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Tom Shroder
Tom Shroder

The Quantum Leap Into Absurdity

Stop using quantum weirdness to justify pseudo-science.

Because I wrote two books — Old Souls, about scientific investigations into reincarnation, and Acid Test, about the use of psychedelics in therapy — that occupy the tenuous border between science and spirituality, I get a lot of messages from people who think they have come up with novel scientific explanations for mystical phenomena. These ideas can range from the spectacularly crackpot to the marginally rational. But almost all seem to share one feature: They make use of a foggy notion of quantum uncertainty and weirdness to stand in for a mechanism enabling spooky action in the macro world, the one we all inhabit.

This is understandable. The quantum world is truly strange and defies "common sense," the irrefutable logic of living in the large-scale world. The quantum world is one in which time can go backward and particles can be nowhere and everywhere simultaneously. It is undeniably mysterious and occult, but that doesn't mean it justifies or explains everything that is mysterious and occult.

A recent example: Someone sent me a very carefully reasoned argument outlining a theory of how a personality could survive death and then transfer intact to a new body, i.e, reincarnate. The business end of the theory involved the "extra dimensions" that are an intrinsic part of string theory — a decades-old, still unverified idea about how to unify the big world of galaxies with the tiny world of quantum events.

My correspondent came up with the idea that these still mysterious extra dimensions — there are a bunch of 'em — could include one devoted to personal "essence," the stuff that creates personality, and acts as a way station to receive the personality from a dead body and hold it until a new body host presents itself, at which point it crosses back into that body into our familiar four dimensions of space and time.

There are two problems with this idea:

  1. There is absolutely zero evidence for it.
  2. It completely misunderstands what the "extra dimensions" in string theory are about.

These dimensions are not part of some vague metaphysical idea but they specifically arise out of the formidable mathematics that gave rise to string theory in the first place. For the very elegant formulas to work, the incredibly complex equations require extra dimensions – and not dimensions in the science-fiction sense of twilight zones and Bizarro worlds, but spatial dimensions like the ones we are familiar with, only so tiny and rolled up that we can't perceive them with even our most sophisticated instruments. These dimensions would have no room to hold the messy and sprawling phenomenon of human personality, much less any mechanism for the unloading and transfer process.

Quantum reality has a lot to teach us about this awesome universe we inhabit, but it is not a go-to explanation and excuse for whatever loose and unscientific idea that pops into our heads.

About the Author
Tom Shroder

Tom Shroder is a journalist and author of the books Acid Test and Old Souls.

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