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Hakim Bey, Quantum Mechanics & Chaos Theory

Quantum Mechanics & Chaos Theory:

Anarchist Meditations on N. Herbert's Quantum Reality: Beyond the New Physics
By Hakim Bey

1. Scientific worldviews or "paradigms" can influence -- or be
influenced by -- social reality. Clearly the Ptolemaic
universe mirrors theocentric & monarchic structures. The
Newtonian/Cartesian/mechanical universe mirrors
rationalistic social assumptions, which in turn underlie
nationalism, capitalism, communism, etc. As for Relativity
Theory, it has only recently begun to reflect -- or be
reflected by -- certain social realities. But these relations
are still obscure, embedded in multinational conspiracies,
the metaphysics of modern banking, international terrorism,
& various newly emergent telecommunications-based
technologies.2. Which comes first, scientific paradigm or social
structure? For our purpose it seems unnecessary to answer
this question--and in any case, perhaps impossible. The
relation between them is real, but acts in a manner
infinitely more complex than mere cause-&-effect, or even

3. Quantum Mechanics (QM), considered as the source of such
a paradigm, at first seems to lack any social ramifications
or parallels, almost as if its very weirdness deprives it of
all connnections with "everyday" life or social reality.
However, a few authors (like F. Capra, or
Science-Fictioneers like R. Rucker or R. Anton Wilson) have
seen Quantum Theory both as a vindication of certain
"oriental philosophies" & also as prophetic of certain
social changes which might loosely & carelessly be lumped
under the heading "Aquarian."

4. The "mystical" systems evoked by our contemplation of
Quantum facts tend to be non-dualist and non-theocentric,
dynamic rather than static: Advaita Vedanta, Taoism, Tantra
(both Hindu & Buddhist), alchemy, etc. Einstein, who opposed
Quantum theory, believed in a God who refused to play dice
with the universe, a basically Judeo-Protestant deity who
sets up a cosmic speed limit for light. The Quantum
enthusiasts, by contrast, prefer a dancing Shiva, a
principle of cosmic play.

5. Perhaps "oriental wisdom" will provide a kind of focusing
device, or set of metaphors, or myth, or poetics of QM,
which will allow it to realize itself fully as a "paradigm"
& discover its reflection on the level of society. But it
does not follow that this paradigm will simply recapitulate
the social complexes which gave rise to Taoism, Tantra or
alchemy. There is no "Eternal Return" in the strict
Nietzschean sense: each time the gyre comes round again it
describes a new point in space/time.

6. Einstein accused Quantum Theory (QT) of restoring
individual consciousness to the center of the universe, a
position from which "Man" was toppled by "Science" 500 years
ago. If QT can be accused of retrogression, however, it must
be something like the anarchist P. Goodman's "Stone Age
Reaction" -- a turning-back so extreme as to constitute a

7. Perhaps the development of QM and the rediscovery of
"oriental wisdom" (with its occidental variations) stem from
the same social causes, which have to do with information
density, electronic technology, the ongoing collapse of
Eurocentrism & its "Classical" philosophies, ideologies &
physics. Perhaps the syncresis of QT & oriental wisdom will
accelerate these changes, even help direct them.

8. Table of Paradigms

With Their Spritual, Political & Economic Parallels

I. Paleolithic -- shamanic -- non-authoritarian -- hunter/gatherer

II. Neolithic -- polytheistic -- authoritarian -- agricultural

III. Earth-centered Cosmos -- theistic -- monarchial/theocratic
(hierarchical) -- urban

IV. Sun-centered Cosmos -- monotheistic -- divine right of
kings -- colonialism & imperialism

V. Mechanistic universe -- deist or atheist -- democracy,
capitalism, communism -- industrial/technological

VI. Relativistic
universe -- Modernism -- cybernocacy -- post-industrial

VII. Quantum universe . . .

9. Just as Modernism here parallels Relativity Theory as a
sort of spiritual concomitant, so "oriental wisdom" seems to
attach itself to QT. But what political systems, what
economics would derive from this amalgamation?

10. QT, which attempts an explanation of the reality
"behind" Quantum facts, lags far behind QM itself. Unlike
Relativity, QM offers no coherent ideas about "reality,"
only a set of statistical possibilities, tools for
prediction. QM "works" -- but Quantum facts remain
unexplained. The excitement of the science for
non-scientists lies in the way it seems to have revived
speculative philosophy as an integral part of the scientific
endeavor: at present, competing theories about Quantum
"reality" rival any occultist or mystical excesses for sheer
madness & breathtaking incredibility. In Quantum Reality,
physicist Nick Herbert outlines eight
philosophies or world views, "Quantum Realities," all based
on Quantum fact but all different.

11. Quantum Reality Number One (QRI) - -the Copenhagen
interpretation. "There is no deep reality." Objects,
everyday real things, "float on a world that is not as
real." (Bohr, Heisenberg.) Emphasis on "Uncertainty," and
thus comparable to Buddhist "Anti-realism" or even Berkelean
Idealism. The Copenhagen "orthodox ontology" leads directly
to QR2, which posits an observer-created reality in which
the act of measurement gives rise to observed reality ("The
moon is demonstrably not there when no one looks" -- N.D.

12. QR3 -- "Reality is an undivided wholeness." Developed by
W. Heitler. In this interpretation, "the observer appears,
as a necessary part of the whole structure, and in his full
capacity as a conscious being. The separation of the world
into an 'objective outside reality' and 'us,' the
self-conscious onlookers, can no longer be maintained.
Object and subject have become inseparable from each other."
According to Bohm, "One is led to a new notion of unbroken
wholeness which denies the classical analyzability of the
world into separately and independently existing parts. . .
. The inseparable quantum interconnectedness of the whole
universe is the fun damental reality."

13. Capra's popularization of this stance in Tao of
explores possible leads in Far Eastern mysticism.
But none of the "orientalists" have so far noted a much more
relevant metaphysics in sufism, especially Ibn Arabi's
doctrine of the oneness of being (wahdat al-wujud). My
intuition says that Ibn Arabi might prove a goldmine to
Quantum Theorists, but the "mingling of two oceans" conjured
up by such an imagined confrontation would involve decades
of hard labor to grasp & contain -- & so I leave it to someone
else to follow up.

14. Bell's Theorem, which proves or seems to prove that
Quantum Reality is "non-local," bolsters rather than
deflates what we might call the taoist theory of QM, or in
Herbert's phrase, QR3. Something in Bell's Theorem seems
to be violating Einstein's cosmic speed limit-some
superluminal aether or "field," or Faster-Than-Light
particles -- or telepathic particles! So far this bizarrarie
can be experimentally demonstrated only though negative
inference; no laboratory "hard" evidence of such a "field"
(or whatever) has been uncovered. Randomicity Theory
suggests that non-local phenomena will remain
inaccessible-that superiuminal signaling devices ("ansibles"
in SciFi terminology) will prove impossible to decode, hence
useless. However, this remains unproven. If telepathy
exists, then human consciousness may already be making use
of such codes.

15. QR4 -- "The many worlds interpretation" (H. Everett, 1957)
suggests that the wave function never collapses -- that every
possible event actually occurs, either in "our" world or in
some instantaneously created "alternative universe." The
Copenhagenists deny reality altogether; Everett offers
infinite realities: an elegant solution, so far totally
unverifiable . . . but . . . SciFi Heaven! (I wish to
expropriate one of Everett's notions, the non-collapse of
the wave function, for my own fanciful synthesis [see

16. QR5 - -Quantum Logic. What Einstein did to Euclidean
geometry, some Quantum physicist/mathematicians hope to do
to Boolean (Classical) Logic. Other than making it easier to
think about, I'm not sure how this new logic would relate to
QR -- but it sounds like a good idea.

17. QR6 -- "Neo-realism." Einstein, Planck, Schrodinger, Bohm
& de Broglie have all looked for ways to "save the
phenomena," to discover & describe Quantum Reality per se,
rather than take the disagreeable step of agreeing with
Copenhagian anti-realisms ("Atoms are not
things" -- Heisenberg. "There is no quantum world" -- Bohr.)
Reconciling the neo-realist project with Quantum facts leads
to some very peculiar positionssuch as maintaining that the
world is real but "non-local."

18. Could it be that the quarrel between anti-realists &
neo-realists arises from a semantic problem about the
definition of "reality?" It looks to me as if both sides are
maintaining that reality means Classical reality. Thus the
Copenhagenists are forced to deny that ordinary objects
exist -- an absurdity - -while the neo-realists are reduced to
looking for loopholes in QM, & seem so far to have been
utterly frustrated. But if QR & "ordinary reality" are
both real, modalities of the same one reality, then the
dichotomy vanishes like a delusion caused by bad grammar.
The only problem then remaining is that of Quantum
measurement, which asks in effect how "quantumstuff"
"becomes" "ordinary objects?"

19. QR7 -- "Consciousness creates reality." Von Neumann posits
that only one kind of stuff exists, quantumstuff, & that
ordinary objects are "made" of it. At some point the wave
function, the all-possible nature of quantumstuff,
"collapses" into a single statistical probability, a quantum
jump which somehow "creates the world." Where does this
occur? The only logical answer appears to implicate human
consciousness as the setting of the wave function collapse.
Ironic that Von Neumann, the wizard of cybernetics &
strategic game theory, should have been forced to develop a
math which suggests that human consciousness must be written
into any complete explanation of QR. Von Neumann's
interpretation is not the same as QR2, "observer-created
reality," in which the observer could as easily be a
measuring device as a human being; QR2 tacitly accepts a
basic dualism between a real "Classical" measuring device,
and Quantum unreality itself. Nor does QR7 necessarily imply
Buddhist-style anti-realism or Idealism: reality exists,
but only in conjunction or "unity" with con-

20. On one hand this trend leads to a kind of
neo-Aristotelian neo-Platonism -- such as QR8, Heisenberg's
"duplex world" of potentials and actualities, in which real
objects appear almost as manifestations or hypostases of a
Quantum Reality which is both more abstract & yet "more
real" than everyday things.

21. On the other hand however Von N's "all-quantum"
explanation of QR harks back to & strengthens the "taoist"
arguments of QR3. Here, rather than a platonic modified
non-dualism we get a strong & radical monism, in which
"matter" & "consciousness" cannot be distinguished except
as modalities of a single reality.

22. In effect, might one not say (as in QR4) that the wave
function never collapses
-- but that there still remains
only one reality? That there has never been a "fall" from
one into two? If QR is non-local, if "phase
interference" & Bell's proof mean that all Quantum-particles
which connect hologrammatical instantaneous connections with
each other -- if all "matter" was originally (before the Big
Bang) one dimensionless macro-particle/wave -- then all
particles are implicated in all waves, & vice versa. The
universe is (as Capra says, quoting Hindu sources) a
seamless net of jewels, every jewel reflected in every
other. The wave function collapse in this case would
constitute a mathematical description of a mode of
individual consciousness & its awareness of the world, its
inherent implicatedness in the totality & oneness of that
world -- in fact, its virtual identity with that world. The
wave function collapse would then not actually describe a
physical event at all; in effect, it would have never
happened. The universe is now what it was & ever shall be:
one reality.

23. As far as I know, this synthesis of QR3 and QR7 (lucky
numbers!) violates current thinking in Quantum Theory -- &
perhaps even the "Quantum facts" as well. Still . . .
science marches on; things may change & become even weirder.
I have a strong hunch that the ongoing study of randomicity
(e.g. at thermonuclear temperatures) may shed light on QR
philosophy in the near future. Another source for the next
breakthrough in physics may well come from brain
physiology -- provided it can tear itself away from
rat-running & linguistic rat-holes & address itself to the
problem of consciousness. New work on the "morphogenetic
field" in biology looks promising; personally, I feel less
enthusiasm for cognitive philosophy & AI research.

24. My groping attempt at a synthesis is suggested by what I
call Chaos Theory, which holds to the axiom that reality
itself subsists in a state of ontological anarchy. "The one
gave birth to the two, the two to the 10,000 things" -- but
all this IS the tao & nothing but the tao. Yin & yang have
no being in themselves, but act as interpenetrating
modalities of the tao. The real/unreal dichotomy enslaves us
in false consciousness. Looked at from one point of view,
nothing is real; from another point of view, everything is
real; from another, "nothing is real except the Real"; from
yet another, "I am the Real" (ana'I Haqq, a sufi "koan").
These semantricks create a set of paradoxes -- and the
resolution will give us an essentially metalinguistic
certainty of being's oneness. Such oneness cannot be
structured or defined in any way. It has no "ruler" and no
"laws" -- hence, ontological anarchy.

25. On a mathematical (or statistical) level, the chaotic
nature of reality may manifest as randomicity; I suspect it
manifests in the Uncertainty Principle as well. Whatever the
truth of these speculations, I feel that Chaos Theory &
Quantum Theory are moving closer & closer together. If this
is so, then we may be able to predict some social
implications of Quantum Theory as a "paradigm" -- and thus
answer the questions posed in paragraph nine -- by looking at
the social programme of Chaos Theory or ontological anarchy.

26. Chaos Theory, like any good theory, can be applied to
anything, from physics to literary criticism -- just as it can
absorb energy from any kind of source, from the heretical
spiritual teachings of sufis, Ismailis, Ranters, shamans or
sorcerers -- to QM itself. Thus it may provide the link, yoke,
nexus or connection between QM & "oriental wisdom," & help
define the paradigm we're looking for.

27. Chaos Theory predicts that Quantum Theory will fail to
turn up any "hidden laws," hidden variables that restore
some privileged class of objects or perceptions to a status
of objective reality at the expense of other objects &
perceptions. The anti-realists who recognize only the
measuring device as real, & the neo-realists who yearn for a
"Classical" resolution of QM's paradoxes, are simply
proposing different ways of "saving the phenomena" -- or
metaphorically, of preserving reality as we know it.
Consensus Reality. This project seems doomed from the
start -- at least, to us chaotes. The new paradigm will
shatter Consensus Reality, & with it all authoritative
representatives of scientific "truth."

28. This is not to claim that the "solving" of Quantum
Theory will somehow result in an anarchist Utopia. The
predictive power of Chaos Theory seems to falter here. After
all, total destruction is as much a "type" of chaos as the
most benign visions of Bakunin or Stirner. In effect the
social & economic results of the new paradigm depend on
forces other than those described or controlled by the
paradigm, whatever its claims to absoluteness. For instance,
an economy which mirrors this paradigm will almost certainly
involve the abolition of "work" as we know it (a relic of
Classical physics) -- but what replaces it may either enslave
us more miserably than "work" could ever accomplish, or it
may liberate us in harmony with the visions of "zero-work"
radicals, neo-situationists & anarchists.

29. Similarly Chaos Theory can make no predictions about the
development of technologies which mirror the paradigm, such
as telepathic signaling, FTL spaceships, ansibles,
controlled ESP or other fancies indulged in by fantasists
(including me). Social change resists all such sibylline
seductions, since it involves the incalculability of
consciousness itself, & of human history. I can foresee
Quantum dystopias as easily as Utopias.

30. Given all these caveats however. Chaos Theory still
envisions a Quantum-Social-Paradigm with distinctly
anti-authoritarian implications -- in one sense a reprise of
the Paleolithic/shamanic worldview, in another sense wildly
post-postmodern. Such a "movement" or change would transcend
all current definitions of Anarchism, whether communist,
syndicalist, libertarian-capitalist or individualist. So far
there is no name for what I'm talking about.

31. Like Quantum Theory itself, this politique/poetique is
still emergent. It can only be sensed as it emerges or
begins to emerge from the "facts" of everyday life, just as
Quantum Theory peeps out of the strangeness of Quantum
facts. Somewhere in the welter of Quantum Theory & Chaos
Theory the paradigm is already bom, & waits for us to assist
at the mystery of its naming, of its transmutation from
potentiality to actuality. In this action poets & physicists
may play equal parts, for the glory of Quantum Theory is
that by restoring consciousness to its theorems it has
turned science once again into a type of "Natural
Philosophy" -- or alchemy.

32. Fleshing out the vision of a world somehow based on the
mind-boggling perceptions of QM linked with the alien
realizations of "oriental wisdom" - -a world which lives with
ideas such as non-locality, particles which travel backwards
in time, alternative universes, randomicity at the heart of
creation, etc. etc. . . . this is properly the work of
Utopian Science Fiction -- at this point in history. Perhaps
within a few years it will become the province of
revolutionaries, artists, philosophers -- the unacknowledged
legislators of a lawless future -- anarchs of the new

33. QM is said to be "complete" -- but then so are all
scientific systems in their moment of power. QM should by no
means be fetishized either by scientists or poets, since
Quantum Theory itself may hold the seeds of a paradigm which
overthrows even QM. The tao which can be spoken is not the
tao; the moment Quantum Theory presents itself as
"complete," it must be at once attacked. Chaos theory
seems to predict that Quantum Theory will flourish as long
as it remains "incomplete," not tied down on any Classical
(or even non-Boolean) procrustrean beds-metalogical,
metalinguistic, essentially unstructured -- "free," like
reality itself -- which is a state not of Anarchism but of anarchy, even to the very roots of being.