Quantum mechanics tells us we are all one, what if it’s true?


Interbeing: We’re all connected in this big crazy mess!

Michael Shaun Conaway
Publishing Editor
August 16th, 2023

At the most fundamental level we exist in one entangled universe. The work of physicists like David Bohm describes one holistic interconnected universe at the quantum level, where all particles are interconnected — part of one single, undivided whole. In this sense there is no separation between you and me, in fact our existence depends on each other and everything in the universe.

If that is so, why do we feel so separated, isolated and divided?

The simple answer is that we have an experience of an independent self. I am me, in here, in my head, that’s me. Or as Rene Descartes said, cogito sum ergo (I think therefore I am). As I am the one having these thoughts and no one else can hear my thoughts or have the exact same thoughts I am having, then my thoughts indicate that I am a separate person. It’s both intuitive and rational.

Then when I look out into the world there are things that are desirable, ice cream, and things that are not, stinging nettles. It makes sense that I should move towards the desirable things and away from the undesirable things. If I look further out these things extend to things that will keep me safe and alive and those things that make me unsafe and vulnerable to death. One of the most dangerous things out there is other people. They can hurt me emotionally, my feelings and physically, my body. I should get very good at sorting people into the kind that are safe and the kind who are not safe. If I can stay with the safe people then I will live long and have good things. If I fall into the hands of the dangerous people then all of the good things will be taken from me and I will not survive.

From this perspective, modern tribalism makes sense. Each group has their own language and symbols so that they can identify each other. They also have other groups that they are opposed to, that do not hold their values and in most cases are a threat to those values. The tribe then takes on a collective self an “I” and works to increase internal social cohesion and fight, sometimes literally, to win against their enemies in the world.

We see countless examples of this in our modern political landscape. The attacks on the Woke or the MAGA and the evil things those groups are out to do, are perfectly understandable from within this worldview. As is the use of misinformation to further demonize one another. Politics is a very powerful tool when tribal survival equates with personal survival. Here political messages boil down to, if you don’t do as I tell you then the bad people will come and take all of the good things from you, they will kill you, your family and your friends.

Pulling the veil back on this should make you pause for a moment and question, Is this happening to me in my life, in my head? Without exception, everyone of us is hooked by some story or message out in the world. Often it is about a specific issue we care deeply about. I personally have a bunch of them: LGBTQ+ rights, racism, wealth, education and health care inequality, and the big one — the climate crisis. When I read a story that threatens one of these issues, I get upset, stressed and worried.

In those moments I use a very simple and powerful tool. I ask myself to switch my focus from what I am against to what I am for.

When I ask, what am I for this topic, it flips an internal switch from fighting to creating. What am I going to create or do about this thing that is important to me. The focus switches to something that I have agency in and with it comes hope for a better future.

Thus the answer to the question: Why do we feel so separated, isolated and divided? Is our concept of self. I am a separate self that fundamentally seeks pleasure and avoids pain on the personal and the tribal level. I think therefore I am. The paradox to the answer of identity being the cause of our separation is that I do think separate thoughts and I am. It is self-evident — that this is the way it is. It is then impossible to change.

Except that before Descartes’ cogito sum ergo, we did not have the idea that reality should be organized around the self. In Europe before Descartes published his Meditations on First Philosophy in 1641, life was organized around the church. God was the source of reality. When a 17th century person was asked why something was in the world, the most likely answer was, because God created it that way.

You can immediately distinguish the difference in world view before and after Descartes. Clearly the reorientation around the self being the source of verifiable reality did not instantly change the Christian worldview. In fact it’s not until 1882 that this transition was declared by Friedrich Nietzsche, who says in his work, The Gay Science, that God is Dead. What he means by this is that God is no longer the guiding force in society.

In The Madman, a parable in The Gay Science, Nietzsche tells the story of a madman who rushes into the marketplace, declaring that God is dead, but finds that the people there do not understand or care about his proclamation. The madman’s cry, and the public’s indifference to it, reflects the enormity of the cultural shift that was occurring.

This demonstrates that our way of conceiving the self and the world is not fixed.

Historically there have been many world view shifts. Strangely enough many of these world views continue to exist alongside more modern ones. Fundamentalism is a great example. There are those on the planet who still follow Hammurabi’s Code, notable for the phrase, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”. Hammurabi was the sixth king of the First Babylonian Dynasty, reigned from approximately 1792 BCE to 1750 BCE. The code is considered to be a historic breakthrough for jurisprudence as it codified 282 laws, with scaled punishments, thus ending the subjective nature of punishments in law. It was a breakthrough 3773 years ago. Now, while historically important, it is considered harsh and somewhat barbaric. Yet still, there are fundamentalist societies which operate with this world view.

Thus one way out of our separation, isolation and divisiveness, is to change our world view. Fortunately there is a historical worldview that can help us, that of the Eastern philosophical traditions of Vedantic Hinduism and Buddhism. Before we dive in, I want to be clear that I am not advocating for us to adopt these religions or ancient cultures as our own. That would be as much folly as practicing Hammurabi’s Code, rather we are going look at the underlying philosophical distinction of duality and the concept of self and consciousness to see if we can gain some perspective on our current conditions.

One note on dualism. In the western philosophical tradition we have cartesian dualism again from Descartes which declares that the body is physical and the consciousness is non-physical (non-material). The non-material mind is something that is unique to each individual. This introduces the mind-body problem: How can this non-material thing, the mind, interact with the physical body? I’ll come back to this later to contrast this to the Buddhist conception of the mind.

The other form of dualism is the self and other dualism, an eastern philosophical worldview. Here it is seen as ignorance that there is a separation between self and other. While there can be an experience of self and other, it is an illusion — not real. Now at last we can connect quantum physics with a philosophical world view. We will do that cautiously, making sure to not equate one to the other. Bohm’s declaration that the universe is one entangled, undivided whole, notes that this goes against the initiative experience of the world which has many separate objects. This he says is an illusion.

The universe is one holistic entanglement including all apparent objects and all non-objects — everything that is and everything that isn’t. This means that there is no boundary between universe and non-universe, as anything that exists is entangled, everything that has existed is entangled and everything that will exist is entangled.

Heady stuff, take a moment to consider that — existence without bounds.

Let’s turn our attention to what life would look like if we lived with this unified world view. First let’s clear up one of the problems with Descartes’ the idea that thinking is proof of existence. The conceit here is that my thoughts are unique and that they are mine. Really? The study of semiotics and memetics as well as linguistics and history tells us that we think the thoughts that are thinkable given our culture, language and past experiences. All thoughts exist in what Jung called the collective unconsciousness, which in this time might be better called the collective mind(s), or collective worldview(s). As Werner Erhard said, “Are you having thoughts or are your thoughts having you.”

If my thoughts aren’t mine then what is? Surely my consciousness is mine. If that was so then we should be able to find the center of your consciousness in your brain. Christof Koch bet philosopher David Chalmers 25 years ago that we would find the neurological center of consciousness by now. Koch lost that bet. If it is not part of the brain then where is it? Now we are back to the mind-body problem of Descartes.

Buddhism has a very interesting solution to this problem. It holds that consciousness is one of the fundamental qualities of existence, of the universe. Thus consciousness is self-existing. It does not require us to exist. Our thoughts, from the darkest to the most loving, are all expressions of this self-existing consciousness. My thoughts come from the same place as your thoughts. Thinking, therefore, does not separate us from one another. All we are left holding onto is this idea that I am separate. This idea is what we refer to when we say your ego. I’ll say that again, the ego is an idea. It was proposed as a part of the structure of the mind by Sigmund Freud in the 1920’s. Like Descartes’ mind, an individual consciousness, the ego is an explanatory principle, not a material thing.

Now we have something we can work with:

My sense of separate self is an idea called the ego.

My ego is part of the way the world appears to me, my world view.

The best current description of reality is that we are all a part of a universal whole.

This leads to the question:

What does life look like if I am not separate?

If I am not separate, then the things that are pleasurable to me are pleasurable to others. We all want to be happy and free to live our best lives. The things that are not pleasurable to me are not pleasurable to others. If I hurt someone else it is exactly the same as me being hurt by them. It is not good for either of us. Our collective views and opinions stem from worldviews. Thus when there is a fight about “what is right” and “who is a threat” it’s the worldviews that are fighting and not me. Now there are worldviews that are harmful to our collective existence, for example the view that it is okay to go to war to expand territory, is a worldview to assign to the territory of history.

What is left once we stop being subjects and combatants for world views? A bunch of people who are fundamentally the same. Want the same things. Are afraid of the same things. We have children that we hope and dream for. We live our best lives as best we can.

Our being is entangled, as is everything in the universe — interbeing is reality.

We InterAre and I am so happy that we are in life together.

With great love.

In the meantime, we’ll be looking for PROOF of a thriving future for humanity.

The Generative Futurist
Editor PROOF

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Proof 60 – Quantum mechanics tells us we are all one, what if it’s true?

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PROOF is a digital magazine published by Bold.ly NOW and the Generative Futures Initiative.  The mission of the magazine is to shine a light on people, organisations and ideas that stand as Proof of a Thriving Future.