Quantum Theory and New Age Mysticism
So I was talking with my friend Leif the other day, on a break during our regular session of Dungeons & Dragons, when we hit upon an idea, a hypothesis really, not yet a theory as it hasn’t undergone any form of rigorous testing.
The whole thing revolves around the issue of new age mysticism using words and phrases from quantum theory to validate the religious beliefs (and often claiming to invalidate rational thought, scientific method, etc) of said new age mysticism. I can’t tell you how often I cringed when taking Tai Chi and the instructor would say, “now push against your quantum energy field.” More specifically, it’s the idea that the observer will, at some level, affect the outcome of an experiment and how ‘popular’ culture has run with it. This idea is taken up as an example of how existence is a subjective experience and that consciousness affects reality. In general this is only present in certain aspects of the new age movement. It does not include standard Wicca or Gia/Goddess religions, though often astrology and other forms of divinations can implement the use of quantum talk into their methods. Specifically, new age movements such as The Secret and its “law of attraction”, various UFO conspiracy theories (often to explain the propulsion systems of ships and other advanced technology), also forms of Tai Chi, Yoga, and other Eastern and “alternative” medicine movements.
This idea led us to the Hippy Uncertainty Principle, which is much like the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. But before I go into the HiUP, I should gloss over the HUP and the nutshell basics of Quantum Theory.
Quantum Theory, essentially says that electromagnetic energy is absorbed and emitted in discrete “quanta,” or bits that can’t be divided into smaller pieces. A particle that re-emits energy can only do so at specific, quantized, values. As a loose analogy, let’s say that you, the particle, are playing dodge ball and you’ve managed to collect four balls (the electromagnetic energy). So there you are, holding four balls and another player throws a ball at you. Now, you’re holding a lot of balls and when that ball hits you, you’re going to probably end up dropping some of the balls you’re holding. But you can only drop a whole number of balls. You can’t drop half a ball, or two and a quarter balls. You can only drop 0 through 4 whole balls. And if you are able to catch the ball thrown at you, you must catch all of it (for a total of 5 balls) or none of it.
The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle (HUP) basically says that for a given particle the more closely you measure where it is, the less you know about the particle’s momentum, its mass times its velocity (or speed in a given direction). So here’s the core of the “observer affecting the outcome of an experiment.” The better you measure where the particle is, the less you know about it’s momentum, so much so, that if you were able to measure exactly where that particle is (and you can’t), then it’s momentum could be anything, you would have no way of knowing. The reverse is true, the more you know about a particle’s speed and direction then less you know about where it is.
But the HUP only really applies at the subatomic level. Sure, you and I are more massive than a proton, but look at our velocity. I’m just sitting here after all. Even if you were to take into account the fact that I’m spinning around on the surface of the Earth as the Earth hurtles itself around the Sun, that means I’m only moving at 465 m/s + 29,800 m/s = 30,265 m/s. That may sound fast, but in Quantum Theory, we’re dealing with particles moving at nearly 300,000,000 m/s, roughly ten thousand times as fast. And look at our positions, in one direction I take up nearly two meters (6 feet). The diameter of a proton is roughly 10^-15 meters, which means that I’m 2,000,000,000,000,000 (or 2 quadrillion times) taller than a proton. That’s about how much more difficult it is to pin-point a proton than it is to pin-point me (and by pin-point, we mean “know the probability of the object being at a given location”). Even still, the scale at which the HUP takes effect is around 5 x 10^-34 meters-squared * kilograms divided by seconds. That’s a five with thirty-three zeros in front of it before the one’s place, or 0.0000000000000000000000000000000005!
So that’s the basics to Quantum Theory and the HUP. Now what about HiUP? The Hippy Uncertainty Principle states that the more a new ager defines his or her religious position the less clear the arguments that they use to support that position become and the more clear they make their arguments the harder it becomes to determine their religious position. In layman’s terms, it’s the “what the fuck are you talking about” hypothesis.
Take for example The Secret and its “law of attraction.” The basic premise is that you and your thoughts bring either good or bad things, specifically material things, to you. Okay great, we know the spiritual position they take. But then they try to explain it by stating that there is a law of attraction. Take, for example, this quote from http://law-of-attraction-info.com/: “Universal Laws govern the Universe. They are basic principles of life and have been around since Creation. They are laws of the Divine Universe. Universal Laws apply to everyone, everywhere. They cannot be changed. They cannot be broken.” Okay, so what’s a “Universal Law”? The site explains, “1. What are universal laws? (Hint: They are like glue.)” it then goes on after a while; “Once you have the answer, you will begin to see how dramatically your life can be empowered by your new insight. To begin to understand it all, one must consider, briefly, why the universe exists in the first place.” So now, to understand a Universal Law, we have to “consider” an age old question that humanity has argued over and discussed since the recording of our thoughts. The site goes on to state, “The reason behind the creation of creation can be summarized as follows: In the absence of that which is not, That Which Is is not. In other words, the Original Source that some people refer to as God was all that there was; there was nothing else. Now that presented a problem.” So to clarify, in the absence of nothing (that which is not), something (that which is) is nothing. So, if there is something, then that something is nothing. Okay. Then it goes on (of course), “This Infinite Being knew itself to be all powerful and infinite, but without something to compare itself against, so to speak, there was no way of experiencing that infinity and power.” So something is all powerful but it doesn’t have the power to comprehend that it is powerful, let alone all powerful. Right. Wait…so what is a universal law, let alone the Law of Attraction?
Okay, about half way down the page, we get the following, “a universal law is a bond that connects all experience so as to achieve total knowing.” Well, to quote a bit of the definition of experience from wordnet.princeton.edu, experience is “the accumulation of knowledge that results from direct participation in events or activities.” So a universal law is a bond that connects all the accumulated knowledge so as to achieve total knowing. But what do they mean by “bond”? Or “total knowing.” And really, who believes that “total knowing” is possible? Well, maybe for an all powerful creator…but their all powerful creator could not, on its own without performing some other action, achieve the total knowledge that included knowing it was all powerful.
It goes on (of course), to give an example of a “law” other than the law of attraction, the “law of gratitude”, which states, “You have heard it many times that an attitude of gratitude has the power to get you realizing your dreams at record speed. Why? Because gratitude completes the cycle of knowing.” Well there is always the possibility that I have lived in a bubble, but I’ve never heard that. In addition…there’s cycles of knowing? WTF’s a cycle of knowing? Yesterday I didn’t know anything about it, today I’ve achieved total knowing of it, and tomorrow I won’t know it? But when not knowing something is absent from me then knowing anything is absent from me as well?
Well, at least after that law we get to the law of attraction, but by this point we’ve had to go over so much inane double-speak that I don’t really care to hear about it. But we got here so, “[The law of attraction] states that you attract whatever you put your attention to.” And of course, since we are living in this world where an “Original Source” is to powerful to realize on its own that it’s all powerful, that if I’m not thinking about things that I’m not aware of then what I’ve put my attention to is also not.
Yeah, HiUP at its finest.
I’ve always heard, maybe you have too, that if you work hard towards your goals, keep them “in sight,” then you will achieve them. That’s what it appears “The Secret” and its “Law of Attraction” is trying to say, but they’ve dressed it up in a Tolkien-esq pseudo-world of hyperbole and nonsense that name drops historical figures that have nothing to do with it, other than being smart and well known humans, in order to try and gain an authoritative voice.
Once again, this is only a hypothesis and not a hard tested theory (and if you don’t know the definition for a scientific theory then by all the gods, go here: http://www.ncsu.edu/labwrite/res/res-glossary.html and scroll to “scientific theory”). It’s based on my experiments in talking with new agers and online research.
The HiUP does not apply to fundamentalist religious thinking as they have the intelligence to remove themselves from the scientific sphere of knowledge and present the world with their definitive source(s) such as the Torah, Bible, or Koran. They, at least, use their source as their basis and do not attempt to interpret scientific discoveries as new foundations for their belief system (of course some try to reinterpret scientific discoveries to fit their belief system, which is a wholly unintelligent way to design a system of belief, but it doesn’t apply to the HiUP as it currently stands). They are Newtonian in their approach, position and momentum placed squarely within the pages of their sacred texts, and as with Newton, belonging firmly in the 1600’s (or earlier).
I find it interesting that the old religions (in the fundamentalist manifestations) tend to reject scientific findings in order to continue to support their belief systems (creationism and intelligent design) while the new religions tend to warp and twist scientific findings to their own ends.
In the end, the best new age is one of the oldest, good old Crowley and his Thelema. “0 = 2”, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. Love is the law, love under will” Magick is the expression and implementation of the will. I will these words here, now, therefore I perform magick in its purest form. I will my hand to pick my nose, therefore I have invoked comedic-magick. But that’s just my mundane but magickal interpretive dance with the subject of new age thinking.
Blessed be, but don’t be an idiot.
(thanks to the Bad Astronomer, http://www.badastronomy.com/, for some science fact checking).