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Nick Herbert

the nature of God, and bigger problems that we don’t even know how to ask yet. So, actually I’m not too interested in the problem of finding fundamental particles, but my guess is, from what we know now, that we’re very close to that situation.

DJB: So you really do think that there is a fundamental particle?

NICK: Yeah, I do; it might be a quark or a lepton.

DJB: You don’t think that quarks are made up of even smaller, more fundamental things, and that it goes on and on and on?

NICK: Naw, I don’t think so. That’s just my guess.

RMN: Could you describe what is meant by a “measurement”?

NICK: By a measurement? No, I can’t. There’s something in quantum physics called the measurement problem, and I could describe that. The main problem in quantum physics is that it describes the world differently when you measure it, than when you don’t. When you don’t measure it, when you don’t look at the world, it’s described as waves of vibrating possibilities, buzzing opportunities, promises and potentia. In some ways it’s not quite real, and it’s all vibrating. It sounds a little bit like drugs doesn’t it? All these oscillating possibilities. Then when you look, it’s perfectly normal. The possibilities change into actualities, and these actualities are point-like. They’re called quanta, quantum jumps, like little dots on the TV screen, or on a color photograph in a magazine. So, to make it brief, the world changes from possibility waves to actual particles, from possibility to actuality, from waves to particles. And the door through which this happens is called a measurement. When you make a measurement, that’s what happens, but quantum physics doesn’t tell us what a measurement is. What’s a measurement? No one knows. It’s not in the theory. There are lots of guesses about what a measurement might be. Some extreme guesses are that consciousness has to be involved–only when some entity becomes aware, do the vibratory possibilities change into actualities. That’s one guess.

Another guess is that whenever a record is made, whenever something becomes irreversible, not take-backable, as long as you procrastinate your measurement, and refrain from making a real decision, then the world remains in a state of possibility. But as soon as it becomes irrevocable, then it’s happened, and it’s actual. So you look into nature for irrevocable acts, and that’s where measurements happen. But, there are problems with both of these guesses. Physicists don’t really have a really good model of what a measurement is. As I say, it’s called the measurement problem in quantum physics, and it’s the main philosophical problem. But fortunately, or unfortunately, physicists never have to confront this problem directly, because we know how to make measurements. We do it all the time. Even ordinary people know how to make measurements. So no one ever sees this quantum world directly, the vibratory possibilities, because we have ways of making measurements.

DJB: We have ways of making the universe unambiguous.

NICK: Yes, we have ways of making the universe unambiguous: They’re called the senses. Now, it’s my feeling that when we look inside we actually experience some of this quantum ambiguity. Looking inside is not actually making a measurement all the time. We can actually dwell in this, on the other side, the other side meaning the vibratory possibilities. Some of our mind is there all the time, and part of mental life is taking this vibratory possibility and transforming it into actualities. Not all of mental life, but with some of our mental life, that’s what we do. So we’re aware of both sides in our mental life, but not in this external life,

DJB: How has your study of quantum physics influenced your understanding of what consciousness is?

NICK: Yeah, we’re already getting into that. I feel that quantum physics is one side of consciousness, it’s the material manifestation of consciousness. Quantum physicists are basically describing something that’s conscious, and the inside of quantum physics is what we experience as awareness. I mean, this notion of potentia becoming actual, doesn’t that sound like what goes on in your mind?

DJB: From out of the realm of all things that are possible, we pick out a few things and make them actualities.

NICK: Yes. Exactly. Yeah, doesn’t that sound like something mental beings do, making decisions?

DJB: Yeah, it does. So then do you think it’s possible for consciousness to exist without a physical container, so to speak?

NICK: Yes, in a sense. But I don’t think it’s possible for our type of consciousness to exist without matter around. But it needn’t be this kind of matter in your brain. Different minds, different highs. The kind of practice we humans know about is taking possibilities and making them actual. You’ve got to have a universe to make them actual in. So we probably need matter then. It seems that our kind of consciousness and matter are inseparable. So

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