The question that intrigued the great American physicist John Archibald Wheeler in the last decades of his life was: “Are life and mind irrelevant to the structure of the universe, or are they central to it?” He suggested that the nature of reality was revealed by the bizarre laws of quantum mechanics. According to the quantum theory, before the observation is made, a subatomic particle exists in several states, called a superposition (or, as Wheeler called it, a ‘smoky dragon’). Once the particle is observed, it instantaneously collapses into a single position.
Wheeler was a scientist-philosopher who introduced the concept of wormholes and coined the term “black hole”. He pioneered the theory of nuclear fission with Niels Bohr and introduced the S-matrix (the scattering matrix used in quantum mechanics). Wheeler devised a concept of quantum foam; a theory of “virtual particles” popping in and out of existence in space (similarly, he conceptualized foam as the foundation of the fabric of the universe).
Wheeler inspired many aspiring young scientists, including some of the greats of the 20th century. Among his doctoral students were Richard Feynman, a Nobel Prize laureate, with whom he coauthored the “Wheeler-Feynman absorber theory”; Hugh Everett, who proposed the many worlds interpretation; Kip Thorne, who predicted the existence of red supergiant stars with neutron-star cores; Jacob Bekenstein, who formulated black hole thermodynamics; Charles Misner, who discovered a mathematical spacetime called Misner space; Arthur Wightman, the originator of Wightman axioms; and Benjamin Schumacher, who invented the term “qubit” and is known for the “Schumacher compression”.
Wheeler suggested that reality is created by observers and that: “no phenomenon is a real phenomenon until it is an observed phenomenon.” He coined the term “Participatory Anthropic Principle” (PAP) from the Greek “anthropos”, or human. He went further to suggest that “we are participants in bringing into being not only the near and here, but the far away and long ago.”
This claim was considered rather outlandish until his thought experiment, known as the “delayed-choice experiment,” was tested in a laboratory in 1984. This experiment was a variation on the famous “double-slit experiment” in which the dual nature of light was exposed (depending on how the experiment was measured and observed, the light behaved like a particle (a photon) or like a wave).
The results of this experiment, as well as another conducted in 2007, proved what Wheeler had always suspected – observers’ consciousness is required to bring the universe into existence. This means that a pre-life Earth would have existed in an undetermined state, and a pre-life universe could only exist retroactively.
Now it appears that Wheeler was a major influence on New York Times bestselling author Deepak Chopra who joined forces with physicist Menas Kafatos to explore some of the most important and baffling questions about human existence. What happens when modern science reaches a crucial turning point that challenges everything we know about reality? In the coming era, the universe will be completely redefined as a "human universe" radically unlike the cold, empty void where human life and our planet is a mere mote of dust in the cosmos.
You Are the Universe literally means what it says--each of us is a co-creator of reality extending to the vastest reaches of time and space. This seemingly impossible proposition follows from the current state of science, where outside the public eye, some key mysteries cannot be solved, even though they are the very issues that define reality itself:
What Came Before the Big Bang?
Why Does the Universe Fit Together So Perfectly?
Where Did Time Come From?
What Is the Universe Made Of?
Is the Quantum World Linked to Everyday Life?
Do We Live in a Conscious Universe?
How Did Life First Begin?
“The shift into a new paradigm is happening,” the duo writes. “All of us live in a participatory universe. Once you decide that you want to participate fully with mind, body, and soul, the paradigm shift becomes personal. The reality you inhabit will be yours either to embrace or to change.”
What these two great minds offer is a bold, new understanding of who we are and how we can transform the world for the better while reaching our greatest potential.
The most distant galaxies billions of light years away, have no reality without you, because everything that makes any galaxy real— with the multitude of stars with their heat, emitted light, and masses, the positions of the distant galaxies in space and the velocity that carries each distant galaxy away at enormous speed—requires a human observer with a human nervous system. If no one existed to experience heat, light, mass, and so on, nothing could be real as we know it. If the qualities of Nature are a human construct arising from human experiences, the existence of the physical universe "out there" must be seriously questioned--and along with it, our participation in such a universe.
Physics has had decades to process the insight of Wheeler, the eminent American physicist, general relativist and quantum physicist, who originated the notion of a participatory universe, A cosmos in which all of us are embedded as co-creators, replacing the accepted universe "out there," which is separate from us. Wheeler used the image of children with their noses pressed against a bakery window to describe the view that kept the observer separate from the thing being observed. But in a fully participatory universe, the observer and the thing observed are one.
The brain isn't the seat of consciousness but acts more like a radio receiver, and perhaps emitter, translating conscious activity into physical correlates. (The radio receiver metaphor describes the feedback loop between mind and brain, which are actually not separate but part of the same complementary activity in consciousness.) To understand our true participation in the universe, we must learn much more about awareness and how it turns mind into matter and vice versa.
These are difficult truths for mainstream scientists to accept, and some would react to them with skepticism, disbelief, or anger. But following the other track of explanation, beginning with physical objects "out there," fails utterly to explain how we are conscious to begin with.
That's why in scattered pockets, some physicists are beginning to talk about a conscious universe, where consciousness is a given throughout Nature. In fact, the founders of quantum mechanics a century ago agreed more with this view, having understood that quantum mechanics implies observation and agency of mind.
In their upcoming book You Are the Universe, they call it the human universe, emphasizing where the whole construct comes from.
Image at top of page: Galaxy cluster MACS J0717, one of the most complex and distorted galaxy clusters known, is the site of a collision between four clusters. It is located about 5.4 billion light years away from Earth. X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/van Weeren et al.; Optical: NASA/STScI; Radio: NSF/NRAO/VLA