The Philosophical Implications of Classical and Quantum Physics on Transpersonal Therapy in the Post Modern Era
By Joseph Rivera,
The current focus of this paper, first off, sets out to establish and explain transpersonal psychology as a more legitimate realm of Psychotherapy. I will attempt to do so by grafting it alongside the more well-established stems of science pertaining to the physics developed in both the classical and quantum fields. By doing so I hope to force the reader to reevaluate everything they think they believe and know by pushing this all out in a manner consistent just short of standing them upside down on top of their heads. So, without further adieu, I shall begin.
was Copernicus who stated that the sun revolved around the earth; then,
nearly 2000 years later there was Galileo who changed that statement to the
Earth revolving around the sun. Then, when
In the early
part of the 20th century, Einstein came out with his theory of
relativity and shook up
So how can people go on knowing that everything they do is already predetermined and that nothing they do can change their inevitable outcome? What possible therapeutic usage could that serve? Well, besides the fact that no body really pays much attention to physicists or even knows what the theory of relativity is exactly—besides possibly knowing that it was something thought up by Einstein—luckily, that concept is no longer held true. Enter the world of Quantum physics.
Quantum physics is extremely difficult to explain. It’s even more difficult to understand. Some physicists have stated that’s its impossible to even explain in pictures. However, I will attempt to do so anyways. Quantum physics or Quantum mechanics first off was pioneered by Niels Bohr. It is basically the study of the atom and how it works.
Not to get into the math, it basically states that,
So, what does this mean and how does this apply to our concepts? Well, in this way, it can be stated that we are in control of our destinies—that we do maintain some ability to choose. In fact, every one of the choices we make in the present—the total number of possibilities—create an equal number of possible futures. (Deutsch, S. 2003.) Basically, what this means is that if I were to, say, choose to want to, I dunno, jump off a bridge—the outcome of whether I do or don’t are both represented in two possible futures: the future where I jump and the future where I don’t. No outcome—no matter how nonsensical—can be stated as exact, and instead can only be stated as likely or possible. In fact (or in possibility), in this same scenario, this concept of multiple universes even leaves open the possibility that in one of my futures I jump and don’t die, or that I jump and don’t even get hurt, no matter the height. Because, for even the simplest of choices, there can be an infinite number of possibilities. These possibilities can even exist all at the same time, and it is only our perceptions that can cause one to be and not the rest. This is sometimes referred to as the paradox of superposition of identical (infinite) plane waves. (Kothari, L., S. 1970.) No example has this concept been explained best than in the example of Schrödinger’s cat. (Lee, J., et., al. 2005.) According to Schrödinger’s cat, Schrödinger places his cat in a box with a radioactive isotope with a half-life of about an hour. The box is sealed and the cat can’t get out. After an hour, without looking in the box, it is possible that the cat is dead and that the cat is alive at the same time. It is only when I open the box and look at the cat does the cat then become either dead or alive. Reality does not exist unless I am conscious of it.
Quantum physics also poses the issue of entanglement. The quantum principle of entanglement suggests a paradox which defies the law of locality—that one event must come into contact with another event in order to alter its possible future. The best physical example of locality is the example of how pool balls must come into contact to transfer their motion from one to the next. However, what entanglement showed was that two separated electrons at the subatomic level could be in complete unison despite not even being in the same area. (Kim, H., et., al. 2003) It would be as if a pool ball on one side of the table (with-out even moving) caused another pool ball at the other side of the table to go into the pocket (without physically interacting). This seemed to infer some superluminal or telekinetic transference of information, possibly even faster than the speed of light because of its instantaneous nature. (Kim, H., et., al. 2003) Stated in a more appropriate way, another experiment called the field of safe travel (Kadar, E., E. 2005), explains how individuals when they drive are able to make non-localized judgments based on perceptual cues in accordance with their eye movements.
“On a straight road, novice drivers drive slowly and often look at the road close to the car; whereas experienced drivers drive faster and look farther ahead. […] the field of safe travel [thus] is a non-local contact field between the driver and the environment in which the environmental layout acts as a perceptual constraint on drivers’ speed and steering. Because speed depends to a considerable extent on the driver’s capabilities, the length and width of the field may be modified by skill level.” (Kadar, E., E. 2005)
This explains a few things: it shows how we are able to make decisions almost instaneously—that is if we allow our automatic processes to take over and are extremely adept and skillful—without having to be shoved, prodded, pushed, or even talked to. Taken to its logical conclusion, the other thing this shows is that we are still subject to the theory of relativity, in that even if I were the most skillful driver in the universe and allowed my automatic processes to create some response at the exact same moment I received that visual cue, i.e., a person pulling out in front of me, my actions would still not be considered as instaneous as they rely on my perceptions which are subject to the speed of light. Meaning my eyes still rely on light to see, so I can’t see something faster than light is able to travel. It is only if I act before the light reaches my eyes to coincide at the exact moment in time in complete unison with the actual physical cue, i.e., the person pulling out not just the perception of it.
Because of all this, we can conclude two things: (1) that we are all possibly somehow connected to one another through our very actions, perceptions, and even our basic fundamental elements, and (2) the possibility that reality is consciousness, as the atoms themselves seem to be based more on an abstract concept of thought than actual physical matter. (Henry, R., C. 2005) This latter conclusion is kind of abstract, so let me go a little further. According to the renowned physicist and astronomer, Sir James Jeans, “[…] 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.” (Henry, R., C. 2005) This can lead one back to the philosophy of Descartes who stated, “I think therefore I am.” With this mindset, it is possible that we are literally in total control of our futures. It is nice to believe that the only thing that separates a super hero from a regular person is that the super hero chooses to be super. This brings new meaning to the question, “What would Jesus do?”
Unfortunately, despite the fact that we are made up of atoms and atoms are subjected to the rules of quantum physics—and that reality as a whole is simply just a thought, a culmination of all of our thoughts, or maybe, even possibly, completely non-existent—as I had alluded to previously, with the example about our visual fields, we as biological creatures don’t seem to be ruled by these laws—or at least not cognitively. In fact, our neurological systems are much too big. (Koch, C., et. al, 2006.)
“Although brains obey quantum mechanics, they do not seem to exploit any of its special features. […] Two key bio physical operations underlie information processing in the brain: chemical transmission across the synaptic cleft, and the generation of action potentials. […] Both processes will destroy any coherent quantum states. Thus, spiking neurons (the neurons responsible for communication) can only receive and send classical, rather than quantum, information. […] It is far more likely that the material basis of consciousness can be understood within a purely neurobiological frame-work…” (Koch, C., et. al, 2006.)
Though this basically implies that we must abide by the classical rules of physics—i.e., we can’t walk on water, fly through the air, read each other’s minds, or move or bend spoons with just our thoughts—we do still physically apply to the first previously stated quantum concept of interconnectedness. (Davies, P. 2001.) This is the concept I had mentioned before in which we are all possibly somehow connected to one another through our basic fundamental elements, and it is also where the quantum physical meets the mystical (Bozarth, J., D. 1985.)—the concept that we are no longer alone in the universe. According to Bozarth,
“[…] in modern physics the universe is thus experienced as a dynamic, inseperable whole which always includes the observer in an essential way. In this experience the traditional concepts of space and time, of isolated objects, and of cause and effect lose their meaning. Such an experience, however, is very similar to that of Eastern mystics.” (Bozarth, J., D. 1985.)
This may or may not imply that we have some actual all knowing God presiding over our actions, but it does imply that we live in a very symmetrical, give-and-take, quid pro quo, symbiotic world in which we do not, nor can we exist independently from one another.
Science as a whole holds to it the advantage of being empirical and based on well thought out and provable theory. In accordance with classical physics (to include both the Newtonian and Relativistic fields), though a lot of it has been disproved, many parts of it are still in use and being applied today. As for Quantum physics, science can never be truly empirical, and the further you get into it, or the smaller in nature in which you’re referring to, i.e., at the level smaller than quarks and particles, it is simply theoretical and is currently outside the range of empirical scientific research; however, what areas that have been explored, i.e., at the level of particle physics and larger, have never been shown to be false. Further research has only further shown its reliability and validity. (Gribbin, J. 1994.) As such, the philosophical implications of classical and Quantum physics on Post modern therapy for the client (as far as I’ve been able to deduce) are as follows:
Also, as this applies to the therapist, to lead a life with a complete or at least basic knowledge of Classical and Quantum physics can not only help to stimulate the imagination, but it can also lead to the very concepts stressed in transpersonal therapy.
some transpersonal therapists take a more mystical stance asserting that in
order to feel truly happy we must somehow learn to attain spiritual
fulfillment. (Cowley, A., S. 1993) According to
“[Spirituality is] the experience of wholeness and integration, irrespective of religious belief or affiliation. Spirituality is neither seen as a statement of belief nor as a measure of church attendance; indeed, as defined by the transpersonal approach, an atheist can have a profound spiritual life.” (cited by Cowley, A., S. 1993)
So, spirituality, by their terms, can best be seen somewhat in the same light as what I’ve already set out in accordance with interconnectedness and the concept that reality is consciousness—ascertaining complete control over our own lives. According to Au-Deane Cowley,
“Therapists who have no descriptions, guidelines, or theory for transpersonal phenomena [i.e., the unpredictability of the universe] must revert back to the only guidelines they have—the reductionistic views of Freudian psychology, the mechanistic views of behaviorism, or the third-force focus on self-actualization as the highest goal of human growth and development.” (Cowley, A., S. 1993)
These types of reversions are considered by transpersonal accounts to be too limited in their view for the attainment of higher levels of consciousness. (Cowley, A., S. 1993)
If our prevailing cultural and psychological models have underestimated what we are and what we can become then perhaps we have set up a self-fulfilling, self-limiting prophecy. […] shifting our self-concept may be one of the most strategic interventions for personal and cultural transformation. (Cowley, A., S. 1993)
Placed in another way, according to Ellie Pozatek, this limiting of what is and what isn’t—or stated differently as when the therapist claims to possess some all-knowing power and insight into what is and isn’t happening in the client’s life—can be a huge detriment to the client’s actual success in treatment. According to Pozatec,
“[…] shared beliefs form the basis for a consensus that, if unchallenged, becomes accepted as true. The problem of this certainty is that the group’s beliefs determine what the group considers possible—beliefs can either limit or expand the range of what the group thinks can happen.” (Pozatek, E. 1994.)
Pozatek then gives examples for how this can be truly detrimental to include cases concerning: family problems, language deficits and differences, and differing perceptions due to the client and therapist having different cultures leading to misunderstandings. (Pozatek, E. 1994.) So, both Pozatek and Cowley hold that the solution is merely just a change in perspectives. According to Pozatec,
“Human beings experience multiple, and often conflicting realities. Social workers need to respect the complex meanings an event can have for a particular person at a particular time. Client’s lives are complicated; social workers must strive for an approach that respects and includes that complexity if they are to be truly helpful.” (Pozatek, E. 1994.)
Also, they both seem to suggest that this transformation is needed due to the fact that more and more of the issues of the day revolve around more moral and philosophical issues to include political strife, pandemics, and all other types of really nasty natural and/or human made phenomena. According to Levin (1987) in his book Pathologies of the Modern Self,
“Suffering in our society reflect the unique relationship between the self and the social practices and institutions to be found in a time of social and ethical transition. […] transpersonal therapies have evolved to meet the personal and societal challenges of the postmodern era, a time, when we are engaged in a race between self-discovery and self-destruction.” (cited by Cowley, A., S. 1993)
In the light of everything that seems to have been going on recently these reflections be them based on physics or the mystics can no longer be afforded to be ignored. Whole world encompassing issues are rising up, and it is time that therapists learn to take them into account; it is time they incorporated them into their practices to further shape the view points and aspects of the current realms of psychotherapy in order to meet the ever growing needs of their clients. According to Perry London (1986) in his book The modes and morals of Psychotherapy,
“[…] as more individuals have become healthy and affluent, their problems and symptoms seem more than ever before to spring from an existential vacuum and to revolve around spiritual and moral dilemmas. In fact, a case can be made that psychotherapy is a moralistic as well as scientific enterprise in which therapists take the roles of secular priests.” (cited by Cowley, A., S. 1993)
It is not the same world it was 100 years ago when Freud
was around; it is not even the same world 30 years ago when
“By their own theories of human nature, psychologists have the power of elevating or degrading that same nature. Debasing assumptions debase human beings; generous assumptions exalt them.” (cited by Cowley, A., S. 1993)
Therefore I base it as every therapist’s and psychologist’s task, before they entail to put down or set out to disprove me and my conclusions set forth in this paper and those in other papers concerning transpersonal therapy, they first must learn to open their eyes and look at the world around them that is established in a universe ruled by the laws and theories well-established in the realms of Classical physics and Quantum mechanics.
Baylis, W., E. Relativity in introductory physics. Canadian Journal of Physics. 82 (11), 853-873. November 2004.
Bozarth, J., D. Quantum theory and the person-centered approach. Journal of counseling and development. 64, 179-182. 1985.
Cowley, A., S. Transpersonal social work: a theory for the 1990s. Social Work. National association of social workers. 38 (5), 527-534. September 1993.
Damour, T. The theoretical significance of G. Measurement Science & Technology. 10 (6), 467-469. June 1999.
Davies, P. Liquid Space. New scientist. 172 (2315), 30-34. November 2001.
Deutsch, S. Astray amongst multiple universes. IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Magazine. 22 (5), 128-130. 2003.
Gribbin, J. Uncertainty rules in the quantum world. New scientist. 142, 18. 1994.
Henry, R., C. The mental universe. Nature. Nature Publishing Group. 436, 29-30. 2005.
Kadar, E., E., Effken, J., A. From discrete actors to goal-directed actions: toward a process-based methodology for psychology. Philosophical Psychology. Taylor & Francis Group. 18 (3), 353-382. June 2005.
Kim, H., Ko, J., Kim, T.
Two-particle interference experiment with frequency-entangled photon pairs.
Journal of the Optical Society of