Does Consciousness Create the Universe?
“Time is what prevents everything from happening at once.”
– John Archibald Wheeler
The beginning of time, according to quantum physics, could have come not with the big bang, but the first moment where consciousness proclaimed “NOW”. In the now, is born the past, the future, and the whole story line of cause and effect. Is consciousness fundamental to creation, and can the frequency of this “Now” rhythm speed up or slow down? If the rhythm of my “Nows” is creating my universe, then who is creating yours?
“Let’s assume the whole universe is a quantum system… when you take out the observer participant, you have a problem of frozen time. The universe does not evolve, it doesn’t change, nothing happens,” said Alan Wallace, expert on Tibetan Buddhism at SAND 2015.
Quantum physics has long been stunned by the measurement problem. The experimental evidence that the intrusion of the observer is actually effecting the outcome of observed phenomena between wave and particle has become as mind-boggling of the Shroedinger cat which is both dead, alive, both or neither.
The participatory universe was proposed scientifically by the great physicist John Archibald Wheeler, colleague to Einstein and Bohr. Wheeler is best known for linking the term “black hole” to objects with gravitational collapse already predicted early in the 20th century, and for coining the terms “quantum foam”, “neutron moderator”, “wormhole” and “it from bit”, and for hypothesizing the “one-electron universe”.
“The universe and the observer exist as a pair. I cannot imagine a consistent theory of the universe that ignores consciousness.”
In the final decades of his life, the question that intrigued Wheeler most was: “Are life and mind irrelevant to the structure of the universe, or are they central to it?” He suggested that the nature of reality was revealed by the bizarre laws of quantum mechanics. According to the quantum theory, before the observation is made, a subatomic particle exists in several states, called a superposition (or, as Wheeler called it, a ‘smoky dragon’). Once the particle is observed, it instantaneously collapses into a single position.
Wheeler suggested that reality is created by observers and that: “no phenomenon is a real phenomenon until it is an observed phenomenon.” He coined the term “Participatory Anthropic Principle” (PAP) from the Greek “anthropos”, or human. He went further to suggest that “we are participants in bringing into being not only the near and here, but the far away and long ago.”
This claim was considered rather outlandish until his “delayed-choice experiment,” which was tested in a laboratory in 1984. This experiment was a variation on the famous “double-slit experiment” in which the dual nature of light was exposed (depending on how the experiment was measured and observed, the light behaved like a particle (a photon) or like a wave).
In Wheeler’s version, the method of detection was changed AFTER a photon had passed the double slit. The experiment showed that the path of the photon was not fixed until the physicists made their measurements. The results of this experiment, as well as another conducted in 2007, proved what Wheeler had always suspected – observers’ consciousness is required to bring the universe into existence. This means that a pre-life Earth would have existed in an undetermined state, and a pre-life universe could only exist retroactively.
“Stronger than the anthropic principle is what I might call the participatory principle,” said Wheeler, “According to it, we could not even imagine a universe that did not somewhere and for some stretch of time contain observers because the very building materials of the universe are these acts of observer-participancy. You wouldn’t have the stuff out of which to build the universe otherwise. This participatory principle takes for its foundation the absolutely central point of the quantum: no elementary phenomenon is a phenomenon until it is an observed (or registered) phenomenon.”
Today, most people still believe there is an external world out there. “Why should a particle out there change its behavior depending on whether you watch it or not?” asks Robert Lanza, whose Biocentric view of the universe has having a significant impact on the fundamental belief systems of 21st century science. “The particles aren’t just “out there”. Space and time are tools of our mind, they’re tools of animal understanding.”
“I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.”
– Max Planck