Quantum Eyes, Minds and Mysticism

A comic description of quantum entanglement by Jim Ottaviani

There have been suggestive findings indicating that the European Robin is better able to maintain a state of quantum entanglement than can be achieved in any contemporary laboratory…. In its eyes. This has raised a bit of a hubbub since it is one of the most dramatic cases to date of the ability of biological systems to take advantage of quantum mechanical effects. Apparently, it may be what allows robins and other animals to navigate based on the Earth’s magnetic field.

Quantum entanglement is the condition whereby electrons that are spatially distant are nonetheless able to effect the behaviour of other electrons with which they are entangled. Apparently, faster than the speed of light.

The example used by Jim Ottaviani in his comic on the subject describes two dice, each in a state of quantum entanglement with the other. You could then take those two dice to opposite ends of the galaxy and, rolling one, know faster than information should be able to travel (i.e. faster than the speed of light) that whatever you rolled on the first dice would also be rolled on the second. The manipulation of this effect could make teleportation possible, but, like most things in the world of quantum mechanical effects, states of quantum entanglement are short lived, and liable to collapse.

I first came across the case of the robin’s eyes at the “Witches Voice”. For those not familiar with the popular debates surrounding quantum mechanics and biology, it may seem strange that a news agency that describes itself as “a proactive educational network providing news, information services and resources for and about Pagans, Heathens, Witches and Wiccans” would have any interest in the subject. Yet there has been an ongoing and often unkind debate surrounding the relation of quantum mechanics to biological beings in general and sentient beings in particular which has caused many politically powerful commentators to shy away from the subject as being “quantum mysticism” or “quantum biological pseudoscience”. As early as 1934 J. B. S. Haldane (F.R.S) was theorizing about the the important consequences of quantum mechanics for biology and the philosophy of mind, yet it was only in the 90s and 2000s that these linkages became popular currency.

And so from European Robins we turn to the film “What tнē #$*! D̄ө ωΣ (k)πow!?” or “What the Bleep do we know?!” (2004), which is probably the most well known representation of the kind of quantum mysticism attacked by the standard bearers of hard headed, serious science. While I myself would characterize the film as a feel good quantum fable about the powers of positive thinking, there are those in the scientific community who see it as a palpable threat.

Those who describe themselves as scientific skeptics have set out to ridicule and discredit the film’s underlying premises as soft minded pseudoscience. While I agree that this film in particular is quite light on epistemological reflexivity and care, the scorn that it has attracted belays something that is even more vexing. From the comedian Tim Minchin’s parody of the “water memory” hypothesis for the efficacy of some homeopathic cures to the constant echoing of Richard Dawkins’ 1996 assertion: “By all means let’s be open-minded, but not so open-minded that our brains drop out”, it is far too easy to make fun of small groups of eccentrics whose explorations and ponderings may or may not lead them anywhere productive. At best it is misguided, at worse, cruel and driven by a kind of disciplinary and social power politics.

Yet in the same way that the robin’s eyes were the occasion and not really the cause of the wild interest among internet commentators, the attacks on quantum mysticism are not fundamentally about the role of quantum mechanics in the phenomena of consciousness or whether or not water has a kind of memory as they are about the reactionary feelings of a scientific establishment that understands itself to be embattled by the forces of organized religion and irrationalism. In the United States in particular this reactionary tendency is understandable, but even then it misses the point on a number of levels, and at its worst is itself a kind of irrationalism.

Firstly, since antiquity groups claiming to be defenders of reason and religious orthodoxy alike have attacked marginalized intellectual communities such as the gnostic and hermetic philosophers to gain political capital in their larger projects, yet this has only really delivered substantial returns when they were trying to court one another’s favour. Orthodox Christians would distance themselves from the Gnostics in their exchanges with Platonists in an attempt to gain legitimacy in their eyes, while Platonist groups often distanced themselves from hermetic and mystical branches of Platonism to demonstrate how their ideas represented the religion of reason.

Secondly, even assuming that the people supporting quantum mysticism are the same supporting the Abrahamic domination of secular society, there are at least a hundred years of history showing how the traditional methods of scorn and refutation do not work (there is a worthwhile article of Dostoevsky’s and Mendeleev’s criticism of spiritualism that brings this point out well).

Thirdly, if the explorers of quantum mysticism are diving into intellectually shallow waters, why so much scorn and recrimination? It seems to speak more of a bad conscience and the aggressively territorial concerns of science as a discipline than scientific methodology and magnanimous reflection.

William Crookes helped to set the stage for the development of wireless telegraphy with his experiments to detect the electro-magnetic presence of ghost, Johannes Kepler’s astronomical discoveries cannot be separated from his astrological concerns and the discovery of the unconscious or subliminal self cannot be divorced from the interest in spiritual mediums and spirit possession in the nineteenth century, so why then should even the most practical of scientists and scientistic defenders not give the stranger and more furtive branches of exploration their own space and place of self-expression?

Most recently an episode of the series “Through the Wormhole” has been brought to my attention, where a number of interesting, quantum/consciousness parallels have been discussed. It’s certainly worth exploring for anyone, mystic, scientistic, or otherwise interested in a debate which as of yet is far from settled.

For More Information:


http://www.wakingtimes.com/2013/02/09/near-death-experiences-explained-by-quantum-physicists/ (New! as of February 13th 2013)



















Haldane, J.B.S. Jan., 1934. “Quantum Mechanics as a Basis for Philosophy”. In Philosophy of Science. Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 78-98
Gordin, Michael D. 2001. “Loose and Baggy Spirits: Reading Dostoevskii and Mendeleev.” In Slavic Review. 60 (4): 756-780.

North American Robin, Photo by Mark Noseworthy