Psychology had become stuck

For three hundred years, physics was predicated on the notion that objects that are far apart can’t directly influence one another. This became our accepted understanding of the way the world is built. Quantum theory resolves the seeming paradox of entanglement with nonlocality – the understanding that properties of entangled particles are correlated even when it would seem impossible for the particles to influence or affect one another. Numerous experiments since 1964 have shown that the effects of nonlocality are real. Quantum physics says we can no longer think of two particles as separate entities; somehow, they are part of the same entity. The world isn’t made of individual particles. It’s an inseparable whole. And our attention is what beholds both expressions of reality: point and wave, distinctness and oneness. 

Could quantum physics offer an explanation or guidepost for how and why synchronicity occurs? If particles are entangled – interconnected and correlated across vast distances – might humans, made up of many particles, be intimately and inextricably entangled, too? And might synchronistic experiences be those moments when a wave of possibility is discernible as a particle? When someone else’s “spin-up,” determines our “spin-down”?

And could quantum physics provide a new paradigm for psychology? A way to perceive and navigate a reality in which we are both particles and waves?

Marty Seligman once told me about a symposium at the University of Pennsylvania where a speaker played music and turned on blinking Christmas lights and asked the audience to detect the relationship between the patterns of sound and light. People put forward various theories, different ratios to describe the relationship between the beat of the music and the one-and-off of the lights. Then, after people had passionately argued their theories, the speaker revealed that actually, there was no pattern – that the sound and lights weren’t at all connected. That to detect a relationship was to impose a unifying meaning onto random, disconnected parts. That meaning is imputed, not inherent.

It seemed that this was the place where psychology had become stuck, in a view of reality as incomplete as Newton’s, bound by three limiting assumptions: (1) that the brain creates thoughts; (2) that all meaning is interpretation; (3) that we can feel better by rearranging our thoughts – by disputing the thoughts that make us unhappy, and replacing depressing thoughts with a new framework that helps us tell a brighter story. But what if the brain didn’t create thoughts so much as receive them? What if our brains were less like idea generators and more like antennae or docking stations for a larger consciousness? What if to feel better is actually to detect and be in alignment with that consciousness? What if emotions direct us into the world as it really is?

From “The Awakened Brain: The New Science of Spirituality and Our Quest for an Inspired Life” by Lisa Miller, PhD