Evolution and Creation: does quantum mechanics solve all that?


I’ve been trying to get evolution recently. That is: I’ve been trying to see whether I feel that Amit Goswami, in his book Creative Evolution, solves things for me. I’ve studied a bit of quantum mechanics as a chemistry teacher, and am perhaps a bit more equipped than most to see whether Goswami stays true to his roots as a theoretical physicist. The answer is, unfortunately, that to a very real extent he isn’t.

That is: fundamentally he’s saying that we choose the outcome of what we observe. We don’t do that consciously or on our own of course. So there’s good reason we don’t feel all powerful: it’s our conditionings and the fact that we’re not alone in this world that limits that power. Goswami assumes, good theosophist that he is, that it takes an enlightened being to create quantum effects consciously. But he does think that the option is right there before our eyes in quantum physics. However, in quantum physics electrons ARE NOT free. Not in ordinary chemistry anyhow. Just like us, electrons are limited by their circumstances.

Alright – that’s my biggest problem with the book over with right there. Except his interpretation of Shrodinger’s cat is also a bit out there. I don’t have a problem with the conclusion: that consciousness influences our world. I do have a problem with finding that in that specific experiment. It’s not, in the classic experiment, that the observer chooses the outcome. It’s only that the observer chooses to WATCH. And the watching itself forces an outcome, but not WHICH outcome.

What IS true, or at least not denied by science yet (that is: they don’t know yet) is that the act of observing collapses the waves. That is: till someone observes is there even a universe TO observe? Or are there only possibilities? Since nobody is watching, nobody knows. Amit Goswami says that the first cell is the first life that is enough of a tangled hierarchy to be able to observe not just the outside, but itself as well. That is: the first cell was the observer that made the physical universe collapse out of potential existence into real existence. WHY? Because consciousness needed a vehicle. For Amit Goswami consciousness ultimately came first. For me that sounds a bit much. I like Blavatsky’s middle ground: there was a First Cause which contained all the opposites in potential. But since then we have a universe of multiple causes. Not just upward causation (matter is the cause of everything), not just downward causation (consciousness is the ultimate cause of everything), but both.

So where does this leave evolution? Until I started writing this I had not noticed that I’d actually hardly touched that topic. Perhaps it’s because the main points in Goswami’s book aren’t about evolution. He talks about evolution a lot, but they’re not his main arguments. What he’s saying is that the jumps in the fossil record can’t be explained through classic Darwinian theory. Well, that’s true enough. Darwin has since been improved upon. Darwin assumed a linear progression and that has proved false. This doesn’t mean the whole theory falls to pieces, just that the most simple prediction one would make in the absence of knowledge doesn’t work.

Funnily enough Goswami attacks evolutionary theory precisely on it’s strongest point: that it can be used to describe just about anything. If an evolutionary scenario doesn’t work, the theory of evolution can be molded to describe it anyhow, just different. In other words, says Goswami, the theory can’t be proven wrong (isn’t falsifiable). This is to use a scientists most favorite tool against him. Falsifiability is the reason most atheists refuse to believe in an afterlife, or karma: not only can you not prove it exists, but there’s also no way to prove it doesn’t.

Of course, a theory that can be used to describe just about anything is actually pretty strong. There’s good reason to believe in it, for all practical purposes. It takes a pretty strong idea to unseat something like that. Well, the idea Goswami proposes in addition to the survival of the fittest (he does believe in it to an extent) is guided evolution. That is: at crucial points the hand of consciousness chooses the outcome that will help consciousness evolve. It’s not cosmic accidence that we have a religious tendency, it’s the hand of God: God wants us to be able to experience the Ultimate Truth. We may not, as a species, be there yet, but that’s where we’re going.

As a religious idea this is very close to classic theosophy. Forget about rounds and races for a second and you get the basics: there is a goal to evolution and developing consciousness is at the heart of it. I even think that most of Blavatsky’s ideas of rounds can be fit into this. After all, with her too, in a more recent time scale, consciousness comes before the physical manifestation.

As science… I don’t know. I’ve lent this book to my father to read. He knows more about the details of evolution than I do, and more quantum mechanics. He knows less about cell biology than I do, but that’s about it. A quick look convinced him that Goswami had at least done his homework and was worth getting into. My guess is he’ll conclude that it’s a possible scenario, but not one he’ll personally believe in. No chakras and alternative healing for my dad (all that’s in the book for some reason).

I think this is quite an achievement: to unite a spiritual perspective with details of science in a way that there are no obvious mistakes that topple the theory. So, does quantum spirituality solve the divide between science and God? For those who can believe in a God that’s neither all powerful nor personal – sure. I do not think however that it is strong enough to sit around the table of science and be taken seriously there. Like the work of Deepak Chopra it just doesn’t speak their language enough. And like Rupert Sheldrake: it’s just too arcane. Time will tell whether they are ever going to be more popular in the halls of science, or whether all three of them are going to go down in history as best sellers and interesting to the historians of religion mostly.

This is partly a response to Chris’ Evolution and Creation part 1