We’ve come a long way from the certainties of Newton and Einstein. In the Good Old Days, men were men, women were women, reality was objective, and science wasn’t trippy psychedelic mysticism.
Looks like that’s all over now.
Science has never been more divided about what is or isn’t real, but they all agree that something definitely isn’t. That, at least, is agreed upon by Cognitive Scientists, who study consciousness, and physics, especially quantum physicists. The former have become increasingly convinced that our perceptions of reality are a product of how our brain works, and not how reality actually is at all. Our senses, what we see, what we hear, what we touch, might not represent what is actually Out There, in reality, any more than a desktop Twitter icon represents a real bird. What we THINK is reality, may just be our ‘user interface’ with a reality that has to be hugely altered before it reaches our brains so that our brains can make any sense of it, and use sensory data to keep us alive.
In other words, Reality as we understand it, what we think we see and hear and feel around us, is an illusion.
How far down the rabbit hole does that go? Well, in that article linked in the previous paragraph, Dr. Donald Hoffman suggests that a snake, or a train, might not exist, except as a kind of avatar in our own consciousness for us to understand some other kind of danger or utility. The ‘snake’ we see might not have anything at all to do with what a snake is, but rather is just a way our brain explains something to us in a way we can understand.
But meanwhile, on the opposite end of the people who study the mind, is the people who study the Universe. And they say almost the opposite: reality doesn’t exist unless we observe it. At the Quantum level, nothing has a definite existence until it is observed. This has led some theorists to conclude that reality as we understand it is an outcome of observation.
Now to be fair, neither of these are saying that there is no such thing as reality, or that we “make our own reality” in the horrible “Quantum Woo” sense of new-age celebrities like Deepak Chopra, who have abused the weirdness of Quantum Physics to sell nonsense to people.
No, Deepak. The moon exists. What’s being debated is whether it exists in a way that it is an objective thing that we all see differently (subjectively), or that it is different to everyone who sees it, because observation defines measurable reality.
So I am not a cognitive scientist, or a quantum physicist. But I AM academically trained in religious history and comparative religion, and I’m a practicing Wizard too. And I have to say, I’ve seen all of this before! Like, as far as thousands of years back. At this point “science” is starting to look a hell of a lot like mysticism.
In esoteric spirituality, all the stuff that we’re seeing in the center and the fringes of science today have been talked about since forever. It’s all there: the “reality exists but YOU are the illusion” thing, the “reality is an illusion but YOU exist” thing, the “nothing actually has concrete reality” thing, even the imbecilic “you can create your own reality with happy thoughts” nonsense.
Because of that last one, and people like Chopra who irresponsibly try to rationalize the cheapest dumbest type of religious wishful-thinking with the facade of science, modern scientists are pretty distrustful of the esoteric philosophers.
But maybe they shouldn’t be. First, because the more authentic and sophisticated esoteric philosophers delved deeply into these things. They didn’t have all of the scientific method to do it, but they had observation, the study of the human mind, of human nature, of observed nature, and they also had mathematics.
Over 1200 years ago, Buddhism had this to say about the nature of reality versus our perceptions:
Which sounds a hell of a lot like what cognitive scientists have gotten at right around now.
And the Quantum Physicists? Well, the I Ching, which was designed over three thousand years ago, is a cosmological system for understanding the process of change through time and space. It uses a code based on binary mathematics. It’s a kind of technology.
The I Ching theorizes that at any given present point in time, the future consists of a number of probable potential events that are already incipient (that is, have the seed of their existence) in the present time.
As time progresses, choices are made, and some of these possible futures are blocked while others emerge. Our arriving at a new ‘present’ is what collapses all possibilities but the one that is experienced. Pretty much like how waveforms collapse.
But wait, there’s more. There’s an I Ching connection to all of Quantum Physics: the early quantum physicists, including Heisenberg, Schrodinger, and especially Niels Bohr, were all students of the I Ching!
Bohr was so affected by its insights that when he was given a knighthood and had to pick a coat of arms, he chose the Taiji, the symbol of the I Ching, as the centerpiece of its heraldry:
So what’s happening there? Does Quantum Physics look how it looks because of the I Ching? Unless you buy Chopra’s deal about inventing your own reality, that doesn’t make sense.
So that leaves us with people like Bohr being inspired by the I Ching because it revealed to him something that helped him understand the nature of reality. Because the great philosophers of world history have had this covered for three freaking millennia now.
Maybe the guys wrestling with these issues today should take a page from Bohr.