The Edge between Physics and Psychology. In a single volume, Arnold Mindell brings together psychology, physics, math, myth, and shamanism – not only mapping the way for next-generation science but also applying this wisdom to personal growth, group dynamics, social and political processes, and environmental issues. Beginning with a discussion of cultural impacts on mathematics, he presents esoteric but plausible interpretations of imaginary numbers and the quantum wavefunction. In this context he discusses dreams, psychology, illness, shape-shifting (moving among realities), and the self-reflecting Universe – bringing in not only shamanism but also the Aboriginal, Greek, and Hindu myths and even sacred geometry from the Masonic orders and the Native Americans. The book is enriched by several psychological exercises that enable the reader to subjectively experience mathematics (counting, discounting, squaring, complex conjugating), physics (parallel worlds, time travel), and shamanism (shape-shifting).
"For the first time in Quantum Mind, I connected the dreaming process occurring in the depths of the night to the mathematical codes of awareness that I found in quantum theory. In this quantum theory, equations of self-reflection appear and show the possibilities and tendencies - as Heisenberg called them - to what psychologists might refer to as deep, dream-like experiences. In Quantum Mind, I show how these tendencies appear to us in everyday life in terms of slight, brief, sentient experiences. This sentient-quantum realm that I found in quantum theory is the secret to much of my work that followed." - Arny Mindell in Quantum Mind
Book Review by Frontier Perspectives, a Publication of the Temple University, Philadelphia, Volume 10, Number 1, Spring 2001, www.temple.edu/CFS
Reviewed by Dave Stein
In a single volume, Arnold Mindell brings together psychology, physics, math, myth, and shamanism – not only mapping the way for next-generation science but also applying this wisdom to personal growth, group dynamics, social and political processes, and environmental issues. Beginning with a discussion of cultural impacts on mathematics, he presents esoteric but plausible interpretations of imaginary numbers and the quantum wavefunction. In this context he discusses dreams, psychology, illness, shape-shifting (moving among realities), and the self-reflecting Universe – bringing in not only shamanism but also the Aboriginal, Greek, and Hindu myths and even sacred geometry from the Masonic orders and the Native Americans. The book is enriched by several psychological exercises that enable the reader to subjectively experience mathematics (counting, discounting, squaring, complex conjugating), physics (parallel worlds, time travel), and shamanism (shape-shifting).
Much of the book is a journey through non-consensus reality (NCR) – the world of imaginary numbers, complex wavefunctions, virtual particles, and individual subjective experiences such as dreams, feelings, emotions, telepathy, fleeting thoughts, fantasies, sudden intuitions, altered states, and near-death experiences. In various cultures, the NCR experience has been known as or associated with the etheric or astral body, the shadow reality, the dance, the Ka. Ghosts, virtual particles, or anything else can exist in NCR, since nobody can disprove them, and space and time are experienced nonlinearly (“time flies” or “time is dragging”). In contrast, consensus reality (CR) is based on collective agreement and scientific authority.
From several vantage points, Mindell makes the case that CR is not the only reality. First, he notes the profound roles that culture and personal psychology play in mathematics and thus in physics – specifically, in the aggregate that one perceives. With powerful examples including a culture that values sons more than daughters, he presents the concept of “discounting” or marginalizing. Proposing that numbers represent only an interaction between the counter and a CR, he also mentions indications that simply choosing a physics experiment helps determine the outcome. Thus, our counting co-creates the “objective” (CR) Universe. However, Mindell contends, reality is CR plus NCR, that which we count plus that which we marginalize. He bolsters his case with Gödel’s proof that no axiomatic mathematical system can prove its own consistency through (CR) deductive reasoning – a limitation with implications for physics, where relativity also argues against an absolute reality.
Mindell further observes that theories themselves are not totally objective but are based on CR terms and concepts, can be CR verified (by experiment), are consistent with other (CR) known laws of physics, and marginalize phenomena that we are not ready to observe. Echoing the anthropic principle, he notes that the physical universe can never be known independently of human measurements and choices of what to measure. Recognizing that in times past, ghosts were more CR-accepted than were particles, he argues that the views of nature also change with changes in CR. Today, virtual particles are “acceptable ghosts.”
Throughout the book, Mindell identifies parallels between imaginary numbers and NCR. Noting that even Leibniz considered imaginary numbers to be almost “amphibious” between being and non-being, Mindell proposes that complex numbers represent an awareness field and are analogous to total CR + NCR experiences. For example, if a+ib represents a tree, the “a” represents the tree’s CR characteristics (species, height, age) whereas the “b” represents the feelings that one gets from the tree. For an illness, the “a” might represent body temperature while the “b” represents pain. By multiplying the complex wavefunction by its conjugate, one transforms it into a CR-measurable quantity but hides the imaginary part and thereby marginalizes aspects of reality.
In like manner, contemporary psychology often takes only the “real part” of an experience, its CR attributes that can be verbalized and thus shared with others. This is what dream interpretation does (where in Mindell’s terminology, “dreams” refer to all NCR experiences). Noting Jung’s findings that dream symbols have personal meanings as well as objective ones, Mindell compares dream symbols to complex numbers. Upon awakening, one might notice how a dream is reflected and follow how it self-amplifies (squares itself). As the imaginary part of a dream or of a complex wavefunction can have observable consequences, Mindell suggests that reality itself has a hidden, dreaming background.
Elaborating further, Mindell compares two approaches in psychology, one state-oriented and one process-oriented. The state approach or “path of crumbs” is likened to the quantum electrodynamic (QED) description of particle interactions and to infinitely small but discrete steps in calculus, steps that halt the process flow to focus on CR explanations. In contrast, the process approach is analogous to S-matrix theory, to derivatives (a.k.a. fluxions, suggesting immersion in the flow) in calculus, and to the I Ching. It follows the process, does not break up the steps of “the dance,” and like S-matrix theory maintains that whatever happens in the middle of the process cannot be known in CR terms. While both complementary approaches are needed, state-oriented thinking has often been favored.
Nonlocality characterizes both the wavefunction and dreaming. They are nowhere and everywhere at once, as tendencies. Dreams are potentials that go beyond the edge of one’s CR identity and perhaps wavefunctions are spread among parallel universes, each having its own observer-observed relationship. Observation collapses the wavefunction into an “awakened” or localized particle or a particular view of events that marginalizes all other views. The psychological analogy is integration of dreaming. Both “particle” and “dream” are CR terms for things that are not understood, especially when “in transit.” Thinking about the meaning of a fantasy or other NCR experience stops or at least marginalizes it – just as in the double slit experiment, measuring the electron in transit marginalizes its wavelike behavior.
In psychology, the “virtual particles” include imaginary beings such as the shadow, the self, the parent, and the inner child, together with the thoughts entering and leaving one’s head and the fuzzy, unclear signals (gestures) that circulate around the intended signals. People rarely notice these signals unless they “energize” them with awareness. In analogy with physics, the auras from people’s signals bump into one another and provide a basis for interpersonal attraction and repulsion. Even if virtual particles don’t exist, they “explain” things in psychology and physics (and as NCR entities cannot be disproven).
Mindell proposes additional analogies. Addition is amplifying an experience. Squaring amplifies an experience or a number according to its own nature. For example, moods become better or worse in a self-generating way. Calculus is immersion in the flow with an awareness only of the moment, outside of CR time and beyond measurement. Complex numbers symbolize higher symmetries in the universe, and their own mirror image symmetries are depicted in Navajo and (Native American) Delaware sacred symbols. Deciding to notice a psychosomatic symptom is akin to deciding what to observe in an experiment. Marginalizing an experience at variance with one’s identity is like disregarding “out-lier” data points. In psychology, wherever one looks, one sees himself, just as one might see his own back by looking far enough into space. As some physicists contend that uncertainty and inconsistency are basic to nature, some psychologists maintain that people are mysterious and can never be understood (although the shaman would disagree).
Both in general relativity and in dreaming or other altered states of consciousness, spacetime becomes curved or warped. Psychoses, psychological complexes, and comatose states are analogous to black holes, discontinuities in one’s experience of physical reality. Indeed, one can feel trapped by complexes, and the comatose state is like a transition to another universe beyond an “event horizon” of communication. Peak experiences that arise from altered states can link one to everything in the universe, to the meaning and flow of life. In analogy with the Big Bang, they unfold for years in terms of our everyday lives or “world lines” after they “cool off.” Also, every mass creates curvature, an invitation to traverse a certain path. Similarly, people are invitations to a particular path.
As the wavefunction shows the measurable pattern of particles, dreams show the pattern of complexes (also measurable), believed by Jung to result from painful events from the past. To work on complexes, one needs access to dreams, which like wavefunctions cannot be measured in CR. Mindell analyzes re-stimulation of complexes in terms of Feynman diagrams. In one view, a complex is experienced as an antiparticle – complete with opposite “charge” (characteristics) to represent your object of fear – that “annihilates” you. In this view, you marginalize your experiences and feel that the world is disturbing you. In an alternate view, you step out of time (as a particle traveling backward in time), enter the dream world, and shape-shift into the object that you fear, as a shaman would do. Here, the complex is seen as an invitation to change.
Additional central themes of Quantum Mind are nonlocality and the unbroken wholeness. In shamanic or traditional wisdom, everything was interconnected and part of one family. The sky was “grandfather,” the sea was “grandmother,” the earth was “mother,” and everything was a part of “me.” In modern times, Bell’s experiment has corroborated this interconnectedness, which (excluding the possibility of tachyonic signals) demonstrated quantum entanglement of photons. An additional consequence is nonlocality, in which a system’s subtle properties depend on the whole and cannot be analyzed in terms of components (particles). Extending these concepts, Mindell proposes that people are also interconnected and seem to know about one another at some level, irrespective of distance. In psychological nonlocality, one’s identity influences and is influenced by those around him, and personal development is connected with global transformation. One can change only with support from the environment, and personal growth is really personal only in CR. Mindell further develops a quantum mechanical view of group dynamics – specifically, that opposites between people such as moods or viewpoints provide balance by resulting in a total “spin” of zero.
It is partly in this context of non-separability that Mindell presents the concept of the quantum flirt and poses questions that challenge the CR concept of reality. Quantum flirts are NCR phenomena that occur whenever something catches one’s attention, just before he or she begins paying attention to it. Does one first observe a tree or count an electron, or does the tree or electron ask to “catch one’s attention” – and can this account for the relationship between the choice of an experiment and its outcome? When two people communicate – nonverbally as well as verbally – who signaled whom first, and what is a signal? The signals are quantum-entangled, there is no consensus on temporal order in NCR (as in special relativity), and time itself is a CR idea for which some peoples such as the Hopi have no word. Attempts to measure the signals destroy the “dreamtime” in which they are experienced. While blame or causality cannot be assigned, the signals do have space-like and time-like characteristics that are inherent in terms such as “precognition.” Mindell further proposes that a person trained in meditation may notice the flirt before deciding to look at the tree, and that the sense of the flirt is experienced as coming from the future (and can be represented by the wavefunction conjugate). Synchronicities, or quantum flirts experienced as coincidences, are relative – functions of one’s NCR framework, with one or more events not experienced in some frameworks. This “relativity,” Mindell contends – together with the limiting speed of CR signals – accounts for some of the difficulty in proving parapsychological phenomena.
Echoing Feynman in a sense, Mindell proposes that if everything flirts, the world becomes a network of interactions as much as a place with objects and people. Furthermore, this network, together with Mindell’s interpretation of wavefunction conjugation, supports the idea that the sentient roots of consciousness arise not from any one observer or object but in relationship between the observer and the observed. You can see only because you are seen.
Creation of the universe is discussed from the standpoint of the Big Bang, the vacuum, the Empyrean (abode of the gods) in Dante’s Divine Comedy, the Purusha of the Hindus, and the Egyptian goddess Nun, also called “unlimited space,” who was before space and time. Mindell notes that people in altered states have also described vast, creative, unlimited spaces. In addition, he considers the possibility that the Big Bang happened in imaginary spacetime (the existence of which cannot be disproven in CR), as Stephen Hawking has proposed. If true, then the Big Bang can be experienced in NCR. Perhaps this is how Dante, the Egyptians, and others were able to envision creation. The distant past and far future, including one’s other incarnations, have an NCR-like character. Thus, Hawking’s view can be understood as the Universe beginning with dreams, with imaginary time, and with it reflecting upon itself to create “reality.” Similarly, in one’s personal life, dreams and curiosity precede moments of creativity.
This view echoes various creation myths, from India, Japan, Greece, the Native Americans (Zuni, Navajo), the Aboriginal people, and the Eskimos. According to these myths, a universal mind – projected onto deities – is believed to have created the universe by reflecting on itself, by conjugating its wavefunction from its original tendency state. The reflection is akin to our CR-self awareness that results from looking into a mirror, and it is consistent with Mindell’s view that CR has its roots in a network of NCR signal exchanges. The universe is curious about itself and promotes itself to “reality” through its own self-consciousness, which itself depends on that unfolding reality. Furthermore, it has phases of creation-annihilation, which as Aboriginal people once knew, occur in dreamtime. It collapses to a black hole, dreams in a world of tendencies. Then curiosity returns in the dreams, and the cycle begins anew.
In the myths, the deaths or “Big Bangs” of anthropos figures (Pan Ku, Taimatsis, Purusha, Ymir) gave birth to the world of diversity including separate but entangled people. There exists a field with roles, and in CR, seemingly separate people fill the roles and identify with them, playing out “inner” conflicts such as haves vs. have-nots. While separation facilities knowledge through detail, CR can also lead to marginalization, discrimination, and struggle. Furthermore, people are sometimes shifted from one role to its opposite. In this context, Mindell looks at how marginalization and oppressor-victim role shuffling drive human history. Additionally, he presents the concept of shuffling invariance of communities. Some myths maintain that one’s present role is that which his greater community needs.
A crucial aspect of individual and group work, and of shamanism, is role-switching – a shape-shifting in which you discover the aspects of yourself that you have marginalized. In NCR, people are identical, and any one person is too whole to be only one role. They are reflections of one another and need to experience themselves as the other. Furthermore, through the Universal Mind, one has equal access to all of his aspects in time and manifests his tendencies toward completeness. Mindell suggests that consciousness depends on re-learning that you are the other and that history will change when people have awareness of both interconnectedness and social issues, of diversity and sameness. This awareness that marginalizes no one can be developed only with the help of the entire community and does not occur in solitary practice of meditation.
More generally, Mindell suggests that the feelings, experiences, and people that you marginalize during the day as “not me” reverberate as dreams during the night, with their energies sometimes eventually manifesting as a somatic or other chronic problem. Personal identity in CR arises from marginalizing your NCR experiences and sense of interconnecteness, unconsciously forgetting the “fairy tale” to lose yourself in everyday details. Through daydreams, you sometimes recall that enchanted state.
A recurrent theme in Quantum Mind is that the universe observes itself through us and that in NCR, each human observer is actually a part of nature looking at itself. Many early peoples believed that everything on earth is a reflection of its mirror image in the Heavens where all patterns originate – or “As above, so below.” Furthermore, the people and events around you, and that which you call nature, are reflections of you. You reflect someone’s unpleasant behavior only if you also have it, and thus the behavior exists in NCR outside of CR time. Furthermore, the anthropomorphic perspective of human dominion over nature is an illusion. Even when you destroy part of nature through pollution or self-neglect, nature is really marginalizing itself, sacrificing one part for another.
In Mindell’s view, conventional medicine is often ineffective against many chronic problems because they marginalize NCR experiences such as pain, diagnose in causal and reductionist terms, and rely on localized interventions. Similarly, psychotherapy is often focused toward returning people to linear spacetime. Like physicists who treat themselves as recording instruments, therapists strive to be objective, remaining detached from emotions that connect them with their clients. As an alternative that transcends alternative medicine, he proposes a flow- or process-oriented, non-dualistic, experience-based approach, one that establishes relationship in which the practitioner sees an aspect of himself mirrored in the patient. The shaman represents this type of observer. In this approach, a disorder can be seen as an opportunity for liberation from a rigid CR identity.
Building on the visions of Wolfgang Pauli (who maintained that redefining “reality” would be crucial to understanding the interaction between the observer and the observed), Carl Jung (who foresaw a coming together of psychology and quantum physics), and David Bohm (who advocated a new theory based on the outset on unbroken wholeness), Mindell speculates on exciting new directions for psychology and physics, with profound implications for epistemology and ontology. In his view, the next level of understanding will be based on nonlocality and unbroken wholeness at the outset. Dreaming will be seen as the Universe’s background process, more fundamental than elementary particles, ego, or self. To “get there from here,” Mindell contends that physics needs more NCR experiments. He proposes that physicists look beyond the next particle to be discovered and ask “What is the next step in relating to nature?” Similarly, therapists should look beyond one’s inner experiences and ask how they are connected to his or her body and environment.
Recognizing that the mathematical laws of today’s physics have foundations not completely known and that nobody knows why the wavefunction yields right answers, Mindell envisions that next-generation mathematics, physics, and psychology will be based on the nonlocal sentient awareness itself as the fundamental “reality.” In his view, symmetry principles and uncertainty principles may be more fundamental than CR space and time, and symmetry principles in turn may have their origins in self-reflection. Then physics and mathematics will encompass the experienced world as well as the measured world – and matter will have attributes of consciousness or at least non-measurable attributes, as perhaps hinted by Galileo, Leibniz, and some neurophysiologists. Everything is alive through quantum flirts with everything else, and from the viewpoint of indigenous peoples, everything is a living being with an awareness process similar to that of humans. In this view, it is natural to think of a tree as participating in our observing it, asking us to observe it.
Mindell suggests extensions of physical laws, for example, a conservation of personal energy at the CR+NCR level when one is depressed, “stuck,” or exhausted in CR (a principle also proposed by Jung and consistent with views of some West African tribes). In his view, shamans and other mediums and healers are Maxwell’s demons who reverse entropy by making the make the NCR energy more available. Additionally, Mindell suggests an invariance of psychological results and physical laws to an interchange of CR coordinates “me”-“not me” or “observer”- “observed.” Furthermore, he proposes a possible uncertainty relationship between CR and NCR themselves and a CR-NCR interchange invariance, which further argues against an absolute reality. Continuing, he suggests that the limits presented by the speed of light, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, and the law of entropy may apply only to that which is measurable in CR.
Similarly, the new psychology might involve visiting the future and looking backwards in time to obtain advice for the present – in contrast with traditional psychology, which seeks answers in the past. Implications include a new psychology and medicine that can deal with invisible NCR processes, including pain, that are real for people. This might well involve a new concept of relativity in which one might have a physical or mental “illness” in the CR but not the NCR framework. In social and political matters, Mindell predicts a new kind of social awareness that will result from a dual (CR+ NCR) awareness and shape-shifting. To this end, he proposes that activists study NCR experiences. He also recognizes challenges inherent in the new science, as he illustrates with a tree communicating different messages to a logger and an environmentalist. As physics, psychology, medicine, and even politics go over the edge that split material reality from the quantum mind, people will be freer to be their whole selves – real and imaginary.
Quantum Mind is at the forefront of a paradigm shift that may be unprecedented in scope. In large measure, the book was possible because of Mindell’s brilliant insights and his rare capability to identify relationships among several areas of knowledge – relationships that escape notice (in CR) by many others. He communicates concepts from diverse fields in an effective, exciting, and reader-friendly way. For example, he uses metaphors that will help some readers appreciate nature more – Alice in Wonderland to compare CR with NCR, a juggler to illustrate shuffling symmetry, highway speeding to illustrate the uncertainty principle, and athletic fields to explain mathematical fields. One chapter presents a historical perspective, discussing the marginalization of the spirit during the Renaissance, in which “objective science” replaced Church dogma as the repressor of personal experience. Nuggets of perennial wisdom, familiar to many people on paths of self-development, come alive as Quantum Mind relates them to mathematical and scientific principles. The book is a must-read, not only for those who want to explore the exciting new possibilities in the sciences but also for anyone on a path of self-development (as is everyone, in a sense). Complete with its practical exercises, this book can be not only read but also experienced.
Mindell's Quantum Mind is bringing the discussion on the connection between consciousness and matter to a new level. I want to focus on the aspect that was the most exciting to me. He shows, that our definition of physics, of psychology and of religion needs to be updated, and how in fact the progress of both sciences is blocked by how these fields define themselves. Mindell makes it clear, that psychology cannot make the next quantum jump without including the insights from QM, and physics needs the study of consciousness to understand the contradictions it's facing. Mindell brings forth his process-oriented concepts, which bridge these two worlds, and in fact establish a new scientific field, for which a term still needs to be coined.
As a psychologist, I found the theoretical and mathematical aspects of physics really well explained, and liked it, that I had a choice as a reader, how detailed I wanted to get involved in them. I was still be able to follow his line of thought in those instances, when I choose to skip the math parts.
The exercices in the book show, how modern physics and psychological theories are not only abstract concepts, but experiences that we have on an ongoing basis, and how they are connected to our personal development and spiritual understanding of our existence and the universe we live in. We understand Newtonian physics experientially, when the cup that we drop on the floor keeps breaking. We develop a similar intuitive understanding of Quantum Mechanics in addition to the theory, when we do Mindell's exercises at the end of each chapter. This is one of the huge side benefits of this book. QM never became popular knowledge because its concept are not "anschaulich" or intuitive, but rather mathematical. Mindell's book belongs in every personal and public library.
Max Schupbach, President of the Deep Democracy Institute International