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Quantum Physics and Poetry – Reflections

Circinus galaxy

Circinus galaxy

Quantum Physics and Poetry – Reflections

“The first gulp from the glass of natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass, God is waiting for you.” —Werner Heisenberg. 1932 Nobel Prize in Physics, “for the creation of quantum mechanics.”

The great scientific contribution in theoretical physics that has come from Japan since the last war may be an indication of a certain relationship between philosophical ideas in the tradition of the Far East and the philosophical substance of quantum theory.” —Werner Heisenberg, Physics and Philosophy, 1958

“All of us living beings belong together in as much as we are all in reality sides or aspects of one single being, which may perhaps in western terminology be called God while in the Upanishads its name is Brahman.” —Erwin Schrodinger, Nobel Prize for Physics, 1933; My View of the World (95)

“The general notions about human understanding… which are illustrated by discoveries in atomic physics are not in the nature of things wholly unfamiliar, wholly unheard of, or new. Even in our own culture they have a history, and in Buddhist and Hindu thought a more considerable and central place.” —J. Robert Oppenheimer, Science and the Common Understanding, 1954 Oxford UP (8-9)

“For a parallel to the lesson of atomic theory… [we must turn] to those kinds of epistemological problems with which already thinkers like the Buddha and Lao Tsu have been confronted.” —Niels Bohr, Foundations of Quantum Physics II (20)

“A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” —Max Planck, theoretical physicist (1858–1947)


After having had a class in high school in world religions in which I had done all of the reading, East and West, the scriptures of all of the major world religions, as a young poet I read George B. Leonard’s book The Transformation: A Guide to the Inevitable Changes in Humankind, in 1972, when it first came out. He was the vice-president of the Esalen Institute and one of the most articulate and far-sighted persons in the then-emerging human potential movement on the West Coast. It’s not an exaggeration to say I devoured his book, reading and rereading it. Unfortunately, Leonard’s book has perhaps somewhat fallen off the map, but it still speaks insightfully to the core problems of today, the need for a new sense of human consciousness on this planet. Following Leonard’s citations, I branched into Alan Watts, Carlos Castenada, Buckminster Fuller, Ram Dass, Jiddu Krishnamurti, Indries Shah, Rumi and Attar, and others basically open and universal in outlook, especially the many books by Arnold Toynbee and Huston Smith, the latter beginning in the early years of the 1970s. Leonard also introduced me to Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Quantum Mechanics, and ever more into Leonard’s general openness to the East and to new conceptions of what is human, all of which I found myself still grappling with more than thirty-five years later, when I wrote my epic poem The Parliament of Poets. Leonard sums up The Transformation when he writes, “The time is overdue for the emergence of a new vision of human and social destiny and being.” We are now in the full flood of that time.

Similarly, Ervin Laszlo, long recognized as one of the most thoughtful and perceptive voices of the new consciousness movement, has written that many people are increasingly experiencing and awakening to a shift in consciousness, to “a subtle sense that we have lost touch with ourselves, and with the world” and that “we are in a race with time.” “We either make it together, or we may not make it at all.”

Having continued studying the Old and New Testaments and Islam with formal study in each at the University of Michigan, I came to feel that the traditional conception of religion, grounded in exclusivism, has become much of the problem, East and West, while the value of the way we actually live, mixed and poured together, especially in democratic pluralism, too often receives insufficient recognition by what purports to be “religion.” Quantum Physics intimates a whole new way of understanding “religion” that can help heal the psychic wounds of modernity.

Part of our current problem, of our cultural moment, given the extreme degree to which we’ve become so fragmented, is that much of the culture, especially the academy, insufficiently understands its own claim of exclusive truth, its own meta-narrative, so locked in has the time become to various forms of exclusivism based in nihilism, if not atheism, that it is closed off to any type of spirituality, including even what Quantum Physics suggests, and so nihilism has not only Western civilization in a death grip but much of the world.

Broadly, much of the university, especially the humanities, to the extent that its vision of life entails nihilism, cynicism, endless formalisms, Marxism, frivolity, which cannot be questioned, but are held in sacrosanct exclusive possession of the truth, usually justified with vague to perfunctory, knee-jerk allusions to the Enlightenment, as though that settled all of the profound human questions that people have asked throughout the ages for the rest of eternity, constitutes and represents the dehumanization of our time, i.e., both the traditional religions and nihilism are ironically sinking in the same boat.

Traditionally, “real religion” was always defined in terms of exclusivism, the challenge now is to realize that in a world of Quantum Physics “real religion,” ipso facto, can only be defined in terms of universality, which is why the proponents of exclusivism who still cling to the old forms, whether “religion” or “secular,” continue to lose ground, while the torch has passed to other hands, though often not informed to the same degree historically and culturally, which creates its own type of problematic fragmentation, yet seeking what’s open, universal, beyond the old limitations that have created all the trouble in the first place.

The Greeks and other ancients wrote and recorded scientific discoveries in poetry because they believed it was the best language in which to convey the implications, often of unity and oneness, in terms of a universe composed of atoms, which is also partly my thinking behind writing, The Parliament of Poets, because it is the best language with which to grapple with the implications of Quantum Physics. Similarly, I’d argue, the great Sufi poets realized there were things which can be said best only with the tongue of poetry…

The global confrontation with the mode of thinking in the old exclusive forms impels our Age to come to terms with resolving the negative baggage of modernity, of the Enlightenment, in a way that is both intellectually and spiritually satisfying and acceptable to people, broadly speaking, ideally, from all walks of life and points of view, traditional and secular, East and West. I believe Quantum Physics now makes that possible.

While not formulaic, I think it’s the imaginative and artistic exploration of what the meaning and implications of Quantum might be, for human consciousness and otherwise, that can help us understand the problematic dimensions of the traditional claims to exclusivism, in a more universal, moderate, peaceful, and scientific framework. Equally, the problematic dimensions of science become Scientism needs to confront the spiritual implications of its own research in the fullness of the cultural perspective with which only the humanities and traditional religions can suffuse, enrich, and enliven it, with a new understanding of our common humanity, implicit in Quantum Physics, which can be brought to fruition and the attention of the general populace by the cooperative efforts of both humanists and scientists, understanding now the seriousness, necessity, and urgency of resolving the conflict between the “two cultures.”

In The Transformation George Leonard has a very choice quotation from the astronaut Neil Armstrong, from a dinner party conversation his daughter had had once with the first man to walk on the moon, looking back at Mother Earth, words I have remembered and reflected on for decades and try to honor in my epic, like a story around a campfire:

“I want to tell you one thing. When I first looked back and saw the earth there in space, something happened to me.” And then, in a lower more intense voice, “I’ll never be the same.”

Such experiences of “I’ll never be the same” constitute the bedrock of what it means to be human, life after life, exploring it, widening the individual’s consciousness and deepening the possibilities of our own self-understanding as a species on this planet, suggesting who we are and ways to save ourselves during this time of ongoing global crisis and transformation.

Frederick Glaysher


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The Gospel of Thomas, from The Nag Hammadi Scriptures

Cygnus Loop supernova

Cygnus Loop supernova

Excerpts from The Gospel of Thomas, from The Nag Hammadi Scriptures, ed. Marvin Meyer, 2007 

“Jesus said, ‘I am the light that is over all things. I am all: from me all has come forth, and to me all has reached. Split a piece of wood; I am there. Lift up the stone, and you will find me there.'”

“Jesus said, ‘I am the light that is over all things. I am all: from me all has come forth, and to me all has reached. Split a piece of wood; I am there. Lift up the stone, and you will find me there.'”

“Jesus said, ‘If you bring forth what is within you, what you have will save you. If you do not have that within you, what you do not have within you will kill you.'”

“Jesus said, ‘Blessed are those who are alone and chosen, for you will find the kingdom. For you have come from it, and you will return there again.'”* (Footnote #91: “Or ‘solitary’ (Coptic monakhos).”)

“Jesus said, ‘Be passersby.'” (Footnote #79: “Cf. an Arabic inscription at the site of a mosque at Fatehpur Sikri, India…”)

“Jesus said, ‘If they say to you, ‘Where have you come from?’ say to them, ‘We have come from the light, from the place where the light came into being by itself, established itself, and appeared in their image.'”

“Jesus said, ‘One who seeks will find; for one who knocks it will be opened.'”

“Jesus said, ‘When you make the two into one, you will become children of humanity, and when you say, ‘Mountain, move from here, it will move.'” (Footnote #184: “Or ‘sons of man.'”)

“Jesus said, ‘Whoever drinks from my mouth will become like me. I myself shall become that person, and the hidden things will be revealed to that person.'”

“Jesus said, ‘Woe to the flesh that depends on the soul. Woe to the soul that depends on the flesh.'”

“His disciples said to him, ‘When will the kingdom come?’ ‘It will not come by watching for it. It will not be said, ‘Look, here it is,’ or ‘Look, there it is.’ Rather, the Father’s kingdom is spread out upon the earth, and people do not see it.'”


“I and my Father are one.” –Jesus Christ, Gospel of John (KJV) 10:30

“Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, Ye are gods?'” John 10:34; Pslam 82 

“The Father is in me and I am in the Father.” John 10:38


Jesus Christ did not create denominations. Neither the Christianity of consubstantiation nor the Christianity of transubstantiation.

Is it any wonder that the Council of Nicaea sought to destroy the teachings of Christ, as Dostoevsky understood so well in his chapter on The Grand Inquisitor, and Tolstoy when he condemned the doctrines of the Russian Orthodox Church as “sorcery”? Little did Constantine and the bishops know that quantum physics would restore them…

Frederick Glaysher

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Epic Poetry and Quantum Physics

The Parliament of Poets: An Epic Poem

The Parliament of Poets: An Epic Poem

Epic Poetry and Quantum Physics

I believe the only way to reach the imagination of the entire culture is through the cultural richness and plenitude of the humanities, speaking broadly, which includes all of the religious and wisdom traditions. Story, myth, and drama reach the deepest into the psyche, as Jung, Campbell, and others understood, as they had learned from the greatest works of art and myth that were in fact at the core of their own studies. Having read the astronaut Edgar Mitchell’s The Way of the Explorer and various other things, such as Frithjof Capra’s The Turning Point and George B. Leonard’s The Transformation, long ago, I respected their attempt and approach. There are many voices who have and are grappling with these things, from various angles.

Science cannot really heal alone the divide that it, too, suffered as a result of the upheavals of the seventeenth century and modernity, though quantum physics has led some to reconsider and foresee a transition of the worldview as a result of it. On the other hand, I acknowledge that literature and the humanities cannot heal the wound of civilization alone either. I’ve come to realize that it can only be done together… an act in itself that would at last demonstrate the divide has been crossed, dramatizing it, as it were, for all to understand.

Science fiction can produce a good read for some but I don’t believe it can bear the weight of the entire civilization, in a form that commands cultural respect commensurate with the theme in question.

Resolution can only come about for the entire social sphere through literature and culture, at the most sensitive levels, bearing a sense of history, of the past, as well as a sense of the new scientific worldview implicit in quantum physics. Believing all that, I chose the epic form because of its universality, its presence in some form in most major cultures, and its ability to carry the burden of epochal reassessment and transformation, which it has repeatedly demonstrated in the past.

By dramatizing those antinomies, like life itself, beheld in a mirror, as it were, I believe we can imaginatively choose change, in consciousness, change consciousness, leading to and helping to make more possible adjustments in reality, which we all so dearly need around the world.

We human beings, our thinking so narrow and restrictive, as soon as we “organize,” in the supposed best interest of others, whether “religious” or “secular,” every “box” failing sooner or later… often with much woe before we realize it. To my mind, the whole modern assortment of cardboard boxes, whether traditional institutional “religion” or the Enlightenment myth and its offspring, are crumbling all around us, unable to hold together and do justice to the contents of the psyche, protect and guide us from our own worst passions and assumptions, crippling fragmentation our daily bread and dilemma.

It’s not an easy task to confront all that and suggest a modest reassessment, not Utopian hubris, but it seems that every sign continues to demonstrate how urgent it is that we human beings achieve it. What but universality offers hope in the face of all the movements clamoring for exclusivism, in one form for or another? What have we lived into around the globe if not the rich and fertile pluralism of universality?

I feel the rich heritage that we carry with us, though, has become open to everyone around the globe, so that instead of only one exclusive tradition, if you will, we human beings have been becoming for a long time now increasingly heirs of all the past forms of transcendence. Far from their being swept aside, what is universal in them has become increasingly clarified so that it can be seen and appreciated as universal… an infinite Unity and Oneness, the global heritage of humanity.

I think of Boris Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago, when he extols basically the life force versus ideas about life… as in the totalitarians forcing their ideas on the whole society, to the destruction of a civilized form of life. The West has gone about it in different ways, but, to an extent, arguably, achieved something like it in its own way–both materialistic at the core.

Early in life I had also read Ram Das’ Be Here Now, in my early twenties, along with some books by Alan Watts, Carlos Castaneda, Krishnamurti, Arnold Toynbee, Sufi poets, and so on. Having actually read even earlier in high school The World Bible, one of the early popular collections of the Upanishads, Buddhist, and other major scriptures, I was open to, shall we say, every current on Earth. Still am.

But living in Japan and traveling throughout China, and so on, sobered me up, in a lot of ways, study and life making clear that the East too has passed into the crucible of modernity, where we all have been mixed and poured together… human at best.

I have a long and complicated religious lineage, or journey, one probably easy to misread. I hope to write someday more about it in prose, a Confessions, if you will, though my epic, I’d like to think, is the best account. One of my essays may be my next best attempt to suggest it, in literary terms,

Tolstoy and the Last Station of Modernity

What religion-become-doctrine does is disperse the mystery from lived life. I attended once an interfaith meeting in which two Christian ministers spent much of the time rehashing consubstantiation versus transubstantiation in front of Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, and others, as to which interpretation was essentially the “true” Christian one. I’ve never been able to see any Christianity in either, and I’m someone who actually studied those doctrines, at various times, out of historical and literary interest. Much of the culture is frozen in all those antiquated categories of “religion,” and then much of the rest of it is locked into fighting against those outdated conceptions, skewing its own thinking, while our crises loom ever larger.

The language of poetry is the only tongue that can evoke and probe the matters of the soul… short of prayer. So there must be a way, to… reach…

Frederick Glaysher

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