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Quantum Enigma

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Joined: 16 Jul 2006
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Posted: Fri Jan 18, 2008 10:10 am    Post subject: Quantum Enigma Reply with quote

I apologise in advance for throwing this post in under a new heading when I know that quantum physics and astrology is frequently discussed on this forum, has already been deeply considered by Garry and several others and is a topic of public debate in various places - though not in New Zealand, where astrology is very rarely discussed in public at all.

I've been moved to post by reading a very good, provocative book called Quantum Enigma: Physics Encounters Consciousness by Bruce Rosenblum & Fred Kuttner (Oxford University Press, 2006), who both work in the Physics Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz. (The book's website is:

The relationship of quantum physics to astrology and other areas of knowledge currently outside the mainstream interests me, as it does many others, so I thought I’d write down my thoughts on this book, to share with this forum and to make some sense of it for myself. (All the quotations below are from Quantum Enigma.)

I’m always looking for books about quantum physics by scientists willing to discuss its profound and shocking weirdness, and consider its impact on what we think we know about everything else, including the role of human consciousness in creating reality. However, there aren’t many brave enough to address what Rosenblum & Kuttner describe as “the skeleton in physics’ closet” and those who do, don’t seem to communicate very much with each other. This is possibly because there’s a professional risk in associating with someone who might be viewed as a crackpot by one’s employers!

For example, Professor Vic Mansfield, at Colgate University, New York (and online at: has published numerous papers and several books on the relation of science to our inner life. He is especially interesting on the subjects of synchronicity, Tibetan Buddhism and physics, and delivered a presentation entitled An Astrophysicist’s Sympathetic & Critical View of Astrology to an astrologers’ conference in 1997. I know the US is a big place, but it’s surprising to me that Rosenblum & Kuttner haven’t made contact with Professor Mansfield, as he’s been writing and thinking about the implications of quantum physics for quite a while. And the internet makes it easy to track down like minds.

But there's no mention of Professor Mansfield's work in Quantum Enigma, whose authors seem a little too anxious to ensure this book sits within the mainstream. Indeed, after describing the negative response of some of their colleagues to raising the issue of consciousness, Rosenblum & Kuttner admit that “Our discipline’s encounter with consciousness sometimes embarrasses us as well – particularly when the encounter is claimed to confirm metaphysical philosophies. Even though….quantum mechanics can seem to resonate with such ideas.”

This raises the question of how professional it is for scientists to be embarrassed by things that may or may not turn out to be true, but surely deserve investigation, if only because they’re mysterious and may extend our knowledge of… well, everything, including ourselves. It’s comical to see scientists squirm at the possibility that at least some of the “crackpots” might turn out to be right after all! But it’s really disturbing that the prejudices of the science community may have seriously hindered the development of public understanding of, and debate about quantum physics – “the most successful theory in all of science” and now more than a century old.

I’m not making an argument that quantum physics definitely does support astrology or other fields of knowledge outside the mainstream, but given what quantum theory has so far revealed about the nature of reality, an attitude of open-mindedness seems like a minimum requirement for a modern physicist - never mind the rest of us!

So what is quantum physics’ challenge to previously accepted theories of how things are? In a nutshell, that physical reality is created by observation and that our world has a universal connectedness – that is, “any two objects that have ever interacted are forever entangled.” Both principles have been repeatedly demonstrated by experiment. “Though quantum theory is outrageously counterintuitive, it works perfectly.”

And what do most physicists do? Well, Rosenblum & Kuttner say they simply avoid the radical implications of quantum physics by separating the sub-atomic world from the everyday world where observer-created reality and connectedness seem nonsensical, and Newtonian physics is “a good approximation” of how things work. But it’s this artificial division that’s a nonsense: “Quantum theory has no boundary between the microscopic and the macroscopic.”

Rosenblum & Kuttner are frustratingly cautious about extending the application of quantum theory to phenomena such as ESP, precognition and psychokinesis. On page 192 they openly express their view that the existence of ESP is “not likely” which seems to me a most unscientific prejudice to hold, especially as most of quantum theory still looks downright bizarre, even to scientists, and would have been described by a late 19th century scientist as extremely unlikely!

They do note, however, that if these things could be convincingly demonstrated they would know where to start looking for an explanation: the quantum effects of consciousness, or what Einstein called “spooky interactions.”

Furthermore, Rosenblum & Kuttner’s younger colleagues and physics students show considerable interest in their speculations, and paranormal phenomena. That openness, and a willingness to keep exploring, rather than trying to make everything fit into the old paradigms are surely what science should be about.

And it’s quite possible that Albert Einstein would agree with me! This book suggests that although Niels Bohr understood quantum mechanics much better than Einstein, it was Einstein who confronted the theory’s deep weirdness and recognised how seriously it challenges our prevailing worldview. The time has surely come for the rest of the scientific establishment to join him and start unravelling the quantum enigma – or completing the theory. (Because it may be that it seems bizarre because we're seeing only part of the picture.)

The wider public – that’s us – need to be part of this effort too. It’s not good enough for us to be fed a lite version of reality, because we’re considered too stupid and credulous to be trusted with the full-fat variety, and might try linking it to Buddhism, ESP or astrology. Unfortunately, I’m just cynical enough to believe that might be one of the reasons quantum physics has taken the best part of a century to become a topic for public discussion.

As for astrology, it’s my personal view that it has been badly served by its alliance with psychology, which stripped it of all the divinatory skills & power that would have been more amenable to serious examination & testing. Let's face it, it’s shameful that hardly any astrologers predicted the World Trade Centre attacks, not because astrology is incapable of such work, but because so few modern astrologers are trained, or encouraged to make specific mundane predictions. It's a tragic irony that astrology sought credibility by associating itself with psychology and in the process lost it.

Finally, I do strongly recommend Quantum Enigma for its brave discussion of the relationship between quantum physics and consciousness, and its really excellent summaries of the key concepts of quantum theory. I'm sure advanced mathematical knowledge helps, but Rosenblum & Kuttner prove that it is possible to convey very difficult & challenging ideas to people who don't have a degree in physics or mathematics!

And a very happy New Year to Deb, all the moderators especially Tom & Garry, and everyone who posts on Skyscript!
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Posted: Fri Jan 18, 2008 9:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi Susan,

I've had Rosenblum & Kuttner's book sitting on my shelf for a while, and I have to take a long train journey tomorrow so I'll take it along in case the universe is prodding me (through you) to read it. So thanks for relaying the putative prod!

For a good book in support of PSI type phenomena - written with stats to back everything up but without getting boring - I'd recommend Entangled Minds by Dean Radin.

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Posted: Sun Jan 20, 2008 3:04 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks Garry - I'm very happy to be a putative prod relayer (!) and look forward to reading what you think of the book. And thank you for recommending Entangled Minds - I've located it at a local bookshop and will hunt it down this week.

Over the past 20 years or so the general New Zealand attitude towards anything that falls under the heading of paranormal phenomena and practice has become decidedly chilly. A recent television production about local hauntings and the Sensing Murder series in which psychics investigate unsolved Australian and New Zealand murders have been popular but have attracted more sceptical derision, than support, at least in public.

And I share many of the doubts sceptics have about Sensing Murder, especially the scope for manipulation and distortion by editing, and that none of the investigations has yet solved any of the cases. It's all the more frustrating when there are robust examples of precognition and clairvoyance that stubbornly resist conventional explanation and deserve serious, objective investigation.

However, quantum theory undermines the notion of serious objective investigation! If we participate by our observation in the creation of reality how can we ever be definitive about what our investigations reveal?

Can we actively will things into existence or is the engagement of our consciousness driven by something other than our will?

And is it an individual or a group process ie do we each observe & create our own private universe or (because we're all connected to each other and everything else!) is there some crossover so we share and agree on certain aspects of reality? Even if it's like 1000 people watching a play and agreeing that yes, it was Macbeth and then leaving the theatre for 1000 different universes!

The question of what we actually mean by observer-created reality occurred to me this week when I saw my newborn niece for the first time, a few hours after she was born. Exactly when did she become "real"??

The more I think about these questions, the more likely it seems to me that quantum theory is incomplete, and cannot be completed by science & scientists alone. Which is an exciting prospect!


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Posted: Thu Jan 31, 2008 9:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Just reporting back, having finished the book.

I've read a few books of this type by now so pretty much knew the most exciting bits before I started. It didn't totally grip me, and I think this was partly down to the familiarity factor, and probably also because I don't have a science background. The writers are (reasonably enough) physicists and I think are writing first and foremost for students of physics. I found myself getting lost rather more than I did with John Gribbin's 'In Search of Schrodinger's Cat' for instance.

That said, 'Quantum Enigma' does a good job of presenting all the facts in a straight fashion, strictly segregating the experimental data from the speculations about what it might all mean, with rather more of the former and less of the latter than one gets in many such books. So a conditional recommendation. My only serious grumble is that they don't quote sources for the references they give in the book. And the refs aren't available on the website of the book either. For such a seriously-intentioned book that seems like a peculiar omission, but apparently it was a deliberate decision on the part of the authors.
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Posted: Sun Feb 03, 2008 10:49 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Garry, many thanks for reporting back with your take on Quantum Enigma. It does seem to have been written more for the authors' colleagues and students than the wider public - at least some sectors of which don't have quite so much trouble with aspects of quantum physics that confound scientists!

Still, I enjoyed being taken through the development of quantum theory, and appreciated the book as an attempt to open scientific minds to unresolved issues in quantum physics that intersect with several other disciplines - not all of them to be found in universities!

It reminded me how much I enjoyed the single inter-disciplinary paper I did at uni, and how much I wish more learning and teaching was conducted across subjects, not to come up with answers so much as to generate better questions.
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Posted: Tue May 12, 2009 6:58 pm    Post subject: Quantum Enigma Reply with quote

I don’t think there really is an “enigma” when it comes to trying to see a link between the world of physics and the world of “metaphysics”.

In its common usage,“metaphysics” has become a label for any belief in an otherworldly realm or reality that, in one way or another, is commonly associated with forms of religion and spirituality. The result being that the common impression is put forward that such subjects as astrology or psychic phenomena, for example, are “beyond” the laws of physics and science in general.

You could say that I came to astrology through the back door. I was in a position where I was sort of forced, by circumstance, to have to study physics in relationship to nuclear energy. At the same time I was getting in to the study of Taoist philosophy and it just occurred to me that if the concepts of the Tao were correct and the theory of special relativity was valid, then astrology must also be valid.

From there, I had to work backwards and basically find the questions that went with my answer.

When I read Fritjof Capra’s “The Tao of Physics”, I came to realize that he and I were approaching the same “event horizon” from opposite directions, but we were arriving at the same place.

As scientific theories have advanced they have not proven to be in opposition to the “supernatural” phenomena, but more often than not validate the phenomena in empirical and scientifically experimental ways.

Physicists are often very open to the concept of unifying the two realms, but unfortunately, many in the metaphysical community are not. They are not happy, after centuries of being able to amass a fortune by having you believe that they were the only ones who could connect you directly with the Almighty, to have you discover that science may be able to give you his toll-free phone number.

I have tried to put together a web page on my site that gives a first step explanation to the connection.

But, I think a good video from the film “'What the Bleep Do We Know” I think is a good place to start to see the way the subjects start to come together.
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Posted: Sat May 30, 2009 5:33 pm    Post subject: Quantum enigma Reply with quote

In its common usage,“metaphysics” has become a label for any belief in an otherworldly realm or reality that, in one way or another, is commonly associated with forms of religion and spirituality. The result being that the common impression is put forward that such subjects as astrology or psychic phenomena, for example, are “beyond” the laws of physics and science in general.

As far as "common usage" is concerned, this description of metaphysics may be true. On the other hand, within philosophy, the perspective which underlies scientific objectivism is often labeled 'metaphysical realism'.

Among the tenets of metaphysical realism are the beliefs that external physical reality is actually there (a commitment to realism), that humans can gain knowledge of the world (the world is knowable), and that such knowledge can be objectively true in an absolute sense. These beliefs are central to the scientific project.

In other words, the scientific models which humans construct have a direct, one-to-one objective and 'mind-independent' correlation with the processes being modeled. This is equivalent to claiming that through the use of scientific reasoning and methodology, humans can access a 'God's-eye view' of Nature and its processes.

The key point here is the implication that scientific models, as they converge on this objective ideal, have a quality of absolute truth. As such, they would be absolutely and objectively true whether or not humans ever existed, and in the same sense accurately describe the lawful workings of the universe.

One of the consequences of this perspective is that there is only one objectively true explanation (the scientific one) of 'how things work', and only one set of models which present the truth of the matter, or any matter.

If one adheres to the notion that astrological processes exist in the absence of humans, then they become part of the 'lawful workings of the universe'. This in effect embeds astrological processes in Nature, from where they are 'discovered' by humans. From the metaphysical realist point of view, there will then be the one true correct model for astrology which mirrors an objective astrological reality.

However, one of the primary features of astrology as it manifests and has always manifested is its diversity. This is evident on a cultural level if one compares Chinese, Mayan and Western astrological traditions. There is also a significant degree of internal contradiction or seeming incompatibility between different manifestations of astrology within the same tradition. Not only that, at the individual level of astrologers who share a similar perspective within a tradition, there is a strong subjective slant to be found on which techniques and symbols are considered important, and how symbolic patterns are interpreted.

On top of this, much of the significance attributed to astrological symbolism in its contemporary use is inherited from pre-modern cultural astrology variants. Although one rarely comes across discussion of the provenance of astrological symbol meanings, it is reasonable to hypothesise as a starting point that there is a phenomenological element involved. In other words, that a certain amount of astrological symbolism derives its meaning from the subjective, geocentric experience of the heavens.

As we all now know, this geocentric perspective is misleading. From an objective and scientific point of view, the Sun does not rise, Mercury does not move backwards, and Mars is not red. It is difficult to see then how one can bridge this gap between a phenomenological source for derived symbol meaning and what is objectively known about the solar system. Retrograde Mercury is an illusion from an objective point of view. On the other hand, to keep it simple, the symbolic connotations of having to 'revisit' a Mercurial context during that planet's retrograde periods is an entrenched part of astrological tradition, one which has obvious phenomenological roots.

Similarly, the redness of Mars, which surely has made some contribution to the symbolism associated with that planet, is an entirely human, and therefore subjective cognitive experience. It is an emergent phenomenon which occurs in terms of qualitative experience because of the way humans are 'neurally wired' for vision. Mars is not red for dogs or budgerigars.

In addition, many features of western astrology's structure, such as the zodiac signs, have no objective reality. There are no big black dividing lines in the sky. The extent of modulation and discontinuity of symbol meaning as it crosses an imaginary boundary in the sky, say from 30 Gemini into 1 Cancer, is at odds with every other experience of cyclic phenomena. Not only that, other cyclic processes in astrology have no correlation with objective reality but are imaginary and intrinsic to the schematics of the individual horoscope (i.e. secondary progressions).

But to cut to the chase, the main difference between science and astrology is that science can only deal with the repeatable. Scientific truths emerge and converge as a result of the reproduction of experimental results. This is obviously a very useful condition for generating reliable and stable knowledge about how things work on the material level. In order to achieve this goal, what is unrepeatable (and deemed insignificant) is stripped from the process. Thus the experimenter's emotional or mental state is ignored, as is the weather, and for that matter the original time during which the experiment took place.

This reality is idealised in the way the experimenter's role in the scientific process is considered neutral and detached. In actual fact, this objective idealisation is more part of the mythological self-image of science than the reality, as any honest science researcher will admit. Whatever, the effective entailment of this restriction, which underlies the effectiveness of science, is an exclusive emphasis on quantitative measurements with a view to generating a universally applicable objective knowledge base. Science has nothing to say about qualities or for that matter lived subjective experience, which by its nature is individual and particular rather than universal.

In contrast, astrology is explicitly concerned with applying a conceptual system to unrepeatable events. Not surprisingly therefore, astrological knowledge and understanding are different from scientific knowledge and understanding. Each approach is motivated by different purposes.

There is the potential illusion of repeatability within astrology's conceptual system if one extracts and focuses on its incorporation of cycles. But this process of extraction removes the living flesh from astrology. The universal truth that the sun will rise at a certain and predictable time on the same day each year is secondary to the fact that each sunrise is qualitatively unique in itself, never mind how each individual experiences it.

In fact, one could argue that the bifurcation between astrology and science is partly based on this unzipping of the quantitative (objective, universal) and qualitative (subjective, particular) aspects of cyclic or rhythmic experience. This is notion is suggested when one considers that the emergence of objective celestial mechanics coincided with the diminishing attraction of astrology.

Because astrology concerns the unrepeatable, any astrological interpretation is by definition anecdotal. This point is reinforced by the fact that the interpretation itself is a subjective one made by an individual astrologer, using a preferred set of tools and techniques drawn from a heterogeneous and culturally diverse set of options, and applied through the filters of a personal philosophical perspective with its associated expectations regarding astrology's utility.

Taking these kinds of considerations into account, and there are more where they came from, it becomes increasingly fanciful to presume that one day astrology will be demonstrated to have some kind of objective scientific reality, as if astrology is somehow a constituent part of the lawful workings of Nature.

The alternative is to see astrology as entirely human, in the sense that it is experientially and subjectively derived from interactions with the environment extended to the cosmic level. From this point of view, astrology has a solid phenomenological foundation. This provides the basis for generation or construction of a conceptual system motivated by purpose, which to keep it simple can be stated as the urge to understand the rhythms and patterns associated with the experience of change and events.

It is not too difficult to see that what we now call science has its roots in a similar place, which is perhaps one of the reasons why their histories are so closely intertwined. However, while science took a turn in pursuit of the universal, objectifiable and quantitatively measurable aspects of material change and processes, astrology maintained its subjective experiential path. Insofar as astrology remains dependent on astronomical science for its structure, the two are not completely unraveled, much to the chagrin of astronomers in particular.

In my opinion, this dependency on astronomy should not be misconstrued as an indication of astrology's ultimately objective and scientific basis in external natural process. Although it may seem somewhat heretical or bizarre, astrology is not so much about the physical heavens but is instead used to illuminate what is happening down here. Astrology is a derived conceptual system which takes its forms from what the heavens re-present to our (human) imaginations, given astrology's motivating purpose.

This re-presentation occurs through cognitive processes whereby perceptions (Mars is red) are transduced into concepts (Mars symbolises red things). In this respect, astrology does have a rational aspect (evident in its structural dependence on astronomy), but also a highly emphasised imaginal aspect which is evident in the processes involved in meaning construction. The reverse is true for science, which emphasises rationality and the experimental validation of the products of its use, while reducing the role of imagination as far as possible.

At the same time, despite the asymmetry of roles in the two disciplines, imagination is as crucial to scientific creativity as reasoning is to astrological practice. There is no such thing as a 7 year Jupiter cycle, and this is not an imaginal matter.

If one accepts these arguments, the relationship between science and astrology changes. Instead of seeing astrology as either a science, or if failing to satisfy criteria which defines a science, as a pseudoscience, it becomes a facet of human experience and cultural reality which one can explore using the tools and methodologies of science. There is a big difference between these two perspectives.

The branches of science which would seem to be the most appropriate are not main stream, and include disciplines such as the cognitive sciences. These investigate, among other things, how humans generate conceptual systems, the relation between perception and conception, and so on. They can be, and are applied as much to understanding scientific thinking and their associated conceptual processes as anything else.

In that respect, and to get back to the original quote above, astrological processes are not “'beyond' the laws of physics and science in general". However, one has to be looking in the right direction to construct a scientific narrative about astrology's nature.

In my opinion, it is barking up the wrong tree to presume that astrology can be understood in terms of the physical influences of the heavens on human experience (the study of which I would associate with astronomy and biology, and so on). For this to be the case, astrology would have to be stripped down to the repeatable and the universal, which is the opposite of astrology's focus of attention. It would also have to externalised as a process objectively embedded in Nature, and dissociated from its defining human aspect.

The question then shifts from "How does astrology work?" to "How do astrologers 'work' in cognitive terms, and what are the processes involved in the generation of conceptual structure, the meanings attributed to symbols, and so on?".

In other words, moving beyond exploring the supposed mechanism by which planets influence human affairs and on to the cognitive processes involved in both the construction of astrology's conceptual system and its application. Only then will astrology's utility come with the bounds of general understanding.

All the best,

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Posted: Sun May 31, 2009 2:26 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Excellent as always, Bill.

- Ed
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Posted: Mon Jun 01, 2009 8:20 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yes I enjoyed reading this and it certainly got me thinking. It is a topical subject too as we see scientism forming into an ideology opposed to religion,astrology &c. I wish this was not happening but I suppose men like something to argue about.

My thoughts. If you hold up two different objects and compare and contrast them you will find differences and similarities.What else did you expect?

Most people have given up on finding the stellar rays that influence human behaviour. Astronomers aren't looking for them and if they found them they would not tell us. They say the solar system is too big for any influence to affect the world but if you go out on a clear night and observe an eclipse or occultation it does not seem so big after all.If you practise astrology and it works denying this influence seems illogical.

I do not like this objective positive good versus subjective bad antinomianism. It is not how the soul and mind work.

Starting a study of astrology from the 17thC is leaving it a bit late.It needs to be understood in the context in which it was made.

A few yeas ago quantum physics and chaos theory were all the rage. At the time occultists were attempting to combine the two subjects. Researchers would ask magicians if they could come and observe a ritual but were turned away on the basis of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. The one about the impossibility of finding the speed and position of a sub-atomic particle because of the input of the observer.

It doesn't hurt to have the terms of a debate set out but one needs to experience astrology in practise to understand it. IMHO

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Posted: Mon Jun 01, 2009 12:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

matt23z wrote:
It is a topical subject too as we see scientism forming into an ideology opposed to religion,astrology &c.

It's the 3rd house versus the 9th house (Virgo versus Pisces in Thema Mundi) Cool
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Posted: Mon Jun 01, 2009 2:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

So it's been going on since the beginning of time has it? Oh well, I will just have to get used to it. Sad

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