Does Quantum Mechanics Support Buddhism?

From the Lecture Series: Understanding the Misconceptions of Science

By Don Lincoln, Ph.D., Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab)

Quantum mechanics is not always easy to understand. It tries to explain the world’s systems at the scale of atom and atomic particles. Some old mysteries of physics were resolved using quantum physics. There are many rumors about strange concepts, but the misconception that quantum mechanics supports Buddhism is one of the oddest ones.

An illustration of particle, quantum entanglement.
Many people wrongly believe that quantum mechanics supports Buddhism, but there is absolutely no scientific background for the belief. (Image: Jurik Peter/Shutterstock)

Physics is a science of movement, actions, and reactions. However, not everything in it is as easy and straightforward as falling or pushing. Relativity was one of the first such topics in physics.

Quantum Mechanics

Relativity paved the way for quantum mechanics, which was an even more complex topic. Relativity talked about issues like how objects seem to gain mass when they go fast, or when clocks slow down or objects shrink. None of these could be explained by classic physics.

Further, scientists began focusing on smaller scales: the realm of atoms and electrons, and if the small subatomic particles were particles or waves. Quantum mechanics was born to answer these complex questions.

Learn more about untangling what quantum mechanics means.

Quantum Mechanics and Buddhism

Quantum mechanics reaches beyond the known physical realms and even claims that consciousness is a fundamental component of the nature of physics. This strangeness stretches up to the point that many writings connect it to Eastern philosophy. They then wrongly conclude that this branch of physics supports Buddhism.

There is no scientific base connecting quantum physics and any Eastern philosophy, including Buddhism. However, many people have connected them merely because both are peculiar and nonintuitive. It is simply wrong to think that these two subjects are on any level connected or support each other.

Unfortunately, it has been repeated so many times that it begins to look logical, while the truth is far from it. However, why did people get that idea in the first place?

This is a transcript from the video series Understanding the Misconceptions of Science. Watch it now, on Wondrium.

Peculiarities of Quantum Mechanics

Quantum mechanics covers strange topics that are not that predictable. For example, if a person tries to predict something in a hypothetical situation, the possibility of wrong predictions is very high. The subatomic world is not easily predictable, either.

The structure of atoms, the possibility of faster-than-light communications, and the confusing nature of light are all topics of this branch of physics. Let’s focus on light as one example. Even scientists before Isaac Newton had tried to understand light, but it was him and a Dutch physicist, Christiaan Huygens, who debated the question.

Learn more about if we can go faster than light.

The Nature of Light

Newton believed that light was a particle, and Huygens claimed that it was a wave. It took science until 1801 when British polymath and physicist Thomas Young did a series of experiments on light to answer the question.

Particles and waves act differently when they pass through slits. Young used this to design his experiment and passed light through two thin slits. If a particle goes through, it will either pass or hit the wall around and fall. If it passes through, and another wall is placed behind the slit, they will hit the wall in a characteristic pattern. This is how shadows are formed.

On the contrary, waves spread out after they pass through the slit. Like the water waves in an ocean, other waves can also join to form a bigger one or go against each other and somehow kill each other. What did light do?

Learn more about whether there is a theory of everything.

Light’s Wave Behavior

Atomic particle reflection in the pupil of an eye for physics background.
Light was a mystery for many scientists, and even its wave-like behavior could not answer all questions. (Image: Ezume Images/Shutterstock)

Young cut two slits on a wall and placed a screen far behind it. If light was a wave, it should have spread on the screen further away, and the two sources had to interfere, either positively or negatively. If the interference is constructive, they will enhance one another to make a bigger wave, and if they destructively interfere, the two waves cancel each other out.

It can be calculated where the waves would constructively and destructively interfere, but this is beyond the scope of this article, focusing on quantum mechanics and its basic components. However, waves that interfere, come out of the slits with different angles.

When Young did the experiment, he saw clear wave behavior in light. A wave’s behavior can be predicted: there would be bright spots where the waves combine together and dark spots where they cancel each other. This is what light did.

The scientific community then agreed with Huygens on the nature of light as a wave. It seemed settled until in the late 1800s, a new question arose: does light have electrons? Obviously, light has energy, and that is how one can get a sunburn by too much exposure to sunlight. Now scientists had a new challenge and had to see how electrons and light were related. The wave nature of light was also under question again.

Whether or not it was wave or particle is a discussion for another time, but this was only one example of what quantum mechanics has to deal with. No wonder some people relate it to Buddhism, which it definitely isn’t!

Common Questions about Quantum Mechanics

Q: What is quantum mechanics in simple terms?

Quantum mechanics focuses on how the particles that make up atoms work, and is also called quantum physics.

Q: How is quantum mechanics related to Buddhism?

Quantum mechanics is not at all related to Buddhism. The only thing that makes some people connect the two is that they are both strange and mysterious.

Q: Why is quantum mechanics important?

Quantum mechanics is vital for understanding the world at the atomic scale. For example, understanding how light behaves was an achievement of quantum physics.

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