book is not as much of a divergence from the path I have been following as it would be for a physicist who hadn't been researching areas of my interest. My path has been moving steadily away from what might be described as traditional physics, although even that field is changing as to what is considered to be traditional and non-traditional.
The whole spectrum of what it is to be a human being interests me and my training in physics has led me to alternative ways of looking at these concepts. My particular interest has been the subject of consciousness: What is consciousness?Is it something physical? Is it a field? Does it have any aspects to it that are related to the physical? Does it involve only human brains and human minds? If it does involve the mind, what is a mind? Are these things that can be talked about from the point of view of science- physics in particular - or are these concepts which have to remain nebulous and ill-defined for all eternity?
The questions that I'm asking and attempting to make models for are really the same questions the ancient philosophers (the Greeks for example) attempted to answer. Their models, like mine, were based on their understanding of the way the world, the universe, and the laws of science worked.
In a modern sense, I'm a throwback because the aim of modern science has been to divide, separate, and look at things in greater detail with a well-designed microscope that, despite its depth of detail, leaves out a lot of things in its probing. In the attempts to define things so microscopically, I think we've "thrown out the baby with the bath water." We've dismissed things, or narrowed our focus to such a degree, that we've reached a point where we aren't seeing what we were originally looking for. So, in some ways we need to step back to a more classical approach and I think that's what I've attempted in my book the Spiritual Universe. I'm looking at some of the deeper philosophical questions such as, "What is the soul?" 

JK: Who has significantly influenced your work? Who are the people who have really affected you? 

FAW: There have been a number of people who have been teachers for me, not necessarily because I followed along in their direction, but because they inspired me to move in my own direction. In the scientific field there were basically two physicists who were inspiring to me. David Bohm was a physicist I knew reasonably well and who was a great inspiration because I was able to spend time and interact with him. He would talk to me about his ideas and theories and those discussions rubbed off on me.
The other was Richard Feynman who taught a course of lectures at the company where I worked. Just being able to be in his class, I saw an original mind at work. He was very intuitive, he was funny, brash, and not at all what I expected a physicist to be - this man was alive. Whenever I heard a lecture of his it always inspired something new in my thinking.
People I never have known, but whose work I have read, also influenced me. Albert Einstein, for example, certainly influenced me primarily because of his humility, his humanitarianism, and his outstanding and major break with traditional science when he did his original work. He opened up a vision of physics outside the ordinary world and yet there was a "shining-ness" to his truth in the theory of relativity; his discussion of the behavior of light was very exciting. Later on, there were the writings of Erwin Schroedinger who was the father-figure for quantum mechanics and who is still an inspiration to me, as well as Werner Heisenberg.
Spiritually, I have been influenced to a large extent by Buddhist thinking and those who expound the Buddhist way. I find them quite delightful and it is interesting that a lot of physicists seem to follow Buddhist principles, which is perhaps, not so surprising after all.
I have also been influenced by Jung and Freud. Although they went in very different directions, I found something original in their thinking that was exciting to me.

JK: The Buddha, of course, did not believe in the existence of the soul.

FAW: Yes, that's right. The Buddha had a remarkable ability to see what there is to see and to deal with what's it there. That made his approach to the spiritual or to the human problem of existence very refreshing. This is very similar to what a scientist does. We try to drop all assumptions about the way things should be, and deal with things the way they are. Although that's not always possible to do, it nevertheless is the basis of Buddhist thought.

JK: What are your definitions of soul, spirit, matter, self, and consciousness - the primary concepts discussed in this book? And, can you explain the relationships between them?

FAW: To begin with, I want to emphasize that as the ancient philosophers did, I use metaphors as models that are based on my understanding of how the physical world works. Using metaphors allows me to explain things that are unfamiliar, in terms that are familiar, at least to me.
-For example, almost all of these concepts- soul, matter, self, spirit, and consciousness can be defined by conceiving of two basic objects. One is a vibrating string as you might see on a violin, and the other is a mirror which reflects back images of the "real" world. In my models, both are placed in the context of quantum theories.
-Spirit would be akin to the vibrations of the string, and to make it more applicable, we imagine the string to be infinitely long and shimmering or vibrating, due to the random input of heat, air, or just the vacuum of space itself, randomly fluctuating. This vibrating is the movement of the spirit.
-This constant movement, energy, or life, is the modus operandi of the string, or spirit. In modern science this notion of a vibrating string is located in the vacuum of empty space. Physicists understand that we can model the vacuum as if it were filled with these vibrating strings and thus the vacuum itself becomes vibratory and is a natural place to look for spirit.
-The soul is the reflected vibrations of the vacuum within the domain of time. Time (and the soul) extends from the beginning and ending points of time, known respectively as the Big Bang and the Big Crunch. The soul reflects from these vibrations just as an image is reflected from a mirror, and the soul embodiment in the material substrata is what I call "self," or the "selfprocess." The soul has to relate to itself continually in the body and therefore its basic concerns are with the survival of the body, or our material nature. The soul isn't necessarily embodied to begin with, but the self is.
-What is consciousness? Consciousness occurs when there is a reflection. What is being reflected depends on the form of the consciousness. If we're talking about primal reflections from the beginning and ending of time, then the reflection produces a conscious soul. When reflections are from points in space, then those become essentially unconscious pieces of matter.
-The self, because it is a reflection of something that is conscious (the soul) in matter which is unconscious, has both elements. So, the self is both conscious and unconscious. This then, offers a model for what we mean by consciousness and unconsciousness in that there is a consciousness reflecting off an unconscious material.
-What makes the description of these things difficult is that they are alive and processing - they are not static objects. The self is not static. It is ever-changing and reflects something deeper that is the soul. The self is always embodied or contained. It is always a reflection of the soul that is in the body itself. So, the challenge we face is to define the processes, rather than the entities themselves.

JK: Can you explain the theory that you just referred to, that the universe as we know it, exists in a vacuum?

FAW: It's truly remarkable. There was a great philosopher and scientist whose name was Arthur Eddington and he gave us a model to understand this concept. As Arthur pointed out: here I am, sitting at a table, writing this paper. However, when I describe this "real" table in the language of science as I understand it, it is a ghost; in fact it is made of atoms that are themselves mostly empty space.
-If you look at an object the size of the nucleus of an atom and compare it to the whole of an atom, one finds it to be one part in a hundred million billion or something ridiculously small like that. So the universe which is made up of atoms is mostly a vacuum: it's mostly empty. There's hardly anything here in terms of what we call the material world!
-When you understand this concept, it radically alters your perspective of the universe and in fact, the vacuum or empty space that never goes away, becomes just about the only thing that is tangible and real when you take the Eddington point of view. 

JK: You also talk about the soul wanting to manifest itself in matter, which creates an ongoing tension that the self perceives as desire.

FAW: Yes. The process is like this: There is undifferentiated spirit which is both conscious and unconscious. In order to become conscious it has to reflect, and that creates time. Further reflections in space form matter, so now we have space, time, and matter. Once that happens, there seems to be a desire to come out of time into space... that would be manifestation. So, coming out of pure action into something inert, there is something that stops the action: a resistance. There seems to be a need to create the resistance to oneself, which is desire.
-The Qabalists speak about this frequently-that resistance is necessary for life. The resistance is necessary for spirit to know itself, so to speak. It's like the myth of Narcissus, or the myths of the dog with the bone in its mouth looking down into the river and seeing a bigger bone. Somehow, once there is a means by which a reflection can occur, there is a desire that arises. Maybe that's the fundamental spark of desire.
-It could be a desire that we all have for each other, or to be in love, or the basic sexual desire that's the fundamental energy. Basically, each of us desires, because we want to express love with ourselves. We don't desire the other, what we really desire is a true connection to ourselves and we believe we see that in the other. I think that's what falling in love means. It's a falling out of the vacuum into the material.

JK: Rumi described his desire as "rising in love."

FAW: Now that's different. Rising in love would be compassion. The desire to rise in love is very different that the desire to fall in love because there is an association with falling in love of satisfying the sense of the body; whereas, rising in love is almost a renunciation of that need to satisfy the senses.

JK: If humans are consciously developing self-reflective awareness and the responsibility that inevitably goes with that, how do you see our role in the evolution of consciousness and human development?

FAW: It seems evident to me, and maybe it will become more evident to others, that consciousness and matter are not in such separate camps as a lot of people used to think. It was popularly thought that mind deals with mind things - thoughts, feelings and so forth - and that body deals with physiological things, and that there is virtually no communication between the two.
-Now, particularly after some of the research I did for The Spiritual Universe, it seems to me that knowledge can be envisioned as embodied. Not in the metaphorical sense, but literally embodied in the material sense. Knowledge can alter and change the biology and physical structure of the thing that has that knowledge. How that knowledge is expressed can really change the body. In other words, there is the possibility that we can alter and change ourselves by how and what we learn, how and what we inform ourselves with, and what we do with that information.
-If you ask me how do I do that - can I make myself float off the ground, or turn a cloud into rain - that's not what I'm talking about. What I'm talking about is how thinking can affect the nervous system of the body and the brain.
-For me, taking some of the responsibility for that means being as open and as truthful about what I know as possible. I think that if people were more open and truthful, and if others did not react through violence to what another person expresses, we could learn a lot more from each other. We could become more human than we have been up to this point.
-So, responsibility seems to me that those of us who have this expanded awareness just have to continue developing, writing, speaking, and being with people - recognizing that your presence, your words, and your attitudes do more than just express yourself or your mind, but affect mind overall. I think that's enough.

Julie Knowles is a masters degree candidate at John F. Kennedy University's Consciousness Studies program, with a concentration in Dream Studies, and a certificate candidate in Conflict Resolution. 
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