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Issue 234
January/February 2006
Earth, Wealth and Wellbeing

Feature Articles

REBIRTH OF THE SOUL
by
Les yeux clos ('Closed Eyes'), painting by Odilon Redon. From Odilon Redon 1840-1916, published by T

Les yeux clos ('Closed Eyes'), painting by Odilon Redon. From Odilon Redon 1840-1916, published by T

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REBIRTH OF THE SOUL

Quantum physics, the greatest intellectual triumph of the 20th century, has made the spiritual worldview completely believable.

PEOPLE TALK ABOUT their souls much more than they used to, and books extolling the care of the soul have become amazingly popular. I say amazingly because the 20th century did everything it could to crush the soul. The human soul could be the first item on anyone's endangered species list; for what is more soul-killing than our century's invention of concentration camps, world wars, mass refugees, genocide, and totalitarianism? What all these soul-killers have in common is that they deny the sacredness of human life. The soul, whatever it may be, is our speck of the sacred. Therefore the current fascination with the soul marks a swing away from horror and dehumanisation. People want to believe that the soul is real.

My hope is that our longing to know that we have a soul actually comes true. Despite all odds, the soul could be reborn. Of course if your soul is immortal, it doesn't need to be reborn. In the ancient Vedas of India it is said that there is a part of yourself that does not believe in death, and therefore this part cannot die. Such is the soul, and what cannot die also cannot be born. To prove the existence of the soul, we would have to prove a double-edged idea, that inside you is a speck of spirit that was never born and can never die. It is this proof that I am talking about when I refer to the 'rebirth' of the soul.

The first birth of the soul, its first appearance in human awareness, was religious. In the religious view, our souls came from God and return to God after death. Although some religions do not adhere to this simple outlook, most faiths ask us to believe that we are more than this mortal flesh and blood. If you are religious, you harbour a profound conviction that your soul connects you to God, and the struggle of the soul, whether it is cast down and troubled or joyous and raised in triumph, is the life of spirit, East and West. And it is clear that the soul is beyond the world and more valuable than everything we encounter from birth to death. As the Book of Matthew declares, "For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"

Yet religion did not manage to make the soul stick. If it had, we would never have heard the terrible words 'Auschwitz', 'H-bomb', 'ethnic cleansing', 'terrorism', and all those other signifiers of violence that depend on a mass ignorance of the soul.

The second birth of the soul will make it stick. I say this with some confidence because for almost a hundred years we have been staring directly at the proof of the soul. It has been as plain as love, truth, and beauty - to name other invisible things that we are certain of - yet proof of the soul comes from a strange place, a quarter that has no religion in it. Quantum physics, the greatest intellectual triumph of the 20th century, has made the spiritual worldview completely believable.

Einstein and his brilliant cohorts saw beyond the horizon of time and space; they went into the invisible domain where the soul must also exist. In going there, however, they did not pack religious words in their suitcases, and therefore references to God and the soul were sidelined in favour of quarks, neutrinos, relativity, and worm-holes. These words mean little to ordinary people, even to this day, and the fact that they refer to the soul's territory comes as a revelation. Only a handful of physicists have realised (as Einstein himself did) that a theory of the cosmos must inevitably be a theory of how God's mind works. Both aim at the ultimate source of reality.

To make the soul stick, the obscurity of quantum theory has to become clear and simple enough that people will say, "Ah, so that's what my soul is." Religion did not accomplish this, because the best that most people can say, after a couple of millennia of dogma, is "Maybe I have a soul. Who knows?" This isn't good enough to inspire a radical change in human nature from violence to peace, from alienation to love. As the devastatingly honest French writer Simone Weil has said, "In what concerns divine things, belief is not appropriate. Only certainty will do. Anything less than certainty is unworthy of God."

The same is true of the soul.

THE SOUL IS THAT part of your consciousness that exists beyond both body and mind. Time and space are the glass through which we view the soul. Causation is the mechanics through which the soul acts in the world. Surprisingly, the soul behaves very much like the subatomic world that physicists are exploring today. Let us look at some startling similarities.

1. In the quantum world there are no material things, only possibility waves. In other words, a quantum event can potentially occur in two places at the same time. The same is true of your consciousness: you can be conversing with me and worrying about your mother's health at the same time.

2. In the quantum world two subatomic particles, even though they may be at separate ends of the universe, can be in communication with each other, correlating their activities even though they don't exchange signals. This is called non-local acausal relationship. Your consciousness operates in a similar way. When you start to think, you activate different parts of your brain that in microscopic terms are the equivalent of millions of miles apart. All these different parts are in communication with each other, and their activities are correlated, even though there are no electrical or other signals being exchanged between them. Consciousness orchestrates quantum mechanical non-local, acausal interrelatedness through mere intention.

3. In the quantum realm there is a phenomenon known as the quantum leap. A particle can move from one location to another without travelling through the space in between. Similarly your consciousness can in one moment be in New York and in the next moment in New Delhi without having to go through Europe in between.

4. The Heisenberg uncertainty principle operates in the quantum world. You can't know the position and momentum of a particle at the same time. Similarly your consciousness can be focused on the content of thought or the stream of consciousness but not both at the same time.

5. Before a subatomic particle appears from the infinite void, it exists as a possibility, a potential in that infinite void. So, too, your thoughts, before you have them, exist only as possibility. They reside in your soul, which like the quantum void has no location in space and time.

What we are learning from these insights is that even though your soul is without dimension and beyond space and time, it is real, just as real as the quantum reality that gives birth to the whole material universe. Your soul gives birth to your mind and body. In the Bhagavadgita, Lord Krishna says of the soul, "Water cannot wet it, wind cannot dry it, fire cannot burn it, weapons cannot shatter it, because it is ancient, unborn, and never dies." In other words, the real you, or your soul, is the potential that creates all your reality, including your physical body and mind. Your wholeness lies in the invisible but pregnant possibilities that your life unfolds. One life can express only a tiny fraction of the richness that your soul keeps in its treasure trove of infinity.

THESE FIVE POINTS could be expanded upon for ever, because quantum theory is incredibly ambitious. It aims at nothing less than TOE, the physicist's shorthand for a 'Theory of Everything'. My concern is just the soul, which plays little part in physics and yet - I think we would all agree - certainly cannot be left out of a theory of everything.

In summary, the five points I just mentioned describe the kind of thing your soul is:

With all the time in the world at my disposal, I could connect these spiritual assertions to quite firm facts about the quantum world, facts that science uses to make particle accelerators or even the transistors in your bedside clock. In this limited space, however, we can only highlight the most important conclusion, which is this: At every moment, your soul is turning virtual reality - the invisible realm beyond time and space - into your slice of material reality. This is the entire basis of life, and without it nothing could exist. The quantum pioneers took an astounding leap when they said that everything visible has roots in the invisible, that all things in time spring from the timeless, and that all certainties are in fact mysteries when you really come down to it. If religion had proved the same facts about us, we would know our souls as surely as Einstein knew that the speed of light was an absolute number, beyond which nothing in the cosmos can reach.

Like the universe, you are both relative and absolute. The relative part is made up of everything you think, do, desire, will, and perform. The absolute part is the potential to do all those things. In a coma you lose the ability to connect relative and absolute, despite the fact that nothing material about you changes all that much. Going to sleep at night, you erase your personality, your memories, your likes and dislikes; yet when you wake up the next morning - or if you are in a coma and you regain consciousness - you are there, reborn in an instant, complete with your entire sense of identity. The fact that you were not erased during the night is because part of you rests in your soul, untouched by space-time events.

IN THE 21ST century, more and more people will realise that the soul is a switching station between space-time and the virtual realm: between Earth and Heaven, as religious seers might put it.

It is easy to accept that a mountain can be broken down into tiny atoms, and it is not much harder to accept that atoms are made of vibrating energy. But quantum physics taught us that energy can be broken down into - nothing. A cubic centimetre of empty space, the pure void of cold blackness, contains more virtual energy than a blazing star. If you can grasp this abrupt leap, from something to nothing, from solid to intangible, from energy to potential, from action to possibility, you have grasped your soul. The cosmos is a vast, churning machine for turning one level of reality into another, and so are you. The most creative act anyone can perform, far in excess of anything achieved by Leonardo da Vinci, is the act of creating reality. And this is how it is done from the soul level:

All the great spiritual masters wanted us to see ourselves in this light, as the universal self coming into the world to experience the human self. You are the whole point of the cosmic dance. The entire universe has conspired to bring about this very second in your existence. Why should you believe that you are a paltry creature who is born and dies, when every atom since the Big Bang testifies to your real status? The human self should rejoice every day that it has a soul: not because the soul gets you to heaven but because you are already there - and here at the same time. This quantum paradox is made beautiful in our own lives, where ecstasy is possible in the midst of so much fog and confusion.

The soul isn't a luxury but a necessity. A necessity would imply that we already know our souls, and yet we don't. Let me show what can bring this necessity to life. In a room there is a large grandfather clock, and you are reading a book in that room. You notice that you are so absorbed in your book that you didn't hear the ticking of the clock. Certainly the sound was there. Vibrations were set up in the air, these vibrations reached the ear, and the ear sent the appropriate signals to the brain. Yet even with this mechanics set in place, you did not hear the clock. The reason is that your mind was not engaged. The physical world, with all its activity, is not enough to register in your consciousness. It is not present without the mind, even when every step all the way to the brain is present.

The mind itself, however, is still not enough. Your mind can be distracted as well, its powers wax and wane, and in sleep mind doesn't even operate. It takes the soul to awaken the mind and give it direction. When the soul sends its signals to you, there is a cascade of consciousness. This is like a waterfall made of light. At the top is the soul, which shines by itself and comprehends all that you are. Its intention is communicated down to the mind, the mind awakens the brain, through which it interprets the signals from the ear, and the ear receives the raw data of the physical world, which is just meaningless vibration. The same is true of all five senses. This cascade tells us how reality is created by the soul. The soul is the maker of reality, subjective and objective. In quantum terms we would say that the invisible subatomic void vibrates, sending energy waves that become organised into particles, the particles into matter, matter into the complex structures of the brain; and finally these structures close the circle by registering signals from the five senses as reality. The two processes are exactly the same. Thus you are a peculiar form of your soul, as this world is a peculiar form of the all-embracing quantum realm.

I foresee that once enough people get over their nagging doubts about whether human life is sacred, they will leap to the conclusion that the only sane way to live is from the level of the soul. What would that mean? It would mean that when you relate to any other person, your assumption is, "You and I co-create this world, we both intend the best for it, our substance is the same, and so is our status in God's eyes." This isn't wishful thinking but pure, stark, quantum truth.

Someone of deep religious conviction may jump in at this point and argue that I have left out love; indeed, that I have left out God. I did both on purpose, because once you realise how quickly love turns to hate, once you regard the bloody wars fought over the name of God, your allegiance shifts. You feel that the old religious truths are not enough to bind a new world. That doesn't mean discarding them, since love and God are precious. But they need to be reborn, just as the soul does. Love should be the impulse of the soul, received from the universe and given to others universally. God should be the One and All, a reality that cannot be divided into fractious faiths.

Quantum theory is not a place to turn to for love. But it tells us that there is an unknown realm that is our source, and it hints that this unknown place is infinite, intelligent, capable of organising the entire universe, full of possibilities without end. The unknown is God in one inescapable regard: it is the only place where you can truly know the fate of your soul. In the 21st century, everyday events will take care of themselves, and human nature will roll along a course that is well charted by philosophy and psychology. Only the unknown can change this course, and the unknown is inside ourselves. Revere this place, and when you can embrace it fully, the supreme miracle - a world that can finally live in peace and love - must occur. o

Deepak Chopra is author of Grow Younger, Live Longer.

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