Quantum Mysticism : not as good as Pooh

March 28, 2007

I am trying to get to grips with David Bohm and failing utterly, as much through boredom as stupidity..

The low-l anomaly in the cosmic microwave background, discussed by Andrew Jaffe in his seminar here last week, gets people excited because it hints at a violation of causality. Long distance quantum entanglement excites people for much the same reason. You spit out a pair of particles that must have opposite spins, but the spin of either one is not determined until it is measured. So then you measure one, and instantaneously force the other, distant, particle to have a specific spin. The laws of physics, some say, are in a deep sense non-local. Everything is connected. Err…

If you google “everything is connected” you mostly get lots of wishy washy mysticism, with the odd bit of quantum mechanics thrown in. Well, as you will see from some of my posts, while I am vaguely antagonistic to Western religions, I find Eastern mysticism very interesting, while trying to stay healthily sceptical. This sort of interest is of course quite normal for someone of my age whose hair used to be much longer and who still has some pink loon pants somewhere in the attic, and who occasionally plays his crackly Steve Hillage albums on his Rega Planar. (Now we’re all reality gypsies).

So there I was in the bookshop and found myself picking up “Wholeness and the Implicate Order” by David Bohm. The blurb says he is not only famous for his hidden variables interpretation of quantum mechanics, but was inspired by Eastern Philosophy, and blended the two to arrive at a new way of looking at the Universe, including consciousness. Wow. Can’t wait.

A week later I have managed a few dozen turgid pages per night. The bits of physics in it do look really interesting, but I’d have to read the real papers to be sure, and my brain hurts already. But the philosophy seems to be vapid gibberish. Its full of pointless neologisms, repetition, obscure phrasing, and a kind of Vedic philosophy muddled and watered down to a sort of murky soup.

I’d hate to think anybody would think this is what Eastern philosophy is really like. Better to go straight to the Tao Te Ching. Or possibly even better, the Tao of Pooh.

Or maybe just read The House at Pooh Corner. Alternated with chapters from the Feynman Lectures.