Quantum Physics and Reality

Quantum Physics and Reality


The traditional view of reality seeks to identify the intrinsic or “real” properties of things such as their size, location, velocity, and mass. Physics has increasingly come to appreciate the futility of such an undertaking, and instead realizes that properties only exist relative to measuring instruments. This deprives properties of any absolute status. Modern theories of relativity and quantum mechanics underscore the necessity of replacing all absolute properties with relational “observables.” For example, lengths are shortened in the directions of motion according to Einstein’s relativity theory. The implications of this and similar facts for our notion of reality are profound. For example, objects do not have an intrinsic size, velocity or mass. Even the number of particles in a box can depend on its state of relative motion. In light of these discoveries of physics, we are called upon to set aside realistic, reductive views in favor of those that have a more phenomenological character. Arthur Zajonc will describe particular experiments that contradict the search for intrinsic properties and realistic theories, and Michel Bitbol will speak about the philosophical implications of such experiments and theories. These challenges from the new physics open up important themes for dialogue with Buddhist philosophy concerning the ultimate nature of reality and its relation to human experience .

  • Dialogue 26
    27 sessions
  • January 18, 2013
    Drepung Monastery, Mundgod, India
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Arthur Zajonc

Arthur Zajonc, PhD, was professor of physics at Amherst College from 1978 to 2012, when he became President of the Mind & Life Institute. His research has included studies in electron-atom physics, parity violation in atoms, quantum optics, the experimental foundations of quantum physics, and the relationship between science, the humanities and the contemplative traditions. He has also written extensively on Goethe’s science work. He is author of the book: Catching the Light, co-author of The Quantum Challenge, and co-editor of Goethe’s Way of Science. In 1997, he served as scientific coordinator for the Mind and Life dialogue published as The New Physics and Cosmology: Dialogues with the Dalai Lama. He organized the 2002 dialogue with the Dalai Lama, “The Nature of Matter, the Nature of Life,” and acted as moderator at MIT for the “Investigating the Mind” Mind and Life dialogue in 2003, the proceedings of which were published under the title The Dalai Lama at MIT. While directing the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, Arthur fostered the use of contemplative practice in college and university classrooms, and he continues to speak around the world on the importance of contemplative pedagogy. Out of this work and his long-standing meditative practice, Zajonc has most recently authored Meditation as Contemplative Inquiry: When Knowing Becomes Love. He has also been General Secretary of the Anthroposophical Society in America, a co-founder of the Kira Institute, president of the Lindisfarne Association, and a senior program director at the Fetzer Institute.

Michel Bitbol

Michel Bitbol, PhD, is Directeur de Recherche at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, in Paris, France. He is presently based at the Archives Husserl, a center of research in Phenomenology. He was educated at several universities in Paris, where he received successively his MD in 1980, his PhD in Physics in 1985, and his “Habilitation” in Philosophy in 1997. Michel worked as a research scientist in biophysics from 1978 to 1990. Thereafter, he turned to the philosophy of physics. He published a book entitled Schrödinger’s Philosophy of Quantum Mechanics (1996), and also worked on a neo-Kantian interpretation of quantum mechanics. In 1997 he was the recipient of an award from the Academie des sciences morales et politiques for his work in the philosophy of quantum mechanics. Later on, he focused on the hotly debated connections between the philosophy of quantum mechanics and the philosophy of mind. He published a book on that topic in 2000, and worked in close collaboration with Francisco Varela around this time. He is presently developing a conception of consciousness inspired from neurophenomenology, and an epistemology of first-person knowledge. Michel also learned Sanskrit to better understand basic texts by Nagarjuna and Candrakirti, and recently published a book De l’intérieur du monde: pour une philosophie et une science des relations, 2010 in which he draws a parallel between Buddhist interdependence and non-supervenient relations in quantum physics and the theory of knowledge