LOADS OF PEOPLE use quantum physics to try and validate or explain elements of the metaphysical. I’ve been guilty of it. Too often this can be a cheap way to preach or bamboozle the converted but it isn’t any way to influence the materialist sceptic.
And that’s because the parallels are often drawn in ways that Eric Wargo calls “vague hand waving”. Wargo’s The Nightshirt is a way, way-out-there site that theorises about life’s more inscrutable subjects or is, more precisely, what Wargo calls his “workbench for thinking about mysteries, mysticism, mind, and the human future.”
Now this sort of plunge down the rabbit hole into the www.onderland can often be to encounter material that wouldn’t only surprise Alice at the end of her adventure, but too often you also find yourself drowning in bottomless depths that the Mad Hatter would find daft.
Wargo’s a bit different. He isn’t afraid to talk about stuff like ESP but he does so with a little more erudition and intelligence than most. And that’s probably because when he isn’t musing about the unfathomable Wargo is as a Washington DC-based science writer, with a PhD in Anthropology and his day job is doing research for “organizations and government institutes conducting archaeology, psychology, and neuroscience research”. That isn’t to say that his ideas aren’t completely out there but they’re well-considered and at the centre of them is also the understanding that: “We won’t get very far understanding those phenomena at the edge of our scientific understanding without ‘including the knower in the known’.”
Wargo reads a lot and he often has some sharp suggestions for books that push the envelope in the neuroscience and consciousness fields. He’s also unafraid to wander happily into areas about the mind that are taboo (or just too specialist or complex) for the mainstream media and he digests books that most of us don’t have the background or the patience to chew and swallow and then draws (and shares) his own mind-boggling conclusions.
His musings are also long and dense enough to avoid any of the “vague hand waving” accusations he’s afraid of and he often gives an introduction to some of the most extraordinary tomes.
Free will and the Mindful Universe
One of the latest is Henry P Stapp’s Mindful Universe. Among other things apparently Stapp uses something called the Quantum Zeno Effect to explain one of the most baffling findings in neuroscience, discovered by Benjamin Libet in 1983. The Libet Experiment showed that brain activity starts before an individual willed it to happen — leading some people to conclude that free will is an illusion.
Stapp has another take on the phenomenon — and a bare whiff of the essence of the idea is this:
Because the universe is so utterly random and uncertain and — just so that we can, as individuals, cope and function — the neurons in our brains are actually primed and ready for a huge range of possible actions at any given moment. That is to say that we have already “decided” to do any number of actions but the moment we do actually act, all of these other countless possibilities subsequently remain unactualised and disappear.
Wargo describes this moment as like a “deer being frozen in the headlights”. That is to say there’s a quantum of possibilities in every given moment, but that it is our attention that solidifies them and which — added up in our consciousness — creates our subjective reality.
Wargo suggests it is this conscious intention that might be the basic “hack” “by which conscious intention fashions the world to its desires and in its image… ”
“… it could explain numerous effects experienced by athletes and creative writers and artists who experience “flow” states—expanded subjective time as a function of how narrowly versus diffusely the attention is focused on a problem or task. Could narrow focused engagement actually alter the local flow of time around the object of attention? Is the shaping of time around our activity a real effect and not just a subjective illusion?”
Wargo goes on to suggest that if this is indeed the case then it also follows that if we focus and direct our consciousness — and counteract the “countless ways” that our attention is captured and redirected by things like media, culture, technology, our conditioning, other people and institutions — then it’s more likely we can use the “precious resource” of our own attention in ways that are more creative and that might realise our mind’s true potential.
“So, if you aren’t already working your attentional muscle in some kind of daily meditation practice,” he says, “WTF are you waiting for?”
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