The Quantum Vacuum
There are three vital components which have contributed to the emergence of this new cosmology: The first is the discovery of the quantum vacuum or quantum plenum as it is more accurately described. The second is the discovery of the principle of nonlocality and the recognition that all particles of matter are ‘entangled’ with each other.
A particle can be in several thousand different places at once and all of these are inseparable from each other, ‘entangled’ with each other.
The third component is the concept of the universe as a hologram.
With the discovery of the quantum field (plenum) underlying our space-time reality, we find the idea returning after a four-thousand-year absence, of a cosmic womb, out of which all that we call reality and all that we are arises and to which it may return, similar to the out-breathing and in-breathing of the great cosmic cycles posited long ago by the Vedic sages of India.
Quantum theory “took off” in the 1920’s, developing on the foundations laid by a paper published by Max Planck who, in 1900, formulated the concept of “quanta” or bundles of energy that were later understood to manifest in space-time as both wave and particle. It utterly changed our concept of reality. I will take the description of the quantum vacuum (also called the zero-point field) from the astro-physicist Bernard Haisch since it is explained in words that a non-scientist can understand:
The laws of quantum mechanics posit the sea of the zero-point field as a state of both paradox and possibility—a seething sea of particle pairs, energy fluctuations, and force perturbations popping in and out of existence… It may represent an unlimited source of energy available everywhere, and perhaps even a way to modify gravity and inertia. The quantum vacuum is, therefore, in reality a plenum…The fact that the zero-point field is the lowest energy state makes it unobservable…It acts as a kind of blinding light that precludes our perceiving it through contrast. Since it is everywhere, inside and outside of us, permeating every atom in our bodies, we are effectively blind to its presence.
Bernard Haisch suggests that the deep connection between physics and metaphysics lies in the fact that the electromagnetic quantum vacuum is a form of light. It is an underlying sea of energy, predicted by the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, that permeates every tiny volume of space, from the emptiest intergalactic void to the depths of the Earth, the Sun, or our own bodies. In this sense, our world of matter is like the visible foam atop a very deep ocean of light.
The mysterious light of the quantum plenum may be the creative ground of reality and the ground of everything we are and all that we perceive. Time does not exist in this limitless field of light-energy because by its very nature it is timeless. The information encoded in it is communicated instantaneously in every part of the universe. Through it, every single creature as well as every single aspect of creation is indissolubly connected with every other.
I can’t help making the connection between the light of the quantum plenum and the tradition of Kabbalah, where light is said to emanate from the cosmic ‘womb’ of being through all the worlds or dimensions it brings into being until it creates our familiar world of physical reality. This light, not comparable to the light of the sun, is the unseen ground of the phenomenal world. Kabbalah sees our souls as the “sparks” of this ineffable ground of light.
The all-important Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle states that the electro-magnetic field in the quantum plenum is in a perpetual state of oscillation or fluctuation. These constant vibrations create a sea of light which translates into enormous energy—the light that flows through the “matter” of the whole manifest universe, including our own physical form and may, in ways we don’t yet understand, bring matter into being and sustain its existence.
The distinguished physicist David Bohm (1917–1992), Professor of Theoretical Physics at Birkbeck College, London, was the first scientist to describe the interaction of the quantum field with our visible world. In a book he published in 1980 called Wholeness and the Implicate Order, he defined the primary dimension of reality as the Implicate Order, the multi-dimensional, underlying source-ground of all life that he described as a limitless sea of energy and light. What we perceive with our senses as empty cosmic space is actually the plenum, the ground of all existence, including ourselves.
He named our three-dimensional world the Explicate Order and hypothesized that it was enfolded into the invisible source-ground of the Implicate Order. He saw the universe, in both its aspects or Orders, as a single undivided whole and said that matter was nothing other than frozen light. “The entire universe of matter as we generally observe it is to be treated as a comparatively small pattern of excitation” on this invisible sea of light and energy.
His image of the quantum plenum as an ocean or sea of energy recalls the ancient imagery of the Great Mother, origin of all (Chapter Four), and his idea of a unifying cosmic order recalls the unus mundus of the alchemists (Chapters Eleven and Eighteen).
Bohm noted that in early civilizations, man’s view of reality was essentially one of wholeness rather than fragmentation and that this view still survives in the Eastern traditions, particularly that of India. He believed that the fragmentation of our world into different nations, ethnic groups, professions, arts, sciences etc., which separate people and things into categories disconnected from each other, has its origin in the kind of thinking (even the subject-object structure of our language) which analyses and describes things as being inherently separate and distinct from each other, like parts of a machine. Hence, as he observed in the introduction to his book:
Science itself is demanding a new, non-fragmentary world view, in the sense that the present approach of analysis of the world into independently existing parts does not work very well in modern physics. It is shown that both in relativity theory and quantum theory, notions implying the undivided wholeness of the universe would provide a much more orderly way of considering the general nature of reality. A centrally relevant change in descriptive order required in the quantum theory is the dropping of the notion of analysis of the world into relatively autonomous parts, separately existent but in interaction. Rather, the primary emphasis is now on the undivided wholeness, in which the observing instrument is not separable from what is observed.
He warned of the dangers of our fragmented way of thinking and asked us to examine the actual way we are trained or conditioned to think. “What is primarily needed,” he said, “is a growing realization of the extremely great danger of going on with a fragmentary process of thought. Such a realization would give the inquiry into how thought actually operates that sense of urgency and energy required to meet the true magnitude of the difficulties with which fragmentation is now confronting us.” It is precisely the causes and effects of this fragmentation that Iain McGilchrist addresses in his great contribution, The Master and His Emissary: the Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. It is a pity they never met for they would have had much to share with each other.
It is interesting that Bohm saw the birth of the universe in very different imagery from the Standard ‘Big Bang’ theory, describing it more in the nature of a sudden wave pulse arising out of the fathomless ocean of cosmic energy. “This pulse would explode outward and break up into smaller ripples that spread yet further outward to constitute our ‘expanding universe’. The latter would have its ‘space’ enfolded within it as a special distinguished explicate and manifest order.”
He wrote these moving words for the memorial service of Malcolm Sagenkahn, one of his classmates at university. The same words which summarize his view of reality were read out at his own funeral:
In considering the relationship between the finite and the infinite, we are led to observe that the whole field of the finite is inherently limited, in that it has no independent existence. It has the appearance of independent existence, but that appearance is merely the result of an abstraction of our thought. We can see this dependent nature of the finite from the fact that every finite thing is transient. Our ordinary view holds that the field of the finite is all that there is. But if the finite has no true independent existence, it cannot be all that is. We are in this way led to propose that the true ground of all being is the infinite, the unlimited; and that the infinite includes and contains the finite. In this view, the finite, in its transient nature, can only be understood as held suspended, as it were, beyond time and space, within the infinite.
The field of the finite is all that we can see, hear, touch, remember, and describe. This field is basically that which is manifest, or tangible. The essential quality of the infinite, by contrast, is its subtlety, its intangibility. This quality is conveyed in the word spirit, whose root meaning is “wind, or breath.” This suggests an invisible but pervasive energy, to which the manifest world of the finite responds.