Mystic and Scientist: A dialogue on the nature of the universe

Lyn Andrews, Victoria, Australia
Chris Clarke, Southampton, England

Chris   We've been exchanging e-mails for some time about quantum theory, the nature of the soul, God ... so what I'd like to do now is to see if we can pull these ideas a bit more closely together, for other people to read and comment on. Can we start by setting out what our backgrounds are? Because what has made our conversation so interesting has been the difference in these. I was a theoretical physicist working in universities between 1967 and 1999, when I left in order concentrate on the links with spirituality; so I have been steeped in the conventions of orthodox science. I know that you came to this subject through a very different route, however.

Lyn   Yes, I came to it by accident. In 1994 I became interested in story writing, specifically novel writing. By 1996 I had written two unpublished novels and was planning a third called "The God Factor" amazingly enough! However this never got started. Instead I became intensely interested in TE Lawrence, that is, Lawrence of Arabia, and wrote a story about him instead. It would be true to say that I was devoted to understanding the truth about him and that I loved him unconditionally. It was during the writing of that particular story that I lapsed into a trance at the computer. The after affects of this were so profound and compelling that they led me to try to describe and understand the experience. Since I am a former secondary science teacher, and therefore have a basic background in science, it was natural for me to try and link my experience with that. However because of what I perceived to be the particularly personal and growth oriented nature of my introduction to the experience, it also seemed imperative that I to try and link the experience with psychology, creativity and unconditional love. Since that time, therefore, I have been looking for valid links between mysticism, science and psychology.

Chris   I've been trying to make sense of the totality of my experience as well. What I've learnt from our correspondence is that, although at one level we might see to be talking about very different things - I am describing scientific theories and you are trying to find words for what you have directly experienced - yet still there seems to be a real relationship between the two. I think of this as if we had different windows on underlying aspects of reality.
There are two aspects that mean a lot to me as a physicist: Quantum Theory (QT) and General Relativity (GR). Before we started corresponding, I'd already formed the idea that QT was not just a theory about atomic particles, but was an aspect of reality that we in fact experienced every day of our lives from the inside, so to speak. When we observe it from the outside, it was the unpredictability of particles, but when we experience it as a property of our own brains, it was our freedom to choose. How does that relate to how you want to use "QT"?

Lyn   This relates moderately well to the way I like to use "QT"; however it doesn't completely account for what I saw and experienced in trance. Nor does it address some other questions concerning it that I still have. Prior to corresponding with you I had a confused picture of what QT actually was. I thought it represented the choices on offer in our brains or minds, rather than the unity of choice on offer. Indeed I was actually confusing it with an internal view of GR that I had: a view which envisages GR as a fundamental property of mind. Consequently when I did speak to you I had to revise my thinking. I have since tried to put three things in perspective, namely QT, GR and the "mysterious something" which I saw in trance, and then later in a pre-arranged dream. I now call this "mysterious something" Personality (P) and describe it this way. Imagine yourself writing a story with several characters in it when suddenly you were given the means to provide them with a unique identity and choice-making ability all of their own. This would mean that although they were still your characters and in your mind, they had now the ability to make up their own minds as well. They had become co-creators. This is similar to what happened to me during the first part of the trance, except in that case it occurred to me that I was a co-creator in the mind of a higher power. Indeed I believe that in order to "see" this I was raised up in some way, that is, enabled to see a larger frame of reference that was more like an inner frame of reference than anything else. I now believe that this is what revelation is and that it enabled me to see things in a new, and hopefully, valuable way. A similar understanding arose from having a particular pre-arranged dream. In this case the addition of P resembled the orgasmic self-fertilisation of mind. After this I became increasingly convinced that the role of P was vital with regards to our perceived individuality - our uniqueness - and co-creatorship, as well as it being the "eye of the mind". It is because of this that I think our two approaches, although different, seem related.
What particularly interests me regarding what you have just said however, is the way you describe QT as our "freedom to choose". This suggests to me that QT has a subtle relationship with the freedom of human beings to choose as well as with the choices they make. The language is ambiguous. Clarification of this is important to me because I have noticed this ambiguity before, and since this issue ties in nicely with what I saw in trance, and some of the questions I have regarding the relationship between QT and GR, I am wondering if it is relevant. I would be interested to know what your thoughts are concerning this?

What you say about QT feels right, but I'm struggling to relate it to my point of view! My problem is that I had been taught that these areas of physics were abstract pieces of mathematics, only linked to experience through very sophisticated experiments, whereas you seem to be seeing to layers of Being that underlie the mathematical formalism. It strikes me that your own initial confusion about QT precisely parallels the confusion that has dominated physics. In the first phase of the subject, up to the 1980s, the theory clearly consisted of two parts glued awkwardly together: a part describing the deterministic development in time of a quantity (called the "quantum state" or the "wave function") that unified all the possibilities; and another part (called "collapse") which is non-deterministic and somehow linked to choice.
In current physics there are now a number of competing theories and we are not seeing to the thing that underlies them. But a lot of them suggest that "pure" QT is to do with what you call "the unity of choice" (the quantum state) whereas the actual choice being made is to do with GR. Different theories suggest this in different ways: Penrose sticks with the old idea of collapse but brings in GR as the mechanism for it; Bohm avoided collapse by giving a special role in his theory to position in space (and space is ultimately governed by GR); while modern decoherence theories achieve the transition from the quantum world to the classical world by a mechanism which (in the key early work by Unruh and Zurek bringing in interactions with quantum fields) is again crucially linked to the role of space, and hence ultimately with GR.
But there are things missing from the physical picture. QT also indicates that the transition from "freedom to choose" to actual choice is to do with the influence of large scale interconnected patterns of meaning that are not connected with space (this is about the phenomena of non-locality and complementarity). My own experience tells me that subjectivity plays a fundamental role here. I wonder if this involves your "mysterious something", "co-creatorship" - P? The possibility of a missing link is exciting, because, right at the start of GR, it was recognised that there was a philosophical contradiction between the world view of GR, which focused on the absolutes lying behind individual frames of reference and took an "eternal" viewpoint, and the world view of QT which focused on time and freedom to choose. The writings of Bergson and Whitehead show this philosophical problem very clearly. Unfortunately modern physics has got absorbed in the mathematical contradictions between GR and QT and we think that the philosophical contradictions are irrelevant. What you say, based on a direct vision, seems to point to a way of rethinking the relations between possibility, choice, individuality and the absolute/relative distinction.

Lyn   My first reaction is to ask, "What the heck have I got myself into?" My second reaction is to remind myself to stay calm and let the ideas slip naturally into place. Like you, I find it difficult to relate the two points of view although I am not convinced it is impossible. I agree that it's because you are used to seeing physics as abstract pieces of mathematics, while I am seeing the underlying layers of Being. Because of this that I wonder if a certain way of being was the trigger for the trance in the first place. I also wonder if that "certain way of being" has to do with the unification of the inner and outer perspectives, the subjective and the objective, which is what we are attempting here. I believe you call them the first person and the third person perspectives. Your physics history lesson was helpful; thank you. While highlighting the subtle differences between theories it has also enabled me to see the similarities between them. If my understanding is correct then much of the confusion concerning how QT and GR relate concerns how the "unity of choice" is related to GR or the classical, space-time realm. If this is the case then it seems to me that we have to move to a deeper understanding of what GR or the classical, space-time realm actually is, especially since you and I seem to be united concerning the meaning of QT. This is where my personal experience may be helpful.
Prior to the trance in 1996 I was undergoing a remarkable transition. Due to the act of writing of fiction I had begun to reconnect to some hidden parts of myself. The more this happened, the freer and happier I became. However it was not until I came across TE Lawrence that I began to fully understand what was happening to me. Because of him I realised that I had been imprisoned in a particular way of thinking. I regarded myself as shy and inadequate. Mild to severe anxiety was a way of life for me. However in a miraculous kind of way the writings of TE Lawrence, in particular the "Myself" chapter in the "Seven Pillars of Wisdom", enabled me to see myself reflected. What I saw in him was true for me too. Like him, and unbeknown to me up until that time, a part of my mind had turned against me, inhibiting me in all that I thought and did. Rightly or wrongly, I called the part of my mind which had turned against me my ego. The effect of this realisation was immediate. For the first time in my life I knew that I had largely allowed fear to rule me but I also knew that I alone had the power to deal with it. In the meantime, and regardless of his tragic history and strange behaviours, my love and respect for TE Lawrence was growing. Two weeks prior to the trance in 1996 I pledged my love and allegiance to Jesus who TE Lawrence strangely seemed to represent. It was as though we were a weird kind of love triangle made up of Jesus, TE Lawrence and me. I now believe that my unconditional love for TE Lawrence was the equivalent of my forgiveness of myself. It seemed to me that two thousand years later Jesus was still hard at work healing and raising the dead. In this way I believe I accessed a degree of wholeness or health that I had not experienced before.
Consequently when I regained consciousness after the trance it was imperative that I begin my research with the personal or subjective perspective in mind while trying to match it with the scientific or objective perspective. It also seemed to me that love had enabled me to access parts of myself, my psyche, that were normally hidden from view. One of those aspects was mind, which of course was no longer "turned against itself", at least to the extent it had been. I still have to work with fear though. Later, and because of this, I began to understand that mind can be split or not split, relative or not relative to unity or wholeness and that it too was connected to all the other things, including personality and spirit that I had seen and had become in trance. With all this in mind I began to research the science in the best way I could, finally joining the SMN in 1999 and talking to you. So when you say, "What you say, based on a direct vision, seems to point to a way of rethinking the relations between possibility, choice, individuality and the absolute/relative distinction," nothing could be closer to the truth. For me the word possibility has everything to do with the ultimate experience of unity during which there is no conscious awareness. It was only afterwards, during the regaining of consciousness, that I gained a memory of what I now call the "original source of pure possibility" and regard it as similar in nature to the unity which QT transitionally or provisionally represents. The word individuality I relate to the initial raising up of myself so that I could see the whole of my psyche and possibly that that of the evolving universe. Like I said, it is like being a story book character who has come to life with all the advantages and disadvantages of freewill which I relate to the "mysterious something" called Personality. This is not to say I actually saw Personality. What I gained was insight into the perceived separation of my mind from a higher mind, or at least, another part of my mind, and the mind of other characters. I have since wondered if the "mysterious something" acts in a variety of ways that are difficult to distinguish and describe. One way could be as a mechanism for individuation which results in a perceived separation from others, as understood from trance. Another could be that it acts as the "mirror of the mind" which contributes to our choice making ability by due to the fact we can "see" and therefore "think" about our own thoughts. We are conscious of being conscious. We experience ourselves. I would therefore provisionally define Personality as that element in our psyches which is unique, unifying and absolute. And yes, this might have something to do with a "missing link" in the physics picture, especially since I am proposing that P is unique for each and every one of us and is therefore an absolute, whereas its relationship to GR is less clear, possibly flexible. I came to this conclusion concerning individuality and thus Personality for the simple reason that we are all individuals as seen in trance.

Chris   Before we take this further, can you say a bit more about different aspects of the person? We must make allowance, of course, for the way that it's often very artificial to split up the person into separate parts. But it would be good to know more about what you mean by "mind" and how it relates to "personality" P.

Lyn   Well, it seemed to me in trance that all our minds were interconnected, except that we didn't know it, because of the presence of Personality. In trance mind can best be described as an underwater web of interconnectivity. Therefore it isn't an individual absolute, like P, but in association with P, it can be unified or non-unified, where unified refers to a mind that is open and unconditionally loving and non-unified relates to a mind which is psychologically burdened or blocked and therefore conditionally loving.

Chris   That's remarkable, because I am coming to think of GR also as a "web of interconnectivity". GR is really a formalism for taking the individual worlds of many observers, and weaving them together into a whole fabric of space and time that goes beyond the individual. You seem to be saying that mind is also like that - cosmic mind exists in relationships - so that perhaps GR is the physical aspect of cosmic mind. But carry on with "unification"!

Lyn   Yes, when in a state of non-unification, GR has a particular relationship to P. The history of a person's thought patterns or habits of mind are therefore relevant to the condition of the classical, space-time realm. In this way I believe karma and GR are related. However in a unified state GR has another relationship to P; it may be that when GR is in accord with P then spirit or unity or eternity or timelessness is accessed, as seemed to be the case with me. The key element in the process of unification, dare I say it, atonement, being unconditional love. In between P and GR there is QT which transitionally or provisionally unites the possibilities, that is, the possible thoughts, relative or unified, emanating from mind. P selects from these, which gives rise to the classical, space-time realm (this is the so-called collapse of the wave function). It is therefore my guess that P is the "mysterious something" which gives us a sense of individuality and co-creatively strives for mastery over energy matter that more than likely is in association with mind and spirit. Possibly, it is in this way that we become co-creators - constructive or destructive - with the universe itself. In effect therefore, the unification of P has to do with letting go, or the forgiveness of all habits or inhibitory ways of thinking, and being free and open to one's own thoughts and the freshness of reality. It is a state of purity or integrity. Because of this the "real" person underneath can shine through. The inner and the outer become One. It all boils down to being unafraid of who one really is, which is related to self-acceptance, which is related to forgiveness, which is related to love.

Chris   That brings our discussion right into the heart of life. And if it's right, it poses a huge challenge for science by saying that the unification of QT and GR is not merely a formal matter, not even a philosophical matter, but a personal spiritual matter.

Lyn   Precisely; the idea that this might be the case came as a shock to me at first; the switch in my thinking took me ages to integrate. But the more I thought about it the more sense it made. It was beautiful too, because it meant that beyond relativity was love, and that love was the basis for reality and it belonged to us all.

Lyn Andrews is a mother, philosopher and secondary science teacher. Chris Clarke is a mathematical physicist who is currently Chair of the Network Council.