Quantum Physics tells us that our power to change the world is in our attitude right now.
Wheeler’s standard expression of the notion of “It from Bit”
is a working hypothesis
that every “it,” every particle, every field of force, even the spacetime continuum itself,
derives its function, its meaning, its very existence entirely–
even if in some contexts indirectly–
from the apparatus-elicited answers to yes or no questions, binary choices, bits.'”
“The Bit and the Pendulum” by Tom Siegfried
Let’s breakdown this quote from the world-renown quantum physician, John Wheeler. First of all, what are “apparatus-elicited answers?” What does he mean by that? This is a complex way of indicating observations or perceptions. Apparatus-elicited answers are the results of tests; that is, information that comes from the tools used to observe something. Normally, this doesn’t seem to say anything special. So what, that information comes from test results?
Well, the exact phrasing here implies that in our tests we are not observing something fixed or objective; that the “apparatus” are “eliciting” results means that there is a conversation, maybe even a negotiation, going on when we test or observe something. Remember that scientific testing uses “apparati” that simply extend the powers of our senses. They are sense augmenters. So in a fundamental sense, the only real “aparati” are our organs of sense. The fact that those apparati are “eliciting” responses admits that they are making a request for some type of information that the environment answers.
The answers that are received are not simple either. In classical physics we imagined that a fixed objective object was encountered and measured by our “apparati” or senses (attached to their machines of augmentation). But quantum physics knows that it is really not that simple or material. It knows that the apparati themselves are created by prior application of these apparati to objects. So, physics is admitting feedback loops into its concept of reality. The way that we see things and get results from our viewing comes from past experiences of viewing. The one who looks, the way that one looks and the object seen are all dependent on the results of prior observations.
Using this quote we can go even farther because Wheeler says that the “very existence entirely” of both the observer and the observed is a result of prior interactions. So, not only is the answer to a question dependent on the results of prior inquiries but the asking of the question itself only occurs under certain combinations of prior answers. If this seems convoluted you can imagine the effect that this type of thinking is having on hard-line doctoral scientists. Some of them might be purposely resisting even following the implications of quotes like this one out of fear of losing their grip on science as they know it.
For us, as spiritual seekers, however this line of questioning is all a deep breath of fresh air because it is the beginning of a recognition of the primacy of consciousness. Before any object exists in any form, consciousness exists: ‘In the beginning was the Word.’ Spiritual teachings have always tried to lead us away from considering objects and observers as solid, fixed objects. Spiritual teachings have always emphasized the power of mind, the power of attitude, to affect, even to create objects and their observers. And now, powerhouse physicists like John Wheeler are introducing the supremacy of observation and the information that is produced to direct what we have formerly considered a very “solid” reality. Wheeler is stating that whether or not an object exists (can be perceived) depends on prior inquiries. What we can see right now is largely controlled by what we have seen in the past. Further reducing this line of thinking down we can say that the expectations that we carry into an inquiry limit our potential findings.
And remember that John Wheeler doesn’t consider himself a spiritualist or philosopher (to the best of my knowledge, at least). He is drawing his conclusions from math. The mathematics behind the quantum revolution are creating these types of conclusions and are introducing the notion that consistency and probability combine to create what we consider to be reality.
This is not something we go around aware of. If these physicists are correct then we may be considering our “reality” to be more fixed than it actually is (which is ironically why it appears to be so fixed). Not only is the pen sitting on my table right now not the fixed object I assume it to be but it doesn’t necessarily have the history that I think it to have either. I assume because I see it right now that it was there one minute ago. I also assume that the pen I see right now is the same pen I saw there one minute ago. Quantum mechanics is starting to tell us that these assumptions are not exactly correct.
If we believe that what happens on the quantum level is relevant to our daily life (which some physicists don’t agree with) then I have to revise the way I am considering the pen on the table in front of me right now. According to quantum mechanics it should not be seen as the same pen that was there one minute ago nor should I think that just because I see it right now that it was even there in the past. Quantum physics is introducing the idea that the past can only be considered as part of the package of information relevant to this moment but not necessarily existing on its own; i.e.: the past is always the past and as the past it doesn’t have a fixed reality. We cannot say that the past really ever happened! What happened in the past is only true to the extent that it is determining the future by providing a guideline of consistency for “reality” to follow. It is not a fact in itself, on its own, divorced from what it means to the present.
Quantum mechanics is also saying something similar about the presence of objects. We may verify the existence of something like a pen on the table right now but we shouldn’t see it as the same object that was there a minute ago. Quantum mechanics says that in every moment that we observe that pen it is being recreated out of the flow of consistency. It is emerging in the now to be observed due to our conception of what has been there before. But it is emerging anew every instance. And it doesn’t have to emerge exactly as we expect it to, in each moment. It is actually guided by probability. Therefore there is always a chance (however, miniscule) that the pen, that was on my table a moment ago, may not be there now, without me witnessing anything moving it. It probably will be there but it may not.
Many scientists, of course, may get angry over this type of application of quantum mechanics but the math, itself, is forcing the issue. The math of quantum mechanics is supporting these types of conclusions whether or not the scientists themselves want it to.
For spiritual seekers the most important thing to focus on within the quantum considerations is how the ancient spiritual teachings are being supported. As I wrote earlier, “In the beginning was the Word,” is one example of this. Many spiritual teachings emphasize the power of the word which is the same as the power of the idea which is the same as the power of consciousness. When John Wheeler says “It from Bit” he is affirming that the Idea is the power behind the creation of objects. Consciousness is primary but consciousness is made up of ideas. Ideas are packages of information and information is the product of choices. For spiritual seekers the conclusion to all of this is obvious: the reality of life is about choices. What we choose is what we create. Every moment is an act of creation because in every moment we choose to see what we see with a certain attitude. Our “take” on whatever we see is our choice. The attitude with which we witness an object is the idea that we are injecting into the ongoing history of that object. That is our creative power. A closed mind is a mind that restricts creation and an open mind is a facilitator for others.
What we experience is simply a product of what has been witnessed and reacted to in the past. The product of history conforms to consistency and is given to us, wholesale but how we react is how we have power to selectively steer the creation of reality onwards into the future.