In the past, the answer depended upon whom you asked. Catholic bishops, Indian ascetics and Siberian shamans may seem radically unlike, but all agreed: spiritual worlds are experientially accessible realities, and the soul and the hereafter undoubtedly exist.
The answer was equally unanimous among scientists, who formerly concurred that belief in the afterlife was either absentminded dreaming or spiritism at best. Though our meeting occurred decades ago, I can still clearly recall asking an internationally renowned Viennese forensic physician, for whom my query seemed nearly obscene. He answered by pointing to his scalpel and scoffing, “Boy, I ain’t seen nothing like that in all my livelong days.” (The informality of tone needn’t be construed as impoliteness, but can be explained by the age difference between the venerable professor and the cub reporter.)
Einstein´s ´spooky action´
But already in those bygone years, physicists held a somewhat different viewpoint about this topic. Subatomic microcosms, the behavior of new elementary particles which could be predicted and could thus become findable with the aid of the progressively more unwieldy rings of high-energy accelerators, and the theoretical underpinnings of such particles in quantum physics: all this led to a mode of observing the cosmos which was more finely differentiated than the one implicit in positivism’s one-dimensional worldview. But an afterlife in the Great Beyond?
Albert Einstein, one of the founding fathers of modern physics, was open-minded about unconventional viewpoints, but he declined to devote closer attention to relevant observations, which he dismissed as “spooky action at a distance.” Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, likewise had “no time” to concern himself with what was known in his day as “the occult.”
New interaction: ´entanglement´
Nowadays the debate is threatening to become totally chaotic. Scarcely a week passes without the appearance of another commentary. Though the number of publications is legion, their core statements are surprisingly similar. Most physicists agree that parallel worlds exist, and they have nearly reached a consensus on the idea that everything indeed influences everything else. (This, incidentally, is also an ancient astrological and alchemical principle.)
Alongside the classical interactions – i.e. the strong and weak forces, electromagnetism and gravitation – a new category has recently been introduced: entanglement, which occurs when two quantum systems interact. Time and space play no role here because of the relativistic viewpoint, for which time “forms” the fourth dimension. This is similar to the shamanic and mystically experienced state of existing beyond time, which is merely an “axis” in the coordinate system.
Independent of time and space
The entanglement of two quantum systems occurs independently of time and it also exists when vast distances separate the subsystems. For example, if an experimenter were to measure a particle at a particular location on Earth (this may sound simple, but Werner Heisenberg’s “uncertainty principle” already proved it impossible in 1927), because of entanglement another particle at a far-removed location would be simultaneously influenced by the act of measuring. Neither time nor the distance between the particles (meters, kilometers or light-years) plays any role whatsoever: the influence occurs at the same instant, i.e. not “merely” at the speed of light, but infinitely fast!
The logical conclusion is that parts of the animate and inanimate world are mutually “entangled” and thus communicate with one another! From a shamanic point of view, an experience of this kind isn’t very different from the mystical realization that “everything has a soul and everything communicates with everything else.” Shamans and mystics do this too, and they usually do it consciously.
The physicist Hans-Peter Dürr further asserts that this dualism of the smallest particles isn’t restricted only to the subatomic world, i.e. the microcosm, but also exists in the macrocosm. Dürr accordingly believes that souls exist and that there is an existence after death: “What we call ordinary physical reality is essentially the dross, the matter, the tangible and the comprehensible. The Beyond is everything else, an encompassing and far grander reality within which ordinary reality is embedded. Our present lives are already surrounded by the Beyond.”
Dante´s ´Divine Comedy´ led the physicist
The Swiss astrophysicist Bruno Binggeli neatly articulates his line of argumentation, which he bases on the literary model of Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” a cosmic experience which, at the time of its writing, was by no means experienced solely by Dante and which can be interpreted as the written record of a shamanic journey. In conformity with the system, the primal cause for Binggeli is the Big Bang, which occurred when the universe began and which he sees as serving both “religious and scientific purposes: it’s the symbol of the self, the whole, the origin and the goal.” Binggeli creatively coined the word “mesocosmos” to denote what Tuvan shamans call the “White World” and what Carlos Castaneda and Michalel Harner refer to as the “Middle World.”
This postscript about the “primal cause”: Century after century, people have given very different names to this concept. Religious wars have been fought in its name and martyrs have lost their lives over it in Ancient Roman stadiums, beside the Tigris, tied to stakes atop Christian pyres, in Soviet gulags and at countless lesser-known locations.
The current debate raises the hope of someday reaching an understanding about the universe which will not only be worthy of consensus, but which will also encourage tolerance of dissenting opinions.
Binggeli, Bruno (2003): Primum Mobile. Zürich: Ammann.
Froböse, Rolf (2008): Die geheime Physik des Zufalls. Quantenphänomene und Schicksal. 2. Aufl. Books on Demand.
Readers edition: Wissenschaft. www.readers-edition
Wikipedia: afterlife, quantum physics, entanglement, interaction. de.wikipedia.org
Zeilinger, Anton (2003): Einsteins Schleier – Die neue Welt der Quantenphysik. München: Goldmann.
Zeilinger, Anton (2005): Einsteins Spuk. München: Goldmann.
The Dürr quotation can be found at www.esoterikforum.at.
Paul Uccusic (1937-2013) has been journalist and founding Director of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies Europe.