Kosmic Journey

Integral living and wellness. Physical and psychological well-being. Personal enrichment, change management, professional development and learning. Achievement motivation and positive thinking. Emotional and spiritual intelligence. Everything that makes our life more productive and meaningful.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Does Physics Prove God?

Ken Wilber answers the question in his IN Forum [Courtesy Integral Naked]
Does physics prove God, does the Tao find proof in quantum realities?
Answer: "Categorically not. I don't know more confusion in the last thirty years than has come from quantum physics...."

Ken goes on to outline the three major confusions that have dominated the popular (mis)understanding of the relationship of physics and mysticism.

#1: Your consciousness does not create electrons. Unlike Newtonian physics, which can predict the location of large objects moving at slow speeds, quantum physics only offers a probability wave in which a given particle, like an electron, should show up. But here's the funny thing: it is only at the moment that one makes the measurement that the electron actually does "show up." Certain writers and theorists have thus suggested that human intentionality actually creates reality on a quantum level. The most popular version of this idea can be found in the movie What the Bleep Do We Know?!, in which we "qwaff" reality into existence.

Ken suggests this is both bad physics and bad mysticism. As for the former, in his book, Quantum Questions, Ken compiled the original writings of the 13 most important founders of modern quantum and relativistic physics, to explore their understanding of the relationship of physics and mysticism. Without exception, each one of them believed that modern physics does NOT prove spiritual realities in any fashion. And yet each of them was a mystic, not because of physics, but in spite of it. By pushing to the outer limits of their discipline, a feat which requires true genius, they found themselves face to face with those realities that physics categorically could not explain.

Likewise, none of those founders of modern physics believed that the act of consciousness was responsible for creating particles at the quantum level. David Bohm did not believe that, Schroedinger did not believe that, Heisenberg did not believe that. That belief requires the enormous self-infatuation and narcissism, or "boomeritis," of the post-modern ego, and Ken goes into the possible psychology behind all of that.

#2: Quantum vacuum potentials are not unmanifest Spirit. The immediate problem with the notion that certain "unmanifest" or "vacuum" quantum realities give rise to the manifest world, and that the quantum vacuum is Spirit, is that it immediately presupposes a radically divided Spirit or Ultimate. There is Spirit "over here," manifestation "over there," and it's only through these quantum vacuum potentials that Spirit actualizes manifestation—with Spirit set apart from manifestation.

As the great contemplative traditions agree, true nondual Spirit is the suchness, emptiness, or isness of all manifestation, and as such leaves everything exactly where it finds it. Nondual Spirit is no more set apart from manifestation than the wetness of the ocean is set apart from waves. Wetness is the suchness or isness of all waves. By identifying Spirit with quantum potential, you are actually qualifying the Unqualifiable, giving it characteristics—"and right there," Ken says, "things start to go horribly wrong, and they never recover. These folks are trying to give characteristics to Emptiness. They therefore make it dualistic. And then things get worse from there...."

#3: Just because you understand quantum mechanics doesn't mean you're enlightened. Physics is an explicitly 3rd-person approach to reality, whereas meditative, contemplative, or mystical disciplines are explicitly 1st-person approaches to reality. Neither perspective is more real than the other, but each perspective does disclose different truths, and you cannot use the truth disclosed in one domain to "colonize" another. The study of physics, as a 3rd-person discipline, will not get you enlightenment; and meditation, as a 1st-person discipline, will not disclose the location of an asteroid (or an electron). The "content" of enlightenment is the realization of that which is timeless, formless, and eternally unchanging. The content of physics is the understanding of the movement of form within time, i.e. that which is constantly changing. And if you hook Buddha's enlightenment to a theory of physics that gets disproved tomorrow, does that mean Buddha loses his enlightenment?

Ken goes on to suggest that what might be influencing quantum realities is not Suchness per se, but bio-energy or prana, which may be the source of the crackling, buzzing, electric creativity that so many theorists have tried to explain at the quantum level. Of course, it remains to be seen exactly what further research does and does not support.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

String Theory: A Theory of Everything Or a Theory of Anything?

Comments by Paul Boutin on Physicist Lawrence Krauss' new book "Hiding in the Mirror"
Excerpted from Slate Online magazine (November 23, 2005)

String theory proposes a solution that reconciles relativity and quantum mechanics. To get there, it requires two radical changes in our view of the universe. The first is easy: What we've presumed are subatomic particles are actually tiny vibrating strings of energy, each 100 billion billion times smaller than the protons at the nucleus of an atom.

That's easy to accept. But for the math to work, there also must be more physical dimensions to reality than the three of space and one of time that we can perceive. The most popular string models require 10 or 11 dimensions. What we perceive as solid matter is mathematically explainable as the three-dimensional manifestation of "strings" of elementary particles vibrating and dancing through multiple dimensions of reality, like shadows on a wall. In theory, these extra dimensions surround us and contain myriad parallel universes. Nova's "The Elegant Universe" used Matrix-like computer animation to convincingly visualize these hidden dimensions.

Sounds neat, huh—almost too neat? Krauss' book is subtitled The Mysterious Allure of Extra Dimensions as a polite way of saying String Theory Is for Suckers. String theory, he explains, has a catch: Unlike relativity and quantum mechanics, it can't be tested. That is, no one has been able to devise a feasible experiment for which string theory predicts measurable results any different from what the current wisdom already says would happen. Scientific Method 101 says that if you can't run a test that might disprove your theory, you can't claim it as fact. When I asked physicists like Nobel Prize-winner Frank Wilczek and string theory superstar Edward Witten for ideas about how to prove string theory, they typically began with scenarios like, "Let's say we had a particle accelerator the size of the Milky Way …" Wilczek said strings aren't a theory, but rather a search for a theory. Witten bluntly added, "We don't yet understand the core idea."

If stringers admit that they're only theorizing about a theory, why is Krauss going after them? He dances around the topic until the final page of his book, when he finally admits, "Perhaps I am oversensitive on this subject … " Then he slips into passive-voice scientist-speak. But here's what he's trying to say: No matter how elegant a theory is, it's a baloney sandwich until it survives real-world testing.

Krauss should know. He spent the 1980s proposing formulas that worked on a chalkboard but not in the lab. He finally made his name in the '90s when astronomers' observations confirmed his seemingly outlandish theory that most of the energy in the universe resides in empty space. Now Krauss' field of theoretical physics is overrun with theorists freed from the shackles of experimental proof. The string theorists blithely create mathematical models positing that the universe we observe is just one of an infinite number of possible universes that coexist in dimensions we can't perceive. And there's no way to prove them wrong in our lifetime. That's not a Theory of Everything, it's a Theory of Anything, sold with whizzy PBS special effects.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Peter Drucker: Three Criticisms of His Work

[An Excerpt from The Economist, November 17, 2005]

There are three persistent criticisms of Mr Drucker's work. The first is that he was never as good on small organisations—particularly entrepreneurial start-ups—as he was on big ones. “The Concept of the Corporation” was in many ways a fanfare to big organisations: “We know today that in modern industrial production, particularly in modern mass production,” Mr Drucker opined, “the small unit is not only inefficient, it cannot produce at all.” The book helped to launch the “big organisation boom” that dominated business thinking for the next 20 years.

The second criticism is that Mr Drucker's enthusiasm for management by objectives helped to lead business down a dead end. Most of today's best organisations have abandoned this idea—at least in the mechanistic form that it rapidly assumed. They prefer to allow ideas—including ideas for long-term strategies—to bubble up from the bottom and middle of the organisations rather than being imposed from on high. And they tend to eschew the complex management structures of the management-by-objectives era. The reason is that top management is often cut off from the people who know both their markets and their products best (a criticism that certainly rings true in Mr Bush's White House, though that is another story).

Third, Mr Drucker is criticised for being a maverick in the management world—and a maverick who has increasingly been left behind by the increasing rigour of his chosen field. He taught in tiny Claremont rather than at Harvard or Stanford. He never grappled with the rigours of quantitative techniques. There is no single area of academic management theory that he made his own—as Michael Porter did with strategy and Theodore Levitt did with marketing. He would throw out a highly provocative idea—such as the idea that the West has entered a post-capitalist society, thanks to the importance of pension funds—without really clarifying his terms or tying up his arguments.

There is some truth in the first two arguments. Mr Drucker never wrote anything as good as “The Concept of the Corporation” on entrepreneurial start-ups. This is odd, given his personality: this prophet of the “age of organisations” was a quintessential individualist who was happiest ploughing his own furrow. (One of his favourite sayings was, “One either meets or one works.”) It is also remarkable since he spent so much of his life in southern California—a hotbed of individualism and entrepreneurialism that helped to produce the small-business revolution of the 1980s. Mr Drucker's work on management by objectives sits uneasily with his earlier (and later) writing on the importance of knowledge workers and self-directed teams.

But the third argument—that he was too much of a maverick—is both short-sighted and unfair. It is short-sighted because it ignores Mr Drucker's pioneering role in creating the modern profession of management. He produced one of the first systematic studies of a big company. He pioneered the idea that ideas can help galvanise companies. And he helped to make management fashionable with a constant stream of popular writing. It may be over-egging things to claim that Mr Drucker was “the man who invented management”. But he certainly made a unique contribution to the development of the subject.

It is true that he cannot be put into any neat academic pigeonhole: he liked to refer to himself as a “social ecologist” rather than a management theorist, still less a management guru (he once quipped that journalists use the word “guru” only because “charlatan” is too long for a headline). It is true that he eschewed the system-building of some of his fellow academics. And he preferred reading Jane Austen to doing multivariate analysis.

But system-building often produces castles in the air rather than enduring insights. (It is notable that Mr Drucker's most systematic work—on management by objectives—has lasted least well.) Mr Drucker made up for his lack of system with a stream of insights on an extraordinary range of subjects: he was one of the first people to predict, back in the 1950s, that computers would revolutionise business, for example. His reading of history enabled him to see through the fog that clouds less learned minds: he liked to puncture breathless talk of the new age of globalisation by pointing out that companies such as Fiat (founded in 1899) and Siemens (founded in 1847) produced more abroad than at home almost as soon as they got off the ground.