The Science and Theology of Information: Proceedings of the Third European Conference on Science and Theology, Geneva, March 29 to April 1, 1990, ed. Christoph Wassermann, Richard Kirby, and Bernard Rordorf (Geneva: Labor et Fides, 1992), pp.137-141.



Misusing Quantum Physics


Kevin J. Sharpe


For Workshop 2 - Models and Metaphors

as Carriers of Information



ABSTRACT. Physical theories are sometimes taken out of their original context and used to justify wider metaphysical schemes. An example is the quantum-level nonlocality evidenced in the EPR experiment of physics, and the holomovement metaphysics developed by David Bohm. The former is sometimes misused as "proof" that all things are interconnected - a grand holism. Rather, information that a model or metaphor carries depends on its context.




Kevin J. Sharpe


Physics is remote and esoteric to the average person. It is both mysterious and powerful. I use these words deliberately. Students come to me excited about a new popularization of physics that they have found. "Look", they say, "here is the support I've been looking for. Physics has proved it!" They are searching for the god which performs the mysteries they perceive around them.

One student is very interested in coincidences, be they numerical or other details. She might notice that many of the numbers she comes across in a day include the numeral 2. These are synergies, what she calls synchronicities - borrowing a term from Karl Jung. She develops and in part explains her ideas with what she calls the new physics, in particular the idea of nonlocality which has recently become so popular.

Physics, the god above all gods, has spoken. Popularizers in their enthusiasm often oversimplify ideas which are beyond their comprehension. They forget or do not see the cautions with which physicists handle controversial theories. Jack Sarfatti (e.g., 1974) and Gary Zukav (e.g., 1979) are two examples.

Theologians can fall into the same trap. The 1958 book Chance and Providence by Episcopal priest and physicist William Pollard is famous for this. The uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics, it suggests, is a basis for establishing the existence of free will and God's action in the world. Critics reacted strongly (Barbour 1966).

Over the last few years I have followed the work of physicist David Bohm, an American who spent most of his working life in England. He started his career as a model conventional physicist but soon became an anathema to the establishment. Developing various hidden variables, holomovement and quantum potential theories, he has been virtually ostracized by the community of physics (e.g., Bohm 1951; 1980). The exception is his early work in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The physics community gives him credit for some of this, such as his suggestion for carrying out the Einstein-Podolosky-Rosen (EPR) experiment. In the early 1980s this lead to the experiment being performed by Alain Aspect and his team in France (Aspect, Dalibard and Roger 1982).

I want to concentrate my comments on the implications of this EPR experiment, in particular on the nonlocality it is designed to show.




The name, the EPR experiment, comes from the first letters of its authors, Albert Einstein, Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen (1935). It is a thought experiment contrived by the imagination of Einstein. It suggests certain events are connected, even though they do not physically interact and are some distance apart.

A simplified version of the experiment, modified after Bohm's suggestions, is as follows. A particle enters the experimental device. It has the properties that it is not spinning and can be split in half. It is split with each half heading off in opposite directions. One half is spinning one way and the other half has the opposite spin. The total spin must be zero by the conservation of spin at the point at which the parent split - the parent particle had zero spin, and the equal but opposite spins of the two halves cancel each other out. When the two halves are some distance apart, one has its spin changed. The question concerns what happens to the spin of the other half. It would instantaneously change so the conservation of spin holds. What tells it that the other half particle has changed its spin?

The EPR experiment suggests a connection between the particles which travels faster than light. It is instantaneous. This conflicts with Einstein's relativity theory in which nothing can travel at such speeds. Einstein's original intention in pointing to this problem was to bring out a difficulty with quantum theory. Einstein was wrong to insist that the experiment requires a superluminal connection.

The experiment is an example of a nonlocal effect. This means that something influences something else which is not within its immediate area. Neither is there a normal connection between the two things, such as a physical force, which could cause the influence. Nonlocality contrasts with the common-sense idea of locality. This says that what happens in one place has nothing to do with what happens at the same moment at some distant place.

It is clear why my student finds this idea so attractive as a support for the coincidences or synchronicities she sees all around her. Physics says there are connections, mysterious inexplicable connections, between otherwise disparate events.

Physics does not support my student's hopes. She may want to see nonlocality in all situations. She may want to think of everything connected to everything else regardless of their separations in time and space. However, the connections between things at the quantum level at the moment appear to occur only in limited circumstances. An example is for simple systems over relatively short distances. It can also appear in complex systems and over somewhat longer distances with the temperature near absolute zero. Whether it exists in other situations is a matter for experiment and physical theory.

To go beyond the above physics is metaphysics. It is not physics. An example of such a metaphysics is Bohm's holomovement or implicate order ideas which, among other motivations, explain the nonlocality of physics.




For Bohm, the holomovement is what is basic to reality. "What is is the holomovement" (Bohm 1980: 178).

The holomovement model for reality comes from the properties of a holographic image of an object. This forms on a photographic plate by capturing the interaction of two portions of a beam of laser light. One portion reflects off an object, the other off a mirror. Lighting the photographic plate with a laser will produce an image of the object which has three dimensions. In addition, an image of the whole object forms by lighting any portion of the plate. When illuminating a piece of the plate the image will have less detail than when lighting the whole plate - the smaller the portion of the plate illuminated, the less the detail. The point is still the same, however. Any portion of a holographic plate (the hologram) contains information on the whole object imaged.

The major point about the hologram, according to Bohm, is that movement is always taking place. Light waves from the laser continually interfere with those reflected off the object. The interference pattern is a moving web of the light waves interacting with each other. The holographic plate captures a record of the moving pattern. Thus the movement part of the word holomovement. Rather than taking something essentially static and rigid as the foundation for his metaphysics, Bohm proposes to make activity basic.

The second element of the holomovement is that of undivided or unbroken wholeness. The word holomovement uses the prefix holo from the Greek word meaning whole. It refers to the unbroken and undivided movement which Bohm takes as basic.

The wholeness parts of the holomovement idea draw on the hologram. The photographic plate of the hologram records the interference pattern of the light present in its region of space. Within this pattern, and therefore in the plate, is the whole illuminated object. The whole object becomes part of the light in each region of space.

Bohm builds the hologram into a general idea of undivided wholeness. With the hologram, the movement of light in each segment of space carries information on the whole illuminated object. Bohm generalizes this to say that each region of space and time contains in it the total order of the universe. This includes the past, the present and the future. Bohm thinks of everything as folded into everything. He uses the idea of the implicate order. The word implicate comes from the verb to implicate, to fold inward. Reality as implicate means for Bohm that any portion of it involves every other portion. Each portion of reality contains information on every other portion within it. One could say that each region of space and time contains the total structure of the universe within it. The whole is in some sense contained in any region.




Experimentally and theoretically, physics supports the idea of nonlocality in certain conditions. Metaphysicians, including Bohm, have extended the boundaries of the idea of nonlocality to include the whole universe. The two uses of nonlocality are different. Further, the metaphysical use, an all-encompassing holism of interconnectedness, is not supported by its use in physics. The justification for a metaphysics is a matter which in this case is not the same as the warrant for the physical theory of nonlocality.

The information a model or metaphor such as nonlocality carries must be taken from its context. A scientific model carries scientific information, even though there be insight for religion there as well. If the latter is developed, then the model leaves its scientific context and enters another.

On the other hand, this caution does not mean that theology and such sciences as physics should have nothing to do with each other. The reverse is true. A theology can arise from such scientific insights as nonlocality, provided it recognizes the scientific limitations of its undertaking. In fact, one might be suspicious of a theology which does not recognize the reality of nonlocal holism, at least at the quantum level. This is theology building from physics. Physics could build from theology as well. It may be that the idea of nonlocality and the desire to promote it come from religious sources in the first place (Sharpe 1989).




Aspect, Alain, Jean Dalibard and Gerard Roger. 1982. Experimental Test of Bell's Inequalities Using Time-Varying Analyzers. Physical Review Letters 49 (25): 1804-1807.

Barbour, Ian G. 1966. Issues in Science and Religion. London: SCM Press.

Bohm, David. 1951. Quantum Theory. New York: Prentice-Hall.

_______, 1980. Wholeness and the Implicate Order. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Einstein, A., B. Podolsky and N. Rosen. 1935. Can Quantum-Mechanical Description of Physical Reality be Considered Complete? Physical Review 47 (10): 777-780.

Pollard, William G. 1958. Chance and Providence: God's Action in a World Governed by Scientific Law. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.

Sarfatti, Jack. 1974. Implications of Meta-Physics for Psychoenergetic Systems. Psychoenergetic Systems 1 (1): 3-10.

Sharpe, Kevin J. 1989. David Bohm's World: New Science and New Religion. Pre-print.

Zukav, Gary. 1979. The Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics. New York: William Morrow & Co.


Presented to Workshop 2, Models and Metaphors as Carriers of Information, of the Third European Conference on Science and Theology, Information and Knowledge in Science and Theology, Geneva, Switzerland, 29 March-1 April 1990. Copyright 1990 by Kevin Sharpe.