Quantum Tantra - Nick Herbert, Physicist/Digerati
Like the Newtonian physics it replaced, quantum physics grows out of a worldview that sees nature as separate from man, as a dangerous Other to be tamed and controlled by scientists who have decoded her (mostly mathematical) rules. Despite lip service payed to "quantum wholeness" most physicists still view the world as Us versus It, as conscious mind confronting mindless particles. Though their methods differ radically from Newton's, modern physicists regard quantum mechanics as just that, a new type of mechanics--subtle and strange, to be sure--but at base as soulless and impersonal as Newton's gravity-driven celestial machine.
Despite statements in some quantum texts that Observer and System form an inseparable whole, I know of no physicist that has ever merged with his apparatus: the relationship of the modern scientist to his quantum System is every bit as aloof as that of a pre-quantum Victorian scientist to his pendulum clocks and meter sticks. Despite their nominal belief in the "undivided wholeness" of the quantum world (described especially well by David Bohm), physicists, in the name of "scientific objectivity" hold themselves apart from the nature they are examining and practice dispassionate "observation" rather than merging. Such aloof inquiry results, predictably, in a picture of nature that, despite its quantum strangeness, is essentially dead and lifeless.
Can it be that quantum mechanics has limited itself unnecessarily by thoughtlessly maintaining old mechanistic and separatist notions inherited from its Newtonian past? Feminist critics of science such as Evelyn Fox Keller and Sandra Harding see physics as blinded by "patriarchal biases" and look toward a more clear-sighted "successor science". Can we find a radically new way to approach science that is more in tune with the way the world really is, the way quantum theory hints it might actually be?
"Quantum Tantra" attempts to blaze a new pathway for science by incorporating previously discarded and marginal ways of thinking into a new synthesis. Two non-mechanistic, non-separatist traditions are of particular interest for this purpose: Western alchemy and Eastern tantra. Alchemy is based on the notion of a partially psychic chemistry in which the mind of the alchemist merges with the material cooking in his alembic. Tantra teaches that the universe is not mere motion of dead matter but the sexual play of two divine beings and seeks techniques to directly participate in that holy play. The goal of "QuantumTantra:" is to initiate an entirely new direction of research by approaching quantum theory and its paradoxes as if they were incomplete fragments of a "successor science" based on tantric and alchemical principles.
For instance, what kind of science would result if we regarded the world not as a collection of dead objects but, in the manner of certain Sufi mystics (practitioners of 'ilm al-qulub or "science of hearts"), as the very body of the Beloved? What could be learned about nature and ourselves if, instead of treating her as an object to be passively observed, we begin looking for ways to "woo her", to become actively involved in natural processes? And suppose our attempts at wooing and deeper involvement were guided, not by vague myths of pre-scientific peoples, but by powerful insights, bold hunches and inspired guesses gleaned from three centuries of math-enlightened physics? What is the deepest kind of union with nature that twentieth-century minds can envision? What is the deepest kind of union we can actually achieve?
Western religion sees the world as a job completed by a lone omnipotent being (traditionally male) long ago in the past, an event in which humans played no part. Practitioners of tantra, on the other hand, consider the world to be created anew each moment, as the love play of two divine beings, Shiva and Shakti, and believe that humans can participate to some extent in that union, in partnership with another being, performing a kind of "cosmic physics" in a soft laboratory of entangled muscle and mind. Which is the better world-myth? Is the universe more like an ancient one-man job or present-moment two-part joy?
Along with much else of deep human concern, science has tamed and sanitized sex as a mere psychobiological process, like breathing or digestion. Sex in the West has been subject to glaring scrutiny, in hundreds of books, thousands of magazine articles and millions of pornographic images, but in spite of massive scientific and media exposure, sex continues to fascinate us with its primitive mystery. Each of us, no matter how sophisticated, senses that he or she could still be sexually surprised.
Mystics of many persuasions, using ecstatic introspection as tool have attempted to examine this world's deep reality from inside and claim, like quantum physicists, that truth at that level strains human powers of description. Most mystics are solitary, but, alongside these one-person paths, a more social way of exploring the inner world in couples and small groups has also existed, a yoga-for-two calling itself "tantra" from the Sanskrit word for "weaving".
Tantra begins with the surprising claim that sex is not only holy, but that it is in some sense a direct participation in the creation of the world, an event which Western science and religion assert to have happened in the far distant past. Tantrikas also claim that the universe results from the playful union of two divine beings and that this divine union can be directly experienced in the sexual act. Through there are many tantras (tantric scriptures) they all agree that the truth of these statements is not to be taken on faith but must be directly experienced. If tantra can be regarded as a science, it is the kind of science that values experiment more highly than words.
Tantric adepts (tantrikas) use sex neither for recreation nor procreation but for exploration of deep reality, as a kind of hands-on, wide-eyed descent into Being. In the past these intuition-inspired sexual explorations of deep inner nature were carried out within cultures that knew almost nothing about the deep structure of matter as seen from without. Likewise our math-guided understanding of outer nature has been achieved in a vacuum of spiritual knowledge. "Quantum Tantra" will for the first time weave these two methods of probing reality together by merging the insights of tantrikas with the insights of physicists. In addition "Quantum Tantra" will expore the possibility of a new style of scientific inquiry based on the strengths of both tantra and physics.
"Quantum Tantra" will explore the possibility of a sacred sexuality enriched by the metaphors of modern physics as well as the possibility of a new tantra-inspired style of doing physics. The central mystery of physics is how possibilities become actual; the central mystery of tantra is deciding what to do next.
Quantum tantrikas are particularly inspired by a wholly quantum form of connection called "phase entanglement''--the type of connection responsible for the voodoo-like direct influence proved by John Bell to underlie the world's everywhere local phenomena. Three "physics icons" in the quantum tantra book of natural wonders include: a single quantum system entangled in its own mirror image (Drexhage experiment); Bell's much-studied quantum twosome (EPR experiment); and a recently concocted quantum threesome (GHZ experiment) each of which illustrates important features of the peculiar quantum style of connection.
These three examples of matter quantum-entangling with other matter prepare us to think about the more unconventional and exciting possibility of human minds quantum-entangling with matter in new forms of union. These new styles of directly experiencing nature will involve our quantum parts (oscillating possibilities) rather than our computer-like Newtonian parts (actual particles), will involve giving up control, yielding to matter's way, relaxing, being moved by, being penetrated by and taking in nature, letting "nature measure us" rather than "us measuring her", will involve scientists taking turns in the "male" and "female" roles rather than staying stuck in the single pose of "objective observer" (which we can always return to with fresh insights)
Most likely these new forms of entanglement with matter will be practiced first not by conventional scientists but by ordinary people with less old-fashioned conceptual baggage to overcome. Stuck-in-the-past scientists may be the last to enjoy the benefits of this quantum-inspired, physics-assisted deep union with nature. Quantum tantra, with unique labs in every household, may be a true people's science, its wisdom passed on privately mouth-to-mouth.
For a taste/tease of Quantum Tantra, Nick Herbert recommends "The Spell of the Sensuous"
by David Abram, Pantheon Books (1996)
IoArt: Novum Organum - The New Instrument