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Limits to quantum mechanics and spiritual freedom

June 10, 2009

in Spiritual Teachers, Theosophy

I’ve been reading Creative Evolution: A Physicist’s Resolution Between Darwinism and Intelligent Design, by Amit Goswami. I’m impressed, the chemist in me (I was taught some quantum physics in college) doesn’t find fault. Nor does the biologist or the philosopher (I took biology and philosophy of religion classes in college too).

But I do have some reservations with the implications of Amit Goswami’s quantum spirituality for our every day lives. And I have quantum physical reasons to back them up too. I hope you all don’t mind a little chemistry lesson today.

Electron orbits

Electron orbits

Above you’ll find an image of a carbon atom – as chemists think of it. What you see – the big red balloons – represent the four ‘free’ electrons that carbon has. The other electrons are so close to the carbon core they can’t be shown here.

The electrons shown have some freedom of movement. They have a space of probability where they can be – for each represented by a specific red balloon and a smaller white balloon opposite it.

These four electrons are called ‘free’ because they can pair up with electrons from other particles, other carbon atoms, or oxygen, nitrogen or something else entirely. Carbon is so good at uniting with other elements to form molecules that make up – ultimately – life.

But while those electrons are called free, they still have only limited freedom. It’s precisely their place in the atom that makes the whole thing work. They can combine with other electrons (indeed have to) to form molecules or something, but they are not free to go out of their orbit. The balloon shown here is there space. In quantum terms it’s not clear whether the electron has a place somewhere specific within the balloon, or whether it’s spread out. Indeed, the answer to that question depends on how you measure it (sound familiar?). But for today the main point is something else: that electron has a space to dwell in, and that’s all the freedom it has. Most of its fellow electrons are even more limited: closer to the core they are limited to orbits as circular as most of you have been taught in school, though even in their case it’s a probability orbit, not an ordinary one.

But probability doesn’t mean complete freedom.It’s a freedom within the laws of physics. Freedom within those balloons in my picture.

My point for today is that we’re similarly constrained.

I’ve looked up some videos from Goswami and he sort of agrees. Let’s look at what he says about separateness:

Goswami says here that the dictum is true that we create our own destiny. But in the seventies it became clear that merely creating cadilacs was a bit hard. It became clear that the place from which we CAN create our own destiny is not an ordinary state: it’s in fact satori or moksha or however you want to call it. There is no free lunch. We have to meditate BEFORE we can create our own reality.

I’m saying – even in satori this freedom isn’t total – we still are constrained by the laws of nature.

This of course doesn’t deny the other things Goswami says here: that in the process of reaching Satori or Enlightenment a person becomes much more loving, much more creative, transformed, capable of experiencing reality at a much more subtle level.


Darwin Stephenson June 10, 2009 at 5:56 pm

First of all, nice post. I’m a big fan of weaving science and spirit to derive meaning. I’l definitely be picking up that book. I also recommend Darwin’s Dangerous idea.

So am I to understand that if we meditate first we can break free from the constraints that are akin to the limited carbon orbits? Or that without first meditating that it isn’t even possible to create a new reality.

I also have to ask, “Why?”

Why would the Universe be designed in such a way that individual beings could break free of the laws of nature? It seems to me that the Universe in which we live represents the reality in which we are constrained. Breaking free from our constraints would then represent a path that has a purpose. Is there an example in nature that reveals that breaking free from the laws of nature results in a benefit that otherwise wouldn’t be possible?

I hope this is received in the friendly spirit it is intended. I love the topic and look forward to exploring it further.

katinka - spiritual June 11, 2009 at 12:23 am


You actually picked up on my point, instead of his: I think there are limits to what we can accomplish (and should want to accomplish) through meditation – and that’s perhaps Goswami’s idea too, but he’s talking not to me, but to people who think they can accomplish anything just by visualizing it (you know, The Secret, the Law of Attraction and all that – in it’s most simple form).

And to them Goswami is saying – no, that won’t work unless you meditate.

I’m saying – even if you do meditate, you should not expect to overrule the laws of physics. That was my whole point about the carbon atom. Sorry it did not come across too well. So I agree with you, I’m not sure how Goswami would answer your question.

David Chernoff June 11, 2009 at 10:23 pm

We are first and foremost spiritual beings living this physical experience and as a result, we are constrained by the limitations of this physical universe in which we live and operate. Our manifestations may require meditation, but they cannot be fulfilled without conscious action, for that is what is required of us in this world.

And yes I would agree with you…we are constrained, but not truly by the limitations placed on us by the world around us, but by those placed on ourselves by ourselves.
Excellent Post, thank you for sharing!

Brad July 5, 2009 at 10:23 pm

Sorry, More to the topic. For quantum physics, the book “The Conscious Universe: Part and Whole in Modern Physical Theory” by Menas Kafatos and Robert Nadeau is very good.

It goes well beyond the “Two slit” experiments and Schrödinger’s Cat. Somewhat technical term, but written for an educated layperson. It contains detailed discussions of the implications of non-locality and complementarity among other things. Also a logical presentation of why the principle of complementarity implies that it is not possible for science, or physical observation of any type, to get to the ultimate reality. (Thus, the need for the mystic).

Short of the book, one might want to look into Bell’s Theorem and especially the Aspect Experiments. The later, having demonstrated that non-locality is a fact of nature.
The implication being that a unity of existence (all existence as a single whole) is a fact of nature.


Brad July 5, 2009 at 9:51 pm

As you describe, visualization and the law of attraction seems to be constrained within certain bounds.

Regarding those constraints. They may be due to causes outside the realm of human consciousness.
Alternately — as each of us “represents” or “contains” a spark of divine essence — perhaps the constraining “laws” of physical manifestation exist due to the collective “agreement” upon the nature of that manifestation.

That later view tends to approach the chicken and egg problem. However, if only the most fundamental Laws are actual constraints, then (hypothetically) at least some physical constraints could be the result of collective “agreement,” an agreement which might slowly alter over time.

This might also tie into the matter of individual versus collective karma.

admin July 7, 2009 at 3:11 am

Hi Brad,

Goswami does go into more complicated physical experiments. There’s one involving time that seems very promising for instance. However, since I have only his word on that one, I haven’t discussed it here. It’s precisely because Schroedinger’s cat is so famous, and I’ve actually learned about it in college, that I feel safe using it as an example.

Tom August 19, 2009 at 12:26 pm

As for ‘breaking free from the laws of nature,’ the mid-part of Talbott’s Holographic Universe provides a number of graphic descriptions of documented phenomena that do exactly that. I am reminded that the gates to enlightenment are guarded by the two ‘fearsome’ images: paradox and confusion.

Chris Birkbeck February 25, 2011 at 9:11 am

Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution (P.S.) is a very good read that closely relates to the topic you posted. I highly recommend it.

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