Some people may know this already, but a big hole has developed in the last century in our understanding of how the physical world works. Newton invited us to a world of billiard balls bouncing off of one another with perfect mathematical precision. Einstein, Plank, Heisenberg, Bohr, and other very smart people have destroyed this comforting notion of matter with the most confusing and yet by far the most proven and completely verified theory of all time, quantum mechanics.
We cannot predict what individual particles are going to do. We cannot even know exactly where they are and how fast they are going. There is an absolute, concrete limit to the amount of information we can have about matter. This limit is stronger than the speed of light, it is stronger than time and space, it is absolute. An individual particle is fundamentally unknowable. It is also not a particle, but let's stay focused.
What this means is, particles are unpredictable. They do their own thing. We have no way of knowing what they are going to "decide" to do. Bunches of particles, on the other hand, are very predictable. Even if we can only say that 51% of the time a particle will go this way and 49% of the time it will go that way, when you have a trillion particles stuck together, as a group they will go the 51% direction every single time. That sounds like it solves the problem, right?
Well no. Our brains don't always react to big bunches of particles. Our brains, delicate instruments that they are, are sensitive to the action of single particles. One electron can jump higher or lower, and this change can be magnified through our nervous system and cause a completely different physical response. Only with the advent of chaos theory has it become so obvious that tiny changes in complex systems can totally change the system's behavior. So, our brains act like those anarchist particles. They are fundamentally unpredictable.
Here is where the leap of faith comes in. There is absolutely no scientific way to prove that the non-physical mind determines which probable action a particular particle in our brains will perform. In scientific terms, the mind doesn't exist at all. However, we are telling you here and now that this is exactly how the mind and the brain work together. The brain is an amplifier for the mind. It turns minute subatomic decisions into mental activity and physical actions. When our understanding of matter and of the brain has advanced farther, this connection will be clearer. Even today, Roger Penrose among others has made some rather intriguing guesses along these lines in his new book, Shadows of the Mind.
You might think that this is the end of the discussion on physics. After all, we have shown how the ghost in the machine (that's us) pulls the strings to operating our bodies and maneuver in the physical world. Well, that's not the half of it. Quantum mechanics has not only ripped a hole in predictability, it has also torn logic asunder.
Another big missing piece, aside from the whole probability problem, is knowing when and how quantum decisions are made. We know a particle will eventually show up either here or there, showing which decision was made. However, the theory doesn't force the particle to make the decision. In quantum mechanics, particles can be in two places at once. As we mentioned, the theory is extremely well proven, and it is a source of serious head scratching among people who worry about this sort of thing when they try to understand why we only see the particle in one place.
One good way to look at it is to say that it really is in two places. We observe it in one place, while in another quantum world other observers see it in the other place. Every quantum decision that has been made since the beginning of time has occurred in an infinite number of alternate universes, some of which resemble ours rather closely while others are completely alien. Physicists sometimes refer to this as the Everett, Wheeler, and Graham theory.
Another way to look at it is to say that it is our conscious perception that makes the decision. We choose which version of the particle to see, thus choosing how "our" reality is going to look. Physicists do not dignify this theory with anyone's name, it's too mystical for them.
Yet another way to look at it is to say that hidden factors that are outside of the physical reality that we can know make the decision. Again, this is a rather mystical notion.
Outside of these physical theories, there is the idea that the world is a shared dream, that physical reality has no more fundamental validity than a passing thought. Through the power of our shared concentration, the world holds its shape and time seems to flow from the past to the future through the present. In this scheme, our reality is truly the result of a global trance in which we all participate. There is no physical reality, there is only the idea of physical reality.
Well, all of these are true. Relating it back to our little story of the beginning, in order to actualize all of the possibilities inherent in matter, all choices are explored. So there are multiple universes, each trying out different decisions and even operating with different physical laws. No possibility goes unexpressed. Anything you choose here is chosen differently by another "you" elsewhere. Not only that, but it isn't just people who do the deciding. Every choice of every particle (whether anyone's watching it or not) is explored in some alternate world. And ultimately, it is the power of those decisions which generate the sensations we experience.
It is our mind that chooses which reality it will participate in. In fact, it is our mind, which is "hidden" from the instruments of science, that determines everything about our experience. This is a very important point:
Not metaphorically, not symbolically, but in every minute of every day we, along with the rest of the world, create the world.
Another more pragmatic way to express this thought is:
The next topic is:
Return to the Meaning of Life Part II page