This is an interview by the Center for Soft Power concerning how consciousness is an integral part of physics, and on why science and spirituality should not be separate:
[See also the online talk “Science and Spirituality Should Not Be Separate” by Kenneth Chan on YouTube]
Indian Approach is Correct; Science and Spirituality Should not be Separate: Dr Kenneth Chan
November 23, 2021
“I think the Indian approach should be the correct one. Science and spirituality should not be separate. The problem is that, in the West, they are trying to get rid of consciousness from their science. And even when they do include consciousness, they try to consider it as a “side-effect” of the materialistic happenings,” says Dr Kenneth Chan, Physicist and Physician in an exclusive interview with CSP.
How did your interest in the two fields of quantum physics and consciousness begin, and how do you connect them both?
I am a very spiritual kind of person and have always been interested in this. I have liked physics since I was a child, and ended up with two degrees, which is a little unusual—a medical degree and a physics degree. While they seemingly don’t go together, it worked out well for me. I probably would not have arrived at some of the realizations if I didn’t have these two degrees, because they provided me with the link between physics and human physiology.
It all actually started with relativity. I published a paper on relativity and, in relativity, the viewpoint of the observer is crucial. Relativity deals with time and space, and these two entities vary depending upon the observer. If it involves the observer—think about it—obviously consciousness has a role to play.
At face value, time and space seem to have nothing to do with the conscious observer. But they actually do. I think Einstein didn’t realize this because he didn’t understand human physiology. Relativity starts with the postulate that, in all frames of reference, the laws of physics work in the same way. A particularly odd aspect of this is that is the speed of light remains the same to all observers, irrespective of the velocity of the observers. Now that is a bit odd, because it means that no matter how fast you chase after a light ray, it still runs away from you at the same relative speed.
As I point out in my article “Why Relativity Exists,” the explanation for this is that the speed of light is the speed of electromagnetic transmission. And our body runs on electromagnetism. All our cells, including our brain cells, function via electromagnetism. That is why the speed of electromagnetic transmission is constant to all observers. It is because our whole body functions via electromagnetic transmission. Trying to measure any change in the speed of light is like trying to measure, with an iron ruler, how an iron rod expands with heat, while putting both the ruler and the rod inside the container with the heater. Since both the iron ruler and the iron rod expands equally, we will not measure any difference in the length of the iron rod.
We have actually deSned our time and our space according to how we humans experience the universe. It is our experience of time, and our experience of space. This means, of course, that these entities are dependent on electromagnetic phenomena since our body runs on electromagnetism. We are thus like the characters inside a video, and cannot notice any difference even when someone speeds up the video. This is because, while everything speeds up, we ourselves also speed up. Even our rate of thinking speeds up in the same way. We are inside the system and cannot notice a change when everything, including ourselves, speeds up. To us, inside the video, everything seems to be the same.
That is the reason why the speed of light always stays constant. We cannot measure a difference because we are inside the system. That’s basically the explanation. We cannot measure any change in the speed of light (which is the rate of electromagnetic transmission) because the rate at which we ourselves function depend on the rate of electromagnetic transmission. I would not have understood this but for the fact that I do understand human physiology. So, relativity is basically a result of our conscious experience of time and space.
So why is there a conflict over consciousness in physics? Why is there a non-acceptance of that? Is it because, from the beginning, they’ve made an assumption and they don’t want to change it?
I think different physicists may have different reasons for not liking the involvement of consciousness in physics. Basically, the problem arises because physicists tend to think in terms of a mind-matter duality. They divide everything in our reality into two components—the subjective or mind component and the objective or matter component. This was started by Descartes about four centuries ago, and this idea of a mind-matter duality has largely prevailed until now. So, they are always thinking along those lines.
This mind-matter duality becomes a major problem in quantum mechanics. This is because if you accept that consciousness actually plays a central role in quantum mechanics, and then try to fit this into the mind-matter duality framework, you end up with solipsism—and that means that everything is only occurring in the mind. This would then mean that there is no actual outer reality and physicists don’t like that. I wouldn’t like that either.
But if we insist on there being a mind-matter duality, we can’t help but think that way. For a lot of physicists, they cannot accept that there is no outer reality. So, if they also insist on this mind-matter duality, what choice do they have? The only option left, then, is to adopt the stance of materialism, and say that everything is derived from matter. Even consciousness is then derived from matter. They are happier with that because it gives them an external reality. That is one of the key problems.
There may be other reasons. If you are really cynical, you may even say physicists don’t like the involvement of consciousness because they don’t know anything about consciousness, and they don’t want to admit ignorance!
With regards to solipsism, it makes us wonder what we are doing with all these physics equations if they have no external reality but only exist in our mind. That was the story of Eugene Wigner, a physics Nobel laureate, who in the 1960s came up with a paper which basically says that consciousness plays a critical role in quantum mechanics. Because he was a Nobel laureate for physics, this created quite a row in the physics community. Yet his arguments are sound up till today. The problem was that Wigner, later in his life, changed his mind, but he still couldn’t refute his own original arguments. Basically, he ended up saying that he was hoping that further developments in physics would help ensure that we don’t end up in solipsism. What Wigner really didn’t like was solipsism. It wasn’t that his initial arguments— that consciousness has to play a critical role in quantum mechanics—were faulty.