Exploring the Deep Connections Between Mind & Universe
This evening I invite you on a trip deep into the human psyche. The trip is influenced by insights from Quantum Theory, Depth Psychology, Neurobiology, Eastern Philosophy, and Comedy.
At the quantum level of reality there is no logical sequence of events, no clear past and future, and no absolute certainty. What we do find are intriguing, spontaneous leaps and creative probabilities.
So in keeping with this quantum nature, our trip will take some unexpected turns, forsaking clear, logical order for imaginative leaps and intuitive connections.
A quick note on the word, “Psyche.” It comes from the Greek meaning both mind or spirit. Along with this derivation, I include “Psyche” as used in depth psychology to mean a study of the connection between the conscious and unconscious mind.
Our trip this evening is fueled by:
One of the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen, and
One of the most influential symbols of Eastern Philosophy
Imagination is more important than knowledge.
This statement was not made by a painter. Nor by a poet nor a novelist.
Imagination is more important than knowledge.
This statement wasn’t made by a musician or a craftsman.
It was made by the man considered the greatest scientist of the 20th century……Albert Einstein.
Guy goes to the doctor.
“Doctor,” he complains, “It hurts when I touch here (touches his left knee), hurts when I touch here (touches his right hip), and hurts when I touch here (points to his chest). What’s wrong with me?”
“Um, Excuse me,” the doctor replies, “You’ve got a broken finger.”
By the end of our trip this guy searching for the source of his pain may point us to an important insight.
One of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen:
I’m five years old walking along a sidewalk when I look down and see this thin blade of grass which had grown through the cement sidewalk! How could this be? How could this frail piece of grass get the power to grow through that hard cement??
One of the most influential symbols of Eastern Philosophy:
The Yin/Yang symbol of the Tao
With the quote, the joke, the blade of grass growing through cement, and the Yin/Yang symbol in mind, let’s begin our trip.
The Doorway into the Modern Mind: The Year 1900
As the 19th century came to an end, science had made leaps and bounds in discovering the nature of the universe. Through the genius of Isaac Newton and scientists like James Clark Maxwell whose equations revealed the wave nature of light and electricity, the whole world seemed to fit so well into a few simple laws.
Science did not have much more to prove…we lived in a mechanical universe with clear laws of cause and effect which can explain everything including our own minds and bodies.
But in the year 1900, the first year of the 20th century and the gateway to the modern era, signals were emitted that would change everything. The materialist, predictable universe was about to break apart at the seams and initiate an enormous paradigm shift–a shift we are still trying to engage in the 21st century.
I quote Thomas McFarlane, a contemporary philosopher with an honors degree in physics:
In the 20th century the modern materialistic world view began to unravel in the face of scientific and psychological developments. It led a number of thinkers to consider that the human psyche may be more involved , in some mysterious way, with the observed properties of matter.
Physics was about to meet up with the Quantum and the Dream.
In the year 1900, the first year of the 20th century and the first year of the Modern Age:
Max Planck discovers the quantum;
Sigmund Freud publishes An Interpretation of Dreams;
And an unknown writer publishes a story which will become the most influential spiritual
tale of the 21st century.
Max PLANK and his “Excited Bundles of Energy”
Light has fascinated scientists, philosophers, nature lovers, artists, and spiritual practitioners for millenia. After all, the most influential creation story in history, that of Genesis, has the memorable line,
Let there be light.
But what was light made of??? In the mid 19th century, James Clark Maxwell discovered that light consisted of electric and magnetic waves. Furthermore he was able to determine the speed at which light waves traveled: 186,000 miles per second.
In the year 1900, Max Plank, an unambitious, pragmatic scientist had been commissioned by electric companies to create a more efficient light bulb; an unintended consequence was the discovery of the photoelectric effect which revealed that under certain conditions light doesn’t move in a steady stream of continuous waves as previously thought—-light is emitted in particles Plank described as “discrete bundles of excited energy.”
Particles are very different phenomena from waves. Maxwell’s equations had proved light to consist of waves. Now Planck was solving a physics problem by considering light consisting of particles. He referred to these particles as “quanta,” a Latin word for, “How much.”
Planck tried to grasp the meaning of energy quanta, but to no avail. It was simply a convenient way to solve a practical problem about radiation. He wasn’t interested in exploring the apparent wave/particle paradox he had uncovered.
But 5 years later Plank’s discovery inspires the first quantum theory of light based on the idea that light exists as tiny packets, or particles. And the man so greatly influenced by the quantum is ……Albert Einstein.
In 1905, Max Plank was the editor of the physics journal which publishes Einstein’s paper, the first ever on the quantum theory of light.
It will win Einstein a Nobel Prize
Then just two months later in June, Einstein completes his paper on special relativity – which adds a dramatic twist to the story: Einstein’s paper on the quantum theory of light treats light as particles, but special relativity is based on light as continuous waves. How could light be both?
It’s physically and logically impossible!
What makes Einstein unique among scientists trying to resolve this apparent paradox is that he doesn’t try to prove one or the other– he accepts light as wave AND particle, picking the attribute he needs to confront each problem in turn.
Einstein’s mind was imaginative enough to play with the paradox rather than struggle to resolve it. This ability to be imaginative and think outside the box enables Einstein to discover what scientists in the best equipped laboratories in the world and in the best universities in the world could not.
The two papers Einstein published in 1905, greatly influenced by Plank’s discovery of the quantum in 1900, begins a paradigm shift of seismic proportions—a whole new way of viewing the universe based on an apparent paradox involving particles and waves. Science was supposed to make the universe more understandable, more objectively true. It wasn’t supposed to perpetuate a deepening mystery.
One of these mysteries was Einstein’s proof that time and space are not objective realities. Not only do time and space feel different to us psychologically (we’ve all had the experience of time moving faster when we are totally interested in something and time moving more slowly when we are not)—Einstein proves mathematically that time and space actually change depending on the relative speed at which objects, including ourselves, are traveling.
Time and space are no longer clear, objective qualities—they are affected by the special conditions of an observer.
Suddenly the subjective situation of an individual Observer is connected to how the Universe works.
Let’s look a little more closely on how it is that Albert Einstein, working as a mid-level clerk in a Swiss patent office, uncovers unseen qualities about the nature of light which will dramatically change the way we understand the Universe and our place in it as observers.
Albert Einstein loved to create imaginative thought experiments.
At the age of 16 he comes up with his favorite– he imagines himself chasing a light beam and catching up to it. To his surprise and delight, when he catches up to the light beam, time stops and space disappears!!!
Einstein later credited this thought experiment along with Max Planck’s discovery of the quantum as helping him to discover Relativity. For according to the Theory of Relativity not only is it impossible for anything to travel faster than light, but at speeds close to the speed of light time actually begins to stop and space begins to disappear!
And as we shall see a bit later on in our trip, Einstein’s discovery of the the quantum nature of light will inspire four future Nobel Prize winning physicists to create the most successful scientific theory in the history of science—a theory which will inspire, confound, mystify, and force even a deeper re-consideration not only of the nature of the universe, but our role as observers of this universe.
Dr. Freud and the Unconscious
Let’s return to the pivotal year 1900. In this same year the quantum enters human consciousness, a book is published which is going to radically influence medical doctors, artists, writers, philosophers, and inspire a new field called Depth Psychology. The writer is a medical doctor named Sigmund Freud and the The book is titled, The Interpretation of Dreams
Freud demonstrates the workings of a psychological Unconscious, an unobservable (DARK) psychic reality which contains repressed impulses and desires. He demonstrates how these hidden psychic contents exert a tremendous influence on our conscious lives. Today it is commonly accepted that the vast majority of our behavior day to day is influenced by this vast, deep, dark Unconscious.
So how do we access this Unconscious. According to Freud “The royal road to the unconscious” is the dream.
Historically, Freud has been marginalized. Much of this he brought on himself—a creature of the Victorian age he had a narrow view of women, particularly female sexuality. He was autocratic. He couldn’t accept criticism and and was totally inflexible when it came to his theories.
But it is Freud who opens the gateway between our dreams and the vast hidden world of the Unconscious, and in 1900 The Interpretation of Dreams bursts onto the modern stage of ideas and perceptions. By connecting dreams back to the powerful myths and stories of ancient Greece such as the Oedipal and Electra dramas and introducing therapeutic techniques such as “free association,” Freud opens up creative doorways not only to medical science and the new field of Psychology, but to the worlds of music, art, and literature as well.
Is it a mere coincidence that a year after Freud publishes his book on dreams, Picasso begins his “Blue Period” where he expresses on canvas the creative darkness of primitive emotions? Is it a coincidence that within a decade of Freud’s book on dreams Igor Stravinsky composes a ballet score, The Rite of Spring, so wrought with primitive dissonance and unfamiliar stresses and rhythms that it causes a near riot in the theater?
And just a few years later Salvidor Dali showcases his painting The Persistence of Memory featuring those incredible melting clocks which came out of a dream he had and is a clear reference to the dream world and the subjective nature of time revealed by Einstein’s Relativity?
Freud’s best student and most impressive colleague, Carl Jung, will soon surpass Freud in understanding the deeper levels of our dreams….the same Carl Jung who will have dinner conversations with Albert Einstein about the connection between mind and matter. The same Carl Jung who will collaborate with one of quantum physic’s founders to discover ways in which our human psyches are directly connected to the underlying nature of the Universe.
More on this a bit later on our trip.
So.. in the year 1900, Sigmund Freud publishes The Interpretation of Dreams and Max Plank discovers the quantum. Just 5 years later Einstein discovers the most famous equation in human history, E=MC2 and reveals that space and time are dependent on the subjective role of an observer.
We’ve seen how Planck’s discovery of the quantum influenced Einstein, but is there an underlying connection between Freud and Einstein?
While Einstein and Freud did exchange a few letters, there is no evidence that they sought out a meeting. But there is a deep underlying connection between the mind of Einstein and the mind of Freud: Einstein writes in his memoirs:
My entire career has been a meditation on a dream I had when I was 11 yrs old.
Here is Einstein’s dream:
I was sledding with my friends at night. I started to slide down the hill but my sled started going faster and faster. I was going so fast that I realized I was approaching the speed of light. I looked up at that point and I saw the stars. They were being refracted into colors I had never seen before. I was filled with a sense of awe. I understood in some way that I was looking at the most important meaning in my life.
So in addition to doing creative thought experiments, Einstein’s scientific imagination was greatly influenced by a dream.