“Secret Quantum Healing: Applying Quantum Physics to the practice of healing and self-healing”: This slogan is just one of many jingles of great promises in the esoteric scene. Finally, it is possible “to make the exciting parallels between spirituality, medicine and quantum physics available to a broader public”. There is talk of no less than miracles and other fascinating things, that can clean the soul, set up your apartment (with quantum feng shui), or use “quantum resonance” to live in the perfect romantic relationship. And finally, quantum physics has also entered the research on the nature our consciousness.
Advertisements like these are an essential part of what I call the “post-physical quantum movement”. And this looks back on some tradition. Already in the 1970s, the physicist Fritjof Capra wrote “The Tao of Physics”, a book in which he claimed that the mysticism of the ancient Indians corresponds to nothing less than the insights of modern quantum theory – albeit packaged in some poetic and metaphysical form.
Now, whoever is seriously concerned with, for example, the Buddhist teachings will indeed find quite interesting thoughts that can be somewhat compared to the findings of modern physics. A seemingly holistic connection of a quantum particle with its environment, the dismissal of the subject-object duality, and the rejection of any independent substance, these are insights that bear some similarity to ideas from the spiritual tradition of Buddhism, especially as developed in the Madhyamaka philosophy of the Indian thinker Nagarjuna in the second century AD.
However, from the thoughts developed by Capra evolved a dynamic that turned his book into a new bible for all those who wanted nothing more than the (according to Max Weber) “disenchanted scientific rational worldview” being spiritually replenished. Thus to this day the word “quantum” finds its way in the alternative and esoteric scene and must hold up for all kind of nonsense.
As it turned out, “quantum” is the perfect description for pretty much everything that cannot be described. Add to this the fact that only a few really know and understand the details of quantum physics which prevents the quantum-protagonists rarely ever having to justify their own ignorance, and you find the ideal esoteric mix for those too lazy to think for themselves. Who dares to contradict once someone refers to “quantum physics”? Statements like “Everything depends on everything” are then sufficient to make the hearts of many beat. The scheme applied is almost always the same: A statement originally made in a well-defined conceptual framework and therefore meaningful in the context of physics is distorted “quantum-esoterically” into obscurity. “Only the measurement determines the state of a quantum particle” is an example. In the context of quantum esotericism this translates into “Only through our observing is the state of the world determined” (or, depending on what you want, the state of your health, your sleeping habits, or the emotional stance of your love partner). This is a jump from the clarity of a coherent and empirically validated physical theory directly into the mystical world, without any argumentative or discursive connection. Another example: “Quantum particles which are far away from each other can still physically connected” (“entangled” is the technical term). This then becomes: “We are all connected to each other and with the entire universe.” This is, to say it bluntly, nonsense
Now, the question about the nature of our mind is indeed one of the most fundamental philosophical questions, and it has occupied human thought for millennia. And the “body-soul problem”, which underlies this question, is still unresolved, although neuroscientists are seeking an ever clearer view of it. Many philosophers therefore follow a view which, in a brevity which does not entirely match the complexity of the question, they denote as the “irreducibility of the subject.” This means that subjective experience cannot be reduced to and fully explained by objective (measurable) physical conditions, such as states in the brain. One may find good reasons to agree with this thesis. But these have absolutely nothing to do with quantum physics.
Those who understand quantum physics – of which, since Richard Feynman’s well-known saying (“There was a time when newspapers said that only twelve people understood the theory of relativity, I do not think there was ever such a time.[…] On the other hand, I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics “, 1967) there have been some more – can only shake their head on this relentless exploitation of its ideas. However, quantum physics does serve nonsensical esoteric ideas very well for a reason: The world of quantum particles indeed reveals some strange surprises to us and in many instances seems unusual and bizarre to our mind. However, this is only so when viewed with the intuitions of our everyday life, which in their evolutionary adaptation processes have never been touched by quantum physics. The vast majority of quantum effects are found far away from our daily lives in the world of tiny distances and inconceivably short time scales, and thus certainly not in the field of spirituality.
Knowing that quantum physics makes bizarre-sounding statements, the quantum mystics conclude cheerfully that everything that sounds bizarre therefore must necessarily belong to quantum physics. This is certainly a fallacy, but one that can be wonderfully exploited. Can it be that here a not so new need is to be satisfied: the longing for one fundamental, universal and binding worldview – structured as simply s possible , to which one can refer again and again without having to take the trouble to examine it precisely?
We must still get used to the fact that books with titles such as “With Tao to Wisdom” attract far more readers than those who carry titles like “Introduction to Modern Physics”. Most people that seek deeper knowledge and understanding of the mystery of the world, browse through books on spirituality rather than to consult a scientific treatise on physics, chemistry, or biology. Unfortunately, most of them miss the fact that the real insights of quantum physics find themselves among the greatest philosophical achievements of the 20th century, a century that was by no means poor of profound insights overall.