The Physics Of Consciousness: The Quantum Mind And The Meaning Of Life

The Physics Of Consciousness: The Quantum Mind And The Meaning Of Life

by Evan Harris Walker

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Overview

For decades, neuroscientists, psychologists, and an army of brain researchers have been struggling, in vain, to explain the phenomenon of consciousness. Now there is a clear trail to the answer, and it leads through the dense jungle of quantum physics, Zen, and subjective experience, and arrives at an unexpected destination. In this tour-de-force of scientific investigation, Evan Harris Walker shows how the operation of bizarre yet actual properties of elementary particles support a new and exciting theory of reality, based on the principles of quantum physics-a theory that answers questions such as "What is the nature of consciousness, of will?" "What is the source of material reality?" and "What is God?”

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780738204369
Publisher: Basic Books
Publication date: 12/28/2000
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 453,325
Product dimensions: 6.12(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.87(d)
Lexile: 1210L (what's this?)

About the Author

Evan Harris Walker, founder of the Walker Cancer Institute, has made major scientific contributions in astronomy, astrophysics, physics, neurophysiology, psychology, and medicine. Since he received his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Maryland in 1964, he has published more than a hundred papers in scientific journals and holds a dozen patents. He lives in Aberdeen, Maryland.

Read an Excerpt




Chapter One


Where Have the Gods
All Gone?


To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the Palm of your Hand
And Eternity in an Hour.

—William Blake, "Auguries of Innocence"


It is easy to imagine fantasy as physical and myth as real. We do it almost every moment. We do this as we dream, as we think, and as we cope with the world about us. But these worlds of fantasy that we form into the solid things around us are the source of our discontent. They inspire our search to find ourselves. In order to put meaning back into our lives, we should recognize illusions for what they are, and we should reach out and touch the fabric of reality.

    Although we know that our common-sense understanding of the world is merely fiction, the illusions stay with us. Science has entirely overturned what we know about the structure of the world. But rather than revising our picture of what reality is, we cling to a collage of incongruent shards. We preserve a false assemblage of images, one pasted upon another, so that we can keep unchanged the mental portrait of ourselves and of the world to which we are accustomed. We go about our business despite the fact that the world on which we base our lives is so much in question, so much a mystery.

    Even when we have searched out some knowledge, and when we have penetrated into the jitterbug world of Mr. Zukav's Wu Li Masters or of Carl Sagan's billions and billions of everything, we are left with only so many more unanswered questions about reality. We want to know. We ask. We search for answers, and we are given a box with little pebbles inside. Is that what the world is? Little pebbles, big pebbles, pebbles in a vast box shimmering and shaking about. Have we our answer? Is reality only a box filled with pebbles? Is that it? Is it all just a little box of rocks that holds infinity inside and stretches to the edge forever?

    We want to ask, "Is there a God? Does my life have meaning and purpose?" Science, we are told, says that even to ask about God is beyond its scope. But this is not true. Either there is no such thing as God, or science—which embodies our ability to reason—must be able to frame the question and provide us with answers.

    We know that science has proved capable of giving us dependable, solid, objective answers. It is the one path that yields answers about the machinery of reality and shows that these answers are valid. When such questions are asked, science must answer.

    To many scientists, however, God is only a memory from childhood: a put-off to questions they once asked themselves. "Where do I come from?" was left unanswered with, "From God." Yet perhaps, the great shortcoming of such questions is that the concept of God is so conventional that it too is apt to be as empty as that box scientists give us—that box filled with the universe and yet empty of meaning to what we have asked: "What is reality, really?"


THE OLD GODS


Let us go back to mankind's earliest times. Think of Homo habilis looking out into the cosmos, gazing into the blackness of a fearful night with sparkling wonder spread across the vaulting sky. Think of such a man alone in the night's stillness, looking at the stars. He blinks his eyes and wonders. His mind transcends the immediate hazards of the day, and he sees things in the sky that he cannot reach. He sees for the first time the edge of his own being and looks beyond, perhaps forming the first thoughts of some new understanding, the first thoughts of some new knowledge, and then he falls asleep. Somewhere in that early time, in a pattern of stars seen overhead, in the stirrings of an image in the bush, in a lifeless form that did not move from its forest bier, the first troubled, questioning thoughts came to early man and passed into oblivion.

    But I can see another, later time, a time when another early man lay more sheltered in a cave sleeping. As the moon rolled in its changing orbit, its full face appeared in the entrance to the cave, its light filling the doorway and jolting the primitive being into a frightened awakening. Such an experience would deepen the mystery of the sky, perhaps forming a memory that would last until the experience recurred months later. Its appearance would spark a need to know what was happening in that subtle other world. Perhaps, wanting somehow to mark what had happened, he picked up a bone and a rock and scratched the first written record.

    Ten thousand years later, archaeologists searching the ancient ruins at Gohtzi in the Ukraine found the record he left. There in the ivory of a mammoth's tusk lay etched the incised marks he cut, charting the passing phases and movement of the moon.

    I can remember awakening suddenly in the middle of the night to see the shimmering face of the moon on just such a far excursion into the northern latitudes. It peered through the branches and around the corner of my bedroom window as if it had some intent to watch me. Had I not known better, I might have set markers to test the mind of this celestial voyeur. I might have repeated the same observations that my ancient forebears made at Clava, at Kintraw, at Ballachroy, at Avebury, and on the plain at Stonehenge.

    Five thousand years ago, our ancestors used small stones and wooden posts stuck in the ground to record the moon's excursions and the constancy of the celestial bodies. These stones and posts, like modern marks on paper, described celestial laws of motion, measured out man's course in the world, and marked his woman's cycles.

    These posts, the markers of one age, repeated through a thousand years, have become the tools of ritual and the talismans of the old gods our ancestors worshiped. These were gods in the sky—regular, dependable, knowable. They were worshiped, but they were always out of reach.

    The moon has wanderings. More than the sun, it has features, subtleties that suggest the mystical nature of imagination. But having recognized the moon as a goddess of the night, who then could fail to recognize the true carrier of power over life? Who then could fail to see the powerful eye of God?

    Think of that earliest time, the time of the Old Ones. This was a religion wherein people paid homage to a god who reigned over them and gave them warmth and life, a god they could see, who stood over them, looking at them with his one gleaming bright eye—the sun.

    But others in other times created other gods and other pictures of their idea of reality. Others in treacherous forest worlds saw gods frozen in wood awaiting the knife to carve them free. Stones awaited the chisel to liberate their power—a power over the mind, a power to throw terror back into the forest, a power of death. They created images, gods cut from their own imaginings. They made gods of wood and stone. They made images drawn of lines and paint upon the walls of caves. And the lines became words.

    What images flashed in the minds of those who painted the Lascaux caves a thousand generations ago? What thoughts beyond mere existence flickered in the minds of those of species Homo habilis who left their footprints in the soil at Olduvai five million years ago? Whatever structured the reality they imagined beyond what they could immediately see, those thoughts were the beginnings of what we are today. Those thoughts were the new trials offered in the struggle for survival.

    This clash between early man and nature has woven a pattern of fact and illusion. Evolution and the pressure of survival have endowed us with an ability to understand and to reason, and this has filled us with questions about meanings and values in life. In our search, we have carved stone god answers. Our carved gods have failed us and have been replaced. The worship of Og, Bodb, Llaw; Njord, Woden, Ing, or Sif; and of Horus, Osiris, Amen-Ra, Min, or Thoth has gone. Adad, Ashur, Baal, and Gibil are gone, as are Nintoo, Nusku, Shala, and Sin. Zeuses and Aphrodites have rotted into the soil, and the Jupiters and Venuses are scattered, broken marble busts and torsos that line vacant halls as epitaphs to a world that is now gone. Our fathers struggled against these gods and found their victory.

    It was the genius of Abraham, I believe, to have met and triumphed over the superstition of a hundred ages, over the false demands of false gods' priests. Abraham put down his knife. No Baal would take this man's son Isaac. In his act of defiance against religious superstition, he became the father of a new way of faith in a God that spoke more rationally and lovingly to His people. He created a new vision of God: that God, to be worshiped, must have greater love for His subjects than even a father for his son. Somewhere in Abraham's mind or in his heart, some voice did say, "Lay not thine hand upon the lad." Tribes, nations, and peoples have come to follow this Abraham, who was the seed of the three great religions that worship the unseen God—God of the burning bush, God of the Passover, God who parted the sea, God who felled the walls of Jericho—this God who made man in His own image.

    Abraham created a new view of the world, a view in which the world of our daily concerns is the creation of a power, a mind, and a spirit that governs our lives, just as God governs the universe. It is a view of reality divided into two parts: God and His creation. It is a view of God who leads His special people, the people of the nation of Israel and ultimately the peoples of all the nations of earth. But what can we believe of this God who would not save His own people from the Holocaust. If there is a God, how distant is He? If there is a God of creation governing the incredible expanse of this universe, what care has He for me? Where is He now for me this moment as I search, hoping to find that whisper of her still-living mind somewhere? Where is this God?

    The questions are ancient. The Israelite nation answered with their faith. The Greeks answered with their mind. The Greeks, who with the philosophies of their time could hardly hope to explain the workings even of this world's machinery, certainly could not argue against the existence of some power that would have created the world. But what of it? For the Greeks, there was little to show that whatever God or gods existed had any concern for people and their problems. One might seek after some favor with offerings to some lesser divinity, but to the analytical Greek mind, a supreme God was beyond appellations.

    It was into this learned and skeptical Greek world that Christianity appeared as an answer to the question of the relationship between people and God. Christ, the only begotten Son of God, was born into this world to give testimony to His love for each individual person. How incredible is the idea that God could be so infinite in dimension that He could create the universe and yet know the personal needs of an ordinary individual. Jesus came into this world, as an answer to the prophecies of Isaiah, to give wondrous signs, to suffer the death of crucifixion, and then to rise from the dead—showing at once the personal love and infinite sovereignty of God. Paul carried the message to the Greeks and throughout the Roman world: Virgin birth, the lame made to walk, the sightless to see, the dead to rise, and on the third day His own resurrection. This is the faith and the reality that have guided the Christian world for nearly two thousand years.

    Now all that has changed. Demons do not cry in the winter wind. Baal does not look down from the sky with one bright eye and take the first-born child. And the walls of our modern Jericho can be brought down by better means than the gods of old ever possessed.

    The stone gods did not protect the ancients and were discarded, and the God of the Jews did not protect Jews either. With the advance of science, our knowledge of physics, and an understanding of evolution, we find our explanations elsewhere. The God of Abraham no Monger suffices in the secular city.

    The story of Jesus is surely inspiring. He surely lived, and he certainly sacrificed His own life for some cause. But what of the rest of His story can we believe in? When we look into the laws of physics, the mechanisms of biology, or the facts of medical practice, where is there any reason to believe that Jesus could make a blind man see or miraculously cure a beggar lame from birth? Do you believe this myth of a virgin birth? Do you believe that some god came down to earth to father anyone? Do you really believe that Lazarus, dead until his body stank from decay, was raised from the dead by anyone? Can anyone who claims to be rational today—when religion no longer serves as an explanation of where we come from or how we got this way—believe that anyone was raised from the dead?

    In his book God and the New Physics, Paul Davies surveys the necessity of the God hypothesis to explain our existence and the nature of the universe in light of recent advances in physics. He points out that just as evolution theory removed the need to assume God to explain the variety of life forms, physics has recently been able to search back to the very moment of the beginning of time and give us an understanding of even the origin of the universe itself. The successes here have brought science within reach of explaining everything that exists—and the existence of everything—without God. Davies offers one central, telling argument. More than anything else, Davies attacks the idea that God must be assumed to exist to explain the existence of the universe, of matter, of space, or indeed of time. Davies asks rhetorically, "Why this universe, this set of laws, this arrangement of matter and energy? Indeed, why anything at all?" Because physics now has been able to trace the start of the universe back to the moment of the beginning of space and time, matter and energy in a singularity, and map out the course of the future to the far distant heat-death of the universe with no need to invoke God as its creator, where is there any need for God? Davies says, "There is no need to attribute the cosmic order ... to the activity of a Deity." Darwinism removed the need of God to create the species, and it might seem that modern physics is removing any need to invoke God in order to explain any aspect of the universe. The role of God in the order of things is gone. If that is the answer, then that is the answer. And what Davies describes is a good rendering of modern scientific thought.


* * *


I drive past an Episcopal church, much like many whose stained-glass windows look out over the Maryland countryside, and think of the gentler, more certain times its congregations have witnessed. These times were troubled, surely, by crises of life, crises of death, crises of depressions, and crises of wars. Yet they did not suffer the crisis of meaning itself. That church, with its stained-glass windows, always stood there to remind those gentler ones that their struggles had meaning and their questions an answer. And now it is a part of the past.

    A few years ago, vandals smashed one of those beautiful early nineteenth-century stained-glass windows. Modern physics has no place for any deity, and the message rings even in the ears of the vandal in the street: "There is no sacrilege—only the moment, only the event."

    In The Seduction of the Spirit, Harvey Cox paints the change that has come over society. Cox tells us of his days growing up in Malvern, Pennsylvania.


Whenever I peeked in the half-open doors of St. Patrick's while on my way to Stackhouse's grocery store or the post office, I'd catch a glimpse of a mysterious darkness broken only by an even more mysterious flickering red lamp. Catholic playmates assured me in hushed tones that Jesus Christ Himself was up there on the altar. We didn't even have an altar, let alone one with Christ Himself on it. Many times I would like to have ventured into the dim recesses of St. Patrick's, but I was scared. It seemed so foreboding, so dark and awesome.

By high school it was a commonplace among the rest of us that it was just plain useless to argue with Catholics about religion, because no matter what you said, they knew they were right, or at least they seemed to know.

Today, decades later, when I talk honestly to Catholics, I get the feeling that, although they belong to the Catholic Church, they know now how I felt then. For now, even on the inside of their church, that serene assurance is gone. So is that secure conviction that it all goes back directly to God Himself.


    Drive through Malvern today. St. Patrick's is aging. It has become an anachronism even to its few parishioners who drag in their children. The world has passed Malvern by and left St. Patrick's in its past. Believers still frequent the place, but the old faith has lost its hold on their souls. And the children leave to search out the secular world's video stores in Philadelphia and beyond. St. Patrick's no longer gives its people quite that same sure faith that they need if they are to believe today.

    Today people need proof in order to believe, and they deserve that proof. The degeneration in the values of our society is not due to the waywardness of the people or to the affluence that permits a lax morality. It is not the secular city or drugs or a rebellious youth that has caused society to drift away from God. It is, instead, the message of science borne on the wings of our fast technology. It is the thinking of intellectuals of a century ago that has come down to the streets. The ideas that are today a matter of academic speculation begin tomorrow to move armies and topple empires.

    It is the perceptions of our science, the tenets of modern physics so well summarized by Davies, that now instruct our futures—into the streets. But it is all wrong.


* * *


I remember her. I remember Merilyn. I remember her so terribly much. I remember her as she looked at me, asking me questions with her eyes. I remember her as she looked quizzically at me, asking with one eyebrow raised, asking. And I answered with my eyes, answering her question of love. I put my arms around her; I kissed her, I felt her body in my hands. I pressed her against me. "I love you," I said. "I love you." And she answered, her words sparkling, "That's funny, I love you, too!"

    That had been a year earlier. That had been before she was about to die.


* * *


Harvey Cox writes "I have tried to make clear that metaphysical operations cannot be muted by the secular age, but that metaphysical systems will neither again integrate whole societies nor still men's persistent questions as once they did." But Cox is dreadfully wrong. There are answers. The truth does exist, and when the truth is honestly sought, with a mind that is ready to accept the truth, whatever the truth turns out to be, then the answers do come, and the answers change people.


Excerpted from the physics of consciousness by EVAN HARRIS WALKER. Copyright © 2000 by Evan Harris Walker. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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The Physics of Consciousness: The Quantum Mind and the Meaning of Life 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I agree with the previous reviewer.. Far more than other authors, he actually comes closer to actually giving plausible and eye-opening answers, instead of vague speculation posing as 'proof'. He presents an intriquing and compelling theory, gives us some solid background to support the theory, with the idea that it needs development as any fledging scientific concept does.. He doesn't pretend or claim to pretend that this theory has been proven or that everything is all wrapped up with a bow, as other authors do, which strikes me as marking him as a more serious scientist. A very mind-opening book for anyone interested in the quantum world and how it relates to us.. Also touches you on an emotional level, as it is personal story and not a dry intellectual discourse.. I'd very much like to see him write a follow up book..
Guest More than 1 year ago
There are so many books out there that presume to explain consciousness but, really, do not even begin to scratch the surface. Dennett's 'Consciousness Explained'- a somewhat pretentious title for a book that does nothing of the kind- and such spring readily to mind. Reading Walker's book is an epiphanic experience. There are two things that any reasonable explanation of the mind and consciousness MUST necessarily contain to be credible: 1- Quantum Physics, the most successful and powerfully explanatory yet astonishing science ever. Any fundamental theory or explanation of consciousness that would not convincingly include and involve Quantum Physics at a logical and intimate level would be highly suspect - it would not have the ring of ultimate truth, since such a profound theme should by necessity avail itself of the deepest-going means of analysis that we have at our disposal/ read exist. Second - numbers. Verbose talk and 4-syllable words are cheap, but numbers do talk and have a way of being incontrovertible. Walker's book includes both. And very, very convincingly. The first half of the book is a bit slow and in some key parts not very well written. Walker's explanation of Bell's inequality and theorem can be found elsewhere, better exposed. But the second half of the book is pure, glittering gold. Whoever reads this second half enters the realm of convincing, intelligent, trail-blazing science. They will be made privy to an explanation that has eluded mankind and all of conscious life throughout history. Until now. Yes. It is that Earth-shaking. It is a pity that this book is not better known and/or not more aggressively marketed. It constitutes a giant step in mankind's intelligent understanding of consciousness. It should be obligatory reading for the normal educated homo sapiens of the early 21st century. It should also serve as the basis upon which to further elaborate and refine the science of consciousness. It provides a simple pathway to determining how conscious animals may actually be, how we can at long last integrate intelligently the universe, mankind, some spirituality, and much much more besides. I weep when I see the kind of access and public exposure that mediocre, simplistic, or downright cretinic orators may attain in our society, and how exceptional contributions such as Walker's book remain largely unknown. Do yourself a favor: read this book.
mjhines on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
My senior year in college was immersed in a "Senior Thesis" (a requirement for graduation) whose title was: "The Meaning of Consciousness for Hegel, Kierkegaard and Sartre." The immersion was persistent during the 53 years since and prompted me to become involved in this book with enthusiasm. I was rewarded with a compelling presentation that melds the author's own spiritual/emotional experiences with quantum mechanics (including the math) in a way that lifts both into the realm of possibilities way beyond any other description I've read or read about. The final chapter almost stands by itself and it is tempting to encourage a first time reader to start there, then move on to the usual chapter sequence. My understanding of consciousness, developed so painfully 5 decades ago, has been expanded, re-molded, personalized and energized by this view. While I still don't really grasp quantum mechanics, I am pleased that it beautifully "makes sense" of much of what philosophy and religion did not.
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Bushido_Sage More than 1 year ago
Philosophers, physicists, students and scholars of all calibers can enjoy this work. Well written and very interestingly organized and presented.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I have read better books on this type of subject by authors who could write for educated people, but novice to this subject. I E Paul Davies, Brian Greene and Michio Kaku. The first 150 pages could have been eliminated or condensed. A bit let down, but an ok read. I will go back to the other authors for new thought.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book has brought me to one of the most contented times in my life. Of course it is probably just a personal, non-relatable moment of joy, but I will try to share it anyway. It has been about 21 years since my enlightenment when I wrote¿ ¿There is no space and time¿no cause and effect---no birth or death---that all form is a thought in the consciousness of one that is continually being `thunk¿ that gives the appearance of time and space, cause and effect,¿ and that ¿our consciousness is that consciousness thinking this form. It¿s all an Illusion.¿ And I said that when we leave form, we retain ¿a witness capability¿ and ¿our will.¿ I have built my life around those experiences, and I cannot tell you in full the difficulties I have gone through and the rejections I have had to accept almost daily over all those years, at times almost costing my freedom and life. But science has finally been forced into theoretical agreement with every aspect of what I have experienced. This book presents the issues, and if this knowledge is projected into the future as a common understanding by all people¿imagine. The Truth is coming out. I can finally rest a little. I will mention that anything worthwhile usually takes some work, and I believe this book may fall into that category for most people. But stick with it¿don¿t give up¿it all pulls together in the end and will be well worth your effort, I¿m sure.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This exceptional book will leave you absolutely speechless. Everything you want to say is done for you. Evan Walker does a wonderful job capturing the reader's attention and curiosity. If you've been asking yourself questions about life, reality or your mere existence, STOP! You have found the answers to your questions. This author digs deep within his soul to share his personal experiences relating to the perplexity of life here on Earth and beyond. You will not want to put the book down. Enjoy!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a trail-blazing book, and the corny subtitle should by no means be held against it. Despite (or rather, because of?) the author's own Zen training, the book is firmly based on physical arguments rather than mystical/philosophical ones. The book begins to plug a gaping hole in our current science-based understanding of physical reality. The hole in question is the exclusion of consciousness from the description of physical reality. Although philosophically laughable, the notion that the deepest aspects of physical reality can be described without ever speaking about the entity doing the description has dominated science and acted as a straitjacket that confined scientific thought for far too long. Instead, the book shows that reality cannot be understood without consciousness, or indeed, that reality and consciousness are ultimately the same thing. As Eddington put it, "the stuff of the world is mind-stuff". But this book goes much further than Eddington did in proving this assertion, or, if not quite yet proving, at least providing us with mechanisms and falsifiable assertions to investigate it as a hypothesis. Quite possibly among the ten books of the century. One can only hope that other scientists will pick up the trail. The potential for fruitful investigation is vast, and the promise is for nothing less than a complete revolution in our understanding of reality.
Guest More than 1 year ago
There are two different aspects to this book; the physics and then the author's personal life that gives those less interested in physics a reason to keep reading. I personally believe that he could have tied things up a little better than he did in relating the two at the end. But that does not even begin to take away from the purpose of this book. Like what was said in previous reviews, the other theories on quantum mechanics can be found better explained elsewhere, but when Walker begins to explain his interpretation hold on to your seat. All other interpretations of quantum mechanics are so vague that the reason they are still around is because there is no way to test and dispute their validity and those who proposed these explanations gave no suggestions as to where to start to dispute it. Walker does just the opposite. Not only does he give a very plausible explanation to our understanding and interpretation of quantum activities, he also begins to tell us how we can go about testing his hypothesis. I personally believe that if there is to be a breakthrough in the understanding of quantum physics it will be toward his perspective. We can only measure that for which we perceive through our five senses and this is where our consciousness dictates our reality. There must be a further understanding of ourselves before we can understand the Universe in which we place ourselves.