June 22, 2009 at 6:17 PM 18 comments

In a recent post, I suggested that modern cosmology raised questions about the adequacy of the traditional Judeo-Christian picture of the relationship between the human body and the human spirit.  Today’s consensus model of cosmology, combined with principles of quantum mechanics, suggests new possibilities for interpreting the body-spirit relationship.  These interpretations derive some aspects of Restorationist theology as a more unified and natural — and less special, less supernatural — expression of the way God works. 

These interpretations also force us to question whether our human misunderstandings about the “mechanisms of heaven” are leading us to do serious injustice on earth right now to members of the families with whom so many in the Restoration hope to spend eternity  — to harm the very church and family structures we believe are essential to doing God’s will “on earth as it is in heaven”.

Before exploring such ideas further, I must first present  another concept that has become a central part of emerging physics: the concept of “duality”.

In both theology and religion, there is a concept called “dualism”, which — to avoid confusion later — I’ll note now has nothing much to do with “duality”.  The former concept involves the notion that there are two aspects of reality which may be diametrically opposed, mutually inconsistent, balanced or unbalanced, or even complementary — but always conceptually separable such that they refer to two different things.  

Good or evil.  Material or immaterial.  Mind or matter.  Spiritual or physical. Even male or female.  As this Dictionary of the History of Ideas article explains, many of these “dualism” classifications have been used as the bases of philosophy and religions since primitive times. They seem to constantly reemerge after being subordinated to religious and philosophical principles of “monism” (oneness or wholeness).

Duality instead has nothing to do with two different aspects of reality.  Instead, it focuses on recognizing that a single, inseparable “monist” reality does almost always have two (or more) entirely separable “dualist” descriptions.  It is the decriptions of reality that are dual — like two languages used to describe the same concept — and not the reality itself.

In a way, duality was the key to the anomaly that sparked the entire quantum revolution in physics at the beginning of the 1900’s.  Light had been understood as electromagnetic waves since the work of James Maxwell, published in 1864.  The existence of such waves was a required consequence of the basic laws of electricity and magnetism that had been easily verified in the laboratory.

But as the 20th Century dawned, observations about light were beginning to pile up that could not be explained by any wave model.  Instead, depending only on the question an experiment asked, light seemed to betray either wave-like or particle-like behavior. Look for wave properties, and the experiment would find them; look for particle properties, and the experiment would find them instead. Even notions of everyday common sense would break down to maintain the insistance on light being both wave and particle.

Worse, when the wave experiments grew sophisticated enough to be applied to good-old-rock-solid matter, matter showed exactly the same stubborn insistance on being both particle and wave-like, too.  Everything in the material world turned out to exhibit the properties of these seemingly contradictory physical models.  Reality could not be so neatly compartmentalized according to the mental constructs humanity had available.

For a time, there was even a trendy word to describe things — “wavacle” — until people realized that giving something a new name didn’t mean we understood it any better.  Quantum mechanics, the science that developed out of these early shocks to our conceptual system, has only one reality.  But it can be described in at least two mathematical languages: the mathematical language of waves, and the mathematical language of “matrices”. 

The languages were proven to be translatable from one to another before 1930, and so they must always make exactly the same predictions.  But the value in the notion of duality is that — just as some things are easy to say in German that are extraordinarily difficult to say in Japanese, and vice versa — the difficulty in making predictions in one description is easy for some situations, yet impossibly hard in the other description.  And in some other situation, the utility of the two descriptions is completely reversed.  Scientists needed two conceptually different languages to describe this one reality in which we live.

New examples of duality showed up with increasing frequency as people began to appreciate the explanatory power of the approach.  Some of the dualities that have been recognized are even more bizarre than the wave-particle duality. 

Many of today’s best candidate theories for “quantum gravity” that would unite relativity and quantum mechanics into a “theory of everything” are collectively known as “string theory”.  They often have a property called “T-duality”.  In particular, they predict that a universe, such as ours appears to be – of vast extent and expanding in size – is absolutely indistinguishable from an infinitesimally small universe which is shrinking toward nothingness. The laws of physics would dictate that exactly the same electrical and gravitational signals would enter our brains in either case. 

If these string theories are correct, large and small are alternative languages to describe the same reality.  In fact, for all we can tell, we could all be living in an ultramicroscopic reality right now, with our brains arbitrarily choosing to interpret things so that the universe appears infinite in extent.

Then there’s the “holographic principle”. This idea seems to suggest that there are deep connections between modern information theory — the science that underlies telecommunications, including the internet — and the structure of spacetime itself. In addition to the way we describe reality, there appears to be an entirely equivalent way to describe it using one less spatial demension. There are even reports that an unexpected effect predicted by the second description has been seen in equipment accidentally optimized for its detection.

So duality is not going away from physics anytime soon, regardless of what the philosophers and theologians have to say about monism versus dualism. Might it be fruitful for the theologians to consider what the concept of duality has to add to their debate?

In a way, duality as the existence of multiple descriptions of a single reality, Jesus Christ — “fully man, yet fully God” — is almost too obvious within Christian history. Indeed, the connection between the Father and the Son, with the Holy Ghost thrown in as a third description for good measure, is another application ripe for exploration.

However, what I’d like to explore in future posts is the question of whether we can replace the notion of dualism between the physical and spiritual with the notion of duality, so that we can begin to conceptualize the physical and spiritual realms not as separate arenas of reality, but as two translatable descriptions of a single all-encompassing reality.

If the physical and spiritual are governed by principles of duality, not dualism, then things we do on earth may not just affect what happens in heaven, they may actually be the things that happen in heaven, and vice versa.


Entry filed under: Christianity, mathematics, Mormonism, physics, Science and Theology.


18 Comments Add your own

  • 1. TH  |  June 23, 2009 at 2:52 PM


    Clearly, there is a lot to chew on here, so I will start my digestion with this comment.

    Quantum mechanics predicts a reality that is strange because reality operates beyond the usual constraints of our thinking:
    Physicist:…and so we conclude the electron is a particle.
    Philosopher: But you also claim an electron is a wave.
    Physicist: Yes, it is also a wave.
    Philosopher: But surely, not if it’s a particle.
    Physicist: We say it is both a wave and a particle.
    Philosopher: That’s a contradiction.
    Physicist: Are you saying it is neither wave nor particle?
    Philosopher: No, I’m asking what you mean by “it.”
    –Taken from Hagen (1995:9) How the World Can Be The Way It Is

    Quantum theory requires a conceptual transformation in ways that moving from classical physics to relativity does not. While I know very little of the concepts involved in any of these branches and even less of the math that supports the theories, I do like where you seem to be going with your post. It almost seems like you are making an analogy between quantum theory and theology…the theology that emerges from an understanding of quantum mechanics requires a leap in thinking that goes beyond a linear progression of theological development.

    There is more coming, but this is a start.

  • 2. FireTag  |  June 23, 2009 at 3:20 PM

    One of the more interesting descriptions of the philosophical meaning of QM I’ve ever read had the philosopher in question concluding that physicists obviously didn’t know how to describe their own theories in proper philosophical terms.

    Possibly true. We physicists ARE arrogant — which we basically proved by ignoring the learned philosopher’s opinion. Instead, we came up with half-a-dozen different interpretations of QM, several of which don’t even relate to the question the philosopher addressed.

    I guess the lesson is that we are all “learned” in different things, and we’d do better not to ignore each other’s insights and insist that everything must be expressed in our own language of choice.

  • 3. TH  |  June 25, 2009 at 4:57 PM

    Because this is such a “heady” topic, I’m concerned about it staying too much in the abstract. One of the places where we might discuss the application of this is in the realm of sacraments. Sacraments are commonly thought of as an intersection between humanity and divinity. While I understand your point that the physical and spiritual are united, I wonder if the sacraments are a good example of how physical and spiritual connect with one another. Sacraments have a physical description for what takes place (e.g., a person is baptised by being immersed in [or sprinkled with, depending on one’s tradition] water), and sacraments also have a spiritual description for what takes place (e.g., person’s sins are washed away and has died and risen to new life in Christ).

    • 4. FireTag  |  June 25, 2009 at 5:41 PM

      One of the things I am really beginning to understand (I know not but now know that I know not!) is that LDS and CofChrist concepts of the nature, mechanism, and role of the sacraments proceed from entirely different worldviews.

      I think that would be a very fruitful area to research and post about.

  • 5. Middle Way  |  October 27, 2009 at 5:22 PM

    Below is my reinterpretation of the Middle Way, which is what Buddha taught. It unites dualism and duality, as you put it, into “a single all-encompassing reality”.

    When you realize that nothing in the real world is 100% good or 100% bad, then you can begin to understand that “Reality is Between the Dualities”.

    As you seem to have a knowledge of physics, when I asked a physics major if the charge of an electron was something in the real world which was 100% dualistic, he replied, “No, when you take Time into consideration”. Please let me know if you can think of anything, in the real world, which is 100% good or 100% bad.

    As you seem to be religious, it is worth mentioning that the Bible teaches dualisms, which are concepts appropriate for young minds. Older minds can handle more complex ideas, thus the notion of “Reality is Between the Dualities” can be understood. This more complex understanding has it initial basis on dualistic concepts. Another words, flawed dualistic thinking can lead to an enlightened non-dualistic understanding.

    • 6. FireTag  |  October 28, 2009 at 12:05 AM

      I respect Buddhism as a valid world religious tradition, but what I know about it is restricted to what I learned in a Chinese civilization course 40 years ago and the bits and pieces I’ve cribbed from my daughter’s theology courses.

      I don’t know whether my mind is young spiritually or old physically, but it is very Western in orientation. It is a big reach to learn a new spiritual language that means seeing from a different cultural prospectrive to begin with.

      • 7. Middle Way  |  October 28, 2009 at 12:27 PM

        I was born in the U.S., was raised as a Christian, and it sounds like me might be the same age (I’m 59). I was exposed to Buddhism at a young age, as my uncle was Buddhist, so I visited a temple and offered incense, but thought the gold decorations and chanting to be very odd. At 30, I was married in a Buddhist temple, but I wasn’t a Buddhist back then.

        All it really takes to understand Buddhism is a desire to free yourself from the cycle of suffering (due to ignorance). Ignorance comes from ignoring reality (like Catholics who ignored heliocentrism for 300 years or Christians who still ignore evolution after 150 years, and please don’t take that as a personal invective as I am simply stating facts). When people think in a flawed manner, flawed outcomes are likely to result. Those flawed outcomes lead to suffering. Enlightened (clearer) thinking helps to remove pain and suffering

  • 8. Middle Way  |  October 27, 2009 at 5:44 PM

    Noticed your 80/20 posting, which is a recognition of “between”, but still tries for the unreal 100%. You are between a Christian and an atheist, because that is reality. No real person is 100% good or 100% evil. Every Christian that voted for W is tainted with W and Cheney’s lies. Once you are enlightened to the Middle Way, you accept that all reality is between the dualities, so you can see more clearly. The concepts of heaven and earth may be one and the same… we are between being able to see heaven on earth today. Thinking dualistically is what prevents that from happening.

    • 9. FireTag  |  October 27, 2009 at 11:46 PM

      Because you are a first time visitor and just starting your own blog, I will let the above post stand unedited. However, this is not a site for personal invective toward political opponents — and hardly the “middle way”.

      Both of the following statements are unacceptable for this forum:

      Every Christian that voted for W is tainted with W and Cheney’s lies.

      Every Christian that voted for O is tainted with O and Wright’s lies.


      • 10. Middle Way  |  October 28, 2009 at 12:49 PM

        What Buddhism is about is the removal of suffering due to flaws in perception. Your reply indicates pain (anger) which appears to be due to flawed dualistic thinking (if you voted for W, you are bad… political opponents).
        There is no “good” or “bad” in the real world.
        This becomes evident if you cannot find anything in the real world which is 100% good or 100% bad.
        If there is no “good” or “bad” in the real world, then what is there?
        There is an infinitely wonderful space between the dualities, where reality exists. Until you can see that space, you do not think it exists.
        The poet Rumi wrote, “There is a field beyond good and evil. I will meet you there.” Rumi could see that wonderful space (reality) between the dualities.

  • 11. FireTag  |  October 28, 2009 at 12:55 PM

    I find no personal invective in today’s comment, Middle Way, but I am still a very much committed Christian, and I don’t have a desire to free myself from the cycle of suffering and follow a Buddhist path.

    I think reality is a wonderful place over all that gives us the greatest opportunity to explore all of our potential. It’s just too big to explore all of those potentials in one physical lifetime.

    While that may bear a superficial resemblance to the notion of reincarnation, it’s actually very different because the underlying assumptions about the nature of time itself proceed from a different framework. (I think you may have already accessed the post “You’ve Read This Post Before”, but if not, you may find it interesting in this regard.

    • 12. TH  |  October 28, 2009 at 5:24 PM

      I’m reading the dialogue between Fire Tag and Middle Way. Because I am the one who wrote the 80/20 Christian, I thought I would comment on Middle Way’s response. So…Hi, Middle Way–

      I have studied Buddhism and have found value in a number of Buddhist teachings. I consider Tenzin Palmo to be one of the spiritual teachers that I, for lack of a better way to describe it, “look up to” or have great respect for. In Buddhism, the world as we perceive it normally is called maya or illusion. True reality is an undivided consciousness or Buddha nature. In this view, we as individuals do not exist and all the duality that we see in the world is not really dual, but is really just manifestations of the undivided consciousness.

      There are various interpretations of Christian theology and Christian perspectives and that is beyond the scope of my post. As you know, it is difficult to talk about non-duality or describing the consciousness. You are probably familiar with the famous quote, “If you see the Buddha on the road, kill him.” The idea is not anti-Buddhist, but rather means that the Buddha that you see cannot be the whole Buddha because your very perception of him as having limits isn’t the true perception which is no limits.

      So, on that note I think you may have misunderstood the intention of the 80/20 Christian post. The idea of the post is essentially that there may be some things which are better uses of our energy and resources than other things. So that I, as a Christian who wants to be like Christ (you as a Buddhist might wish to be like Buddha–and of course the term trying to be like implies the duality again, but that is only because the expression of the idea I am saying is limited by words) might do well to focus my energy and attention on the things that truly optimize my response to the Spirit…give 80% of my effort to the 20% of the things that most matter. For you, it seems like your best understanding of God of Consciousness or whatever term you like, suggests that you should be paying attention to and using your resources towards the Middle Way.

      Hope that helps clarify.

      • 13. Middle Way  |  October 28, 2009 at 10:03 PM

        Hi TH… Thank you for your thoughts and sharing information about Tenzin Palmo, who I hope to find out more about upon your high recommendation. There are so many wonderful teachers in the world. The Dalai Lama led a Medicine Buddha (Bodhisattva) vow which I took and chant. The chant is in sanskit, so it is quite a learning experience, as each word connects to historic teachings. In any case, hopefully you are aware that a bodhisattva vow is to save all sentient beings, which explains my appearance here.

        Alan Watts said, “It would be incorrect to evaluate Buddhism from a Christian perspective”. Since Christianity is dualistic (God vs Devil, good vs evil, etc), a dualistic viewpoint would not see merits in a non-dualistic world (no good, no bad; no right, no wrong). Buddha taught the Middle Way, and my reinterpretation is “Reality is Between the Dualities”. Since nothing in the real world is 100% good or 100% bad, then there is no good, no bad, only the area between. The Middle Way is to learn to see that area between the dualities. As you wrote, “the undivided consciousness”. Others have called it the ultimate reality or ultimate truth.

        In your 80/20 post, you wrote: “If you are a Christian, then you are a Christian 100% of the time.” Can you tell me anyone who is Christian 100% of the time? Sleep alone takes up 30%. You might say that you didn’t include sleep, but I would contend that most people are semi-asleep most of the day. Those that think dualistically are certainly not fully awake.

        Please don’t take this as a condemnation of Christianity, as I previously mentioned that dualistic thinking is appropriate for teaching young ones, who need simple concepts. Adults need to understand that dualistic thinking is not reality.

      • 14. Middle Way  |  October 28, 2009 at 10:29 PM

        You wrote that “your very perception of (Buddha) as having limits isn’t the true perception which is no limits.”
        Can you see that “no limits” is the notion of a non-dualistic reality? Can a person who believes in God also believe in non-dualism? Your answer might be no, but my answer would be yes. Is there a field beyond good and evil, in which we can meet?

  • 15. Middle Way  |  October 28, 2009 at 2:28 PM

    A compass is a device that helps give us direction.

    The Bible is like a compass that points north.
    Buddhism is like a compass that points east.
    Islam is like a compass that points to Mecca.
    Science is like a compass that points at the laws of the universe.

    Multiple compasses help us to travel morally and intelligently.

    The above is an exert from something I wrote in 2006. It helps to clarify the value of religion and science. As you seem to already use two compasses (The Bible and science), you might feel that is enough. Many think one compass is enough.

    I usually tell people that we really do have a compass that points east…. it’s the sunrise. If you see a sunrise and think of it as a beautiful moment in time, then that makes you a little bit buddhist, because part of what buddhism is about is learning to see beauty in the world. Buddhism embraces science, so when you see beauty in space/time, that makes you a little more buddhist. If you recall the Middle Way, reality is between the dualities (Buddhist, not Buddhist; Christian, not Christian).

    I read your posting “You’ve Read This Post Before”. The notion of multiverses and multiple dimensions (11 in string theory) is most intriguing. Since time is a dimension that is invisible to most people, seeing the past or future is something that certain people are able to do. Scientists are very good at seeing the past and future, but most people have difficulty even seeing the present.

  • 16. FireTag  |  October 28, 2009 at 3:20 PM

    Good point. The more ways we can look at the universe, the more of reality we see, and the greater the chance for breakthroughs in vision.

    • 17. Middle Way  |  October 28, 2009 at 3:39 PM

      BTW… since you wrote “look at the universe”, you might be interested in getting a poster of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, which can be seen at http://www.brightmorningpress.com (Catalog)
      The descriptive text helps people to understand how incomprehensibly huge our universe is. It utilized the highest quality image available from NASA.

      • 18. FireTag  |  October 28, 2009 at 5:04 PM

        NASA has an extraordinary collection of images to view if anyone wants to begin to see how large reality is, and by implication the minimum that a God responsible for all of it must be.

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