Quantum mysticism?

A couple of things to consider, if you have noticed how quantum phenomena – like particle entanglement and the role of observers – are often checked, these days, in discussions about spirituality (as if we are entangled, as if consciousness is fundamental…)

First, a discussion between me and Rupert Sheldrake, available as podcast and iTunes, as the latest in our Science Set Free musings: the spiritual uses of science.

Second, a piece published in the Church Times on the validity of the supposed resonances between what bosons get up to and what spiritual beings detect. An excerpt:

A recent poll of physicists and philosophers, conducted by Professor Anton Zeilinger, a physicist who is known for his work on quantum entanglement, reports that the favourite way of understanding what quantum physics means is known as the Copenhagen interpretation. Devised by such luminaries as Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg, it says that, in spite of the success of the science, it tells us nothing about the way the world is in itself. Objective truth lies permanently behind a veil of ignorance. The paradox of Schrödinger’s cat simply highlights what we cannot know, not what we might infer.

The upshot is that all the spiritual speculations are just that: speculations. The science confirms nothing for sure. Appealing to the physics as a source of authority is a mistake. As the Revd Dr John Polkinghorne, the former physics professor who was later ordained priest, has remarked: “Physics is showing the world to be both more supple and subtle, but you need to be careful.”

Whether or not the Copenhagen interpretation is itself right, or whether other possibilities might be better, is not likely to be decided any time soon. In the mean time, it seems sensible to be wary of quantum spirituality, when the science is being asked to do more than provide vivid analogies for spiritual realities.

Spirituality should trust its own sources of authority. It is a mistake to reach out to a science that is undecided, and likely to change remarkably fast.

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