Among the many two-in-one concepts of modern physics, like for example space-time, or matter-energy, the most esoteric, even a little bizarre, is the particle-wave concept. This concept of new physics is rather abtruse, abstract and technical. But some basic understanding of this concept is important for our discussion, because its philosophical implications brings the world-view of physics very close to the Indian spiritual vision. According to modern physics, an elementary building block of matter like an electron or a photon is at once a particle and a wave. But what sort of a “wave”? According to quantum physics, in the subatomic world, matter do not have a specific location in space and time, but exists in a state of dynamic and fluid potentialities or probabilities which can be expressed mathematically as a wave-movement. So the “wave” dimension of a particle is not a physical wave or movement in physical space and time like a sound wave or an electro-magnetic wave; it is a “probability wave” or a mathematical wave, like for example a crime wave in a statistical chart. As Fritjof Capra explains
“At the subatomic level, matter does not exist with certainly at definite places, but rather shows ‘tendencies to exist’ and atomic events do not occur with certainty at definite times and definite ways but shows ‘tendencies to occur’. In the formation of quantum mechanics these tendencies are expressed as probabilities and are associated with quantities that take the form of waves; they are similar to the mathematical forms used to describe, say, a vibrating guitar, or sound wave. This is how particles can be waves at the same time. They are not real three dimensional waves or sound waves. They are ‘probability waves’ – abstract mathematical quantities with all the characteristic properties of waves that are related to the possibilities of finding the particles at a particular place. And Werner Heisenburg, one of the pioneers of quantum physics, describes the nature of this “probability waves” as:
“It meant a tendency for something. It was a quantitative version of the old concept of ‘potential’ in Aristotelian philosophy. It introduced something standing between the idea of an event and the actual event, a strange kind of physical reality just in the middle between possibility and actuality”.
What then is the nature of the particle – aspect of the wave-particle entity? A particle is the materialisation of a non-physical potentiality into an actuality in the physical space-time. This means, a particle, for example an electron, before appearing or being observed in the physical space-time as a particle, exists only as a fluid mathematical potentiality, probably in other dimensions, a non-material space-time beyond the dimensional space-time. So according to quantum physics, a particle does not exist in physical space and time or does not have any physical reality until it is perceived or detected by a scientist or a scientific instrument. As Gary Zukov explains:
“According to quantum mechanics…there was no photon until one actualised. Until then, there was only a wave function. In other words, until then, all that existed were tendencies for a photon to actualise…. From the point of view of quantum mechanics, there is no photon until a detetor fires. There is only a developing potentiality”.
But how this developing potentiality is actualised into a particle? Here options differ among physicists. There are many schools of thought offering different explanations. But a new perception which is gaining increasing acceptance among eminent physicists is that consciousness of the observer is the primary factory which actualises the potentiality of the wave-function into the actuality of a particle. According to this school of interpretation, a subatomic entity appears as a wave or a particle depending on what the choice of the observer. An electron, before it is perceived or appear as an electron exists as a probability wave-function, as a mass of potentialities or probabilities. When a scientist decides to observe the electron and sets up the equipment to observe it, nature responds to the choice by “collapsing” all other probabilities to zero and actualising one of them as an electron into the field of observation. And according to Heisenberg’s principle in quantum physics, even the parameters we want to observe or measure is conditioned by the conscious choice of the observer.
For example we cannot determine precisely the position and momentum of an electron; if we want to observe the position, the momentum of the particle becomes uncertain and vice versa; more we know about one parameter, the more uncertain becomes the other. This is not due to any inadequancy in the scientific capability or instrumentation of the observer but it is the inherent nature of the physical reality in its relation to the observer. Thus the consciousness of the observer is inseparably intertwined with the object it observes. So as Frtjof Capra concludes
“…. Human consciousness plays a crucial role in the process of observation, and in atomic physics determines to a large extent the properties of the observed phenomena. This is another important insight of quantum theory that is likely to have far-reaching consequences. In atomic physics the observed phenomena can be understood only as correlation between various process of observation and measurement and the end of this chain of process always lies in the human observer. The crucial feature of quantum theory is that the observer is not only necessary to observe the properties of an atomic phenomenon, but is necessary to bring about these properties. My conscious decision about how to observe say an electron will determine the electron’s properties to some extent. If I ask a particle question, it will give me a particle answer. The electron does not have objective properties independent of my mind. In atomic physics the sharp catersian division between mind and matter, between the observer and observer can no longer be maintained. We can never speak about matter without, at the same time speaking about ‘ourselves’”.
This means consciousness of the observer is inseparable interwined with the reality it observers. There is no objective reality independent and separate from the observing consciousness. This observing consciousness determines by its conscious choice the nature of the world it chooses to observe or live in and accordingly Nature responds to the choice of consciousness. Here modern physics is hovering over the border-land between matter and mind where the laws of matter and mind mingle together. We can see in these perceptions of modern physics shades of karma theory, glimpses of the psychosomatic principle and some of the well-knows psychological laws of self-development. Thus the discoveries of New physics indicates that the distinction between Matter and Mind is not as rigid as it appears to the superficial vision of the senses; they are probably, two forms or expression of a deeper reality beyond them. But the most significant result of these new perceptions in physics is that “consciousness” is emerging as an important entity in Natural Sciences. As Fritjof Capra observes:
“Some physicist argues that consciousness may be an essential aspect of the universal and that we may be blocked from further understanding of natural phenomenon if we insist on excluding it”.