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8 Nov 2019 | 22:22 | Suwachaseela

One fateful day, way back in the seventeenth century, an apple fell near a young boy resting under that tree. Any other boy may have eaten it or thrown it, but this being the young Isaac Newton, with an extraordinary brain inquisitive about everything, he asked the question "Why did the apple fall?" a phenomenon everyone took for granted, till then. By mental exploration as well as by scientific experimentation, he discovered gravity which explained how the universe held together, till it was challenged in the early twentieth century.

Finding that Newtonian mechanics no longer was sufficient to reconcile laws of classical mechanics with the laws of the electromagnetic field, a young German, while working in the Swiss Patent Office, developed the special theory of relativity. That was Albert Einstein, the great theoretical physicist, who after further experimentation developed the general theory of relativity which seemed to better explain the material world. However, Einstein was challenged by and had many debates with his contemporary, Danish Physicist Niels Bohr who, expanding on the pioneering work of the German physicist Max Plank, discovered another world: the quantum world. Modern Physics, it is said, is supported by these two pillars, the general theory of relativity, explaining the very big, and quantum mechanics, explaining the very small.

Bohr developed his model of the atom, electrons orbiting around the nucleus just like the planets orbiting the sun in a fixed orbit but with a difference; electrons could jump from one orbit to another when heated. He deduced this by noting the colour changes that occur when gases are heated as well as the observation that light is displayed in bands than a spectrum when observed through a prism. His explanation was that electrons emanated different colours in different orbits, which gave rise to the term ‘quantum leap’. Together with other physicists working at the time, he developed the quantum theory which gets its name from the concept that energy comes in little packets called quanta. Whilst Einstein was for prediction with certainty, quantum theory was just the opposite. When Einstein remarked "God does not throw dice", Bohr retorted "Stop telling God to play dice"

Quantum theory, even physicists admit, is very difficult to comprehend. They acknowledge it is mysterious but point out that it has produced phenomenal results. Lasers, transistors, micro-switches, semi-conductors, super-conductors, to name a few are the innovations that impact on our daily life, developed thanks to quantum mechanics but what is to come is even more fascinating. Quantum computers will one day make what we use today to be mere toys. Quantum biology is bound to change our lives but what is this quantum theory?

Quantum theory explains the physical behaviour of matter at molecular, atomic and sub-atomic levels as well as the interaction of mater with energy. It is the miniature world where particles behave differently; counter-intuitively and seem paradoxical to what happens in the ‘real’ world. They are affected by observation and, interestingly, can be in different places at the same time. Particles can function as waves at times which has led to the concept of duality. Also, there is entanglement; affecting one particle will also affect a distant unconnected particle, rather mysteriously.

There are two interpretations of the quantum theory, the Copenhagen Interpretation and the Many-Worlds theory. Niels Bohr proposed the Copenhagen interpretation of the quantum theory, which states that a particle is whatever it is measured to be; could be a wave or a particle. However, it cannot be assumed to have specific properties, or even to exist, until it is measured. In short, Bohr was saying that objective reality does not exist. The second interpretation of the quantum theory, favoured by Stephen Hawking and Richard Feynman, is the many-worlds or multiverse theory. It tells us that as soon as the potential exists for any object to be in any state, the universe of that object transmutes into a series of parallel universes equal to the number of possible states in which that the object can exist, with each universe containing a unique single possible state of that object. Furthermore, there is a mechanism for interaction between these universes that somehow permits all states to be accessible in some way and for all possible states to be affected in some manner.

I am sorry I cannot make the explanations any simpler but warned you, at the outset, that the quantum theory is not an easy thing to comprehend. However, these explanations may sound familiar to some, to those who are well versed in or studying Abhidhamma. In an interesting article in ‘’, Arjun Walia has reproduced the following quotation from an article by R C Henry titled "The Mental Universe" that appeared in the well-known scientific journal ‘Nature’(436:29, 2005):

"A fundamental conclusion of new physics also acknowledges that the observer creates reality. As observers, we are personally involved with the creation of our own reality. Physicists are being forced to admit that the universe is a "mental" construction. Pioneering physicist Sir James Jeans wrote: "The stream of knowledge is heading toward a non-mechanical reality; the universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine. Mind no longer appears to be an accidental intruder into the realm of matter, we ought rather to hail it as the creator and governor of the realm of matter. Get over it, and accept the inarguable conclusion. The universe is immaterial-mental and spiritual." (…)

Again, sounds familiar; yes, very familiar. This is exactly what the Buddha pronounced over two and a half millennia ago. Is it not surprising that scientists took so long to prove what the Buddha deduced by a process of exploration of the mind itself? Therefore, there is enough reason to call Buddhism a science – a science that started the exploration of the quantum world, too.

In my piece ‘Scientific proof of Mindfulness Meditation’ (The Island, 25 March 2017), I referred to structural changes as shown by MRI studies and chemical changes as shown by the studies on telomeres and telomerase. Perhaps, the only aspect that needs proof is in the quantum world. Is there evidence to show that meditation affects the quantum world? Yes, there is and the web article I referred to above as well as another piece written by Ben Bendig in Epoch times explains this in detail (…)

To understand how meditation affects the quantum world we need to be aware of the double-slit experiment. In a light-tight box, if the basic units of light, photons, are shot through a single slit onto photographic paper, a pattern is created where it is darkest in the middle, getting fainter as you move toward the edges. This is what is expected as most of the light hits the middle and the rest of the photons get deflected to various degrees, straying from the middle in predictable ways.

Instead of a single slit, if the apparatus has two slits when photons are shot through, an interference pattern is produced: alternating bands of dark and light. This is due to the light acting as a wave on its way to the photographic plate when the two beams of light are interfering with each other: sometimes they reinforce each other, and at other times they cancel out each other. Interestingly, if you shoot one photon at a time through the device, but don’t know which slit the photon goes through, you still get the interference pattern! Intriguingly, if you shoot one photon at a time, and you know which slit it goes through, you will get two clusters, like when there is only one slit open, but in two places.

Numerous theoretical explanations have been offered to explain this mystery, some of which propose that the act of observation by a conscious entity—a mind—plays a crucial role. The act of observation, in effect, alters the state of matter at the quantum level, as stated previously. Dean Radin, a parapsychology researcher based at the Institute of Noetic Sciences in Petaluma, California, with his colleagues has carried out a series of experiments demonstrating this.

Participants, after familiarising with the double-slit experiment, were brought into an electrically shielded steel room where they sat down a few meters from the double-slit apparatus. They were given instructions to try to influence the beam when told to do so. During randomly assigned periods lasting from 15 to 30 seconds, participants were cued to relax or to try to influence the apparatus, each session lasting about 15 minutes. They found that during periods when participants were attending to the device, the interference pattern was significantly reduced, compared to when the device was active but no one was present. Having excluded other factors that could affect the result, they found that the participants’ amount of meditative experience made all the difference as to whether they could affect the pattern or not. While those who did not practice meditation, on average, failed to show a statistically significant effect, those who meditated did affect, degree of change is proportional to the extent of the practice. The maximum effect was seen when the experiment was done in a Zen Buddhist centre. Zen meditation is known to be a variant of mindfulness meditation.

Though some physicists dispute the findings of Radin’s group, results of his experiments were published in Physics Essays in June 2012. The mechanism is not fully worked out, yet, as to whether meditators are different to other people or whether it is the meditation itself that works. Regardless of this, these six experiments present strong statistical evidence that meditators are capable of influencing quantum events.

Anton Zeilinger, an Austrian quantum physicist who in 2008 received the Inaugural Isaac Newton Medal of the Institute of Physics (UK), is widely known for the first realization of quantum teleportation of an independent qubit. He recently demonstrated quantum teleportation over 144 kilometres between two Canary Islands (a Spanish archipelago off the coast of north-western Africa reputed for tourism)

Quantum teleportation is an essential concept in many quantum information protocols and considered an important possible mechanism for building gates within quantum computers. It is not impossible to imagine larger masses being teleported in the future, considering that the teleportation of a single qubit over a long distance has already been achieved, something thought near impossible. "Beam me up, Scottie" from the science fiction TV series ‘Star Trek’, may one day become scientific reality.

Maybe, Gautama Buddha appeared in Sri Lanka, thrice!