Stanley Sobottka on Quantum Theory and Nonduality

Stanley Sobottka summarizes his view on quantum theory and nonduality.

Dear Friends,

As my tenure on the OASG [Open Awareness Study Group] comes to a close, I would like to summarize, and perhaps correct, what I have said about quantum theory and nonduality.

Physics in general, and quantum theory in particular, began as the study of objective reality, i.e., a reality that exists whether or not it is being observed. Classical physics had no problem with this approach. When classical physics proved inadequate to the task of explaining the results of certain experiments, quantum theory arose. It was spectacularly successful in explaining these results and many more, too. Then a few physicists began to ask, is this all that quantum theory means–the explanation of experimental results? Does it have any ontological value, i.e., can it tell us what objective reality _is_, not just what it _does_? This is what an _interpretation _of quantum theory is supposed to do, to describe what objective reality is. So a few physicists worked very hard to come up with an interpretation in terms of an objective reality….and failed. But the failure was that there were too many contenders, not too few, and there was no way to determine which one, if any, was correct. Furthermore, most of them pretend that the quantum wavefunction, which is a probability wave rather than a physical wave, is an objectively real object rather than being simply the mathematical formula that it is. However, rather than this being cause for despair, it actually can liberate us from the prison of objective reality. As long as we believe that objects are real, we will find it difficult to escape the belief that we are objects, and consequently to feel separate from all other objects. The failure of physicists to find an objective interpretation of quantum theory has the potential to liberate us from this fatal belief in separation.

So now that we don’t have to believe in the existence of separation, what is left? We are free to believe in the absence of separation. Better still, we don’t have to leave it to mere belief, we can _see _that there is no separation. This is where the teaching of nonduality comes in. There are many statements of nonduality, e.g., consciousness is all there is, love is all there is, there are not two, there is only oneness, etc. These are useful to begin with but the statements themselves don’t take us very far. To believe the statements is to make nonduality into a religion rather than accepting it as a teaching. Instead of belief, what is necessary is a clear, direct seeing of truth. The essence of direct seeing is to see that there is no separate me. If there is no separate me, there is no separation.

How do we see that there is no me? Simply speaking, we just look for the me. If we don’t find it, then we look for what-it-is that sees that there is no me. We might think that then is the true me. In that case, we just take another step back and look for what-it-is that sees that. We might think that we will have to keep on stepping back forever but that proves not to be the case. Once we see that there is no me, the next step, the step of seeing the witness of no-me, is likely to be the last one because the seeing of the witness likely dissolves the witness, and then there is only pure awareness.

What if we find a me in the first step? The process is the same as above. We step back and see what-it-is that sees the me. If we find the witness of the me, we take another step back and see what-it-is that sees the witness of the me. That seeing will likely dissolve the witness, leaving pure awareness.

Even if we can find no me and no witness of no-me, we might still feel that our awareness is confined to the skull. In that case, we look for what-it-is that sees that awareness is confined to the skull. If we see an awareness that is confined to the skull, we immediately see that what seems to be confined awareness cannot be true awareness. Again, as we step back and look for what sees this, we might find a witness of no-confined- awareness. Once again, we step back to see what-it-is that sees the witness. In so doing, the witness again dissolves into pure awareness.

Once we see that there is no me, no witness of no-me, and no-confinement, all separation dissolves. This seeing might have to be repeated many times for it to be a continuing awareness of no separation. It is very helpful to realize that both the apparent me and apparent confinement are just arisings. Since all arisings rapidly come and go, the me and confinement are never permanent, even for a short time. There are many times when there is no me and no confinement but we are not aware of it because we are not at the moment suffering from separation. Consequently, we can save our practice times for the times that we are suffering.

Love,
Stanley
http://faculty.virginia.edu/consciousness/

11 thoughts on “Stanley Sobottka on Quantum Theory and Nonduality

  1. ramesam

    Will Stanley like to kindly comment on the following please?

    The Oneness of Consciousness is easily understood over the time dimension. For example, it is the same Consciousness that was aware of and witnessed this body eating breakfast yesterday and is now aware observing this body today typing at the computer. Thus it provides the identity of a ‘me’.

    The mechanism of ‘memory’ (the neuorns in the brain) is the tool which helps us in infering this ‘continuity over time.’

    Human beings seem to lack a ready built-in mechanism similar to memory (and neurons) to decipher the Oneness (and continuity) of Consicousness over space, that is to say that it is the same One Consciousness witnessing (awaring) in ramesam, Stanley or Jerry.

    We also know that both time and space are only ‘seemingly real’ because time and space are the result (effect) of the action of neurons in interpreting a percept – that is to say that the brain sees only a representational ‘map’ in our head of what is perceived ‘out there’ and not Reality.

    Maybe because of the lifestyle, culture and exposure to the ‘time concepts’ drilled into us from childhood that our neurons learnt this aspect of continuity of Conscsiouness and we claim “It is ‘me’ that was, and it is the same ‘me’ that is and will continue to be in the future.”

    The plasticity of brain (to train neurons at any age and neurogenesis) are well established now. So can it be that a newly trianed set of neurons in the brain give a ‘seeming continutiy’ to Consciousness across space too? Or even giving a picture of trnascending time-space?

    Can Physics or Quantum Physics rule this possibility out?

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  2. ramesam

    While thanking Jerry for posting my above query (addressed to Stanley), I felt a quick addendum is in order (at least on two points):

    1. Can a newly trianed set of neurons (or sets of neuronal networks) in the brain give a ’seeming continutiy’ to Consciousness across space giving raise to “Oneness”?

    The “Direct Path” Non-dualists (e.g. Rupert, Greg et al) talk of ‘reorientating ourselves’ or ‘a shift’ in our view from an individuating ‘self-centered’ focus to Oneness or as Jeff so poetically says “without a center.”

    The traditional Vedantins too stress the importance of “Practice” in achieving Oneness when once the Knowledge about Oneness is known. While Bhagavad-Gita calls it Abhyasa, Vedanta refers it as Nidhidhyasa.

    Whether ‘re-orientating’ to stand as Awareness (borrowing Greg’s term) or practising through Nidhidhyasa, there is an undoubted realignment of neuronal networks, change in their architecture etc. that is taking place(with attendent neurochemical changes)in the brain. Such changes in the brain are demonstrated in brain scan studies on Meditators.

    Hence is it not that we are taking advantage of the plasticity of brain in this process of achieving an “allocentric” view (J.Austin’s term) insteaad of being ‘ego-centric’?

    2. Can Physics or Quantum Physics rule this possibility out?

    The point raised in my main query in the first Post is basically referring to a possible “signature” of the attainment of Oneness by and within an individual in his brain and NOT necessarily about establshing any causal relationships between Oneness and neurons.

    We cannot disdainly dispense with this idea saying that Consciousness is ‘beyond’ the brain because Consciousness enfolds the brain but not the other way round.

    It is so because we still do not know for sure in science what Consciousness is and whether it engenders the mind and brain or it is an epiphenomenon of the brain. Vigorous discussions are going on to bring in a convergence of the scientific opinion (see for example: cannonizer.com).

    Secondly no live person is actually conscious of his/her brain while being conscious of an object (thought included). So we cannot just say that a brain is an ‘arising’ in Cosnciousness.

    What all has been discussed thus far is not entirely within the realm of Neuroscience. Quantum Physics plays (possibly) a significant role because the cell walls in neurons appear to follow quantum processes (at least according to some experts like Drs. Hameroff and Penrose).

    Hence the poser to Dr. Sabottka.

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  3. Stanley Sobottka

    Stanley: In my response below, I shall use the term Awareness to mean that which is aware, and Consciousness to mean Awareness plus all of the arisings in Awareness. By an arising I mean any thought, feeling, emotion, sensation, or perception that exists by virtue simply that Awareness is aware of it. There are no forms of arising of which Awareness is unaware. To postulate them would be to postulate something that could not be verified and therefore it would be a meaningless notion.

    Ramesam: The Oneness of Consciousness is easily understood over the time dimension. For example, it is the same Consciousness that was aware of and witnessed this body eating breakfast yesterday and is now aware observing this body today typing at the computer. Thus it provides the identity of a ‘me’.

    Stanley: If the “me” is thought to be an individual, then Awareness cannot be the me.

    Ramesam: The mechanism of ‘memory’ (the neurons in the brain) is the tool which helps us in inferring this ‘continuity over time.’

    Stanley: If we think of neurons as being real rather than as concepts, we miss the point of directly seeing that everything in phenomenality is an arising.

    Ramesam: Human beings seem to lack a ready built-in mechanism similar to memory (and neurons) to decipher the Oneness (and continuity) of Consciousness over space, that is to say that it is the same One Consciousness witnessing (awaring) in Ramesam, Stanley or Jerry.

    Stanley: I would describe Awareness as spaceless because the concept of space is an arising in Awareness; Awareness does not exist in space. Because Awareness is spaceless, no mechanism is required to see that it is the same Awareness that is aware of Ramesam, Stanley, and Jerry.

    Ramesam: We also know that both time and space are only ’seemingly real’ because time and space are the result (effect) of the action of neurons in interpreting a percept – that is to say that the brain sees only a representational ‘map’ in our head of what is perceived ‘out there’ and not Reality.

    Stanley: The brain, being only a conceptual arising, cannot “see” anything. Only Awareness can be aware of anything. Similarly, neurons also are purely conceptual arisings and therefore cannot act in any way, including interpreting a percept. All objects are purely conceptual arisings and can do nothing. Any apparent action by anything is simply a conceptual arising in Awareness.

    Ramesam: Maybe because of the lifestyle, culture and exposure to the ‘time concepts’ drilled into us from childhood that our neurons learnt this aspect of continuity of Consciousness and we claim “It is ‘me’ that was, and it is the same ‘me’ that is and will continue to be in the future.”

    Stanley: Within the realm of the conceptual world, it is commonly claimed that we are conditioned from childhood to believe in a “me” that persists through time and gives us our identity as a separate individual. This concept receives a lot of support from parents, teachers, religion, science, and the culture. But these are also nothing but concepts and hence are unable to condition anything, let alone other concepts. Furthermore, as mentioned above, neurons are also nothing but concepts and, as such, can do nothing, including learning anything. All conditioning and learning are nothing but concepts that appear in Consciousness, persist awhile, and then disappear. However, that does not mean that we do not feel a continuity in our existence. That continuity is a clue that we are actually changeless in time. It comes from the changelessness of our true nature, which is Awareness.

    Ramesam: The plasticity of brain (to train neurons at any age and neurogenesis) are well established now. So can it be that a newly trained set of neurons in the brain give a ’seeming continuity’ to Consciousness across space too? Or even giving a picture of transcending time-space?

    Stanley: Training neurons to give an apparent continuity in space, or a picture of transcendence, to Awareness is an example of a “category error” in philosophy. Neurons fall in the category of arisings in Awareness and therefore cannot give anything to the Awareness in which they arise. It is Awareness that lends an apparent reality to neurons; it can do this because it is the only reality.

    Ramesam’s addendum: Can a newly trained set of neurons (or sets of neuronal networks) in the brain give a ’seeming continuity’ to Consciousness across space giving raise to “Oneness”? The “Direct Path” Non-dualists (e.g. Rupert, Greg et al.) talk of ‘reorienting ourselves’ or ‘a shift’ in our view from an individuating ’self-centered’ focus to Oneness or as Jeff so poetically says “without a center.” The traditional Vedantins too stress the importance of “Practice” in achieving Oneness when once the Knowledge about Oneness is known. While Bhagavad-Gita calls it Abhyasa, Vedanta refers it as Nidhidhyasa. Whether ‘reorienting’ to stand as Awareness (borrowing Greg’s term) or practicing through Nidhidhyasa, there is an undoubted realignment of neuronal networks, change in their architecture etc. that is taking place (with attendant neurochemical changes) in the brain. Such changes in the brain are demonstrated in brain scan studies on Meditators. Hence is it not that we are taking advantage of the plasticity of brain in this process of achieving an “allocentric” view (J.Austin’s term) instead of being ‘ego-centric’?

    Stanley: Although you didn’t ask the question, which comes first, a realignment of our neural networks or the shift in our view, I will discuss these possibilities here. Scientifically, the only way they could be determined is if the shift and the realignment occurred rapidly enough for the difference in time to be measured. My first guess is that they occur so close in time that it could not be determined which is cause and which is effect. My second guess is that, if a difference in time could be measured, it would be the shift in view that came first because of the category difference. Furthermore, in spite of the measured brain differences between long-term meditators and those who do not meditate, these brain differences do not indicate who is enlightened and who is not. Any intensive long-term mental or spiritual practice will almost certainly produce brain changes whether they signify enlightenment or not. This point is reinforced by the experience of sudden awakening in a few individuals who have never engaged in any spiritual practice and in whose brains significant changes are unlikely to have occurred.

    Ramesam: The point raised in my main query in the first Post is basically referring to a possible “signature” of the attainment of Oneness by and within an individual in his brain and NOT necessarily about establishing any causal relationships between Oneness and neurons. We cannot disdainly dispense with this idea saying that Consciousness is ‘beyond’ the brain because Consciousness enfolds the brain but not the other way round. It is so because we still do not know for sure in science what Consciousness is and whether it engenders the mind and brain or it is an epiphenomenon of the brain. Vigorous discussions are going on to bring in a convergence of the scientific opinion (see for example: cannonizer.com).

    Stanley: While materialists claim that consciousness is an epiphenomenon of matter, they are never able to say which material objects are conscious and which ones are not. Furthermore, there is in principle no way to find out because consciousness is fundamentally subjective while matter is assumed to be objective. Thus, the category difference means there can be no objective way to test for consciousness. There is something seriously wrong with a concept that is so ambiguous. That is why I think the concept of consciousness as an epiphenomenon is untenable. If, as a result, we discount the materialist claim, then Awareness must be primary and the brain, because it is only a conceptual arising in Awareness, is secondary. Now, in this case also there can be no objective test for Awareness because of the category difference between Awareness and arisings in Awareness. From this reasoning, I think it is unlikely that there is or ever will be an objective test for enlightenment.

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  4. ramesam

    I thank Stanley for the patient response and Jerry for allowing to express ourselves here.

    It is difficult to join issue with a man like Stanley who is himself a well-known scientist and who seems to have had also tasted the “Zone” (for lack of a better phrasing!) recently when he was with Greg at SAND ’09.

    Still it looks to me that it is expedient to point out a couple of things, not for argument but for highlighting:

    1. The entire search of Truth in Advaita is oriented towards ending of “sorrow.” The ancient scriptures (Upanishads, Brahma Sutras, Sankara’s Commentaries etc.) hold that the ending of sorrow is the highest pursuit (liberation, salvation, moksha) for mankind.

    And, Sir, what is the probability of success by the methodology taught? By Dr. Sobottka’s own estimation (based on Bhagavad-Gita VIII – 3) it is less than one in a million! That kind of result was obviously based on the techniques and knowledgebase of the ancient times.

    Can we totally rule out looking for ways and means of at least an incremental enhancement in the probability using present day knowledge base?

    2. Though much of what Stanley says is incontestable as it runs along the familiar logic of Advaita texts, to me at least as it is expressed, seems a bit strained trying to point out that Awareness and the arisings which Awareness is aware of are two disparate elements. He therefore holds that the arisings being ephemeral and within Awareness can never lead to Awareness through scientific method.

    I am sure it would be presumptuous on my part to say Stanley would be unaware. As our Upanishads say, as Rupert brought forth so clearly at OASG and as Peter said it so powerfully in his latest Post at OASG, the arisings and Awareness are non-different! The world is Brahman.

    3. Stanley ends his note with the words: “I think it is unlikely that there is or ever will be an objective test for enlightenment.”

    This is a poser often thrown at me — the “subject” can never be amenable to scientific study as It can never become an “object” of study. But because now it comes from a scientist of the stature of Stanley, I may be allowed to repeat my reasons.

    a) Being on a small speck of dust in the whole Cosmos, has the Science not shown us that nearly 96 percent of the universe is unknown to science? In addition to dark matter and dark energy, people are now talking of “dark flows”. This itself is a great achievement of science to find that 96% is unknown while we are sitting on an insignificant speck within the 4% known.

    b) I may not be able to grasp in my palm and show what a flow is; but are there no methods to indicate scientifically (i.e. unfalsifiably) a ‘flow’?

    c) Even in Advaita, is it not through contemplation (an arising) that we are finally pointing to that which cannot be shown?

    d) If I enter a room and to know that there is light, I do not necessarily have to locate the source of light. I can depend on the visibility of an object to scientifically deduce the presence of light. Similarly, one may have inferential and deductive methods in science — verifiable, falsifiable, available for mass-application and replication.

    Pardon me, I have been very brief in expression so that I do not take too much space.

    I invite interested “audience” to my Blog devoted specifically to Science and Advaita for more detailed discussions.

    Thanks to Jerry and Stanley and with regards to all,

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  5. Stanley Sobottka

    Ramesam: This is a poser often thrown at me — the “subject” can never be amenable to scientific study as It can never become an “object” of study. But because now it comes from a scientist of the stature of Stanley, I may be allowed to repeat my reasons.
    Being on a small speck of dust in the whole Cosmos, has the Science not shown us that nearly 96 percent of the universe is unknown to science? In addition to dark matter and dark energy, people are now talking of “dark flows”. This itself is a great achievement of science to find that 96% is unknown while we are sitting on an insignificant speck within the 4% known.

    Stanley: Even though it is not known what dark matter is, it is never thought by any scientist that science ultimately will not understand it because this example contains no category difference. However, the mind will never understand Awareness, and technology will never measure it, because of the category difference.

    Ramesam: I may not be able to grasp in my palm and show what a flow is; but are there no methods to indicate scientifically (i.e. unfalsifiably) a ‘flow’?

    Stanley: Again, there is no category difference indicated.

    Ramesam: Even in Advaita, is it not through contemplation (an arising) that we are finally pointing to that which cannot be shown?

    Stanley: Contemplation is understood to be a pointer to Awareness, whereas technology by its very nature cannot point to what cannot be measured.

    Ramesam: If I enter a room and to know that there is light, I do not necessarily have to locate the source of light. I can depend on the visibility of an object to scientifically deduce the presence of light. Similarly, one may have inferential and deductive methods in science — verifiable, falsifiable, available for mass-application and replication.

    Stanley: Analogies can never prove anything, and this is just another analogy. Only category differences can prove category differences.

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  6. Stanley Sobottka

    The Dialogue that Mark quotes is only a summary of my course and does not convey an in-depth understanding.
    I suggest that he read the Foreword, especially the last three paragraphs, which state:

    “For the reader who is not interested in quantum theory, an abbreviated but still complete course of study can be obtained merely by omitting Chapters 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, and 8. These are the chapters which show that physics is incomplete without consciousness; they are not needed for understanding the remaining material.
    Some people may want to read an even shorter course, covering only the principles and practices of Advaita. This would consist only of Chapters 9, 10, 11, 12, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, and 26.
    “Important: Because this course makes many statements, the reader might think that it comprises a new belief system, either to be adopted or rejected. However, that is not my intention nor is it the intention of the sages of nonduality who are quoted and discussed. Beliefs are not understanding in themselves–they can actually be obstructions to understanding. Because Reality cannot be described in words, the words are meant to be used as pointers to Reality rather than as descriptors of Reality. Hence, this is a course in seeing, not in believing.”

    If Mark would follow the above suggestions for an abbreviated course, his understanding would be much better. Better yet would be to read the entire course.

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  7. Kalki

    @Mark

    That’s not a review ..it’s nitpicking on stuff you haven’t even read !

    The Dialogue is the crux of what all has been thoroughly explained and pointed to in the contents.

    It would have been nice if you would have gone through the whole text and then opined on the merits or flaws.

    by your own materialistic standards , you are not supposed to discredit a book for it’s cover ..it’s another matter that for some people like me ..the cover (the dialogue in this case) is sufficient to inspire me to read on

    i am sorry , i have to rate your rhetorical review as very poor and ironically …unscientific 😦

    Prof. Sobottka …My humble salutations to you!

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  8. p

    @Mark

    I tried to find the sections you were commenting on but soon found that you were not even quoting correctly, so I decided not to waste my time which your so-called review. In MHO, it represents your lack of analysis and care in approaching the subject matter and at times, the tone was somewhat reckless.

    Prof Sobottka – greetings and all goodness to you!

    P

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  9. toomajj

    The non-duality in quantum physics has the same sense as non-duality in Vedanta. The deep connection between the two is more vivid through mathematics; if we were to construct a mathematical formalism for Advaita Vedanta metaphysics it would turn out to be the same as the mathematical structure of quantum mechanics. This is because non-duality can be expressed in mathematics in only one way: Language of Vectors. I have discussed the details, though with not much technicality, in my book “Non-Dual Perspectives on Quantum Physics” if you were interested. I am a graduate student of physics myself and have been studying Vedanta metaphysics for the past several years. My books are about the shared point of the two from a non-dual perspective.
    http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00N5DL1R0/

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