Monday, August 17, 2009

Quantum Consciousness or God?

Kuldip Dhiman

God is not Dead: What Quantum Physics Tells us About our Origins and How We Should Live
By Amit Goswami.
Pages 310. Rs 295.

Aristotle showed us that whenever we ask the "why" question, four explanations or causes could be given. They are: material cause, formal cause, efficient cause, and final cause. If we take the example of a chair, wood is its material cause. Formal cause shows us what a thing is; in other words, it identifies it—we might think in terms of the shape of the chair. The efficient cause is the reason for the object to be. In case of the chair, the efficient cause is the carpenter. And the final cause explains why the chair was made, or what was the purpose (teleology) behind making it. Chairs are made so that people can sit on them.

With the rise of modern scientific thinking, the last two causes are no longer considered because they would suggest that the world was created by a supreme being. This is not acceptable to modern materialistic science. As scientific thinking began to hold the imagination of thinkers, Friedrich Nietzsche made his bold proclamation a century ago: "God is dead".

Amit Goswami declares the opposite in God is not Dead, and he uses the presuppositions of quantum physics to justify his claim. To be sure, Goswami is not a saffron-clad swami dabbling in quantum mechanics to pass off his religious beliefs by using scientific terminology. He is a theoretical nuclear physicist and member of The University of Oregon Institute for Theoretical Physics for the last 40 years.

Goswami argues that scientific materialism cannot give us a complete explanation of the world as there are aspects of the phenomenal world that are impossible to address within the materialist framework of science. Where, then, lies the solution? The solution, says Goswami, could be found in quantum physics — the science of the subatomic realm.

Very briefly, in Newtonian physics, objects are determined things, but in quantum physics, objects are possibilities from which consciousness chooses. The stress in Newtonian physics is on objectivity, that is, the person conducting the experiment is just an impartial observer; he does not interfere in the experiment in any way. But when we enter the world of subatomic particles, subjectivity becomes important as it influences the physical processes.

For instance, light waves sometimes act like particles and particles sometimes act like waves depending upon how they are observed, this is called wave particle duality. Further, matter can go from one spot to another without moving through the intervening space—this is called quantum tunnelling. Instead of the certain world of macro level physics, in quantum mechanics, the entire universe is nothing but a series of probabilities that depend upon a sentient observer. And once subjectivity enters, consciousness cannot be treated as mere by-product of biological processes, because it actively shapes the outcome of the experiment.

In the micro realm, objects remain as waves of possibility until they are brought into manifestation through the act of observation. Quantum objects are waves of possibility of consciousness. "Consciousness, not matter," says Goswami, "is the ground of being, in which matter exists only as possibilities. Through the act of quantum measurement or observation, consciousness converts possibility into actuality, by collapsing waves into particles or things, at the same time splitting itself into a subject that sees and objects that are seen `85. In other words, quantum thinking allows us to treat mind and matter, internal and external experiences on equal footing, extending causal efficacy and importance of both."

But how does this prove the existence of God? When we observe the world, our consciousness chooses among the quantum possibilities to collapse an actuality of experience. This way, we create our own reality. It must, however, be remembered, that we do not create reality in our ordinary state of consciousness, but in a non-ordinary state of consciousness called unified consciousness or universal consciousness. And it is this unified consciousness that could be called God, but this God is not some patriarchal figure sitting up in the sky controlling the affairs of the world.

Goswami further argues that neither Darwinian random evolution nor Creationism can explain the origins of life, but the evolution guided by unified consciousness. There are the fossil gaps, for instance, which cannot be understood in any other way but by thinking of intelligent design through quantum evolution. Evolution is not a gradual process, rather it undergoes quantum leaps at times. The missing links prove that in the past, we have had epochs of evolution in which quantum leaps of creativity took place.

Using these basic assumptions of quantum theory, Goswami shows us that we can answer questions relating to soul, mind, creativity, reincarnation, paranormal phenomena, ESP, dreams and more importantly, mystic experience. In fact, he interacted with several mystics to understand the mysteries of reality.

This book is an interesting addition to scientific literature. Goswami writes clearly and argues intelligently, and is among a handful of Indians who can write on science. But without belittling the author's effort, it must be said that the concept of applying quantum theorising to understand the metaphysical and spiritual realm is not altogether new.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Spare the rod, but not the discipline

Corporal punishment is to be deplored, not regimentation.

By Kuldip Dhiman

Another child is beaten up, another teacher is penalised, and the debate is suddenly alive: whether we ought to spare the rod or not. And this debate, like most others, swings from one extreme to the other. While my parents often told my teachers, "If he misbehaves, don't tell us, just thrash him thoroughly"; most parents now would take the school authorities to court for 'touching' their little ones.

Those who propose to banish corporal punishment in schools, suggest as alternatives positive behaviour techniques like communication, reasoning, conferences with students for planning acceptable behaviour, parent-teacher conferences about student behaviour, use of staff such as school psychologists and counsellors and above all love and affection. Good suggestions, but hardly practicable in an over-populated country like ours where in many areas the schools are overcrowded, understaffed, teachers are poorly paid, and often there is no school building at all.

It is believed that corporal punishment leaves emotional scars on children's mind, and they grow up to be violent and unruly adults. Those who hold this line might be surprised to know that recent studies show that the percentage of people who had committed violent crimes has been almost identical among those who were spanked and those who were not. While I am not a supporter of corporal punishment, I argue that we must evaluate the problem rationally rather than jump to conclusions out of mere emotional responses. As is often the case, whenever we hear about a case of corporal punishment, we often blame the teacher without hearing her or his version of the story, just as in a case of a traffic accident involving a car and a cycle, the car driver is presumed guilty and beaten up even if the cyclist was at fault.

But what is corporal punishment in the first place? While it is recognisable in extreme forms like caning and whipping, what about milder forms? More and more forms of punishments are being defined as corporal punishment these days, so much so that one day even scolding a child for misbehaving might be classified as corporal punishment.

While love, communication and reasoning are to be preferred to the rod, we must not forget that in most cases, our classrooms are packed with about sixty to seventy children. The hapless teacher cannot be expected to reason with those who habitually not only misbehave, but also bully him and other children in the classroom. A patient teacher might try love and affection once, twice, or even thrice, but on the fourth occasion is likely to loose his cool. Don't parents themselves beat up their children after trying other milder methods? Why should it be any different with the teacher who does not have to deal with two or three, but over sixty children all day! Besides, it is often difficult and time-consuming to reason with a child of secondary school level. If the teacher tried to reason with every single errant child, he would have no time left to teach. And experience shows that children do like some degree of firmness on the part of the teacher, and they have scant regard for a teacher who is lenient.

In most cases of corporal punishment, it is often not clear who is to blame, the teacher or the child or the parents. Because adults and children influence each other, argues developmental psychopathologist Michael Rutter, it is not always clear whether an adult's hostility is the cause or the effect of a child's misbehaviour. Family disruption and conflict and ineffective parenting do contribute to and aggravate many childhood problems, but many of these problems are also rooted partially in genetic endowment and grow out of a complex transactional process in which children affect and are affected by their elders and their wider social environment. It is high time to move beyond the simple view that parents and teachers alone are to blame for children's behavioural problems.

While corporal punishment should certainly be deplored, regimentation and discipline must be enforced at all costs. After all why do we send children to school? So they could learn to work with others, learn social customs, learn to cooperate and compete with peer groups.

But discipline must not be confused with coercion, for discipline could be instilled in children without coercion. Experts like Robert E. Larzelere, suggest that disciplinary responses could begin with less severe tactics, such as reasoning, but proceed to firmer tactics when the initial methods achieve neither compliance nor an acceptable compromise. This is consistent with many studies showing that a combination of reasoning and punishment is more effective than either one alone and with new evidence that this sequence enhances the effectiveness of milder disciplinary tactics.

Every child is unique, some are naturally well-behaved by disposition, while others need to be disciplined, and there are those who only understand the language of the cane. It would be unwise to treat all of them with one method. In the case of children belonging to the third category, school authorities could have a long hard talk with the parents instead of beating the child black and blue themselves.