Saturday, October 25, 2008

Paradox in Mysticism and Quantum Physics

Paradox is, effectively, two concepts that are mutually exclusive yet nevertheless exist in the same time and space. For instance, in terms of faith, it is often said that Deity is so small it can live within us yet so vast it is greater than time and space. This is a paradox, how can both things be simultaneously true? Or in terms of physics, how can there be up to eleven dimensions (string theory) while we can only discern four: length, width, height, and time. However, on a more basic level our entire universe exists in a paradox.

Physicist, Dr. Mani Bhaumik—co-inventor of the Lasik laser, observed in his book Code Name God “…(the essence of both mysticism and quantum physics is paradox) what is perceived as empty can also be perceived as full, in the sense of an infinite potential” (pg. 120). By this he was intimating that there is a relationship between the understanding found in mystical experiences and teachings and the understanding evolving from the study of quantum physics. Why might this happen?

At its most profound level mysticism attempts to describe the relationship between the universe and the human being. Historically, mystics have commented that there is no distinction between them and God. Generally this has been understood as heresy by the major religions. However, that is only because they do not have the experience of the mystics. From a mystical perspective there is no difference when the mystic is operating in what the Hindu refers to as “the bliss”. At this point of the experience, the mystic has tapped something beyond the self, something which transcends time and space, something in which the mystic enjoys the experience of non-distinction from the environment--in all its various forms. At this time, there is no past or future, only eternal present and complete unity with all of creation and beyond. What has been classified as the ego/self disappears for the duration of the blissfulness.

This is not as distant as it might seem. For fifty years the work of Abraham Maslow and other humanistic researchers have sought to understand the process of transformation in which people move beyond their environmental boundaries. When this happens there is a sense of unity with all creation. Boundaries disappear as does the sense of consciousness of time as it is normally understood or experienced. In fact, Maslow, Religions, Values, and Peak-Experiences, cites Bucke’s work from 1923 called Cosmic Consciousness, when he declares: “Cosmic Consciousness involves an attention-widening so that the whole cosmos is perceived as a unity, and one’s place in this whole is simultaneously perceived” (p. 78).

Still this is not enough to classify this phenomenon as a paradox. Instead, it merely describes the ability of the human being to move beyond the culturally limited boundaries of experience derived from the acculturation process. And perhaps this is the paradox: that there is ability inside a person which allows him or her to somehow move beyond the limits established by society. This must, at the least, imply the capability of holding multiple conflicting perceptions simultaneously. In psycho-dynamic terms this might well be the internal struggle which defines individual growth towards completeness versus the acculturated process of wanting to maintain a homeostatic environment. This is indeed a paradox, if not the paradox, of human psychology; that a person can hold mutually exclusive perceptions in tension and act upon them independently and exclusively.

For the quantum physicist the problem is more concrete, but less easy to describe. For example, photon, electrons, and recently atoms, have been shown to show the same inexplicable quantum behavior – to approach matter and suddenly appear on the other side of the object, without seeming to have actually encountered the physical object. Based upon what is traditionally accepted about matter this should not be happening. Things do not suddenly “jump” from one place to another. Yet the entire current theory of electron orbits states exactly that. Electrons are either in one orbit or another, they are never found in between orbits. Consequently they do “jump” between orbits or points in space.

Another paradox exists with the concept of wave action of electrons. In theory the electron wave exists in all possible points simultaneously. It only becomes a particle at the point it is observed and all of the other possibilities “collapse” or become part of the single resolution of where the electron is at any specific point in time. Thus, the electron is at all possible points on the wave, and there are mathematical equations used to demonstrate this theory and the resulting experiments, simultaneously—a paradoxical statement.

Specifically in terms of Dr. Bhaumik’s earlier statement, the mystical perspective is that since there is no distinction between God/universe/consciousness and the mystic then the universe is pregnant with possibilities for creation yet it is empty of everything that distinguishes separateness from creation. Just as the electron is on all points of the wave until it collapses because of the presence of an observer, so the universe for the mystic is everywhere simultaneously until something brings about an intervention of consciousness into the experience and collapses the blissful state. It is in this state of blissfulness that miracles occur and are not limited by circumstances.

This is what the various faiths have taught us all along. Matter is a product of something beyond the physical and as such it is subject to mutation and variation from previous constriction by something operating at the level of the non-material – at the creative level. This is the point Dr. Bhaumik was making in his writing. This creative level has been accessible to mysticism, regardless of religious doctrine, for millennia and accesses the physical world--in ways a materialistically based approach can not address--to alter it. Mysticism provides the insight into the application and instructions in how to access these paradoxes. Faith provides the vehicle to apply the insights from mysticism.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Heroes as Transgressors

“The body is responsible for an intricate network of psychological negotiations to preserve us as we are. But we have been made to believe that our body is constantly tempting us with its desire—when it is the soul that will not settle for the body’s meaningless sacrifices, and it is the soul that is responsible for boldness, daring, risk-taking, and transgression” (p. 49). Thus states Brazilian Rabbi Nilton Bonder in his book Our Immoral Soul: A Manifesto of Spiritual Disobedience.

Rabbi Bonder makes the point that it is not the staid members of a culture that contribute to the redefinition and re-energizing of the culture. Rather it is the transgressors who are able to hear or see or feel another perspective from the voice of deity than the one that is constantly being heard by the masses. Indeed, it is the person who understands a different interpretation of reality that allows for the civilization to move forward rather than remaining the same for generations. People are not redeemed for performing the same activity in the same way over generations. Instead, people are uplifted by behaving in ways that energize the soul and help the body respond to divine directive, whether the response has a cultural blessing or not.

These people are the risk takers. And notably, it is only the risk takers who are able to re-construct the civilization in the present and for the future. Years ago while researching Chaos Theory I discovered some articles linking Chaos Theory and Medical outcome. Specifically, one of the reports focused on the importance of chaos versus random or consistent heartbeat helping the person to stay healthy. As it turned out in the article if the heartbeat is random it will cause death. If it is consistent and repetitious it is also dangerous to health. Apparently, the best type of beat for the heart is one based on a little chaos (very minor but measureable variations over time) in the beat so that everything is not the same from beat to beat.

Variation from the expected norm allows the person to prosper in terms of health and also in terms of moving humanity along. The great leaders who influenced the world have essentially been people who called us to redefine the meaning of doing what’s right and challenged them to do what’s good. Sometimes, as Rabbi Bonder contended, this movement to do the good meant not doing what is right, as when Abraham did not sacrifice Isaac, the right thing, but presented an offering provided by deity because he heard another voice than the one from his culture.

This type of action required not only the ability to stand against convention, but also to reach into the conventional interpretation and reframe it, literally to hear another voice than his peers. He stepped outside of what was right, the offering, and did what is good. The result was the beginning of the Jewish community. And this is exactly what our faith calls us to do—to step outside our comfort zone, to hear another voice, to act on that voice, and redefine what our culture perceives as its future. Faith empowers risk, transgression, and forgiveness. It’s our choice whether to perform the good at the cost of the right.