Traditional religions embrace a lot of crazy unsubstantiated beliefs. But so do modern New Agey sorts of spirituality, which often take a speck of scientific truth and try to inflate it into a grand explanation of the cosmos.
So in addition to fundamentalist dogma, we churchless types need to train our skeptical guns on targets such as the film "What the Bleep Do We Know?"
Personally, I liked this movie a lot more than, say, a speech by the Pope.
However, since I'm fairly familiar with quantum theory (in a non-mathematical sense, at least), having researched it in the course of writing a book about mysticism and the new physics, a lot of question marks were floating over my head as I watched "What the Bleep Do We Know?"
This movie claims that quantum effects carry over into everyday reality, and urges viewers to adopt a form of "quantum spirituality" that is 99% bullshit and 1% science.
Recently I finished reading physicist Victor Stenger's newest book, "Quantum Gods: Creation, Chaos, and the Search for Cosmic Consciousness." The title sort of implies a positive outcome for the search.
But Stenger is out to debunk simplistic attempts in this direction. Namely...
Quantum theory is weird. Difficult to understand. Seemingly paradoxical, as when scientists tell us that photons of light can behave either as a wave or a particle depending on how they are observed.
Stenger, though, explains the science underlying quantum phenomena, showing that while quantum theory is strange, it isn't other-worldly or mystical. For example, here's an excerpt from Stenger's "Ghostbusting the Quantum" chapter.
...So, then, what is waving? What is the source of the observed interference pattern that fits what is expected for waves? That pattern is the statistical distribution of a large ensemble of individual particle detections.
...If you insist on interpreting the wave function as a "real" physical entity such as a water wave, then it moves faster than the speed of light, indeed, infinite speed, violating a basic tenet of Einstein's special theory of relativity.
However, if we accept that the wave function is just an abstract mathematical entity physicists use to compute the probability for finding a particle at a particular location in space, then there is nothing spooky about it. Abstract things can move as fast as their inventors wish.
I've wondered, "Where do the laws of nature reside?" Are they in some sort of elevated Platonic mathematical realm, or part and parcel of the universe's natural phenomena?
Stenger considers that the laws of physics are human inventions. I won't attempt to describe his reasoning that supports this conclusion, because I don't fully undertand it. Still, it fits with my churchless admiration of Mystery as the cosmos' core quality.
We try to explain the universe as best we can, whether from a scientific, religious, spiritual, or mystical perspective. But in the end, we're unable to grasp what's at The End of it all.
Mysteries can be frustrating if you think they must be explained. However, when mystery is left mysterious, until it isn't, there's much beauty in dark depths of not-knowing. So a message I got from Stenger's book is:
Let's allow science to explain only what can be genuinely understood, and not twist scientific facts in an attempt to construct indefensible models of the cosmos.
Honest questions are a lot better than fake answers, as noted in a previous post about the pseudo-science in "What the Bleep Do We Know?"
[Here's a PDF file of a New Scientist review of "Quantum Gods."]
Download Review of Quantum Gods