The Divine Nonlocal Universe

Science & Religion News 5 (Winter 1994): 7

Kevin Sharpe

With nonlocality, the Universe Divine unites everything into a whole and is conscious. This consciousness comes from the physical and not another realm.

Albert Einstein strongly disagreed with quantum physics--the science of atoms, electrons, and the extremely small. Its "spooky action at a distance," as he phrased it, especially raised his hackles. What irked him was its prediction that events separated in space yet that happen at the same time can affect each other even though no known connection exists between them. Neither pulls the other's string or sends it a cable. More correctly, quantum physics predicts a correlation between such events. Physicists call this correlation "nonlocality."

Einstein expressed his disapproval by devising and in 1935 publishing an idea for an experiment that brings out nonlocality. To explain it, he thought, requires a message to pass between the events instantaneously. Each event has to know instantly what the other does. If so, the message would have to move fast, infinitely fastscertainly faster than the speed of light. Einstein thought this the upper limit for the speed of anything.

It took until 1982 to carry out an indisputable version of the experiment. And it proved Einstein wrong: the universe does have the nonlocality he opposed. In theory, nonlocality happens everywhere, to events at opposite sides of the universe as well as to those in neighboring back yards. Their history doesn't matter and it occurs at any scale from the quantum to the galactic, though it only affects quantum-level properties.

Nonlocality perks the imagination: what does it mean? How can we explain it? What causes the correlations, and what might they suggest philosophically? The mathematics of the physics just says they occur without understanding why, without providing an underlying reason.

A common explanation says that all things connect with each other at a very basic level. Interconnections like this show up in certain circumstances, such as when the nonlocality of quantum physics appears. Menas Kafatos and Robert Nadeau follow this interpretation spiritually in their book, The Conscious Universe. They think of the universe as a single entity containing everything and all relationships. I capitalize the "u" to call the universe thought of this way, "the Universe." It exhibits global nonlocality in which each of its parts connect with all others. This form of wholism, Kafatos and Nadeau continue, justifies talk about the Universe. At root, the universe is indivisible.

They then suggest that the Universe is conscious. This is one place to start exploring the idea of the Universe. What might their claim mean? Objects like the brain that are extremely interconnected, appear to be conscious. The Universe possesses even more interconnections than the brain. So it should have consciousness. Further, the universe contains us conscious beings and so should exceed our consciousness. The Universe's interconnectedness must take our consciousness a step beyond what we as individuals, as human societies, even as the world's biosphere can experience.

Think of a living cell in your body, say in the tip of your left index finger. Then try to extrapolate from it to your life as a human being. Constructing a person's experience from that of a cell is too tall an order. The consciousness of the universe surpasses what humans can experience so much that we mightn't recognize it as consciousness.

How do the Universe and the Divine relate? Following the Christian tradition, writers such as Arthur Peacocke talk about God vastly exceeding the Universe. An absolute division exists for Peacocke between the Universe and the Divine. Ne'er the twain should meet.

The Universe contains all the excess that Peacocke would want in God. Kafatos and Nadeau write that science deals with the parts of the Universe that it can observe or measure. Science can't describe the indivisible nature of the universe because it only deals with the parts of this whole. The parts don't add up to the whole. Thus, the Universe will always elude science. Just like Peacocke's God, it exceeds the parts of the universe and us as knowers. The Universe makes a good candidate for the Divine.

With nonlocality, the Universe Divine unites everything into a whole and is conscious. This consciousness comes from the physical and not another realm.

Copyright 1994 by Kevin Sharpe.