Tuesday, 07 October 2014 12:59

The Self-Aware Universe: How consciousness creates the material world. Book review by Ozodi Osuji

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Amit Goswami et al (1995). The Self-Aware Universe: How consciousness creates the material world. (New York: Putnam), 320 pages.

Book review by Ozodi Osuji

Traditionally, a new book is published. The publishers want to garner as many readers for the book as is possible; they pay book reviewers to review the book, especially in major newspapers located at major markets, such as New York, Los Angeles and London.

This book, The Self-Aware Universe is not new and no one is paying me to review it so that potential readers may buy it hence make money for the publisher and the author. I am reviewing it because I want to do so. In my opinion, this book is a must read and if you have not read it please go to the library and check out a copy and read it; better still, do what I did: buy a copy of the book so that as you read it you can mark it up, as I marked up just about every page in it. This book is a gem.

It tried to integrate science and spirituality; to accomplish this task the author showed exhaustive understanding of physics as well as comprehensive understanding of spirituality. In itself the book can help a person understand physics, both classical and new physics.

Classical physics denotes all physics before the twentieth century; this encompasses Aristotle (speculations on universals), Democritus (atomic theory),  Rene Descartes (Dualistic view of man,  spirit and matter) Copernicus (1543 postulation of heliocentric theory of the universe), Galileo(he began modern scientific method by actually demonstrating that the sun is the center of our local star system in 1610), Kepler and Huygens (they established astronomy as modern science), Newton (in 1687 he posited the three laws of motion and gravitation and began the physics of mechanics) and the spate of discoveries made in the eighteenth and nineteenth century,  such as by Laplace (mathematical physics), Lavoisier (gases), Boyle (gases), Dalton (resurrection of atomic theory), Thomas Young (double slit experiment with light), Michael Faraday (electricity and magnetism), James Clark Maxwell (equations that showed that electricity and magnetism are one phenomenon), J.J. Thompson (discovery of electron in 1897), Ludwig Boltzmann (statistical mechanics and gases).

By the end of the nineteenth century modern physics had taken its shape as the study of mechanics, heat, light, sound and electricity (those could be translated to the study of energy, matter, space and time).  By the end of the nineteenth century some physicists thought that they had known all there is to be known about physics.

All hell broke loose in 1900 when Max Plank studying black bodies showed that light has discrete units that he called quanta (Newton believed that light has units, Huygens believed that light is wave); Plank demonstrated that light is in units and in so doing initiated the study of physics of the small, microsystems (particle) whereas classical physics studied physics of the large, macro-systems, such as stars, planets etc.

In 1905 Albert Einstein, in his study of the photoelectric effect of light, showed that light  has units that he called photons, for they could knock off electrons from hot objects.

In 1911 Ernest Rutherford showed that the atom is not the final unit of matter, that the atom has a nucleus with a proton in it. In 1932, James Chadwick discovered the neutron thus finalizing the structure of the atom. Now we know that the nucleus of atoms is composed of protons and neutrons, and that electrons circulate around the nucleus.

What distinguish one atom from another are not the differences in the makeup of the particles in them but how many of them each contains. Hydrogen, for example, has one proton in its nucleus (and one electron), helium has two protons and two neutrons (and two electrons); you can go down the 92 elements on the periodic table, the last having 92 protons and 92 neutrons in its nucleus (and 92 electrons circulating the nucleus); some elements have isotopes, that is, the number of neutrons vary; hydrogen, for example, has isotopes with one, two neutrons, deuterium, Tritium).

In 1913 Neils Bohr attempted to explain how electrons operate inside atoms.  In the 1920s Erwin Schrodinger and Werner Heisenberg posited mathematics that explicated the workings of particles and thus established quantum mechanics.

In 1924 Broglie showed that electrons act like light; that is, have both particle and wave functions.  Pauli, Dirac, Max Born, Lise Meitner, Otto Hahn, Strassman and Fermi by the late 1930s gave us a fuller picture of how the atom is constituted.

In the 1940s the Manhattan Project led by Robert Oppenheimer used neutrons to initiate nuclear fission, chain reaction that led to the break of the strong nuclear force that holds protons and neutrons together inside the nucleus (physics has four forces: gravitation, electromagnetism, strong and weak nuclear forces...Einstein tried to reconcile them into  one force); in the process releasing tremendous radiation, energy...heat and light that could be used to destroy people or supply them with electricity and heat.

Fred Hoyle showed us how in stars nuclear fusion unifies two nuclei of hydrogen to form helium (nucleosynthesis) and release energy that we see as heat and light from stars.

By the mid twentieth century quantum mechanics and Einstein’s theory of relativity had established their reality and became the dominant mode of studying physics. Wheeler, Weinberg, Wigner, Bolm, Murray Gell-Mann (showed the composition of quarks in protons and neutrons), Hugh Everett (posited the many worlds explanation of quantum mechanics), John Bell (posited how entangled or correlated particles communicate instantaneously disregarding space time ), Alan Aspect (pointed out that particles may not be separated given instantaneous responses to each other), Alan Guth (posited inflation theory explaining how the early universe was that prevented it from re-collapsing unto itself by gravity that would have aborted the existence of the universe)  and others brought the study of physics to where it is now.

At present we have speculations on the nature of neutrinos, dark matter (23% of the visible universe), dark energy (73% of the visible universe), matter and anti-matter (the early universe should have had the same level of matter and anti-matter and if so they should have attacked each other and annihilated each other and returned to radiation hence aborted the existence of the universe, but, apparently, for every billion particles of anti-matter produced a billion and one particle of matter were produced so that when they attacked each other some particles of matter remained to continue the evolution in matter; this is one of the so-called anthropic aspects of the universe, the belief that the universe evolved as if it wanted to evolve human beings).

We now have some understanding of the origin of the universe in a ball the size of a particle, big bang, 13.7 billion years ago ( George Lemaitre, George Gamow expatiated on this thesis), an expanding universe (Alexander Friedmann, Edwin Hubble provided mathematical and observational evidence that the universe is expanding).

We learned that within three minutes after the big bang photons from light had transformed their selves into quarks and electrons; the quarks buried their selves inside protons and neutrons. Protons and neutrons combined to form nuclei of hydrogen and helium. During the next 400, 000 years the universe was plasma, composed of free floating nuclei and electrons. Thereafter, nuclei captured electrons and the simplest atoms, hydrogen and helium were formed.  The formation of atoms led to light escaping from what had been dense plasma (light that is now in the form of cosmic microwave radiation, picked up by Wilson and Penzias in 1965).

Thereafter, the universe was one continuous cloud of hydrogen (hydrogen still make up over 75% of the visible universe). Millions of years’ later space occurred between the clouds of hydrogen. Clumps of hydrogen were separated from each other. The force of gravity pulled each clump into itself and in its core ignition took place and stars were born. Stars are clouds of hydrogen in whose cores pressure and heat lead to the fusion of hydrogen into helium and the release of heat and light (that we see as star light).

Massive stars did not live long; they exploded (upon exhausting their hydrogen...when nucleosynthesis reaches iron...helium, lithium...carbon, oxygen.... the heat inside stars are insufficient to continue the process of forming other elements and it expands and explodes). During the explosion of massive stars the attending heat leads to the formation of the other elements on chemistry’s periodic table.

In time, the cloud of elements, nebulae, generated by supernova aggregate to form new stars, medium stars like our Sun, and form planets.

Our star and its nine planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Septum, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto) were formed from exploded massive stars about 4.5 billion years ago. We, human beings and animals, planets and everything on earth were formed from atoms that were generated by dead stars; we are literally the product of dead stars; we are star dust!

Hugh Everett reinterpreted the Big Bang explosion and showed that it must have generated many universes (which lead to speculations on time travels, worm hole...in the future technology would enable us to travel from one planet to another, from one galaxy to another and, eventually, from one universe to another).

We learned about the evolution of stars; how the initial stars were massive in size and lived only a few million years and exploded (exhausted their hydrogen) and their inner cores collapsed into  dark holes (Stephen Hawkins pet project) and or neutron stars (when massive stars die, explode their inner core collapse into either black holes or neutron stars).

There are several types of stars including quasars, pulsars, white dwarfs, brown dwarfs, binary stars. Astrophysics has taught us how the universe will end (from heat loss, cold death due to over expansion); the  nature of galaxies, super galaxies (there are over 200 billion galaxies, each with over 200 billion stars in it...our galaxy is the Milky Way galaxy...it takes light, travelling at 186, 000 miles per second  about 100, 000 years to travel from one end of our galaxy to the other...it takes light about 9 minutes to travel from the sun, 93 million miles away, to planet earth; slightly over a second to travel from the moon, 250, 000 miles away, to planet earth...life formed in a part of the solar system that is at the goldilocks, habitable part of the galaxy, not too hot or too cold).

In addition to providing the reader with an excellent survey of the march of Western science, Goswami also provided him with an excellent survey of thoughts on spirituality.

In the Western world, we usually begin our philosophical discourse with Plato. In the Republic, Plato offered us his famous cave analogy. We are like people in a cave and a stream of light enters the cave and translates us into pictures we can see on the walls of the dark cave. The pictures of us that we see are mere shadows of who we are outside the cave, not our true selves.

What is our true self? We do not know. We have to get out of the dark cave (get outside our bodies, for our bodies are the caves we live in) and live in the light of the outside world to find out whom we are. Plato is not talking about sun light; he is talking about knowledge (light is metaphor for knowledge) that shows us who our real selves are.

Plato believes that our true self is spirit; that spirit self is currently unknown to us who live in bodies (body is darkness).

The true self has archetypes, ideals of how we are supposed to behave. When we take time to examine ourselves we may find out who we are supposed to be and try to live as such. Plato’s ideas is idealistic philosophy in the sense that he uses the human mind to posit ideas on what supposedly we are and bid us to live accordingly.

Aristotle, on the other hand, is a realistic thinker for he does not tell us to look inside to find who our true self is; instead, he asks us to observe our behavior and the nature of the empirical world to find out who we are and what phenomena is.

In the western world, thus, we have two broad approaches to people and things; idealistic and realistic. Plato is idealistic; Aristotle is realistic.

Aristotle’s realism appears to have won over Plato’s idealism. Since Copernicus’ book in 1543 the West has gradually embraced empiricism; we observe the external world and draw conclusions based on what we see (what philosophers call induction).  Who are we? Inductive logic asks us to look at the world we find ourselves in and from it infer who we are.


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Ozodi Osuji Ph.D

Ozodi Thomas Osuji is from Imo State, Nigeria. He obtained his PhD from UCLA. He taught at a couple of Universities and decided to go back to school and study psychology. Thereafter, he worked in the mental health field and was the Executive Director of two mental health agencies. He subsequently left the mental health environment with the goal of being less influenced by others perspectives, so as to be able to think for himself and synthesize Western, Asian and African perspectives on phenomena. Dr Osuji’s goal is to provide us with a unique perspective, one that is not strictly Western or African but a synthesis of both. Dr Osuji teaches, writes and consults on leadership, management, politics, psychology and religions. Dr Osuji is married and has three children; he lives at Anchorage, Alaska, USA.

He can be reached at: ozodiosuji@gmail.com (907) 310-8176