Quantum mysticism, sometimes referred pejoratively to as quantum quackery or quantum woo,[1] is a set of metaphysical beliefs and associated practices that seek to relate consciousness, intelligence, spirituality, or mystical worldviews to the ideas of quantum mechanics and its interpretations.[2][3][4][5][6][7] Quantum mysticism is considered pseudoscience and quackery by quantum mechanics experts.[8][9][10][11][12]

Before the 1970s the term was usually used in reference to the von Neumann–Wigner interpretation, but was later more closely associated with the purportedly pseudoscientific views espoused by New Age thinkers such as Fritjof Capra and other members of the Fundamental Fysiks Group, who were influential in popularizing the modern form of quantum mysticism.[10]


Many early quantum physicists held some interest in traditionally Eastern metaphysics. Physicists Werner Heisenberg and Erwin Schrödinger, two of the main pioneers of quantum mechanics in the 1920s, were interested in Eastern mysticism, but are not known to have directly associated one with the other. In fact, both endorsed the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics.

Olav Hammer said that "Schrödinger’s studies of Hindu mysticism never compelled him to pursue the same course as quantum metaphysicists such as David Bohm or Fritjof Capra." Schrödinger biographer Walter J. Moore said that Schrödinger's two interests of quantum physics and Hindu mysticism were "strangely dissociated".[11]

In his 1961 paper "Remarks on the mind–body question", Eugene Wigner suggested that a conscious observer played a fundamental role in quantum mechanics,[12][13]: 93  a concept which is part of the von Neumann–Wigner interpretation. While his paper served as inspiration for later mystical works by others,[12] Wigner's ideas were primarily philosophical and were not considered overtly pseudoscientific like the mysticism that followed.[14] By the late 1970s, Wigner had shifted his position and rejected the role of consciousness in quantum mechanics.[15] Harvard historian Juan Miguel Marin suggests that "consciousness [was] introduced hypothetically at the birth of quantum physics, [and] the term 'mystical' was also used by its founders, to argue in favor of and against such an introduction."[16]

Mysticism was argued against by Albert Einstein. Einstein's theories have often been falsely believed to support mystical interpretations of quantum theory. Einstein said, with regard to quantum mysticism, "No physicist believes that. Otherwise he wouldn't be a physicist."[16] He debates several arguments about the approval of mysticism, even suggesting Bohr and Pauli to be in support of and to hold a positive belief in mysticism which he believes to be false.

Niels Bohr denied quantum mysticism and had rejected the hypothesis that quantum theory requires a conscious observer as early as 1927,[16] despite having been "sympathetic towards the hypothesis that understanding consciousness might require an extension of quantum theory to accommodate laws other than those of physics".[16]

In New Age thought

In the early 1970s New Age culture began to incorporate ideas from quantum physics, beginning with books by Arthur Koestler, Lawrence LeShan and others which suggested that purported parapsychological phenomena could be explained by quantum mechanics.[13]: 32 

In this decade, the Fundamental Fysiks Group emerged. This group of physicists embraced quantum mysticism, parapsychology, Transcendental Meditation, and various New Age and Eastern mystical practices.[17]

Inspired in part by Wigner's exploration of the von Neumann–Wigner interpretation,[12] Fritjof Capra, a member of the Fundamental Fysiks Group,[17] wrote The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels Between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism (1975),[18] which espoused New Age quantum physics; the book was popular among the non-scientific public.[13]: 32  In 1979, Gary Zukav,[19] a non-scientist and "the most successful of Capra's followers", published The Dancing Wu Li Masters.[13]: 32  The Fundamental Fysiks Group and Capra's book are said to be major influences for the rise of quantum mysticism as a pseudoscientific interpretation of quantum mechanics.[17]

Modern usage and examples

In contrast to the mysticism of the early 20th century, today quantum mysticism typically refers to New Age beliefs that combine ancient mysticism with the language of quantum mechanics.[20] Called a pseudoscience and a "hijacking" of quantum physics, it draws upon "coincidental similarities of language rather than genuine connections" to quantum mechanics.[9] Physicist Murray Gell-Mann coined the phrase "quantum flapdoodle" to refer to the misuse and misapplication of quantum physics to other topics.[21]

An example of such use is New Age guru Deepak Chopra's "quantum theory" that aging is caused by the mind, expounded in his books Quantum Healing (1989) and Ageless Body, Timeless Mind (1993).[21] In 1998, Chopra was awarded the parody Ig Nobel Prize in the physics category for "his unique interpretation of quantum physics as it applies to life, liberty, and the pursuit of economic happiness".[22] In 2012, Stuart Hameroff and Chopra proposed that the "quantum soul" could exist "apart from the body" and "in space-time geometry, outside the brain, distributed nonlocally".[23]

The 2004 film What the Bleep Do We Know!? dealt with a range of New Age ideas in relation to physics. It was produced by the Ramtha School of Enlightenment, founded by J.Z. Knight, a channeler who said that her teachings were based on a discourse with a 35,000-year-old disembodied entity named Ramtha.[24] Featuring Fundamental Fysiks Group member Fred Alan Wolf,[17] the film misused some aspects of quantum mechanics—including the Heisenberg uncertainty principle and the observer effect—as well as biology and medicine.[25] Numerous critics dismissed the film for its use of pseudoscience.[26][27]

See also


  1. ^ Moriarty, Philip (2018-06-12). "The wow and the woo". Physics World. Archived from the original on 2022-02-21. Retrieved 2022-02-21. If, like me, you were expecting Quantum Sense and Nonsense to be a take on quantum woo that echoes the style and approach of Fashionable Nonsense, then you may be slightly disappointed with Bricmont's new book.
  2. ^ Athearn, D. (1994). Scientific Nihilism: On the Loss and Recovery of Physical Explanation (S U N Y Series in Philosophy). Albany, New York: State University Of New York Press.
  3. ^ Edis, T. (2005). Science and Nonbelief. New York: Greenwood Press.
  4. ^ Stenger, Victor (2003), Has Science Found God? The Latest Results in the Search for Purpose in the Universe, Prometheus Books, p. 373, ISBN 978-1-59102-018-9, archived from the original on October 19, 2014
  5. ^ Edis, T. (2002). The Ghost in the Universe: God in Light of Modern Science. Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books.
  6. ^ Crease, R. P. (1993). The Play of Nature (Indiana Series in the Philosophy of Technology). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
  7. ^ Seager, W. (1999). Theories of Consciousness: An Introduction (Philosophical Issues in Science). New York: Routledge.
  8. ^ Grim, Patrick (1982). Philosophy of Science and the Occult. SUNY Press. p. 87. ISBN 9781438404981. Archived from the original on 4 July 2023. Retrieved 22 July 2014.
  9. ^ a b Collins, Tim (2 March 2010). Behind the Lost Symbol. Penguin Group US. p. 87. ISBN 9781101197615. Archived from the original on 4 July 2023. Retrieved 22 July 2014.
  10. ^ a b Ascari, Maurizio (1 March 2009). "From Spiritualism to Syncretism: Twentieth-Century Pseudo-Science and the Quest for Wholeness". Interdisciplinary Science Reviews. 34 (1): 9–21. Bibcode:2009ISRv...34....9A. doi:10.1179/174327909X421425. ISSN 0308-0188. S2CID 144655823.
  11. ^ a b Hammer, Olav (1 September 2003). Claiming Knowledge: Strategies of Epistemology from Theosophy to the New Age. BRILL. p. 279. ISBN 90-04-13638-X. Archived from the original on 4 July 2023. Retrieved 11 January 2020.
  12. ^ a b c d Zyga, Lisa (8 June 2009). "Quantum Mysticism: Gone but Not Forgotten". Phys.org. Archived from the original on 30 April 2015. Retrieved 19 November 2012.
  13. ^ a b c d Leane, Elizabeth (2007). Reading Popular Physics: Disciplinary Skirmishes and Textual Strategies. Ashgate Publishing, Limited. ISBN 9780754658504. Archived from the original on 2023-07-04. Retrieved 2015-03-21.
  14. ^ Schweber, Silvan (September 2011). "How the Hippies Saved Physics: Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum Revival". Physics Today. 64 (9): 59–60. Bibcode:2011PhT....64i..59S. doi:10.1063/PT.3.1261.
  15. ^ Michael Esfeld, (1999), Essay Review: Wigner’s View of Physical Reality Archived 2014-02-01 at the Wayback Machine, published in Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, 30B, pp. 145–154, Elsevier Science Ltd.
  16. ^ a b c d Marin, Juan Miguel (2009-07-01). "'Mysticism' in quantum mechanics: the forgotten controversy". European Journal of Physics. 30 (4): 807–822. Bibcode:2009EJPh...30..807M. doi:10.1088/0143-0807/30/4/014. ISSN 0143-0807. S2CID 122757714.
  17. ^ a b c d Kaiser, David (2011). How the Hippies Saved Physics: Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum Revival. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-0393082302.
  18. ^ Capra, Fritjof (1975). The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels Between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism. Boston, Massachusetts: Shambhala Publications.
  19. ^ Zukav, Gary (1979). The Dancing Wu Li Masters. New York: William Morrow And Company, Inc.
  20. ^ Stenger, Victor J. (January 1997). "Quantum Quackery". Skeptical Inquirer. Vol. 21, no. 1.
  21. ^ a b Stenger, Victor J. (2009). Quantum Gods: Creation, Chaos and the Search for Cosmic Consciousness. Prometheus Books. p. 8. ISBN 9781615920587. Archived from the original on 2023-07-04. Retrieved 2015-03-21.
  22. ^ "The 1998 Ig Nobel Prize Winners". Archived from the original on 2009-08-30. Retrieved 2007-06-21.
  23. ^ Hameroff, Stuart R.; Chopra, Deepak (2012). "The "quantum soul": a scientific hypothesis". In Moreira-Almeida, Alexander; Santos, Franklin Santana (eds.). Exploring Frontiers of the Mind-Brain Relationship. New York: Springer. pp. 79–93. doi:10.1007/978-1-4614-0647-1_5. ISBN 978-1-4614-0647-1. When the blood stops flowing, energy and oxygen depleted and microtubules inactivated or destroyed (e.g., near death experience (NDE)/out-of-body experience (OBE), death), it is conceivable that the quantum information which constitutes consciousness could shift to deeper planes and continue to exist purely in space-time geometry, outside the brain, distributed nonlocally. Movement of consciousness to deeper planes could account for NDEs/OBEs, as well as, conceivably, a soul apart from the body.
  24. ^ Gorenfeld, John (16 September 2004). ""Bleep" of faith". Salon. Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 22 March 2015.
  25. ^ Hobbs, Bernie (30 June 2005). "What the bleep are they on about?". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Archived from the original on 3 March 2021. Retrieved 12 August 2014.
  26. ^ Wilson, Elizabeth (2005-01-13). "What the Bleep Do We Know?!". American Chemical Society. Archived from the original on 2007-12-21. Retrieved 2007-12-19.
  27. ^ "Britain's best scientific brains give us their verdicts on a film about quantum physics". The Guardian. 16 May 2005. Archived from the original on 22 August 2014. Retrieved 12 August 2014.

Further reading

Publications relating to quantum mysticism
Criticism of quantum mysticism