Roots of Observer Physics

May 7, 2010

Observer Physics posits the idea that all  phenomena are ultimately the result of an Observer who is in essence creating reality through their mind.

While Observer Physics finds its origins firmly rooted in New Physics of Quantum and String Theory, it can actually be traced back to Greek philosophy, specifically, the Solipsists, who believed that the only fact one could be sure of is that you, as a singular mind, are perceiving something – real or not, existing or not.  From Wikipedia:

Solipsism is first recorded with the Greek presocratic sophist, Gorgias (c. 483375 BC) who is quoted by the Roman skeptic Sextus Empiricus as having stated:

  1. Nothing exists;
  2. Even if something exists, nothing can be known about it; and
  3. Even if something could be known about it, knowledge about it can’t be communicated to others.

Much of the point of the Sophists was to show that “objective” knowledge was a literal impossibility.

In Buddhism, Observer Physics has similarities to the ‘Mind Only’ school of Buddhist philosophy:

The ‘Mind Only’ Buddhist doctrine of Yogachara (Sanskrit, “application of yoga”) teaches that the reality we think we perceive does not exist except as as a process of knowing. Phenomena, anything that can be experienced, have no reality in themselves. At the same time, there is no “experiencer” who experiences except as a process of mind.

It must be noted that the Buddha warned about the dangers of Nihilism that can arise from extreme views regarding non-existence.  According to K. Sri Dhammananda Maha Thera, the Buddha rejected both Nihilism and Eternalism.  But would he reject Observer Physics?  According to Maha Thera:

Why did the Buddha deny the teaching of eternalism [i.e., immortality]?  Because when we understand the things of this world as they truly are, we cannot find anything which is permanent or which exists forever. Things change and continue to do so according to the changing conditions on which they depend.  When we analyse things into their elements or into reality, we cannot find any abiding entity, any everlasting thing. This is why the eternalist view is considered wrong or false.

The second false view is nihilism or the view held by the nihilists who claim that there is no life after death. This view belongs to a materialistic philosophy which refuses to accept knowledge of mental conditionality.  To subscribe to a philosophy of materialism is to understand life only partially.  Nihilism ignores the side of life which is concerned with mental conditionality.  If one claims that after the passing away or ceasing of a life, it does not come to be again, the continuity of mental conditions is denied.  To understand life, we must consider all conditions, both mental and material.  When we understand mental and material conditions, we cannot say that there is no life after death and that there is no further becoming after passing away.  This nihilist view of existence is considered false because it is based on incomplete understanding of reality.  That is why nihilism was also rejected by the Buddha.  The teaching of karma is enough to prove that the Buddha did not teach annihilation after death; Buddhism accepts ‘survival’ not in the sense of an eternal soul, but in the sense of a renewed becoming.

Observer Physics, like the philosophy of Descartes, allows for truth to exist in the Observer and its perception.  But we could posit that in becoming non-dual, even the Observer ceases to exist in an absolute sense.  Following this train of thought, we move from Descartes to the philosphy of Spinoza, who posited that “the human mind is part of the infinite intellect of God”.  Spinoza moves us closer to a non-dual perspective that could be supported by the Buddha.

According to one of Observer Physic’s main proponents, Douglass A. White, OP allows for a reconciliation of science, mind and spirit.  States Dr. White:

Scientists study the world we live in, but tend to neglect study of the means by which they study the world: the Observer.  In Observer Physics the study of the Observer is a key component that can not be neglected, because study of anything requires the participation of an observer.

According to Alex Paterson:

Fundamental to contemporary Quantum Theory is the notion that there is no phenomenon until it is observed. This effect is known as the ‘Observer Effect’. 1

The implications of the ‘Observer Effect’ are profound because, if true, it means that before anything can manifest in the physical universe it must first be observed. Presumably observation cannot occur without the pre-existence of some sort of consciousness to do the observing. The Observer Effect clearly implies that the physical Universe is the direct result of ‘consciousness‘.

This notion has a striking resemblance to perennial esoteric theory which asserts that all phenomena are the result of the consciousness of a single overlighting Creative Principle or the Mind of God.

Perhaps Observer Physics will allow a unity of science and spirit, of a method of explaining the many worlds and their dimensions, in such a way as to reconcile the rational and the irrational, the eternal and the transient, the Observer and the Perceived.

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