Guest Blog: Physicists and Mystics (By Edna McGrew)
February 01, 2008 08:00

(The following is being posted according to Ken's generous offer. The posting of a submission doesn't imply that Ken or the editors of this site necessarily agree with any or all of it. Thanks, -Eds)

by Edna McGrew

When I graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree cum laude from the City College of New York with a major in Physics, I ranked second in my graduating class. Despite this high ranking, if anyone asked me about my education I was quick to gloss over the fact that Physics was my major; and I changed the subject as soon as possible. The reason I did this was because I never felt I really understood physics!

Soon after I retired, my husband bought a book that had been recently published, Mathematics and the Search for Knowledge, by Morris Kline. As I glanced at the index I noted that Kline was addressing many of the topics in physics that had left me puzzled, such as Maxwell’s Law, Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. Since I had much more time at my disposal now that I was retired, I started to read it carefully and slowly, hoping it would give me a better understanding of physics. Ironically, I always thought that my husband, who had an undergraduate degree in Engineering from Penn State and a Master’s degree in Mathematics from New York University, knew more about physics than I did! As I wrote this chapter on Physicists and Mystics, I came to realize that this was indeed true due to his mathematical background and his approach to abstract concepts.

Morris Kline was a Professor of Mathematics, Emeritus, at New York University and consequently he stressed in his book the mathematical aspects of physics. In his Preface he points out: "Contrary to the impression students acquire in school, mathematics is not just a series of techniques. Mathematics tells us what we have never known or even suspected about notable phenomena and in some instances even contradicts perception. It is the essence of our knowledge of the physical world. It not only transcends perception but outclasses it." Later he explains: "We must go beyond perceptual knowledge. The essence of mathematics, as opposed to sense perceptions, is that it draws on the human mind and human reasoning to produce knowledge about our physical world that the average human being, even in Western culture, believes is acquired entirely by the use of sense perceptions."

The history of the scientific theories of the universe provide interesting examples of the impact of sense perceptions in the development of those theories. Some time after the year 300 BC a Greek astronomer, Aristarchus of Samos, proposed a scientific heliocentric model of the solar system with the sun, not the earth, as the center of the universe. However, it was mostly speculative. Approximately five hundred years later, in 200 AD, Ptolemy proposes a geocentric theory in the which the earth was the center of the universe and the sun and planets revolved around it. From approximately 1500 onwards several astronomers began to propose once again, a heliocentric theory of the universe. Copernicus was one of these astronomers. Then Galileo in his book published in 1632, Dialogue on the Great World Systems, presented his heliocentric theory of the universe in which the sun was the center of the universe rather than the then accepted geocentric theory. In 1633 his book was put on the Index of Prohibited Books of the Catholic Church and this ban was not lifted until 1822. The trial of Galileo is often cited as the beginning of the conflict between science and religion.

In the year 1900, the astronomer Bessel succeeded in measuring the distance to the nearest star beyond the sun. It turned out to be approximately 25 million, million miles away as compared to the sun’s distance from the earth which is considered just 93 million miles away. These findings proved beyond a doubt that neither the earth nor the sun was the center of the universe. Morris Kline points out in his book, Mathematics and the Search for Knowledge, that: "The same observational data that Hipparchus and Ptolemy organized in their geocentric theory of deferent and epicycle can also be organized under the heliocentric theory of Copernicus and Kepler. Despite the belief of the latter that the new theory was true, the modern view is that either theory will do and there is no need to adopt the heliocentric hypothesis except to gain mathematical simplicity." Despite this modern view, it should be realized that Galileo made impressive contributions to science. As Morris Kline points out: "With the Discourses of 1638 Galileo launched the modern physical science of mechanics, and set the pattern for all of modern scientific thought."

In talking about Newton’s universal law of gravitation, Kline makes a very surprising statement. He says: "Contrary to popular belief, no one has ever explained the physical reality of the force of gravitation. It is a fiction suggested by the human ability to exert force. The greatest science fiction stories are in the science of Physics. However, mathematical deductions from the quantitative law proved so effective that this procedure has been accepted as an integral part of physical science. What science has done, then, is to sacrifice physical intelligibility for the sake of mathematical description and mathematical prediction." (emphasis mine). He expands on this idea further by pointing out that: "In Newton’s time and for two hundred years afterwards, physicists spoke of the action of gravity as ‘action at a distance,’ a meaningless phrase that was accepted as a substitute for explaining the physical mechanism, much as we speak of spirits or ghosts to explain unseen phenomena." I think they were still using the phrase ‘action at a distance’ in the 20th century when I was going to school. It was one of those expressions whose meaning escaped me.

In writing about Maxwell’s laws Kline states that: "Just as Newton’s laws of motion furnished scientists with the means for working with matter and force without explaining either, so Maxwell’s equations have enabled scientists to accomplish wonders with electrical phenomena despite a woefully deficient understanding of their physical nature...Electrons, electric and magnetic fields, and ether waves merely provide names for the variables that appear in the formulas or, as von Helmholtz stated the point, in Maxwell’s theory an electric charge is but the recipient of a symbol." !!!

Morris Kline’s book provides not only a history of physics but also a history of the impact of physical theories on philosophy and on religious concepts. In talking about the mechanistic view of the universe he states: "in the light of more recent developments, mechanism or materialism is not tenable. Ether as a substance has been abandoned, and only mathematical laws replace it. Gravitational force has been replaced by relativistic geodesics in space-time. We accept the propagation of electromagnetic waves whose physical nature is unknown. We are also asked to accept a particle-wave duality that defies common sense, as if, by magic, electrons that are particles become waves when ejected from atoms. Relativity and quantum mechanics especially call for a profound revision of classical mechanics."

Although many of the answers I was looking for were actually implied in the quotes above, I did not recognize them! After reading the book two times, the major concept that I came away with was the important role of mathematics in modern physics. Morris Kline’s book left me with a sense of awe of what mathematics had made possible and how man came to recognize and employ this power.

At that point in my retirement I put the questions of physics out of my mind. I had had enough of science and technology! I spent many years going to graduate school at night and also working long hours as an Engineering Research Section Head . I wanted to do other things now that I was retired. And I did! I took courses in painting with acrylics and watercolors. I facilitated a Little Rock Bible study group and a Centering Prayer group in Notre Dame parish until we moved from Long Island. I learned to play bridge, something I wanted to do since I was a teenager. I spent time gardening and investing in real estate.

My husband worked so hard and traveled so much when he was employed, that we had shared very little time together in those years. Now that he was retired we looked forward to spending much more time doing things together. I was not disappointed! While we have many separate interests, we have found that retirement affords us much more time together and we make every use of it.

I also attended a series of lectures on contemplative prayer given by the late Rev. John B. Healey S.T.L. He was a member of the Brooklyn Diocese. He was a teacher and also wrote a column for the Brooklyn Tablet newspaper. I was delighted when I heard of his lectures since, as I have mentioned before, mystical contemplation was hardly ever referenced in my environment. In an article he wrote for America magazine, dated Feb. 19, 1994, titled The Journey Within, he talks about his spiritual journey. He writes:" I am 82 years of age, and have been an ordained priest for 57 of those years. One would ordinarily expect that a priest who has been active in the ministry of the church for so long a time would, by the very nature of that experience, be truly knowledgeable and practiced in the ways of Christian prayer. Not so with me."!!! Fr. Healey points out that during the course of his life he had said countless prayers, yet: "it is only now, in the twilight of my days, that I am finally learning how to pray and, by God’s grace, becoming a prayerful person."

Fr. Healey wrote that when he was ordained he: "was top-heavy with doctrine. I knew much about God, but I did not know God." He adds that around 1984 the writings of Thomas Merton "began to provoke my interest in contemplation. I spent more and more time in silent, wordless prayer. Two intense retreats under the direction of Abbott Thomas Keating, a Trappist, made me realize that at last I had found the way to pray that my heart had always longed for, though I knew it not." In the writings of those modern visionaries who impressed me so very much, God keeps asking us to pray with our hearts. In his humility, Fr. Healey admits that, although he was a priest for more than 55 years, he had not known how to really pray, to pray with his heart, until he was in his seventies. From that time on, his one goal seemed to be to teach Centering Prayer to everyone!

I also took courses on Christian mystics given by Father John Garkowski, of the Diocese of Brooklyn, at the Immaculate Conception Center in Douglaston, NY. He was a parish priest with a law degree and he spent much of his spare time helping immigrants, for free, with their legal problems. He also was an avid traveler. But what impressed me most was his extraordinary enthusiasm for the study of the great Christian Mystics.

I attended a number of his courses given on different mystics, some of whom included Julian of Norwich, Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Sienna and Meister Eckhart.. He would have handouts of excerpts from the writings of these mystics with his own markings on them. He had an uncanny way of picking out the key religious points in their writings.

During that period of time I gave no further thought to my questions relative to the nature of physics. However, a short time ago, my sister the nun, told me that she planned to take a one-week course sponsored by Retreats International at Loyola University in Chicago. The subject of the course and associated text book was Quantum Theology. I immediately expressed an interest. After the course she sent me the book on Quantum Theology as well as a second book, titled Quantum Questions edited by Ken Wilber. I glanced through the first book, but not being particularly impressed by it, sent it back to my sister. I started to read the second book, Quantum Questions, and found it absolutely fascinating. I could not put it down. Right away, I started to mark it up, as I do with most books that I find very interesting, and in which I want to highlight points that seem key to me, for further reference. Consequently, I had to quickly order another book from Amazon so that my sister would still have her own unmarked copy.

Quantum Questions contains the mystical writings of the world’s greatest physicists, including Heisenberg, Schroedinger, Einstein, De Broglie, Jeans, Planck, Pauli and Eddington. It is edited by Ken Wilber, who is an American writer and practicing Buddhist. He is considered the most influential integral theorist today and is founder of the Integral Institute. Integral Theory is a relatively new and developing movement by philosophers and teachers who seek a comprehensive understanding of humans and the universe. In his Preface to the 2001 edition of his book he writes that because of the increasing interest of the modern world in topics relating to science and religion, he feels that it is wise to revisit the writings of the men who were pioneers in the creation of modern physics. With this intention in mind, he makes the point that: "Quantum Questions is a compendium of virtually all of the significant writings from some of the greatest physicists the world has ever known."

He goes on to discuss how many people today, particularly in the New Age category, believe that modern physics supports a mystical worldview. Contrary to this view, Ken Wilber clearly reiterates the point that, in fact, physics does not support a mystical view of the world at all, or a religious view! He expounds on this further by stating that these eight physicists whose writings are published in his book: "simply believed, to a man, that if modern physics no longer objects to a religious world view, it offers no positive support either; properly speaking, it is indifferent to all that." However he adds an interesting statement, which is the basis for his book. Talking of the physicists whose writings are included in Quantum Questions, he says: "They rejected the notion that physics proves or even supports mysticism, and yet every one of them was an avowed mystic!"

The question arises as to: "What does Ken Wilber mean by mysticism?" He may have defined mysticism in his book, but I didn't find it. However, it seems to me that he leaves it up to the reader, as he evaluates the writings of the eight physicists included in Quantum Questions, to determine for himself what sort of mystic each physicist was. For my purposes, I would like to use two different definitions. I would like to make a distinction between natural mystical experience, which may relate to some of these eight physicists, and supernatural mystical experience. I equate natural mysticism to one or more experiences, which the majority of people have at one time or another, in which they somehow feel that they are one with the object of their contemplation. (A personal God is not required in this definition.) Such experiences could be triggered by the joy and awe we might feel as we watch an unusually beautiful sunset over the ocean; or the love and happiness we might experience as we simply go for a walk with the one we love above all others; or the many joy filled intellectual experiences when something mentally challenging suddenly falls into place.

Heisenberg discusses this sort of intellectual experience in a chapter on Science and the Beautiful, in Ken Wilber's book, where he questions how that which is beautiful relates to exact science. He describes how he was reading the work of the mathematician Leopold Kronecker when he "sensed a quite immediate beauty in the fact that, from the problem of partitioning a circle, whose simplest cases were, of course, familiar to us in school, it was possible to learn something about the totally different sort of questions involved in elementary number theory."

He goes on to point out how the recognition of this abstract beauty plays a role when advances in exact science such as relativity or quantum theory are made. He writes: "in both cases, after years of vain effort at understanding, a bewildering plethora of details has been almost suddenly reduced to order by the appearance of a connection, largely unintuitable, but still ultimately simple in its substance, that was immediately found convincing by virtue of its completeness and abstract beauty – convincing, that is, to all who could understand and speak such an abstract language."

Relative to supernatural mysticism, there are different forms, but I am generally speaking of Christian mysticism unless otherwise noted. Also, when I talk about my aspirations to mystical contemplation, I most frequently think in terms of being united to the Trinity as the ultimate goal of a disciplined, wordless prayer in which my soul seeks (or yearns for, or burns with love for) the Godhead through the cloud of unknowing. In my daily periods of meditation (Eastern definition, not discursive) I try to rest in God, silently aware of and consenting to His presence and action in my soul. This is beautifully explained in Father Thomas Keating’s' book, Open Mind, Open Heart.

My reading of the book, Quantum Questions, became for me a natural mystical experience of the intellectual kind, in which I was filled with a feeling of awe and wonder relative to how Ken Wilber, although it was not the prime intent of his book, answered the questions about physics that had bothered me since I was an undergraduate in the City College of New York. It was truly an epiphany for me!!! It all came together when I suddenly realized, to my amazement, that the reason I had so much trouble understanding physics was that physics, in actual fact, wasn't understandable! Clearly this needs to be explained.

What do I mean by the words: "physics, in actual fact, wasn't understandable?" For all my life prior to retirement, I was puzzled as to how scientists got their knowledge of the universe. I wondered where all their physical laws originated. That's why, when I retired, I decided to carefully read and study Morris Kline's book, Mathematics and the Search for Knowledge. I felt that I had both the education and background to help me find these answers. However, after a thorough reading of Morris Kline's book, I was a bit overwhelmed by the breadth and depth of what he had written; and, as I indicated earlier, I decided to drop the subject and take up other interests.

Apparently, Morris Kline's book had planted a lot of ideas in my subconscious. After reading Ken Wilber's book, Quantum Questions, all of these ideas suddenly came together and Morris Kline's book took on new meaning! It became clear to me that Morris Kline's book contained the ideas and statements necessary to support the principal points that Ken Wilber was making about physics. However, these ideas were competing with a substantial amount of historical data and mathematical issues that Morris Kline was also addressing in his book. Consequently, I hadn't been able to put all the pertinent statements into one coherent whole, relative to the nature of the reality that these modern laws of physics conjured up.

One of the first points I quoted, at the beginning of this chapter from Mathematics and the Search for Knowledge, was that mathematics played a bigger role in physics than many of us understood. Morris Kline explains that mathematics tells us things about the world around us that, in the past, were never suspected. Moreover, many of these things about the physical world, that the average person believes are based on human sense perceptions, in actual fact, are not. I, too, believed that physical observation based on the use of the senses was the very essence of the Scientific Method. But what Morris Kline says is that, not only are these physical laws not based solely on sense perceptions, but in some cases they are actually contradictory!

Most of us can think of an example of an apparent contradiction, such as: "If the earth is round, why don't we fall off it?" This certainly contradicts our sense perceptions; but we immediately answer: "We don't fall off because of the Law of Gravity, that is, the gravitational pull of the earth keeps us from falling into space." But as I quoted above, Morris Kline wrote: "no one has ever explained the physical reality of the force of gravitation. It is a fiction suggested by the human ability to exert force." (emphasis mine)

Kline also points out that gravity is a quantitative law from which the mathematical deductions were so convincing that it has become an accepted physical law, even though it means that science has sacrificed "physical intelligibility for the sake of mathematical description and mathematical prediction." Newton was very clear about this point in his book, Principia. He writes: "For I have design only to give a mathematical notion of the forces, without considering their physical causes and seats." Because of this, Newton considered his work incomplete. He even wrote to a friend some very surprising words which give us a better insight into his thinking at that time. He writes: "That one body may act upon another at a distance through a vacuum without the mediation of anything else, by and through which their action and force may be conveyed from one to another, is to me so great an absurdity that, I believe, no man who has in philosophic matters a competent faculty of thinking could ever fall into it." (italics mine)

It is easy to be deceived by these deprecating words of Newton regarding his Law of Gravity and to thereby think that it must not be all that useful to physics. However, before Newton's work, it was generally thought that the fields of terrestrial science and of celestial science were not related to each other. Newton proved otherwise with his Law of Gravity. While his contributions to science were many, what interests me most is the fact that his emphasis on the use of mathematics in describing physical phenomena is the key to the amazing developments in modern physics. It is also the key to Morris Kline's statement relative to the "greatest science fiction stories" being in the fields of physics.

Part of my confusion about science, was the fact that I thought when the scientific method was invoked, it involved being able to repeatedly perform some experiment which could be observed and verified by others. And I didn't see how gravity fit into that definition. Newton himself pointed out that the "motions of the planets, the comets, the moon and the sea" are deduced mathematically from his original equations of gravity. In other words, my problem was created by the definition of the scientific method I was trying to employ. In his book, Quantum Questions, Ken Wilber goes into the definition of the scientific method when he begins to address the relationship between science and religion. He points out that frequently, the apparent conflicts between science and religion are caused by the way we define science and how we differentiate between the "domain of science" and the "method of science."

It is not my intention to address the issue of science versus religion. I want to write about the scientific method and the difficulty I had in applying it. However, with regard to our use of domains, I would like to mention that Ken Wilber goes into the subject of science versus religion when he applies the so-called "Great Chain of Being" to five domains: spirit, soul, mind, life and matter. It is an excellent exposition of how these domains relate to each other and to representative disciplines that take these domains as an object of study.

What was of great help to me were the following statements and his related explanations of their importance: "On the one hand, then, spirit is the highest of all possible domains; it is the Summit of all realms, the Being beyond all beings. It is the domain that is a subset of no other domain, and thus preserves its radically transcendental nature. On the other hand, since spirit is all-pervading and all-inclusive, since it is the set of all possible sets, the Condition of all conditions and Nature of all natures, it is not properly thought of as a realm set apart from other realms, but as the Ground or Being of all realms, the pure That of which all manifestation is but a play or modification. And thus spirit preserves [paradoxically] its radically immanent nature."

Ken Wilber indicates that although this may seem to be an apparently trivial point, it is, in fact, vital to any discussion of how religion impacts science and vice versa. He points out that spirit is properly referred to not only in terms of it being "perfectly transcendent" but also as "perfectly immanent." If we fail to keep this fact in mind, it is easy to end up with conflicting statements regarding religion which too often result in such charges as "featureless pantheism," dogmatism or even "nonsensicality."

What I found fascinating was how he pointed out that there is a religious experience which can be evaluated scientifically just as there are psychological experiences that can be evaluated scientifically, and hence it is proper to speak of the science of religion just as we refer to the science of psychology. He claims that consciousness can be trained to apprehend the central features of religious experience; and he refers to this training as meditation or contemplation! He claims that religious experience is not "merely private knowledge." Rather, just as "mathematical knowledge is public knowledge to all equally trained mathematicians; just so, contemplative knowledge is public knowledge to all equally trained contemplatives. The preposterous claim that all religious experience is private and noncommunicable is stopped dead by, to give only one example, the transmission of Buddha's enlightenment all the way down to the present-day Buddhist masters."

Ken Wilber gives a bare bones definition of the scientific method, which he claims most general science texts agree with. He writes the "scientific method involves those knowledge-claims open to experiential validation or refutation." This definition, however, does not refer either to the domain or the objects of the scientific method. Consequently, Ken Wilber says that with this definition, you can address not only the realms of biology and anthropology, but also such domains as psychology, history, sociology and even spirituality. For me, he clarifies this whole point when he writes: "If 'science' were restricted to 'physical-sensory' object-domains, then mathematics, logic, psychology, and sociology could not be called 'scientific,' in that the central aspects of those domains are non-sensory, non-empirical, non-physical, or meta-physical occasions."

My understanding of the scientific method was based on the premise that the knowledge-claim being evaluated was to be tested using 'physical-sensory' evidence. My problem was with the definition I was using. I thought that 'experiential' evidence and 'physical-sensory' evidence meant the same thing. However, Ken Wilber makes it very clear that the use of the words 'experiential validation' in the generally accepted definition of the scientific method, does not restrict such validation to physical-sensory evidence! As an example, he points to the fact that testing the truth-value of a mathematical theorem is not based on sensory evidence, but rather on mental evidence. And he concludes that it is by using mental evidence, which can be checked by equally trained experts in their respective fields, that such subjects as mathematics, logic and psychology are correctly called sciences.

As I quoted earlier, in his book, Mathematics and the Search for Knowledge, Morris Kline makes a compelling statement regarding the essence of mathematics as compared to sense perceptions. He claims that mathematics "draws on the human mind and human reasoning to produce knowledge about our physical world that the average human being, even in Western culture, believes is acquired by the use of sense perceptions." Until I read Kline's book I never appreciated the role mathematics played in the development of our scientific knowledge! After reading the book, I had a new respect for, almost a sense of awe towards mathematics. But I was still confused about the relationship between physics and mathematics.

As we have seen, Kline shows us that Newton's laws of motion were expressed mathematically and accepted by his colleagues, even though he could not explain what matter or force meant! Kline also points out that Maxwell's electromagnetic theory and the mathematical equations, which Maxwell posited, had no relationship to physical reality. And yet these mathematical equations have been the foundation, which has made possible the development of the many electrical and electronic wonders that we take for granted today, such as the TV, the cell phone and the iPod. It is Kline's position that scientists have tried repeatedly, yet unsuccessfully, to explain electric and magnetic waves. No mechanical explanation has been found. He even says that 'fields' are simply a crutch. And that electrons do not physically exist. They are simply a variable in Maxwell's equations.

Kline asks what does it mean that we cannot reason in physical terms about such subjects as electromagnetic theory. Why are mathematical laws the only means that we have of mastering so much of the world we live in? He claims that this mystery, as to why mathematics is the foundation of our physical knowledge of the world, can be compared to "latter-day Delphic mysteries" to which the average person is uninitiated. He believes that because scientists are faced with so many natural mysteries that they are "only too glad to bury them under a weight of mathematical symbols, bury them so thoroughly that many generations of workers fail to notice the concealment." (italics mine) When I reread this in connection with the new insights I had found in Ken Wilber's book, I began to understand why these aspects of physics do not seem to be taught to our students even today.

This role of mathematics in modern physics, extends to both Relativity and Quantum Mechanics; and has resulted in a major revision of classical mechanics. Relativity posits a four-dimensional, non-Euclidean universe. When I first read Einstein's book, Relativity, I had not a glimmer as to what he was saying, even though his book was listed as a 'Popular Exposition' on the title page. I simply did not understand relativity. And Einstein was attempting to make relativity understandable to the general public via this book! I asked my husband to explain to me what Einstein meant; and he did! But I still didn't understand, although my husband, the mathematician, understood what Einstein was trying to explain. Now as I reread Einstein's book I realize that I had a mental block.

I was trying to visualize the four-dimensional universe consisting of three space co-ordinates combined with a time co-ordinate. I was still in the dark ages as I tried to visualize this four-dimensional space-time continuum, and I didn't know it. Einstein points out that in his Special Theory of Relativity, the time co-ordinate "plays exactly the same role as the three space co-ordinates." Of course, such a universe does not exist as a reality that we perceive. And one must simply look to the mathematics which express Einstein's theories and which are verified by our amazing accomplishments in outer space. A fact that I find particularly surprising is Einstein's words that "The special theory of relativity has crystalized from the Maxwell-Lorentz theory of electromagnetic phenomena.

In quantum mechanics, the mathematics is rather advanced; and Morris Kline, who was a Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at New York University, indicates that it is not readily presentable. In his chapter: The Dissolution of Matter: Quantum Theory, of his book, Mathematics and the Search for Knowledge, he assures us that mathematics has played as important a role in quantum mechanics as it has in relativity and electromagnetic theory. Quantum theory is considered the most basic theory of matter that is available to us today. It deals with atomic and sub-atomic structures and has wide applicability in experimental physics.

Based on what I have learned from Morris Kline's book, I have tried to demonstrate that Newton's Law of Gravity, as well as the theories of Relativity and Quantum Mechanics, have as their foundation mathematical equations that may, in some cases, seem completely at variance with our sense perceptions of reality. Indeed, such things as electrons, quarks and a quanta of energy are only variables in the mathematical equations that apply to that area in physics in which they are used. Even electric and magnetic fields merely refer to the variables in the mathematical equations of their respective fields.

Space, time and matter are all distinct entities to me as I experience life each day. This, however, is not the case according to Einstein! His equations show that they form an organic whole, that space, time and matter are commingled! These are such astounding ideas that, the first time I ever came across them in Morris Kline's book, Mathematics and the Search for Knowledge, I was totally confounded and at a loss. However, when I ultimately read Ken Wilber's book, Quantum Questions, all of what I had previously read in Morris Kline's book came together. I finally understood that during those many years when I had difficulty in understanding physics, there was a good reason for it. The reason was that many of the laws of physics were not based on reality. But it was not until I read Ken Wilber's book that I finally appreciated what Morris Kline meant by those surprising statements about the lack of reality connected with the presentation of the laws of modern physics, that were sprinkled throughout his book.

In summation, Ken Wilber made, what was for me, at first reading, an absolutely astounding point: that the physicist is not looking at reality itself. What he works with are the highly abstract mathematical equations in which reality is cloaked. In other words, they are looking at nothing but shadows of reality. This analogy is repeated throughout his compendium of the writings of the greatest physicists of modern times. For example, Sir James Jeans expresses it succinctly when he writes: "The essential fact is simply that all pictures which science now draws of nature, and which alone seem capable of according with observational fact, are mathematical pictures . . . . They are nothing more than pictures – fictions if you like, if by fiction you mean that science is not yet in contact with ultimate reality."

And Sir Arthur Eddington makes a similar statement: "Briefly the position is this. We have learnt that the exploration of the external world by the methods of physical science leads not to concrete reality but to a shadow world of symbols, beneath which those methods are unadapted for penetrating. Feeling that there must be more behind, we return to our starting point in human consciousness – the one centre where more might become known." Ken Wilber sums it up in a telling paragraph: "To put it in a nutshell: according to this view, physics deals with shadows, to go beyond shadows is to go beyond physics; to go beyond physics is to head toward the meta-physical or mystical--and that is why so many of our pioneering physicists were mystics. The new physics contributed nothing positive to this mystical venture, except a spectacular failure, from whose smoking ruins the spirit of mysticism gently arose." (bold emphasis mine)


1. Mathematics and the Search for Knowledge by Morris Kline, published by Oxford University Press, New York and Oxford, 1985. p. vi

2. Ibid., p. 50.

3. Ibid., p. 85.

4. Ibid., p. 106.

5. Ibid., p. 122.

6. Ibid., p. 123.

7. Ibid., p. 146.

8. Ibid., p. 233.

9. Quantum Questions edited by Ken Wilber, published by Shambhala, Boston, 2001. p. ix.

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid., p. 56.

13. Ibid., p. 62.

14. Mathematics and the Search for Knowledge, above cited., p. 121.

15. Ibid., p. 121.

16. Ibid., p. 116.

17. Quantum Questions , above cited, p. 10.

18. Ibid., p. 14.

19. Ibid., p. 19.

20. Ibid., p. 11.

21. Ibid., p. 11.

22 Mathematics and the Search for Knowledge, above cited., p. 146.

23. Relativity published by Crown Publishers, Inc., New York, 1961 p. 57.

24. Ibid., p. 49.

25. Quantum Questions , above cited, p. 7.

26. Ibid., p. 8.

27. Ibid., p. 9.

Even if you don't use this in your blog, I hope you will enjoy reading it!


Edna McGrew


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