How the World Works, How we Work

Physics of the universe

Quantum physics is the study of the behavior of matter and energy at the molecular, atomic, nuclear, and even smaller microscopic levels.

    Matter is any substance that has mass and occupies space. All physical objects are composed of matter in the form of atoms, which in turn have protons, neurons, and electrons as part of them. Greek philosophers Democritus and Leucippus originally had the idea that matter consists of building blocks in the fourth century A.D.

    Energy is the capacity of a physical system to perform work. It exists in many forms, including heat or thermal energy, kinetic or energy of motion, mechanical or the sum of the kinetic and potential energy of a body, light, potential energy due to an object's position, and electrical energy from the movement of charged particles. But just because it exists, it doesn't mean energy is available to do the work.

    Quantum means “how much” in Latin. The birth of quantum physics is attributed to Max Planck's 1900 paper on blackbody radiation. Planck, Einstein, Bohr, Schroedinger, Heisenberg, and many others did development of quantum physics. Einstein was the first physicist to say that Planck's discovery of the quantum would require a rewriting of the laws of physics. Bohr and Einstein engaged in a series of public debates about quantum mechanics.

    This for a bit of history and definitions of quantum physics.

    The main idea of quantum physics is that observing something actually influences the physical processes taking place. Which makes the introduction to the seductive world of subatomic physics by Gary Zukav intriguing. Zukav was an American spiritual teacher and best selling author, with a Harvard degree.

    His first book, Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics won a U.S. National Book Award. The Chinese name for “physics,” “wu li,” also means (depending upon how it is pronounced) “patterns of organic energy,” “my way,” “nonsense,” “I clutch my ideas,” and “enlightenment.” The six meanings are the titles of the books' sections. “Nonsense” is the title of one of Einstein's ideas then divided into chapters for “Beginner's Mind,” “Special Nonsense,” and “General Nonsense.” They also shape the leitmotiv of Zukav's discussion that relates modern physics to Oriental religion, according to Christopher Lehmann-Haupt of The New York Times.

    The book was published in 1979 and received good reviews by the scientific community. Renowned quantum physicist David Bohm wrote a personal endorsement, “Recommended highly for those who want to understand the essential significance of modern physics, and for those who are concerned with its implications for possible transformation of human consciousness.”

    What does he say that makes everyone pay attention? And how does Zukav tie quantum physics and Oriental spirituality?

“The importance of nonsense can hardly be overstated. The more clearly we experience something as 'nonsense', the more clearly we are experiencing the boundaries of our own self-imposed cognitive structures. 'Nonsense' is that which does not fit into pre-arranged patterns we have superimposed on reality.


Nonsense is nonsense only when we have not yet formed the point of view from which it makes sense.”

    The fundamental thesis of the author is that logic breaks down in the quantum world. Quantum reality deals in probabilities, not certainties, and phenomena that could be waves or could be quanta or particles, depending on when they are measured.

    There is a huge quotient of the subjective in quantum thinking, which is to say that the observer alters that which is observed, and that which is observed has a somewhat uncanny similarity to the lightning fast disjunctures that characterize the human mind. We think about one thing, then another. We flash from mood to mood. We imagine impossible things. We dream in gravity-defying dimensions that also take us back in time.

    We are insufficiently educated to understand what is means to live in a quantum world… yet. String theory wasn't around when Zukav wrote the book. In physics, string theory is a theoretical framework in which the point-like particles of particle physics are replaced by one-dimensional objects called strings. It describes how these strings propagate through space and interact with each other.

    The eastern religions enter the picture describing everything that we take note of as illusion, or a veil, or the Tao, the path, all in motion, all self-transforming, all becoming as opposed to all permanent and present. We're also in a constant conversation between being and becoming.

“Reality” is what we take to be true.
What we take to be true is what we believe.
What we believe is based upon our perceptions.
What we perceive depends upon what we look for.
What we look for depends upon what we think.
What we think depends upon what we perceive.
What we perceive determines what we believe.
What we believe determines what we take to be true.
What we take to be true is our reality.

    And we appreciate that much of what we do in the course of being who we are contributes in small part to who we will be. When we're able to inhabit the moment, we savor the joy of being — being a friend, being professional, being active in a complex reality that may have more than one dimension for us.

    As we're immersed in our being, we want to also acknowledge the necessity of becoming. A process that keeps us moving forward, experimenting with our actions and words. Sometimes, we're also aware of the power of our thoughts.

“You do an experiment because your own philosophy makes you want to know the result. It’s too hard, and life is too short, to spend your time doing something because someone else has said it’s important. You must feel the thing yourself…”

    Italian physicist Carlo Rovelli has written Seven Brief Lessons on Physics. In the book, he says:

“Physics opens windows through which we see far into the distance. What we see does not cease to astound us. We realize that we are full of prejudices and that our intuitive image of the world is partial, parochial, inadequate.”

    Zukov's following book, The Seat of the Soul was published ten years later, in 1989. It remained on the NYT Best Seller list for 31 weeks. In an interview by Jeffrey Mishlove, for the popular Public Television series Thinking Allowed, Zukov explained that, “The Dancing Wu Li Masters was designed to open the mind and The Seat of the Soul, is a book designed to open the heart. And this is often the sequence that many people encounter as they move into an expanded awareness of who they are and why they are here.”

    Open the mind and open the heart are the ingredients of a whole human being, from the inside out. To understand how the world works, we need also to understand how we work.