Book Review

By I. M. Oderberg

The Non-Local Universe: The New Physics and Matters of the Mind by Robert Nadeau and Menas Kafatos, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1999; 240 pages, isbn 0-19-513254-6, hardcover, $27.50.

This extraordinary book by a historian of science and a physicist reports and reflects upon experiments conducted with light particles in 1997. Based on similar work done in 1982 at the University of Paris-South, the experiments' results indicate that photons, having been ejected in opposite directions from a single source, somehow interacted instantly with one another while traveling to detectors seven miles apart -- a vast distance in quantum terms. This implies that the speed of light is not an absolute limit, as a report in the current issue of Nature appears to corroborate. The physicists concluded, moreover,

that "even if experiments could somehow be conducted in which the distance between the detectors was halfway across the known universe, the results would indicate that interaction or communication between the photons would be instantaneous," that is, that the foundation of physical reality is actually "non-local" -- a discovery the authors view as "the most momentous in the history of science."

In order to give background to the non-specialist, the authors describe the rise of quantum physics, wave-particle dualism, complementarity as found in the new biology, and the metaphysical implications of quantum physics and non-locality. The fundamental conclusion they draw from the non-local experiments is that physical reality on the most basic level is an undivided whole, and that complex physical and biological processes are extremely interdependent, displaying properties and behaviors that cannot be explained in terms of the sum of the parts involved. Rather, it is the whole which "exists in some sense within all parts (quanta)." Since human consciousness is a property of this whole, they argue that "it is not unreasonable to conclude, in philosophical terms at least, that the universe is conscious" (pp. 197-8). Lest this be taken as a scientific proof, the authors are careful to point out that

While we have consistently tried to distinguish between scientific knowledge and philosophical speculation based on this knowledge, let us be quite clear on one point -- there is no empirically valid causal linkage between the former and the latter. Those who wish to dismiss the speculations on this basis are obviously free to do so. But there is another conclusion to be drawn here that is firmly grounded in scientific theory and experiment -- there is no basis in the scientific description of nature for believing in the radical Cartesian division between mind and world sanctioned by classical physics. It now seems clear that this radical separation between mind and world was a macro-level illusion fostered by limited awareness of the actual character of physical reality and by mathematical idealizations that were extended beyond the realm of their applicability. -- p. 198

The ideas presented by the authors harmonize with views on the interconnection of the components of the universe expressed in material we have inherited from remote antiquity. These sources see each human being as a miniature cosmos, a microcosm mirroring in the small scale what prevails in the large. Even Western religious texts, which claim that the human being was "made" by the creative Divinity in His image, imply that, since we have "mind," mind or intelligence is also present in the cosmos as a whole. In any case, the human mind was intended to be used: no viewpoint, religious or scientific, should be accepted on blind faith merely because an authority tells us "to believe." Sir W. Grove's dictum remains as true today, for all fields of knowledge, as it was in the 19th century: "Science should have neither desires nor prejudices. Truth should be her sole aim." Written in this spirit, The Non-Local Universe is a fascinating book well worth studying.

 (From Sunrise magazine, August/September 2000; copyright © 2000 Theosophical University Press)

Science Menu

Within nonlocality is concealed a revolution in thinking. If taken seriously, it urges us to do what Goethe, Thoreau, Whitman, and a thousand others have petitioned for a century: to conceive of things whole. As Francis Thompson phrased it,

All things . . . linked are,
That thou canst not stir a flower
Without troubling of a star.

Every imagination of light has been held within a larger cultural imagination of man and world. Are we now at the watershed to a new one, and could it possibly support a true ecology of human, animal, plant, and mineral communities? In recent decades, light has taken on a new and subtle figure; one can only hope it is but a symptom of a larger evolutionary change in the structure of our imagination that supports an ecological consciousness. -- Arthur Zajonc, Catching the Light