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
is illuminated by the discoveries of modern theoretical physics.
In this interview Fred addresses his theories in particular, but also
eternal mysteries of humankind: matter, soul, spirit, self, and
led you in this direction - away from the traditional methodology
your scientific training and towards a more integrative
of the universe?
not as much of a divergence from the path I have been following as it
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
physics, although even that field is changing as to what is considered
to be traditional and non-traditional.
The whole spectrum
it is to be a human being interests me and my training in physics has
me to alternative ways of looking at these concepts. My particular
has been the subject of consciousness: What is
it something physical? Is it a field? Does it have any aspects to it
are related to the physical? Does it involve only human brains and
minds? If it does involve the mind, what is a mind? Are these things
can be talked about from the point of view of science- physics in
- or are these concepts which have to remain nebulous and ill-defined
The questions that
and attempting to make models for are really the same questions the
philosophers (the Greeks for example) attempted to answer. Their
like mine, were based on their understanding of the way the world, the
universe, and the laws of science worked.
In a modern sense,
throwback because the aim of modern science has been to divide,
and look at things in greater detail with a well-designed
that, despite its depth of detail, leaves out a lot of things in its
In the attempts to define things so microscopically, I think we've
out the baby with the bath water." We've dismissed things, or
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
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
of the deeper philosophical questions such as, "What is the soul?"
influenced your work? Who are the people who have really
a number of people who have been teachers for me, not necessarily
I followed along in their direction, but because they inspired me to
in my own direction. In the scientific field there were basically two
who were inspiring to me. David Bohm was a
I knew reasonably well and who was a great inspiration because I was
to spend time and interact with him. He would talk to me about his
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
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
it always inspired something new in my thinking.
People I never have
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
to his truth in the theory of relativity; his discussion of the
of light was very exciting. Later on, there were the writings of Erwin
Schroedinger who was the father-figure for quantum
and who is still an inspiration to me, as well as Werner Heisenberg.
Spiritually, I have
influenced to a large extent by Buddhist thinking and those who
expound the Buddhist way. I find them quite delightful and it is
that a lot of physicists seem to follow Buddhist principles, which is
not so surprising after all.
I have also been
by Jung and Freud.
Although they went in very different directions, I found something
in their thinking that was exciting to me.
of course, did not believe in the existence of the soul.
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
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
should be, and deal with things the way they are. Although that's not
possible to do, it nevertheless is the basis of Buddhist thought.
definitions of soul, spirit, matter, self, and consciousness -
primary concepts discussed in this book? And, can you explain the
I want to emphasize that as the ancient philosophers did, I use
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
of these concepts- soul, matter, self, spirit, and consciousness can be
defined by conceiving of two basic objects. One is a vibrating string
you might see on a violin, and the other is a mirror which reflects
images of the "real" world. In my models, both are placed in the
of quantum theories.
akin to the vibrations of the string, and to make it more applicable,
imagine the string to be infinitely long and shimmering or vibrating,
to the random input of heat, air, or just the vacuum of space itself,
fluctuating. This vibrating is the movement of the spirit.
energy, or life, is the modus operandi of the string, or
In modern science this notion of a vibrating string is located in the
of empty space. Physicists understand that we can model the vacuum as
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
reflected vibrations of the vacuum within the domain of time. Time (and
the soul) extends from the beginning and ending points of time, known
as the Big Bang and the Big Crunch. The soul reflects from these
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
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
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,
those become essentially unconscious pieces of matter.
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
and unconsciousness in that there is a consciousness reflecting off an
-What makes the
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
the entities themselves.
the theory that you just referred to, that the universe as we know
exists in a vacuum?
There was a great philosopher and scientist whose name was Arthur
Eddington and he gave us a model to understand this concept. As
pointed out: here I am, sitting at a table, writing this paper.
when I describe this "real" table in the language of science as I
it, it is a ghost; in fact it is made of atoms that are themselves
-If you look at an
the size of the nucleus of an atom and compare it to the whole of an
one finds it to be one part in a hundred million billion or something
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
terms of what we call the material world!
this concept, it radically alters your perspective of the universe
and in fact, the vacuum or empty space that never goes away, becomes
about the only thing that is tangible and real when you take the
point of view.
about the soul wanting to manifest itself in matter, which
an ongoing tension that the self perceives as desire.
is like this: There is undifferentiated spirit which is both conscious
and unconscious. In order to become conscious it has to reflect, and
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,
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
to oneself, which is desire.
-The Qabalists speak
this frequently-that resistance is necessary for life. The resistance
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
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
the fundamental spark of desire.
-It could be a
we all have for each other, or to be in love, or the basic sexual
that's the fundamental energy. Basically, each of us desires, because
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
in the other. I think that's what falling in love means. It's a falling
out of the vacuum into the material.
his desire as "rising in love."
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
with falling in love of satisfying the sense of the body; whereas,
in love is almost a renunciation of that need to satisfy the senses.
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?
to me, and maybe it will become more evident to others, that
and matter are not in such separate camps as a lot of people used to
It was popularly thought that mind deals with mind things - thoughts,
and so forth - and that body deals with physiological things, and that
there is virtually no communication between the two.
Knowles is a masters degree candidate at John F. Kennedy
Consciousness Studies program, with a concentration in Dream Studies,
a certificate candidate in Conflict Resolution.
some of the research I did for The Spiritual Universe, it seems
to me that knowledge can be envisioned as embodied. Not
the metaphorical sense, but literally embodied in the material sense.
Knowledge can alter and change the biology and physical
thing that has that knowledge. How that knowledge is expressed can
change the body. In other words, there is the possibility that we
alter and change ourselves by how and what we learn, how and what we
ourselves with, and what we do with that information.
-If you ask me how
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
the responsibility for that means being as open and as truthful about
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
we could learn a lot more from each other. We could become more human
we have been up to this point.
to me that those of us who have this expanded awareness just
to continue developing, writing, speaking, and being with people -
that your presence, your words, and your attitudes do more than just
yourself or your mind, but affect mind overall. I think that's enough.