Quantum Woo: What is Quantum Woo?

Quantum Woo: What is Quantum Woo? November 17, 2014

einstein_tongueThis article is going to be the first in a series I’m calling “Quantum Woo.”  That’s the name that (some) hard-core rationalist atheist physicists give to anything that considers the implications of quantum physics and applies it to concepts of mysticism or magick.  RationalWiki has this definition:

Quantum woo is the justification of irrational beliefs by an obfuscatory reference to quantum physics. Buzzwords like “energy field”, “probability wave”, or “wave-particle duality” are used to magically turn thoughts into something tangible in order to directly affect the universe. This results in such foolishness as the Law of Attraction or quantum healing. Some have turned quantum woo into a career, such as Deepak Chopra, who often presents ill-defined concepts of quantum physics as proof for God and other magical thinking.

When an idea seems too crazy to believe, the proponent often makes an appeal to quantum physics as the explanation. This is a New Age version of God of the gaps.

Quantum woo is an attempt to piggy-back on the success and legitimacy of science by claiming quack ideas are rooted in accepted concepts in physics, combined with utter misunderstanding of these concepts and a sense of wonder at the amazing magic these misunderstandings would imply if true. A quick way to tell if a claim about quantum physics has scientific validity is to ask for the mathematics. If there isn’t any, it’s rubbish.

While I will agree that some people take it too far, claiming scientific “justification” for things that are, at best, merely theoretical, and at worse, downright far-fetched, I would counter that I have known a few so-called “hard-core rationalists.”  Often (not always; I subscribe to a couple of rationalist atheists’ blogs and consider them to be excellent writers and clever debaters: The Leather Library and Self-Aware Patterns, if you’d like to check them out,) they are determined to disbelieve anything that might imply that there could be some Presence out there that we don’t understand, and I believe their bias makes them irrational about it.

Contrary to what these sorts would tell you, there is no firm agreement among physicists as to what the implications of quantum physics mean for religion, mysticism or magick.  There are physicists of all faiths.  Some of them will tell you that they have yet to find anything that proves the existence of a God.  But then, some will tell you that they have yet to find anything that disproves the existence of a God either.

So, I will establish the essence of my thesis: the growing fields of quantum physics and quantum mechanics may have significant implications for mystical traditions.  Theories are arising out of the field that lend support to (but do not prove) numerous mystical and metaphysical concepts.  Most of these concepts in quantum physics are, in themselves, theoretical and unproven, and therefore should not be given the weight of fact.  In this column, I will discuss some of those theories; how they connect to mysticism and metaphysics, particularly from a Pagan perspective; what implications this might have; and how this can give us a different dialogue of understanding.

My biases:  I am a Witch and a Wiccan; I am not a physicist.  However, I respect and value the science of physics and invite physicists to debate with me, or explain where I have misunderstood a concept, as long as they do it respectfully and in layman’s terms.  I believe in the existence of “magick” and in a non-physical world that we, as human beings, occasionally interact with but do not understand.  I do not presume to ascribe any particular definition to it; I may use many different metaphors.  I believe that we have a “spirit” or a “soul” of some form and that something happens to it after we die; though what that is, precisely, I don’t presume to understand, though I believe it may depend greatly on individual belief.  I believe in the existence of intuition that manifests as what we would call “psychic abilities.”  I don’t presume to understand how it works, though it may entirely be the processing of information gleaned from our environment subconsciously and may have no mystical implications at all.  I believe that the nature of the Divine is vast and numinous, and therefore, my metaphor to understand it (Wicca and witchcraft) is no more nor less legitimate than anyone else’s metaphor to understand it; or decision not to have one.  I believe that beliefs can affect reality to lesser and greater degrees, or at least our experience of it, and I believe that several contrary “truths” can be true at the same time.  However, a fact is not a matter of opinion.  I believe in science, and support scientific theory as humanity’s most effective metaphor for understanding reality as we perceive it.  I believe these things because I have, in my personal view, seen evidence that supports them for myself.

If you have any suggestions for a subject you would like to see in this column, feel free to mention it in the comments!  Let the discussion begin!

A hearty thank you to Tom Swiss, “The Zen Pagan” over at the Agora blog, for giving me the inspiration for both this column and its title.

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