Universe or polyverse? Finishing up the quantum business

For the past month we’ve been exploring the weird world of quantum mechanics. Did you find it confusing? It certainly can be. But you can do yourself a favor, and fully understand the basics of the famous double slit experiment, by typing four words into your search engine. Type: “double slit” and “Dr. quantum.” Then watch the short YouTube video.

If it inspires you to investigate further, you’ll find that even these past few months, science journals keep publishing experiments about this. It’s an ongoing obsession in modern science. Physicists continue to debate what it means. At one extreme, such eminent scientists as the late John Wheeler argued that our observations even physically change the past history of the universe. In this “participatory universe” model, the past is not glued in place, but mutates according to what we do and observe now. Other physicists disagree, and continue to debate whether it’s the observer’s mind that determines experimental results. With all the controversy, what’s a reasonable takeaway?

Considering how experiments since 1997 show that observations do indeed physically affect “entangled twins,” the most conservative conclusion is probably that, yes, a connection exists between nature and ourselves as observers. I think it’s now reasonable to conclude that consciousness and the so-called external universe are one and the same, with neither having any actual reality without the other.


All this hearkens back to our ancient nonstop attempts to figure out what this universe is. A mere century ago, most people understood the cosmos in scriptural terms: God created everything. The main problem with this was that nobody could explain God, so the fundamental mystery was not solved, but only postponed. Thus, the Bible wasn’t very helpful, even if it was true. Moreover, the Old Testament portrayed Jehovah as some sort of peculiar Being: an eternal, omnipotent entity that was nonetheless easily annoyed. To many, it didn’t make sense that a deity that could create a universe would mete out a death sentence for someone gathering firewood on the Sabbath.

By the 1920s, the intellectual world had largely abandoned scriptural explanations in favor of scientific methods. Many who remained deists nonetheless preferred rational models when it came to tackling big-ticket questions such as cosmic birth, size and inventory.

That remained the case even as it became apparent that the science explanation of the cosmos really didn’t make any more sense than “God did it.” Cosmology says that the universe popped into existence one Saturday morning 13.8 billion years ago, but has no idea why and how that could have happened. Nor can it suggest any antecedent conditions that might have caused a universe to spring from nothingness. It is an “explanation” devoid of intelligibility. Billions of years later, life and consciousness arose on at least one planet, but science cannot explain this either.

Cosmologists then learned that at a distance of 13.8 billion light-years, objects recede at the speed of light, so that nothing can be seen beyond that barrier. Yet much evidence shows that the vast bulk of the cosmos lies farther than that. Indeed, as likely as not, the cosmos is infinite in size, and infinite in its inventory of galaxies, stars and energy. Unfortunately, the human mind cannot visualize this.

It gets worse. The majority of the universe is composed of some unknown “dark matter” that has gravity but is not visible, and “dark energy,” which is some sort of anti-gravity force. Just as disconcerting: The space or size of the cosmos is not “fixed” or reliable, but changes dimensions depending on the observer’s speed and gravitational field. Thus, the universe is actually sizeless. It has no fixed dimensions.

Time, too – agree quantum theory and relativity – is not some real entity, but a malleable unfolding of motions whose events proceed at changeable rates depending on local circumstances. Thus, no model using time and space can be a trustworthy way of conceiving of reality.

As if all this isn’t shaky enough, we now have the probable interplay between ourselves as observers and the previously assumed insentient universe. Plus, we know that effects can occur instantaneously across space, suggesting that it’s all interconnected and unconfined to light-speed. One takeaway: Observations and experiments of the past 80 years powerfully suggest that the Buddhists and Hindus were right all along when they said that “All is One.”

So that’s why it’s important to grasp what quantum revelations are showing. It’s not about acquiring some new worldview or philosophy; rather, an accurate understanding of the science should make us aware that we knew far less than we thought we did about the nature of the cosmos and our place in it. If this produces a genuine sense of humility, I’m convinced that this alone might help gain firsthand revelations. I suspect that grasping what’s going on may not require the often-contradictory conceptual realm where we must understand quantum superpositions or exactly how an observer produces a “wave function collapse.”

The key may lie in simplicity rather than complexity. Perhaps, as William Blake concluded way back in 1803, we may better grasp the cosmos via mindfulness, by relaxedly observing any of its parts – by seeing “a world in a grain of sand, and a heaven in a wild flower.”