Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Science and the Akashic Field: An Integral Theory of Everything

Book Review: Science and the Akashic Field: An Integral Theory of Everything
by Ervin Laszlo (Inner Traditions 2004, 2007)

This is a quintessential cutting-edge science and philosophy book by a great thinker. What makes him a great thinker in my opinion is not merely his extensive academic credentials, but his open-mindedness and his ability to quest beyond the biases typical of academia.

This is a book about interconnectivity, non-local coherence, and the organic nature, not only at the quantum level but also at the macro level of the universe (or the Metaverse), at the level of biology in nature, and at the level of consciousness.

Sorting out the mind-boggling wonders of quantum physics and relativity into a scientific worldview that we can both understand and integrate into our lives is no easy task. Laszlo makes an admirable attempt in this book. Information is postulated as the binding force of the universe in the sense that information makes up the matrix of the universe. This matrix, or quantum vacuum, is the very ‘space’ in which matter exists. Space, or “Akasha” in Sanskrit, in this theory is the field of knowledge of all that has ever been. It resembles the Holographic Theory of David Bohm where the implicate order is hidden or enfolded within (as the unseen akashic-information field/matrix) and the explicate order is the unfolded outer world we see and experience. Laszlo notes that science is the least subjective way of understanding the world compared to the others: “... personal insight, mystical intuition, art and poetry, as well as the belief systems of the world’s religions.”

Physicist’s attempts at Grand Unified Theories (GUTs) are recounted as are Quantum physicists’ notions of a Theory of Everything (TOE) – one attempt of which is Laszlo’s ideas in this book. Compelling reasons to do this among physicists are the discrepancies and incompatibilities between Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. It is mainly these two major explanatory trends in physics that beg to be unified. The goal is to explain everything in a logically consistent form. Laszlo thinks it is possible and easier to step back from the physical and create an Integral Theory of Everything (I-TOE). Here he suggests that behind and beyond the manifestation of the physical universe – there is the field/matrix from which it is derived. This field, or quantum vacuum, is an information field. This is similar to what Bohm calls ‘in-formation’ where it is the field that precedes and fills ‘form’.

He discusses paradigm changes in science and the ideas arrived at through puzzles and fables that drive them. He gives three science ‘fables’ for the long emerging paradigm change in physics: 1) multiple or parallel universes, 2) observer-created universe, and 3) holographic universe. These three notions seem to be the three lead drivers for the emergence of an integral theory of everything (I-TOE).

Next examined are what Laszlo calls “Puzzles of Coherence.” Coherence puzzles are compared between physics, biology, and consciousness. It seems that these three domains show remarkable and unexpected situations of coherence – that may well be related to one another – through the postulated underlying hidden quantum information matrix. Simple coherence in physic refers to light waves having constant difference in phase:

“Coherence means that phase relations remain constant and processes and rhythms are harmonized. Ordinary light sources are coherent over a few meters; lasers, microwaves, and other technological light sources remain coherent for considerably greater distances. But the kind of coherence discovered today is more complex and significant than the standard form. It indicates a quasi-instant correlation among the parts or elements of a system, whether that system is an atom, and organism, or a galaxy. All parts of a system of such coherence are so correlated that what happens to one part also happens to the other parts”

The coherence known as “quantum non-locality” suggests that matter and energy grade into one another at deeper levels of analysis (into smaller units) and so have a quality of inseparability. Quanta can only be said to exist in “virtual states”  and in several of these virtual states simultaneously – until one is ‘measured’ scientifically, whereby it is pulled out of the virtual state into a ‘real’ state but only part of that state can actually be observed and measured. Quantum non-locality appears to be coherent in a way that shows complementarity among particles:

“Quanta are highly sociable: once they share the same identical state they remain linked no matter how far they travel from each other. When one pair of a formerly connected quanta is subjected to an interaction (that is, when it is observed or measured), it chooses its own “real” state – and its twin also chooses its own state, but not freely: it chooses it according to the choice of the first twin. The second twin always chooses a complementary state, never the same as the first twin.”

I believe it is often the “spins” that are complementary. In any case, it is hard to know what to make metaphysically about such notions – though they do seem to indicate a universe that is perhaps holographic (each part includes the whole in some way) and potentially malleable in some way beyond what we now can do.

Newtonian physics seemed to solve problems and seal our knowledge while relativity and quantum mechanics made new problems, some rather unsolvable and so our knowledge is left to leave more to mystery. Again regarding quanta Laszlo states:

“They are sociable entities, and under certain conditions they are so thoroughly “entangled” with each other that they are not just here or there, but in all measured places at the same time. Their non-locality respects neither time nor space.”

He goes through the famous EPR experiments of Einstein and company and the more recent “teleportation” experiments which may have some interesting technological features in the future – such as super fast quantum computers.

In considering coherence in cosmology he notes several cosmological puzzles that hint of coherence: 1) the violation of charge and parity, 2) the energy of “empty” space, 3) the accelerating expansion of the cosmos, 4) the “missing mass” of the universe, 5) the “horizon problem”, 6) the coherence of some cosmic ratios – certain recurring ratios are favored, 7) the fine-tuning of the universal constants – extreme statistical improbabilities are overcome. These are all ‘puzzles of coherence’ he says:

“... and they raise the possibility that this universe did not arise in the context of a random fluctuation of the underlying quantum vacuum. Instead it may have been born in the womb of a prior “meta-universe”: a Metaverse.”

Coherence in biology is apparently being discovered more and more as we better see how genes, cells, whole organisms, species, and niches show high levels of “entanglement” among their parts. Apparently the ‘dynamic equilibrium’ of biological states “requires a very high degree of coherence.” This level of coherence strongly resembles quantum coherence and so the living organism has been called a “macroscopic quantum system.” The ‘adaptive response’ of the genome shows abilities that go far beyond mere chance. A major focus of biophysics is now the interconnectivity within an organism, among organisms, and between the organism and the environment.

Regarding puzzles of coherence in consciousness, Laszlo notes that thought and image transference experiments indicate that consciousness may not be wholly individualized as previously thought. Indigenous shamanic peoples and other ancient and psychic people have long held this view. This ‘transpersonal interconnectivity’ is being suggested by many psychologists and consciousness researchers. Even the universality of human symbols and ‘archetypes’ suggests such interconnectivity. Laszlo goes through several experiments in telepathy, connectivity among identical twins, and teleosomatic medicine (healing from a distance) - which he compares to Frazer’s sympathetic magic.

To summarize the remarkable puzzles of coherence in nature and to suggest an explanation Laszlo notes that:

“These connections indicate links between the particles that make up the material substance of the universe, as well as between that parts or elements of the integrated systems constituted of the particles. The links fine-tune the particles and the elements of the systems, creating space- and time-transcending coherence among them.”

He goes through some of the ideas in physics about the ‘quantum vacuum’ as a subtle field and more hypothetical ideas such as the ‘Higgs field.’ In cosmological theories it is the nature of the quantum vacuum that would determine the fate of the universe – whether it would continue to expand or begin to contract into a possible ‘Big Crunch.’  The quantum vacuum is said to transmit light, energy, and pressure. Laszlo and physicists such as John Wheeler suggest that a more subtle ‘element’ than matter and energy is transmitted as well through the quantum vacuum. This element is information – or ‘in-formation’ in Bohm’s terminology to distinguish it from the common term. Laszlo gives the following rather vague definition:

“In-formation is a subtle quasi-instant, non-evanescent, and non-energetic connection between things at different locations in space and events at different points in time. Such connections are termed “non-local” in the natural sciences and “transpersonal” in consciousness research. In-formation links things (particles, atoms, molecules, organisms, ecologies, solar systems, entire galaxies, as well as the mind and consciousness associated with some of these things) regardless of how far they are from each other and how much time has passed since connections were created between.”

One possible mechanism for how this might work has to do with quantum spins having a minute magnetic effect that makes vortices that carry information around in the matrix. When two or more vortices meet there is an interference pattern. “This interference pattern carries information on the entire ensemble of the particles that produced the vortices.” This idea is very similar to holographic theory where interference patterns between parts convey information about the whole. Like many of the other ‘fields’ in science: electromagnetic, gravitational, various quantum fields, Higgs field, etc – the In-formation Field – cannot be measured directly, only inferred from its effects.

In ancient India the idea of the element of space, or Akasha explains a similar hidden medium or matrix from which energy, or prana, arises and returns - in a recurring cycle of universes manifesting and de-manifesting. This very same process is suggested in scientific cosmological theories. It should be noted that the Akashic Field, in Laszlo’s view as well as in ancient Indian view, is not separate from the prana within it, but consists of both energy-matter and in-formation and this altogether makes of the “in-formed universe.”

Regarding notions of a First Cause, a Prime Mover, or a Creator God of the universe Laszlo notes that cosmological theories suggest no such First Cause for our current universe which is thought to have come from a previous universe – but beyond and behind that no one knows. Several of these theories suggest that universes arise from the quantum vacuum as an effect of some instability that creates a Big Bang. Laszlo seems to think that there was some original creative act of “metaversal Design” but in any case this is something it seems we will never know empirically. He applies this same logic to evolutionary science where he suggests that the arguments in favor of evolution and those in favor of design may not be wholly incompatible. He suggests that life may have been ‘designed for evolution’ though I can see philosophical fallibility in this argument.

Next we have speculation on the nature of evolution in a multi-universe conception. Laszlo suggests that the evolution of universes is cyclic but not repetitive. He suggests an increasing complexity (through time?) of physical to physical-biological to physical-biological-psychological.

Statistically speaking it is extremely likely that there is life in other parts of the universe. Laszlo suggests that shamanic knowledge is possibly the accessing of “extraterrestrial” information or possibly (as well) sensing the Akashic Field (A-Field). He suggests that our ability to achieve balance and sustainability with nature may depend on our ability to re-learn how to sense the A-Field.  Since most cosmological theories postulate an end to the current universe – the evolutionary goals must either be attained before the end of that universe or transferred to the next universe. He does not mention this but such a scenario exists in the Buddhist Abhidharma where universes are said to be destroyed in different ways by different elements and up to certain levels of meditative stability before the next universe ensues and is re-inhabited by those beings at their respective karmic dispositions. Laszlo thinks that the quantum in-formation field, the Akashic Field, exists beyond the current series of universes – that it survives intact the destruction of the universe:

“The most fundamental element of reality is the quantum vacuum, the energy- and in-formation-filled plenum that underlies, generates, and interacts with our universe, and with whatever universes may exist in the Metaverse.”

Hindu and Chinese cosmology have a similar view. In India everything dissolves back into Akasha, to a state of Being called Brahman. Then it manifests back out to a state of Becoming, called Maya. The ceaseless inhalation exhalation cycle of being and becoming is called the Lila of Brahman, the play of ceaseless creation and dissolution.

Part 2 of the book concerns questions – mostly philosophical ones, that may be addressed by this theory and so this section is rather speculative. In discussing the nature of consciousness he makes the important observation that the association of brain function, no matter how specific, with consciousness does not entail that the brain creates consciousness. He notes that the materialist view of consciousness still predominates in scientific circles though I am guessing this has been deteriorating gradually but steadily over the years. The biggest problem with it can be summed up in the question “How can matter generate mind?” so there is a big disconnect with this approach. The answer may be end up being that matter is conscious in some way, perhaps at the quantum level as this book suggests. The notion of both mind and matter being conscious is not new and is present in several ancient belief systems. As a philosophical position it is known as  panpsychism. Laszlo gives this an evolutionary component so that we have an evolving consciousness. He calls this evolutionary panpsychism. Here mind and matter are different aspects of the same reality rather than separate as in the dualistic theories. Matter is what we apprehend when we look at something from the outside and mind is what we apprehend when we look at something from the inside. The panpsychic notions of the philosophers Alfred North Whitehead, George Wald, and the Apollo astronaut Edgar Mitchell are also recounted.

As to how we and all matter access and influence the A-field it is noted that all matter oscillates at certain frequencies. These oscillations generate wavefields which interact with other objects and wavefields which make interference patterns that convey information as in holography. These are theoretically decodable with the help of reference waves which can apparently be any wave. There are also ideas of resonating wave patterns, of collective holograms, and super-super holograms. One idea is that information is transferred when waves resonate and theoretically one could tune one’s consciousness to resonate with the holograms in the A-field. This ‘phase conjugation’ or ‘selective resonance’ is a frequency matching. Speculations about the evolutionary path of consciousness abound. Ken Wilbur gives the sequence as physical to biological to mental to subtle (which is archetypal, trans-individual, and intuitive) to causal to ultimate consciousness. R.M Bucke sees it as evolving towards ‘cosmic consciousness.” Eastern mystics and Western occultists often see it as a union of individual consciousness with universal consciousness. The question is whether the universe itself is conscious. In that case one under Laszlo’s theory one could have a mystical union with the quantum vacuum. Is the quantum matrix God (or Goddess)? The A-field theory could also apply to notions of consciousness beyond the body and beyond the brain. NDEs, OBEs and ADEs (after-death communications) as well as reincarnation can all be explained to a degree by postulating the quantum vacuum

In a chapter called – The Poetry of Akashic Vision – Laszlo gives a story of how things might be under his theory in a poetic rendering. Here he associates the quantum vacuum with the “self-realized Mind of God.”

“The universe is a memory-filled world of constant and enduring interconnection, a world where everything in-forms – acts on and interacts with – everything else.”

Laszlo notes that the mere presence of non-local coherence is evidence for the field responsible for it much as the effects of gravity are considered evidence for the gravitational field. Delving further into coherence he comes upon Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principal and all that it implies of the lack of predictability of quanta.

“The world, said Heisenberg, is built as a mathematical, and not a material, structure.”

Bohm’s hidden variables theory gives order to the universe with the idea that the unseen of the implicate is guiding the outer, or explicate order. More physicists are apparently considering this view.

Laszlo goes through the phenomenon of coherence in nature in more detail in a later chapter and in the final chapter he gives an autobiographical account of his long-developing “theory of everything” first written about in his book – The Connectivity Hypothesis.

Overall, this is a great book and Laszlo is an intriguing thinker. I think he is hovering in the right direction with – interconnectivity – and in showing relationships in the domains of physics, biology, and consciousness and how all these may be connected. Although I have never leaned toward intelligent design I have always like the old Wiccan chant – “We all come from the Goddess and to her we shall return” and perhaps she can be said to be  the mind of God, the Quantum Matrix, the Mother of Space.

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