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Quantum Mechanics Helps Us Understand the Relationship Between Mind and Matter (Part 1)

Nov. 28, 2023 |   By Wen Sirui

(Minghui.org) The interaction between mind and body has long been a popular subject of inquiry. Richard Conn Henry, a professor of physics and astronomy at Johns Hopkins University, wrote in a 2005 Nature article, “One benefit of switching humanity to a correct perception of the world is the resulting joy of discovering the mental nature of the Universe. We have no idea what this mental nature implies, but — the great thing is — it is true.”

“The Universe is immaterial — mental and spiritual. Live, and enjoy,” he concluded in the article titled “The Mental Universe.” Others physicists have also come to the same realization. “The stream of knowledge is heading towards a non-mechanical reality; the Universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine. Mind no longer appears to be an accidental intruder into the realm of matter,” wrote astrophysicist James Jeans in The Mysterious Universe. “We ought rather hail it as the creator and governor of the realm of matter.”

This is a new wave of understanding in history. In ancient times, Socrates and Plato believed that consciousness (also known as soul) is eternal. It is not produced by the body, and it transmigrates from body to body. But as materialism came to dominate more and more starting in the 18th century, people started to believe that physical existence is primary and that the mind is secondary. For example, the moon is there whether you see it or not. This view seems reasonable, but the emergence of quantum theory in the 20th century brought a new perspective.

Double-Slit Experiment in Quantum Mechanics

Although earlier experiments showed that light is a wave, Albert Einstein’s paper in 1905 on the photoelectric effect and additional experiments eventually led to the understanding of wave-particle duality. That is, subatomic particles have the characteristics of both particles and waves. This was so different from classical physics that Niels Bohr, a Nobel Prize laureate in the field of quantum mechanics, remarked, “Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it.”

Quantum mechanics is well supported by experiments, and it also has several interesting implications that changed people’s perception of mind and matter, such as the uncertainty principle and quantum interference. The uncertainty principle states that a particle’s properties like position and momentum (mass times speed) cannot be known simultaneously, let alone predicted accurately for the future.

The best-known demonstration of quantum interference is the double-slit experiment, which has been performed on light, electrons, and other subatomic particles. For example, when electrons go through two parallel slits (narrow gaps) and hit a screen, they produce bright and dark bands on the screen due to interference, displaying a wave characteristic just like water waves. Even electrons are sent through the slits one at a time, scientists found individual white dots on the screen (a characteristic of particles), which then build up as bright and dark bands. 

But if one considers electrons as particles and is curious which slit individual electrons pass through, a detector can be placed between the slits and the screen to record the data. In this case, however, the distribution of electrons on the screen behave only as particles with no interference (or wave characteristics). 

Scientists could not explain why such an “observer” would change the behavior of quantum particles. Speaking of this situation, Nobel laureate Richard Feynman said, “We choose to examine a phenomenon which is impossible, absolutely impossible, to explain in any classical way, and which has in it the heart of quantum mechanics. In reality, it contains the only mystery.”

These quantum phenomena, including the observer effect in the double-slit experiments, have also confused other scientists. Max Planck, the originator of quantum theory, said in a 1931 interview, “I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.”

Back in September 1927, Bohr proposed complementarity to interpret the behaviors of quantum mechanics. Considering both the uncertainty principle and wave-particle duality, he stated that certain pairs of complementary properties, such as position and momentum, or wave and particle properties, cannot be measured simultaneously.

Bohr believed that, depending on the experimental setting, a quantum particle would behave either as a particle or a wave, but not both. In 1934, he further explained, “Isolated material particles are abstractions, their properties being definable and observable only through their interaction with other systems.” With strong interest in traditional Chinese culture, Bohr often related this theory to the balance of yin and yang.

The discussions continued through the past few decades. American physicist John Archibald Wheeler proposed several experiments to solve the “which path” puzzle. The delayed-choice experiment, in particular, showed that the extraction of “which path” information could retroactively change the particle’s choice that was previously made.

Quantum Entanglement

Despite these efforts to interpret the quantum phenomena, some results are not explainable. One of the them is quantum entanglement.

For example, if a pair of entangled particles are generated which have a total spin of zero, if one particle spins clockwise, it means the other particle has to spin counterclockwise. Three scientists–Albert Einstein, Boris Podolsky, and Nathan Rosen–published a paper in 1935, challenging the quantum theory as incomplete. Known as the Einstein–Podolsky–Rosen (EPR) paradox, they argued when one of the entangled particles is measured for its spin state, the other particle–even if at a distance–needs to adjust its state instantly to make the total spin zero. Since such communication is inconceivable, Einstein called it “spooky action at a distance.”

Several later experiments confirmed Einstein’s prediction. Alain Aspect from France showed in 1982 that entangled particles did behave as expected although they were separated. Aspect and two other scientists received a Nobel Prize in 2022 for this contribution.

Additional work by the European Space Agency in the Canary Islands in 2012 showed the spin state of one entangled particle could be communicated to the other particle at a speed about 10,000 times faster than that of light. The distance of these two measurements were 143 kilometers away.

In 2015, researchers from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands performed more rigorous experiments and provided more convincing results. Another team from National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) also produced similar data. 

Although physicists accepted these results, they do not know how the communication works. “Taken to its logical extreme,” commented Aspect on these observations, “this argument implies that humans do not have free will, since two experimentalists, even separated by a great distance, could not be said to have independently chosen the settings of their measuring apparatuses.”

To some degree, this is similar to the existence of multiple time-spaces. In fact, the mind is also intangible in our three-dimensional world. Such “action at a distance” could open the door for us to explore the unknown and broaden our views. 

For example, there is a saying in Taoism that “the human body is like a universe.” That is, the universe a person lives in is similar to what is inside the person on the microscopic level. Moreover, traditional Chinese culture believes everything has its soul and that the mind and body are unified. If so, the communication between quantum particles at a distance would not be so difficult to understand. 

Seeds Germinate in 20 Minutes

Interestingly, scientists have also found similar phenomena that our eyes can see. One example was documented in a 2000 article published in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine titled “Seeds induced to germinate rapidly by mentally projected ‘qi energy’ are apparently genetically altered.”

“Chulin Sun is a woman with exceptional powers. A member of the Chinese Somatic Science Research Institute, she is a practitioner of Waiqi. Waiqi is a type of qigong that teaches the practitioner to bring the qi energy of traditional Chinese medicine under the control of the mind,” wrote the article. “Chulin Sun can induce plant seeds to grow shoots and roots several cm long within 20 min using mentally projected qi energy.”

“This has been demonstrated on more than 180 different occasions at universities as well as science and research institutions in China (including Taiwan and Hong Kong) as well as other countries (e.g., Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, etc.),” the article continued. 

Sun believes that people can communicate with plants after practicing qigong. “It was thought preliminarily that qi energy changed the structure of a germination-correlated gene site speeding up expression and advancing it in time,” wrote the authors. 

There are many unknowns in this world, including even our own minds. Phenomena such as quantum entanglement bring us an opportunity for us to explore further instead of limiting ourselves to established views.

(To be continued-See Part 2)