An Article Series Exploring the Quantum Science Behind the Mind-body Connection
This article series delves into the question of whether our thoughts can create our reality. We are taking a look at this through exploring the world of quantum biology — the intersection of quantum physics and biology.
While both quantum physics and biology have been around for a while, the marriage of the two is a relatively new concept, one that presents a lot of hope for helping us understand ourselves better.
The book “Life on the Edge: The Coming Age of Quantum Biology” by scientists Johnjoe McFadden and Jim Al-Khalili is a wonderful introduction to this field. This article series follows the book, chapter by chapter, and applies its findings to the topic of how the quantum world could be responsible for our thoughts turning into things.
WHERE DOES THE QUANTUM WORLD MEET BIOLOGY?
The first article in this series revealed how, at the subatomic level, everything in the world is made up of energy. Science shows that interactions between the smallest observable particles such as electrons and photons are governed by the laws of quantum mechanics.
Yet somehow, scientists have always struggled with the idea that biological phenomena are also subject to the “weird” rules of quantum mechanics such as non-locality or entanglement. The concept of a particle exhibiting the possibility of being in two places at once or of everything in the universe as being forever interconnected (entangled) still seems to baffle us when it comes to applying it to living organisms. Let’s explore why that is.
To uncover how the unpredictable quantum world bleeds into the predictable and more linear classical world, authors McFadden and Jim Al-Khalili invite us to unpack the definition of life.
According to science, what is life? What is the blurring line between organic and non-organic matter?
We know that all living matter is made up of the exact same atoms that are found in a comet shooting across the night sky or a lock lying on the beach.
We are, as Carl Sagan reminds us, literally made of stardust.
So how come we, as humans, have the unique capacity to know that we exist? If at the subatomic level we are made of the same stuff, why is there such a difference between us and a rock, for example? What is that “animates” a living cell?
THE DEBATE ABOUT THE SUSTAINING FORCE OF LIFE
In the second chapter of their book, McFadden and Al-Khalili briefly touch on a few philosophies and theories about the definition of life.
The debate about whether there is a deeper operating force in life is indeed a very profound one that has permeated all fields of philosophy, religion, and science since the beginning of human history. While this book doesn’t aim to answer this question directly, it helps us see how it has applied to the fields of science.
“Every animal presents itself as a sum of vital entities, every one of which manifests all the characteristics of life.” — Rudolf Virchow
Aristotle and other Greek philosophers were said to subscribe to the concept of “vitalism.” According to this principle, living creatures are filled with a “vital” force that is absent from nonliving creatures. This is essentially what is often referred to as a soul.
Millennia later, in the 19th century, scientists discovered that certain chemicals from living cells were identical to those synthesized in the laboratory. The “biochemical” view of life then became the prevalent view held by many. It considered life as an elaborate form of thermodynamics.
Biochemists believed that cells were simply clusters of biochemicals operated by a chemistry that was based on a seemingly random molecular motion.
Molecular collisions release energy that is harvested to sustain, maintain, and replicate life.
But what is behind these “random” molecular collisions? And how can orderly processes and functions of the body — such as the accuracy with which DNA is replicated — arise from such disorder?
GENETICS AS A GATEWAY INTO THE QUANTUM WORLD
“The color of your eyes, the shape of your nose, aspects of your character, your level of intelligence and even your propensity to disease have in fact all been determined by precisely forty-six highly ordered supermolecules: the DNA chromosomes you inherited from your parents.” — Jim Al-Khalili and Johnjoe McFadden
With the discovery of genetics, scientists started questioning how the laws of heredity could be accounted for by the laws of classical physics. The classical world that describes the behavior of matter at the macro level is all about statistical averages. It is only reliable when we describe the behavior of objects composed of a large numbers of particles.
Erwin Schrödinger, one of the pioneers of quantum mechanics , suggested that when we look at things composed of a small number of particles — such as genes — we must look elsewhere.
McFadden and Al-Khalili describe what may have led Schrödinger to think along these lines:
“If heredity were based on classical statistical laws, then it should generate errors (deviations from the laws) at a level of one in a thousand. Yet it was known that genes could be faithfully transmitted with mutations rates of less than one in one billion.”
So the question now became this: Can life with its orderly behavior, such as the laws of heredity by which genes are replicated, be accounted for purely by statistical laws?
Schrödinger’s answer was no. Something much more complex and orderly must play a part in the intelligence of organic matter — the rules of quantum mechanics.
CLUMPS OF MATTER TURNING INTO LIVING STUFF
Now it is important to tie all of this back to our original question. Where in the schema of science could we uncover more about thoughts turning into things?
Let’s look at how atoms bond together to form molecules — whether organic or non-organic. This happens when electrons collide. How do electrons collide? In a simplified sense, either by emitting or absorbing a lump, or a quantum, of electromagnetic energy (a photon).
Now the quantum weirdness comes in again. As Erwin Schrödinger initially showed and the double-slit experiment has confirmed, electrons can behave as both a wave and a particle. Rather than solid matter, they are more like waves of possibility that are spread throughout an atom.
WAVES OF POSSIBILITY INTERACTING WITH OUR BRAINS
So if electrons are not matter, but waves of possibility, what then influences which possibility becomes reality?
This question could lead us down many rabbit holes. I personally, think neuroscience is the next logical stop for this further exploration. Remember, regardless of what field of science we look at, WE are still the ones doing the looking. We are the observes of reality that collapse possibilities into probabilities which then appear to us as *our* subjective reality.
Our brain plays a large role in how we perceive things. Our perception is always limited by our knowledge and our experience. We simply don’t know what we don’t know. The more we understand the inner workings of perception, the closer we come to bypassing our own limitations.
From the heart, to the brain, to our nervous system — our bodies are teeming fields of electrical impulses.
If thoughts and feelings are also electrical impulses — and if all electrons indeed collide to form particles — how do the collisions of the energies of our thoughts affect everything else around us? Why would our bodies be excluded from quantum entanglement?
Science should keep delving into these questions by further studying electrical impulses within the brain as it relates to our perception, memory, and our thoughts and feelings. It is my theory that the world of electromagnetism (thoughts, feelings, memories) and our physical body closely collide at or even further beneath the level of cellular respiration.
Scientists could look deeper into the electrical action potential that a nerve impulse carries from a neuron to the axon terminal to uncover how electromagnetic forces affect physical processes. We could also explore the magnetic nature of memories to better understand why it feels so hard to break habits and old conditioning patterns that no longer serve us.
OBSERVING THE SUSTAINING FORCE OF LIFE
Life as it appears can now be described as being somewhere on the edge between the quantum and the classical worlds. The debate about the sustaining force of life, is in a sense irrelevant.
Whether we are referring to it as a “vital” force, random biochemical collisions of molecules, or the quantum laws of electrons dancing with the forces of nature, we are still describing the same phenomenon of consciousness. We are simply looking at it from different angles.
We could keep zooming in to smaller levels of subatomic particles and forces onto infinity. Yet we must not forget the fact that WE are still the ones looking. We are aware that we are aware. And we are simply adding labels to describe something which is already doing the describing.
LIVING FIELDS OF QUANTA OBSERVING REALITY INTO EXISTENCE?
If, as quantum mechanics states, everything is interconnected (entangled) and electrons are simply a wave of potential until measured/observed, and if we are living breathing fields of quanta, then the possibility of our thoughts affecting matter becomes that much more tangible.
At the quantum level, particles can exist in multiple states at once. Everything in the universe is forever connected. Particles can affect each other instantaneously, even without traversing the fields of time and space.
Our thoughts, feelings, and emotions all give off a different frequency — and so in that sense have certain “energy” levels. If one form of energy can affect another, and if everything in the universe is entangled — why would our “inner” world (thoughts, feelings, emotions) not have an effect on our outer world (our physical health, our actions)?
In the next series, we will cover findings from Chapter 3 of “Life on The Edge,” which delve deeper into the world of electrons as it relates to human cells. This is where we learn more about how quantum tunneling affects the movement of particles within our cells — and how this could also help us better understand the effect of our emotions on our health: