Book review: Quantum Questions: Mystical Writings of the World’s Greatest Physicists

by Ken Wilber

★★★★

In case you misread the subtitle, that’s physicists, not psychics!

I’ve seen them myself: arguments from modern physics that prove the existence of the Spirit (or some metaphysical phenomenon that justifies our spirituality or transcendentalism). I’ve seen the opposite, too: arguments from modern physics that debunk spirituality.

So Wilber’s book should be a hit. What do our best minds—the people who actually understand the physics of Quantum Theory, Relativity, and more—have to say on the topic? You’ll recognize a lot of the names in this book: Einstein, Schroedinger, Heisenberg, Bohr, Eddington, Pauli, Plank and more. This is a collection of essays by these men, with brief editing and an introduction by Ken Wilber.

Wilber culls the writings of these great minds to uncover their opinions, and discovers that they are virtually unanimous in the opinion that modern science can offer no support for mysticism in any variety. And yet they are all mystics of one sort or another! They simply do not believe modern physics can fully describe the universe we live in. Modern physics isn’t in opposition to spirituality, it is simply indifferent to it. Eddington explains: “We have learnt that the exploration of the external world by the methods of physical science leads not to a concrete reality but to a shadow world of symbols, beneath which those methods are unadapted for penetrating.”

If I had to choose a favorite essay, it would be “In the Mind of Some Eternal Spirit” by Sir James Jeans. Science is not yet in contact with ultimate reality, Jeans insists, and this is no surprise. Any meaning that the universe as a whole may have, would entirely transcend our terrestrial experience and so be totally unintelligible to us. The universe is a mathematical construct but—and don’t eschew the profundity of this claim—“the mathematics enters the universe from above instead of from below.” Jeans pictures the universe as consisting of “pure thought.” While Jeans may be the most daring of the bunch, the dualism of mind and matter is nevertheless a common theme.

Fascinating book which starts a bit slow (after a great introduction) and builds from there.

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