Being one of the most groundbreaking achievements of the 20th Century, so much so that 1/3rd of our economy runs on it, Quantum Mechanics has such counter intuitive and controversial ramifications about the nature of the universe, that even after 100 years of its inception, this theory still remains an enigma for science. For the present discussion, we will just concentrate on only one of its many mind boggling results.
Quantum theory brought something so immaterial as "consciousness" into the realm of physics. Consciousness has remained for centuries a topic of discussion in philosophy, spirituality and theology. Modern science has come a long way, gallantly fighting its many battles, freeing itself from the shackles of religious dogma, to find itself back to square one- Consciousness- the domain of spirituality. Interesting it would be to note, that this enigma of consciousness didn't pop out of neuroscience or any other branch of life sciences. No!
Rather from the foundation of all sciences- Physics. So all of the study of the natural world is summed up in Biology, which in turn rests on Chemistry, as all biological processes are reduced to chemical reactions and then the study of chemical reactions neccessitates the study of atoms, electrons and so on. This is Quantum Physics- the science of the basic building blocks of the universe. So you see 'consciousness' has appeared as an inexplicable enigma from the foundation of the universe and its study. Something so immaterial, subjective, human and life-like like 'consciousness' somehow affects the quantum world- the lifeless, material building blocks of the entire universe.
It was first carried out by Thomas Young in 1801 by passing light through two adjacent slits, an interference pattern was observed- which is a property of waves. Previously it was understood that light is made up of small particles.But now the wave theory was put forward.This was until 1905 when Einstein published his paper on the Photoelectric Effect that showed that light behaved as particles experimentally. So what is light? Wave or particle. It was shown that it is both. It has a dual nature of behaving as wave and particle. Notice here that a particle is the opposite of a wave. A wave is spread out, where as a particle occupies a specific place.We cannot measure the extent of a wave, but a particle can be measured, its size, mass etc. So one phenomenon like 'light' has two opposing characteristics. But now the question arises, "when" does it behave as a particle and when as a wave?
Before this question could be answered, the same experiment "Double Slit" was done, but this time with matter, the stuff from which the universe including us, is made. Electrons, the basic building blocks of matter were shot through two slits and guess what?!? The same interference pattern was observed .What does that mean? Electrons are also waves ! This was shocking. Come to think of it, you and I and everything else in the world doesn't look anythink like spread out waves. Everything seems to occupy some specific space, has mass and is everything BUT a 'wave'. Our intuition tells us when we look at any object, this must be made of very tiny particles clubbed together to give it this shape and size. The last thing that we can imagine is that the fundamental particles of the universe are not particles for the most time at all, rather they are spooky spread out waves ! Then the million Dollar question is what gives it this feel/touch/look of solid matter when it is a wave at its elementary quantum level? Hold on, the experiment isn't over yet!
The scientists then put a measuring device or simply decided to make an observation of the electron being shot at the double slit screen. And guess what? The electron went back to behaving as a particle. It didn't create the interference pattern that waves produce, on passing through the slits. So what can we infer?
The simple act of conscious observation made the electron which was acting as a wave to behave as a particle. The enigmatic CONSCIOUSNESS affects the material world at its deep fundamental level. It's strange how can my conscious observation of something change it from being an ethereal wave of possibilities (where an electron can be at any location, all at the same time) to appearing as a particle that occupies a particular place. So basically, when I am not looking at it, it's weird, but the moment I look at it, it goes back to being normal. So now we need to deal with two things:
This experiment has been repeated countless times and each time it brings about the same results . It has baffled the greatest minds in science. Einstein was really bothered by it and said, " I would like to think the moon is still there, even when I am not looking."
Quantum Mechanics postulates that the universe at the quantum level is "probabilistic"in nature. Meaning an electron can be here, and there and everywhere, having a probability of being at different locations all at the same time. It is only by means of conscious observation that it occupies a definite place and it appears the way it is. This probabilistic nature of Reality also bothered the greatest minds. Einstein remarked on this, "God does not play dice". To which Niels Bohr, one of the founding fathers of Quantum Theory replied, "Einstein should stop telling God what to do".
By God, I do not mean an anthropomorphic conception of God like an old bearded man sitting on a throne and running the universe. Quantum Mechanics posits the existance of a Conscious Being who by conscious observation sustains the entire cosmos and all its dynamic processes. When we say that the quantum world and all its phenomena are somehow wired to "consciousness", then we need to know that there are quantum processes going on in the universe at each and every moment.
Even if we for simplicity’s sake say, that the collective human consciousness accounts for the "collapse of the wave function" with regards to all the quantum phenomena on earth. This collective consciousness transforms the world from waves of probability to solid reality that makes sense. What about the deep recesses of the planet- ocean beds, uninhabited forest, islands? Ok what about the solar system? what about the Milky way? What about the entire Universe? We occupy a very insignificant portion of a vast expanding universe. Quantum phenomena are taking place everywhere in the universe, in the cores of stars nuclear fusion fuses lighter elements into heavier elements. Quantum processes occur all around Black Holes, Nuetron stars etc. Infact, Black holes are the special places where both Quantum mechanics and Gravity play a combined role- a much sought after reconciliation. What 'consciousness' is at play at these remote corners of the universe. Places where the most violent explosions ever since the Big Bang are taking place- Supernovae- stars exploding when Iron atoms start being produced. This is again a Quantum phenomena and the question is what 'consciousness' is ever observant of these dangerous events in the far reaches of our Universe?
A new fascination theory proposed by the esteemed British physicist Sir Roger Penrose, talks of the human brain working Quantum Mechanically, without 'decoherance' (phenomena that brings a bit of normalcy to the weird Quantum world). Who is the observer acting inside a person's brain? Then we also found it is Quantum Mechanics at the root of our very existence, ie Photosynthesis in plants is a Quantum Mechanical process. Who is 'observing' this delicate phenomenon inside the leaves of plants to produce food for the entire planet? Ok Birds! Did you know how birds navigate? Quantum mechanics there too. " Have they not seen the birds above them, stretching and contracting, what is it that holds them except the Merciful One? Surely He "OBSERVES" everything ! (67:19)
An important point to understand is that none of these quantum, nuclear, chemical, even biological processes can occur when matter is just a 'wave of possibilities'. All these phenomena occur when the wave function collapses- meaning wave turn into particle. And this occurs on conscious observation. So who or what is this perpetual consciousness that is sustaining these cosmic phenomena?
Talk about the beginning of the Universe- the Big Bang- when the entire universe is smaller than an atom. Quantum phenomena of high energy photons colliding to form a pair of particle and anti-particle that annihilate each other. What is this Cosmic Consciousness that is present at the beginning of time itself? Or rather who is this Cosmic Consciousness? Because just like in our own case, we are conscious beings collapsing wave functions everywhere around us, but the very first thing that we are conscious of is our own selves. Hence this Cosmic Consciousness is self conscious to start with- a Conscious Being. So similarly this conscious Being present at the beginning of time is also observing the present expansion of the universe where quantum phenomena occur at the Horizon of the universe. According to a new theory, 'space is in itself emerging from quantum phenomena called Quantum Entanglement. So there you have it, a Conscious Being at the beginning of the universe, observing the accelerated expansion of the universe and all the processes in between, formation of nebulae, stars, black holes, galaxies, planets, life, uptil the universe reaches thermal equilibrium-meaning it's death. And then the whole process repeats itself, the universe again shrinks to a point smaller than an atom. All these quantum phenomena, who is the Conscious Being observing these?
So we see that this Cosmic Consciousness or Absolute Consciousness is present and observing all things, everything, everywhere, everytime. Because of the necessity of using language to put forward my point, this Cosmic Consciousness who is self aware is called God in English, Allah in Arabic. This qualitative definition clearly throws out of the window every type of anthropomorphic picture of God in our minds, so Jesus-the man doesn't fit this description, the old man with a white beard in Michelangelo's artwork doesn't fit this, Hindu Dieties don't fit. Because consciousness cannot be represented in a picture. Whatever conception of God we all may have, God is unlike that. As the Islamic axiom in this regards goes, "The inability to comprehend God is in fact true comprehension.".
Two of the names of God in the Quran are Shaheed- The Ever Observing One and Baseer- The All Seeing One. Only language can be used to represent consciousness. God says repeatedly in the Quran
"And He is of all things observant" (Surah Buruj 85:10)
"He it is who created the multiverses and the earth in six aeons and He is firm in power; He knows that which goes deep down into the earth and that which comes out of it, and that which comes down from the space and that which goes up into it, and He is with you wherever you are ; and God sees all that you do." (57:4)
Quantum Mechanics necessitates the existence of a Cosmic Consciousness who is:
The universe wouldn't exist had it not been for this Absolute Consciousness- The Shaheed, The Baseer.
Now since we have proved the existence of a Conscious Being behind the whole of existence, then 'purpose' can never be dissociated from conscious beings. Hence the Universe has a purpose. The conscious beings who evolved after billions of years just to figure out this basic mechanism of the Universe necessarily will have the biggest share in this 'purpose' because they share this big similarity with the Absolute Consciousness. How do conscious beings communicate their 'purpose' to others for its fulfillment? Through language, art carried by other conscious beings from generation to generation. Hence, Divine scriptures, Messengers are a requirement for the Cosmic Consciousness to fulfill His cosmic purpose.
Safiyyah Sabreen studied Mechanical Engineering and is currently pursuing her Master's in Philosophy. She is the Content Director for KNOW. Being interested in the field of Islam and Science and Islamic Eschatology, she produced a documentary on the Golden Age of Islam and directs the Second Golden Age series.